Sunday, December 31, 2006

By Scripture alone

A while back, Philip Blosser wrote a thoroughgoing critique of sola scriptura entitled:

“Philosophical and Practical Problems with Sola Scriptura.”

It’s available online:

Blosser’s a Catholic blogger and philosopher prof. Strikingly, he has a degree from Westminster Philly.

I’ll comment on what I take to be his major arguments.

Before plunging into the thick of things, I’d simply note that, as is so often the case, Blosser is a layman who comes to the defense of the Magisterium.

The question this always raises is that if a layman can make a case for the Magisterium, who needs the Magisterium?

The more skillfully he mounts his argument for the Magisterium, the more effectively he undercuts the rationale for the very institution he labors to defend.

The Magisterium is never more superfluous than when a layman contends for its necessity.

Do the bishops suffer from collective laryngitis? It’s like the spectacle of a superannuated senator who reads off index cards fed to him by his staff.

“I’m the Supreme Teacher of the Church! Please refer all questions to my assistant!”

Moving along:

“What is needed today more than ever is a mutual sorting out of what was really ‘necessary’ from what was ‘tragic’ in the movement of the Protestant Reformation, as well as the good from the bad in the life of the Catholic Church in and since the 16th century.”

No sorting needed. The Reformation was not a tragic necessity, but a simple necessity.

“The urgency of this need is now beginning to be felt within those traditions that have been most vocal about the “necessity” of the Reformation but silent about its ‘tragedy’.”

Since I feel no such sense of urgency, I’m happy to remain silent about its “tragic” dimension.

“James White, for example, warns his readers against the common anti-Catholic paranoia about making the sign of the cross, crucifixes, candles, liturgy, and Catholic ‘conspiracies’.”

I agree. There’s smart anti-Catholicism and dumb anti-Catholicism.

“R.C. Sproul, who readily acknowledges that the N.T. Canon, for example, rests upon a ‘tradition’.”

i) This is misleading. The NT canon comes down to us via tradition, but its validation does not depend on tradition alone.

ii) Keep in mind, too, that “tradition” can mean different things. Tradition can mean a historical witness, or it can mean sacred tradition, in the dogmatic sense.

A Protestant can affirm the former, but deny the latter.

“The oft-rehearsed practical abuses that provoked the Protestant Reformation have been readily acknowledged on all sides—certainly by the Catholic Church (though this comes as news to many Protestants)…Luther was right about Tetzel and his abuses.”

No, the primary problem was not with “abuses,” but with the dogmas from which they sprang. The abuses were merely symptomatic of false dogma.

“Yet, as Louis Bouyer argues in his sympathetic study of The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, the well-intended assumption that the only way of securing the needed reforms was by recourse to sola scriptura spelled tragedy by effectively cutting off Protestantism from that living and normative community of memory in which alone her positive reforms could be sustained.[7]”

“Tragedy” again. Right up there with Medea and King Lear.

“The positive intent was plain enough: if the Church and her human traditions were corrupt, she could be reformed only by being subjected to an external authority, and what else could this possibly be but Scripture, unmediated and alone?”

The rationale for sola Scriptura is not primarily pragmatic. It is, rather, a factual question concerning what rule of faith God has, indeed, imposed on the Christian conscience.

“This itself is part of the tragedy. Protestantism is no longer in a position to see how Christ meant the Church to be an essential part of his Gospel. Instead, the Gospel is experienced as communicated to individuals by the Spirit through Scripture, and only circumstantially as connected to “the church of one’s choice,” whatever choice that may be—as long as it is a Protestant and relatively conservative one!”

“Tragedy.” Gee, where have we heard that before?

“The tragedy of sola scriptura is that it cuts off Protestants from sacred history after New Testament times—from the living, sacred memory of the Church.”

Yeah, it’s tragic, you know. The tragicality of the tragediously tragedious tragedy of the tragedical Protestant tragedial Reformation tragicalness.

“Suspicion is inevitably roused in the Protestant mind by the any notion that an earthly, human institution such as the Church could have anything “sacred” or “divine” about it.”

“Suspicion.” That’s what Evangelicals are—suspicious.

“The suspicion that Catholics want to identify that reality exclusively with their own “denomination” only raises the hackles of most Protestants.”

Yes, our suspicious Evangelical hackles.

i) One of the problems with Blosser’s furtive analysis of Evangelicalism is that a certain percentage of Evangelicals were cradle Catholics who converted to the Evangelical faith. So they know Catholicism from the inside out.

Blosser’s suggestion that Evangelical critics of Rome harbor various “suspicions” about Catholicism, as if Catholicism were a secret society, like Free Masonry, is pretty paranoid as well as dated.

Nowadays it’s Hollywood, not Fundamentalism or Ian Paisley, that’s churning out absurd, conspiratorial movies about Catholicism—like Stigmata, The Da Vinci Code, and End of Days.

ii) I’d add, though, that there are times when Catholicism has played into the hands of the conspiracy theorist. During the Counter-Reformation, the Vatican did attempt to destabilize Protestant regimes.

And the Catholic sex scandal involved a massive, official cover-up. Indeed, various officials are still stonewalling the authorities.

“This reaction betokens the depth of the problem at issue: it is almost as difficult for the Protestant to fathom the Catholic notion that the all-too-human Church of history could have anything like a divine nature or a real divine authority, as it is for an agnostic to fathom that the all-too-human Jesus could also be God Incarnate, or for the secular critic to fathom that the all-too-human Bible could also be the revealed Word of a living God.”

Indeed, I have to admit that it’s difficult for a suspicious Evangelical like me to draw a parallel between the Borgia Papacy and the hypostatic union, or a pedophile priest and the inspiration of Scripture.

But perhaps St. Cyril of Alexandria could supply the analogia entis.

“How do Protestants suppose we experience the Bible? They suspect that Catholics have always feared it and kept it from the laity, lest it expose Catholic doctrines as unscriptural.”

“Suspect.” As in “suspicious.” As in tragically suspicious—or is it suspiciously tragic?

“Such grievous misunderstandings stem from the tragic effects of the ‘sola scriptura schism’.”

“Tragic.” Has a familiar ring to it.

“Suffice it here to observe that if ever there was a safe truth, it is this: no higher view of Scripture and its authority exists in all of Protestantism than that which is to be found in the Catholic Church.”

I see. Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer have a higher view of Scripture than Gleason Archer or John Warwick Montgomery. Whatever.

“The Second Vatican Council reiterated these positions—against the aberrations, not only of Protestant Liberalism, but of Catholic dissidents flirting with it—in Dei verbum (1965), which declared that the sacred writers ‘consigned to writing whatever [God] wanted written, and no more,’ and that the ‘books of Scripture, firmly, faithfully and without error, teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the sacred Scriptures.’[15]”

i) To begin with, this disregards insider accounts by Grillmeier and Küng on the behind-the-scenes controversy at Vatican II over the inspiration of Scripture. It was the liberal position of Cardinal König that carried the day. Vatican II was a stocking-horse for modernism.

Cf. H. Vorgrimler, ed. Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II (Herder & Herder, 1969), 3:204-207; H. Kung: My Struggle for Freedom (Eerdmans 2003).

ii) The is confirmed by the fact that the top brass has capitulated to the Historical-Critical method:


“Third, the high Catholic regard for Scripture is attested in the role played by Bible reading during Mass. A cycle of prescribed lectionary readings—always including a reading from (1) a book of the Old Testament, (2) a Psalm, (3) an Epistle, and (4) one of the Gospels, whose pages are symbolically kissed after the reading—takes the practicing Catholic through major portions of Scripture on a regular basis, assuring a steady diet of Bible-reading uninfluenced by the pastor’s whim, pet theological hobby horse, or disinclination to preach on certain topics.”

Two further points:

i) In liturgical churches, the liturgy is often more conservative than the priest or parishioner.

ii) Is the Catholic priesthood generally distinguished by the quality of its expository sermons?

“Fourth, the Catholic Church’s high view of Scripture is attested, ironically, at those points where her strict and literal interpretation is disputed by Protestantism. Despite what conservative Protestants may think about ‘Catholic additions’ to the ‘simple Gospel’ of Scripture, most of the Catholic distinctives that they criticize are rooted in taking Scriptures at face value. As James Akin points out in his contribution to Surprised by Truth: Eleven Converts Give the Biblical and Historical Reasons for Becoming Catholic, it is not the Catholic Church, but the various factions within Protestantism that clamor over alternative interpretations and spiritualizing metaphors for the straightforward meanings of the text, and it is the Catholics who take Scripture at face value.[21]”

i) “Strict literalism”? As in the way Ratzinger or Jaki take Genesis at “face value”?

Cf. S. Jaki, Genesis 1 Through the Ages (Thomas Moore Press 1992); J. Ratzinger, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Eerdmans 1995).

ii) Other examples would include the way in which Joseph Fitzmyer and Cardinal Kasper selectively demythologize the miracles of Jesus.

Cf. J. Fitzmyer, A Christological Catechism (Paulist Press 1991); W. Kasper, Jesus The Christ (Paulist Press 1985).

“In nearly every case where Protestant interpretations of scripture has diverged from official Catholic interpretation, the latter has taken the more conservative, even literal, view—whether it is the matter of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus (Jn 6:53)”

Ah, yes, like that strictly literal vine in Jn 15. No spiritualizing metaphors, please!

“His Eucharistic declaration, ‘This is my body’ (Lk 22:19).”

But if his body is literally present wherever Mass is celebrated, wouldn’t his declaration take the plural form—“These are my bodies”?

“Our being saved or regenerated by baptism (Jn 3:5, Rm 6:3, 1 Pt 3:21).”

Where does Jn 3:5 use the word “baptism”?

Does Rom 6:3 involve a literal burial?

Is every baptized Catholic “saved”? I guess Blosser takes 1 Peter 3:21 literally by taking hell figuratively.

“The indissolubility of marriage and prohibition of remarriage (Mk 10:11; Lk 16:18; Mt 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor 7:10, 33)”

Aside from the fact that Matthew and 1 Corinthians don’t teach the indissolubility of marriage or prohibit remarriage, there is the further fact that Catholicism entertains an extremely lenient version of divorce and remarriage by another name—annulment.

“VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2005 ( — The most recent data on marriage annulments show an ‘enormous increase in the last decades,’ especially in North America and Europe, says a Vatican aide. ‘Of the 56,236 ordinary hearings for a declaration of nullity, 46,092 received an affirmative sentence,’ said Bishop Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Apostolic Signature, the supreme court of the Church.”

“Christ’s delegation of a real power of binding and loosing (Mt 16:18, 18:18), his transmission of real authority to forgive or retain sins (Jn 20:23)”

I see, a literal loosing—as in literal ropes and chains.

“His building of his Church upon Peter the “rock” (Aramaic: kepha) and giving to Peter (whom Jesus specifically named “Cephas,” Aramaic: kepha) the keys of the kingdom (Mt 16:18-19; cf. Is 20:20).”

A literal rock. Literal keys.

“Fifth, the Catholic Church’s high view of Scripture is attested by her steadfast adherence to the moral teachings of our Lord in Scripture. No matter how far afield her most vocal and dissident theologians have strayed, like disobedient children from their mother, she has stood by her magisterial definitions of what is to be believed (de fide). After all, whose voice is it that, as the spiritual leader of nearly one fifth of the earth’s recalcitrant inhabitants, still dares to condemn as sin the now commonplace practices of contraception.”

i) Since Scripture never says that contraception is sinful, how does the Catholic prohibition reflect a high view of Scripture?

ii) Catholicism doesn’t condemn contraception. Rather, it draws an ethically arbitrary disjunction between “natural” and “artificial” contraception.


i) Once again, since Scripture never condemns masturbation as sinful, how does the Catholic prohibition reflect a high view of Scripture.

Ironically, what Blosser is illustrating is not a high view of Scripture, but an extrascriptural piety. It hardly reflects a high view of Scripture to condemn as sinful certain types of behavior on which Scripture is conspicuously silent.

ii) And while we’re on the subject, a blanket ban on masturbation does enormous moral, emotional, and spiritual harm to single men in their sexual prime.


Then why are Catholic judges and legislators who promote abortion never excommunicated?

“Divorce, remarriage, homosexuality.”

Yes, the Catholic church has a magnificent track-record on sodomy, does it not?

Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (Oxford University Press 2001)

Michael S. Rose, Goodbye, Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption Into the Catholic Church (Regnery 2002)

Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church (Boston Globe, 2003)

“And to retain a literal reading of Scripture and insist on an exclusively male and celibate clergy?”

Since Scripture doesn’t mandate a celibate clergy, how does that “reading” of Scripture reflect a high view of Scripture? Another illustration of Catholicism’s extrascriptural piety.

“The voice of the Pope. Where else do you hear such a voice? From Canterbury? Lutheranism? Presbyterianism? Methodism? Evangelicalism?”

From what I can tell, the OPC, PCA, WELS, SBC, and LCMS (to name a few) have a much better record on sodomy, to say nothing else, than Catholicism.

“All of Rome’s official teaching and reasoning is based, directly or indirectly, on the Bible—even her position on celibacy (1 Cor 7:32, 35; Mt 19:11-12).”

These verses don’t mandate celibacy—much less a celibate clergy. They are permissive rather than prescriptive or proscriptive.

You see how Catholicism disarms the critical sense. Blosser is a bright, highly educated man. Yet he’s making one patently false statement after another.

“One must show from Scripture that God’s will throughout history has been to commit wholly to writing all revelation and instruction that He intended as an ongoing authority for the His people and their salvation.[25].”

No, that’s not true. Sola Scriptura is tied to the end-stage of progressive revelation—the point at which all revelation to be inscripturated has been inscripturated.

“Second, God is never seen conferring his authority on Scripture in an historical and social vacuum. Scripture is always found, rather, within a community in which God has conferred authority also upon lawfully ordained human leaders.”

One could just as well say that God is never seen conferring his authority on Scripture in an ecological, or zoological vacuum.

“Paul demands that his readers “stand firm and hold to the traditions” they have received “either by word of mouth or letter” (2 Th 2:15).”

Evangelicals don’t deny that apostolic tradition is authoritative. But we don’t have any oral apostolic tradition. Paul was writing in the 1C. All we have at this stage of the game is written apostolic tradition. Blosser disregards the sitz-im-leben of Paul’s injunction.

“And calls the Church the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim 3:15).”

i) Contemporary Catholic scholarship generally classifies the Pastorals as deutero-Pauline.

ii) 1 Tim 3:15 doesn’t refer to “the Church,” but to a local church.

“These verses can be tailored to a Protestant pattern, but the resulting fit is never quite natural. As Kreeft says, “We are not taught by a teacher without a book or by a book without a teacher, but by one teacher, the Church, with one book, Scripture” (Kreeft, 275).”

A straw man argument since Evangelicals don’t deny the role of teachers in the life of the church.

“Third, sola scriptura is self-defeating, because it rests on a presupposition that cannot be proved from Scripture (let alone from history)—namely, that the whole content of God’s revealed will for the ongoing instruction of His Church was committed “wholly to writing,” so that no unwritten residue of divinely inspired instruction survived from the oral teachings of Jesus and His apostles that remained binding on God’s people after the New Testament (NT) was written. This assumption, stated more or less audaciously, is ubiquitous among Protestants.[30] But where does Scripture say this? How could one claim to know this? The data of history and the Church Fathers weigh heavily against it.”

i) This misplaces the burden of proof. There can be no evidence for oral tradition qua oral. At best, there can only be evidence for oral tradition committed to writing. Otherwise, oral tradition wouldn’t survive intact over the centuries. So the onus is on the Catholic to literally document the existence of oral tradition. But if it’s documentary, it’s not oral.

ii) In addition, how does Catholicism verify that an oral tradition is apostolic or dominical?

“It does not even make good sense. First, if all bindingly authoritative oral instruction ceased with the death of the last apostle, and if the early churches did not have copies of all the NT books until well after that time, who spoke for the Lord Jesus and the apostles in the interim?”

i) This makes unwarranted assumptions about the rate of dissemination. We know, for example, that Paul had couriers who transported his letters a considerable distance.

ii) We also know that some letters were always meant to widely circulate (e.g. Gal 1:3; Col 4:16; 1 Pet 1:1).

So a network was already in place for the dissemination of other NT materials.

“Second, how is one to plausibly imagine the transition from the partially oral framework of authoritative instruction (OT + teachings of Jesus and apostles) to a wholly written framework (OT + NT) required by this hypothesis? Gregory Krehbiel offers a wry scenario: ‘One imagines all the churches dutifully obeying Paul’s oral instructions on the Eucharist [1 Cor 11:34] and anxiously awaiting the publication in the Antiochian Post of the last apostle’s obituary, at which point they are to rewrite their book of church order and eliminate everything based on oral instructions.’[31] The whole idea, of course, seem ridiculous, but scarcely more so than some of the assertions commonly made in this connection (see n. 30).”

What is ridiculous is the assumption that orality preceded textuality, as if you had to have an oral stage of transmission prior to a textual stage.

But orality and textuality existed side-by-side. The Apostles preached the gospel as well as writing letters.

1C Jews were not illiterate. Remember the OT? The Intertestamental literature? Philo? Josephus? Jewish scribes?

Blosser, like many converts to Catholicism, cites Newman’s aphorism that “the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this. To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”

But, of course, we could rephrase his aphorism: the Christianity of Bible history is not Catholicism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this. To be deep in Bible history is to cease to be a Catholic.”

For Newman and his disciples, “history” begins with subapostolic church history, not NT history or OT history.

For all their talk of history, Catholics have no historical consciousness or groundedness when it comes to the history of the NT church or the covenant community in OT times.

“But then, in all seriousness, what is the partisan of sola scriptura to say about those who remembered the oral instructions of the apostles—concerning, say, the Eucharistic liturgy—who perhaps even wrote down and preserved these, even though they never made it into the NT canon?”

That’s irrelevant to the epistemic situation of a 21C Christian.

“The writings of the early Church are filled with extrabiblical sayings of Jesus, practices of the Christian community, liturgical and Eucharistic formulas, and so forth, which presuppose the divine origin and authority of these things.[32]”

No, they’re filled with apocryphal sayings. And the amount of Agrapha that has any claim to authenticity is exceedingly slight. Cf. ISBE 1:69-71.

“On the Catholic view, there is no problem here, since the writings of the NT are viewed as fragments of a larger normative tradition, not as a complete set of catechetical instructions for new believers, but as occasional writings with an “eye to the situation in the churches,” often intended to correct abuses.[33]”

Providentially occasional writings which address typical and perennial concerns.

“But what is the Protestant Partisan to do with instructions and practices that claim to be apostolic but were never put in writing in the NT?”

i) Treat them as nonbinding at best since they can’t be authenticated.

ii) Blosser is also operating with a rather quaint and outmoded motion of tradition, as if sacred tradition has reference to a fixed body of extrascriptural instructions which Christ privately communicated to the Apostles.

“There is no reason to suppose that early Church practices are contrary to apostolic teaching or were intended to be only temporary, simply because we can find no explicit description of them in Scripture today.”

And there’s no reason to assume that they weren’t.

“In fact, Krehbiel offers an interesting biblical refutation of this supposition from 2 Chronicles 29:25 and 35:4, where both Hezekiah and Josiah used extrabiblical teachings in their reforms, from prophets who had been dead for hundreds of years, in violation of the assumption that only those teachings preserved in canonical Scriptures are authoritative.[34] What is interesting about the first verse (29:25) is that the instructions of David, Gad and Nathan followed by Hezekiah are described as being the command of the Lord through His prophets, even though (1) they were long dead by the time of Hezekiah and (2) there is no record in canonical Scripture that serves as a basis for Hezekiah’s actions. The same is true of the writings of Solomon whose instructions Josiah is cited as following in the second verse (35:4). What is also remarkable is the altogether unexceptional manner in which these actions are described. As Krehbiel observes, ‘In no case did the believing community rebuke Hezekiah or Josiah for violating sola scriptura. On the contrary, they accepted the fact that divine instruction, through the mouths of God’s prophets, had been preserved for the church’s use for hundreds of years apart from Scripture.’[35]”

i) This reiterates Krehbiel and Blosser’s anachronistic definition of sola Scripture (see above).

ii) It also equivocates over the meaning of “tradition.” Blosser knows perfectly well that not all tradition ranks as sacred tradition.

The fact, which no one denies, that court historians as well as the ancient kings of Israel under whom they served had access to historical, non-canonical sources of information which were sometimes incorporated into the canonical history of Israel is irrelevant to our situation, since we don’t have access to the royal archives. What we have is access to what was preserved in the course of inscripturation.

iii) We also make use of Biblical archeology. But that that is not a source of dogma.

“[Sola Scriptura] It is self-referentially inconsistent. How? In several respects. First, as Kreeft notes, ‘it is self-contradictory, for it says we should believe only Scripture, but Scripture never says this! If we believe only what Scripture teaches, we will not believe sola scriptura, for Scripture does not teach sola scriptura’ (Kreeft, 275). This is analogous to other self-refuting hypotheses that fail to conform to their own criteria, such as the famous ‘verification principle’ of the logical empiricist, A.J. Ayer.[36]”

I’ve addressed this objection on various occasions, most recently in response to Scott Carson:

“Second, it assumes that the ‘essential’ teachings of Scripture are sufficiently clear to be understood by anyone, but is not itself sufficiently clear even to be considered a scriptural teaching by all.[37] In fact, sola scriptura represents a minority position among Bible-believing Christians; and historically it is a relative novelty, entertained by nobody explicitly prior to Wyclif in the 14th century.”

Historically, most Christians were illiterate. Historically, most Christians didn’t own private copies of the Bible. So to talk about the majority or minority position among “Bible-believing” Christians is pretty anachronistic.

“The claim that Scripture is ‘self-interpreting’ is self-serving and sophistical at this point, because conflicting interpretations make this claim.”

What is sophistical is Blosser’s assertion that sola Scriptura is equivalent to the claim that Scripture is self-interpreting. But sola Scriptura doesn’t depend on that claim.

At issue is the authority of Scripture over against the authority of tradition, and not whether extrascriptural evidence, such as Biblical archeology, is pertinent to the interpretation of Scripture.

“The retort that Catholicism is also circular is beside the point and misses its mark, but calls for a brief excursus. Sometimes the claim is made that the Catholic Church is circular in appealing to Scripture to support her authority and then claiming the final say in how to interpret Scripture.[38] But there is no circularity here, first, because she does not claim sola scriptura; and, second, because if she has the authority she claims, the case is no different logically from that of the NT writers appealing to the Old Testament (OT) for support while claiming divine warrant for their NT interpretations.”

“If she has the authority she claims…” And how does Blosser establish that claim? By what non-circular evidence?

“Others mistakenly claim the Church’s position is circular because it boils down to saying: ‘we must believe Rome because Rome says so.’[39] The concern here for avoiding self-serving abuses by those in authority is legitimate, but misplaced. The Catholic is not asked to submit to the Church because the Church says so, but because God says so, and because God has appointed the Church and her lawfully ordained leaders as administrators of His commission.”

Once again, how does he establish that claim? And how does he identify true Church?

Imagine, for example, how an Armenian or Orthodox or Coptic Christian would often agree with Blosser’s conclusions, but simply plug his own church into the premise.

“Fourth, sola scriptura is self-referentially inconsistent also because the Bible contains no inspired index of its own contents and cannot even be identified as a Revelation except on extrabiblical grounds of tradition, in violation of sola scriptura.”

This is either simplistic or tendentious:

i) True, the Bible lacks a formal index. But the Bible has an informal index in the form of intertextuality. The Bible is a highly cross-referential work.

ii) The Bible also falls into various units, as a concentric subset of larger units, viz.



1 Corinthians>1-2 Corinthians>Pauline Epistles

iii) In addition, there are the individual claims of individual books. One doesn’t need a collective claim to establish a collection if one can establish the collection distributively, one book at a time.

iv) To say that we cannot identify the Bible, or individual books thereof, as divine revelation apart from tradition is simply question-begging.

v) It also invites an infinite regress. How do we identify authentic tradition?

“The difficulty is worth dwelling on momentarily, because it illumines one of the chief difficulties of sola scriptura at this point. How do you establish the canon? Do you leave it to each individual to weigh the merits of the contested books for himself, such as the Epistle of Barnabas, or Shepherd of Hermas? Do you trust the Holy Spirit to witness in the heart of each individual to the inspiration of each book—say, Jude, Philemon, or 2 John?[50] Or do you avoid the anarchy of individualism and subjectivism by recourse to tradition? But how do you do that without accepting ecclesiastical authority?”

As I’ve already indicated, I don’t employ either approach, but to answer the question on its own grounds, why is it unreasonable to suppose that God would witness to the Church, but not to individuals?

And doesn’t Blosser’s belief in the indefectibility of the Church boil down to a subset of individuals within the church, viz. the papacy and episcopate?

“Do you let each individual sort out Church history for himself?”

How else would someone judge the claims of Rome?

“The Protestant quandary at this point is nowhere more compellingly illustrated than in Luther’s refusal to number Hebrews, James, Jude, or Revelation among the canonical NT books in his translation of the Bible…Luther’s arbitrary “canon reduction” constitutes a prima facie case against the distinctive Reformation doctrines it was designed to support, and dramatically illustrates the perilous implications, inherent flaws, and inadequacy of sola scriptura in defining the canon of Scripture.[52]”

No, it only constitutes a prima facie case against Luther’s criteria.

“Sola scriptura also violates the principle of causality. As Kreeft notes, ‘it violates the principle of causality: that an effect cannot be greater than its cause. The Church (the apostles) wrote Scripture, and the successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church, decided on the canon, the list of books to be declared scriptural and infallible. If Scripture is infallible, then its cause, the Church, must also be infallible’ (Kreeft, 275).”

i) Notice the patent equivocation of terms: the Church equals the Apostolate. But even as a Roman Catholic, Blosser would scarcely limit the Church to the Apostolate.

ii) I’d add that the logic is pretty slippery. Isn’t David greater than Jesse? Isn’t Abraham greater than Terah?

“Protestants already accept implicitly the principle that God can infallibly guide fallible humans to teach infallibly, both in the oral teachings of the prophets and apostles, and in the writing of Scripture.[56] But there is no more reason why one should deny that God infallibly guided the process by which the Church ‘discovered”’ the canon than the process by which the Church ‘wrote’ the books contained in it.”

Same equivocation. The Church didn’t write the canonical Scriptures. The Church didn’t write the Pentateuch, or Job, or Isaiah, or the Psalms, or the Gospels, or Romans. Blosser is playing a shell-game.

“First, says White, the Roman claim of infallibility is illusory because “you have to make a fallible decision to buy into the plan, and any certainty offered thereafter rests solely on the first—fallible—choice that was made” (50). This links the Church’s infallibility to our fallible choices, trading on the lack of subjective certainty that may attach to the latter. But one could reply that a person’s decision to follow Christ is also a decision of a fallible human being. Does this mean one should feel uncertain about following Christ?”

Several issues:

i) Catholicism denies that a Christian can be certain of his salvation. So the parallel undercuts the very thing it’s adduced to support.

ii) If your assurance of salvation is vested in the altar call or something along those lines, then, indeed, you should doubt your salvation.

iii) What Blosser has given the reader is an argument from analogy minus the argument. Why assume that the two cases are analogous?

iv) The issue isn’t one of epistemic parity, but epistemic superiority. Does Catholicism confer an epistemic advantage?

“Just as having an infallible Bible is clearly an advantage over having none, despite the fallibility of our interpretations, so having an infallible Church to interpret the Bible is an advantage over having an infallible Bible alone.”

Is an infallible church an advantage over a fallible church? How is it advantageous to pile on one interpretive layer atop another? The Bible plus the councils plus the encyclicals plus the ordinary magisterium, &c.

“First, it is improbable. The doctrine that Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the regula fidei—the infallible rule for the ongoing faith and life of the Church—is of highly improbable orthodoxy since it had no defender for the first thirteen centuries of the Church.[62] It does not belong to historic Christianity.”

Observe his utterly provincial outlook, as if the covenant community began at Pentecost. The people of God have been around since antediluvian times.

“Second, sola scriptura is inconsistent with the practice of the NT Church.”

He continues his anachronistic definition of sola Scriptura. Obviously a living Apostle is as good as a written Apostle. But that’s beside the point 2000 years down the pike.

“Second, the apostles died centuries before the NT was fully canonized, and well before each church had copies of all the books that would later make up the NT.”

We’ve already discussed this overstatement.

“Yet someone had to be ‘in charge’ during these years who had the authority to declare, ‘This is orthodox,’ and ‘That is heterodox.’ The authorized successors to the apostles were the ones in charge.[63]”

i) It depends, in part, on what one means by “authorized” successors. The NT has no episcopate in the Catholic sense of the word—just the pastorate and deaconate.

ii) Notice how Blosser treats ecclesiastic authority as a makeweight in the (alleged) absence of Scripture.

But the authority to declare one thing orthodox and another heterodox doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Apart from a sufficient basis in revelation, a clergyman lacks the authority to render such a value-judgment. Such a pronouncement can’t be made out of thin air by appeal to raw authority. Rather, the clergyman must be in a position to render an informed judgment.

Blosser is attempting to reason back from the hypothetical consequences to the historical situation. But that’s an ahistorical mode of reconstructing history.

Historians don’t begin with what they deem to be an unacceptable consequence if a prior situation did not obtain, and then infer a different initial condition to avoid the dire consequences. Such apriorism has no basis in historiography. History is replete with dire consequences, of which church history is no exception.

iii) And even if, for the sake of argument, we conceded his methodology, it directly undercuts Catholicism, for there were undoubtedly many times and places in church history during which the lower clergy and even many members of the upper clergy were abysmally ignorant or even illiterate.

So you see, once again, how a Catholic polemicist has no genuine historical consciousness. Rather, he treats church history like an axiomatic system in which you posit certain initial conditions, analogous to self-evident first-truths, to yield the desired results. Blosser does church history the way Leibniz does Monadology.

“Third, to recognize the authority of the apostles’ oral teaching but to assume that this teaching was transmitted without residue into the NT requires jiggery-pokery, as we have seen. One must assume either that everything they ever taught made it into the NT, or cobble together some sort of arbitrary criterion for explaining why those teachings and instructions that did not make it into the NT either (a) lacked authority, (b) ceased to have authority after the apostles died, or (c) may have had some sort of authority but lacked infallibility, divine inspiration, or the like.[64] But then, what sort of criterion could be offered that would avoid the circularity of arguing that only what is inscripturated is inspired because what is not inscripturated is not inspired?”

i) It’s simply a question of verification. What is Scriptural is inspired. What is unscriptural may or may not have been inspired. At this stage of the game, it’s impossible to verify unscriptural traditions.

ii) And that’s precisely why God inspired Apostles and prophets to commit some of their material to writing. For that supplies the permanent record and reference point for historical revelation. This principle goes all the way back to the Pentateuch, where a documentary covenant is the future reference point for posterity. And the New Covenant follows the same principle.

“Third, it overlooks the extrabiblical influences on its adherents…The important question is whether or not the tradition in question is the one that Christ instituted and committed to his apostles to be passed down through His Church.[65]”

Sola Scriptura involves primatial authority. It doesn’t mean, and never meant, that Scripture exists in an airtight compartment. Scripture is no substitute for providence, just as providence is no substitute for Scripture.

“…but in a rejection of the whole outlook of sacramental realism that pervaded the very identity and self-understanding of the Church and her claim to speak on earth, for God in heaven.”

“The very identity and self-understanding” of *which* church? The Catholic church? Yes. The NT church? No. The Old Covenant community? No.

“The seat of real authority was removed from the Church, as the teacher of Scripture, and placed on the individual interpreter of Scripture alone; where it was never meant to be.[70]”

Blosser has a bad habit of personifying the Church. But the church is a collection of individuals. And teaching authority has always been exercised by individuals. It’s just a question of which individuals.

“Thus the extrabiblical influence of late medieval nominalism, together with various practical exigencies involved in trying to justify revolt against the Church and the whole ecclesiastical tradition, combined to facilitate the development of sola scriptura and to make each Protestant, in principle, his own pope.”

i) Why is medieval nominalism any more of an extrabiblical influence than Patristic Neoplatonism or scholastic Aristotelianism?

ii) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that Protestant theology makes every Protestant his own pope, so what?

Why shouldn’t I be my own pope? What gives you the right to be my pope? The pope is still an individual among individuals. So popery is just another form of individualism. And an autocratic form of individualism at that. An individualism of the one over the many.

iii) However, the comparison is cute rather than acute. The position of evangelical theology is not that every Christian is his own pope, but that no Christian is the pope. Evangelical theology doesn’t claim that every Christian can speak ex cathedra, but that no Christian can speak ex cathedra—since the death of the Apostles.

“Fifth, sola scriptura assumes that the Bible can be understood apart from tradition. It assumes no ultimate need for the larger context of the Church’s tradition and teaching. However, not only is the canon of Scripture incapable of being identified apart from tradition, as we have seen, but the meaning of Scripture cannot be fully grasped. Protestants argue that Scripture is clear, but they disagree even among themselves as to what it means. If they admit that parts of Scripture are unclear, they argue that the essentials are clear and that the unclear parts can be interpreted in light of the clear.”

i) Actually, the case for sola Scriptura doesn’t depend on the perspicuity of Scripture, per se. That’s an apologetic move, and it has some merit.

But the question of sola Scriptura is simply a factual question: is this the rule of faith that God has imposed on the church? The answer doesn’t turn on the exact degree of clarity—which varies in time in time and place, and from one reader to the next.

ii) I’d add that impugning the clarity of Scripture is often quite misleading. It suggests that while Scripture speaks to an issue, what it says is unclear. But that’s rarely the case:

a) To begin with, we need to distinguish between what was clear to the original audience, and what is clear to us.

b) In addition, when a Catholic says that Scripture is unclear, what he ordinarily means is not that Scripture speaks to an issue, yet without sufficient clarity, but rather, that Scripture doesn’t, in fact, speak to an issue—at least, that it doesn’t say enough to answer the question of the Catholic.

In other words, there’s a big difference between the claim that Scripture has a lot to say on a particular topic, but it’s unclear what it means by what it says—and claim that Scripture doesn’t have very much to say on a particular topic, which is why the reader is unclear on what do think or do.

The real problem is that Catholic priorities are out of sync with divine priorities. Catholics are terribly concerned with questions which Scripture isn’t terribly unconcerned with answering.

This doesn’t mean that Scripture is unclear or insufficient. To the contrary, a Catholic is asking the wrong questions. If he’s interested in answers to questions which Scripture isn’t interested in answering, then the problem is not with the lack of answers, but the superfluity of misguided questions.

If you can’t find the answers you’re looking for in Scripture, try posing questions which Scripture was designed to answer. The right answers select for the right questions.

And that’s a pretty good indicator of God’s will. Scripture answers the questions it was meant to answer, which is another way of saying that Scripture answers the questions we were meant to ask.

Catholics are obsessed with questions they were never meant to ask, not in the sense that there’s anything wrong with asking their questions, but if you think that Scripture is unclear or insufficient because it doesn’t answer your pet questions, then your spiritual priorities are seriously out of whack. You can come to Scripture with any questions you like, but if you come away from Scripture dissatisfied, then you’re the one with the problem.

Not finding the answers you sought is just as instructive as finding what you sought. If it isn’t there, you were never meant to find it there.

It’s a winnowing process. One way of learning how to ask the right questions is to find what questions are answered in Scripture. To sift the truly important questions from all the unimportant questions.

By process of elimination, you learn what really matters to God. If it wasn’t all that important to God to answer your question, it shouldn’t be all that important to you to know the answer. Knowing what you don’t need to know is a basic element in the walk of faith.

A Catholic is like a senior citizen who thinks the steak is too chewy because he forgot to put his dentures in. No, the steak is just fine. The source of the problem lies at the toothy end of the transaction.

“But their disagreements are not merely over unclear passages, but over the clear ones—about the very meaning of precisely those things that Jesus commanded us to do in His name: ‘Take, eat; this is my body ... do this in remembrance of me.... Go ... baptize ... teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.’”

So what? We don’t have to understand or agree on the theological significance of a dominical command to carry it out. We can baptize people and administer communion without having any sacramental theology whatsoever. The ritual performance is one thing, and the ritual significance is another.

Throughout Scripture, God tells people to do things even though they don’t fully grasp the rationale. They don’t need to. It’s enough that God knows.

“The fact is that Scripture is only a part of what has been handed down to us in sacred tradition. By itself it was never intended to communicate the whole of God’s instruction for the ongoing life of the Church and is ill-suited to that purpose. It contains many things that were not at first understood, but took time to become clear through decades and centuries of reflection and definition, often in contradistinction to emergent heresies.[72]”

While heresy is a catalyst to Biblical understanding, because it forces us to ask questions of Scripture we might not have thought to pose before, we must still be able to find those answers in Scripture itself.

“It contains many references which cannot be understood apart from the larger context of sacred tradition.[73]”

No, it contains many references which cannot be understood apart from the historical context of the past or contemporaneous events—in relation to the author—and not the future framework of church history.

“Not only is it multifarious and complex; it does not often clearly specify what is didactic or historical, fact or vision, allegorical or literal, idiomatic or grammatical, enunciated formally or occurring obiter, temporary or of lasting obligation, as Newman notes.[74]”

i) Notice how Blosser uses sacred tradition as a magic wand or exegetical shortcut or stopgap. But certain things is Scripture are bound to be obscure to a modern reader due precisely to the cultural difference in time and place between the modern reader and the original reader.

This historical limitation is an intrinsic feature of living in time. It doesn’t justify the pretense that we can close the gap by invoking sacred tradition.

Not everything in Scripture is equally applicable or equally intelligible to every generation. There are certain topical allusions in Scripture which escape the modern reader. And by that same token, those topical allusions may be irrelevant to our own circumstances. We’re only responsible for what we can know.

ii) Keep in mind that the Vatican has never issued an official commentary which systematically and clearly specifies what is didactic or historical, fact or vision, allegorical or literal, idiomatic or grammatical, enunciated formally or occurring obiter, temporary or of lasting obligation.”

So Blosser’s Catholic alternative is not a genuine alternative—even on its own grounds.

“In this sense, it is not ‘self-interpreting.’ As Newman writes: ‘We are told that God has spoken. Where? In a book? We have tried it and it disappoints; it disappoints us, that most holy and blessed gift, not from fault of its own, but because it is used for a purpose for which it was not given. The Ethiopian’s reply, when St. Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading, is the voice of nature: ‘How can I, unless some man shall guide me?’ The Church undertakes that office.’[75] The question has nothing to do with whether one is a Christian or Jew, any more than it has to do with whether the text is from the OT or NT. What one needs is a teacher (magister) who can instruct him in what God intends him to understand; that is what the eunuch received in Philip, and that is what we have in the magisterium of the Church.”

Evangelical theology doesn’t deny the role of theologians and Bible scholars in the life of the church. There is, however, a fundamental difference between a commentator who exegetes the text according to a transparent argument or publicly available evidence, and a prelate who dictates the interpretation by a purely authoritarian fiat.

“Furthermore, even while claiming that Scripture is their only standard, Protestants typically presuppose Church tradition in ways of which they are often unaware. Mark Shea, for instance, offers a detailed analysis of certain fundamental commitments of evangelicals and argues compellingly that some of them—such as their commitment to the sanctity of human life in the pro-life movement, their rejection of polygamy, and their adherence to the doctrine the Trinity—are actually based more on tradition than on explicit Scripture. In fact, in some cases, such non-negotiable commitments are only weakly attested in the Bible, he notes, yet treated as revealed doctrines in much the same manner as Catholics accept sacred tradition as a channel of revelation.[76]”

i) I deny that the Trinity is weakly attested in Scripture.

ii) But assuming, for the sake of argument, that some of what Evangelicals believe is actually more dependent on tradition than on Scripture, then we should make a comparable adjustment in the degree of our commitment.

“Other examples, cited at random, would include the traditional commitment of Presbyterians to infant baptism, Methodists to the episcopacy, Lutherans to baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and so forth.”

This may well be true. Various denominations and theological traditions are historical accidents that carry over and bundle together a package of beliefs which are fairly conventional rather than tightly logical. And Roman Catholicism is no exception.

But that’s a reason to reexamine tradition rather than rubberstamp it.

“Seventh, sola scriptura leads to unhistorical understandings and distortions of fact. These can cover a great variety of issues, such as the erroneous belief that the early Church had no episcopal hierarchy”

This is vague. Early church as in what? NT church or post-apostolic church?

Episcopal hierarchy as in what? Monarchal episcopate? Roman primacy? Papal primacy?

“That the demand of priestly celibacy shows that Catholic doctrine has departed from Scripture.”

Except that this a prime example of how Catholic doctrine has departed from Scripture.

“That liturgy is a medieval invention and nothing but empty ritual.”

Often true in varying degrees.

“That Papal infallibility means that the Pope supposedly cannot err in anything.”

That popular misconception is hardly central to the case for sola Scriptura.

“That the “extra” books in the Catholic Bible were not part of the Scriptures used by the NT writers.”

Blosser is simply assuming the Catholic viewpoint rather than presenting an argument for his assumption.

“That Catholic devotions such as the Rosary and Stations of the Cross have no basis Scripture.”

Notice the weasel word: a “basis” in Scripture. If I commit suicide, that has a “basis” in Scripture. After all, Judas killed himself.

“That doctrinal ‘development’ in Catholicism means doctrinal “creation.”

Maybe because it does.

“That certain Catholic doctrines—such as purgatory, baptismal regeneration, prayers for the dead, the sinlessness of Mary, and the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood—are medieval inventions.”

Whether or not they’re Medieval inventions, they’re ecclesiastical inventions.

“A prudential discipline imposed (in the case of celibacy) for the sake of fostering single-minded devotion to God and service in the ministry.[83]”

Not to mention the single-minded seduction of underage boys.

“Furthermore, despite the existence of married apostles, it is not without biblical warrant (1 Cor 7:32, 35; Mt 19:11-12).”

Observe the bait-and-switch. The question at issue is not whether marriage is mandatory, but whether celibacy is mandatory.

“Such misunderstandings can also stem from a failure to understand the nature of doctrinal development. John Henry Newman offered the classic study of this idea in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845).”

i) Typically, Blosser assumes that if you disagree with Newman, this means that you just don’t understand him.

ii) I’d add that Newman’s classic essay received classic rebuttals from reviewers like J. B. Mozley and William Cunningham.

“Thus, nowhere does the Bible formally and explicitly state the doctrine of the Trinity, as even Protestants admit (Geisler and MacKenzie, 184; cf. 198, n. 50). But the doctrine is clearly a development based on the teachings of Christ and the apostles—a natural outgrowth of later reflections on their traditions (including Scripture) and the process of defining Christian doctrine over against various challenges to the faith.”

The question is not whether the heretics were a stimulus to the official formulation of the Trinity, but whether it is possible, in response to that stimulus, to go back to the Scriptures and exegete the Trinity from the Scriptures.

“Not only are these doctrines well-attested in the early Church (for example, Newman shows that there is stronger evidence for belief in purgatory in the early Church than for belief in original sin); they are also implicitly grounded in Scripture (e.g., purgatory in 1 Cor 3:12-15; transubstantiation in Jn 6:54-59; papal supremacy in Mt 16:18).[84]”

i) Assuming that a doctrine is well-attested in the early church, that doesn’t make it true or even probable. Much of the NT is devoted to repelling various heresies which sprang up in the Apostolic church.

ii) Whether purgatory, transubstantiation, and papal supremacy are, in fact, grounded in Scripture is, of course, a primary point of contention. Citing Scripture and exegeting it are two different things.

“First, it results in hermeneutical anarchy. The fact that hundreds of denominations, each professing to derive its teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance from “Scripture alone,” cannot agree even on the fundamentals of the faith, such as the meaning of baptism or the Lord’s Supper or even the means of salvation, constitutes a powerful prima facie case against it. The principle itself becomes impracticable and self-undermining—a recipe for anarchy.”

i) Is it a fact that “hundreds of denominations, each professing to derive its teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance from ‘Scripture alone,’ cannot agree even on the fundamentals of the faith”?

On the one hand, you have charismatic denominations which profess to derive their teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance. But, by that same token, they reject sola Scripture, for they subscribe to continuous revelation in the form of contemporary prophecy.

On the other hand, you have cessationist denominations which, by that same token, do not profess to derive their teaching by means of the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

So which denominations is Blosser talking about?

ii) From a Protestant perspective, Roman Catholicism is just one more denomination.

iii) There were parallel divisions in second temple Judaism. If God didn’t see fit to install an OT magisterium to prevent doctrinal diversity in second temple Judaism, why is doctrinal diversity an argument for the necessity of a Magisterium under the New Covenant?

iv) To say the meaning of baptism or the Lord’s Supper represents “fundamentals of the faith” merely begs the question in favor of Catholic sacramentalism.

v) Of course, “anarchy” is a hyperbolic description, but to play along with Blosser’s usage, is religious anarchy worse than religious totalitarianism?

Both Catholicism and Protestantism have their share of horror stories. But the problem with an authoritarian, top-down denomination is that, once the hierarchy is corrupted, the disease is incurable since it’s the accountability mechanism which is infected with terminal illness.

“The resulting fragmentation of teaching authority in Protestantism has produced a proliferation of Protestant positions disagreeing over baptism, Communion, worship, divorce, remarriage, women’s ordination, altars, pictures, statues, kneelers, alcohol, cigarettes, cards, Zionism, contraception, pre-millennialism, the use of musical instruments in worship, and the like.”

i) I see. And what, in Catholicism, is the de fide position on alcohol, cigarettes, cards, Zionism, and premillennialism? What ecumenical council or ex cathedra pronouncement has defined the orthodox position on these issues?

ii) Blosser keeps harping on women’s ordination, but in Catholicism there is one woman in particular whose institutional standing has been elevated far above any pastor or priest or bishop, apostle, angel, archangel, prophet, or Pope. She goes by such titles as the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Mediatrix, and co-Redemptrix. Why choke on the gnat of women’s ordination if you’re going to swallow the camel of Mariolatry?

“The honest Protestant Bible student has little ground for easily presuming that his private interpretation of the issues that divide the Protestant denominations is necessarily the right one, or that the 2000 year-old consensus of millions of Catholics on every inhabited continent is necessarily wrong. It would be untoward ignorance to assume that he is the first person in history to have carefully examined Scripture; and presumptuous arrogance to assume that he is the first to have understood it.”

Several problems:

i) If you read any major commentary on the Bible by a Protestant Bible scholar, you will see that he interacts with the history of interpretation.

ii) Either a Roman Catholic must exercise his own discernment regarding the evidence for or against the identity of the Catholic church as the true church, or else he is exercising blind faith in Catholicism, like flipping a coin or going with whatever faith he happened to be born into. If the former, then he’s in the same boat as the benighted Protestant.

If the latter, then he’s an accidental Catholic. In another time and place, he’d be an accidental Protestant, Hindu, or Marxist.

iii) To speak of “the 2000 year-old consensus of millions of Catholics on every inhabited continent,” begs several questions in a row:

a) It assumes that Roman Catholicism is self-identical over 2000 years.

b) It assumes a consensus among millions of Catholics.

c) Is there any polling data on what the laity believed in the year 800 or 1200? Did a survey team from Rome fan out over Medieval Europe and go door-to-door to ask every illiterate peasant what he believed about transubstantiation, condign merit, or the hypostatic union?

Once again, Blosser has absolutely no historical sense.

d) It also ignores the historical reason that Catholicism is so sizable. If you combine national churches with infant baptism, then, in principle, citizenship is conterminous with church membership. Every citizen is a baptized Catholic and vice versa. And national populations add up in a hurry. All the French, Spanish, Poles, Irish, Italians, &c.

This, however, is a purely nominal way of tabulating church membership. It says absolutely nothing about an individual’s Catholic faith, or lack thereof.

“Where was the Holy Spirit for these two thousand years?”

Renewing and preserving the remnant.

“What about the centuries upon centuries through which the Christian faith was preserved, passed down from generation to generation, and carried by missionary monks to our barbarian ancestors in Europe? What about the millennia of godly champions of the faith, such as St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Pope Leo, Pope Gregory, St. Benedict, St. Anselm, St. Bonaventure, St. Bernard, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis Xavier (the first missionary to Japan), and John Henry Newman, for starters?”

Other issues aside, this is simply a Catholic version of church history, which anachronistically classifies every pre-Reformation believer as if he were a Tridentine or post-Vatican II Catholic. Blosser is ventriloquizing for the dead. We have no idea what any of these individuals would think of Roman Catholicism in the 21C.

If, moreover, we’re going to indulge in ritual postmortem baptism, then assuming that Augustine or Anselm or Aquinas would have shared the same outlook as Rahner or Raymond Brown or Urs von Balthasar, the former would be just as heterodox as the latter.

“What about the early bishops who personally knew the apostles, like Ignatius of Antioch.”

i) What about Judas, who personally knew Jesus? Judas, who was “ordained” to the Apostolate by Christ himself.

What about Simon Magus, who personally knew Peter? What about Hymenaeus, Philetus, Demas, and Alexander the Coppersmith—who personally knew Paul? What about Diotrephes and Jezebel, who personally knew John?

What about an apostate high priest like Uriah, who collaborated with Ahab in introducing pagan idolatry into the official worship of Israel (2 Kg 16)?

ii) And why assume that Ignatius would approve of Trent, Vatican I, or Vatican II?

“What about the popes and bishops who settled the Trinitarian and Christological controversies of the early Ecumenical Councils, who declared ‘This is orthodox’ and ‘That is heterodox,’ ‘This is canonical’ and ‘That is not,’ and preserved and passed down the Bible and the meaning of its message to us?”

What about the popes promoting heresy, like Liberius, Zosimus, Vigilius, Julius I, Honorius I, Celestine I, and Eugenius IV?

What about the Sistine Vulgate?

“Likewise at this time he [Bellarmine] sat on the final commission for the revision of the Vulgate text. This revision had been desired by the Council of Trent, and subsequent popes had laboured over the task and had almost brought it to completion. But Sixtus V, though unskilled in this branch of criticism, had introduced alterations of his own, all for the worse. He had even gone so far as to have an impression of this vitiated edition printed and partially distributed, together with the proposed Bull enforcing its use. He died, however, before the actual promulgation, and his immediate successors at once proceeded to remove the blunders and call in the defective impression. The difficulty was how to substitute a more correct edition without affixing a stigma to the name of Sixtus, and Bellarmine proposed that the new edition should continue in the name of Sixtus, with a prefatory explanation that, on account of aliqua vitia vel typographorum vel aliorum which had crept in, Sixtus had himself resolved that a new impression should be undertaken.”

Catholicism has a heads-we-win, tails-you-lose approach to the papacy. When the papacy happens to get it right, this validates the claims of the papacy—but when the papacy gets it wrong, that doesn’t invalidate the claims of the papacy.

“Second, as a result of its hermeneutical anarchy, sola scriptura has resulted in denominational factionalism.”

Once again, there were many different theological factions in second temple Judaism. Why is the Magisterium essential to the New Covenant community when it was inessential to the Old Covenant community?

“It has spawned thousands of denominations, and sects and cults and conventicles. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of World Christianity, published in 1982, there are more than 28,000 recognizable denominations of Christianity.”

Other issues aside, I prefer an arrangement in which people are free to either be right or wrong over an arrangement in which no one is free to right a wrong.

“’Spirit-led’ Protestant leaders have split congregations and founded new denominations over disagreements sometimes serious and sometimes piffling.”

The pope is just one more religious leader who presumes to have the ear of the Holy Spirit. Benny Hinn in vestments.

All the Blosser is doing here is to assume that Catholicism represents the true church, and then set that over against all those mischievous “sects and cults and denominations.”

But this identification simply begs the question in favor of Catholicism. So Blosser is substituting a tendentious assumption for a reasoned argument.

“It is one thing to wish to avoid sacrificing truth for the sake of unity; it is another to have a profusion of separate Christian communities of faith, each insisting on points of doctrine that conflict with the others, and many of them claiming to be the one true Church of Christ.”

In general, I don’t think that most Evangelicals claim that their particular denomination is the one true church.

“One must ask what has gone wrong here. Something about this picture is not quite commensurable with our Lord’s call for unity (Jn 17:21) and the repeated warnings throughout the NT about dissent against divinely ordained authority, factionalism, division, and the literal “denominationalism” of those who claimed, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas.”[96] No great leap in logic is required to see how these warnings extend to those who claim to belong to Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, Wesley, Menno, and so forth.”

Several problems:

i) It wouldn’t hurt if Blosser bothered to exegete Jn 17:21 in context. It falls on the heels of v20, which has reference to Christian mission, involving the evangelization of the Gentile world, which will bring it into the fold of Messianic Judaism (cf. 10:16). To cite this verse as a prooftext for ecumenism is quite anachronistic.

ii) However, I’m all for Christian unity. Here’s my own proposal for the reunion of Christendom:

a) Creeds: Westminster Confession or London Baptist Confession

b) Preaching: Black or Southern Baptist

c) Music: German or Italian Baroque; hymns by Wesley, Watts, & Pantycelyn

d) Architecture: Gothic, Romanesque, or Byzantine

e) Liturgy: Cranmer

f) Polity: Episcopal (Mondays and Wednesdays); Congregational (Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday); Presbyterian (Saturday and Sunday)

Something along the lines of Tony Evans or Charles Stanley preaching a sermon by Spurgeon or John Piper or Martyn Lloyd-Jones in a Gothic cathedral with a choir singing Bach or Vivaldi.

iii) We should, indeed, take to heart the NT admonitions about divinely constituted authority. That’s why no great leap in logic is required to see how these warnings extend to institutions that usurp authority, viz. the papacy. Remember the False Decretals?

iv) I also agree with Blosser that we should avoid the literal “denominationalism” of those who claim Peter for their own, viz. the papacy.

“Christ’s promise of the ‘Spirit of truth’ to guide His Church ‘into all the truth’ (Jn 16:13) was not made to disparate individual followers (or disparate individual readers of John’s Gospel), each preparing to figure out what this would mean on his own, but to the apostles—those whom He had authorized and specially commissioned to be His representatives on earth.”

His promise was not to the Church, but to the Apostolate. Once again, Blosser trades on equivocations.

“The Apostle Paul says that the “pillar and foundation of truth” is the Church (1 Tim 3:15),”

i) This is the second time he’s cited 1 Tim 3:15 out of context (see above).

ii) I’d add that Blosser’s confident appeal to the words of Jesus or the words of Paul is out of step with contemporary Catholic scholarship, which does not assume that Paul wrote the Pastorals or that Jesus spoke all the words attributed to him in the Gospels.

The problem is that traditional Catholic prooftexting is based on precritical views of Scripture. But since Catholicism is no longer committed to the proposition that the Gospels preserve the ipsissima verba of Christ or to the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals, then its traditional prooftexting is seriously out of date with its modernistic embrace of the historical-critical method.

“Not “Spirit-led” individuals hiving off to start their own independent thing.”

You mean, like popes who lay exclusive claim to the charism of infallibility whenever they speak ex cathedra?

“The relation between the modern philosophical turn to subjectivism (Descartes) and the anti-Catholic turn to private interpretation (Luther) is itself an interesting question.[97]”

Given that Descartes was a French Catholic who studied under the Jesuits, the relation is, indeed, elusive.

“But, in any case, once these moves were made, questions about traditional interpretations of isolated passages in the Bible led, by a natural and seemingly inexorable logic, to questions about the inerrancy and inspiration of those passages, and, eventually, to the full-blown demythologizing hermeneutics of ‘higher criticism’.”

If that is so, then why has contemporary Catholic scholarship made the same hard left turn?

“It is hardly necessary to repeat the litany of apostasies in mainstream Protestant denominations, many of which are now on record endorsing not merely the serialized polygamy of divorce and remarriage”

Not to mention the serialized polygamy of annulment and remarriage.

“But also endorsing abortion and euthanasia as acts of Christian stewardship, and flirting with the ordination of gays and lesbians, and with the acceptance of ‘same sex marriages’.”

Not to mention the ordination of homosexual popes as well as a homosexual subculture among the priesthood:


John XII (938-964) was the son of Alberic II, the civil ruler of the eternal city, and connected to other patrician families. On being elected pope at the age of eighteen, he modeled himself on the scandalous Roman emperor Heliogabalus, holding homosexual orgies in the papal palace.

Benedict IX (1021--ca. 1052) was the son of the count of Tusculum. He imitated John XII in staging licentious orgies. These and other excesses caused such indignation that Benedict was deposed in 1045, but then reinstated, only to be deposed again.

As might be expected, it is the Renaissance period, with its revival of classical antiquity and love of art, that sees the greatest number of sexually active popes. The Venetian Paul II (1417-1471) was so vain that he had originally intended to take the name Formosus ("beautiful"). He was a collector of statuary, jewelry, and (it was said) of handsome youths. Given to the most sumptuous ecclesiastical drag, he was lampooned by his enemies as "Our Lady of Pity."

His successor, Sixtus IV (1414-1482), is remembered for his art patronage, which included the erection and first decorations of the Sistine chapel. Among the artists most prominent in his reign was the Florentine homosexual Botticelli. This pope favored his scheming nephews, one of whom himself became pope under the name of Julius II. However, Sixtus was most devoted to another nephew, Raffaele Riario, whom he made
papal chamberlain and bishop of Ostia. He elevated to the cardinalate a number of
other handsome young men.

The Borgia pope, Alexander VI (1431-1503) was believed to have reduced Rome to unparalleled depths of depravity, and the city teemed with assassins and prostitutes of both sexes. Alexander was himself much given to womanizing, having sired eight or more children, but he was apparently not averse to the charms of young men as well.

His successor Julius II (1443-1513) positioned himself for high office during the reign of his uncle Sixtus IV. A lover of art, he patronized both Michelangelo and Raphael, and in 1506 he laid the foundation stone for the magnificent church of New St. Peters. However, Julius' military conquests caused friction with the king of France and the German emperor. At their behest a council met in Pisa in 151 1 to consider his deposition. Arraigned as "this sodomite, covered with shameful ulcers, who has infected the church with his corruption," Julius nonetheless managed to prevail by calling his own council, which was still in session when he died in May 1513.

Before becoming pope, Julius III (1 487-1555) had presided over the Council of Trent, which was to result in the Counterreformation and a new sobriety at the papal court. However, Julius III was granted one last Indian summer period of licentiousness. He was often seen at official occasions with a catamite, Innocente (Prevostino), whom he created a cardinal, together with a number of other teenage boys.

Little is known of sexual irregularity of modem popes, at least during their pontificates. According to Roger Peyrefitte, John XXIIJ (1 88 1-1 963) and, more plausibly, Paul VI (1897-1978) conducted homosexual affairs.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. J. N. D. Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, New York:
Oxford University Press, 1988.

Cardinal Grocholewski said the norms were designed to help discern future vocations and do not apply to already ordained homosexual priests.

"Clearly, these ordinations are valid, because we are not affirming they are invalid," he said.

He also said that someone who discovers his own homosexuality after priestly ordination should "fulfill his priesthood and seek to live in chastity."

"Perhaps he would need more spiritual help than others, but I think he should carry out his own priesthood in the best possible way," he said.

Is the Closet Now Empty?


The popes were the original prosperity preachers, with a lifestyle to match.

“Hence it is beside the point that liberals theologians and even professing atheists can be found who call themselves ‘Catholics,’ perhaps in some cultural sense, as there are secular Jews.[99] This does not mean that Catholic teaching is divided against itself.”

Two problems:

i) The Catholic church has officially liberalized its view of the Bible, and, what is more,

ii) It has done so in conflict with its prior position. Just consider the anti-modernist encyclicals of Pius IX or the Pontifical Biblical Commission under Leo XIII with post-Vatican II developments.

“How does one know whether his religious leaders agree with God? The Protestant’s answer of sola scriptura is insufficient at this point, because the interpretive autonomy and individualism it permits, as well as the profusion of conflicting interpretations it has fostered historically, run into unavoidable conflict with one of the fundamental functions of Church authority, which is to settle matters of doctrinal dispute (e.g., Acts 15).”

Appeal to the Council of Jerusalem either proves too much or too little, for it is both more as well as less than an ecumenical council. On the one hand, it’s more than an ecumenical council because Apostles (as well as James, a half-brother of Christ) rather than bishops oversaw the proceedings. On the other hand, it’s less than an ecumenical council because the laity were also involved (Acts 15:22).

So it’s too hierarchical and too laical to model an ecumenical council. By turns apostolic, presbyterial, and congregational, whereas an ecumenical council is strictly episcopal—outranked by the Apostolate while outranking the laity.

“Here the Protestant finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. What does he do if his beliefs conflict with those of his denomination?”

Change denominations.

“Does he go looking for one that agrees with him? Does he start his own? Such options would seem to open a Pandora’s box full of abuses.”

True, it’s subject to abuse. Equally subject to abuse is a fallible denomination with delusions of infallibility.

“What does it mean for him to ‘submit’ to his spiritual leaders?”

Good question. Is this blind submission to a self-appointed authority? Or is this rational submission to someone who can make a reasonable case for his interpretation?

Notice how often Jesus and Paul reason with their audience. And this is despite the fact that Jesus, for one, is divine authority Incarnate.

“His pastor might tell him: ‘You have to trust that God leads through the elders.’ What should the Protestant do? If his denomination represents a valid ecclesiastical authority, he should submit.”

We *trust* God, but we *listen* to men. A Christian should never take an interpretation on “trust.” Appeal to divine leadership to validate a particular interpretation is just so much bluff and bluster.

“But how does he know? The answer to the question ‘Which religious authorities are valid?’ cannot be ‘Those whose doctrines are biblical,’ because that is exactly what is under dispute…The Lutherans say that their doctrines are biblical, as do the Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Baptists, Nazarenes, Mennonites, Moravians, Plymouth Brethren, Seventh Day Adventists, and Disciples of Christ—and Catholics.”

i) Yes, “and Catholics.” And how does a Catholic know that the Catholic authorities are valid? The same question must be asked of every contender—including Catholicism. And, in each case, you must exercise your own, personal judgment.

ii) At the same time, Blosser also exaggerates the need to choose between one denomination and another, as if only one denomination exemplifies the true church.

Blosser has a predictable habit of framing questions from a Catholic perspective. That’s understandable, but it also skews the question and begs the question.

“In the final analysis, there would seem to be no more than a couple of alternatives: either we are left with nothing but personal opinion, illumined as it may or may not be by private interpretations of others—which means it comes down to this: every man for himself, interpreting Scripture as best he can and joining whatever group or denomination agrees most closely with his personal understandings.”

Notice his deistic way of describing the Protestant alternative, as if God’s providence were in abeyance.

“Or God has established some kind of identifiable authority, with a promise of protection against error, to guide the Church.”

And how does he identify this identifiable authority? How does he identify the true church?

“Why is it important for the advocate of sola scriptura to also affirm ecclesiastical authority? Because if the Church has no authority, there is no discipline.”

i) Church discipline is nearly nonexistent in Catholicism. So, if church discipline is Blosser’s rationale for the Catholic rule of faith, then the rationale undercuts the Catholic rule of faith in actual practice.

ii) Underlying his attack on sola Scriptura is Blosser’s unspoken and unsupported assumption that the rule of faith is supposed to function a problem-solving device, and if it fails to solve the problem, then it’s a faulty rule of faith. But the rationale for sola Scriptura is principial rather than pragmatic. As I recently said:

Sola scripture derives from the identity of the Christian faith as a revealed religion. We believe in sola Scriptura because we believe in the primacy of revelation. Revealed theology is the basis of doctrine. And Scripture is the only record of revealed theology.

The Classical Calvinist Concept of God

Paul Helm has posted a draft to his contribution to the forthcoming (2007) book, Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views, ed. Bruce Ware.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Sandy Creek Baptist Association In History

The new Founders Journal is hot off the presses. You can get a copy here: Founders Journal.

In this issue, Dr. Tom Nettles has reproduced his excellent article on Shubal Stearns, which has previously been published in Volume 2 of his series on Baptist history, The Baptists. In the second article, I examine the Sandy Creek tradition from a different perspective than others have in the past, namely their sociological context.

Here is the introduction to my article; my desire is not so much to commit to a particular, unrevisable thesis; rather my goal in this article is to encourage students and teachers/professors of Baptist history to widen the scope of their considerations of the Separate Baptist tradition in some as yet uncharted directions. Hopefully, somebody will "run with it."

On November 7, 2005, Sandy Creek Baptist Church celebrated its 250th Anniversary. The church was founded in 1755 by Shubal Stearns and his brother-in-law Daniel Marshall. In 1758, the established an association. Within seventeen years, the church grew to a membership of over six hundred. It spawned forty-two other churches. Many Southern Baptist historians look to Sandy Creek Church as one of two tributaries that eventually formed the Southern Baptist Convention in the 19th century, and they often perpetuate a popularized theory from Walter Shurden and Fisher Humphreys[i] to allege that the “high church” Charlestonians were confessional Calvinists, while those in the Sandy Creek Association were either opposed to Calvinism or believed in a “softer” or “moderate,” or “kinder, gentler” Calvinism. Moreover, they imply that the Charlestonians were less evangelistic than the Sandy Creek Association.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Paige Patterson himself, who would never recognize Humphreys and Shurden as friends of the conservative wing of the Convention, has perpetuated this thesis. He preached at the church during its anniversary celebration, and stated “Of all the honors and kindnesses extended to me over the years, none is so great as being asked by your pastor to come here on this anniversary of Sandy Creek Baptist Church.” He said Baptists usually describe the “Southern Baptist river as flowing from two tributaries, one having its beginning in Charleston, South Carolina., the more Reformed tradition of Baptist life, and the other at Sandy Creek...I am a Sandy Creeker. If I could manage to have honorary church membership in any church in the Southern Baptist Convention, it would be Sandy Creek,” adding that he fully appreciated what the church has carried on throughout the years. “We Sandy Creekers still believe we are in the era of evangelism, missions and great revival.”[ii] With all due respect, Dr. Patterson is many things, but, given his rejection of the doctrines of grace, he is no true “Sandy Creeker.”

Baptist historians of the past differed with this thesis, but to some extent this should not come as a surprise given that some even then were sometimes unsure how to treat the North Carolina Separates. On the one hand, R.B.C. Howell blunderingly called them “Arminians, “ for, in his work, The Early Baptists of Virginia, Howell notes that the early Baptist immigrants from Virginia came from both General and Particular Baptist stock, but labels the Regulars as Particulars and Separates as General Baptists.[iii] Among those differing with Howell, we find William Whitsitt.

These Separate Baptists were all of them Calvinists by persuasion. They were not Calvinists of the stern old type that formerly had prevailed but rather Calvinists of the school of Jonathan Edwards and adherents of the New Divinity. On that account they were often described as New Lights. For the main part their sympathies and cooperation were given to the Calvinistic brethren in New England and against the Arminian Baptists.. Thus by the agency of Mr. Whitefield a change was produced almost in the twinkling of an eye by means of which the Calvinistic Baptists gained ascendancy in the New England colonies. Nothing could have been more extraordinary or unexpected than such a transformation. Arminianism had been steadily growing in New England for several decades; making progress not only in the Baptist community as has been shown but likewise in the established order. Jonathan Edwards rose up to stem the tide and to stay the progress of defection, and by the aid of Whitefield accomplished a revolution. This revolution, however, was more apparent among the Baptists than in the ranks of the Established Church. It altered the whole aspect of affairs[iv].

M.A. Huggins went so far as to say that Stearns was an Arminian,[v] and George Paschal went so far as to deny that the soteriological section of the Sandy Creek Confession itself was from Stearns hand.[vi] Lumpkin classifies most Separates as “modified Calvinists” who had little to say about predestination, particular atonement, and unconditional election.[vii]

The Founders Journal itself has revisited this thesis a number of times.[viii] Tom Nettles has devoted an entire chapter of his most recently published work to the legacy of Shubal Stearns himself.[ix] Indeed, this all leaves the clear impression that folks have never been entirely sure how to treat the North Carolina Separates, and there is a need to revisit the historical data to rehabilitate their history in light of what many believe to have been the hand of historians generally hostile to Calvinism. Clearly, however, the Separates and the Regulars differed, and they differed enough that historians have been unsure what to do with them, leading to some varied, if not contradictory evaluations of them. Some historians may have been biased against Calvinism; others, however, may have been biased toward it, so simply chalking the assortment of competing theses up to bias appears to be little more than an exercise in the genetic fallacy. No doubt, however, this element does enter into any evaluation of the Separates that endeavors to categorize them theologically. How then can this tension be resolved?

There are no easy answers, particularly when looking for interpretive historical connections. In this article, we shall first review the confessional data, as Baptist historians have tended to concentrate their evaluations here. In the second section, we shall introduce some data not often considered that may help shed light onto the North Carolina Separate (Sandy Creek) tradition and suggest that perhaps the answer lies not in perpetually rehashing their confessional tradition, but in evaluating the actual nature of the differences between the Separates and Regulars in North Carolina in light of the cultural character of North Carolina and its people during the time in question. In short, what is the actual nature of the differences between the Regulars and Separates; and what was North Carolina like, and how might this have affected the Separate tradition as a whole?

[i] See Fisher Humphreys, The Way We Were: How Southern Baptist Theology Has Changed and What it Means to Us All (New York: McCracken Press, 1994), 85. Humphreys follows the view of Walter Shurden as set forth in "The 1980-81 Carver-Barnes Lectures" (Wake Forest: Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1980).

[ii] Gregory Tomlin, “Sandy Creek: Tributary of Baptist life celebrates 250 Years,” Baptist Press, November 7, 2005. See Baptist Press Online at

[iii] R.B.C. Howell, The Early Baptists of Virginia (Philadelphia: The Bible and Publication Society), 89.

[iv] William Heth Whitsitt, “Baptists in America”, handwritten ms, in Tom Nettles, The Baptists: Volume 2 (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus/Mentor, 2006), 171.

[v] M.A. Huggins, A History of North Carolina Baptists 1727-1932 (Raleigh, NC: General Board of the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, 1967), 66.

[vi] Nettles, The Baptists Vol.2, 167.

[vii] Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations In the South, 62 in Nettles, The Baptists: Vol.2, 170.

[viii] See Josh Powell, “Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek Tradition,” Founders Journal, Spring 2001, 16-31.

[ix] Nettles, The Baptists: Volume 2, 153-173.