Sunday, July 11, 2010

Winning the race

Bryan Cross June 15th, 2010 5:48 pm:

If the doctrine of baptismal regeneration is “impossible in the Reformed system,” and if all the Church Fathers unanimously testify to the truth of baptismal regeneration, then either ecclesial deism is true and in the most amazing fashion the true understanding of the nature of baptism was almost immediately and universally lost throughout the whole universal Church, or the “Reformed system” is false.

This type of argument is a very popular argument among Catholic epologists. Indeed, they act as if that’s a knock-down argument against the Protestant faith. That the church would later depart from the teachings of the earlier church is inconceivable. But a few comments are in order:

1.To begin with, there are notable scholars who don’t think the early church actually taught what Catholics like Bryan attribute to the early church concerning the nature of baptism (an other issues), viz. Kurt Aland, Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004); Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology, and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Eerdmans, 2009); Steven A. McKinion, "Baptism in the Patristic Writings," T. Schreiner & S. Wright, eds. Believer’s Baptism: The Covenant Sign of the New Age in Christ (B&H 2006), 163-88; David F Wright, Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective: Collected Studies (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007); What Has Infant Baptism Done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the End of Christendom (Paternoster, 2006).

So even if Bryan’s argument was valid, they reject the premise.

2.But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that that’s an accurate description of the Protestant position, viz. the true teaching was “lost” at a later stage in church history. Why is that consequence implausible or unacceptable?

After all, on any reckoning, including Bryan’s, we have a situation in which one set of professing believers is deceived while another set of professing Christians is not. Why does Bryan think it’s unacceptable for millions of Catholics to be deceived, but acceptable for millions of Protestants to be deceived? Why is it inconceivable that God would allow Catholics to fall into grave error, but quite conceivable that God would allow Protestants to fall into grave error? So why does the onus automatically fall on Protestants rather than Catholics?

And, of course, this isn’t just a Catholic/Protestant divide. The Eastern Orthodox think that Catholics, Protestants, and Oriental Orthodox happen to be deceived, while the Oriental Orthodox return the favor.

Why is it inconceivable to Bryan that God would allow the church of Rome to go off the rails even though God allowed the Great Schism, the Western Schism, and the Protestant Reformation?

Bryan evidently takes the position that the gates of hell shall sometimes prevail.

3.Moreover, why make the early church the standard bearer? Isn’t what ultimately matters not how the race began, but how it ends?

Some racers begin well, but fall behind, or drop out of the race before they cross the finish line–while other racers get off to a rocky start, but pick up speed, overtake the competition, and finish on a strong note. Likewise, what matters in the walk of faith is not where you start, but where you finish. He who endures to the end will be saved.

So why should we judge the progress of church history by the early stages of the race? After all, a racer can storm out of the starting gate, but break a leg on the backstretch. You don’t win the race by how you begin, but by how you end. Many losers were in the lead. But they didn’t have the staying power to finish what they began.

1 comment:

  1. Think of how many Catholic beliefs are widely absent and/or contradicted in the Bible and early church history. In order to find alleged support for a later belief in scripture, Catholics will often interpret scripture in some manner other than the grammatical-historical method that's normally used to interpret other documents. Or they'll cite later support for something like the sinlessness of Mary or her assumption in some patristic sources. But if the beliefs in question are absent and/or contradicted in earlier generations, why think that later patristic support is sufficient? A doctrine like justification apart from baptism has far better early support, especially in scripture, than some of the doctrines held by Catholics. The Catholic concern for a lack of early support for a doctrine is highly selective and dubious.