Friday, July 06, 2012

“God needs our help”

I’d like to take off on something that Joshua Lim said, and the hope is that it will have some value in showing what some of the differences are here.

Only what the Catholic Church teaches as binding is binding. The Church is fairly clear as to what is binding and what is not binding. If you have a particular issue in mind it might be better to speak of it specifically rather than in generalities. A Protestant confession or teaching authority has no authority to say what is binding--the only authority a pastor has is to say that he (or she) thinks that Scripture teaches that such-and-such a thing is binding, but going back to the first question, it is not always clear from Scripture whether certain things are binding or not and it ultimately comes back down to the issue of who has the authority to interpret Scripture…

This phrase caught my eye: Only what the Catholic Church teaches as binding is binding. The Church is fairly clear as to what is binding and what is not binding.

Consider this scenario, which I offer as a summary:
1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

2. God created merely by speaking things into existence. God said “Let there be…” and there was.

a. What God says has power; it actually accomplishes things.

b. This is the point at which the Roman Catholic insistence on “interpretation” presses itself, saying “God’s word is insufficient; therefore, you need an infallible interpreter”.

c. Protestants accept (a), and resist (b).

3. “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). I suppose you would say “this is a verse that requires interpretation”.

a. An exegetical understanding of this verse is given in John Currid, (“A Study Commentary on Genesis”, Volume 1, Genesis 1:1-25:18, Darlington, UK an Webster, NY: Evangelical Press ©2003). “And he pronounces a verdict: ‘Behold it was very good.’ The term ‘Behold…’ [Hebrew hinneh] often serves to call special attention to a declarative statement. And when the word for ‘very’ [Hebrew meod] occurs after an adjective it is an absolute superlative. Therefore, the writer is describing God’s judgement of his own creation with great emphasis – it is perfect in every detail, even down to the very intricacies of its being.” (Currid, pg 89).

b. Creation being “very good”, language also is “very good”.

c. Man, as created, was also “very good”.

i. Roman Catholic Church holds that man was somewhat less “very good” than God says he was, and introduces a donum superadditum, some kind of “superadded gift” of grace an “ontic” (or “ontological” gift) that “elevates” man into supernatural fellowship with God.

ii. Protestants, however, accept that Man was “very good” and reject the notion of a “superadded gift” of grace. Man, in the condition in which God created him to be, was lacking nothing “ontologically” necessary to be in “fellowship” with God, and was already in a “very good” [“perfect in every detail”] fellowship with God.

4. Man fell

a. Roman Catholics hold that sinful man is only “wounded” in his nature – only having lost this “superadded gift” in the fall. The result of this is: “original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called ‘concupiscence’”.

b. Protestants hold that sinful man is far worse than wounded:

i. WCF: By this sin [our original parents] fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

ii. They being the root of mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by original generation.

5. God’s remedy:

a. in Roman Catholicism: “Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.” God’s “grace” comes through an “infusion” [“ontological”] and man must “co-operate” with this “grace”.

i. An imperfect metaphor of this is that “grace” is a kind of “oil” that provides for a kind of “healing”; it “enables” the parts to get moving again. But it is imperfect, of course.

ii. Eschatologically, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger looks at the “ontological” meaning and asserts: “we are inserted into Christ and united with him as a single subject” (“Called to Communion” Herder and Ignatius ©1991, 1996, pg 25), a “fusion of existences”; just as in the taking of nourishment the body assimilates foreign matter to itself … in the same way my “I” is assimilated to that of Jesus”.

But as I’ll relate below, this is a misunderstanding of the eschatological end that God has in store for us.

b. Michael Horton, in “Covenant and Salvation” (Louisville, KY and London, UK: Westminster John Knox Press ©2007), [summarizing Reformed theologians] posits that what really happened to man in the fall was not “ontic” – no “loss” of “superadded grace”, but rather, it is an “estrangement”, a broken fellowship based on a judgment of “guilty”.

i. Man, being created “very good”, did not change ontologically in the fall; hence, God’s solution, “forensic justification”, re-enables the koinonia, or “fellowship”, that man lost with God.

ii. This restored fellowship manifests itself not in a “fusion of existences”, but rather, a restoring of the original fellowship [again, rejecting the need for some “superadded grace”]. The “unity” of fellowship is rather a gathering together by God, and his everlasting covenant:

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banish them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and [I] will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.

This is very simple, I admit, again, it is only an outline, and it only contains the emphases I’d like to make here.

The Protestant theologian Herman Bavinck (“Reformed Dogmatics”, Vol 1, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, trans. John Vriend, ©2003, pg. 359) speaks of this:

The doctrine of a supernatural end … is integral to the entire Catholic system, which is constructed, not on the religious antithesis between sin and grace, but on the graduated scale of the good, on the ranking of creatures and virtues, on hierarchy both in a physical and an ethical sense.

The Reformation, by contrast, had but one idea, one conception of human beings, that is, of human beings as the image bearers of God, and this was true for all human beings.

The question comes down to, “what is God doing?” And in this, we need to be very careful to understand what he is doing, and not to “read into” what he is doing, things that he is not doing. (See Deuteronomy, as I have cited it above, says: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you … Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”

Bryan qualified this to say “another possible interpretation of those verses is that they are prohibiting adding to or subtracting from divine commands. And the existence of a divinely authorized oral Tradition and Magisterium is fully compatible with that interpretation of these passages.”

Nevertheless, I would rather rely on an exegesis of the text, using a hermeneutic that seeks to understand the original meaning of the text – what the writer wrote, in the cultural context, with an eye toward understanding it as the original readers would have understood it.

In this context, the “donum superadditum” is something that is “added” by the Magisterium; if you’re Roman Catholic, you accept it, and if you are a Protestant, it is just one more reason to ask, “how infallible is the Magisterium if it’s adding such things all the way through the Scriptures?”

Just how “binding” should something like this be?

[This notion of a “donum superadditum” has an element, too, that touches on the idea of “special revelation”; it is the notion that “God’s revelation is not sufficient” – in the Genesis 1 sense. What the Roman Catholic Church adds to this is something like the notion that its own “interpretation” is required as a kind of “superadded gift” because God’s own word is somehow not able to be understood properly by God’s own creation. I’ll talk more about this at some future point, Lord willing.]

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