Thursday, February 20, 2014

“Roman” Catholicism is an aberration from Christianity and has been rejected throughout every phase of church history

I’m reproducing some responses I made to Andrew Preslar here, again on the broad topic of "divine revelation":

Andrew, you wrote:

That is painting with a pretty broad brush. Many NT scholars would disagree. ... Of course, arguments can also and at the same time be taken one by one.

Of course.

One of the points that I want to highlight in this regard is that critical scholarship (whether of Apostolic or post-Apostolic church history) is not free from assumptions that function as methodological parameters (e.g., regarding what counts as knowledge in general and / or for purposes of discourse in secular societies / universities) which assumptions affect their conclusions. This is true of virtually every academic field and theological / exegetical line of inquiry. It is essential to evaluate those parameters in order to discover whether they are more reasonable than not.

It is easy to speak in generalities; and I'm aware that there are many who take a skeptical approach toward Scripture. There is no end to the various positions that have been taken.

What I'm referring to, however, is a rich vein of scholarship within the evangelical traditions that all point in the same direction. I'm referring specifically to those writers in the last 50 years, those who draw upon the conservative work of those like J.B. Lightfoot, for example, and continuing with scholars like Cullmann, Westminster, Carl Henry, George Eldon Ladd, leading to today's very broad school of "biblical interpretation", all of whom observe the same or a very similar hermeneutic in their work. The over-riding theme of their work has been described this way:

I don’t believe our goal as Bible or theology scholars is to be deemed among the finest of scholars or to find a place at the table, but to be faithful to Jesus Christ and to the gospel and to orthodox theology and to academic rigor. Yes, we are to work to discover and to be creative, but the driving passion to prove ourselves at the feet of others falls short of a true Christian telos. I’d put it this way: we are called to be faithful, whether we are accepted or not.

For everyone, "our assumptions affect our conclusions". However, "being faithful" and "letting the text speak" (as I've written in another recent comment), enables all of these current writers from this "evangelical" tradition to create a body of work that puts upward pressure on the system "from below". It is having an effect. I’ve recently shared this summary from Dan Wallace:

“I can speak to issues in New Testament studies at Dallas Seminary, which I know best. Our NT faculty have degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen, Sheffield, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dallas Seminary, and Glasgow. We teach a historical-critical method of interpretation, tempered by our presuppositions that the universe is not a closed-system but one in which God has been active. [JB note: and that’s the limit of the “hermeneutical assumption” going in.] Our students are trained extensively in exegesis of the New and Old Testament, are conversant with the secondary literature, and are able to interact with various viewpoints. Something like 80% of our doctoral dissertations are now getting published—and in prestigious, world-class series no less. (The same, by the way, is true of our master’s students who earn their doctorates elsewhere.)”

Wallace also complained, “so many so-called liberal scholars have already predetermined that DTS students get an unacceptable education. They are closed-minded themselves, thinking they know what is taught at the seminary.”

But it's a big and competitive world, and these evangelicals, at least, have the humility to admit that they can’t control everything. That’s a key difference from historical Roman Catholicism. God can be in charge; we don’t have to be.

You wrote:

I suppose that your convictions about the Bible influence how you receive and interact with the results of critical scholarship. And if your convictions concerning the Bible are more reasonable than the methodological parameters of most critical scholars, then you would have prima facie grounds for rejecting the consensus of such scholarship if and when it purports to have excluded things that you believe to be essential to the Bible’s trustworthiness. The same goes for Holy Tradition, granted the Catholic / Orthodox understanding of that witness to divine revelation. If that understanding is more reasonable than secular and Protestant understandings of Tradition, then it will not suffice to note that scholarship working within those parameters has “excluded” the papacy (along with the monepiscopate and whatever else is essential to the Catholic position) from history. And that brings us back to the content of your previous post: the nature and locus of divine revelation. I will try to get back to that when I have the chance.

For now I will leave off by noting when it comes to critical scholarship, what’s sauce for Tradition is also sauce for Scripture.

I think Roman Catholics equivocate on the word "tradition". You here, for example, capitalized the word, but in doing so you use it as a code word, essentially, for “That which Roman Catholicism authoritatively teaches”. I have a thing or two to say about what you have called "the mind of the Church", but this is a different "mind" from that of the Eastern Orthodox, who adhere to "tradition" which is almost a wholly different thing from that "Tradition" to which Roman Catholics adhere.

Just to address this point and take it off the table here, I'd like to describe what Meyendorff said:

In Jesus Christ, therefore, the fullness of Truth was revealed once and for all. To this revelation the apostolic message bears witness, through written word or oral tradition; but, in their God-given freedom, men can experience it to various degrees and in various forms ("Byzantine Theology", (c)1974, 1979, New York: Fordam University Press, p. 10.

No "infallible interpreter" is either needed or presented here, and "divine revelation" is "experienced". This much, at least, is consistent with the Reformed and evangelical views.

You wrote:

Critical scholars claim to tell us what the church depicted in the NT was really like in its beliefs, worship, leadership structure (or lack thereof), and more. That’s the point behind their work.

I think this is not an accurate characterization. It is not the "critical scholars" who tell us these things. Rather, it is the expanded body of work to which all scholars of this genre are turning (and those among you who espouse the work of N.T. Wright do so without considering the larger picture) that is broadening the horizon of "what the church depicted in the NT was really like".

"Critical scholars" (as well as the evangelical scholars I described above) have opened themselves up to a whole new body of literature, beyond the New Testament. This work encompasses such things as "2nd Temple Literature", ancient Greek, Roman and Jewish histories and studies, "biblical archaeology" (as I've related above -- studying the Old Testament, "2nd Temple", and New Testament periods and beyond). The writings of the Apostolic fathers, and early church writers, too, are being compared with and situated within the broader world of that day. It’s not enough to take the quip, “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem”, and be content with it. One studies “Athens” and “Jerusalem”, and everything in between. Trade routes and military practices within the empire give us clues as to how and when and where various theologies came from.

ALL OF THESE WRITINGS, across the board, are enabling all modern scholars, (critical, Roman Catholic, and evangelical) to see and reconstruct what the period was like, and all of these folks alike are able to trace the beliefs, worship, and leadership structures. This is why Roman Catholic writers like Brown and Fitzmeyer and Sullivan and others are able to say the kinds of things they do with such confidence. They are all relying upon this expanded body of literature, which “official, conservative Roman Catholicism” seems not to take into account, and which those of you who believe they are being faithful to it seem to reject.

This is why it is possible to look at a writer from the 1930’s or 1940’s (like Dix, for example), and say “the account he is presenting is missing some important information”. Because it is.

Close-up analyses of these things will continue to clarify the picture (while individual scholars disagree) of where and when the mono-episcopacy first appeared, and what various authorities they had. How and when various forms of worship developed. What they drew upon.

But what's becoming clearer all the time in this picture is that what we identify now as "Roman Catholicism" specifically draws, for its worship forms and leadership structures, upon the 4th and 5th century Roman Empire. It is very clear that the Eastern churches rejected this when it first imposed itself, and it is very clear that many within its own "Tradition" reject this notion as well (not only the Protestants of the 16th century and beyond, but even those from within, such as the ressourcement movement and the Vatican II liberals, all of whom want to step away from that Roman Imperial understanding of things, in their various and diverse ways. Even JPII was looking for “a new situation” for the papacy. The old one was quite flawed.

From the perspective of the Reformers, within the context of the longer history of the church, all of this new information is simply confirmation of what they believed: the Roman authorities of their time had over-stepped biblical boundaries of authority; in doing so, they had adopted many non-biblical beliefs and practices, and in fact, had supplemented that (cemented, and proved their faulty doctrines) by the character of their lives.

Much of what you call “development” from the third and fourth and fifth centuries, may have been useful to the church of the day. But it all needs to be scrutinized again, because much of what you call “development” from the third and fourth and fifth centuries, can be “sourced” in places other than Scripture, and not only have those from the Eastern churches of the 5th, 6th, and 10th centuries rejected it, but the Reformers rejected it, and we, too, may feel confident in rejecting it.

"Being faithful to the Scriptures", as contemporary evangelical scholarship does, and imposing a Roman Catholic Hermeneutic from the outside, as Roman Catholics do (at various levels), are two different things, and for you to say, basically, "none of us is free from our assumptions" is to fail to distinguish precisely how much these different assumptions affect the work that is being done. Between evangelicals of today and those who continue to call themselves "conservative" Roman Catholics, the difference seems to be basically the difference between "listening to what the text says" and "mining the text for proof-texts, in support of a 4th century imperial structure, without paying attention to the overall story of the text".

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