Thursday, October 20, 2022

Were Ephesus and Constantinople prominent because of a perpetual office instituted by Jesus or the apostles?

Because none of the earliest Christian sources refer to a papacy, Catholics often resort to suggesting that any sort of reference to a prominence or primacy of the Roman church is adequate evidence for the office. But when sources like Paul, Ignatius, Dionysius of Corinth, Irenaeus, and Tertullian commend the Roman church for non-papal reasons, it doesn't make sense to equate that with affirming that the Roman bishop has papal authority. It's sometimes suggested that critics of Catholicism are asking for too much when they make that sort of distinction. But it does make sense to distinguish between two concepts that aren't the same, and we do that with other early churches and early bishops. Think of how prominent churches other than Rome were in early church history (Jerusalem in the book of Acts, Ignatius' comments about the significance of the church of Ephesus, what Irenaeus said about the importance of the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna, the prominence of Constantinople in later centuries, etc.). All that Protestants and other critics of Roman Catholicism are doing is applying the same reasoning to Rome that we and Roman Catholics apply to other churches.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Petrine Primacy Isn't A Papacy

A good passage of scripture to bring up in discussions of the papacy is Matthew 11:11. We're told that nobody born of women is greater than John the Baptist. We don't conclude that he therefore was a Pope or that nobody, including Peter, could have had any authority over John. He could be unsurpassed in one sense without being unsurpassed in another sense. Similarly, when Jesus goes on in the same verse to say that he who is the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John, it doesn't follow that some sort of jurisdictional primacy is in view. Matthew 11:11 illustrates the fact that there are multiple ways in which somebody can be considered to have a primacy. Somebody like John can simultaneously be unsurpassed in one context without being unsurpassed in another. And the placement of the passage in Matthew 11 is significant, since Peter's primacy in 10:2 is often cited as evidence that he was a Pope, as are the comments about him in chapter 16. As I told a Catholic I had a discussion with earlier this year, do a search on terms like "greatest" and "first" in Matthew's gospel and see what conclusions you end up with if you interpret all of those passages as referring to papal authority. We use categories and language of primacy often in our everyday lives without thinking of a papacy or something equivalent to it. One person will be a leader among a group of friends (making certain decisions for the group, taking the initiative more often than anybody else, etc.) without having any equivalent of papal authority. We speak of who the greatest military leader was, the greatest American president, or whatever without having any equivalent of a Pope in mind.

You can believe in a Petrine primacy, as I and many other non-Catholics do, without believing in a papacy. I also believe in a primacy of John the Baptist, a Pauline primacy, and primacies of other Biblical figures. Peter is the greatest among the Twelve in some ways, and my sense is that he's probably the greatest among the Twelve overall. (You could argue that John the son of Zebedee is the greatest, because of his influence on later history through his gospel and because of other factors, but my sense is that Peter is the more significant of the two overall.) However, I'd place Paul ahead of Peter if you go beyond the Twelve. That Pauline primacy doesn't involve a papacy, just as Peter's primacy doesn't.

If a papacy had existed in early Christianity, we probably wouldn't have to go to passages like Matthew 10:2 and 16:18-19 to find unverifiable, possible allusions to it. Go here for a discussion of how the papacy is absent across many contexts where we'd expect to see it mentioned if the office existed early on. And go here for a collection of resources on the papacy more broadly.

We can think of a series of steps involved in sorting through these issues. For example, if a passage like Matthew 10:2 or John 21:15-17 is cited in support of a papacy, is a papacy implied by the text in question? None of the passages cited by Catholics (in scripture or in the earliest sources outside of scripture) logically lead to a papacy. We can go on to ask whether we'd expect a papacy to be mentioned in certain places if the office existed at the time (e.g., the many New Testament passages on church government issues, the early patristic comments on why the Roman church is significant). We can also ask if any of the relevant sources seem to deny the concept of the papacy. You can read my material linked above for examples of all three of these questions being addressed. But we don't need to go through all of these steps to be justified in not believing in a papacy. The insufficiency of the arguments for a papacy are enough to justify not accepting the concept, even if we thought that no early source contradicts the concept or have never even considered whether any early source does so. We take the same approach with any other matter involving some type of primacy (Matthew 11:11, the unique name given to James and John in Mark 3:17, the unique language applied to Paul in the context of Acts 9, the focus on Paul in Acts, Paul's having written more books of scripture than any other apostle, John's being referred to as "the elder", etc.).

"At open variance with this clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church are the perverse opinions of those who, while they distort the form of government established by Christ the Lord in his Church, deny that Peter in his single person, preferably to all the other Apostles, whether taken separately or together, was endowed by Christ with a true and proper primacy of jurisdiction; or of those who assert that the same primacy was not bestowed immediately and directly upon blessed Peter himself, but upon the Church, and through the Church on Peter as her minister....For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and blessed Peter, the Prince and Chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives presides and judges, to this day and always, in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome" (First Vatican Council, session 4, chapters 1-2)

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Letters of Samuel Rutherford

I love The Letters of Samuel Rutherford. I think they should be far better known than they are. In fact, I'd say The Letters of Samuel Rutherford should be considered a Christian literary classic. Just like (say) The Confessions by Augustine of Hippo, Proslogion by Anselm of Canterbury, The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, Communion with God by John Owen, The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards, etc.

For one thing, The Letters of Samuel Rutherford offer a historical window into the 1600s. The age of the Puritans. Rutherford lived from 1600-1661. A time of tremendous political and religious upheaval in the British isles and continental Europe. A time when there was both philosophical theorizing over the proper relationship between church vs. state (e.g. Thomas Hobbes wrote his Leviathan during this period; Rutheford also penned Lex, Rex) as well as literal persecutions and wars with the state and its arm of the established church (episcopacy) attempting to subjugate genuin Christians. The English Civil War, Crown vs. Parliament, the beheading of Charles I which was shocking at the time since monarchs had virtually never been executed by their people, Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads, and so on. Yet it was likewise a time of tremendous reformation and revival for Protestant Christians. The Westminster Assembly was convened in this period by Parliament to reform the church, and Rutherford played a role in it. And consider that Rutherford lived contemporaneously with fellow Christians like John Owen (1616-1683), John Bunyan (1628-1688), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662); political leaders like Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), William Bradford who governed Plymouth Colony (1590-1657), King James of the KJV (1566-1625); artists like Rembrandt (1606-1669), Shakespeare (1564-1616), John Milton (1608-1674); and scientists like Galileo (1565-1642), Kepler (1571-1630), even Isaac Newton as a young man (1643-1727). I think there are some significant parallels from this period with us today.

More importantly, I think, The Letters display Rutherford as a devoted pastor who dearly loved his flock. Ironically, the bulk of The Letters (approximately 220 out of 365 letters) were written while Rutherford was in exile away from his flock. His flock lived in and around the little town of Anwoth in southwest Scotland near the English border. However, Rutherford was forced to move away from Anwoth by the ecclesiastical powers-that-be of the day. They forced Rutherford to live far north in Aberdeen where the ecclesiastical powers-that-be thought he'd be silenced. Yet thanks to God's providence, thanks to God who can bring good out of evil, Rutherford's exile did the opposite of silencing him inasmuch as his exile served as a major inspiration behind The Letters. Even today we can say of The Letters of Samuel Rutherford: "though he died, he still speaks" (Heb 11:4).

Finally, in terms of practical theology, The Letters illustrate Rutherford's deep care in guiding his flock, most of whom were average laypeople, from highborn to lowborn, how to walk with the Lord in tremendous suffering. Suffering that most of us today wouldn't have to face. Suffering that most of us today hear but faint echoes of when we hear of tragedies in developing nations or persecutions in nations like China or the Muslim world. From losing one's spouse and/or children to dealing with debilitating diseases to enemies of the faith seeking to literally kill them. Rutherford himself lost a wife at a young age (~30) as well as experienced the deaths of all but one of his half a dozen children. All the while Rutherford holds forth to his flock (and to us) "the loveliness of Christ".

To my knowledge, Banner of Truth publishes two versions of The Letters. A Puritan Paperbacks edition that contains a selection of Rutherford's letters and a full version that contains all 365 of Rutherford's letters along with other material (e.g. a biographical sketch of Rutherford's life). Personally I'd recommend the full version (ISBN-10 0851513883 | ISBN-13 978-0851513881). The full version is also available to download and read for free via Project Gutenberg which in turn is made possible thanks entirely to Andrew Bonar's work (see here). In fact, the Banner of Truth's full version is a facsimile edition of Andrew Bonar's work back in the 1800s so you'd get the same edition via Project Gutenberg as Banner of Truth publishes. (Banner of Truth has likewise published The Loveliness of Christ which is a very short book that takes a handful of quotations or excerpts from The Letters. It's much briefer than even the Puritan Paperbacks edition of The Letters. It's a good book to whet one's appetite for the full work.)

Portage Publications has a nice pdf version of The Letters. And our friends at Monergism have done various versions of The Letters as well.

Some others who have commended The Letters:

  • Charles Spurgeon: "When we are dead and gone let the world know that Spurgeon held Rutherford's Letters to be the nearest thing to inspiration which can be found in all the writings of mere men."
  • Richard Baxter (who was no friend to Presbyterians including Rutherford): "Hold off the Bible, such a book as Mr. Rutherford's Letters the world never saw the like."
  • A contemporary of Robert Murray M'Cheyne's said that "The Letters of Samuel Rutherford were often in his hand".
  • Handley Moule: "[The Letters are] a small casket stored with many jewels".

One last thing. I've long loved the poem and hymn "The Sands of Time Are Sinking", written by Anne R. Cousin, based on The Letters of Samuel Rutherford. The full edition of The Letters has a section that tells us which letters lie behind the poem. And I enjoy this version of the hymn:

Other Anti-Roman-Catholic Views Of The Pre-Reformation Lollards

My last post discussed their views on the relationship between baptism and justification. There are many other topics on which they disagreed with Roman Catholicism.

The Oxford Dictionary Of The Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) goes as far as to say that, for the Lollards, "The Scriptures were the sole authority in religion and every man had the right to read and interpret them for himself." (994) J. Patrick Hornbeck's book cited in my last post refers to affirmations of sola scriptura or something similar by Lollards (A Companion To Lollardy [Boston, Massachusetts: Brill, 2016], 74, 141, 149, 170). He provides many examples of Lollard rejection of the papacy and other Roman Catholic authorities.

There was Lollard support for the concept of an invisible church, consisting only of believers (113, 116, 170).

In my last post, I quoted Susan Royal commenting, "Every one of the seven traditional sacraments of the medieval church was called into question or even rejected wholesale by some lollards." (Lollards In The English Reformation [Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 2020], approximate Kindle location 3678). See chapter 4 in her book for a discussion of many examples. I've already cited some of her comments on Lollard views of baptism and justification, in my last post. She also gives examples of rejection of infant baptism and belief in the salvation of unbaptized infants (3879). Some Lollards denied that there's a physical presence of Christ in the eucharist (3773). Royal refers to how some Lollard views "inclined closely to Zwingli's later view of the Lord's Supper" (3800). Hornbeck's book mentioned above gives some examples as well. He rightly notes that there was a diversity of views of the eucharist and a lot of controversies surrounding eucharistic issues in the centuries leading up to John Wycliffe's time and the Lollard movement that followed (29). Hornbeck writes, "Yet to the extent that it is possible to glimpse lollards' views on the eucharist, it may be a valid assessment that most lollards tended to take one of two positions on the sacrament: either they argued that while Christ is spiritually present in the eucharist, so also are the material substances of bread and wine; or else they described the sacrament in figurative terms, stating that it merely commemorates the Last Supper." (121) He refers elsewhere to Lollard views that "the eucharist is Christ's body in only a figurative sense" (123), "merely a memorial" (183). And "It would be tedious to recount in detail every case in which a defendant confessed to believing that the substances of bread and wine remain in the consecrated elements." (124) Much more could be cited. Royal's book also addresses the other sacraments and how Lollards viewed them.

Hornbeck refers to how some Lollards held a view of predestination similar to John Calvin's (112). Hornbeck describes a "scholarly commonplace" of viewing the Lollards as holding a view of predestination that anticipates Calvin's, though Hornbeck challenges that scholarly conclusion. He thinks some Lollards held a view like Calvin's, but that many didn't.

I'm just giving some representative examples among many more that can be found in sources like the ones I've cited. Elsewhere in Hornbeck's book, there are references to Lollard opposition to prayers to the dead (138) and the veneration of images (139-41), for example.