Friday, November 20, 2009

Catching Up on BWA

Welcome to By Whose Authority. Is this your first time pursuing this blog? Are you unsure about where or what to start reading? This post aims to help you get up to speed on what has been happening here, from the beginning to the present, without having to read every single post. Keep checking this page every once and a while. It will be updated.

BWA’s Beginning
A joint project was suggested to Catz by an Eastern Orthodox blogger, aimed at critiquing Eastern Orthodox theology and affirming Evangelical theology, but unfortunately it was cut short and the project was continued on a private blog. Eventually, it was discovered that others were interested in this topic, and with the help of Nathanael Taylor and David Nilsen, Catz made the blog public.

BWA's Current Objective

This blog is devoted to addressing questions of Church authority and other doctrinal issues surrounding the Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Our hope is to foster a charitable and winsome dialog in the pursuit of God’s truth.

BWA's Doctrinal Perspective

Currently, we are all Protestant and differ on some matters among ourselves. In the future we may have other contributors as well.

We affirm the Nicaen Creed and Sola Scriptura.

Most of the main contributors have attended Biola University for their undergraduate degrees and are presently working on their MDivs at other places. Their graduate studies have been from Duke Divinity School, Trinity Divinity School (Deerfield) and Westminster Theological Seminary (PHIL/CA).

Suggested Blog Readings:

The Biblical Canon

Sola Scriptura

By Whose Authority

Interesting Topics


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

John Calvin And The Use Of Icons

On The Well of Questions an interesting dialogue has ensued from what began with MG's take on one of my questions about icons, Scriptural authority and the seventh council. Many people responded as a result. The first comment I will list here is one of MG's examples (a classic) offered as Scriptural indication that one should venerate icons. The next will be fromDisposableSoul who had been conversing with MG on the subject in order to gain insight. In response I will be offering an exerp from John Calvin's Institutes and leaving the whole thing open for dialogue in order to gain a better grasp on the argument.

MG says: "An example of the veneration of icons is Psalm 99. In this Psalm, instructions are given to 'Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool'. The word 'footstool' seems to be talking about the Ark of the covenant, given the context (99:1 speaks of God enthroned upon the cherubim) and usage of the phrase 'footstool' elsewhere (see 1 Chronicles 28:2 'I had planned to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, for the footstool of our God'). The word for 'worship' is the same as the word in Exodus 20:5; it is talking about bowing down in front of things. So here we have instructions mandating that Israelites bow down before the Ark of the Covenant. Naturally an Orthodox Christian will want to transfer this Psalm into its Christ-revealing, New Testament meaning. The ark was a type of the cross of Christ, the tomb of Christ, and the Virgin Mary; so this Psalm is talking about bowing down to the cross and tomb of Christ, and the Virgin Mary, and worshiping the Christ who is within these."

DisposableSoul Responds: "Iconography is indeed a powerful expression of the Gospel, to be sure. I, however, never saw icons as anything worthy of veneration; to be respected, surely. Could it be that ‘footstool’ is indeed just a footstool?... Certainly the Sons of Israel revered the ark, but they worshiped the creator of the universe, not the gold and acacia that made the ark. To esteem wood and metal to the point of veneration seems, in my mind, to be in exact opposite of what scripture teaches."

MG draws our attention to the footstool or Ark of the Covenant and says that God commanded the Israelites to bow down in front of the Ark of the Covenant. From there he extends the whole thing to the necessity that we as believers do the same to the Virgin Mary and other signs because Christ is within these as well. DisposableSoul agrees that icons are a powerful expression of the Gospel but doubts whether the icons (or Ark) are to be venerated on the grounds of what MG brought up. He asks whether a "'footstool' is indeed just a footstool".

John Calvin says in his Institutes "The mercy seat from which God God manifested the presence of his power under the law was so constructed as to suggest that the best way to contemplate the divine is where minds are lifted above themselves with admiration. Indeed, the cherubim with wings outspread covered it; the veil shrouded it; the place itself deeply enough hidden concealed it; the veil shrouded it; the place itself deeply enough hidden concealed it [Ex. 25:17-12]. Hence it is perfectly clear that those who try to defend images of God and saints with the example of those cherubim are raving madmen" (Book 1 XI 3).

From what MG provides from Psalm 99 it doesn't seem as though there is any clear command by God to venerate the footstool (or the holy mountain) itself. The place where the footstool was contained was where God would on occassion make Himself known. It was the established place of worship after all. But do we have indication that the footstool itself was being venerated? Not in what MG provides. From what John Calvin provides it also seems the construction of the Ark itself leads us away from such a practice.


I realize there are other arguments offered in favor of the veneration of icons. I ask that comments be limited to this specific argument or extended to evidences that would help or dissuade one from accepting veneration of icons on the basis of Psalm 99 and Exodus.

Of Further Note

One might also consider the words of Jesus in John 4:21-24

"Jesus declared, 'Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Does The Church Have Authority?

At the Eastern Orthodox blog, The Well of Questions, blogger MG has been arguing for some time (most recently, here) that Protestants do not in fact believe that the church has any authority. Rather, we merely believe that the church has been right in those doctrines which it has affirmed at all times and in all places (the “catholic” faith) and that it is better to read the Bible in the light of tradition and the history of doctrine than in isolation. But, MG says, this only amounts to a belief that the church is accurate, not that it is authoritative. In order to be truly authoritative, MG contends that the church must have the inherent power to bind people’s consciences (in other words, an average Christian would be required to abide by the decisions of church councils and hierarchs, regardless of their personal opinion on the matter).

Why is this a problem for the Protestant? Well, frankly, for many Protestants it is no problem at all. Most evangelicals seem to assume that the “church” (which they rarely identify with any particular institution or denomination) has no authority whatsoever. The Pastor is equipped to teach his congregation because he usually knows more about the Bible (and therefore, in MG’s words, he would be more accurate in understanding it), but everyone’s opinion about Scripture is treated as equal. If a member of the congregation disagrees with the pastor there is little sense (if any) that he or she should submit to the Pastor’s judgment. And since so few evangelicals actually subscribe to any creed or confession, it becomes every person, Bible in hand, standing alone on equal interpretive ground.

Historic Protestants such as Lutheran and Reformed, however, would argue that the church does indeed have some measure of authority. Lutheran and Reformed denominations subscribe to creeds and confessions that all professing members must affirm. This is not because the creeds and confessions are believed to be infallible or on equal ground with the Bible. Rather, they are seen as binding because they were produced by official synods (or councils) of the church and are believed to accurately reflect what the Bible teaches. It is here that MG might point out my use of the word “accurately.” Indeed, we do believe that the church is accurate, but do we really believe, when the chips are down, that it has authority?

I would like to suggest that MG has set up something of a false dilemma here. It is true that Protestants do not believe that it is inherently a sin to disobey your pastor or synod, because we believe it possible that both could err. However, it does not follow from this that the church possesses no authority whatsoever. I would like to suggest that, in fact, accuracy produces authority. For example, a doctor is not inherently authoritative in medical matters because he is still human and can err in his diagnoses. However, his medical training makes him far more accurate at diagnosing, and with that accuracy comes a degree of authority over others who lack such training. We would be far wiser to accept the medical advice of a doctor over that of an accountant. This is not merely because the doctor is more accurate at diagnosing medical problems than the accountant, but because that accuracy grants the word of the doctor a level of authority that the accountant’s does not have.

This authority is a derivative authority, then, because it derives from the degree of accuracy that the church body has in interpreting Scripture (which means, of course, that the authority ultimately derives from Scripture). At this point the objection seems to be that the individual Christian is still granted a greater authority than the church, because he or she can simply choose to disobey the church if they feel that their own interpretation is better than the church’s. In such a case, however, I find it likely that the person does not truly believe that the church is accurate, let alone authoritative. If a person truly believes that his church (say, the PCA) is accurate in its interpretations of Scripture, then he ought to give her the benefit of the doubt and adopt an attitude of humility. This would be especially true for lay members of the congregation, who lack the theological training that their pastors and elders have. If a person’s conviction is unshakably strong and the issue is important enough, then they ought to concede that they do not truly believe that their church is on the whole accurate, and they should either find another church or continue to study and seek council from their elders. However, I’m confident that 99% of the time the issue can be resolved with humility. If a lay person (or even a clergyman) would simply adopt an attitude of humility and not immediately assume that they must always be right and everyone else (synod or not) be wrong, then there would be relatively few times in a person’s life where he or she would feel compelled to seriously disagree with their church.

The final question would seem to be, why should a Protestant ever adopt such a humble attitude? Why should a Protestant ever submit to a church’s decision on anything, when the church is not inherently more authoritative than the average lay person? Again, this question seems to presuppose that only an inherent authority can be real authority. But if indeed accuracy can bestow a derivative (and fallible) authority, and human beings are finite and fallen and therefore each individual cannot possibly know everything perfectly, it makes quite a lot of sense to speak of submitting to the church’s authority, even though that authority is neither inherent nor infallible.

If it is argued that the individual still has greater authority than the church because he or she can choose which church to follow and submit to in the first place, I would simply point out that the same is true for those who choose to follow either Rome or Constantinople.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Response to MG (2) On "Private Judgment"

I get the impression that we will continue to speak past each other and not see eye to eye. You limit my options too much in your first response. Only a or b? Two simple choices are not enough to adequately explain or define the terms. How about a third option: (c) only has the power to do this when its interpretation, is not at odds with Scripture or does not make something essential that is not according to what is clear in Scripture.

What is "Private Judment"?
Maybe clarity on the way I am using “private judgment” is in order. In your questions and other comments you continually make private judgment out to be one’s own authority rather than that of the Church’s so that if the individual decides (or judges) the Church is at odds with Scripture and acts accordingly, he or she is the one with the authority (at least this seems to be the implication) and more explicitly by you, the Church then has no real authority.

Your use of “private judgment” as a technical term indicating the absence of intrinsic Church authority (and the implications you also give) maybe is too misleading of a statement and I am not sure it even is a Protestant technical term (?). In fact, most protestants (a good number who are Reformed and informed) have never heard of the doctrine of “private judgment” though they understand the concept I am putting forward. Maybe an explanation on why you chose to make this a technical term would help.

In my view, private judgment is being used as a tool. If I were to see that the Church practice was at odds with Scripture, I would be using my “private judgment” to make this call. This does not mean I am correct or am not bound by true authority in any way. It is simply one of several tools used in personal decision (something that is not used exclusively by Protestants).

Private Judgment= Sola Me?
Does the act of the individual deciding whether or not a given Church has the correct interpretation (private judgment) mean he or she has now become the authority? I think your example in another post is helpful here. You used the analogy of a parent and child relationship. In your use, there are some commands that should be obeyed simply because the parent said so but also brought up an interesting exception. If the child’s parent begins acting insane, then the child may not have to obey his or her parent since the parent is not acting *as a parent*. This concept carried over to the Church in some sense.

You said: “The cases in which it is legitimate to disregard the normative force of what our parents say are when they are obviously being prevented from acting *as parents*. We can describe these as cases of “insanity”, which means severe malfunction of a person that clearly prevents them from properly using the powers vested in them by nature (such as with our biological parents) or grace (as with our spiritual parents).” Still, CLEAR indications are needed in order to properly judge them to be insane or not.

This statement is remarkable. The child or churchgoer can actually use their private judgment to decide whether or not the significant other is insane or not and by consequence whether or not he or she should obey the parent. Does this mean authority is ultimately located in the child or churchgoer? Does this idea defy either’s “intrinsic” authority?

If it is at all possible one be permitted to judge a parent or church to be insane why can’t one make a judgment call about either not aligning with Scripture? If both Sola Scriptura and Prima Scripture believe Scripture is sufficiently clear, then it seems the individual checking the Church’s claims against the final authority (Scripture) as well as what other Christians in those early years believed, could use the tools of reason and judgment to identify a counterfeit form of Church authority or rightly identify the Church’s interpretation as clearly in error.

You said: “…lets say we recognize who the leaders of the Church are, and virtually all of them get together and pronounce a judgment about what we ought to believe, and there are no signs of insanity. They appeal to earlier Church leaders and point out that the greatest teachers of the Church all agreed with the doctrine they are telling us we’re obligated to believe (call it “x”). From what we can tell, they are functioning in their roles and exercising the powers vested in them by grace. In *this situation*, should we obey them? Does the fact that I can tell with a considerable degree of confidence that “the Church said x is true” serve as a motivating reason to believe that x? I think the instructions about Church obedience in Paul’s epistles should be taken this way, even if we don’t grant the infallibility of the Church.”

Again we see the judgment of the individual come into play. He first recognizes the Church is indeed sane- considers the appeal made by the Church to what always has been believed by the Christian community and decides “yes, they do appear to be functioning in their proper roles and exercising their God-given authority.” This does not seem so unlike the route the Reformers took except they reached a different conclusion. They recognized that the Church was not living in accordance with Scripture or what the Christian community believed at all times. At least, this is what they claim to have done.

In the End...
What does all of this mean for Sola Scriptura? Well, in the context of this discussion, it seems the use of one’s private judgment does not make the person reasoning the authority but rather one using a gift from God. It also reveals what he is measuring the present church up against to be the final authority and the others derivative. In addition MG, at least in your examples it looks like a similar private judgment still abounds. It has been a joy conversing with you and I look forward to your response.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Response to MG (1) On the Perspecuity of Scripture

The following is a response to MG who commented on a post titled "Cyril of Jerusalem (2)" in addition to some other ones. I have responded to him topically and would like to see other people voice their opinions. In particular, MG seems to think the idea of "private judgment" is key to Sola Scriptura. He may also view it in opposition to Church infallibility or to a lesser degree, even the Rule of Faith.

In order to save space I will be responding to this entire post topically and not in the order of what was first said since there is a lot of overlap. Let us begin.

Church Authority
You are right to say that we do not believe the Church has an inherent authority. Instead, as Protestants we believe the Church has a derived authority from Scripture (tracing back from the apostles from Christ). Under this model does the Church have real authority? Absolutely, unless you define real authority as infallible authority. A prophet has no authority in and of himself; however he is considered an authority because he speaks the Words of God. In another sense, the Church preserving and proclaiming the Word of God has authority in a derived sense. They are not communicating their own invention but rather what they received from the apostles and the apostles from God. If they decide to teach that God is actually four persons in one, then they stop having authority since they are no longer deriving it from the Word of God and have been cut off from the source. Another way in that the Church can be authoritative is thus: someone within the Church teaches that Jesus was not God and therefore the Church can kick them out. On what grounds? The apostolic word that comes from God Himself. This apostolic word is in Scripture and reflected in the Rule of Faith.

Many Reformed Protestants point towards one tradition committed to the Church in oral form and later in written form (the apostles spoke to them and then later put words into writings). The content is identical. The Rule of Faith and Scripture. The former was written into the later.

You asked: “Why should we accept the Church’s inferences from Scripture about what the New Testament teaches, if there is nothing inherently normative about the Church’s inferences?”

Because it goes back very early to the key apostolic source and the writings we have now, it all seems to line up strongly with it. Sadly, there is no one hundred percent certainty here since our judgments themselves are not infallible and so recognizing which is the derived authority (or infallible if EO is right) is not absolutely full proof. Still, in order for the Church to hear what the apostles spoke and wrote and preserve it, she does not necessarily need to have the inherent authority within herself.

It is my belief that the Church of the first four centuries did not believe the Church in of itself was inherently authoritative (or containing infallible authority). If this is the case then it would seem as though the Church could function authoritatively without being so inherently. For this I am still in the process of research but I am open to any other Church father quotes you wish to provide here for inspection on this matter.

Private Judgment and Conscience
How does private judgment and conscience play into this?
You defined private judgment as the denial of the believers’ conscience being bound by the inherent interpretative authority of other Christians. Since this is what you meant I apologize and agree with you that we deny the Church’s inherent interpretive authority. This mostly comes from the context of the Roman Catholic Church and situations surrounding her exercise of authority. It might also apply to the EO in that we do not think the Church has the inherent authority it claims to have.

However, this outlook does not put the inherent authority in the individual believer either. Rather, he has the task of judging and searching for the inherent authority. He must decide and be held responsible accordingly. If for some reason he decides that God is actually five chimpanzees in two essences then he will be held accountable for his beliefs and judged by the Church as a heretic – or possibly a mere loon. The Church rightly judges him too because she is deriving her authority from the Word of God. There is a correct interpretation of Scripture and its essentials are clear enough that the Church and the individual believer studying within her can come to a unified understanding.

Question for clarity: are you defining private judgment in a way that puts it at the absence of Church infallibility or inherent interpretive authority?

Perspicuity to Authority?
You said: It does not follow from the perspicuity of Scripture that the Church has authority.

Again, the Church only has authority in a derivative sense. Its authority comes from the apostolic and prophetic word (contained in Scripture). The idea is that God is communicating His very Words (which are infallible) in Scripture in order to bring about the salvation of the world. He wants to be understood and has made Himself clear enough.

Here is where perspicuity interacts with the Rule of Faith (two ways you can go):

1) People hear or read these words and understand them well enough to give their lives to God, and that all of these people are in agreement on these essential matters (Rule of Faith). They may express the exact same ideas in different words but the content is all the same more or less. Because the content is identical to the apostolic word, the authority is derivative.

2) The apostles communicate orally what ought to be believed and then write their words down as well in a manner that is understandable. The people listen, understand it and pass it on – checking the writings the apostles gave them and even checking with the apostles themselves while they were alive. The content is the same. Because the content is identical to the apostolic word the authority is derivative.

The idea I am trying to express here is that the Church’s authority is derived from the apostolic word and that this word ultimately coming from God is the source of understandable authority.

Patristics and SS
What indication does one need from the Church fathers in order to accept SS and reject RC or EO on a merely patristic basis?

So far as my studies have taken me (and I still have a long way to go), it seems the following are needed for SS:

 Indication that Scripture and Tradition are not mutually exclusive ideas in the early period of the Church (same content).
 The material sufficiency of Scripture.
 The ultimate authority of Scripture.
 The formal sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture.
 Maybe the self-interpreting nature of Scripture.
 An absence of a widely held belief in Church infallibility.

I think the first four centuries are the best place to start because they are more near to the apostles. There are other conditions that need to be in stone in order to accept an EO or RC model, but for now I think it is enough to cast serious doubt on their positions if one can not find a clear indication of a belief in Church infallibility within these early periods.

Specific Questions and concerns:
1) I said: “If you want to just talk about whether interpretations are inherently normative to bind consciences go for it. I have yet to see anything unambiguous out of the early church fathers or anything convincing by ways of reason…even less so from Scripture.”

You said: I’m just trying to show that your quotes do not exclusively support SS. I think that when we supplement the quotes that you give with quotes that affirm the binding authority of hierarchs’ judgments, and the infallibility of the Creed, the infallibility of the Ecumenical Councils, etc. we get the conclusion that the Fathers taught Prima Scriptura, not Sola Scriptura. I will continue to argue for this slowly but surely.

Yes, some of the quotes may be elements needed for another Tradition model. These quotes are aimed at supporting SS (this includes these) and ultimately dismantling the claim that SS is unhistorical or without Church father support – an invention of the Reformers. If all of the essential elements of SS are in place and there is an absence of early support for Church infallibility, then the critique might cut the other way.

2) I said: “Rather, the expectation is that if an individual studies the Scriptures he will gain what he needs for salvation because the Scriptures have what is needed…this same thing will also be reflected in the Rule of Faith. For those who are illiterate and unable to study the Scriptures a summary creed was provided in line with what everyone else agreed the Scriptures said was needed for salvation.”

You said: Okay, perhaps, but how does any of that show that Cyril denied the normativity of some interpretations of Scripture?

So far, I suspect there are no unambiguous texts from the early periods of the Church that support Church infallibility or the infallibility of her interpretations. One does not need a quote denying it from a given period if the concept did not exist yet. This would be on your end to support and mine to consider.

3) You said: The specific doctrinal formulation of the Rule of Faith is not contained in Scripture, which does not state the words that Irenaeus, Tertullian, and others used. Surely the words are distinct, even if the concepts are the same.

Yes, but the concept is what we are looking at. If it said something different from what Scripture claimed then we might have to choose between the two. But that might cause problems for the two of us – we might have to acknowledge a more Roman Catholic two-source tradition concept or, if the two are actually at odds with one another (it not being confirmed in Scripture as Cyril says) then we might suppose that we have been given a fraudulent Rule or Faith or that somehow the Word of God (in whatever form that might take) is not understandable (this goes for oral tradition and church statements as well) and perhaps God does not wish to be known in any significant way.

4) You said: “The fact that the specific words are not in the Scriptures means there are two distinct things that may or may not be authoritative: Scriptural teaching that is conceptually identical to the Rule of Faith, and the doctrinal formulation of the Rule of Faith itself.

Even if you agree with the concepts taught in the Rule of Faith, and think they are authoritatively taught in the Bible, this doesn’t entail that you think the *specific formulation* of these concepts in the Rule of Faith is inherently authoritative. So there is a distinction between the Rule of Faith and Scripture, even though there is no opposition."

Either way, the Rule of Faith is derivative. They are not the very words of the apostles. The concepts within are authoritative in a derivative sense. Maybe this might be one way to look at the practice of the individual when interpreting Scripture: he uses several tools at his disposal including his reason (something even one from a high church uses) as he participates with the Christian community when looking at the text. Keep this in mind while considering Luther's statement about there being no salvation outside of the Church. Not all interpretations are equal and on key matters we have no excuse because these things are clear to all.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

John Chrysostom

The Perspicuity and Formal Sufficiency of Scripture

“All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain. But because ye are hearers for pleasure's sake, for that reason also you seek these things. For tell me, with what pomp of words did Paul speak? and yet he converted the world. Or with what the unlettered Peter? But I know not, you sub the things that are contained in the Scriptures. Why? For are they spoken in Hebrew? Are they in Latin, or in foreign tongues? Are they not in Greek? But they are expressed obscurely, you say: What is it that is obscure? Tell me.”

-John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, Homily 3.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cyril of Jerusalem (2)

The Material Sufficiency of Scripture

What else is there that knoweth the deep things of God, save only the Holy Ghost, who spoke the Divine Scriptures? But not even the Holy Ghost Himself has spoken the Scriptures concerning the generation of the Son from the Father. Why then dost thou busy thyself about things which are not written? There are many questions in the Divine Scriptures; what is written we comprehend not, why do we busy ourselves about what is not written? It it sufficient for us to know that God hath begotten One Only Son.

NPNF2, Vol. VII, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture XI.12

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why I am a Protestant: Justification by Faith Alone

The reason why I am a Protestant and not an Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic is because of the Gospel. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches rejects the Gospel of Justification by faith alone. I have given many reasons in this blog why all Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics arguments are unsuccessful, but this blog post will be a positive reason for rejecting the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective and for embracing the Protestant perspective. In this post I will argue that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox understanding of justification is incorrect according to our earliest Christian Testimony: The Bible. Thus, we should have a strong reason to doubt these two Churches and embrace the Protestant position.

The fundamental difference between the Protestant understanding of justification and the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspective is the role of works in justification. The Protestant position is that no type of work can contribute to ones justification, whereas in the Eastern and Roman view it affirms that certain works can contribute to your justification. Here are my four arguments for the Protestant position:

1) The Bible teaches that Grace is only compatible with faith and not works:

In order to have a clear understanding of justification we have to have a biblical conception of Grace. This is Grace as Paul defines it:

Romans 11:6 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Works here are generalized and there is no reason in the context at all to limit these works to types of works rather than all works in general. Thus, we see that grace is such that it is incompatible with works. Another reason for thinking that grace excludes all works is Romans 6:1-2 because Paul could not ask this rhetorical question if the concept of grace were such that works could be mixed in with it:

Romans 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 4:16 tells us that the promise has to rest on faith because that is the only thing that is compatible with Grace. All this is really interesting, but how does it relate to the doctrine of justification? Well Paul makes it clear that we are justified by grace, which means not by works, but only faith:

Romans 3:23-24 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his *grace* as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

Thus, justification is by grace and by the definition of grace: by faith alone.

2) Justification by faith apart from works:

The Bible out rightly claims that justification is by faith apart from works of law:

Romans 3:27-31 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Now many objectors to justification by faith alone are quick to point out that they do not see the phrase “works of law” as all works in general and thus this cannot be an argument for sola fide so they say. But the problem is that Paul connects his thoughts in this context from the exclusion of boasting and if any works could contribute to our justification then we would have grounds for boasting, but clearly Paul here would rule out types of boasting and therefore we have good reason to think this is referring to all types of works.

An even stronger argument for “works of law” meaning all works in general is that it fits Paul's argument and context better than any non-Protestant interpretation. The part of Paul's argument that I am referring here to is 3:31 where Paul asks the rhetorical question about whether we even need to follow the law in the first place if Paul's understanding of justification were to be correct. Paul’s view of justification is such that it leads one to ask this rhetorical question: If we really are justified by faith alone then do we need to follow the law? Paul answers that just because we are justified by faith alone we still need to follow the law, but that the following the law does not justify us. The Sola Fide understanding of this text is the most preferable than the alternative for this reason. For if the Roman or Eastern understanding were being taught here then Paul would have no reason to anticipate this question because Paul could have always said “well you need to follow other works and other laws for justification”. And clearly this is lacking from his teaching on works and justification.

3) The Justification of the ungodly:

The Bible clearly teaches that God justifies the ungodly:

Romans 4:5 5 And to the one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Obviously someone who is ungodly is not actually righteous and has not done a sufficient amount of works to be right before God. But God legally counts him as righteous when he has faith. Now the East and Rome will be quick to point out that what justify here means is that God spiritually transforms the believer to make him pleasing to God, but the problem is that the Greek word for justify or “dikaioo” never means that. It either can mean to declare righteous someone that is actual righteous or not actually righteous, but legally so. It seems that given this passage that this is a declaration of righteousness on the ungodly thereby suggesting that the latter meaning (legal) is being used here rather than the former (actual). Thus, this word is being used here as a legal declaration in the context of a court room before God (Rom. 4:2).

4) Salvation is by Grace through Faith:

One of those most popular passages for proving sola fide has been Ephesians 2:8-9, it reads:

Ephesians 2:8-9 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Christians have been saved, a past reality, by grace through faith and not by works. It could not be any clearer than this. The East and Rome have a hard time arguing that this is referring to only certain works here because salvation as a whole is by faith and grace which is not your own doing, but if we could achieve salvation by any works then it would be our own doing and therefore any works ought to be excluded. Paul in the end seals his argument with saying that because of all this no one can boast, but if this did not rule out all works then someone could boast, but Paul clearly would never intend for us to think that.

Concluding thoughts:

Therefore, since the earliest Christian testimony is clear that justification is by faith alone we should reject any works based systems like Mormonism, the Watch Tower, Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, and Roman Catholicism. All of these views reject the Gospel of justification by faith alone. We have to remember that all false religions and Gospels are man centered and are not centered on the person and perfect work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the refutation of all the positive arguments that the East and Rome gives for believing their positions see the following blog posts:

Canon Argument:


Infallible Interpretations:

Scripture Alone:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Refutation of the Canon Argument

Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox use the Canon argument against the Protestant position to show the necessity of an Infallible and Authoritative Church to epistemologically justify what books belong in the Canon (the books of the Bible).

The Argument is as follows:

P1: If one does not have infallible and authoritative church to determine the canon then one cannot know what books belong in the canon

P2: Protestants do not have an infallible and authoritative church to determine the canon

C: Hence, Protestants cannot know what books belong in the canon

A Rejection of the Argument:

The Protestant ought to reject P1 because one who holds to the Protestant position can say that the Bible self-authenticating and self-verifying thereby suggesting that when one reads it they just know it is God speaking to them. To use philosophical jargon: It is a properly basic belief what books are divinely inspired and belong in the Canon of scripture. A basic belief is a sort of belief that is reasonable to hold without inference and arguments, but yet these reasonable beliefs are basic or foundational for inference and arguments to start. Here are a few basic beliefs that are reasonable to hold without inference or argumentation: The existence of the external world, the fact that you have existed longer than five minutes, that you have reliable faculties, that we are not in a matrix and that we are not brains in vats. Therefore, it is a properly basic belief that God speaks to me through the 66 books of the Bible when I read them.

A Biblical Basis:

But is this idea of us being reasonable in believing that the Bible is divinely inspired independent of argument and inference itself a Biblical Idea?

It certainly seems that it is. Jesus says of himself to believers that they will know his voice:

John 10:3-6 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Jesus does not say that they will know the Shepard’s voice on the basis of arguments and inference, but merely that when they encounter it they will know it is the voice of God. This is how the Protestant knows that the 66 books in the Bible are divinely inspired by God.

Do we really need a Divinely Inspired Table of Contents?

At this point the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox might say “well you may know the 66 books of the Bible belong in the canon but you do not have a divinely inspired and authoritative table of contents to the Bible.” In short, they are objecting that in the Bible it never says what books belong and do not belong in the Bible.

How should we respond to this?

The Bible does give a criterion for what books belong as scripture in the Canon (John 10:3-6). However, Non-Protestants will be quick to point out that it does not give the content of which books fulfill that criterion. But why think that we need that? I really can think of no good reason for why that is necessary. Admittedly, it may be subjectively preferable to some, but it is hard to see why this is necessary. They might argue that it makes things clear and that thereby entails that the Non-Protestant position is more reasonable, but I have demonstrated in the last post that just because a position is clearer than another does not constitute a good reason for choosing one position over another.

Concluding Thoughts:

Thus, we have seen that the most popular Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox argument is a complete failure and cannot be used to show that Non- Protestant positions are more reasonable than the Protestant position.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Refutation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Argument from Perspicuity

It is argued that the Roman Catholic (RC) and Eastern Orthodox Church (EO) ought to be preferred over the Protestant (P) position because these churches provide the individual believer with more certainty and clarity concerning claims of Faith and Practice. These institutions, it is argued, can infallibly and authoritatively elaborate and explain doctrine in a way that gives more epistemological certainty and clarity about theological propositions. Thus, from this the RC and EO argue that there positions are more reasonable to believe because they can provide one with more theological certainty than P.

This is how the argument might run:

P1: If r provides more theological certainty than p then r is more reasonable to believe than p

P2: RC and EO provide more theological certainty than P

C: Hence, RC and EO are more reasonable to believe than P

It seems to me that P1 is clearly false. We can think of a counter example to P1 that renders it entirely unreasonable to believe. Let us suppose there was a Christian position where God implanted in our minds *all* infallible and authoritative revelation that could not be doubted in the same way that 1+1=2 cannot be doubted. According to this rationalistic position all theological propositions that are essential for faith and practice were revealed to us in this infallible a priori fashion. Now surely this way of God revealing himself would be far clearer than using our fallible senses that can be possibly mistaken to read or hear infallible propositions. But surely no one believes this position or thinks that because it offers more epistemological clarity and certainty that it ought to be preferred over P, EO, and RC.

Another Problem is that I can find no good reason for even affirming P1, so even if the previous argument were to fail it still seems we have no positive reason for affirming P1. Thus, at best we ought to be agnostic with respect to P1.

Therefore, it seems that this argument is unsound and ought to be rejected when it is used for positive support for RC and EO against P. If one were to accept RC and EO they would have to offer independent reasons for doing so rather than pointing out that if one where to accept it they would have more epistemological certainty concerning doctrine.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Defending The Law/Gospel Distinction: Revelation 14:6-7

In this post I will be addressing an argument against the Law/Gospel distinction from Eastern Orthodox blogger MG's post “Breaking down the Law-Gospel dialectic”. His argument tries to show that the Law and the Gospel are not distinct theological categories. I will distinguish the two in the following way: Gospel is believing in the promises of God especially as it relates to our salvation in Christ alone and the is Law the commandments of God. In short what distinguishes these two: the Gospel is “believing” and the Law is “doing”. In Pauline thought believing is never doing and doing is never believing. Now that we understand the distinction let us take a look at MG's supposed counter example to this distinction:

Revelation 14:6-7 6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal *gospel* to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his *judgment* has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."

MG writes, after quoting this verse:

“If law is observance of commandments (fear, give glory, worship), and the everlasting gospel teaches us to obey God’s commandments, then are the two really in opposition?”

The first theological mistake that MG makes is by pointing out that people who hold to the Law/Gospel distinction think that there is actually opposition between the Law and the Gospel. This is far from the truth because most Reformed/Lutheran accounts of the Law and The Gospel never say that they are opposed to each other but rather they are distinct from one another. The Law and the Gospel work together to bring about God’s redemptive historical plan and thus there is no opposition here, but only a distinction here.

Secondly, why does MG assume that when it speaks of the Gospel it has to be referring to all the imperatives mentioned (fear, give glory, worship)? My contention is that John is only referring to God’s judgment or justice being displayed to believers and non-believers. The Gospel does contain, after all, God’s justice and righteousness (Rom. 1:17) and surely John is talking about God’s justice which is the Greek word “krisis” used in this passage (in the ESV translation above it is translated as judgment). It seems that this is all John is trying to say: that the eternal gospel is God’s coming justice. This is something that Protestants who hold to the law/gospel distinction agree with. This is a statement of fact about God’s righteous purposes and not an imperative for us to follow.

The reason why MG took the verse in this way is because as an Eastern Orthodox person he rejects the follow Protestant positions: 1) The clearer passages of Scripture ought to interpret the unclear; 2) the Gospel is that of believing and not doing.

Paul states clearly that an aspect of the Gospel is justification by Faith alone (Rom. 1:16-17). Also, that those who reject the Gospel and try to add any works to it, as Paul's Jewish opponents did, are condemned to hell (Gal. 1:8-9). If we would let the clear scriptures define what is the Gospel rather than some difficult apocalyptic imagery in Revelation then one would clearly see that what John was talking about was God’s righteousness and justice as an aspect of the eternal gospel rather than bundle of imperatives. But MG did not do this because his church rejects the Gospel and rejects the reasonable interpretive principles that lay at the heart of the Reformation.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Do we need an Infallible Interpretation of the Bible?

Roman Catholics claim that Protestant theology is deficient because one cannot have infallible certainty about doctrine from scripture because they do not have a infallible church to interpret the Bible infallibly. All they have, according to the Roman Catholic, is the fallible opinions of men. In this post I hope to show that given this line of reasoning that Roman Catholics are in the same position as Protestants and that if there reasoning were consistent then this would require a infinite regress of infallible interpreters.

Roman Catholics are in the same position as Protestants:

If the infallible church infallibly interprets a statement x then the infallible interpretation is going to be interpreted by you, a mere fallible person. In short, the Roman Catholic has to fallibly interpret the infallible church, just like the Protestant has to fallibly interpret the infallible Bible.

A Infinite Regress of Infallible Interpreters:

The Problem is that if the Roman Catholics were consistent with their claims then they would end up having a infinite regress of infallible interpreters. Here is how:

If one lays out a condition for theology that for any statement of faith and practice, that statement ought to be infallibly interpreted.

Here is how such a condition would lead to a infinite regress: For every statement x that is interpreted that interpretation becomes a statement y about a statement x. Furthermore, since that infallible interpretation is a statement y then it needs to be infallibly interpreted by another statement w and once it is infallibly interpreted then w has to be infallibly interpreted and on and on.

The Roman Catholics might object and say that "well there comes a point were you just have to interpret the statement x". But if this is true then it becomes a fallible human opinion and no longer a infallible interpretation of the Church.

The problem with this infallible interpretation principle is that it leads to a unnecessary infinite regress and thus a violation of Ockham's Razor.


In conclusion we do not need a infallible interpretation of the Bible because the principles behind it lead to a unnecessary infinite regress. There is no reason to think that we cannot know the meaning of scripture without a church infallibly interpreting it. This is why I think it most reasonable to think that we interpret the Bible as fallible creatures before God, we know what it says but we know it as creatures and not as God.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cyril of Jerusalem (1)

The Ultimate Authority of Scripture

Have thou in thy mind this seal, which for the present has been lightly touched in my discourse, by way of summary, but shall be stated, should the Lord permit, to the best of my power with the proof from the Scriptures. For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell thee these things, give not absolute credence, unless thou receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.
-NPNF2: Vol.VII, Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechetical Lectures, Lecture IV:17.

Friday, July 24, 2009

An Argument for Original Guilt?

Original Guilt is the doctrine that all of humanity is legally imputed the sin of Adam in the garden, even infants. But is there any good reason to believe in this doctrine? Some have objected that it simply is not fair because an agent s has no control over sin x, but yet agent s is held morally responsible for sin x. But perhaps there are good biblical reasons for thinking it is true. Here is two such scriptures that might suggest this:

Romans 8:10 "But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness."


Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned

This is how Romans 5:12 and 8:10 might entail original sin:

P1: When people die it is only because of their sin (original or actual)

P2: Infants die

C3: Hence, infants have sin

P4: The sin that infants have is either actual or original

P5: The sin is not actual.

C6: Hence, the sin is original that infants have.

Most People tend to think that infants in the womb and one day old infants do not have the mental capacity to actually sin, but it seems clear that one day old infants and infants in the womb do die. The sin they die for is therefore, original rather than actual. This argument seems valid and sound to me. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

By Me Alone

Throughout the ages believers have been continually plagued by an old stain from the past- tradition. History reveals that this enemy to our glorious faith has infiltrated our understanding of its relationship with Scripture and perversely deceived even the magisterial reformers. Clearly, the church is in dire need of a
closet reading of the Word. That is, we must open our Bibles on our own and read without being tainted by the traditions of fallen man.

For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.” (Mark 7:8).

Infiltration Unmasked
Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, was key in the church’s battle against Gnosticism. Writing around 130-200 he left a work titled
Against Heresies where he fought against the idea of a secret tradition available to a select few inducted into the Gnostic mysteries. But Irenaeus made a devastating mistake. He developed a concept called the regula fidei or “rule of faith.” It was supposedly a summary of the faith taught by the Apostles and passed down to their disciples. This apostolic faith was safeguarded and permanently written down in Scripture but the regula fidei (often referred to as a summary of what Scripture says) was the necessary context for correct interpretation.

Tertullian living between 155-220 didn’t seem to think there was any significant difference between Scripture, tradition and the church and in refuting a tenant of Docetism he writes, “But there is no evidence of this, because Scripture says nothing” (O
n the Flesh and Christ, ch6). He says something similar in a number of other places too: Against Praxeas, ch.29 and Against Hermogenes, ch.22. But sadly, Tertullian also continues the notion of the regula fidei- the precise wording of which can be found no where in Scripture. In chapter 13 of the treatise On the Prescription Against Heretics he says:

“Now, with regard to this rule of faith— that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend— it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in diverse manners by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.”

It is a Shakesperean tragedy when the faith is put in summary form and the precise wording abandoned even for a moment. But the infiltration does not end in the beginnings of glorious Christendom. This unique concept of how the regula fidei and Scripture should relate continued to be held to by some in the medieval period and the magisterial reformers. Keith Mathison, so-called Protestant and author of
The Shape of Sola Scriptura rightly observes:

“…the position of the magisterial Reformers maintained was essentially that which was held in the early Church and throughout most of the medieval Church- that Scripture was the sole source of revelation; that it was the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; that it was to be interpreted in and by the Church; and that it was to be interpreted according to the regula fidei” (85).

Luther, heterodoxically expounds on the nature and purpose of the church by saying:

“Learn, then, to understand this article most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. For, in the first place, He has a peculiar congregation in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it” (Article 3).

God accomplishing his work in the church? The church is made up of mere fallible human beings. It is folly to hold the entire Christian community to such a great level of importance… the church does not have any authority. Scripture Alone must be our guide.

Luther further wastes his time in trying to defend his views from the councils and fathers. In
On the Councils and the Church he argues that Rome’s claim to the authority of these is actually at odds with the fathers and councils. He naively thinks he can reform the church from the inside based upon this misguided conception that one ought to show reverence to these when they address primary concerns. Misguided indeed.

In the
Institutes of the Christian Religion even Pope John Calvin succumbs to these insidious lies. Calvin acknowledges that the church is dependant on the Word of God. When God speaks, His Word is by definition uniquely authoritative. However, in book four he goes into more detail on the relationship between Scriptural and church authority. He asserts that outside of the church there is no salvation and refers to those who separate themselves from her as fanatics. He proceeds to say “we recognize as members of the church those who, by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the same God and Christ with us” (Institutes IV.I.8).

Calvin does the unthinkable. He sells out the idea of Solo Scriptura when he gives the church such undo authority on earth. What about the individual? What about the each person’s ability to read Scripture for himself and remain in that saving faith alone with his Bible. We must strive for individual liberty in this court of one. Sure Calvin says the final authority rests in Scripture but he continually pulls in the church as a secondary authority. As protestants, how can we stand for such a thing? The good news for Protestants everywhere: we aren’t held accountable to the reformers. Scripture is our guide- not Luther, Calvin or the many early church fathers.

A Turn to Glory
What must be done about this ancient corrupting influence? We must insist that Scripture is the sole authority altogether with no room for compromise. We must reject tradition, the corporate judgment of the church, the rule of faith and the fathers as the irrelevant old men that they are in our quest for God’s sacred truth. We all have the god-given right to interpret the Scripture for and by ourselves. No one must stand in our way. Not early church practice. Not the Reformers.
Not the Archbishop. Not the pastor preaching to the choir. Not those of high church persuasion and not those pseudo protestant churches who insist on the outdated practice of incorporating the rule of faith and church into our understanding of the Word.

Some Practical Steps
Now that danger is certain our mission is clear, it is time to strategize. For your convenience dear readers, I have prepared a step by step guide on how one may (if she so desires) mine the Scriptures for precious life giving gems free from the tyranny of tradition and annoying neighbors.

Locate a good Bible (King James is preferred), flashlight and ear muffs.
“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;” Luke 12:35

Clean out your bedroom closet of all trash, icons, incense, cloths, crosses or other religious memorabilia (unless it happens to be a picture of you and your King James Bible or possibly a mirror).
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12

Pray for unique guidance from the Holy Spirit.
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” John 16:13a

Enter the closet cautiously making sure it is devoid of all unnecessary persons and distractions, your flashlight is on, your ear muffs are in place and your King James is securely tucked under your arm (wouldn’t want to forget that).
"But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness."1 Timothy 6:11

Open and read.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16


*Yes, this post is a joke. However, the Sola Scriptura principal that both Luther and Calvin believed in is different from what many modern evangelicals think of and what many from high church persuasions fight against. The Sola Scriptura the magisterial reformers advocated was not unique (though perhaps the term was). Many in the early Church and medieval period held to a similar notion.
Due to common misunderstandings between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura, I thought it might be helpful to clarify the meaning of the latter and lay out how one might apply this principle in the church.
*Special thanks to Keith Mathison for the "Solo Scriptura" term!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Do Roman Catholics and Muslims Worship the same God?

In this blog post I want to explore the topic of whether Roman Catholics are committed to the belief that they worship the same God as the Muslims worship. It seems that the Roman Catholic Catechism teaches this and if this is the case then one could devise a compelling argument against the Catholic position.

The Qur’an clearly states:

“[4:171] O people of the scripture, do not transgress the limits of your religion, and do not say about GOD except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was a messenger of GOD, and His word that He had sent to Mary, and a revelation from Him. Therefore, you shall believe in GOD and His messengers. You shall not say, "Trinity." You shall refrain from this for your own good. GOD is only one god. Be He glorified; He is much too glorious to have a son. To Him belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. GOD suffices as Lord and Master.”

What is clearly being taught in Sura 4:171 is that there is not a Trinity in the Divine Essence. That is to say: God is only a unity and has no tri-diversity as the Christian Doctrine of Trinity states. Well why might this be a problem for Roman Catholics? The reason why this seems to be a serious problem is because the Official Roman Catholic Catechism states in paragraph 841:

841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."

The Catholic Catechism is suggesting that Muslims and Catholics worship together the same object, namely the one, merciful, God. Catholics adore a God who is One but also three with respect to persons, but Muslims reject that God is three persons and just says he is one. So how could they have the same object of worship? To make it more evident I will lay out three propositions that draw out this contradiction further:

P1: Catholics believe and worship God as a Trinity

P2: Muslims believe and worship God as a Unity

P3: Catholics and Muslims together worship the same object

If the propositions are granted and laid out in this manner there is a clear contradiction between P3 in conjunction with P1 and P2. From this one could come up with this argument against the Catholic position:

P1: The Official Catholic Church teachings on Faith and Practice are true in total

P2: The Roman Catholic Catechism is a part of these true official teachings

P3: The Roman Catholic Catechism contains a falsehood on the object of worship in Islamic theology

C: Hence, the Official Catholic Church teachings on Faith and Practice are not true in total

This seems valid and sound to me. What do you think?

To see the official Catholic Teaching on this from The Roman Catholic Catechism on the Official Vatican site click here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tertullian (155-220)

In Against Praxeas, ch.11 Tertullian says it is the Scriptures that "indeed furnish us with our Rule of faith." Many early Church fathers viewed this "rule of faith" as the proper context for the interpretation of Scripture as opposed to what many heretics were putting forward.

Rule of faith:
Now, with regard to this rule of faith— that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend— it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in diverse manners by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.

Tertullian chapter 13 of the treatise On the Prescription Against Heretics

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

3 Reasons Evangelicals Should Accept The Essence-Energies Distinction

Over the next year or so I will be exploring the concept of the "energies" of God. This is an ancient Christian doctrine that goes back to the Early Church Fathers. While it remains an integral part of the doctrine of God in the Eastern Orthodox churches, it never truly took hold in the Latin West and seems to have been almost entirely forgotten until the Reformers. Both John Calvin and the Reformed Scholastics (such as Francis Turretin) made frequent use of the essence-energies (E-E) distinction in their theology. Sadly, this began to fall out of practice even in Reformed circles, so that today virtually no Western Protestant has even heard of the energies of God.

So, what are the energies? Crudely speaking, they are the "activites" of God. Because God's essence is wholly other, outside of the realm of space and time, incomprehensible, we cannot come into direct contact with it. And yet God is a God who intervenes in his creation and enters into relationship with his creatures. It is the energies of God that we come into contact with. God's glory and love and goodness are all energies. According to Mike Horton:

God's energies are radiations of divine glory, but are no more the divine essence than rays are the sun itself. God's uncreated glory emanates, but the essence does not. ...[The energies are] God-in-Action... They are not God's essence, but a certain quality of God's self-revelation and saving love.
(Covenant And Salvation, 268.)

But we must also keep in mind that the energies are not ontologically separate from God's essence, nor are they parts or pieces of God. They are God.

This may seem a bit confusing, and I have not even begun to do the topic justice. This is merely an introductory post that, I hope, will show that such a distinction is desperately needed in Western Protestantism today. All that is important at this point is that idea that there is a distinction between God as He is in Himself (His essence) and God as He manifests Himself to His creation (His energies).

Now then, three reasons Evangelicals need to start thinking about this distinction:

1) Pantheism (or Panentheism)

There has long been a tendancy in the West toward a kind of Pantheism. Medieval mysticism and its quest for the Beatific Vision was an extreme form of this. If God is absolutely simple and "only" an essence, how do we come into contact with Him without in a sense become a part of Him? What does the Apostle Peter mean when he says that we will "partake" of the divine nature? Do we partake directly of God as He is in Himself? At the very least, this seems to imply some sort of Panentheism, which is the belief that God is contianed within and permeates all of the natural world, as if He were the "world soul." By positing the doctrine of the energies of God, we can explain how it is that we come into direct contact with God and even partake of Him without falling into this dangerous tendency of Western theology.

2) Stoicism

This is not as dangerous of a problem for Protestants today, but it is always a potential. If God is, as traditional Christian theology has always maintained, unchanging and impassible, not affected by his creation (as He says in Samuel, He is not a man that he should repent), one could easily come to the conclusion that God is like the great Stoic philosopher in the sky. After all, impassible could mean "cold" and "unfeeling." Perhaps God is just an impersonal being from which all reality flows, a being who doesn't care about us or love us (certainly not enough to save us from our sin). Again, the E-E distinction saves us from such extremes. God in His essence is simple, unchanging and impassible. But his energies are manifold. Through His energies He comes into contact and enters into relationships with his creatures, and in an analogous way He feels with them, responds to their pleas, etc.

3) Open Theism

I saved the best for last! Of the three reasons I've given, this one is obviously the biggest potential danger for contemporary Protestantism. After considering Stoicism, it should be easy to see how the E-E distinction will help here, since Open Theism is simply the opposite problem. Open Theists want a God who can feel our pain, react to our cries for help, and genuinely respond to our prayers. Ignoring for the moment that the incarnation of Christ solves many of these problems (Hebrews specifically addresses how Christ can empathize with our struggles with sin, for example), the E-E distinction does as well. God's essence can remain unchanging while His energies remain manifold. His essence is simple while His activities in creation are varied.

So, are you interested yet? At any rate, I hope you can see how potentially important this distinction can be for the problems facing modern Protestantism. As I said, I will continue to explore this theme in greater detail over the next year. This is only the tip of the iceberg. If I've managed to whet your appetite, you can hear more on the E-E distinction in Mike Horton's systematic theology lectures (click here), specifically the most recent lectures on the incommunicable attributes of God. For a slightly more detailed introduction to the topic and its relation to the early Reformers' theology, check out the last section of Dr. Horton's book Covenant And Salvation (click here to buy the book online).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Melito and the Eastern Canon (2)

In the previous post Melito’s canon list was suggested as good insight into the earliest canonical tradition of the Christian Church. His Old Testament list is the oldest among Christians and in content is curiously close to the Protestant and Hebrew canon. None of what Protestants call apocryphal books are present and only gradually become evident in lists later on. While this is the case, it is important for me to be clear that while Eastern canonical lists tend to be more conservative, this does not mean there was no canonical confusion at the time (after all, this is why we have Melito‘s list in the first place), nor does it imply that the early Jews had their canon firmly fixed by a council- though I hold that the Jews in Palestine were for the most part without confusion over what comprised inspired writings.

The importance of Melito’s list is mainly two-fold. 1) It gives us insight into the mindset and tendencies of the early Church and 2) offers understanding of what the Jews considered as canonical. What if Melito’s list did contain what Protestants call an “apocryphal” book? This would not only mean that the earliest Christian list of canonical books of the Old Testament contained one, but that the Jewish canon Melito was influenced by did as well which could potential lead us to consider a wider Jewish canon than first thought- though perhaps only by one book.

Disagreements center on a phrase in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14 where some scholars take the Wisdom of Solomon to be included and others think “his Wisdom” is just another name for Proverbs. In this post I will present what I think is the best case for the inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito’s list before giving a case against it. While much research, discussion and annoying of professors has gone into this, I understand my knowledge to be limited and am willing to even altar my posts or extend the discussion based off of good insight or more relevant information on this particular question.

Case For: The Inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon

Overall, the case for the inclusion of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito’s list seems to focus on the books popularity and use within Christendom and its presence in other lists or arrangements- including an Irenaeus citation by Eusebius himself who preserved Melito’s list. Scholars who believe in the inclusion of the book are: De Wette, Lake, McDonald and possibly Sanders. The following case is the product of my interactions with the third as well as the examination of key literature: 1) The Wisdom of Solomon was popular in early Christendom: it is often cited with Proverbs in ancient lists, used by the early Church and cited as Scripture by some Church fathers. 2) The language seems to indicate a separation leading us to think two books are being referred to and 3) Wisdom of Solomon is referred to elsewhere by Eusebius in the same work as the passage under question.

The Wisdom of Solomon was popular in early Christendom and we should not be too surprised to discover its appearance in early canonical lists. Its presence can be found in numerous sources. Some of which are: middle to late fourth century Codex Vaticanus, Sinaiticus and fifth century Alexandrinus (with books in between) as well as Augustine’s De Docrina Christiana 2:13. All of these include both Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon. The book itself is also cited in 1 Clement 27:5 (Wisdom 12:12) and alluded to in Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 4:38:3 (Wisdom 6:19). Clearly, it was treasured from an early time, but beyond treasured it was cited in the same way Scripture was cited by both Origen and Augustine.

The language in the Eusebius passage itself appears to indicate a separation between Proverbs and Wisdom. After all, the passage reads “the Psalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon and his Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Job…” ect. Proverbs and Wisdom are separated by kai (and). On the face of it there seem to be two different books referenced and is said to be a stretch to equate Proverbs and Wisdom of Solomon. It doesn’t make sense that Melito would say more than Proverbs since this was the common designation. It is more likely he is referring to two separate books.

Wisdom of Solomon is referred to elsewhere by Eusebius in the same work as the passage under question. When citing Irenaeus in an unknown book, Eusebius mentions Wisdom (Hist. Eccl. 5:26).

“Besides the works and letters of Irenaeus which we have mentioned, a certain book of his On Knowledge, written against the Greeks, very concise and remarkably forcible, is extant; and another, which he dedicated to a brother Marcian, In Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching; and a volume containing various Dissertations, in which he mentions the Epistle to the Hebrews and the so-called Wisdom of Solomon, making quotations from them. These are the works of Irenaeus which have come to our knowledge.”

Altogether, what has been presented indicates that the Wisdom of Solomon was popular among Christians- perhaps even considered inspired and one should not be surprised to see it appear in early lists. Also, given Eusebius’ early use of Wisdom and the construction of the passage under question, this view sees a reference to both Proverbs and the Wisdom of Solomon as two separate books to be the most likely interpretation.

Personally, I have found this case to be extraordinarily week. At the beginning of my research and discussions I was uncertain due to other considerations. For instance, I had heard that the other position was in the minority and that the interpretation was so straight forward. Only after digging deeper and speaking with Dr. Finely did I discover quite the opposite to be true.

I think that overall, this position is successful in casting doubt on another view that equates Proverbs and Wisdom. Even still, there are a few more merits to the position mentioned in this post which I hope to bring out once the position against the presence of the Wisdom of Solomon in Melito's list is given. I will critique each view from the opposing perspective though my view is quite obviously against the inclusion- and for good reason.

Apologies for the delay...I have been distracted with other subjects and the arguments and information have just been resting in my folder.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ignatius and the Eucharist (3)

I have been asked what John’s message would have meant to the readers of his time (some soon after who perhaps thought the bread and wine literally turned into the body and blood of Christ). It is true we should be mindful of the audience and historical context in which an ancient work is created. Still, this does not mean we ought to let this be our entire interpretive grid. The only thing this information might tell us is the mindset of the time. The writer may very well be drawing upon something within his context for support, developing his own twist off of an existing concept, or- commenting on it so as to correct a misunderstanding. In the case of John, it seems he makes the reality of the matter evident without overstating it. After all, considering the context, outright attacking a misunderstanding of this kind might detour from John’s purpose.

What is John's purpose? Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I Am the bread of life.” Towards the end of the gospel, John tells us, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ignatius and the Eucharist (2)

The last most crucial part of this discussion comes from Scripture. As important as Ignatius is, he is no substitute for an apostle or those writing directly on their behalf. The words of Ignatius are fallible though it is his task to encourage those in the Church to “all run together in accordance with the will of God.” It is not outrageous to suppose that as a fallible person he too was mistaken in some of his practice and theology as those throughout the New Testament are prone to- even with the direct influence of the apostles (consider 1 Corinthians).

As for the “body and blood” of Christ, there are multiple passages referring to it. These are: Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, 1 Corinthians 10:16 and John 6:26-64. All more or less contain the same statements which the Church has interpreted and ironically brought more division than Christian unity.

While some may appeal to certain Protestant apologetics against the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic interpretations, I think it is unnecessary to bring out all of them. Perhaps it is my own naivety speaking but I do not see why it is a great crime for one to believe the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ- though I would take issue with those who wish to confine one’s salvation and growth in Christ to partaking of the elements in certain churches. Instead, I will be taking the position that Scripture does not indicate a literal transformation and does give indication to think otherwise. Whether or not the elements do go into the sort of transformation the EO and RC believe it does will not be addressed.

For now, the John passage will be considered and some of the intricacies will be ignored. The John passage is extremely helpful in the overall discussion because more of an explanation is given behind this language and John's influence was closer to Ignatius' time.

In the beginning of the John passage, Jesus has just fed the crowd and because of this they are looking for Him. Once He is found He recognizes that they are searching for Him because of the food He gave them earlier. He tells them they should instead be working for the food that gives eternal life which the Son of Man will give them. When asked how, Jesus tells them “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” They ask about the bread Moses gave them out of heaven and He attributes it to the Father and tells them He is the bread and that “he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe…For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” He then tells them they must eat His flesh and blood or reject eternal life. This caused many of the Jews to stumble since the idea of eating flesh and blood was abhorrent to them. Jesus tells them “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe…”

In this passage, Jesus tells them they must believe in Him in order to have life. They must eat His flesh and drink His blood. They are told that the words He has spoken to them are spirit and life…though some do not believe. There are no elements in this passage. He has already long fed them mirroring the gift of manna out of heaven. Now He tells them He is the bread out of heaven and that the words He speaks to them are life. His central message seems to be belief in Him and His words.

How does this play into the sacrament? It would seem as though Jesus is central to the sacrament. If a Protestant believes directly in Him and believes His words, it seems reasonable to suppose they will have partaken of Him just as those with whom Jesus was speaking to could have without any element around to partake of.

Still, what about the Jewish reaction? Does this indicate Jesus meant something literal? Not at all. Actually, throughout John up until this point in the book people have been mistaking His words for something literal. In John 2 Jesus declares, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews miss the point entirely, taking His words to be of the literal temple in Jerusalem. Or, take Nicodemus in chapter three. When Jesus tells him “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus replies back, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” This pattern continues to repeat as the Samaritan women wrongly assumes Jesus is speaking of water when He is referring to Himself or when soon after, the disciples think he went and got food since after all, He said He had food they did not know about. Sure enough, next in the sequence is our passage- which ought to now be interpreted literally? This would go against the flow of the passage and adds something that has been continually contradicted when Jesus gives one adequate explanation of what He means.

A Change of Heart:
Some time after this post was created I have changed my mind about the seriousness of the Roman Catholic belief about the body and blood being literal. It has been pointed out to me by a Roman Catholic that it is worshiped. If it is worshiped and is not Christ then the conclusion of idolatry is inescapable. I am not pleased with this idea but find this conclusion inescapable given what I hold to be true so far. It is my sincerest hope that I can be proven wrong on this point.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Ignatius and the Eucharist (1)


A good question has recently been posed to me by a highly respected Eastern Orthodox friend. He asked about the Eucharist, which those that were outside of the Church in Ignatius’ time were not to partake of since they did not believe it to be the body and blood of Christ. This seemed to mirror the situation of the Protestants who were outside of the Eastern Orthodox Church and did not partake for the same reasons.

Unfortunately, due to a time limit I was not able to give a complete answer. I will try and do so here without going into every issue the Ignatius passages bring out (such as whether Protestants really ought to follow the “bishop”). Still, perhaps there will be an upcoming post on the subject once I complete some posts on Melito and one on Qumran.

The passage at the center of this question is the following: “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered four our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes” (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Symrnaeans Ch. VII).

Some would claim Protestants are in trouble according to Ignatius. After all, they do not accept the Eucharist to be the literal body and blood of Christ. Still, I think there are several things that need to be taken into consideration within the cultural context, the passage itself, and most importantly, Scripture.

First, it is necessary to remind readers that there is a larger framework to consider. At this time, there is no idea of a separation between the outward sign and its meaning. The two were tied together. For example, the question of whether or not one could be “saved” and not be baptized never occurred to these people. If one refused baptism, it most likely meant they did not want to be converted. Throughout Acts, we constantly see the two together whether or not the people were filled with the Holy Spirit before or after baptism. My point in all of this is to say that we are asking a question that would not have occurred to Ignatius. We must consider his context.

Second, Ignatius is existing in a context where those outside of the Church are actually denying Christ. The East and West have not split yet- further dissolving Christian unity and bringing about the Reformation. There are not people outside of fellowship who affirm Jesus came in the flesh, died and was resurrected. This is not a reality. Those outside are outside because they deny these things.

When speaking about the bishop and Church unity in him Ignatius adds, “and indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you, Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth” (Ignatius to the Ephesians). Ignatius isn’t speaking of some Protestant sect but of the heretics who have now successfully infiltrated the Church.

Third, it is key to know what the Eucharist meant to Ignatius. While it certainly stood at the center of Church unity, why was this? Because Christ stands at the center of the Church. He is what makes the Church the Church. In the passage cited above, Ignatius described the body of Christ. We see the essential tenants. Christ “suffered for our sins,” and “the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” The heretics deny this. In chapter V. of his epistle, Ignatius says of them:

“some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us. For what does anyone profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death. I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ’s passion, which is our resurrection” [emphasis mine].

The heretics were not merely denying the Eucharist because they were not so sure it was actually the body and blood of Christ. They completely denied Jesus came in the flesh! This came out of a true denial of His passion and resurrection. As Ignatius reported in the other quote, they are the ones who abstained from the Eucharist and prayer and for this very reason. They denied the center of the faith- Christ. Since they did this, they denied the Eucharist as well.

Additional Passages to Wrestle With:

“Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses (Mat_18:19) such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians Ch.V).

Also, “It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect18 has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth” (Ch. VI).