The Church

The FV’s doctrine of church is next set out. I will consider both paragraphs concerning the church proper. There is certainly less objectionable material here than in the previous paragraphs. One is primarily concerned with what is left out, rather than with what is there (although I still have some questions).

Positively, it is good to see the FV’ers affirm the visible/invisible church distinction, at least in name. However, given some FV’ers discomfort with the doctrine, it would have been nice had they been willing to admit that, in terms of the invisible church, non-elect members of the visible church are not members of the church at all. They are in the church (visibly) but not of the church (invisibly). I see more stress on the reality of the visible church, and such a desire to avoid a supposedly Platonic “the true church is the invisible church,” that the invisible aspect seems a bit downplayed. Of course, the visible church is the true church, provided the marks of the church are present. Word, Sacrament, and discipline (yes, I realize that discipline is a disputed mark) have to be there in at least relative purity for there to be a true visible church. This qualification is missing from the FV document. Of course, it is impossible to say everything. But is the Roman Catholic Church a true visible church? Of course, this is debated, especially with regard to the validity of their baptisms (I hold that it is a valid baptism if the formula is correct). But will any FV’er come right out and say that the Roman Catholic Church preaches the Word truly and administers the Sacraments purely? This is, of course, a separate question from whether or not there are true believers in the Roman Catholic Church. I would appreciated even a brief statement on the marks of the church. There doesn’t seem to be anything in the FV document that would guard against saying that there is really nothing wrong with the Roman Catholic church. The Reformers were a bit concerned about this aspect of the definition of the church.

I would hope that no one would deny the historical/eschatological description of the church as being helpful. Of course, it is not the same distinction as visible/invisible. The former is a chronological distinction, whereas the latter is not. They seem to acknowledge that, but only somewhat. They use the terms “generally corresponds to.” The problem is that it really doesn’t correspond. The eschatological church will be the most visible church there ever has been. Furthermore, there are plenty of Christians who are not part of the visible church, but are yet part of the invisible church. Quite simply, the v/i distinction is a synchronic distinction, whereas the h/e distinction is diachronic.

Advertisements

43 Comments

  1. Andrew Compton said,

    August 8, 2007 at 11:28 am

    I wondered about the phrase: “We further affirm that the visible Church is the true Church of Christ, and not an ‘approximate’ church.” My first thought after reading this sentence was, “Yes – but it is the true *visible* church.”

    It seemed like this would emphasize better the fact that truly is a distinction between the visible and invisible church, and assure readers that no attempt is being made to smudge the distinction being made between the two.

  2. pduggan said,

    August 8, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    How great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today!

  3. August 8, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Church discipline is not a “disputed mark”, Lane, for us 3FU people. It is there in black and white in the Belgic.

    Given what the Belgic specifically says about those marks, can anyone really deny that it is self-consciously shooting at Romanists? And the Heidelberg Catechism contains virulent and very explicit anti-Romans sections (especially HC 80). There is no way someone could hold that Rome is a visible church in good conscience while subscribing to the 3FU.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    August 8, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Right, David. I agree with you about the 3FU. On this point they are clearer than the WS. WCF 25.4 is not clear about whether or not church discipline is a mark of the church, although Word and Sacrament are clearly there.

    Paul, the authority of Scripture issue is NOT something we have in common with Roman Catholics, since their clerical authority trumps the authority of Scripture. Tradition and the pope are on a level with Scripture, which means that Scripture doesn’t really have the authority that the Reformed say it has. See William Whitaker’s Disputations for excellent argumentation on this.

  5. pduggan said,

    August 8, 2007 at 1:20 pm

    aha, you fell into my trap :-)

    I was quoting J Gresham Machen, who would appear to disagree with you.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    August 8, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    Oh, yes, Paul. You had so much context available in that quotation so as to lay the trap perfectly. A lot of FV guys do this. Despicable.

  7. pduggan said,

    August 8, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    wow. tense much? smiley face = good natured ribbing

  8. Bryan Cross said,

    August 9, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    Lane,

    Any heretical sect can define the marks so as to make itself seem to be included in the visible Church. And any heretical sect can define the marks such that what is actually the visible Church is excluded from the sect’s conception of the visible Church. The ‘marks’ constructed by such a sect would be worthless not because the sect is heretical, but because the very act of determining what are the ‘marks’ necessarily presumes that the persons making this determination have the authority within the visible Church to determine for all the visible Church what exactly is the visible Church. That presumption of ecclesial authority presumes precisely what is in question, i.e. the nature of the marks of the visible Church.

    So to avoid the tautological and utterly self-serving “we say that the marks are X, Y, and Y, therefore whoever does not have X, Y and Z is not in the visible Church”, we have to determine first who has the ecclesial authority to determine the marks. If we say, “Whoever agrees with me has the authority to determine the marks” we are falling into relativism, since any heretical sect could use the very same reasoning to ‘give authority’ to its own leaders to determine the marks.

    – Bryan

  9. Paul Buckley said,

    August 11, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Granted, when it comes to interpretation, whether of the Bible or of anything else, context is huge. But sometimes I think people cry “You’ve taken that out of context!” whenever they just don’t care for a quotation that’s been tossed into the debate. Has that happened here? Machen’s words, quoted by pduggan, are from his book Christianity and Liberalism, written four decades before Vatican II. What, in the wider context of the chapter or book, mitigates Machen’s words as excerpted here?

  10. August 14, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    […] Baggins is a whole blog page ahead on the joint statement. He does a very nice job with the The Church, a second round of the decrees, Justification and the Covenant (which I also touch on in my post on […]

  11. greenbaggins said,

    August 16, 2007 at 10:48 am

    Bryan, if we were left to our devices on this, then we could (and do!) run into such problems. But the Word of God tells us itself what the marks of the church are. Matthew 18 is the source for church discipline. Christ Himself instituted the Lord’s Supper. And Paul tells us that he preaches nothing except Christ, and Him crucified. The Word tells us what the marks of the church are.

  12. Bryan Cross said,

    August 16, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    Lane,

    Thanks for your reply. Behind that short phrase “Word, Sacrament, and discipline” is a ton of theology and interpretation of Scripture. It can be seen when you say things like “preaching the Word truly”. For you, “preaching the Word truly” means preaching some form of Calvinism. For others, preaching the Word truly means preaching something other than Calvinism. My point is that the marks are not quoted directly from Scripture. They are interpreted from Scripture. That is why it is essential to determine whose interpretation (regarding what the marks are) is authoritative. If we don’t do that, then we are just engaging in self-serving rhetoric, e.g.: “My interpretation of the marks is X. Therefore only those who believe and practice X, Y, and Z are in the Church. And, by the way, I’m not interpreting Scripture, but everyone who disagrees with me is.” Clearly we have to avoid that sort of intracultic circularity. So it seems that we need to determine first who has the authority to determine the marks, that is, whose determination of the marks is authoritative.

    Peace in Christ,

    – Bryan

  13. greenbaggins said,

    August 16, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    But how can we determine that apart from the Word? Your position seems to assume some kind of supra-revelatory vantage-point. I don’t think it is possible to have such a thing. Otherwise, the visible church will rule by majority, and the Reformation will be only a farce, having no position on which they can stand. Yes, there is interpretation involved. But to say that it is impossible to judge by exegesis who is right and who is wrong is the counsel of despair. The Reformation thought otherwise. They produced commentaries on Scripture by the dozens.

    So, one cannot determine who has the authority unless that authority is determined first from Scripture. The church stands upon the Word, and is its creation. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, says Paul in Ephesians, not on the authority of humanity. So, we need to focus our attention on which church is built upon the Word, not which church has the authority to determine truth.

  14. Bryan Cross said,

    August 17, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Lane,

    The Christians who lived during the lifetime of the Apostles were able to determine who had ecclesial and interpretive authority, without consulting the New Testament, which did not yet exist. The Christians in the post-apostolic generation determined who had ecclesial and interpretive authority not by studying the New Testament (which was still not in existence as a canonized whole), but by determining which persons had been ordained by the Apostles. See, for example, the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, which were all written around the end of the first century, and notice how he teaches the churches to follow the bishop (whose authority was derived by sacramental succession from Apostles); he does not teach that each individual should follow his own interpretation of Scripture, or that each individual should determine which person is bishop by first determining who is teaching in accordance with the individual’s own interpretation of Scripture. That would amount to a form of individualism which, as I argued in my article titled “Sacramentally grounded authority vs. individualism“, was entirely foreign to the early church.

    It was still the same at the end of the second century, when St. Irenaeus and Tertullian both faced challenges from heretics [especially gnostic heretics] trying to defend their [heretical] position by exegeting Scripture. Tertullian, in his On the Prescription Against Heretics writes:

    “Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. For a resort to the Scriptures would but result in placing both parties on equal footing, whereas the natural order of procedure requires one question to be asked first, which is the only one now that should be discussed: “With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong? From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule by which men become Christians?”

    And a bit further on he writes:

    “Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, ‘as many as walk according to the rule,’ which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures.”

    St. Vincent of Lerins (434 AD) makes the same point here about heretics exegeting Scripture that R. Scott Clark does when he writes, “All heretics quote Scripture. The question in this controversy is not the normativity of the Bible but who gets to interpret it.” The fathers answered that “Who gets to interpret it?” question by appealing to sacramental apostolic succession. I discuss this in more detail in my article titled “Apostolicity and montanistic gnosticism“, and in my article “Apostolicity in Acts 15“.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  15. greenbaggins said,

    August 17, 2007 at 9:18 am

    By your argument, the Reformation was false, then.

    Second point, on what basis could the church **ever** be critiqued of **anything** it did that was not in accordance with the Scriptures? You have just given carte blanche to sacerdotalism of the most tyrannical kind. There is no check or balance to ecclesiastical authority, and the consciences of all people will have to be bound to the church authority. No reformation coulod ever happen if what you say is true. And Tertullian was not dealing with the same problems that the Reformers had to deal with. Or are you going to claim that there were no problems in the church during the time of the Reformation?

  16. Bryan Cross said,

    August 17, 2007 at 10:34 am

    Lane,

    There was undoubtedly need for reform in the Church. There was corruption and abuse. (There is still corruption and abuse.) But I don’t agree with you that acknowledging sacramental magisterial authority makes reformation of the Church impossible. With God all things are possible. See Louis Bouyer’s The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism. It is one thing to work to remove corruption and abuse; it is quite another to reject sacramental magisterial authority altogether, to start one’s own ‘church’ or appoint oneself one’s own interpretive authority. So acknowledging sacramental magisterial authority does entail that the Reformers made a mistake in rejecting it. But, as Bouyer shows, it does not entail that the Reformation was altogether “false”.

    Either there is no sacramental magisterial authority, in which case we are left with theological relativism and the reign of private judgment (as I explained in comment #8, and comment #12), or there is sacramental magisterial authority, in which case we have to find it and conform our theology to it.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. greenbaggins said,

    August 17, 2007 at 10:41 am

    So, the Reformation was false when they tried to reform the church. This is rich, Bryan. Luther had no intention of leaving the Catholic church, you know. His intention was to reform it. That is *precisely* what he tried to do. He only got excommunicated for his pains. What should he have done? Do you regard Luther as a heretic? If not, then what were his options?

    There is a place for conscience in the Christian church, and by that I mean the conscience of individual Christians. Christians must go to a church which they believe is a true church. Here is another question for you: at what point does a church become heretical such that it is no longer a true church?

  18. Bryan Cross said,

    August 17, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Lane,

    I’m not suggesting in the least that anyone violate his own conscience. Nor am suggesting that people should worship in an institution they believe to be heretical or schismatic. I’m speaking at the level of how we inform our consciences regarding what is heretical and what is schismatic. Are we to go by our own interpretation of Scripture, or is there a sacramental magisterial authority to which we should submit our interpretation? The same question can be asked about the determination of the canon. Should each person determine the canon for himself, or is there a sacramental magisterial authority to which we should submit regarding the determination of the canon?

    If we go by our own interpretation, then ‘heresy’ just means ‘any theological position that differs significantly from mine [as determined by me]’, and ‘schism’ just means ‘any breaking of fellowship with me and those in fellowship with me’. So these terms become relativized if there is no sacramental magisterial authority.

    I didn’t say anything about Luther’s intentions. I think Luther had good intentions. But that doesn’t mean everything he said and did was right. You must agree with that, since you are not a Lutheran. If you had a parishioner that publicly burned your letters and the BCO and publicly referred to you as the Antichrist, and so on, I suspect you’d excommunicate him too. :-) There is a wiser way to go about reforming the Church.

    At what point does a church become heretical such that it is no longer a true church? The question only makes sense if there is an authoritative standard for heresy, i.e. if there is a sacramental magisterial authority. Without that, as I showed above, ‘heresy’ is relativized, and thus ‘true church’ just means ‘those persons who think like me’.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  19. greenbaggins said,

    August 17, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    So, heresy is also defined by man, and not by God? Look, revelation is objective, outside of us. There is meaning in the text of Scripture.

    At some point, there are several factors that weigh in on the question of heresy. Obviously, the church has a say. I don’t deny that, and neither does anyone else, except the most rabid individualist. However, the church is by no means infallible. What corrects the church? What can it be except Scripture? Every Christian has the right and the duty to examine these things from the Scriptures to see if they be so, and then go through the right and proper channels to change the church. The universal priesthood of all believers is a correct doctrine.

    Regarding conscience, if my conscience firmly believes that the church of Rome is heretical, then what should I do? I am not a part of that church, but let’s say I was. Am I not required to separate myself from a church which I believe to be heretical? We must obey God rather than men.

    Luther only burned the ban after every other channel of reform had been exhausted by him. He never had any intention of leaving the church until the church made it plain that it didn’t have room for him. You can brand Luther a schismatic if you want, but I will claim until the second coming that it was the Roman Catholic Church that was schismatic for abandoning apostolic doctrine. They elevated their interpretations above Scripture by setting them alongside. Their version of sacramental magisterial authority is to set at naught the authority of Scripture, which is *self*-attesting. The church is built on the Scripture, not the other way around.

    Your last paragraph makes no sense. There is no way for any individual to judge whether or not the Roman Catholic Church is heretical or not by your standard, since when does any church judge itself to be heretical? Again, there is no check or balance to the system as you have described it. The church defines heresy, and so individuals have zero say in the matter. Hence, anyone who leaves the church for any reason is automatically branded a heretic and schismatic, even if their doctrine is biblical and the church’s isn’t.

  20. Bryan Cross said,

    August 17, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    Lane,

    So, heresy is also defined by man, and not by God?

    That would be a false dichotomy, like claiming that if Christ were a man, then he wasn’t God, or like claiming that if the writers of Scripture were men, then Scripture wasn’t written by God, etc. I agree that revelation is objective and outside of us. It is precisely because revelation is outside of us that there must be a process by which revelation comes into us. That process is subjective and involves interpretation. That is why there are many different interpretations of Scripture.

    What corrects the church? What can it be except Scripture?

    Scripture cannot function alone. It can only function as interpreted. (See here.) So it makes no sense to think of “Scripture alone” correcting the Church. Only Scripture as interpreted could possibly correct the Church. But that pushes us back to the original question: Whose interpretation is authoritative? Obviously the interpretation of heretics and schismatics cannot be authoritative. And those concepts [i.e. heresy and schism] only have objective meaning (as I explained in #18) if there is a sacramental magisterial authority. So in order for Scripture to correct the Church, there must be a sacramental magisterial authority.

    Who corrects your denomination? If your denomination’s interpretation is mistaken, does Scripture correct it? Apparently, in your view, out of all those denominations that disagree with your denomination’s interpretation of Scripture, yours is the only one corrected by Scripture. Otherwise, if those other denominations read and studied Scripture, they would all be corrected by Scripture and thus all agree with your denomination. So, in your view, apparently, either your denomination is extremely special [having a grace that no other denomination has, a grace allowing it to be corrected by Scripture], or else all other denominations are ignoring their Bibles. The other possibility is that your denomination, like all the other denominations, ‘ordains’ only those who interpret Scripture sufficiently like its statement of faith, and excommunicates those who do not interpret Scripture sufficiently like its statement of faith. The system is falsely comforting (in each denomination) because there is a working delusion that nobody is actually doing any interpreting; they are all just reading it straight off the page (and yet still coming to so many different conclusions).

    The universal priesthood of all believers is compatible with there being a sacramental magisterial authority. The Catholic Church affirms the universal priesthood of all believers, referring to it as the “common priesthood” had by all believers in virtue of their baptism, but not identical to the “ministerial priesthood” received through ordination.

    What should you do if you were a Catholic and came to believe that the Catholic Church is heretical? The question is similar to asking what you should do if you are a Presbyterian who comes to believe that atheism is true. You cannot, by force of will alone, believe something you think is false. But surely you agree that you can (and should) continue to seek out the truth in humility and dialogue, because the error could be in yourself, and not in the Church. A person must follow his conscience, but a person can sin in doing so, particularly if his conscience is not well-formed. So we must continually seek to inform our conscience by prayer and study and dialogue. We know that those who set themselves up as the head of the body of Christ have usurped their rightful place. Marcion did this. So did Montanus, and so did Novatian. They declared the Catholic Church heretical, and set themselves up as the head of an institute created in their own image.

    We must obey God rather than men.

    I agree, of course. The question is: Who speaks for God? Whose interpretation is authoritative? If God speaks through the sacramental magisterial authority, and I follow my own interpretation of Scripture instead of that of the sacramental magisterial authority, then I am following man [i.e. myself] instead of God.

    The church is built on the Scripture, not the other way around.

    Do you think the Church did not exist until the last book of the New Testament was completed (around 100 AD)? Or do you think that the Church came into existence the instant Moses started writing Genesis?

    There is no way for any individual to judge whether or not the Roman Catholic Church is heretical or not by your standard

    Any individual can judge the Catholic Church to be heretical. Lots of Gnostics, Ebionites, Docetists, Marcionites, Montanists, Arians, Pneumatomachians, Novatians, Apollonarians, Nestorians, Donatists, Monophysites, Monothelites, Iconoclasts, (etc.) did so throughout history. The relevant question is whether their judgment is authoritative or not, and if not, why not. The answer has nothing to do with the art of exegesis (which all those heresies made use of) but rather with the sacramental grounding of magisterial authority.

    As St. Augustine says, the Church will totter when her foundation totters. But her foundation is Christ. And she is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). The person who disagrees with Catholic dogma should ask himself this: Which is more likely, that the Catholic Church which Christ Himself founded and promised to lead into all truth and be with even to the end of the age, would, after 1500 years of withstanding heresies, herself fall into doctrinal error and the gates of hell prevail against her, or that the person disagreeing with Catholic doctrine has fallen into error, as did the heretics of the first 1500 years of the history of the Church?

    Peace in Christ,

    – Bryan

  21. kjsulli said,

    August 19, 2007 at 12:18 am

    Bryan, re: 20,

    The person who disagrees with Catholic dogma should ask himself this: Which is more likely, that the Catholic Church which Christ Himself founded and promised to lead into all truth and be with even to the end of the age, would, after 1500 years of withstanding heresies, herself fall into doctrinal error and the gates of hell prevail against her, or that the person disagreeing with Catholic doctrine has fallen into error, as did the heretics of the first 1500 years of the history of the Church?

    This is so profoundly absurd. There has been so much equivocation of late around these parts that perhaps I am hyper-sensitive to it. You realize, however, that your entire argument hinges on an equivocating definition of “the Catholic Church”? For you, “the Catholic Church” is quite simply equivalent to “all in communion with the Bishop of Rome.” Why the Bishop of Rome? Because Peter was supposedly the Bishop of Rome. Why Peter? Because Peter supposedly was granted earthly headship over the Church by Jesus. But where on earth do you get this idea? Well, from Scripture, so you’ll undoubtedly point out. Okay then, in that case, who first interpreted that particular passage of Scripture authoritatively?

    I could go on.

    Suffice it to say, as we Nicene-professing Protestants believe, the Catholic Church still prevails today: just not in the hallowed halls of the Vatican whore.

  22. Bryan Cross said,

    August 19, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    Hello Kyle,

    But where on earth do you get this idea? Well, from Scripture, so you’ll undoubtedly point out.

    No, from the Fathers (the bishops of the early Church). The Fathers taught that Peter was given such authority. There is a link on my blog to a collection of selections from the Fathers on this very matter.

    May the peace of Christ be with you.

    – Bryan

  23. kjsulli said,

    August 19, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Bryan,

    And where do the Fathers get it? By direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit? You know as well as I that the whole doctrine rests on a very particular interpretation of Matthew 16:18.

    By the way, who authoritatively interprets the Fathers? Or who authoritatively interprets the Magisterium? All you do is take the question back one step further. At some point, YOU are interpreting someone else.

  24. Bryan Cross said,

    August 19, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    Kyle,

    The earliest Fathers received their doctrine directly from the Apostles themselves. They understood the writings of the Apostles through the teaching of the Apostles that had already been given to them directly (i.e. orally) by the Apostles. It wasn’t the case that their only window into the teaching of the Apostles was Scripture. They had eaten and fellowshipped with the Apostles, sometimes until late in the night, sometimes for years. The writings of the Apostles were treasured by the early Church, but not as a sine qua non of the Church’s continued existence. These bishops already had the full gospel orally, even before they received a copy of Matthew’s gospel, or a copy of one of Paul’s letters. The treasury of that oral tradition that had been received by the Apostles and which served as the proper context in which to interpret the writings of the Apostles, was handed down from bishop to bishop, and is revealed in the writings of the Fathers. That is why reading Scripture through the writings of the Fathers is the way of reading Scripture in the context of the oral teaching of the Apostles.

    Who authoritatively interprets the Fathers? Those whom the Fathers appointed to speak for them, i.e. the bishops whom they appointed.

    Who authoritatively interprets the Magisterium? The Magisterium. If I have a question about the Church’s teaching, I can go to my priest (or bishop) and ask him what it means. If what he says is not clear, I can ask him to explain it in more detail. That is a qualitative difference therefore between interpreting a non-living book and a living Magisterium, as Chesterton points out. (See Fr. Kimel’s comments about that here.)

    Of course at some point I am interpreting someone. That is true. But the question was not how to avoid interpretation. The question was: Whose interpretation is *authoritative*?

    May you have a blessed and restful Lord’s Day.

    – Bryan

  25. kjsulli said,

    August 19, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Bryan,

    It wasn’t the case that their only window into the teaching of the Apostles was Scripture. They had eaten and fellowshipped with the Apostles, sometimes until late in the night, sometimes for years.

    The earliest Father your link points to is Clement of Rome, who constantly cites Scripture in his letter, not quotations from some ethereal oral tradition. Furthermore, he never once mentions the “primacy of Peter” nor does he proclaim himself the earthly head of the Church nor does he mention Rome except in the greeting nor Peter except as an example of a martyr. The next, Ignatius of Antioch, certainly does not expound the doctrine of the universally authoritative Roman Magisterium; the primacy the Church of Rome has is a primacy “in the region of the Romans”! Notice again that it this is in the greetings only; he entrusts the Syrian church to the “love” and the “prayers” of the Roman church, but he says specifically that the Syrian church “now has God for its shepherd, instead of me.” He does not say it has “the Bishop of Rome” for its shepherd! None of the others were even alive to hear the Apostles.

    The question was: Whose interpretation is *authoritative*?

    The answer is the analogy of faith, i.e., Scripture interprets Scripture, which is nothing other than to say that the Holy Spirit has the authoritative interpretation. This is a foundational principle of the Reformation. The Church is always subject to the Word of God, and by this means it is the “pillar and foundation of truth,” because it UPHOLDS the Word of God, which is truth.

  26. Bryan Cross said,

    August 20, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Kyle,

    A very careful study of the first eight centuries of the Church reveals that the primacy of Peter’s episcopal successor was always recognized. It would be a mistake to use an argument from silence regarding the relatively small amount of evidence of the recognition of Petrine primacy in the first century, given the relatively small amount of surviving literature from the first century. See Stephen Ray’s Upon This Rock and Soloviev’s The Russian Church and the Papacy.

    Regarding my question: “Whose interpretation is authoritative?”, you answered: “The answer is the analogy of faith, i.e. Scripture interprets Scripture, which is nothing other than to say that the Holy Spirit has the authoritative interpretation.”

    I do not disagree that the Holy Spirit has the authoritative interpretation. But that just pushes back the question: “Which human beings on earth now have the Holy Spirit’s authoritative interpretation”? See, for example, this response to Rick Phillips on this very point.

    What about the notion that Scripture itself has the authoritative interpretation? That too just pushes back the question. Whose decision regarding which passages are clearer is authoritative? And whose interpretation of the supposedly clearer passages is authoritative?

    Since the question is “Whose interpretation is authoritative?”, then if the reply given is “Scripture’s” or “the analogy of Scripture”, then a category mistake has been made, because neither Scripture nor any analogy is a person, and the question is a “who” question that requires a person (or persons) be referred to in the answer.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  27. kjsulli said,

    August 20, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    It would be a mistake to use an argument from silence regarding the relatively small amount of evidence of the recognition of Petrine primacy in the first century,

    You, not I, claimed that the doctrine is based on the oral tradition the earliest Fathers received from the Apostles themselves. The next seven centuries did not have direct contact with the Apostles, did they?

    I do not disagree that the Holy Spirit has the authoritative interpretation. But that just pushes back the question: “Which human beings on earth now have the Holy Spirit’s authoritative interpretation”?

    All who have the Holy Spirit are capable of authoritative interpretation. Note the operative word: capable.

    What about the notion that Scripture itself has the authoritative interpretation? That too just pushes back the question. Whose decision regarding which passages are clearer is authoritative? And whose interpretation of the supposedly clearer passages is authoritative?

    This is a red herring. You rely on Scripture being opaque in order for the Magisterium to be the final authority on what Scripture says. Scripture is not opaque. Period.

    Since the question is “Whose interpretation is authoritative?”, then if the reply given is “Scripture’s” or “the analogy of Scripture”, then a category mistake has been made, because neither Scripture nor any analogy is a person, and the question is a “who” question that requires a person (or persons) be referred to in the answer.

    I already answered this. Since the Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture, and if Scripture is interpreted by Scripture (the analogy of faith), then the Holy Spirit is the authoritative interpreter of Scripture. The Holy Spirit is “who.”

  28. Bryan Cross said,

    August 20, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Kyle,

    All who have the Holy Spirit are capable of authoritative interpretation. Note the operative word: capable.

    Whether that is true or not, it does not answer the question: Which human beings on earth now have the Holy Spirit’s authoritative interpretation?

    Scripture is not opaque. Period.

    Then there is no need for the analogy of Scripture. Either we need the analogy of faith (i.e. Scripture to interpret Scripture) in which case there is opacity in Scripture, or we don’t need the analogy of faith.

    The continual stream of debates on this blog, not to mention the widespread disagreements among Christians throughout the world, day by day pours forth testimony to the opacity of Scripture.

    The Holy Spirit is “who.”

    Yes, the Holy Spirit is a “who”. But the Holy Spirit is not a human being, and the question is: Which human beings on earth now have the Holy Spirit’s authoritative interpretation? If we don’t know the answer to that question, then it does not do us any good to know that the Holy Spirit has the authoritative interpretation of Scripture.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  29. greenbaggins said,

    August 20, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    The Westminster Confession of Faith states that Scripture is clear on matters relating to salvation. Scripture is not clear in all places (as 2 Peter 3:16 states). However, what is necessary for salvation is clearly set forth in Scripture. The fact that there are debates today about the meaning of Paul (even on salvation) has absolutely no bearing on whether Scripture is clear on salvation. Many people quibble against what is clear. Many people ignore the plain meaning of Scripture.

    So, Bryan, what happens when a Seripando comes along and disagrees with the rest of Trent? What happens when the Popes contradict each other? What happens when the Popes speak ex cathedra and contradict each other? Which of them is right? You have to assume a monolithic tradition in order for your argument to work. But the Reformers all knew the early church fathers better than you do by a factor of about a thousand. They all claimed that the tradition supported them. Read Calvin especially, who is absolutely awash with quotations from Augustine and Chystostom, etc. The tradition is not monolithic, and you know it. What about eastern orthodoxy, after all? You cannot ignore them, either. They have a tradition that goes all the way back, as well, and they dispute the Pope’s primacy.

  30. Bryan Cross said,

    August 20, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Lane,

    You refer to the WCF as if it is an authority, as if what it says carries some weight. But it seems to me that that begs the question I raised in #8. In other words, if I am asking “Whose interpretation is authoritative?”, and you respond with quotations from the WCF, then I want to know why we should consider the interpretation of the Westminster divines to be authoritative. And if you say, “Well, because their interpretation agrees with my interpretation”, I’m just going to point out that that does not make their interpretation authoritative.

    As for your example of Seripando, there were dissenting bishops even at the Council of Nicea in 325. But that does not mean that Arianism might be true. The decisions and resolutions of General Councils do not have to be unanimous to be authoritative.

    As for your next two questions, they involve hypotheticals that carry implicitly anti-Catholic assumptions regarding the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church. No two ex cathedra statements can contradict. So your two questions are somewhat equivalent to me asking you: What if certain verses of Scripture contradicted other verses of Scripture?

    You ask “What about eastern orthodoxy? You cannot ignore them, either.” I do not ignore them. As I pointed out to Kyle above, the eastern bishops of the first seven centuries clearly recognized the primacy of Peter’s successor. (See all the eastern fathers quoted in my collection of quotations from the fathers regarding petrine primacy.) None of the first eight Ecumenical Councils was held at Rome, and yet all recognized that none was valid unless papal legates were present, and that nothing that came out of the councils became the teaching of the Church unless Peter’s successor ratified it. [E.g. No one at Chalcedon (451) contested the reasons why the Robber Council of Ephesus (449) was condemned for having continued after the departure of the papal legate.] When we study the history between the seventh and eighth ecumenical councils, we see how the East moved away from what it had always believed about Peter’s successor. It is not as though the tendency [to rebel against the pope] was not there already. We can already see the beginnings of that tendency [rooted in envy] in the proposed twenty-eighth canon of the Council of Chalcedon (451), which canon the successor of Peter refused to ratify. Soloviev traces out this tendency in his Russia and the Universal Church. But the eastern fathers clearly recognized that Christ gave the keys to Peter, changed Peter’s name, and made his office the rock upon which He [Christ] would build His Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  31. Andy Gilman said,

    August 20, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    In #26 Bryan Cross says:

    “A very careful study of the first eight centuries of the Church reveals that the primacy of Peter’s episcopal successor was always recognized.”

    Bryan, when you appeal to “careful study of the first eight centuries,” you abandon your previous argument. Where do you derive authority to comment on what is “revealed” by the study of the facts of history? Who can authoritatively interpret history? The best you can do is repeat what “authoritative interpreters” have told you is “revealed by careful study.”

    If the “magisterium” tells you that the “primacy of Peter’s episcopal successor was always recognized,” then you must nod your head and acknowledge the truth of that interpretation of history. The Pope alone has authority to interpret the facts of history, as well as the facts of Scripture, and you must accept his interpretation, or deny your basis of authority. To argue your case, by appealing to “very careful study,” is to deny your case. Else what will you do when “very careful study” butts heads with Papal infallibility?

  32. kjsulli said,

    August 20, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    Whether that is true or not, it does not answer the question: Which human beings on earth now have the Holy Spirit’s authoritative interpretation?

    Most faithful Reformed believers do, especially on the essential matters of salvation. Rome does not. But I don’t think Rome has ever claimed to have actually communicated THE authoritative meaning of every text of Scripture.

    Then there is no need for the analogy of Scripture. Either we need the analogy of faith (i.e. Scripture to interpret Scripture) in which case there is opacity in Scripture, or we don’t need the analogy of faith.

    Not all places in Scripture are equally clear, which is why we need the analogy of faith. That doesn’t make Scripture opaque. Questions of salvation are clear as crystal.

    The continual stream of debates on this blog, not to mention the widespread disagreements among Christians throughout the world, day by day pours forth testimony to the opacity of Scripture.

    You must think rather poorly of God’s abilities if His Holy Spirit cannot adequately communicate truth even in writing. What the debates actually testify to is not the opacity of Scripture, but the SINFULNESS OF MAN: “they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

    Yes, the Holy Spirit is a “who”. But the Holy Spirit is not a human being, and the question is: Which human beings on earth now have the Holy Spirit’s authoritative interpretation? If we don’t know the answer to that question, then it does not do us any good to know that the Holy Spirit has the authoritative interpretation of Scripture.

    Only if you ignore everything else I’ve said, Bryan. You merely reveal the deepest error of Romanism: a preference for human authority over divine authority. Scripture is from the mouth of God. The Roman Magisterium is not God. With the Reformers, I cry, “Ad fontes!

  33. Bryan Cross said,

    August 20, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    Andy,

    Studying history and commenting on what is revealed by the study of the facts of history is not in itself incompatible with the existence of magisterial authority, even when the issue in question has been addressed by the magisterial authority. It is quite possible to reach the same conclusion in more than one way: one by magisterial authority, and the other by independent study. For example, if I had never read the Bible, and had only studied archaeology, then I might come to believe that Jericho was an ancient city. And if I had never studied archaeology, but only read the Bible, I might come to believe the very same thing about Jericho. Likewise, Petrine primacy can be known through the magisterium; it can also be discovered by studying the Fathers. Learning it by studying the Fathers is not incompatible with it also being taught by the magisterium of the Church.

    May the peace of Christ be with you,

    – Bryan

  34. Bryan Cross said,

    August 20, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    Kyle,

    In response to my question: Which human beings on earth now have the Holy Spirit’s authoritative interpretation?, you wrote:

    Most faithful Reformed believers do, especially on the essential matters of salvation.

    Why do you think that it is [most] Reformed believers who have the authoritative interpretation of Scripture? I mean, what is it about Reformed believers that makes their interpretation authoritative? Why not Lutheran believers, Methodist believers, Mennonite believers, Anglican believers, Pentecostal believers, Seventh-Day Adventist believers, etc.? If your reason for believing that [most] Reformed believers have the authoritative interpretation of Scripture is that they share your own interpretation of Scripture, then that would also be a reason for Lutherans to believe the Lutheran interpretation to be authoritative, for Methodists to believe the Methodist intepretation to be authoritative, for Mennonite believers to believe the Mennonite interpretation to be authoritative, etc.

    Also, whose definition of “Reformed” is authoritative, and what makes their definition authoritative?

    You wrote: Not all places in Scripture are equally clear, which is why we need the analogy of faith.

    I agree that not all places in Scripture are equally clear. But the analogy of faith does not remove the need for a human interpreter. That is because, as I pointed out above, someone has to decide which passages are clearer and which are less clear. So that raises the following two questions: Whose decision regarding which passages are clearer and which are less clear is authoritative? And whose interpretation of the less clear passages is authoritative?

    You must think rather poorly of God’s abilities if His Holy Spirit cannot adequately communicate truth even in writing.

    It is not a matter of God’s abilities; God is omnipotent. It is a question of God’s intentions and purposes. If God intended for each person to be his own interpretive authority, and for this arrangement to effect and preserve Christian unity, then God’s plan is not working out very well. But if God intended the sheep to have shepherds, but some of the sheep are rejecting the God-given shepherds and instead choose for themselves (2 Tim 4:3) teacher who teach according to the sheep’s own interpretation, then the discord and disunity is due to men, not God.

    You merely reveal the deepest error of Romanism: a preference for human authority over divine authority.

    You seem to see human authority and divine authority as intrinsically in tension. Do you not have a pastor? Does Heb 13:17 apply to your responsibility toward him, or do you think that that verse was abrogated with the death of the Apostles? Imagine living during the time of the Apostles before any books of the New Testament were written. Your ecclesial authority would have been the Apostles, i.e. humans. But at the same time, by being under the authority of the Apostles, you would also have been under divine authority, because Christ had given His authority to the Apostles. That was the way Christ set up the Church. And that did not change when the last Apostle died. Those bishops whom the Apostles had appointed were the human authorities in the Church, and to be under their authority was to be under Christ’s authority. We can see that in the epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred around 107 AD as an elderly man. (I have collected some quotations on this subject from St. Ignatius here. And that magisterial authority continued through each generation of bishops, as St. Irenaeus and Tertullian explain.

    Scripture is from the mouth of God. The Roman Magisterium is not God.

    I agree with both of those statements.

    With the Reformers, I cry, “Ad fontes!“

    I agree with this too. When we go back to the Fathers, we see that the Apostles entrusted the deposit of faith with bishops whom they had ordained. The authority of these bishops came not from individuals who said “Your teaching agrees with my interpretation of Scripture, therefore you have the authoritative interpretation.” Their authority came from having been authorized and sent by the Apostles.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  35. Andy Gilman said,

    August 20, 2007 at 11:10 pm

    Bryan,

    So in the example of “historical study,” an appeal to an authoritative interpretation is unnecessary, because all who carefully study the historical data will, or at least may, arrive at the same conclusions as the “magisterium.” But in the case of “biblical study,” the “magisterium’s” authoritative interpretation is essential to decide between the competing truth claims about what Scripture teaches.

    That’s very convenient.

    Isn’t it possible that someone might, by careful study, arrive at the same conclusions as the “magisterium” with regard to Scripture? Therefore, applying your argument, the authoritative interpretation of the “magisterium” regarding scripture is no more important than their autoritative interpretation of the historical data.

    My point is to say that this line of yours about “A very careful study of the first eight years of the Church reveals…” is all for show. What a careful study does or does not reveal is irrelevant, and undermines your argument about the need for an authoritative interpretation. It is an attempt to shore up your argument by appealing to another authority which is less noisome to non-Roman Catholics, but the reality is that the absolute and tyrannical authority of the “magisterium,” is all you need. The truth is that you don’t care what “careful study” reveals. All you need to know is what the “magisterium” reveal, and if historical or biblical scholarship disagrees with the “magisterium,” then too bad for scholarship. We could go down this road and argue about what “careful study” really reveals, but in the end, if I were to show you that scholarship is not on your side, you would simply pull out your trump card and appeal to the “magisterium.”

  36. Bryan Cross said,

    August 21, 2007 at 12:01 am

    Andy,

    But in the case of “biblical study,” the “magisterium’s” authoritative interpretation is essential to decide between the competing truth claims about what Scripture teaches.

    People “decide” every day between the competing truth claims about what Scripture teaches, without listening to the magisterial authority. So in that sense it is not “essential”.

    Isn’t it possible that someone might, by careful study, arrive at the same conclusions as the “magisterium” with regard to Scripture?

    It is possible, at least for those things that are more clearly stated in Scripture. For things that are less clear, such as whether Christ has one nature or two natures, it is much less likely. The Scripture is to be interpreted in the context of the believing community. And that believing community exists through time. It would not be possible to take a new Christian (who knows nothing at all about Church history), put him in a room with a Bible and some Hebrew and Greek lexicons, and have come out with all the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils (at least as many Councils as you agree are authoritative). The Church is an organic being (a Body), and therefore the Church grows organically. To try to bypass that organic process would be like trying to make an adult organism directly from raw materials.

    What a careful study does or does not reveal is irrelevant

    Not if the existence of magisterial authority does not negate the possibility and authentic legitimacy of historical study.

    and undermines your argument about the need for an authoritative interpretation.

    That claim assumes that the kind of authority possible in the academy is sufficient in the Church, and that the kind of certainty possible in the field of history is obtainable without recourse to magisterial authority for all the theological needs of the Church (including that which is needed for the unity of the Church). I think that assumption is not a safe assumption. (It comes out of the humanism of the Renaissance.) The fragmentation of the Church testifies to the insufficiency of academic authority to adjudicate between competing interpretations. Factions simply set up their own academies. The authority of Scripture is not undermined by books that use history and archaeology to support the veracity of Scripture. Nor does using such books to support the veracity of Scripture reduce the authority of Scripture to the level of authority had by those books. In the same way, appealing to the testimony of the Fathers regarding the primacy of Peter’s successors does not show that the Church has no need for a magisterial authority. Christ did not appoint Twelve professors. Academic authority is not the same as sacramental magisterial authority. Academic research and evidence can lead us to sacramental magisterial authority, but that act does not reduce sacramental magisterial authority to the level of academic authority, nor show that sacramental magisterial authority is unnecessary.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  37. August 21, 2007 at 12:27 am

    bryan said “If we don’t know the answer to that question, then it does not do us any good to know that the Holy Spirit has the authoritative interpretation of Scripture.”

    This is the age-old epistemological shell game Romanists have always played.

    I don’t mind when Romanists argue for their Romanism through various means, but to act as if sola ecclesia had an inherent epistemological advantage over sola scriptura is ridiculous to anyone who is self-conscious about such issues. Both involve the fallible human decisions to either invest trust, authority, and submission either to the church or to the Bible, and both require fallible interpretation in order to receive the teaching of the Bible or the church (in the form of published canons of a council or encyclical or whatever). If asking the question “who has the Holy Spirit” is problematic for determining who properly interprets the Bible, the very same question can be applied to ask who properly interprets the church. Argue for Rome all you want, but you aren’t going to get anywhere trying to front-load the issue this way.

    Church fragmentation, BTW, is proof of the Scriptural teaching concerning the nature of sin, not proof of the insufficiency of Scripture. The possibility that any of God’s gifts are open to abuse, whether it be the Bible, money, sex, or whatever, does not demonstrate that such an object must therefore be “insufficient” for accomplishing the task they were intended for.

  38. Bryan Cross said,

    August 21, 2007 at 1:46 am

    David,

    If asking the question “who has the Holy Spirit” is problematic for determining who properly interprets the Bible, the very same question can be applied to ask who properly interprets the church.

    I addressed that claim in comment #24, where I talked about the qualitative difference between interrogating a book and interrogating a person.

    Church fragmentation, BTW, is proof of the Scriptural teaching concerning the nature of sin, not proof of the insufficiency of Scripture.

    Do you think that all cases of interpreting the Bible in a non-Reformed way are due either to sinful Scripture twisting or ignorance?

    In the peace in Christ,

    – Bryan

  39. August 21, 2007 at 3:56 am

    “Who authoritatively interprets the Magisterium? The Magisterium. If I have a question about the Church’s teaching, I can go to my priest (or bishop) and ask him what it means. If what he says is not clear, I can ask him to explain it in more detail. That is a qualitative difference therefore between interpreting a non-living book and a living Magisterium, as Chesterton points out. (See Fr. Kimel’s comments about that here.)”

    Unfortunately the comments of a given priest, or even the Catholic Catechism are not infallible. I can even try writing a letter to the “living Magisterium” but that aren’t going to say that the letter they write back to me is infallible. So we are still back to square one: fallible interpretations of what Rome teaches. The only thing Rome will say is infallible are very specific ex cathedra pronouncements – all of which are written texts, the exact same as the Bible. The only advantage is that, every century or so, we might get another “updated” text to work with (on a narrow range of issues, sadly).

    But, sure, it is much nicer to have a person to converse with on various things, but it is not obvious that this “qualitative difference” is either epistemologically necessary nor without many of the same problems as receiving written teaching from a text. But just because it is nicer does not make it a philosophical trump card.

    “Of course at some point I am interpreting someone. That is true. But the question was not how to avoid interpretation. The question was: Whose interpretation is *authoritative*?”

    This begs the question you are trying to prove – you assume that an interpretation derives authority from a person (or office) rather than from the meaning of the text itself. So whose is authoritative? The one who follows the text faithfully. The same epistemological challenges exist for the one who wants to know which interpretation is right according to sola scriptura as for the one who wants to know which church is right to follow sola ecclesia. That is not a privileged position.

  40. Bryan Cross said,

    August 21, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    David,

    Your reply in #39 to my comments in #24 on “Who authoritatively interprets the Magisterium?”, assumes that a teaching isn’t authoritative unless it is infallible. But the Church does not teach that only infallible teachings are authoritative. Nor do I see any reason to assume that infallibility and ecclesial authority are the same thing, or that only infallible teachings are authoritative.

    In #24 I pointed back to my question: “Whose interpretation is *authoritative*?” And in #39 you replied, “This begs the question you are trying to prove.”

    A question cannot “beg the question”. Only an argument can “beg the question”.

    In the peace of Christ.

    – Bryan

  41. August 21, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    “A question cannot “beg the question”. Only an argument can “beg the question”.”

    Sure it can – if the question has a loaded premise (indeed, the very premise under dispute) and the question is used as part of an argument. If we are speaking in the realm of ultimate spiritual and doctrinal authority, to ask “who” is already illegitimate for the sola scriptura position. That is a sola ecclesia question.

    “But the Church does not teach that only infallible teachings are authoritative. Nor do I see any reason to assume that infallibility and ecclesial authority are the same thing, or that only infallible teachings are authoritative.”

    Great, but then this gives me reason to remain Protestant. This doesn’t get us anything better than the authority Protestants invest in their churches. We do believe that churches have *fallible* authority, but if so then it cannot have final or ultimate authority over that which is infallible.

    I believe all true churches are authoritative in this derivative sense. So if we are going to ask “whose interpretation…” in this context, the answer is “the one whose interpretation is supported by Scripture.” You seem to think that this creates and impossible epistemological dilemma, but it is not impossible if there is an obvious pre-condition for a solution: namely, the God-given faculties given to all men to hear, read, and comprehend intellectually the Word (whether preached or written) and the Spirit-given faculty of a heart of flesh that receives those same Spirit-given words.

  42. Bryan Cross said,

    August 22, 2007 at 8:45 pm

    David,

    My question: “Whose interpretation is authoritative?” is not part of an argument. It is just a question. At most, it is a natural question to ask, given the argument I make in #8.

    This doesn’t get us anything better than the authority Protestants invest in their churches.

    I did not claim that the Catholic Church has only fallible magisterial authority. I agree that the pastors of Protestant congregations do have a certain kind of authority, one “invested” in them by their congregations. But Protestant pastors do not have sacramental authority; rather, the pastors of Protestant congregations are typically selected by the congregation to teach according to the interpretation that that congregation holds. (That is obviously not the case in a church planting situation.) But there is a fundamental difference between sacramental authority, and authority based on teaching a certain doctrine. I have discussed that in my post here.

    Thank you for discussing this with me.

    May we be united in the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  43. July 29, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    […] at 4:23 pm (Federal Vision) My previous post on this section of the Joint Statement is located here. I dealt with both sections on the church, since they need to be taken together. I still think that […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: