Sungenis’s Preface

Continuing on in our examination of Not By Scripture Alone, we come now to the Editor’s Preface (pp. xix-xxiii), which was written by Robert Sungenis.

He makes several points worth noting and discussing. First of all, he tells us that he loves Scripture: “I love Scripture. I eat, breathe and drink Scripture. My whole life has been dedicated to studying Scripture, usually five to six hours a day for the last 24 years” (p. xix). He builds on this to make the claim that “If anything, we have the greatest respect possible for Scripture that human beings can possess” (p. xx). When Protestants treat the Scripture as the “proverbial rag doll” (Sungenis here means the differing interpretations that different denominations have of the Bible), then “Scripture has become the slave of man which is traded and pilfered from one master to another” (p. xx). We will address the issue of Protestant denominations in future posts, especially since this book mentions this problem rather a lot. First of all, it needs to be admitted at the outset that there are too many denominations out there. Sometimes splits happen because of good reasons, and sometimes splits happen because of bad reasons. There’s plenty of the latter.

However, very seldom in this book will you see any acknowledgment of the Protestant doctrine of the visible/invisible church distinction. This is because Roman Catholics tend to define the church by visible categories. They tend to equate the church with the visible organization of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants tend to make more distinctions than this. Protestants tend to note more that there are unfaithful people in every denomination, and that there are faithful people in most denominations, and that the faithful people of all denominations constitute the true church, regardless of denomination boundaries. This underlying unity is either not mentioned, or it is tossed aside rather lightly, but it is a vitally important point. Yes, Presbyterians differ from Baptists on the issue of Baptism, and we worship apart for the very sake of greater unity (think how much fighting would happen if we were all in the same denomination!). But this does not take away from unity on other issues. In other words, not all denominational boundaries are inherently sinful, as long as the underlying unity is emphasized. Church unity along organizational lines is not the only kind of unity there is.

Another point that needs to be emphasized here is that a difference of interpretation about Scripture is not the same thing as Sola Scriptura. If Baptists and Presbyterians both agree on Sola Scriptura, then it cannot be Sola Scriptura‘s fault that they worship apart! Roman Catholics would respond by saying that Sola Scriptura is still responsible, since it prevents any one magisterial interpretation from governing the church. Hence Sola Scriptura is still responsible for the divisions. However, it is still the case that Sola Scriptura is not responsible for denominationalism. As will be argued in detail later, Martin Luther did not want to leave the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church excommunicated him. To follow this trail a bit further, Martin Luther’s interpretation of justification and Scripture has precedents in the early church (one does not need to argue here that ALL church fathers would agree with Luther. Of course they wouldn’t. All that is necessary here is to prove that Luther’s position can be found in the early church. This will be the subject of another post later on). If this is so, then, in excommunicating Martin Luther, the Roman Catholic Church rejected part of the magisterium, and was itself the cause of the fracture. There were theologians even at Trent who were more than sympathetic with Martin Luther’s positions (which will also be argued later).

Now, Sungenis is willing to allow that men at Trent may have made some mistakes (p. xxii). This is helpful, especially considering what Vatican II said about it: “men on both sides were to blame” (quoted by Sungenis on the same page). But let’s consider that admission for a bit. A good bit of the rest of the book seems to be arguing that Sola Scriptura is entirely or mostly to blame, not only for denominationalism among Protestants, but also for the rift at the Reformation also. But this cannot be true if men on both sides were to blame. Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church contributed to denominationalism and schism, even while denying Sola Scriptura! This seriously undermines any claim that Rome can make to the effect that Sola Scriptura is solely responsible for all the denominations existing in disunity out there. For schism can result from other causes than Sola Scriptura. Let me reiterate a former point in different words: denominations do not come into existence because of what they agree on. They come into existence because of what they disagree with someone else on. If most Protestant denominations agree on Sola Scriptura, then that doctrine cannot be the basis for denominationalism, whatever Catholics may say about interpretation. And there is a great deal more unity among Protestants than the Catholics seem willing to admit in this book (this is also the subject of another post. One side note: it is impossible to say everything that one would want to say in one post, unlike a book. I must ask my readers not to make arguments based on things I haven’t addressed yet.).

22 Comments

  1. The 27th Comrade said,

    January 4, 2011 at 10:42 am

    By referring to Protestants by one name—“Protestants”—they concede that there is indeed a unity among the Protestants, even a doctrinal unity. What more do you want? That we do not consider Augustinian monks to be the united with the Jesuits?

  2. Michael said,

    January 4, 2011 at 10:49 am

    Good post Lane! I am wondering what you think of the following quote from Berkhof regarding organizational unity,
    “The question may still arise whether the on invisible church ought not to find expression in a single organization. It can hardly be said that the Word of God explicitly requires this, and history has shown this to be indefeasible and also of questionable worth. The only attempt that was made so far to unite the whole church in one great external organization, did not prove productive of good results, but led to externalism, ritualism, and legalism.” (Systematic Theology p. 373)
    This is an interesting point. The assumption seems to be made that we ought to seek organizational unity, but Berkhof says that this is hardly clear from Scripture. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this.
    Blessings,
    Michael

  3. solascriptura1971 said,

    January 4, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Is Robert Sungenis a Catholic in good standing with his church? I heard he started holding to some pretty weird views, e.g., geocentrism.

  4. curate said,

    January 4, 2011 at 11:28 am

    The Pope excommunicated the entire Eastern Church a thousand years ago because they would not submit to his arbitrary authority. At the Reformation he excommunicated all of the Protestants. And these people have the temerity to accuse us of schism.

    The papacy is probably the single most schismatic thing in history.

  5. Ronnie Brown said,

    January 4, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    If, as Roman Catholics claim, the rule of faith of the church has always been Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium then all that we have today sprung from that initial rule of faith. Therefore, does this demonstrates how unworkable their rule of faith is?

  6. Andrew McCallum said,

    January 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    The assumption seems to be made that we ought to seek organizational unity, but Berkhof says that this is hardly clear from Scripture. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this.

    Michael,

    I agree with Berkhof and I appreciate you posting this quote. Our Catholic friends will look to the practice of the Early Church Fathers to justify the idea that the Church must be one administrative entity. And while it seems very difficult to me to derive the RCC ecclesiology of the Late Middle Ages (from which the Reformation was born) from the ecclesiology of the Early Church, it is certainly true that there were no formal divisions in the earliest years of Christianity and some of the ECF’s defended this administrative unity. My reply to my Catholic friends on this has been firstly to point out that a preponderance of theologians in a given age believing something does not make it necessarily correct, and then secondly to note that the ECF’s used administrative unity to assure that doctrinal purity and moral fidelity was upheld. And certainly administrative unity can promote theological unity and moral purity, but it can also promote just the opposite which is exactly what we find in the Roman Catholic hierarchy during the late Medieval and early Reformation eras. The administrative unity of the Medieval RCC assured that the most wretched of men were given ecclesiastical authority, a point that the RCC historians do not dispute. The Catholic reply here is that bad popes, cardinals, etc don’t invalidate the principle of formal sacramental succession. And our response is then that there is much more to apostolicity than just formal succession. For all intents and purposes, for the Catholics formal succession is all that matters in determining ecclesiastical fidelity.

    One of the problems I see in the discussion of sola scriptura between Catholics and Protestants is that oftentimes the two sides are not speaking about exactly the same thing. I am in the middle of a discussion on the Called To Communion blog on just this issue within one of the featured articles that was a response to Keith Mathison’s discussion of sola scriptura and how it relates to solo scriptura (an admittedly whimsical play on terms). I won’t bore you all with the details of this discussion, but I will note that there seems to be a distinct misunderstanding from the Catholic side on the Mathison use of sola scriptura as if it is fundamentally a matter of our individual utilization of Scripture rather than a delineation of the proper standard for the Church both now and in history. Keith made a brief appearance some time back to say that he was composing a long response to this article but it has not shown up yet. Anyway, it seems to me that the biggest struggle in this debate is to get Catholic and Protestant on the same page with respect to definitions.

  7. andrew said,

    January 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    For me John Frame’s book Evangelical Reunion dealt very thoroughly with the notion that various denominations are acceptable or the appeal to invisible church/ brethern ecclesiology is anything more than a lazy cop-out.

    A great read, even if you don’t agree with everything.

  8. Eileen said,

    January 4, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    In the matter of Frame v. Berkhof, I think I’ll go with Berkhof. I don’t think that anyone disputes that the Church is currently unified in Christ by the Holy Spirit, invisibly. I don’t quite understand the urgency and necessity some feel for organizational (visible) unification.

    On what basis can the church be unified organizationally, in this age, without resorting to a “church” bounded by either least-common-denominator christianish ecumenism or mere outward markers such as a common ritual or a commonly recognized vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church? Further, since we lack the ability to infallibly determine if one has actually been united to Christ by the Holy Spirit, it seems to me that these unification strategies defeat real unity because they inevitably result in the inclusion of people who are not actually united to Christ by the Holy Spirit.

    Why is division or differentiation necessarily schismatic (implying sinful motives?) Do we expect the families of grown siblings to live in the same house? One day we will all live in the Father’s house that the Lord has prepared for us. Until then, maybe the Holy Spirit has placed truth firewalls in the visible church using the means of denominations. Maybe the Holy Spirit has deposited truth in various denominations (mine has more than yours!). Maybe, because we see through a glass darkly in this age, we must do the best we can to study and discern the truth of Scripture, listen humbly to others with different viewpoints, and test them by Scripture. Or get ourselves a Pope.

    I don’t believe that Romanism is a system which is in any way compatible with Protestantism, nor can it be made to be so, as my formerly-Catholic husband has observed. When you hear more about visible than invisible, you’re in a Roman province. In my uneducated opinion, Roman Catholic eschatology really has been brought backward and collapsed, for all practical purposes, into its ecclesiology. Obviously I’m not a theologian, but I think that, when it comes to ecclesiology, those who demand visible unity need a little more not yet, already.

  9. AJ said,

    January 5, 2011 at 2:42 am

    Ron said, “The Protestant position assumes that it was an act of submission to authority. There is no way to either reconcile or harmonize those two positions. Only one can be right.”

    The crucial question is, Whose assumption a christian has to choose as an act of submission to authority? His own ability to discern? his pastor?

    The ultimate problem of making Scripture the authority is that it is of necessity subject to interpretation. INTERPRETATION IS A HUMAN ACT, therefore authority (interpretive authority included) must rest in humans. Now, if everyone is their own authority, nobody can claim authoritative interpretation, because their authority is no higher than anyone else’s. But this entails subjectivism, and not a “faith once delivered,” although that phrase could just as easily be re-interpreted as, “the faith once delivered and forever stumbled over and misinterpreted.” For correct (apostolic) doctrine to be ascertained in any objective sense, it cannot come from within (either the person or the text – even the Book of U.S. Constitution needs a supreme interpreter and thus pass judgment if there exist a dispute, how much more between christians). Consequently, one cannot derive correct doctrine from the scriptures without first being properly taught the Scriptures. (Apostolic Tradition).

  10. AJ said,

    January 5, 2011 at 3:04 am

    27th said, “Protestants”—they concede that there is indeed a unity among the Protestants, even a doctrinal unity. What more do you want? That we do not consider Augustinian monks to be the united with the Jesuits?”

    I agree with the latter but not the former. The latter are united under one doctrine and Petrine Authority but the former is not because of the principle of Sola Scriptura where the real authority resides on each individual, who could say my interpretation is better than yours? Baptists? Seventh Day Adventists? One Holiness? Jehovahs? Pentacostals? Mormons? Unitarians? Anglicans?

    And the reason why there are so many denominations is precisely because they all said the Scriptures are the only credible authority yet they disagreed on how to interpret it. Sola Scriptura’s biggest downfall is that it fails to address the issue of interpretation.

  11. Ryan said,

    January 5, 2011 at 5:54 am

    AJ wrote:

    “The ultimate problem of making Scripture the authority is that it is of necessity subject to interpretation.”

    The ultimate problem of making the church the [ultimate] authority is that it is of necessity subject to interpretation.

    Come on. You can do better than that, right?

  12. TurretinFan said,

    January 5, 2011 at 8:32 am

    The reason there are so many denominations is that no one has the power to persecute all the weaker denominations out of existence. Thanks be to the Lord for that!

  13. Bob S. said,

    January 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    And the reason why there are so many denominations is precisely because they all said the Scriptures are the only credible authority yet they disagreed on how to interpret it.

    Insomuch as that sad potpourri of denominations understand that the Scripture plainly teaches the gospel of justification is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by predestinating and electing grace alone, as revealed in the Scripture alone – the one thing necessary that defines the true Christian church, the gospel – has been established over and against the Roman counterfeit.

    As for why there are so many denominations, the real reason is to stumble those who “received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved”.
    Even further, “for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie”. 2 Thess.2:10,11

    Pre-eminently that lie includes the belief:

    That justification is by the infusion of righteousness by the Holy Spirit and not the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone.

    Likewise that faith working by love saves us rather than again, faith alone in the work of Christ alone.

    It also includes the belief:

    That Peter was the first pope and apostolic succession is necessarily of the essence of the Christian church.
    That the early church was the Roman church and consequently the Roman Magisterium is not only infallible, it authoritatively chose/determined the canon of Scripture – and contra Christ and the Jews, including the apocrypha in the OT canon.
    That Christ, who has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, actually and literally becomes the bread and wine in the Roman mass.
    That the pseudo Aaronic Roman priesthood then through this transubstantiation actually re-sacrifices Christ in that same mass.
    That the Council of Trent which categorically anathematised justification by faith alone was a genuine ecumenical council in which God binds in heaven, what it has bound on earth.
    That baptism washes away original sin and regenerates the recipient.
    That Mary was immaculately conceived and assumed into heaven.
    [And that the self appointed and self styled Called to Communion junta can exercise their private judgement in authoritatively applying the infallible papal dictums to the private judgments and consciences of those who do not belong to that exclusive ecumenical club.]

  14. dozie said,

    January 5, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    “The papacy is probably the single most schismatic thing in history”.

    Hopefully you get some comfort in that but it is simply diversionary.

  15. dozie said,

    January 5, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    “My reply to my Catholic friends on this has been firstly to point out that a preponderance of theologians in a given age believing something does not make it necessarily correct…”

    In the prior post, I asked the question: “From the Protestant point of view…, what is the nature of Christianity?” You may here address the question of whether Christianity has any shape, form, content or whether it is merely of human creation and subject to the logic of discontinuities and reformulations.

  16. andrew said,

    January 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    One problem with spiritualizing unity is that it makes a nonsense of much of Scripture.

    Christ prays that his people will become one. Paul commands unity repeatedly. But if Christian unity is simply the fact of shared experience – that we are all all in Christ, then it caanot be something that increases or diminishes – it simply is.

    By the same token, there can be no sin of schism among Christians since the invisible unity of shared experiecne is always there.

  17. The 27th Comrade said,

    January 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    AJ said:

    The latter are united under one doctrine and Petrine Authority but the former is not because of the principle of Sola Scriptura …

    No, the various orders of Roman Catholicism actually feud a lot. Even in some the discalced sub-orders feud with the calced orders. The pronunciations made on the Assumption were what made the feuding cease between Augustinians and Benedictines. According to the principal used on the Protestants, if you can tell two groups of Catholics apart with a proper noun, they are not united.

    Secondly, you say that these Prots feud. Very well. But, for me, all who are under the banner of “Protestant” are indeed united, just as the many Catholic orders are united. Feuding does not make disunity; otherwise the so-called Jerusalem Council started out in schism, and Galatians 2 is also a record of schism. Is it?

    For me, all who confess that the following is true are united: “Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
    Compare that with the lies in paragraph 2010 of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church.

  18. jose jeffrey said,

    January 10, 2011 at 3:06 am

    to all protestants,

    please be reminded that the unity among all catholics is unquestionable – since catholic teachings (faith & morals) are absolutely united.

    very much unlike the protestants, right?

    as catholics, we have our ‘catechism of the catholic church’.

    as protestants, do you have your ‘catechism of the protestant church’?

    JUST ASKING.

    PEACE!

  19. TurretinFan said,

    January 10, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Jose:

    a) Yes, it’s called “the Bible.”

    b) I know you’re going to say there is disagreement over what the Bible means But guess what, there’s disagreement over what the CCC means, and even over whether to accept what the CCC says (it’s not infallible, after all).

    c) The term “Protestant” is mostly a sociological category. It includes many churches. Many of the churches have catechisms.

    -TurretinFan

  20. David Meyer said,

    January 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Solascriptura1971 said:
    “Is Robert Sungenis a Catholic in good standing with his church? I heard he started holding to some pretty weird views, e.g., geocentrism.”

    He is in good standing. He has a great video debate with James White available online dealing with papal infalibility. Both debaters do a fine job, very informative and entertaining. As far as geocentrism, I laughed so hard it hurt when I heard people believe it. then I researched it online enough to realize I really know nothing about cosmology, and it could very well be true as far as my knowledge of science goes.

    TFan said:
    “guess what, there’s disagreement over what the CCC means, and even over whether to accept what the CCC says (it’s not infallible, after all).”

    That is not true that there is disagreement among Catholics as to accepting the CCC. lets separate disent and disagreement. Just as a Reformed Christian might say that a Lesbian Presbyterian “minister” is not merely in “disagreement” with the scripture, but is in disent, so too a Catholic, contracepting married couple who are in “disagreement” with the CCC are just masking their disent. And by the way, the evil of artificial contraception is one of those infallible teachings of the ordinary magisterium found in the CCC. An infallible teaching that agrees with not only Scripture, but the Church of all ages and even all Christians of any stripe of ALL the long ages (up till the enlightened 1930’s)

    It is still taught to be evil by one Church, and only one. The CCC infallibly says it is evil.
    “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil” (CCC 2370).

    Now bear with me, this is not off topic. The issue of contraception seems to me to be nearly impossible to come to consensus on in a sola scriptura church. On this point I am sure we agree. So it is then left up to each man’s conscience to decide. But IF it truly is evil, as only the Catholics now say, which seems at least possible from the text of scripture, it should NOT be left to individual conscience. The shepherds should keep the sheep from evil. But it seems that could never happen using sola scriptura on this issue without the church leaders seemingly forcing their interpretation on the flock.
    In my opinion, this is a symptom of the major flaw in sola scriptura. Evil enters the church, and cannot be rooted out because no one agrees on the meaning of the text.

    Wouldnt it be nice if Christ had given us an infallible teaching office in a visible Church to decide these things?

  21. D. T. King said,

    January 11, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Wouldnt it be nice if Christ had given us an infallible teaching office in a visible Church to decide these things?

    Nothing is nice about the suggestion of a creature who would exalt his sense of wisdom above that of the Creator.

  22. TurretinFan said,

    January 11, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    “That is not true that there is disagreement among Catholics as to accepting the CCC.”

    The CCC is not infallible and does not have to be accepted de fide in your newfound religion. So, I don’t know what your RCIA instructor told you, but there is disagreement within your church over some things stated in the CCC.

    -TurretinFan


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