Monday, September 25, 2006

Authority

I wonder what gets Protestants so riled up about authority. We bark and bark against conforming and/or submitting to the Authority of ANY Church like the Catholics do and then we turn around and bark and bark about the Authority of the Scripture Alone, but who's interpretation of the Scripture Alone are we talking about? Yours? Mine? One might say: "Well the Holy Spirit is my guide." Well what happens when "my" Holy Spirit conflicts with "your" Holy Spirit?

Take the verse "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Probably the most misinterpreted Scripture of all time. We as Americans think we can use that Scripture in all sorts of contexts. Football games, Wall Street deals, Arm-wrestling matches, Mountain-climbing, Poker Games,...Busting Bricks, Ripping Phone Books.

What it REALLY means, if you ask any Geek-Greek student studying the Scripture is "I can BE CONTENT in all things through Christ who Strengthens me." Big difference.

Then there are those bigger problems... Homosexuality, Divorce, Communion, Salvation...

What if there is a 'Right' way to interpret the Scripture. What if the Holy Spirit never Contradicts Himself. What if the answer to that was yes. Would you believe it? Would you submit?

Who is your authority my Protestant brothers? Does anyone here REALLY trust their own self to complete and perfect authority in the interpretation of the Scripture? If you do not then who do you turn to?

86 comments:

JOEY_MCFARLAND said...

Seeing as how God knew we as humans would have as many different opinions as there are of us I am glad that in His mercy and grace God gave us one to lead the church. One who with God's authority can interpret the scriptures and lead us when we are confused or lost in the Bible and in doctrine.

Seth Ward said...

I am aware of your loyalty to Pat Robertson Joey, but I think we can rule him out.

Stephen said...

One question: Why did you post that picture? Now I'm going to have nightmares tonight remembering my time working for TBN and seeing all their shows.

JOEY_MCFARLAND said...

Well Patty ol' boy can pump 2000 lbs with his legs! That alone demands holy authority.

I was actually talking about the head of our church....wait. I mean the head of the church. And in response to anything that might be mentioned of his latest actions, he was quoting an old book. However it is heart-warming to see that the misconstrued observations that muslims are violent were followed by an outbreak of violence from some muslims. Although I know it isn't the majority who are that way, it became an instance of pointing out the absurd by being absurd.

JOEY_MCFARLAND said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Seth Ward said...

Welllll..... that would make you Catholic buddy ole pal. So, if your Catholic you don't have the aforementioned problem of authority. So in short, your opinion is of the Devil and you should be flogged.

However, I am not Roman Catholic. I do see the fundamental flaw in 'strict' Sola Scriptura thinking and have yet to see a REAL effective arguement to sustain it. I await one patiently.

I do sympathize with Pope Ratz. I also think just about every word that has come out of his mouth lately has been amazing. The article in USA Today on him is great.

Stephen, YOU WORKED FOR TBN!!!! how was that???

JOEY_MCFARLAND said...

It was not me that had the question mein freund.

Seth Ward said...

JK about that "devil" business. you know that.

anyway, back to business.

any takers?

Reijn of the Elfin Muse said...

authority can be taken so many different ways. There are always those authorative figures that are full of hog-wash. But then there are those figures that speak authority in just three words. With my personal experiance, there has been one person that i held in high regard as an authorative figure. Jay Anderson, my youth pastor at Sugar Land Bible Church. I had never heard anybody interperate the Bible like he did. And I haven't heard it since. I believe true authority is earned.

that ramble really didn't answer your question, seth. oh well.

Chaotic Hammer said...

Good question, Seth.

Certainly, I would count myself as among those who do not recognize the authority of a single earthly man or organization when it comes to the matter of to whom I submit spiritually.

Does it really sound that bad to say that I submit only to the authority of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, and confirmed by the witness of the Holy Spirit? Wouldn't you agree that earthly men and organizations can and do err, and get led astray into bad doctrine? If I choose to invest my trust in them, then when they go astray, I simply follow like a mindless sheep, without questioning the fact that I feel conviction from the Holy Spirit telling me that something is wrong.

I understand what you mean about "my Holy Spirit vs. your Holy Spirit", but these are where matters of custom and conscience will naturally differ between men. There are still fundamentals of the faith which I would say are mandatory, and yes I know that people differ on what those are.

But if you're going to take this line of thinking about absolute authority too far, then you're ultimately going to end up questioning the very essence of faith and salvation, and even the existence of God altogether. Someone could argue that you are using what a person believes as the standard by which some are saved and some are not, and there are so many fine shades of difference in beliefs, so who gets to say with "authority from God" who is right and who is wrong?

I believe I've read (and agreed with) your thoughts about this previously -- that this is where the value of fundamental creeds and statements of faith have a strong and important part in the life of the Body of Christ as a whole. Meaning, we find agreement with all believers on a baseline set of doctrines and beliefs, and then leave differences up to the individual sects, denominations, etc to resolve among themselves.

One observation I have about this concept of "authority" is that in God's Kingdom, everything is upside down. In this world, we like to set up organizations like a pyramid, with the most important person at the top, and a series of levels below that which have increasingly less authority, and submit to those above them. Certainly the Catholic church (and many others) are constructed this way.

But Jesus taught that the least shall be greatest in the Kingdom of God -- that the pyramid is upside down, if you will. He became a servant to all, and humbled Himself more than any man in history, and we all know and acknowledge that He is the greatest in the Kingdom. Kingdom authority is exercised by submission and service, not by lording power and might over others.

I know we are talking about authority in a slighly different context than this when you speak of "the authority of Scripture", but I would also note that failure to understand this fundamental truth about the Kingdom of God is something which bugs me a lot in certain doctrines and teachings -- for example "take authority over that sickness and cast it out of your body in the name of Jesus". It's not that God can't heal sickness, because He does, but I don't believe that "exercising authority" is simply a matter of appropriating a provision which has already been made, by use of "faith power", but instead, I see it as a matter of God's personal providence and mercy, applied as He sees fit and for His own good pleasure and glory.

Does that make sense? Am I way off base here?

Seth Ward said...

Off base? I don't think so. Very well said. I pose quesitons to myslef and others to use as a pillar for something greater I am trying to work out. However they are USUALLY never questions to which I feel I have the full answer. Why would I ask them? It is a humbling process for me. I, among others here love to be right. I realize that on my own, left to my own interpretation of things could get some important things wrong. Other truly wise Christians have realized this as well. It is why there are Seminaries. I could become very quickly a legalist or a Cult leader.

My great passion in the past 5 years has been Unity in the Body. One of the ways that God has used me in the past year is by bringing Christians from various denominations together to talk about these things. I believe that Protestants contradict themselves many times. They say "don't tell me what to do" then they run and Read Piper or Rick Warren so they can be told what to do. They say "NO CREEDS NO CREEDS!!!!" Then they go and write the Baptist Faith and Message and call it our "Statement." Even B.S.F. have their own 'Creed' It is this sort of false sense of independence.

On the other hand I think that Catholics, pre Vat. II got lazy. Going through the motions and many couldn't quote 4 scriptures if they tried. Mostly not their fault. The Church did not encourage personal scripture reading and study. Now they do. It is exploding.

I am happy to say that things are different than they were 50 years ago. The Body is moving towards unity. It believe it will happen. Jesus prayed for it. We all desire it.(even if it is secret) Mostly the world needs it. They need it like a sick person needs the right medicine. We can't be NEAR as effective if we stupidly fight.

One of the things that I have found is that we, "Christians" aren't REALLY that different. I think that "we" are finding that out as time goes by. The word "Protestant" is becoming meaningless. Denominations in general are becoming silly. What are we Protesting? Most of us would agree with the Pope on 99.99999 percent of his statements. I challenge anyone to find something. I also challenge any Catholic to read the Baptist Faith and Message to find something they disagree with. I think even the word Catholic will eventually change into something that it was originally meant to imply, Universal. I also think that it will be a painless movement. We will almost NOT see it coming. It won't be Roman Catholic and It won't be the Great Big World Baptist Church. It will be simply "The Church." Will we have some differences? Yup. Well we have points of unbreaking agreement? Heck Yes. and Praise God for that day.

So this takes me to my bout with Authority... This is an tough issue for me. I have some problems with this because I have heard convincing arguemnents on both sides. Like yours for instance. But then I have Catholic friends, passionate about Christ and His Church that say something like this. "well, Jesus said 'upon THIS rock' and if you look through the history of the Church God has preserved His Scripture and His Truth through the Holy Spirit working through this Structure Known as "the Church" In this "Church" God has established his Authority. What this Church says about Scripture and God is true. Period."

Ultimately I think that we are in a place where Christianity has finally shaken government from its garments. Now we are ready to get together and agree on some things. I just wish we could all admit at least that.

As I get older there is something comforting about that. I don't know if it is laziness or Wisdom.

Couldn't say it all... need to eat. What say you?

Chaotic Hammer said...

I say "Amen".

That's what I was referring to in my previous comment -- I've seen your previous statements about the Unity of the Body, and I think you are right on. I mean that both because I think that's a real move that the Spirit of God is making in general, and because I suspect that you actually have a special ministry or calling to this area.

It's no accident that you relate so well to so many different believers from so many different backgrounds, and it's no accident that you're well-educated about these matters.

I would say that what you're doing here demonstrates a new kind of growth and wisdom, by putting your thoughts, doubts, and questions out here for everyone to see. Shaun Groves is somebody else who does this same thing, with amazing results. It's an invaluable resource for testing and refining the ideas that we all have bouncing around in our heads.

The Einstein thread with its hundred and thirty some-odd messages was a tremendously healthy and vibrant discussion, where I think that everyone involved got to discuss and explore a lot of very good questions about a wide variety of subjects.

Frankly, I'm struck by the same sense you are -- that the smaller matters of personal preference in worship style, culture, personal behavior, and various controversial doctrines should take a back seat to the vast areas of agreement that we all share in common. It should be in the context of a healthy and edifying discussion that we work through areas of disagreement, not with a tone of intolerance and hatred for those with differing views on those matters, but to simply acknowledge that we do have differences, and agree to disagree about things that cannot be settled.

Having said all that, there are certainly things that are going to be sticking points, even when we try to strive for unity. And you touched on one by mentioning the Catholic/Protestant thing. I'm with you about the unity idea, but let's be honest -- while I think the Pope is a swell guy who speaks wisdom and truth on behalf of the Lord, I place very little value in any sort of "authority" that Catholics perceive him to have -- either spiritual authority, as in some guy playing the role of Christ or Peter or whoever on the earth today, or as a leader in a general political sense (meaning, he might have power through influencing church members, but doesn't really have any authority in the governments of man -- and that's a very good thing).

I know that sounds like I'm disrespecting him or his Church or position, but I don't mean it that way. I consider both John Paul II and Benedict XVI genuine men of God, good guys on the same team I'm on. I really do. I have no qualms with Catholics or the things they practice that I don't understand or see in Scripture (Hail Marys, ornate garb, massive cathedrals, elaborate ceremonies, etc)

But I'm also being honest when I say that I don't know if most Catholics return that same respect toward me. Maybe they do, maybe they don't -- I honestly don't know. I have certainly seen some on-line (yes, to be taken with a grain of salt, I know) who start in with the "One True Church" thing and really do believe that Protestants are going to hell, or purgatory, or whatever.

And I'm aware that there have been Protestants for many years doing the "Pope is Anti-Christ, Catholic Church is Babylon" routine, which is equally hurtful and useless.

I've had a few Catholic friends over the years, including a very dear friend who was a youth leader in a Charismatic church I attended. But by and large, the overwhelming majority of Catholics I've met were "born Catholic" and rarely attend church or put any real stock in the things their church teaches. So I don't have much to go by in terms of what a sincere, Christ-following disciple looks like in the Catholic church, at least not personally.

That's why I listen intently and gobble it up when good information comes my way about this stuff. I'm definitely not stiff-necked or unteachable about this stuff, I just don't know about it yet. You've had blog entries about some of these things in the past, and I found them fascinating and useful.

So... I guess I don't really have a point to all this. Like you, I'm thinking aloud (er, typing aloud) and listening to the answers. And genuinely appreciative for any good information I can get about this stuff.

Just curious, Seth -- I've heard you mention Sola Scriptura, but none of the other Five Solas. How do you feel about those? Are you a Four Solas guy? They are not particularly minor issues, and the Reformation was not just a minor bump in the road in terms of Church unity. I reckon that may be too lengthy of a subject or too much a can of worms, but I'm just curious. I've always considered them pretty solid, but what you're hinting at might challenge that notion, so I'm certainly willing to hear opposing views.

Thanks -- great discussion, as usual.

Stephen said...

Seth: Yep, I worked for TBN for 2 years. And that was after working as a DJ for a conservative christian radio station for 3 1/2 years (where we couldn't play rock music, meaning Steve Green and Michael Card). So if I come across sounding a little hard against TBN styled philosophy/methodology and fundamentalism, that's why.

Seth Ward said...

The five "Solas" hmmm. I'll talk a bit about that while on the road tomorrow. I will say that it is a bit funny that there are five "alones" Like saying we have only one right answer and then saying that there are five "one" right answers.

They are fun to discuss. Thanks for asking.

Seth Ward said...

btw, there is no such thing as a "too lengthy" discussion in my book.

AND no I don't believe that the Reformation was a minor "bump" in the road. Nor do I think it was a mistake. Many Catholics don't think it was a mistake either.

You know, I think there should be a name for those who are neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. I neither protest or conform to Roman Catholicism. What would that make me? I might call myself an Augustinian Christian?? He was kind of right on the line before the Popes had the bigtime authority and political power. He is certainly the most influencial theologian after the Apostle Paul. Definitely not a Calvinist even though they march around quoting him.

Christian is too broad a term these days. I could say that I am Catholic in the classic sense meaning "universal" but then my Roman Catholic buddies would seriously disagree and scold, asking me all sorts of questions for which I have no answer...yet. "do you believe in the eucharist? do you submit to the authority of the Church? Confession to Priests? Mary?" they would ask.

Follower of Jesus sounds preachy but I have NO problem saying it when asked. In fact, that is what I usually say these days. Don't know. Any suggestions? Now see, this is what I hope goes away in the church in a hundred years or so. All this wandering. To many "Hallways" as Lewis calls them. But, gotta start somewhere. I guess Christian will suffice until then. It still means what it means to me.

euphrony said...

Seth,
You're throwing around Catholic and Protestant, unhappy with either as a description. How about Restorationism? From Wikipedia: "Restorationism sought to renew the whole Christian church, on the pattern set forth in the New Testament, without regard to the creeds developed over time in Catholicism or Protestantism, which allegedly kept Christianity divided." That seems to describe what you are talking about here.

Authority derives from one source only, Jehovah who gave all authority to His Son. If we speak with authority or act with authority, it is because we speak and act as Christ would. I try to practice what John taught on testing the spirits, to see what is of God - so, yes, I rely heavily on the Spirit in me to guide me and determine authority. There are, I believe, too many who will quickly dismiss the authoritarian structure of the Roman Catholic church as being unbiblical, preaching church autonomy, but turn around and take whatever a church elder or a minister says to be undisputable. They do what they preach against, just on a different level (local, not global).

God has placed some people in places of leadership, as ministers of the Word, as shepherds to guide His flock, as deacons to minister to His people, as teachers in classes, etc. This does not, however, remove from them the fallible nature of man; they, too, err in judgment and at times embrace sin. Their word should be taken as no more and no less sacrosanct than the stranger on the street-corner - i.e. listen to both and hear where God speaks. I disagree with the leaders at my church on several things, where I think they should act and don't and where they act in ways I believe they shouldn't. I'll talk to them about it, not as a rabble-rouser but as someone seeking to see Jehovah served. I may not support some things, but I won’t seek to destroy them, either. And we still don't agree on it all, but that's okay because I know where their heart is. We'll still work on each other, to hone one another and try to better serve God, but there is not animosity, not division.

Stephen, on a related note to your Christian radio experience, I was reading an article in the latest CCM Magazine by John Styll. He was recalling the first big controversy in the magazine, about a year after they started publication, stemming from a difference of viewpoints. One letter-writer from a Christian station (who still works in Christian music today, Styll notes) wrote in talking about how he would accept or discard certain albums based solely on the album cover (only to find out later that they actually had some pretty good music on them). What touched off the "firestorm", Styll says, is the writers comment about the recently released Amy Grant album, My Father’s Eyes, that showed Amy "all fixed up, her top three buttons open on her shirt and a come on look". Go look at the album cover and see if you see a "come on look". A difference of opinion, indeed. And, it would seem, someone who places a little too much authority in themselves.

Seth Ward said...

"Authority derives from one source only, Jehovah who gave all authority to His Son. If we speak with authority or act with authority, it is because we speak and act as Christ would." Sounds kinda like Ex Cathedra.

Euphrony, thanks for th link. Although I do think what the Restorationists are doing or seeking to do is true to the spirit of Unity, I really do not or I am not seeking a denomination where I can "fit in" My point is that I can "fit in" just about anywhere I go and worship regardless of the differences. I enjoy going to Catholic Mass just as much as I do a good ole fashioned Southern Baptist Church. I don't stand on some mount and proclaim 'why all the denominations, or THIS DENOMINATION AND NO OTHERS!!!!?" I understand all too well why there are so many Protestant denominations-all the Reforation History in all of its attempts at establishing authority and unity only to stand on the grounds of a common desire for disunity. (I think it is funny that Luther and Calvin tried to get together and practically got in a fist fight over the eucharist.)

I belong to the generation of "I don't care what denomination you are. Lets get together (yeah yeah yeah...name that movie) and break bread." There is a whole generation of people who could CARE LESS what the Baptitst Faith and Message says or if the SBC tells Missionares drink wine or not. We want to know more of Christ, and there are things to be learned from many denominations. The information age is aiding in this ripping down these walls. However, I will probably always be a part of a denomination because I believe in submitting to authority... believe it or not. Right now, I belong to a Southern Baptist Church. A 'moderate' Pastor. I am there because of my great need to love and be loved. I don't believe in my own Strict authority because no matter how much I proclaim 'Sola Scriptura' as my creed I still need to check these beliefs against Church dogma and tradition. I hope this is wisdom. The alternative to me seems to lead to arrogance. Baptist call this submintting "checking doctrine against 'main-line Christianity.'" Catholics call it checking it against Church Dogma. So everyone submits to someones authority sooner or later. All the great reformers proclaimed all the 'solas' and then quickly set up traditions around their own specific guidelines for people to submit. So we need each other, whether we like it or not. It is why the SBC made that subtle change from priesthood of THE believer (singular) to preisthood of believers.

I can't really get into more until I describe what I feel about the 5 or 6 "solas" Thanks for your thoughts.

Stephen said...

Kevin Twit, campus pastor at Belmont University here in Nashville and the one responsible for the Indelible Grace music, said recently that a trend he has noticed is that while college students today don't have a loyalty to denominations, they do have a strong loyalty to to the local church. Which I think is very promising.

Seth Ward said...

ME TOO!

euphrony said...

Seth,
I not trying to suggest you convert; if that is how it came across them I phrased it poorly. I was just trying to put a descriptor on something you seemed to be looking to tag. I guess that I protest the Catholic church, in that I do not conform to it or the Pope's teachings. But, Protestant doesn't really describe me, either. Restorant is more what I am.

I also did not intend my statement to sound like Ex Cathedra. I tried to continue in saying that none is infallable. The key word in that statement was if: if we speak or act with authority. Reijn was talking about this in her comment, that you can hear it, you know - as the crowds hearing Jesus knew - that authority accompanies the words. It it not a designation (i.e. because I am a Christian, I thus speak with authority) but is more like a phenomenon. Just trying to clarify.

You're right that so many unity movements are based on "Let's get together (yeah yeah yeah - The Parent Trap), but on my terms".

I seem to recall another church fist-fight, from around 325 a.d., when "jolly" old Saint Nicholas decked Arius at the First Council of Nicaea. Okay, so everyone was against Arius at the time, but Nick took it a little further.

Seth Ward said...

I didn't know that Jolly Nick decked Arius. Ha! I think that Luther even seasoned his threats to Calvin with hints of death-threats. I'll try and get the exact quote when I come back to Houston.

I have been reading an intersesting "short" book on Church History lately. It is called "The Catholic Church" by Hans Kunst. Kunst has been lambasted by the RCC the past 20 years because of his liberal views on Catholicism. He is Catholic nonetheless and it give an interesting, yet slanted view on how things happened the way they did. Popes, etc.

I didn't really misunderstand you, it just sounded like I did. So sorry. More talking outloud on my part. Oh the glories of internet discourse.

Seth Ward said...

Actually it is Hans Kung. Sorry.

Douglas_Coombs said...

"I know) who start in with the "One True Church" thing and really do believe that Protestants are going to hell, or purgatory, or whatever."

Most Catholics believe they themselves will likely end up in purgatory before heaven, so it's no small suprise if they think you will go there too. It's actually a complement, because if you make it to purgatory, you are going to eventually make it to heaven. No need for purgation if you are going to hell.


"You know, I think there should be a name for those who are neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant."

Assuming by "those" you mean Christians, there are names for such folks. They are Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics.

"I neither protest or conform to Roman Catholicism. What would that make me? I might call myself an Augustinian Christian??"

"I would not believe the Scriptures unless I first believed the Church." - Augustine
Are you sure you are so closely aligned with Augustine?

Honestly, I have a tough time understanding why people say they aren't Protestant or Catholic, unless they have rejected the faith entirely, or have decided to move from one camp and have yet to be fully received by the other side. It seems fairly obvious to me that you are Protestant, at least using the standard definition. Eastern Orthodox, nope. Roman or Eastern Rite Catholic, nope. Protestant, check.

Getting back to the question at hand, I've been a bit surprised that nobody has brought up what Scripture says about it's own authority or the authority of Church leadership.

"But Jesus taught that the least shall be greatest in the Kingdom of God -- that the pyramid is upside down, if you will. He became a servant to all, and humbled Himself more than any man in history, and we all know and acknowledge that He is the greatest in the Kingdom. Kingdom authority is exercised by submission and service, not by lording power and might over others."

Two things. I think this confuses holiness and authority. Matthew 23:1-31: "Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice." This is not to say that I don't think the two should overlap, just that I'm not sure God requires that they do for us to obey certain people in authority.

I think it also is a projection of democratic ideals on what has always been a heirarchical church structure. It wasn't like the apostles took a popular vote before they said at the council of Jerusalem, "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." Pretty ballsy if you ask me. I certainly don't go around telling people, you must do this because it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and me.

Well, enough rabble-rousing for today.

Doug Coombs

Susanne said...

I choose to be Baptist for a few reasons:

1) I'll never understand baptizing babies since it's not done anywhere in the Scriptures. The only baptizing done in the Bible was done AFTER a person confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. It's hard for me to believe that so many Protestant denominations still keep this tradition.
2) I don't believe that I should ever have to go through a priest to do or say anything. I hope Catholics know that they can talk to Jesus whenever and however they want to...not just through a priest.
3) I don't belong to some of the more charismatic denominations because so many of them think that you cannot be saved if you've never spoken in tongues. When I've seen people speak "in tongues," they've never had an interpreter, which goes against Scripture.

These things being said, I too hope that the Christians of this world will unite more than we have up to this point (and I agree that I think this is starting to happen). The things we disagree on are much less important than what we DO agree on, which is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He was crucified and rose again on the third day, and that if we believe and confess that this is true then we'll be in Heaven with Him for eternity. What GOOD NEWS!!!!

Douglas_Coombs said...

Are there any examples in the Bible where it specifically mentions children being baptized. I can't think of any. It does talk about households being baptized, but the composition (ages) of those being baptized is not given. For all we know, it could have included infants, or it could have only included people over 18. Baptism is the circumcision of Christ (Col 2:11-12) and circumcision was definitely done on infants.

As Augustine said, "What the universal Church holds, not as instituted [invented] by councils but as something always held, is most correctly believed to have been handed down by apostolic authority. Since others respond for children, so that the celebration of the sacrament may be complete for them, it is certainly availing to them for their consecration, because they themselves are not able to respond" (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 4:24:31 [A.D. 400]).

Bringing this back to the original topic. The issue of baptism is also an issue of authority. Whose interpretation do you trust and why? What are the reasons (Scriptural and otherwise) for trusting such interpretations?

Doug

Susanne said...

Wow...great points. I never thought about it that way when the scripture says "household." The only reason that I think baptizing infants is a dangerous practice is because it might give some people a false sense of salvation. Many people think they are saved because they were baptized as a baby, but they've never professed Jesus to be their Savior. I suppose sprinkling babies is OK as long as the people involved realize that it does not in any way affect the salvation of the infant. The child will one day choose whether he wants to follow Christ or not.

Susanne said...

After re-reading my previous post, I'd like to add that I'm comforted by the knowledge that whether we believe we were "saved" as a baby or as an adult, God will still welcome us into Heaven one day as long as we truly believe that Christ is Lord.

I also love the idea of ONE Christian church. I do get tired of all of the divisions. Maybe one day we could have one Christian denomination and just take turns leading the worship service. Maybe the "Catholic" portion of the congregation could have their communion (and maybe even let us partake of it - I don't think they allow non-Catholics to do so right now; although I'd have to abstain because I'm a germophobe and don't want to drink out of the same cup as everyone else!!), and the rest of us could have our juice and crackers. At least we'd all be breaking the bread together. For music, you could have different music each week so that every group would feel welcome? The only problem I could see would be when it comes to Bible Study. It would be hard to get all of the groups to agree on theology. I wouldn't want my kids being taught that they should pray to Mary, for instance. I'm not sure how that problem would be solved. Any thoughts???

Seth Ward said...

DOUG! Thanks for dropping by. I am so sorry that I haven't had the chance to get on here to reply. We have been on the road and I returned to find my internet not working. AARRRRRHHHHHGGGG!!!

Again, thanks for joining us here. It is great to have a Catholic in the discussion to clear the air about a few things if you have the time...

I do believe in the Authority of the Church. Totally. Now we might differ on what "The Church" is. So that in itself might cause the title 'Protestant' to leap from of your mouth at smooth as a song but I have found that it doesn't work so well with me. I regret I haven't had time to go through my views on the 'solas' because I think that most hardcore Protestants wouldn't call me so Protestant. I do not Protest the Catholic Church or the Authority of the Pope or your ideas of Mary, Purgatory, the Eucharist, etc. I might not be in accord with what you believe about them and I might disagree on a few key points, but then again I do not Protest them. The closest to protest you will find me is on issues of Mary, but no need to get into that and I have found that that issue is the LEAST important of the pertinent issues dividing Christians.The Eucharist is really the biggie at the end of the day. Even the Vat II documents hint at this. Honestly, I would gladly take communion in a Catholic Church if I was allowed. I was going to last time I attended by my Catholic friend threatened to blurt out that I was a Non-Catholic. I had no hard feelings however and enjoyed the service and received a blessing from the priest, and respected the standards.

As far as being called a Protestant, The term Protestant was actually coined as an anti-Catholic term to keep Catholics out of a certain town in Germany(?). They essentially protested the Catholic Church. That does not accurately describe me at all. But I understand at the same time the fact that I have not fully embraced the Eucharist as the 'Real Presence' makes me NOT a Roman Catholic. My sad state or point of pilgramage leaves me somewhere between. I remember when I was about to get married a few years back. I felt the desire to go to Confession. I can't explain why, I just wanted to, Honestly it just felt very natural. I had rid myself of all preconceived notions of Catholics or disunity. This very well educated and devout Catholic friend of mine went to a Priest and asked him. The priest said "No. Not unless he is willing to become Catholic." This left me greatly distressed and saddened. The following year I discussed this with another Devout Catholic friend and he became irritated saying that he knew a priest that would NEVER turn away a soul in need of Confession. So I felt in a strange place. I used Augustine because he is the theologian to which I most closely identify in just about everything I have read. Confessions, City of God... So maybe it would help if I told you what I am NOT?

I do know that I am tired of being labeled and asked to label myself. I love the Catholic Church despite of some differences and I love the Baptist Church despite of some differences. I mostly love the people in both because they are my brothers and sisters and that is the Spirit that draws me to them and them to me. Authority is again the issue to which I eventually return. As Christians we all seek the face of Christ and hope to make Him known to the world as he commanded but if I find most of my questions answered in the writings of St. Augustine, Aquinas, Frank Sheed, Lewis and Chesterton. There is where I find Authority. Does that make me Roman Catholic? But then again, I also find great value in Spurgeon, Chambers, Barth (except his universalist tendencies) and speaking of music, many Hymn Protestant Hymn writers throughout history. Does that make me Protestant?

Susanne, thanks for your kind tone and your willingness to speak listen without passing judgement.

Also about the Chalice for communion, Most use silver Cups which kills 99.999999 percent of all bacteria and virus. Isn't that amazing? That is one of the reasons the wealthy always used silver instead of gold or steel when they ate. It was actually a real pain in the rear to keep the Silver clean and polished.

Susanne said...

I did not know that about silver! Interesting. I'd still rather have my own little cup though. ;) This is such a minor issue, though, seeing as it has no bearing on one's salvation. It's simply personal preference.

I need to read much more. I regret that I haven't read any writings by Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and many others. Thanks, you guys, for encouraging us to dig deeper!

I also hate labels. Some people think that because I'm a member of a Baptist church that I'm "Baptist." I prefer to be called a Christian. I'm loyal to Jesus Christ above any denomination. How wonderful it will be one day when we go to Heaven and all barriers will be torn down! We'll all worship together with no differences; we'll just praise Jesus for eternity. Maranatha!!!

Douglas_Coombs said...

Susanne,

You said, "I suppose sprinkling babies is OK as long as the people involved realize that it does not in any way affect the salvation of the infant. The child will one day choose whether he wants to follow Christ or not."

I guess I'd have to agree with the second sentance and disagree with the first. More on the disagreement later.

You also said, "...whether we believe we were "saved" as a baby or as an adult, God will still welcome us into Heaven one day as long as we truly believe that Christ is Lord"

Without getting into too much detail, the area of disagreement comes because the assumtion seems to be made that salvation is a one-time occurance. People who baptize babies (at least those I know) think of baptism as a process and not a one time occurance. Scripture speaks of salvation in the past, present and future tenses and applies it all to the same person.
Present tense example:
"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" I Cor 1:18
Future tense example:
"And then many will fall away... But he who endures to the end will be saved." Matthew 24:10,13

Getting back to whether baptism saves babies. Baptism brings God's grace. Like circumcision brought a child into the fold of Judaism, baptism bring's a child into the fold of the church. Unlike circumcision, baptism brings the Holy Spirit and grace. While one can refuse grace or to listen to the Holy Spirit, I think both are certainly helpful (even essential) as far as salvation goes.

Doug

Susanne said...

Thanks, Doug, for your comments. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree for now! If Christianity is a process, then the poor thief on the cross didn't stand a chance. But Jesus said, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." He didn't say "eventually." I can say that my GROWTH as a Christian has been a process. That much is true. I'm learning new things about Christ every day, and my faith grows stronger. But I can also remember the exact moment in time that I asked Jesus to come into my heart. From that moment on, I had peace knowing that if I died I would go to Heaven to live with Jesus for eternity. I knew that I didn't have to work hard for my salvation...Jesus paid for all of our sins on that cross. Granted, there were times after I was saved that I did things that I know God was not proud of. But God never turned His back on me. I always felt Him pulling me back, which convicted me, and I eventually confessed that sin and turned from it.

As far as salvation and babies goes, here's an analogy:
Suppose an infant is baptized, but that person grows up merely going through the motions and never prays to God at all. Only God knows what would happen for sure, but I have a hard time believing that when that person dies that God would say, "Well, I guess I'll let him into heaven since he at least got off to the right start with that baptism." At some point in life, we either make a conscious decision to live for Christ or not. I do agree though with the idea of introducing children to the church and asking the church to pray for them and be responsible for teaching them about God. The baptism (or baby "dedication" in churches like mine) also shows the child that faith is an important thing in your family, and it does get things off to a good start.

Seth Ward said...

Susanne, What about when a person puts their faith in Christ and then chooses a lifestyle of sin and disbelief? I agree that God never stops perusing us but I also think that God never stops perusing anyone saved, or unsaved. I think that he allows us to choose Him or not choose him. Putting your faith in Christ is no free pass to live unrepentant, in sin. What you exhibit when saying "oh I might mess up but then..." is a repentant attitude. I agree that Grace covers a multitude of sins and where sin abounds Grace super-abounds for the repentant sinner- "Now therefore there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, those that walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." We always like to quote the first part of that verse and mumble the last half. So do you believe that you can turn your back on God still, at anytime? If not then doesn't this mean that God robs us of our free will after we believe? If tomorrow I chose to turn my back on God and rebel, I believe that I could. However His Love for me never changes. This is the choice He gives us. He won't force my will however. Would He peruse me? Of course, but He leaves it to me whether to Love Him or not.

Also, about the thief on the cross. I heard Phil this morning and I do wonder about that instance. My only problem with this rationale is this: Doesn't using this instance to prove that there is no Salvatory virtue to Baptism nullify the importance of Baptism altogether? If this is true and indicitive of the Lord's view of Baptism and its importance then why Did Jesus then say "Go ye therefore BAPTISING them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?" Could we then think that maybe this could have been a special circumstance that Only the Son of God could grant at this particular time?

I am wondering that to take this instance and use it to the extreme is to skew the balance of Baptism and its importance. Just like faith and works. It is by Grace that you have been saved, not by Works lest any man... But then it is balanced by James the brother of Jesus when he said, "Faith without works is DEAD." So your saved through faith, yes, but if their is no works as a result or works to bring faith into reality then the faith is null and dead or was never really there.

I was also struck this morning by the fact that the Baptists are really the only ones in the 2000 year History of the Church that put no real temporal or eternal importance on Baptism or Communion for that matter. It is pretty much as important and emphasised as tithing.

euphrony said...

Just to stir the pot a little, consider this:
"Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." Luke 23:43 (NASB)

"Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in Paradise." (same verse, comma moved)

In the Greek writing, there was no punctuation used, so our addition of the comma and its placement presents multiple interpretations. In the one commonly used, it translates that the thief would die and join Christ in paradise in just a few minutes. If the comma we add is moved, it now says something more like Jesus is telling him this right now (I tell you today), that the thief would (no time specified) join Him in paradise. Quite a difference, depending on something we have added. Just something to think about.

As to baptism, it is something I find of great importance. Personally, I do not understand the logic behind infant baptism - when we hear people called to baptism, they are told to "repent and be baptised" or "confess and be baptised". They are always professing, personally, in the act of baptism, the giving of their life and sins to Christ. How does a baby do this? Can you say it is something defered, that they later confess and accept salvation, and the baptism have the same meaning? Or would it be the infant baptism is an act of righteousness forced upon the child? This is how it seems to me.

Like I said, just stirring the pot a little. I've been following the continuing discussion, but have had litte time to say much.

Susanne said...

Sorry I don't have time for much of a comment right now, but I'll say a little bit. :)

When it comes to someone totally turning their back on God after having been saved, I always wonder if there was ever a salvation experience to start with. I know that no matter how discouraged I might get with life, I could never turn my back on God completely because He is my Father. Any thoughts?

I also didn't mean to belittle baptism. We are commanded to go and baptise. I always thought of it as euphrony said, though, "repent and be baptised," in that order. Baptism is a powerful demonstration of how we have been cleansed of our sins.

I'll try to write more when the kids aren't screaming! :)

Douglas_Coombs said...

If baptism is just a symbol, then why does Peter say that it saves us? (I Peter 3:21)

euphrony said...

I do not believe baptism to be merely a symbol. The best way I think I can refer to it is as I did above - an "act of righteousness". Circumcision was a symbol, and outward evidence of a covenant between Abraham and his descendents and Jehovah.

Douglas_Coombs said...

I should probably note that I didn't post the previous verse on baptism to discuss whether or not it removes sin or saves us. Can an "act of righteousness" save us? I posted the verse to point out that there are lots of ways of looking at Scripture, and people we disagree with often have verses that support what they say. How do I know that *my* interpretation is the correct one? Whom can I trust to guide me? Is there more to rely on than some fuzzy feeling that people call the "witness" of the Holy Spirit. The Mormons are big on that one, though it goes by a slightly different name.

Do the Scriptures themselves say anything on this topic?

Doug

Susanne said...

I don't know if it's fair to compare circumcision to baptism since Jews were circumcised under the Law, and we no longer (thank God!) have to live under the Law since Jesus paid for our sin once and for all. The Scriptures do command us to baptize and be baptized though. I'm sorry if it seems like I don't think baptism is important; I know it's important to God.

But I don't think I've ever read anywhere in the Scriptures where God tells what the penalty is for NOT being baptized. That's really where I was headed in my earlier statements. My belief, based on what I've read in the Bible (again...please point me to some examples if you know otherwise, or if you know of a different interpretation), is that the only REQUIREMENT for salvation is to believe in Jesus Christ, confess your sin to him, and repent from your sin. I used to talk about this with my Church of Christ friends, because they told me that baptism saves you. I asked them what would happen if I prayed to God to save me at home, and then I was killed in a car wreck on the way to the church to be baptized. Would I then go to Hell? The God I know would not allow that to happen. Do you guys think that that is just a special case like the case of the thief on the cross? I can think of so many other instances where people would not have access to a baptismal pool/holy water, but they could still become believers in Christ. What are your thoughts?

I just want the world to know that salvation is such a simple thing; we don't need to jump through any hoops to be able to spend eternity with Christ.

Seth Ward said...

Thanks for the observations Susanne. I don't have the bible handy but I think that there are several instances that it says "Believe, Repent, and be Baptised." All three. Sometimes it just says "believe and be Baptized"

All three because they go hand in hand. It takes faith to believe that you need to repent. How do you know you have faith? well by your good works. How do you know that you have had faith or that you even WANT to repent. Well you need to be Baptized. Why are we Baptized? well because we are told that is the way it works. There are lots of things that God requires physically that I don't get quite yet. Like requiring Blood or animal sacrifice for sin. Man is unique in all creation that he is both spirit and matter. We should not shy away from the material results or requirements of faith. The spirit is always effected by the flesh and visa versa. One day the spirit will have dominion over the flesh and things will be restored but until then God gives us things to do that we would normally do if that balance was already restored. Communion, "do this in rememberance...this is My Body, This is my Blood" or "Believe and be Baptised"

It is pretty incredible and mystical stuff if you start to ponder on it.

Faith is involved in all of those. It is the condition of the Heart that God cares about. I am pretty sure that Catholics believe (going from this thing I read in something written by Augustine) that if you are on your way to Baptism and you didn't make it for some reason or another then you are okay. It is kind of like getting married I think. If you get married and you get killed on the way to your honeymoon then were you really married because you didn't have sex? Yes, your intention was to consecrate the marraige and before God you did it, but the whole spending your life being faithful and fulfilling all of your marital duties didn't take place. One of the things that I am finding out about Catholicism and other faiths is that it is never as cut and dry as we try to make it. These loopholes have always been thought through. The question again is "Well, who's got it right?"

As far as salvation goes, suprisingly, I have found that Catholics are way MORE inclusive than Baptists in many ways when it comes to ones eternal destiny.

So back to the Believe, Repent, and be Baptized thing, It all really works together when we really try and separate things where we should not. All of those things work well hand in hand.

thoughts?

Douglas_Coombs said...

Seth,

You put things pretty well. I'll probably bow out of the baptism discussion because I'd rather focus on the more fundamental authority discussion.

Doug

Seth Ward said...

for sure. It is really what everything comes back to anyway. Either it is up to you and your own interpretation or you submit to someone elses. It is probably both. And that "Someone elses" is what I am wondering about meself. If you are Protestant then you've got your choices. Calvin, Luther, Zwingli... even Piper, Chambers, Spurgeon all lead back to one of these fellows. Somehow in the middle you've got that Lewis guy that everyone seems to agree with. If you are Catholic then...

Susanne said...

Thanks, you guys, for challenging me to think! My engineer brain tends to make everything cut-and-dry, so it's great to get new insights from others.

The reason I feel so strongly about baptism not saving you is because of my own experience. I know that everyone has different experiences. When I was 6, I prayed and asked Jesus to come into my heart. I knew at that moment that I was saved. I knew that I would obey God's command to be baptised, but I also knew that if I died before I were baptised that I was still saved. I never got the feeling that my salvation hinged on my baptism. My baptism was a meaningful experience, and I took it seriously, but it wasn't the life-changing experience that my conversion was. By being baptized, I was merely obeying God and showing the world that I was a now a Christian.

If baptism isn't merely a symbol, if it really "does something," then isn't the method of baptism important? For example, if you've been wallowing around in a mud pit and need to get clean, would you take a good bath or would you only wash your hair? I'm not making fun of sprinkling; I'd really like for someone to explain it to me. I don't see any biblical basis for it since the Greek word "baptizo" means "to immerse, submerge, or go under water," and I don't see why some denominations don't just go ahead and immerse. Immersion is such a beautiful demonstration of how we were once dirty in sin, and then God cleansed us and made us whiter than snow. What is sprinkling a picture of? I really would love to have an explanation.
Check out this article:
http://experts.about.com/q/Baptists-954/immersion-vs-sprinkling.htm
It's written by a Baptist pastor, but I found it interesting.

I'm not trying to come out against Catholicism; there is a lot about Catholicism that I like (I especially love the REVERENCE of the Mass, which I think is missing in so many of our churches today). But there is a lot about it that I just don't understand, hence my questions.

I understand if you guys are ready to go on to a new topic, but I thought I'd throw that out there since we hadn't even discussed the methods of baptism.

Susanne said...

Seth - This sounds a lot like what you were saying earlier:

http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2465

Susanne said...

Sorry for my many posts today!
Here's a forum on crosswalk.com where people are discussing immersion/sprinkling/pouring.

http://forums.crosswalk.com/m_864992/mpage_2/tm.htm

I was very convicted by this guy's post:

"The volume of water has nothing to do with the efficacy of baptism. In baptism, the grace of God is communicated to the one being baptized. The gosple message that we are washed clean of our sins and united to Christ is enacted. God can employ an ocean of water, a river of water, a pool of water, a font of water, a pitcher of water, or even a drop of water to communicate to us what the act of baptism is intended to convey. He is neither limited nor assisted by our crazy notions about how much water must be used. In fact he probably finds our squabling over the quantity of water to be rather annoying. If he'd had a certain method and quantity of water in mind, he'd of told us in clear and certain terms just like he told Noah the exact dimensions of the ark, Moses the exact size of the tabernacle, and Solomon the exact dimensions of the temple. He knows how to tell us His requirements. His commandments are not vague. He knows how to spell it out and when he doesn't, it is because he is allowing us a measure of freedom to serve and obey him within the parameters he provides.

Grace and Peace,

NIF"

Anonymous said...

I'll jump in here and comment along with Doug that the heart of the discussion is authority.

I'm with Seth, in that I think I defy classification to a degree. Catholics would certainly call me Protestant and Protestants would be uncomfortable with my catholic leanings. I'm okay with that.

I love the way Doug spoke about baptism and the process of salvation. It is correctly noted that the terms for salvation appear in a number of tenses. One element perhaps either missing or under-mentioned in this discussion is that salvation does not mean going to heaven. That traps it in the future. We are saved right now. We are being saved right now. We will be saved as we go. But we are clearly meant to live out our salvation right now. Heaven is a byproduct of salvation - not it's goal.

As for authority, I've said it before in a certain post that began with Einstein, but authority is God's alone. I know that is simplistic and problematic for us down here, but the discussion must properly begin there. That leaves us to identify and weigh the means by which God invests His authority. I have no problem recognizing the authority of Scripture - but not on its own. It is a reflected authority. The same may reasonably be said of the Church, the saints, our leaders, and tradition among other things.

Seth makes an amusing point that 'five solas' seems a contradiction in terms. I'd tend to agree. I think Sola Scriptura is folly without the community of believers. And that community is not bound by time. We have the community testifying to the authority of God in Scripture, in writings, in letters, in books, in dialogues, and by other means through the ages. We also have a community today.

Similarly with leaders, we have a reflected authority of God. I think the Pope is a wonderful representation of God's authority. I don't think he is a complete representation of that authority much in the same way that I don't think any reflection is comparable with the original or the source. Jesus remains God's only full revelation of Himself to us here on Earth - and that includes Scripture.

Does that fit with the original discussion? Seth? I think your original questions touch on the Protestant urge to reject anything that doesn't affirm that they can do it all by themselves. 'Just a Protestant, a Bible, and an empty room, and you've got the Kingdom of God.' I don't think so. I'm beyond grateful for the authority of the church and church leadership, I believe it is necessary.

Susanne said...

"One element perhaps either missing or under-mentioned in this discussion is that salvation does not mean going to heaven. That traps it in the future. We are saved right now."

I don't believe that everyone who walks a church aisle or is baptised is going to Heaven. You're right that only God knows that. But I think if a person is truly saved, they won't turn their back on God at a later date. I think if someone totally turns his back on God that he wasn't ever a Christian in the first place. But I won't know if that's a correct statement or not until I get to Heaven! Only God knows our hearts. So I basically agree with what you're saying, Cach. But I think we should be careful in saying, "We're saved right now," because I don't believe that we have to be re-saved every time we sin. Some people believe that (my in-laws included). That's a scary proposition, and I don't believe God works that way.

Thanks again, you guys, for the wealth of information and for the interesting and frank discussion!

Seth Ward said...

So where does it guarantee in the Bible that once you have prayed "the prayer" that your in regardless. Are there any verses that might warn for the contrary?

I do think it is a good attitude to think that God is the ultimate judge in that categorie.

I personally know a few guys who were youth ministers who became Wickens. No longer Christians and deny Christ's deity. They believed at one time and now they don't.

If you believe that way Susanne you are either a Calvinist which believes that some where made for heaven and some for hell or you are a universalist which says that God gets us all in the end. The inbetween ground that Baptists take is kind of non-scriptural in my opinion. Who says that once you have faith in Christ that you have been deliverd from the prospect of turning from God? Where does it say that you have been robbed of your free will after the decision? This kind of Grace will be present in the end. We will look forever into the face of God and the prospect of sin will be the furthest things from our mind, but for now... it is still up to you.

Seth Ward said...

I say this because the only agruement that I have heard is this one of "well, they weren't REALLY Christians to being with" Well, maybe they were. And if that is what people build their arguement on then it needs a little heafty Scripture to sustain it in my opinion. Like Paul saying something like: "So therefore those that have put their faith in Christ should not worry about salvation ever again, even if they sin unrepentant like crazy and turn their back on God. Because in the end you have prayed that prayer and when your in, your in."

But what about when the Lord HImself says:

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not REMAIN in me, he is lake a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown int the fire and burned."

Some pretty harsh and demanding words.

Also there is Paul saying,"Now therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."

Susanne said...

I'm definitely not a Calvinist (I don't understand the point of evangelism if Calvin was correct, and Jesus commands us to evangelize)or a universalist. I just have a hard time accepting the idea of losing one's salvation. At what point would you lose your salvation? If you told a lie or gossipped, would you then have to be re-saved? Or would it have to be something worse, like murder or blasphemy? That's what I was getting at. If you say that we're "saved for now" and might not be saved at some future date, how do you know when you would need to be saved again? Doesn't God see all sins equally (except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit)? Most of us, even Christians, sin at least once a day, even if it's only by our thoughts. Do we need to ask God to save us each and every day? God wants us to "pray without ceasing," but does he want us to have to pray for salvation every day? Isn't that crucifying Christ over and over again? I think that diminishes what Jesus did on the cross 2000 years ago. He died once and for all for all of our sins; he didn't have to die over and over again. When we sin after receiving Christ's gift of salvation, don't we just need to pray to God confessing that sin and then repent from that sin? Is that not correct from what you guys know about the Bible? I'd love to hear what you guys have to say.

Seth Ward said...

Oooo Susanne! I will get back to you in a bit but I just wanted to say I hope that my last couple of comments didn't come off too harsh! I type fast so I hope I didn't sound like a jerk. I really appreciate your thoughts!

Susanne said...

Not at all, Seth! I didn't think you were harsh; just honest. I'll look forward to your comments. Hope I didn't come across harsh either. :)
Hope you guys are having a blast! Hi to Amber and Joey!

Anonymous said...

When I say that you are saved right now, what I have in mind is that salvation is not so that you can someday go to heaven. It is so that you can begin serving God right here right now today. That's all that I meant by that.

As for 'losing your salvation' vs. 'never really having been saved,' it's never as cut and dry as any one verse might suggest. However, read Hebrews. I'll say read the whole book because I like keeping context as much as possible, but in particular, check Hebrews 6:4-6. "For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt."

Now hold steady, what this verse may seem to be suggesting, but it is not, is that you can be saved, then lose your salvation, and if you do you're lost forever. Certainly that is possible, but not necessarily inevitable. What it does seem to say is that it certainly is possible to be saved and then fall away.

I think illustrations from the Old Testament might be illuminating as well. The Israelites wandered in and out of God's favor continually. I know that's a bit of a different thing, but it speaks to the character of God that will not hold on to those who will not willingly be held.

I think of salvation and damnation like this: It's not in one moment that eternity is decided. It is as if a snowball starts on the top of a mountain and begins rolling. The moment of its impetus is the first decision. As it rolls down the hill it gains momentum and builds in size. Can its course be changed? Surely, but the longer it rolls the more difficult that becomes and the greater the size of the intervention that is needed.

Our lives should be snowballs rolling towards Christ. Each day we should gain momentum. This isn't 'works righteousness,' (a very misunderstood concept), but rather a statement that our progress towards Christ is an active one, not a passive one.

It's not a matter of needing to be re-saved every time we sin, it's simply that we need to make sure through repentance and forgiveness that those sins don't alter our course.

Susanne said...

Thanks so much, Cach! That makes much more sense to me now. Good words.

Seth Ward said...

Very well put my friend. Don't you just LOVE Hebrews??? Dumb question but I tend to forget this incredible book.

Heartbreakingly beautiful imagery. Another fav of mine that has nothing to do with what is being discussed here but because you got me fired up with that verse:

22But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Douglas_Coombs said...

"Either it is up to you and your own interpretation or you submit to someone elses. It is probably both. And that "Someone elses" is what I am wondering about meself. If you are Protestant then you've got your choices. Calvin, Luther, Zwingli... even Piper, Chambers, Spurgeon all lead back to one of these fellows. Somehow in the middle you've got that Lewis guy that everyone seems to agree with. If you are Catholic then..."

Actually, if you are Protestant, there are a whole lot of other people whom you are free to agree with. Augustine, Origen, Clement, Ignatius, Gregory Nazianzus, etc are not out of bounds. You just basically get to pick and choose for yourself whether any individual statement that they made is the Truth.

Catholics believe that the authority expressed by the early church is still active today. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that it was to cease. The apostles spoke with authority that had been given to them by Christ himself (Mt. 28:16-19, Lk. 10:16, Mt. 16:19)

"For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things" When was the last time a group of Christian leaders said such things to the whole church expecting people to listen? Only within Catholocism is the authority passed down from the apostles still active.

Doug

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the historicity of your comments, Doug, but I might disagree that "only within Catholicism is the authority passed down from the apostles still active." I daresay that the first reformers and first protestants considered themselves well within apostolic authority. Some likely considered themselves more within that authority than the Catholics of the day. Since Scripture doesn't provide us with Jesus giving a clear directive to establish a formal universal hierarchical structure of authority, the only claim that modern Catholicism has on exclusive apostolic authority is its own tradition.

I'm not trying to lay authority open for the taking. I just don't think that even Catholic history can demonstrate an unbroken line. After all, the reformers were Catholics originally. And papal succession has been anything but smooth and uncontroversial.

And my point is not really to argue with you, Doug. I hope that's clear. After all, as I've said, authority is God's. Therefore apostolic authority is also reflective rather than inherent. I see God invest it in numerous places, and none of it stands alone. All sources of authority are inextricably bound to God himself.

As for "When was the last time a group of Christian leaders said such things to the whole church expecting people to listen?" the answer would have to be that the last time it happened was before the Reformation. I'm not saying that's right, or that it couldn't or shouldn't happen again, but I think that's the answer. It sure would be an amazing step if we could speak with that voice and listen with those ears in confidence wouldn't it?

Seth Ward said...

I do find it ironic that most theology developed by the Protestants that broke off from Catholicism is fading into what was before. Calvanism... nahhhh. Armenian...nahhhh. Barthian universalism... closest to it my opinion but nope. Other things like Pass the Ritz crackers and Welches and think of Jesus... hmmmm, might be more to it here.

I do wonder if there is something to that Catholic authority business sometimes. It always seems to be the unmovable anchor at the center of Christian ethics. Things just tend to stick more there.

thinking outloud. Still undecided about this one.

Douglas_Coombs said...

"I'm not trying to lay authority open for the taking. I just don't think that even Catholic history can demonstrate an unbroken line. After all, the reformers were Catholics originally. And papal succession has been anything but smooth and uncontroversial."

A couple things.
1) Regarding the "unbroken line" bit, the early reformers where in no way, shape or form part of that "unbroken line" any more than the Mannicheans and gnostics were. In fact, they didn't claim to be. They rejected the idea of Holy Orders outright. They didn't even try to maintain apostolic succession. That is why the Eastern Orthodox have maintained a valid priesthood and Eucharist for over 1000 years of schism, while the Protestants reformers didn't maintain either for even 10 years.
2) Regarding papal succession. There has never been more than one bishop of Rome, although there were a couple times in history that that claim was made. Just because there were people who claimed GW's presidency was illegitimate, that didn't change the fact that there was only one president of the USA, and his last name was Bush, not Gore. This should be obvious to anyone with the interest and inclination to study the topic. IN fact, it doesn't take much effort at all to find out which were the legitimate popes. For %19.95 (plus S&H) you to can have your very own pope chart. :-) http://www.popechart.com/

I will close with a quote from Clement of Rome, who wrote while the apostles were still alive, "Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry."

Doug

Anonymous said...

I understand what you're saying, Doug, but I didn't say that the early reformers thought themselves a part of apostolic succession, I said apostolic authority. And I also said that the only authority is God, and as such, any of his authority present here on Earth is merely reflected authority.

As for papal succession, I didn't say anything more than that it wasn't smooth or uncontroversial. Which given the fact that Christ didn't ordain a succession tells me that my original thesis is correct: authority is God's alone. The comparison to American presidency is a bit of a stretch. After all, only a few nut jobs believe that a president is ordained. We would expect controversy and strife there.

The quote from Clement is an excellent one. Unfortunately, it is nothing beyond a discourse on the perpetuation of church leadership. It's not a directive for papal succession. His writings are good, but deuterocanonical at best.

I would say that the strength of unity within the Catholic church and their emphasis on tradition and community speak volumes for the Pope's authority; but it remains that the authority is God's and therefore on similar footing as God's revealed authority in his many other ways.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Lots to comment on and I'm in the middle of buying a new house, selling our current one and pitching my project at work for future funding... in other words I haven't had time to do this justice and am falling way behind in commenting.

A couple things, it was said, "I didn't say that the early reformers thought themselves a part of apostolic succession, I said apostolic authority..."

"I daresay that the first reformers and first protestants considered themselves well within apostolic authority."

My point was that the early reformers didn't believe that the position of apostle was passed down. This is shown in several ways. One way in which it can be shown is that they didn't believe in apostolic succession. Another (more direct way to show that) it is to point out that the early reformers did not believe that there were infallible proclamations made outside of Scripture. Since the apostles wrote the epistles and set doctrine infallibly in the First Council of Jerusalem and the early reformers acknowledged this, then the early reformers thought that the apostles had been given the grace of having some form of limited infallibility. However, they explicitly denied that this could be said of any of their peers, including themselves. Thus, they clearly did not consider them to be carrying on the mantle of apostolic authority. The Catholic and Orthodox disagree on this point with Protestants.

Doug

Douglas_Coombs said...

"As for papal succession, I didn't say anything more than that it wasn't smooth or uncontroversial."

Actually, the sentence before that had said, "I just don't think that even Catholic history can demonstrate an unbroken line."

My brief paragraph on the papacy did not contend that succession was smooth or uncontroversial. The point was that A) It was unbroken B) Those who say it wasn't don't know what they are talking about.

Also, it was stated, "Which given the fact that Christ didn't ordain a succession tells me that my original thesis is correct: authority is God's alone."

While I think we can probably agree that ultimate authority is God's alone and any earthly authority is merely a delgated or reflected authority, I would take exception to the idea that Jesus didn't ordain a succession. For one, how do you know that he didn't do that? Even if it could be shown that the Gospels didn't explicitly quote him as saying that, does that mean Jesus didn't do that? In my opinion, there is plenty of evidence in both Scritpure and Tradition that Jesus did give his apostles special authority and that that authority was passed down to those the apostles appointed.

I don't understand the rebuttal regarding the analogy to the presidency, so I won't address that.

It was also said, "The quote from Clement is an excellent one. Unfortunately, it is nothing beyond a discourse on the perpetuation of church leadership. It's not a directive for papal succession. His writings are good, but deuterocanonical at best."

Actually, it is more specifically a discourse on apostolic succession and and clearly shows the reality of a heirarchical church based on such succession existing before the apostles had even all died. The quote both implies by its timing and explicitly states that such a system was implemented by the apostles themselves at the direct command of our Lord. In context, it is an argument for knowing who the real shepherds are, since there were already false shepherds popping up claiming to be the people who really understood the message of Jesus, as opposed to those bishops whom the apostles appointed. Sound familiar? The analogy Clement draws to Moses in the preceding paragraph is great, in my opinion. I'm not going to argue that Clement was inspired or infallible. However, I do regard his writings as crucial to interpreting Scripture, which I think is one of the primary points of Seth in starting this thread.

If we think that we can understand Scriptural references to church structure without understanding the writings of those people who were the peers and successors of the apostles, I think we are fooling ourselves. If you care to read Clement in context, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.html is a good source.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Well geez, Doug, as long as you don't have anything else to do... ha! Don't worry about needing to be right on top of the commenting here. I think a leisurely pace is probably best for having any kind of fruitful discussion here anyway. I appreciate the thoughtfulness you put into your comments.

"My point was that the early reformers didn't believe that the position of apostle was passed down." Same here. This is only understood if you understand that I again emphasize that all authority is God's alone. The early reformers would see themselves in line with apostolic authority, as I'm framing it, since they didn't believe that authority to be inherent to the apostles; rather, it was God's authority revealed in a special way in Christ and passed on to his followers. That's why you're absolutely right that their words and writings have a special place in interpreting Scripture and each other. That's why I so highly value Church history, the community of faith, and tradition. I think they are all a part of that revelation passed from Christ to us today.

And you're right about my comments regarding papal succession. I misspoke. It does demonstrate an unbroken line. I would say that its definitive origins can only be objectively traced from Clement, but that is really immaterial. As you rightly said, it rests on your particular view of the infallibility of extra-Scriptural sources. Since I don't agree with most Protestant or Catholic views on infallibility, that's going to be a place we'll have to agree to disagree. But at least it identifies the heart of the matter.

"Actually, it is more specifically a discourse on apostolic succession and and clearly shows the reality of a hierarchical church based on such succession existing before the apostles had even all died. The quote both implies by its timing and explicitly states that such a system was implemented by the apostles themselves at the direct command of our Lord."

You are correct that it is a discourse on apostolic succession, but then you go on to frame it properly by saying, "In context, it is an argument for knowing who the real shepherds are..." It is, as I said, a discourse on church leadership. Since I do not believe in the inherent "infallibility" of anything but God, I don't see a directive of monolithic hierarchy for the church for all time. And, I believe I was also correct in assigning deuterocanonical status to Clement's writings. I don't think we can give it the same weight as Scripture, which does not so establish apostolic succession.

However, I'm not a sola scriptura guy. I agree with you when you said, "If we think that we can understand Scriptural references to church structure without understanding the writings of those people who were the peers and successors of the apostles, I think we are fooling ourselves." However, I don't believe that we have all the necessary information from even both sources combined to establish that God wants one kind of Church structure for all people.

I wasn't very clear about the presidency analogy, was I? Sorry about that. What I meant is that I think it isn't a very apt comparison since proponents of papal succession believe the choice to be ordained by God, whereas most Americans do not see the presidency as being ordained by God. I was originally agreeing with you that saying papal succession is illegitimate doesn't make it so. Is that any better? Sorry, I have a tendency to get too cutesy with turns of phrases sometimes. "Only a few nut jobs believe that a president is ordained." It doesn't really communicate what I wanted it to. Oh well.

"I'm not going to argue that Clement was inspired or infallible. However, I do regard his writings as crucial to interpreting Scripture, which I think is one of the primary points of Seth in starting this thread." Good call, and you're absolutely right on both accounts: extra-canonical writings, tradition, community, the Holy Spirit, etc., are all absolutely crucial to interpreting Scripture. And I think it is why Seth started the thread.

(Forgive the following 'cutesy' phrase): The Protestant urge to take a Unabomber approach to Scriptural interpretation, and therefore Christianity, is way off the mark. What I mean is that you, human, in a log cabin with a book can't have the benefit of a full understanding of Christianity. And since Protestants place so much emphasis on their ability to independently interpret Scripture, it is also their means of interpreting Christianity. And we, Christians, are the poorer for the divisions.

I know we're not going to agree on some things, perhaps many things, but am I clear about the actual issues and sources for disagreement as well as sources of agreement? I'd hate for misunderstanding to hurt this discussion - it's a good one.

Seth Ward said...

This discussion is already rocking my world. Thank fellas. I have much to add and ask but I am in the car.

proceed.

Seth Ward said...

One thing that is getting to me here Douglas and Cach is that I am at a crossroads in that I do believe in Authority. Yes I do believe that authority comes from God alone. What I struggle with is this:

If the authority belongs to God then is that authority not established through ... something??

I read the scripture and I read what Jesus said to Peter "Upon this Rock..." and I think -"there it is plain as day." But this idea of apostolic succession, the idea that the church established by the apostles, has protected the truth of God preserved in the scripture is astounding to me. I then find myself sludging through the reformation, Watching the reformers realize, almost instantaneously that sola scriptura and sola faith do not work in the way that they were implemented. The quickly set up themselves as their own kind of "pope" except they did not have the benefit of any larger church body to keep them accountable. I find myself wondering... Did the reformers just take it all too far? Did politics play the largest role in a church split? Did power and pride become the fuel of the reformers? Calvin's ideas of predestination were not all that new. Luther's complaints about the church and its indulgences were not the only complaints heard. If it weren't for the stubborness of the pope and the political climate of Germany then we probably wouldn't be having this discussion.

So sola scriptura is croaking. It will eventually be gone with the wind. We find that we need authority more and more...

more, more... feed me seymore.

Anonymous said...

"If the authority belongs to God then is that authority not established through ... something??"

Yes and no. I would say that it is established through somethings. These things are many ways in which God reveals himself and exercises his authority.

I'm glad we're seeing sola scriptura fade. I hope it's more than something thinkers like you are seeing. We need to recognize authority outside of ourselves if we are ever to be the church God intends.

As for Peter... well... I'm not sure. Obviously, from my previous comments, I don't believe that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome, nor do I believe that the papacy was the way in which God established his authority over the Church on Earth. I think it was a way, and a very powerful and great one at that.

The problems that I have with Peter as the first Pope aren't uncommon, and they were thought of and noticed by much better thinkers than me. I don't hold them as dogma nor use them to damn Catholicism though. So I hope my mentioning them won't be seen as such.

The first problem is that Peter wasn't the acknowledged leader of the early Church: James was. And the Greek word used to refer to the Church didn't even refer to a formalized system or gathering anyway. Now that problem I find similar to the one with tying Jesus to the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy. Though the language doesn't exactly mean what it has traditionally been used to mean, it doesn't totally invalidate the whole deal. (The word virgin being mistranslated; the fact that though Isaiah says so, Mary didn't name Jesus Immanuel; etc.) Just because Peter wasn't the leader doesn't mean he wasn't a leader. So we don't chuck that baby with the bathwater.

Then there's the Greek used in Matthew 16:18. It is not explicit that Jesus means that Peter's person is the 'rock' on which the Church will be built. That 'rock' could just as easily be Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ. Or the 'rock' could be Jesus himself. It's just not as explicit as it's made out to be. (That goes for both Catholics and Protestants.)

Those are just some thoughts in response to your comment. I'd love to hear some other folks on the topic too. I wish I thought it were as simple as locating the one authority that God approved here on Earth. I think it's just a bit more difficult and we need to be that much more dependant on him directly.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Two quick notes, since I should be in bed right now and it is easier to refute than build a positive argument...

"The first problem is that Peter wasn't the acknowledged leader of the early Church: James was."

How can you say that? If you're thinking of the council of Jerusalem, it was Peter who spoke first, not James. James agreed and spoke. We should certainly have expected that. He was the bishop directly over the biggest troublemakers. I just don't think that the evidence for James leadership is very strong at all. It primarily involves a misreading of the book of Acts and completely ignores the evidence of the early church fathers.

"Then there's the Greek used in Matthew 16:18. It is not explicit that Jesus means that Peter's person is the 'rock' on which the Church will be built."

From a sola scriptura POV, one could argue that it isn't explicit. If you look at how the early church interpreted the passage, the Peter interpretation is overwhelming.

This one really puzzles me... "I don't believe that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome"
Why not? That seems pretty basic to me. While there is some confusion regarding the order of the second and third bishops of Rome, since Nero had Peter's immediate successors killed in such short order after him, it is pretty well established that the order was Peter was the first bishop of Rome. Can you name another?

Doug

Douglas_Coombs said...

"What I meant is that I think it isn't a very apt comparison since proponents of papal succession believe the choice to be ordained by God, whereas most Americans do not see the presidency as being ordained by God."

Perhaps it would help clarify things if I said I think God ordains both the presidency of the US and the pope in pretty much the same way, broadly speaking. God is sovereign over the world and yet works through broken, sinful humans. Obviously, one would hope that the choice for pope would be more consistently in line with God's perfect will. However, there is no more guarantee of a good pope than there was a guarantee of a good president or a good high priest. There are plenty of examples of bad popes, bad presidents and bad high priests.

"[1] Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples,
[2] "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;
[3] so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice."
Matthew 23:1-3

Doug

Douglas_Coombs said...

Perhaps it would help to clarify what we believe are infallible sources of doctrine.

I propose two.

Scripture (II Timothy 3:16-17)
Apostolic Tradition (as manifested in the living teaching authority of the Catholic Church) (II Thessalonians 2:15)

Not only do I propose these both as essential, I propose them both as knowable. In other words, we can know with certainty that some things established by Scripture are certain just as we can know with certainty that some things established by apostolic tradition are certain.

A prime examle of how this works together is the doctrine of the Trinity. If one believes the doctrine of the Trinity as defined in the Nicene creed, then one believes in a doctrine that is established ambiguously in Scripture and clearly in Tradition. If one studies the developement of the doctrine of the Trinity, one also sees that doctrines are almost always stated as a reponse to heresy. Thus while believed by earlier generations, it was not explicitly stated as such or defined precisely because the basic outline was never really called into question.

Doug

Seth Ward said...

Cach and Doug. I am sorry that I have not been able to get into this discussion like I would like. I have however been raptly reading and absorbing. But I think that has be God's will as well. Sometimes I just need to shut up and listen. I will present one question this time around when I have really about 20 for both of you.

Cach, you said:

"This is only understood if you understand that I again emphasize that all authority is God's alone."

Does this not still put us back into sqaure one position with Sola Scriptura or Sola Faith. I realize that you then say that we must use the great tradition of Christians to keep ourselves in check but what if the people that we ACTUALLY use to keep ourselves in Check just happen to be Catholic (or a part of the Universal Church under Papal authority) and have themselves submitted to a greater authority than themselves?

Do we pick and choose what we want from each of these Christian thinker just like we do with Scripture? Do we really just submit to each other? I tend to doubt it. I believe that their is a personal Heirarchy in each thinking Christians mind. That line ends somewhere. It ultimately ends with God but I am wondering if just saying that isn't still a bit of a cop-out. Everything begins and ends with God. Whether He allows it or causes it. The thing that I wrestle with is: what if submitting to God ultimately requires submitting to an earthly authority established by Himself which would of course make that authority VERY spiritual as well?

So I certainly appreciate the attention to History that both of you are giving. That knowledge is a great thing to share.

Again, thanks for a great discussion fellas.

please continue.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Cach,

I hope I don't come off too brusquely. Sometimes late at night, I have a tendency to phrase things poorly. I appreciate the respectful tone of the discussion so far and apologize if I come off as a bit of an ass sometimes.

Doug

Anonymous said...

Don't worry, Doug. I know a conversation between brothers when I see it. You don't come off brusquely at all. I'm very much enjoying our discussion as well. I am dying to dive into more, but we just had two days of shows at my theatre and I've had about 9 hours of sleep in the past 72 hours, so I'm afraid I must hit the hay. I will do my best to post tomorrow. Now if I hurry off to bed, I think I can get 6 hours tonight! Woo hoo!

Anonymous said...

Okay guys, I'm almost lucid, so let's keep talking here:

First to Seth, I don't think it's a cop-out at all to say and insist upon the fact that all authority is God's alone. If that's not the bedrock of any discussion on authority in the Christian life, then it is only a matter of time before authority gets lodged somewhere else. It's not just the kind of thing that can be taken as a given. Christians throughout time have tended to invest their faith and their belief in the authority of many other things in God's stead. Much as a Christian is not a Christian if he/she does not throughout all else profess the divinity of Christ, a person can't talk about the authority of God unless it is understood that the authority is in God and in Him alone. It's absolutely central to this discussion.

Of course, you began this by questioning the Protestant refusal to submit to the authority of the "Church." But the post could have been the same point if it questioned the Protestant tendency to accept his/her own individual authority as absolute. Both ends of the spectrum point to a neglect of the true and sole locus of authority: God himself and alone.

(And by the way, after re-reading the original post: who you callin' a Geek-Greek student, fool?!?)

Doug, after your expansion of what you meant about the presidency and the Pope, I better understand where you're coming from. It makes a lot more sense. I will still nitpick that no President of the United States could be "God's Choice" since the institution over which that person will 'rule' is not a godly or holy institution.

On the flip side, I have never quite heard papal selection and ordination phrased as you did. I find it refreshing and interesting. It gives me a lot to think about.

Now on to more contentious matters: when I say that Peter wasn't necessarily the first Bishop of Rome, what I mean is not that he isn't recognized as such. That much seems obvious. What I mean is that I don't see any indication that he had a sense of being that person or in that office himself. That is a pretty big distinction for me. I don't see any evidence that he saw himself as the first head in what would become an eternal singular line of leaders of the Church. In fact, I see much to the contrary. The early church leaders, all of them including James and Paul, sought to seed and establish churches all over the known world that had a dual accountability system. Yes, all of these churches were to seek guidance from the leaders in Jerusalem and the first apostles and early followers, but they were also to function independently of each other as they must. In that world it was not possible that they were all linked in an iron-clad authoritarian institutional system. Their concept of Church authority was much looser because they saw themselves as 'part of the body' with a unique and integral function. And to continue that body metaphor, the head was not Peter or the Church, but Christ himself and alone.

As for James, I don't think it is a misreading of Acts that leads to impressions of his leadership. Acts is not a history book in the sense that we modern Westerners read a history book, but it does record quite a bit of history. It recognizes the leadership of James, Peter, and John in the Church at large. James is also acknowledged as the head of the Church in Jerusalem at a time when that was the church that mattered. I'm not saying that his lineage should be followed in order to understand apostolic authority; I'm saying that Christ divided his authority liberally among his followers. None of them had a sense of anything apart from the others and away from the greater Church.

And no, I don't think that the early writers' work should be excluded, I just don't think it should be read as exclusive. You're absolutely right to place great value in their writings and how they interpreted things. I just don't see it being absolute. That's certainly not a Sola Scriptura point of view.

On the flip side though, to discount the ambiguity of Scripture on the matter, such as the Greek used in Jesus' statement to Peter is to outright reject the value and validity of Biblical criticism as a whole. I would say, as I tried to, that the ambiguity of the Greek is not in and of itself conclusive, but it must be considered.

So while Sola Scriptura certainly isn't as God intended, neither is denying that at times in places the Bible can speak for itself. I know that's still not very clear or easy, but no one said this stuff was easy!

Your last point seems to get at the crux of the matter. My question is, "What does 'infallible' mean?" Now for those of you who read the 'Einstein' discussion, don't roll your eyes at me! This is a serious point. II Timothy 3:16-17 doesn't say that Scripture is everything we'll need to understand God. Neither does it tell us how Scripture is inspired, only that it is inspired. It also wasn't speaking about itself. The writer of Timothy had no awareness that he was creating Scripture. He was referring to older teachings. So 2 Tim doesn't tell us that Scripture is an 'infallible' source of doctrine.

Neither does II Thessalonians 2:15 say anything about the infallibility of apostolic tradition, and it certainly doesn't say anything about an institutionalized Church. This is another encouragement to seek guidance from the leaders of the church to avoid being led astray or fall into heresy. 2 Thess is also a book whose authorship is debatable. If indeed it was authored by Paul, then it was surely written too early for the early Church to have an institutionalized sense of itself or for it to mean anything about authority being found in the Church. If it was authored by a disciple of Paul's at a later date, then it can't refer to apostolic succession or authority.

However, despite those differences between what we're saying, I am in total agreement about your dissection of the doctrine of the Trinity. It is remarkable to me that so many Christians today profess to be "Bible-believing Christians." The way they say it, it is an accusation that the rest of us are by default not Bible-believing. What they mean is that they hold to a strict and literal interpretation of everything... or so they say. That's another discussion for another time, but to tie back to your illustration about the Trinity, I would venture a guess that all of those "Bible-believing" Christians would claim to uphold the doctrine of the Trinity as found in Scripture... (with the big problem being that it's not found in Scripture... for that doctrine, they rely completely on the interaction between Scripture and the community of faith... but don't tell them that!) The Trinity is a wonderful example of why the Solas fail us and why we need the interpretation of the early Church Fathers and Church tradition alongside Scripture.

Good discussion, fellas. More!

Douglas_Coombs said...

" 1: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.
2: Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. "
Romans 13:1-2
If someone is instituted by God, might they not be considered "God's choice" Obviously, Paul is speaking of the sense in which God is sovereign, since the Roman authorities whom he is suggesting were instituted by God were pagan.


"1: Paul, Silva'nus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalo'nians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:" I find your interpretation of the authorship question of Thessalonians curious. Plainly, from the text, Paul, Silvanus and Timothy each had a role in the authorship of this letter. Also, it couldn't have been written before Silvanus and Timothy were with Paul and they didn't join him until his second missionary journey. Clearly, Paul being the elder apostle would have had a major part and at least approved of the letter, making it effectively teaching with the stamp of approval of apostolic authority.

I guess I just think that the Scriptures are plain that not just written Scriptures, but also oral apostolic tradition was considered authoritative and to be obeyed. The same with the Scriptures. While, I may not have established infallibility to your satisfaction in a single blog post, perhaps you can agree that apostolic writings and oral traditions were considered authoritative and to be obeyed.

That's all I have time for now.

God bless.

Doug

Anonymous said...

"[P]erhaps you can agree that apostolic writings and oral traditions were considered authoritative and to be obeyed."

Absolutely. But that's very different from the concept of 'infallibility' as we usually use the term today. Authoritative? Yes. To be obeyed? Yes.

The difficulty of 2 Thess' authorship has a fairly long tradition. The salutation in the beginning could well be original or it could be pseudonymous. Pseudonymous writing was quite common in the ancient world and shouldn't be viewed from a modern perspective that does not accept such practices. In brief, 2 Thess' authorship is called into question for a few reasons: the first is it's striking parallel structure to 1 Thess. It even parallels 1 Thess' oddities such as a double thanksgiving offering, which was rare for Paul to use at all. It could be likely that another writer used 1 Thess as a model to write 2 Thess.

Second is that the style and vocabulary of the Greek in 2 Thess more closely mirror other letters of disputed authorship than those that are authentically Pauline.

Third is that there are internal indicators that the letter was written at a later time than the early 60s.

Finally, the material in 2 Thess closeley resembles that of post-Pauline writing.

I know that I didn't go into any of those topics, I've just mentioned them. And it's not really even the point of the discussion here. The reason that I did is because I think it strengthens my reason for agreeing with you about the quote at the top of this post regardless of whether or not we can agree on the topic of 'infallibility.'

In fact, I think understanding that we only have part of the whole picture, and we generally don't understand it as it really is, is a stronger argument against Sola Scriptura and in favor of valuing the contributions of the community of faith. But it also points to the fact that all authority is God's. Scripture doesn't have an inherent authority. It's authority is derived, just as all other sources of authority that we find here on earth.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Catch,

I'm having a difficult time understanding where you are coming from. Is there any source of infallible doctrine that you acknowledge? If so, on what basis?

Doug

Anonymous said...

Sure, Doug. Of course, it all depends on how you define 'infallible.' It's not nitpicking; it really is the crux of the matter. People define it in very different ways today. And they apply it very liberally - usually defensively to prove that God is on their side of a disagreement. (I'm not by any means saying that is what any of us is doing here - I hope that's clear.)

If by 'infallible' you mean completely perfect and without flaw or irregularity by any human or divine standard, (a definition I would not use), then you will not find infallibility this side of heaven. Nowhere. Since that definition, (again, one that I find quite useless), seems to be the prevalant one in use today, then God is the only source of infallible doctrine. Indeed, he is the only infallible being or thought in existence. Period. You won't find that standard of infallibility in the church, nor will you find it in Scripture.

If by 'infallible' you mean fully able to be authoritative due to divine inspiration, then I acknowledge many sources of infallible doctrine.

See, I think Scripture and the community of faith have made plain that we humans screw everything up. We are fallen. Everything we touch is fallen. Since the church is made up of humans, it will never be on par with God as far as perfection or authority go except in how well they reflect God. I am fully aware how nebulous that makes discerning the subject. I'm afraid I just don't see it as completly cut and dry.

The same thing is true of Scripture. It was inspired by God, (we don't know how), but was written by humans. It cannot stand up to the former standard of 'infallibility,' nor was it ever intended to. It is completely authoritative however.

Again, I know that makes discerning what is completely and truly of God a difficult and messy process. I'm okay with that. I think we should always be nervous about being wrong as a healthy and respectful humble way of ackowledging how far we truly are from the perfection and authority of God.

Does that help understanding where I'm coming from at all?

Seth Ward said...

Cach, a few more questions.

I understand what you are saying, I think, pretty well. It makes sense to me except for one thing. You say that nothing is infallible or the ultimate authority except God alone. At the same time you are ousting the idea of the power of personal interpretation left to oneself as having the real authority and acknoledge that we also need tradition to keep us in check. Again this sounds good and well until we get to the "God Alone" part. I think most would agree (except for some orthadox Jewish or mysticism teachers) that God does things perfectly and that we screwed things up. So He is the ultimate source. However we are left in my opinion with three things that help us to know discern this perfect voice of God, no matter how you slice it. You've got: Scripture, The Church, and personal Faith (which is all about submitting rather than judging in my opinion.) If any of these things are not here then we are off balance.

It is that 'Church' thing that I am thinking about lately. And the Church thing and the Faith or submitting thing have been going closer, more hand in hand lately. As these two get cozier, the Scripture falls in the trio nicely as well.

Sola Faith is set up on the idea of Personal Judgement rather than submitting to authority. An important flaw to recognize. A good example of the fine line is the Creeds. When I ponder on the Trinity, I can start to envision all sorts of wrong scenerios. When I read the Nicene Creed I submit. Gladly submit mind you.

So a part of this is submitting. We submit to God through: Faith, Church Authority, and Scripture. So its that Church Authority one that has got me thinking lately.

Is there a 'perfect' Church? I'm thinkin' no right now. Is there maybe one that is closer to what Jesus had in mind than the rest?... I am starting to REALLY consider this possibility. It is a bit uncomfortable to say this because I have been surrounded my whole life by various Protestant Denom's that claim to have the market on this truth. Could these well-meaning individuals who established these various denom's have been tapping into the apparent truth that 'faith alone' and 'sola scriptura' must be kept in check by a Church Authority? When it was there all along anyways? Except more perfectly in ANOTHER, much OLDER Church? Old meaning going back to the very centuries of the first Christians?

Just like the idea that all religions teach some truth. It is just in Christianity we find the ultimate truth Jesus, The Living Word as His ultimate truth and the perfect representative of Himself.

I wonder if this same principle works when thinking of the Church?

I love this discussion.

Seth Ward said...

"I think we should always be nervous about being wrong as a healthy and respectful humble way of ackowledging how far we truly are from the perfection and authority of God."

Sorry, one last thing.

I do believe that there are somethings, some important things that we are not afraid of being wrong about, or right about rather... Don't you?

Anonymous said...

"I do believe that there are somethings, some important things that we are not afraid of being wrong about, or right about rather... Don't you?"

Of course. I think I follow you here. I'm speaking about the issues of disagreement within the faith. The commonalities are items for confidence. It's when, in discussions like this, we disagree as brothers, I am perfectly willing to be wrong. Wrong in the details. I think we'll all find out in the end how wrong we got so many of them. But bedrocks are what they are. The Father is God. Jesus is God. The Spirit is God. He lives. He will come again. These aren't things that I would file in the category of "I'm willing to be wrong about them." They're not details or issues.

"It is that 'Church' thing that I am thinking about lately. And the Church thing and the Faith or submitting thing have been going closer, more hand in hand lately. As these two get cozier, the Scripture falls in the trio nicely as well."

I'm right there with you man. Check it out: that's what I mean by tradition. I'm not talking about rites or rituals. Tradition is the people that are the Church. Tradition is the Faith that has been handed down. Tradition is Jesus quoting the prophets. Tradition is not only what we use to help interpret Scripture, it is how we interpret it. We fit in the Tradition of the Community of Faith. That is the Church. That is the Faith. That is the ekklesia. That is the congregation. That is the Body of Christ. Tradition is not just the way we do things. It is also the things that we do and the people that we are without the bounds of time and space.

Does that change anything? Does that help?

Seth Ward said...

Heck yes. Great stuff brother.

"Tradition is not just the way we do things. It is also the things that we do and the people that we are without the bounds of time and space."

Lovin' it.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Cach,

Your definition of Tradition sounds very democratic. Very people/flock oriented as opposed to bishop oriented. While I'm not disagreeing that there is an aspect of that to Tradition, it doesn't seem to be how the early church operated when it came to the big questions. When it came to deciding doctrine (deciding what Traditions were of God and therefore binding on the conscience) it was apostles, bishops and popes who decided the big questions about circumcision, the Trinity, the canon, etc. This is where the rubber meets the road. Has God left us with a visible heirarchy to lead us, or do we need to decide for ourselves on the merits and interpretation of each and every individual Tradition or Biblical passage based on our own personal judgment of the facts. Is apostolic succession a valid doctrine or not?

Am I interpreting your leanings toward a flock-centered interpretation of Tradition correctly?

Doug

Anonymous said...

"Am I interpreting your leanings toward a flock-centered interpretation of Tradition correctly?"

Not exactly, though I can certainly see that it would read that way. This is similar to the discussion with Craig earlier. One thing that I said there was that Jesus didn't quote Moses and the prophets to grant them authority, rather he did it to place himself in line with the prophets, priests, and kings of God's people throughout time. When I talk about tradition, I am more referring to the timelessness and placelessness of it. I don't mean that it is flock-oriented. Clearly, God's chosen leadership has been the source of guidance for his people all along. From the Judges to the kings to the prophets to Christ to the Bishops and Popes, God has always used leadership to guide us.

But while I'll stop short of saying that there is, and only was intended to be, one source of that leadership on Earth, I do not think the opposite is true. That is, not everyone who claims the mantle of godly leadership has it. I think the two go hand-in-hand.

Doug, you are very right to imply that we do not "need to decide for ourselves on the merits and interpretation of each and every individual Tradition or Biblical passage based on our own personal judgment of the facts." God certainly has left leadership for us.

I should also now say that I think our godly leadership can err and does err. Just as the leaders of the Old Testament erred and led their people astray, I think we are in similar straits. That's one of the main reasons I have trouble with the idea that God has left us with only one source of leadership and authority. I still say that it can be found in many places and that all of it is only reflective authority and not innate.

Not to say that we have to agree on this, but is where I'm coming from any clearer at this point? Or do I keep muddying the water?

Douglas_Coombs said...

Cach,

I'm getting closer to understanding where you are coming from, but I'm still confused.

"But while I'll stop short of saying that there is, and only was intended to be, one source of that leadership on Earth, I do not think the opposite is true. That is, not everyone who claims the mantle of godly leadership has it. I think the two go hand-in-hand."
- What two things go hand in hand?

"I have trouble with the idea that God has left us with only one source of leadership and authority."
- When you say you have trouble with "one source of leadership and authority," what are you referring to?

Also, you say that, "I still say that it can be found in many places and that all of it is only reflective authority and not innate."
I would assume that you are talking about authority that is binding on a Christians conscience. Would you mind clarifying the many places that authority can be found and the extent to which that authority can operate? How is this different than the one source that you are opposed to?

Perhaps it would be good to flesh this out in two ways. First, can you point to examples in early Christianity in which this model operated. Second, how do you see it operating today? Is the model consistent across time or does it change? It would be good to give specific doctrinal examples, if possible, since that is what theological authority tends to define.

As a closing comment, if I'm understanding you correctly, I don't think anybody disagrees with you that authority on earth is reflective in the sense that it is gifted by God and only a small partaking in his authority. Mormons, JWs, Baptists, Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants all agree on that point.

Doug

Douglas_Coombs said...

Seth,

I guess this thread is dead, just thought I'd add that a good book on this topic is, "By What Authority? An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition" I read it several months ago. Not as deep as works by Newman, but more accessible to the layman.

Doug

Anonymous said...

"- What two things go hand in hand?"

I honestly have no idea. I've lost that train of thought. What I may have been saying is that God's authority shows up... no... wait... I really have no idea what I meant there. Sorry.

"- When you say you have trouble with "one source of leadership and authority," what are you referring to?"

There I'm referring to the singular institutional authority of the Catholic Church. The Pope being the final authority for all Christians on Earth is a concept that I don't see either scriptural or early Church support for. I know, and have read, the early Church Fathers, but the church that Paul was establishing and from which these people were working was nothing like the centralized Catholic Church of the post-Constantinian era.

"Would you mind clarifying the many places that authority can be found and the extent to which that authority can operate? How is this different than the one source that you are opposed to?"

Sure. God's authority is found in Scripture, the Church, the individual believer as lead by the Holy Spirit, God's created Earth. Since that authority is God's, I'm not sure I can put limits on it. That's not to say that one should hold absolute sway over another at all times. From instance to instance, one form may be more authoritative than another, but since they are all revelation of God, no one always wins out. I would expect to find them most often in harmony.

"First, can you point to examples in early Christianity in which this model operated."

Sure. The early churches that Paul founded operated this way. Paul was their father, but he established them with the goal of being able to leave them to serve and be lead by God on their own. He related to them from time to time through letters, visitors, and personal visits, but he did not establish them to operate under the direct and compelte authority of an institutionalized church. He expected them to be deferent to the leadership that more mature in the faith than them and to those who knew Christ in person, but he also expected them to lead and guide themselves.

"Second, how do you see it operating today? Is the model consistent across time or does it change?"

The model operates today much like it did in the early church. There are churches that are broadly linked together, there are others that are more isolated. Those terms are both institutional and geographical. Some function better than others. Of course it changes accross time; the mode changes, not the authority.

"It would be good to give specific doctrinal examples, if possible, since that is what theological authority tends to define."

Like I said, the early churches of Paul serve as an example here.

"I don't think anybody disagrees with you that authority on earth is reflective in the sense that it is gifted by God..."

And I think that's been the point of this thread all along. We may never compeltely agree on how it is manifest here on Earth, but we're not even having the same discussion if we don't agree that authority is God's and his alone.

Douglas_Coombs said...

Cach,

"(Paul) did not establish them to operate under the direct and compelte authority of an institutionalized church."
- Sure he did, in the same way that the local churches today are under the authority of the pope/patriarchs and in the same way that churches and dispersed Christians were under the authority of the early councils.

"The model operates today much like it did in the early church. There are churches that are broadly linked together, there are others that are more isolated. Those terms are both institutional and geographical. Some function better than others. Of course it changes accross time; the mode changes, not the authority."
- First, the Protestant model today is nothing like the early church because it is based on the abandonment of apostolic succession and is rooted in schism and personal opinion having primacy, whereas the Catholic/Orthodox model is very much like the early church because they are rooted in apostolic succession, and in a unified belief of the bishops' authority to decide doctrine. The early church was unanimous in their acceptance of apostolic succession and the bishops' authority to decide doctrine.

"The Pope being the final authority for all Christians on Earth is a concept that I don't see either scriptural or early Church support for."

- It is clear that you have a huge problem with the papacy. From what you and others have said, I get the impression that some people think Popes go around making infallible pronouncements on a regular basis. The truth be told, Popes John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict (have) never made a single infallible pronouncement. Their role is primarily as pastor over the church. They serve(d) as a source of unity and as a settler of disputes. It has always been this way. For instance, Pope Clement in ~80 AD wrote to the Corinthians and told them how to set their business straight. Also, Pope Victor in ~190 AD settled a dispute between East and West over the dating of easter. He threatened those who disageed with excommunication and not a single bishop disputed his authority to carry that out. Even St. John Chrysostom (himself a bishop of an apostolic see) appealed to Pope Innocent I to resolve a controversy (see his epislte to Innocent I).

Regarding the Biblical origins of the papacy, it is quite significant that while all the apostles were given the power to bind and loose, only Peter was given the keys of the kingdom by Christ. Jesus words were clearly an allusion to Isaiah 22 and the position of "steward of the house." The steward of the house was basically the prime minister and this person acted as the king when the king was away from his kingdom. It is not insignificant that before Jesus went away he appointed Peter and Peter alone as the steward of his kingdom.

Honestly, when discussing the papacy with Protestants, my typical response is usually to say: If you don't believe in the papacy, at least become Orthodox. Funny how none have ever taken me up on that. When it comes down to it, for most Protestants the papacy and infallibility really aren't the fundamental areas of disagreement. They can't accept the more basic idea of apostolic succession and a visible church hierarchy.

Regarding the expressions of God's authority you said, "From instance to instance, one form may be more authoritative than another, but since they are all revelation of God, no one always wins out."
- I would like to make one distinction here and see what you think. I would posit that the individual believer (non-bishop) has never had authority to decide doctrine. Those who try to do so only produce schism and are outside the authority ordained by God. The deciding of doctrine is a serious matter. It is very rarely done and then usually only because of controversy that threatens the unity of the church. This role has always rightly been filled by validly ordained bishops.

Doug