A dialogue about the Catholic Church's claim to know the truth. This took placed by e-mail during the third and fourth weeks of Lent, 2004.
The purpose of posting this is to defend Christ's words to Peter and the Apostles when he said that the Holy Spirit would lead the church into all truth. He didn't say some truth, but all truth. Peter, the Apostles and the church leaders that followed them took that charge serious...along with other similar statements that I quote below. Today, Protestants and secular philosophers see the Catholic Church's claim regarding its knowledge on knowing what's true and not to be arrogant. But, what else is a church to do, when the Son of God tells you such an outrageous thing, and goes so far as to explicitly give you permission to forgive or not to forgive sin. Do you believe him? He is the Son of God. But even so, what do you do?
I had just written a review of an Evangelical Christian video for kids that inadvertently supported the Catholic claim that Protestants were pretty bad at interpreting Scripture. THE SPARKY CHRONICLES: A SPOOF, A LESSON, and A FALLACY (http://www.stanwilliams.com/Articles/sparky.htm)
A distant friend (J.R.), who years ago was a Missouri Lutheran, and more recently helped start an independent Free Church, gave me a friendly elbowing. What follows below is our dialogue that resulted.
In your review of Sparky you wrote:
"...the script actually supports the Catholic claim that Protestants haven't been able to follow the Bible since the Reformation. While the film's intended message is that our success and happiness in life is tied to our ability to follow the "map" (or Bible as the analogy goes) -- our three detectives fail miserably, even though they study the "map" extensively with the help of experts, the latest tools, college courses in "map" interpretation (read: Biblical Exegesis), and even a fat (Bible) commentary. Most Protestants will not see the failed analogy, but informed Catholics will be amazed at the accurate portrayal at how these Evangelical detectives can hardly find their way home. "
a little Evangelical bashing, I see.
I'm just making observations. Bashing implies untruth or exaggeration. Where have I failed?
What I found hilarious about SPARKY is that Gospel Communications (the large Evangelical publisher) refused to release SPARKY until Dan included the explicit theology about the Bible. That the theology Dan added slams Protestantism and that Gospel Communications embraced it, sort of proves my point that Evangelicals don't know the difference.
"Protestants haven't been able to follow the Bible since the Reformation."
If that isn't bashing, I'm not sure what it is. Aimed at Evangelicals (which it seems to be), it is a prejudicial overgeneralization at best, and flat out wrong at worst. I would argue that Evangelicals "follow the Bible" to a much greater degree than Catholics. My whole purpose in planting CEFC was to provide a church in the W__/K__ area that preached the Word of God. If you are referring to mainline Protestants (PC USA, United Methodists, UCC, etc.), I would agree that they jettisoned the Bible in their seminaries years ago and have no anchor.
Why are you starting a new church? So there's a church that preaches the "Word of God" in your area?
Let's start with "how do you know, infallibly, how to interpret the "Word of God?" By what BIBLICAL AUTHORITY do you know the difference between what is a sin and what isn't a sin? Or what should be doctrine and what should not be doctrine?
That may sound easy, but there are a dozen churches within 12 miles of you that all claim they preach the Word of God, and I bet they will disagree with you on a variety of very basic and fundamental Christian doctrines. They are saying EXACTLY what you are saying. But you all can't be right. Or else, why would you be starting a new church?
So, answer this for me...use the Bible if you want...use reason...but prove, infallibly, that YOU and your new church are right and everyone else around you is wrong.
I miscommunicated. I'm not starting a new church. In 1995 I helped plant a new church. I was one of the elders at FEF that planned a church plant and I became one of the leaders of the new church (CEFC). But your questions are valid nonetheless.
Why did we start CEFC? Because it became painfully obvious during educational battles in our community that, while there were many believers that joined hands in the battle, the vast majority attended church elsewhere. While there were many churches in the W__/K__ area, there were very few that stood firm on the Word of God, or that were effectively engaging the culture.
"how do you know, infallibly, how to interpret the "Word of God? I don't. But I believe the Word of God is infallible.
By what BIBLICAL AUTHORITY do you know the difference between what is a sin and what isn't a sin? Or what should be doctrine and what should not be doctrine?
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin." 1 John 2:1 "You are…a royal priesthood." 1 Pet. 2:9
So, answer this for me...use the Bible if you want...use reason...but prove, infallibly, that YOU and your new church are right and everyone else around you is wrong. I can't prove that. I don't believe that I, nor anyone else this side of heaven, has all the answers. Like Paul, I (and my church) see through a glass darkly, BUT ONE DAY FACE TO FACE. This is called humility -- in contrast to arrogance.
Okay, you're honest on one hand but contradictory on the other. The contradiction is between these two statements:
a. "While there were many churches in the W__/K__ area, there were very few that stood firm on the Word of God" - and
b. (Regarding how you know you have infallible knowledge about moral issues) "I don't. But I believe the Word of God is infallible." You also said, "I can't prove that (your infallibility)...I don't believe that I, nor anyone else this side of heaven, has all the answers."
Statement "a" assumes that you know how to interpret the Bible infallibly on moral issues. In your words, it became "painfully obvious." But statement "b" says you're not sure. If you don't like the word infallible how about "I'm more right than the others." In this context it's the same thing. You believe you are more correct or theologically more precise than the other churches around you.
Now, go ask those other churches. I'll bet you $1,000 they believe the same thing about you. You believe they are interpreting the Bible incorrectly, and they believe you're interpreting the Bible incorrectly.
How do I know, a third party coming in from the outside, who is correct? You are both claiming the exact same thing. You both have theologians, arguments, and seminaries...but you disagree.
Without an infallible interpreter what good is an infallible Bible? What good is an airplane without a pilot that does not know how to land the plane? Your argument that the Bible is infallible (while I agree with it) is useless, empty, unworkable...without an infallible interpreter. Prove me wrong on this and you will have won a convert.
"I don't believe that I, nor anyone else this side of heaven, has all the answers... this is called humility -- in contrast to arrogance."
I agree with your first statement, because you qualified it with the last phrase "...all the answers." But, JR, we're not talking about omniscience here are we? We're not talking about having all the answers. What we're talking about are Christian doctrines that have been declared by one church and dissented as being true of another. Right? Your beef is that you believe the Catholic Church holds to doctrines that are not true. It has nothing to do with knowing everything.
The issue? You think the Catholic Church is arrogant because it has the confidence to proclaim what it believes to be true. You call their confidence, arrogance. But then you turn around and proclaim with emphasis and a great deal of confidence that they are WRONG and you are RIGHT. Why should I not view this level of confidence to be just plain arrogance? You use it on the Catholic Church, why should I not use it on you? You are conveniently humble when you say you are not infallible, but then you are supremely arrogant to claim that someone else is wrong. You don't know. You said so. Be humble and admit you don't know, or be confident and proclaim you do. But you can't have it both ways.
THE GLASS DARKLY
The glass darkly metaphor refers to things NOT revealed to the Apostles or to Paul. It DOES NOT refer to revealed Christian doctrine. If it applied to everything (i.e. we see everything through a glass darkly), then Christianity would disintegrate. There would be no absolute truth. The secularists would be right--morality is relative. We would know nothing about what is right and wrong. But Paul is not referring to the doctrines that the church would proclaim and develop over the centuries. He is referring to those things that have NOT been revealed to the church. And there are plenty of such things. But you can't apply that phrase casually to anything you don't understand or to anything another Christian seems to get and you disagree with.
NOW if you want to apply the glass darkly principle to Christian doctrine, then you better come up with a formula for where it applies and where it doesn't. BECAUSE, here is what Jesus said to his Apostles during the Last Supper, and this surely is not through a glass darkly stuff.
"I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth." (John 16:12-13)
Did Jesus say to the Apostles (the leaders of the first church) the Spirit will guide them to some truth? No. Did Jesus say that truth ONLY comes through his lips? No.
If Jesus told the truth in this instance, then where is that church that came out of that group of individuals who hold the arrogant promise to be led into all truth.
You see, this leads me back to the logic that if Jesus left us an infallible Bible, then he had to leave us an infallible interpreter. Otherwise, there is only doubt, and this glass darkly stuff. And no body knows anything.
But Jesus didn't stop there. (Notice I'm using the Bible here...I'm not quoting some obscure Catholic letter from a pope or something.)
In the upper room after his resurrection Jesus appears to the Apostles and says:
"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." (John 20:21-23).
Notice the connections between his statements:
As the Father sent me, so I send you."
God sent Jesus with authority...and Jesus in turn sends out the Apostles with authority. How does he do that? By giving to them the infallible Holy Spirit mentioned in 16:12-13. By themselves the Apostles are useless. But with the Holy Spirit, in matters of proclaiming what is sin and what is not sin, they are infallible. Jesus said it.
He says essentially the same thing to Peter in Matt 16:18-19..
"Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Peter is given authority to bind and loose (the making of doctrine). Is this at Peter's human whelm? Absolutely not. It is in the context of the gift of the Holy Spirit that will be given to them later in John 20.
AND THEN the good doctor reports that Jesus said to the 72:
"Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
This goes WAY beyond arrogance. Jesus is passing on his authority to not just the Apostles, but to others selected to lead his church. If someone comes up to one of these 72 and said, "You're being arrogant, and I'm not going to listen to you." then the people who reject the 72 have also rejected Christ and the Father.
Is this arrogance then for the Apostles to believe that through the leading of the Holy Spirit, that they will make decisions that are truth, and be upheld in heaven? Are these the words of looking through a dark glass? No. It's confidence in the infallibility of the Holy Spirit to work trough them and proclaim true doctrine.
And if the Apostles were given this infallible promise to be led into all truth by the Holy Spirit, where is that church today? Did it fall into sin and go away? If so, then precisely when did that happen? Was it at a specific council? When did Jesus' words, "...will lead you into all truth" stop having effect? And if you're going to pick a date when the true church disintegrated, be prepared to accept all doctrines proclaimed BEFORE that point in time.
I'm sorry to disappoint you, but there is no contradiction between the following two statements...
(a) there were very few (churches in W-K) that stood firm on the Word of God, or that were effectively engaging the culture.
(b) I can't prove that (my biblical doctrine is infallable). I don't believe that I, nor anyone else this side of heaven, has ALL the answers.
I've known that the Catholic church has taken the position that salvation is through the Catholic church, but I've never seen or heard it argued that the Catholic church has a corner on the TRUTH. It kind of blows me away. I guess the TRUTH has been a moving target over the centuries with Catholic doctrine hot in pursuit. Glad to hear you've finally got it right.
All I can say is congratulations! Maybe I'll be able to email you from Hell, along with all of my other Evangelical buddies.
Regarding the contradiction argument.
Your statement that the two statements are not in contradiction is without reason...give me a reason. Reason with me. Explain. Work a little harder. Just saying it does not make it true. Be humble, You're not infallible, or so someone I like told me.
Regarding the concept that there is no salvation without the church.
I'm sorry you have some incorrect information. No doubt you are in the position that I was in for decades. All I knew about Catholicism is what those that hated Catholicism told me. I had nothing else to go on.
Here's the truth of the matter.
The statement that there is no salvation without the Catholic Church DOES NOT mean you have to be Catholic to be saved. If you've read even the most minimal of Catholic Church doctrine you know that such a statement is NOT consistent with Catholic teaching BUT ONLY made-up by those who try to marginalize Catholicism for any number of reasons. This idea that Evangelicals are therefore going to hell is not just ignorant, it's stupid. You'll bolster your position if you start reading CATHOLIC doctrine and not what Protestants say about Catholic doctrine. The Protestant view of Catholicism is not just slightly biased but it is filled with misunderstandings, misinformation, and in not a few cases out and out lies. I know I was there for 50 years.
Here's the skinny on the why there is no salvation outside the church. Without the church (think first century church if you want and I'll even use the lower case "c" to help) there would be NO propagation of the Gospel. Without the church there would be no one to defend and define the truth, for every heresy would obscure the truth. Without the church there would be no clear doctrine about salvation. Without the church there would be no Bible. Without the church there would be no missionaries. Without the church there can be no baptism for the remission of sins. You can't have Christianity without the church. All of that should be evident. If not, please explain to me how any of that can happen without an ecclesiastical authority. As a metaphor, think of the company you work for. What if all the engineers were on their own and there was no hierarchy of bosses or customer-supplier relationships. Would any of the stuff you invent and make, get made if everyone was freelance and there wasn't an effective authority with power?
At the same time this does not deny that some people will get to heaven by virtue of faith in, and obedience to God without ever hearing the Gospel from the church (Romans 2:14-16). But "salvation," "justification," et al are concepts that came out of the church. When Christ told the Apostles that their decisions about what was sin or not, or what was binding or not (through the infallible leading of the Holy Spirit)...they got to work. They had to make decisions and trust that the Holy Spirit would lead them as a body to defining, defending, and promulgating the truth. In Acts 15 you read about one such incident that decided doctrine, infallibly. This was the FIRST ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF THE CHURCH AT JERUSALEM. Doctrine was decided that had NOT BEEN TAUGHT by Christ. The incident in Acts 15 is the precise sort of thing Christ told the Apostles would happen back in John 16:12f. In fact in Acts 15:28 the letter to the churches says, "...it is the decision of the Holy Spirit..." THERE IS THE INFALLIBILITY. It's not just in human beings, but in the leading of the Holy Spirit as promised by Christ. JR, THIS IS IN YOUR BIBLE. It all fits together perfectly. As I just alluded to, that first Jerusalem Council wrote a letter that was issued to all the other churches about what should be taught (v22-29). Today, those letters still go out, in various forms, to the whole church. They are even addressed to your church although you are not in union with Rome. But they are directed at you and all other Christians, none the less. Some are declarations of doctrine such as come out of councils. Others are explanations of doctrines to defend positions of the faith. Of the latter there are two you may be familiar with:
Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) which was the Pro Life document that upset all the abortionists back in 1968.
or how about
On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and The Church (Dominus Jesus)? that so upset Muslims and Jews (and some Protestants who misunderstood the last section) in 2000.
No other church institution, (even considering the Orthodox) has defended Christianity consistently relentlessly, in writing, in person, through persecution, and tens of thousands of martyrs (even today priests and religious are killed by the hundreds for the faith) like Catholicism. Catholicism can trace its roots of ordination (with names and dates) all the way back to Peter and the Apostles without interruption, all by laying-on-of-hands (along with the Orthodox) and Catholicism continues today in the, by far, largest, and visible entity with over 1 billion members.
Christ promised never to leave His church. Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, or let it fall ever into any kind of false teaching. This is surely a miracle for no other institution on the face of the earth, no government, nothing, has faced the gates of hell like the Catholic Church. And yet it's still here, and stronger than ever. If you don't think that church is the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox) then you better start looking and find one that has been in existence all of this time, and one who has consistently defended and defined Christian doctrine from the beginning. You may not want to submit to the church that Christ founded, but that doesn't change the facts of history.
JR, in your church, you have doctrines that I suspect (if they're written down any where) include correct definitions and proclamations about the dual nature of Christ, the co-equalness et al of the Holy Trinity, the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed, et al ad infinitum. These doctrines help form a firm foundation for your faith. And yet they came out of the church centuries ago...at the time when there was only one church. Without that one church none of these Christian doctrines would have been defined and promulgated. That church still exists is what the Catholic church means when it says that without the Church there is no salvation. It's not a statement of arrogance, but one of fact. Where does the buck stop? How do we know what is true? If God intends us to know what truth is, he would have given us a way to know it. And the Bible, while an inspired tool, requires an infallible interpreter.
For instance, does it matter what answer is given to the following questions? Does baptism impart grace, or is it just a symbol? Is the consecrated bread and wine, the true presence of Christ, or just a symbol? Can a priest, as the representative of Christ, forgive sins, or did Jesus lie to us? Was Jesus man before he was God, or was he God from conception as well as being man? Was Mary the Spouse of the Holy Spirit? What does it mean if she wasn't the Mother of God? Was she a virgin or just a young girl? All of these questions cannot be answered without debate by the Bible alone.
Your reliance on the Bible is very good. But just remember the N.T. came out of the church some three hundred years after Christ's resurrection. And in that N.T., if you are going to follow it truthfully and completely, you'll find these verses that point to the church, not to Scripture as the source of Christianity:
"Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation..." (2 Peter 1:20)
"But if I should be delayed you should know how to behave in the household of god, which is the church of the living god, the pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Timothy 3:15).
And here it is again in Jesus' words. He does not point his disciples to Scripture but to that infallible interpreter and Jesus tells us why the church, in such cases, is infallible. (And notice he is talking to the disciples, not the individual members of the body as we have so mistaken for so long.) There is authority in the church.
"If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (and then here it is yet again) Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly father. For where two or three are gather together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt 18:17-20)
In your church, JR, someone has to be in authority, unless you want moral relativism to reign. This is what you personally have argued for years and years about education. (By the way, if you write down what you passionately believe about education, I doubt you'll find much of it in the Bible. You see, your beliefs about education are interpretations of God's Word, via the filters and experiences of your life.) You want truth to be sure and known, and taught correctly. You can't have that without an infallible authority.