Church Authority: Groundwork 1

by

The Issue of the Visible Church and Apostolic Succession

Introduction

The early Christians after the New Testament era believed that the Church was a visible hierarchical society instituted by Jesus Christ that persists through succession of apostolic authority. They also claimed to have received this teaching from Jesus Christ and the apostles. Orthodox, Roman, and Anglican (each of which claims to be Catholic—and I will call them such for the sake of argument) concur—the Church is indeed the visible hierarchical society instituted by Jesus Christ that endures through time by succession from the apostles. They each hold to the authority of tradition in some way and to some degree; so the fact that the apostolic fathers and their immediate descendants all agree about the definition of Church has a lot of weight in terms of what we must believe. Of course the good Catholic apologist will also hold that there are good reasons based on the teaching of the New Testament to believe this. And for some, those biblical arguments would be sufficient all by themselves.

In this post, I will not argue that the Catholic view is true. I will just explain what it is, what it implies, how it relates to the Protestant view, and what the structure of an argument for the Catholic view might look like.

Definition

Lets go over that definition of the visible Church. To say the Church is visible means that it has some kind of structure (people standing in distinct, repeatable, unifying relations to each other) and has externally-perceptible criteria for membership. There are some signs—social badges—for group-membership. These may include baptism, a correct confession of faith, and perhaps submission to the hierarchy.

To say the Church is hierarchical means that there are at least some people who have authority over other people within this society. At this stage we don’t have to flesh out exactly what the hierarchy consists of, if there is such a thing.

Saying the Church is a society that is instituted by Jesus means that the Church does not exist by the consent of like-minded individuals, but that it was directly founded by Jesus himself. There is a difference between saying God gave Christians the power to form fellowships of like-minded individuals if they so choose and saying that God himself caused the initial existence and structure of a group. On the first view, it is the right of Christians to form such fellowships by common consent; on the second view it is only the prerogative of God to initially cause a society. The first view may agree that God is involved in bringing about the existence of the fellowship; but they cannot say that God explicitly designated that this specific institution should exist and that it is the Church.

By “the Church persists through succession of apostolic authority” I mean that the hierarchy of the Church is permanent and necessary and that the hierarchy persists through the ordination of new leaders by old leaders. This ordination happens sacramentally—there is a spiritual gift transferred by laying on of hands and prayer. The ordination is accompanied by a continuity of teaching—the doctrines of the Christian faith are passed on to the new hierarch(s). On this view, it is only a Church leader who can ordain another Church leader. So any group that comes into existence with ordained leaders in discontinuity with the pre-existing successors of the apostles is not the Church. (note: I have not stated that specifically bishops must be the people who ordain; nor have I stated that apostolic succession is a sufficient condition for a Christian to be a leader in the Church)

The Protestant view

Protestants, however, must deny that the Church is a visible hierarchical society instituted by Jesus Christ that persists through apostolic succession. There may indeed be a visible Church—there may be externally-visible criteria for membership, and a definite structure. But it cannot be one instituted directly by Jesus Christ as his Church on earth. A visible church would have to be a group of like-minded friends that got together and decided to exercise a right to create a group for followers of Jesus. Once created, this group could have structure and criteria for membership.

However, by definition, getting together and deciding to create a group for followers of Jesus does not amount to having an institution caused initially and directly by God Himself. The difference is between exercising a right to assemble, and assembling in an institution that previously existed and was definitively founded by an exercise of authority. This fellowship could not persist by having apostolic succession either. For this would require that it be directly instituted and given ministerial powers by Jesus at the beginning of Christianity; and it would require that this institution was preserved by sacramental ordination, and no Protestant can hold that their institution has apostolic succession in this sense.

Some Distinctions

Saying that there is a traceable line of bishops who laid hands on each other throughout Christian history does not mean that apostolic succession is true per se. Perhaps bishops aren’t the proper office to transmit succession. Perhaps the early Christians misunderstood the apostles’ and Christ’s teaching about authority; they didn’t actually teach that you had to be ordained by ordaining leaders to be a Church leader, and Protestants are right. This would make apostolic succession irrelevant even it if “existed” in the sense that there is a traceable line of laying-on of hands. Apostolic succession as a doctrine would be, strictly speaking, false.

Saying that apostolic succession is true does not just mean that bishops conferred a gift of office. Succession has to exist in a way that maintains organizational continuity with the already-existing Church. It also has to include a preservation of teaching content.

Implications

If Christianity is true but apostolic succession is false, then Protestantism is true. If apostolic succession is true, then either Orthodox, Roman Catholics, or Anglicans are the Church (or some combination of these). If Protestantism is true, then we should all be Protestants of some kind; for it would be dishonest to become Catholics if the Church is not a visible hierarchical institution founded by Jesus Christ and perpetuated by apostolic succession. If apostolic succession is true, then whatever we ultimately end up doing, we should not be Protestants. There might be reasons to prefer Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism or whatever; but there will have to be a choice between one of those three groups.

What an argument for Apostolic Succession might look like

Apostolic succession cannot be proved by producing a list of bishop-to-bishop ordination stretching back to the apostles. This wouldn’t prove apostolic succession as a doctrine—it wouldn’t show it is necessary to have this ordination to be a part of the Church’s hierarchy. Consequently it wouldn’t be a sufficient condition for showing apostolic succession is true.

But neither would it be necessary to produce such lists. Just because we don’t have the lists doesn’t mean there were no ordinations. Also, it doesn’t mean that we can’t produce powerful arguments for apostolic succession—arguments that would imply that the ordinations did happen even if we can’t trace all of them. Think about your ancestry. If we cannot produce your entire family tree going back to your great-great-great-great grandparents, that doesn’t mean you didn’t have great-great-great-great grandparents. How do we know that you had these grandparents? Because we know that a necessary condition for the existence of a child is parents who give birth to that child. This entails that any child that exists today had as many parents as necessary to cover the time-gap between the first human being and the present generation.

Similarly, if we have good reason to believe that ordination can only happen by succession, and Jesus promised the incorruptibility of the Church as a whole (perhaps in his promise to St. Peter in Matthew 16) then even if we cannot produce the family tree of ordination in the episcopacy, this wouldn’t detract from the case for apostolic succession.

As Cirlot pointed out in Apostolic Succession: is it True? to argue for apostolic succession, one would have to show that all of the following are true:

a. All ministerial authority comes from God, either directly through miraculous revelation or indirectly through succession.
b. The apostles could transfer some or all of their powers to successors.
c. Transfer of powers happened through ordaining (laying on hands and praying) that conferred the spiritual gift of office.
d. The power to ordain was not transmitted to all orders of the hierarchy; nor was it transmitted to the laity; nor was it conferred by charismatic leaders who were not part of the hierarchy.

Taken together these principles entail that “only those could ordain who had been ordained to ordain”. In other words, only successors of the apostles who were ordained to a position in the hierarchy that had the power of ordination could ordain more hierarchs (I will use Cirlot’s shorthand from now on).

A. Exegetical arguments: analyze the meanings of various biblical passages and argue that when taken in conjunction they entail that apostolic succession is true. Here is what one such argument might look like:

1. If Scripture teaches that a.-d. are true, then “only those could ordain who had been ordained to ordain”.
2. Scripture teaches a.-d.
Conclusion: therefore “only those could ordain who had been ordained to ordain.”

B. Arguments from testimony: analyze early post-apostolic Christian teachings and argue backward that they imply that this was the apostolic belief. Here is what one such argument might look like:

1. If most or all early Christians who claimed to receive their teachings from the apostles or their successors taught that a.-d. are true, then it is very likely that “only those could ordain who had been ordained to ordain”.
2. Most or all early Christians who claimed to receive their teachings from the apostles or their successors taught a.-d.
Conclusion: therefore, probably, “only those could ordain who had been ordained to ordain.”

One might object that the testimony of early Christians outside the Bible is irrelevant if what they say isn’t taught in the Bible. If something is taught against in the Bible, then obviously it doesn’t’ matter if early Christians believed it or not. But if the teaching is just not stated in the Bible, this wouldn’t show that it wasn’t the view of the apostles. It might be oral tradition; we shouldn’t assume a specific version of Sola Scriptura when trying to argue against apostolic succession, because that would be question-begging.

It seems that both alternatives available to the Protestant about how to deal with early extra-biblical Christian attestation to apostolic succession are uncomfortable. If we say that the early Christians immediately after the New Testament was written got something so obvious and fundamental as their own roles and authority wrong, then they should not be trusted. Most Protestants aren’t comfortable with saying the Church apostatized from what Jesus had intended for it early on, and that early “Christians” after the New Testament are untrustworthy. But if we aren’t willing to say this, then we should let the beliefs of early Christians after the apostolic age influence our exegesis of the New Testament and our beliefs about what the apostles taught. For if someone was in a reliable position to receive apostolic teaching and accurately attest to it, then when they claim to represent apostolic teaching there is some prior probability that their interpretation of early Christian beliefs is trustworthy. So if trustworthy, early sources unanimously teach the Catholic view of the Church, then we should consider them evidence for the truth of the Catholic view of the Church. So which is it: are the apostolic fathers trustworthy (which makes the Catholic position much more plausible) or are they unreliable and probably apostate (which is not something that most Protestants would want to admit)?

Conclusion

Hopefully the groundwork laid in this post can contribute to clarifying the terms in subsequent posts about Church authority, where these things are actually argued for.

Advertisements

18 Responses to “Church Authority: Groundwork 1”

  1. David Says:

    MG,

    I just read your commenting policy, so I’m hoping you don’t delete this. 🙂

    I was just curious if you have had a chance to talk with Dr. Crisp yet about the idea that an earlier, greek-speaking culture would have a better grasp of the meaning of the NT then we would today? I’d like to know what your thoughts are on his reasoning.

    Have you started work on your senior thesis yet?

  2. MG Says:

    David–

    Ah, this is close enough to on-topic to where we won’t delete it. 🙂 After all, where are you gonna comment about this kind of thing other than somewhat-randomly on random posts?

    1. Unfortunately no, he is currently on sabbatical.

    2. No, I am graduating next semester.

    I will get back to responding to comments on your guys’ blog soon. I have a slightly more-hectic-than-usual work schedule so expect a bit of lag in the next few weeks.

  3. David Says:

    No worries. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but we haven’t exactly been active lately either. This is definitely the busiest school semester I’ve ever had. The good news is I’m getting to read a lot of the Fathers. 🙂

    By the way, have you heard anything about Michael Horton’s view on the essence/energies distinction?

  4. Jordan Says:

    Question:
    David, I would be interested to here your response to MG’s post. Or perhaps you have a response or you’re working on a response on your own blog. let me know either way ok? 😀

  5. David Says:

    Hey Jordan.

    I probably won’t be doing any blog stuff until Christmas break. Grad school is way harder than Biola, haha! However, I plan on doing a lot in the way of interaction and discussion come mid December, including some new posts on “BWA?”.

    And the exciting news is that Westminster is offering a class during winter term on the history and development of Eastern Orthodoxy. So I plan to do a lot of blogging about that class as well.

  6. MG Says:

    David–

    Given that this post is not an argument for apostolic succession, and isn’t presenting any evidence for controversial claims, I think its pretty easy to assess certain portions of it by means of a “yes” or “no”. It might be helpful to hear your opinions on some things, even if you have little or no time to justify them. Given Jordan’s interest in settling them, I will pose a few summarizing questions, that I would appreciate if you answered in the near future:

    1. If apostolic succession is true, as defined above (not just that there’s an historical fact that there has been laying-on of hands, but that it is a necessary condition for office to receive a sacramental gift through the laying-on of hands) then is the Protestant view of the Church (that the previously-existing heirarchy of the church should not be joined due to its apostasy, and that Christians who have left obedience to the previous heirarchy have the right to assemble in their own organizations based on their interpretations of the Bible without succession from a previous authority-structure) false?

    2. Is it possible to argue for apostolic succession even if the records of ordination are inaccurate?

    3. Would the necessity of apostolic succession be demonstrated if we could show that the four principles (a-d) are true?:

    a. All ministerial authority comes from God, either directly through miraculous revelation or indirectly through succession.
    b. The apostles could transfer some or all of their powers to successors.
    c. Transfer of powers happened through ordaining (laying on hands and praying) that conferred the spiritual gift of office.
    d. The power to ordain was not transmitted to all orders of the hierarchy; nor was it transmitted to the laity; nor was it conferred by charismatic leaders who were not part of the hierarchy.

    (note: this might be compatible with the claim that presbyters transfer apostolic authority in ordination)

  7. David Says:

    1. Possibly, yes. But I should mention that I wouldn’t agree with an Anabaptist perspective which says that any group of “Christians” ought to be able to “assemble in their own organizations based on their interpretations of the Bible without succession from a previous authority-structure” in an unqualified sense. Both Calvin and Luther (and later many of the Puritans) saw themselves as actually reclaiming the teachings of the early Fathers, before they had been corrupted by Rome (obviously not wholesale, since there is some disagreement, but they definitely applied the Vincentian “everywhere, at all times, and by all”). So it would be incorrect (I believe, at least) to say that a group can form itself into a church with absolutely no connection to tradition.

    2. You could argue for it doctrinally, from Scripture, I suppose. In other words, if you can make a solid case from the NT alone that AS took place in the exact sense you’re defining it (and that it must continue to take place today), then the records wouldn’t really matter for establishing the doctrine. However, corrupt records would pose a serious problem to establishing that any given church that exists today has actually maintained the line of AS.

    3. Yes. Although there would probably need to be more specificity about what it means for the Apostles to transfer their “powers.” Any act of laying on of hands and subsequent reception of the HS doesn’t necessarily constitute the kind of transfer of authority that AS requires.

  8. MG Says:

    David–

    1. Can you explain why a Protestant *must* have some kind of appeal to reclaiming the fathers?

    Also, I was primarily pointing out the disconnectedness of Protestant groups to pre-existing hierarchy. Is it true that Calvin and Luther thought you should and could break from the pre-existing hierarchy and form a new church?

    When you say “possibly, yes” do you mean “yes, if apostolic succession is true (which is a possibility I don’t think obtains) then we shouldn’t be Protestant”? Or do you mean “no, apostolic succession doesn’t settle the issue; but its one of the preconditions for Protestantism to be false”?

    2. If AS were true (note: *IF*) and Christ promised that the Church would not be overcome by the gates of death, then wouldn’t this imply that *someone* somewhere has apostolic succession? And wouldn’t the most likely candidate be the best bet?

    Also, would Christians be likely to claim AS in the early Church if there were an easy-to-expose factual problem with this claim? Even given the problem of list errors, doesn’t the presupposition behind the boldness with which early bishops claimed succession imply a recognized legitimacy, and therefore probable accuracy, to their claims?

    3. Obviously. No Catholic thinks that any-ole’ laying on of hands confers office. Have you heard this suggested somewhere?

  9. David Says:

    1. Simply because I would agree with my EO/RC brothers that innovation in the fundamentals of the faith is probably a bad thing. Zwingli and his decedents might actually believe that the Spirit went and hid in a cave when John died and didn’t come out until the Anabaptists/Pentecostals/etc. found Him, but then the question arises as to why we shouldn’t reject the Nicene Creed with the same ferocity as we do the teachings of Medieval Rome and start completely from scratch. The other obvious problem is that human beings are finite, fallen, and necessarily situated within a certain cultural/linguistic context, so we are prone to think that what seems obviously right or true to 21st century Americans must be what Paul had in mind. Using tradition (especially universal consensus) as a guide is necessary to help correct this.

    If by “break from the pre-existing hierarchy” you mean leave a certain visible ecclesiastical body, then yes. But the Reformation was not the first instance of one body breaking with another and claiming to be the true successors to the Apostles, so I think we would all agree on this point, to an extent.

    By “possibly” I think I mean the latter. What is important for establishing true succession is Apostolic teaching, not just an unbroken list of names. I could imagine a rather strange situation where it turned out that AS in the sense you are describing was in fact true, but the Apostolic successors turned out to be in some Protestant churches, rather than Rome. In any case, it’s certainly a necessary precondition to Protestantism being false.

    2. Sure. Again, it depends on what the church teaches and how well said teachings accord with Scripture, which is the only undisputed Apostolic teaching we possess.

    I’m sure Irenaeus would not have boldly claimed AS if there were obvious problems. But that hardly settles the issue. Irenaeus could simply have been unaware of problems that did exist. Or maybe he was right about Rome, but what about every other major church that he doesn’t address? And again, a list of names doesn’t really demonstrate anything. Despite Christ’s promise to guard the church from error (assuming that that is what He is actually promising), both EO and RC readily admit that men can be installed in high church office and still end up becoming heretics. This makes it perfectly plausible that error could have creeped in slowly in areas of theology that were less central/important in early centuries. Heresy can be extremely subtle at first, after all. (to be clear, I’m not saying that this was the case, but unless some form of church infallibility is assumed to begin with, there is nothing implausible about this assumption. So for the Protestant, being able to provide an accurate record of names of bishops would only be a small part of the issue).

  10. MG Says:

    David–

    1. Okay.

    It seems like the Reformation didn’t claim apostolic succession generally. Luther and Calvin didn’t (as far as I know) though I guess later Presbyterians tried to. So it seems that its not a claim to “we’re the true apostolic successors”–its more like “apostolic succession understood as a necessary precondition for being the Church is false; Rome is not the visible Church; but we have the right to start our own group and become the visible Church”. Does that seem right?

    You wrote:

    “By “possibly” I think I mean the latter. What is important for establishing true succession is Apostolic teaching, not just an unbroken list of names. I could imagine a rather strange situation where it turned out that AS in the sense you are describing was in fact true, but the Apostolic successors turned out to be in some Protestant churches, rather than Rome. In any case, it’s certainly a necessary precondition to Protestantism being false.”

    Remember, I’ve specifically defined AS to where its not just a list of names of physical laying-on-of-hands. See the definition in the post.

    So even if having the gift of office through unbroken succession is a necessary condition for being the Church, you still think Protestantism could be true? How?

    Can you explain who these Protestant successors would be? Who sent (ordained) them? (I assume by Protestant you mean something other than Anglican?)

    Even if teaching is a necessary condition, do you think it would be a sufficient condition if AS is true? Without AS being true it might be almost a sufficient condition I suppose… but if AS is true it seems like you need more than teaching (though perhaps not less than).

    2.

    Granted.

    Given episcopal interaction (letters to other Churches…), doesn’t it seem unlikely that Irenaeus would be as confident about worldwide Church integrity if there were significiant disputes outside of Lyons?

    Rome isn’t the only place that he interacted with. He received his teaching from someone clear on the other side of Christendom, right? And he seems aware of contemporary events in the East, right?.

    Sure a list of names doesn’t demonstrate anything conclusively. But if we take a list of names and couple that with handed-down (written or oral) info about the character of the people named (which would be extensive–clergy get remembered, trust me) and the fact that their teaching was handed down and sometimes recorded, then we have the ability to track the growth and elimination of immorality and heresy with a considerable degree of accuracy.

    Do you think that false teachings kill the life of the Church?

    What less central/important areas of theology?

    I think that given the “feedback mechanisms” within the Church that existed to deal with problems, it is highly improbable that heresy would actually infiltrate for vast stretches of time across large segments of the Church in many important ways. We don’t have to assume the infallibility of the Church to realize that “hey, there were a lot of internal factors that kept problems in check”.

    Again, the accurate list of bishops isn’t all that important, right? What matters is where Church office comes from. If it comes only from succession–whether succession directly from Jesus’ supernatural intervention (in a miraculous, confirmed way), or from normal succession through the laying on of hands–then that does seem to falsify (at least most forms of) Protestantism, right?

  11. MG Says:

    *By most forms of Protestantism I mean non-Charismatic ones, and ones that aren’t Anglicanism, some subsections of which claim AS (though the AC is questionably Protestant–depending on who you talk to)

  12. David Says:

    1. As far as I know neither Luther or Calvin (nor the Scholastics or Puritans) claimed AS in the sense you’re defining it. But neither did they see themselves as creating a new institution that did not exist before. Even the hierarchy they would have seen as continuous. The NT church had elders and deacons, and so did they. Some elders in the Roman hierarchy were true office-bearers of the church, by virtue of having genuine faith and teaching (mostly) sound, biblical doctrine, and some (perhaps most, depending on the time frame) were not. Again, the presence of the HS and correct Apostolic teaching (both via Word and sacrament) is what made a church a church for them, not a connection to a visible institution.

    I don’t know who the Protestant successors would be, nor do I think my hypothetical situation to actually be the case. It was merely hypothetical and meant to show that establishing AS might not be sufficient in and of itself to prove Protestantism false.

    2. I believe it took some 30 years for the Nicene Creed to be widely circulated and established in the West. So given the state of communication during this time, no, I don’t expect Ireneaus to have had perfectly accurate knowledge of the state of all Christendom. What about the Quartodeciman controversy (which remained a major issue for many years after Irenaeus’ time)? This is at lease one example of something that I would assume would have been a major part of the oral Apostolic tradition (given the significance of Easter). Why assume that so many other minor points of doctrine and practice not in the Bible were handed down with near-perfect accuracy by the Apostles to EVERY church, but ignore this issue?

    You also seem to have a very serious problem in Rome. Both of you claim the same things about AS and church authority, and yet you accuse the other side of what I can only refer to as wide-spread heresy, which must be admitted to have crept in rather slowly and then given retroactive status as “tradition.” I would be interested to know what “feedback mechanisms” you think were firmly in place in the East and not the West?

    In summary, yes, I’m inclined to think that if your version of AS is true, then Protestantism must be false, if only because your understanding of AS seems tied to your ecclesiology, which is fundamentally opposed to the ecclesiology of Protestantism.

    (As a side note, I like Anglicanism a lot, so if you can sufficiently prove your version of AS to me, I’ll have an excuse to officially become Anglican! Haha).

  13. MG Says:

    David—

    You wrote:

    “ 1. As far as I know neither Luther or Calvin (nor the Scholastics or Puritans) claimed AS in the sense you’re defining it. But neither did they see themselves as creating a new institution that did not exist before. Even the hierarchy they would have seen as continuous. The NT church had elders and deacons, and so did they. Some elders in the Roman hierarchy were true office-bearers of the church, by virtue of having genuine faith and teaching (mostly) sound, biblical doctrine, and some (perhaps most, depending on the time frame) were not. Again, the presence of the HS and correct Apostolic teaching (both via Word and sacrament) is what made a church a church for them, not a connection to a visible institution.”

    When you say the hierarchy was continuous, you seem to mean “Rome had hierarchs” and “the Reformation had hierarchs”. But surely you aren’t affirming (a) that Reformational churches are part of the same institution that Rome was or (b) that there is a succession of ordination between Rome and the Reformation churches, right?

    Maybe they weren’t originating an institution for the firs time, but surely you don’t think they weren’t at least re-creating an institution?

    Didn’t the NT Church also have apostles, not just elders and deacons?

    You wrote:

    “ I don’t know who the Protestant successors would be, nor do I think my hypothetical situation to actually be the case. It was merely hypothetical and meant to show that establishing AS might not be sufficient in and of itself to prove Protestantism false.”

    Sure. There might still be other problems in your scenario (even if it were true) but granted, that would show that its possible that Protestantism could have successors. But this doesn’t seem helpful, because there are no viable candidates.

    You wrote:

    “ 2. I believe it took some 30 years for the Nicene Creed to be widely circulated and established in the West. So given the state of communication during this time, no, I don’t expect Ireneaus to have had perfectly accurate knowledge of the state of all Christendom. What about the Quartodeciman controversy (which remained a major issue for many years after Irenaeus’ time)? This is at lease one example of something that I would assume would have been a major part of the oral Apostolic tradition (given the significance of Easter). Why assume that so many other minor points of doctrine and practice not in the Bible were handed down with near-perfect accuracy by the Apostles to EVERY church, but ignore this issue?”

    I will respond to the Nicea and Quatrodecimian issues more in the next week.

    For now, consider the fact that, at worst, you have brought up one problem (if it even is a problem). That’s to be expected—of course there’s going to be problems. But that’s hardly a reason to question the whole apparatus, especially given the remarkable continuity of belief and practice in all content. Why is the fact that there’s only one example you can bring up not an illustration of the point that the feedback mechanisms generally work?

    To restate some questions:

    Do you think that false teachings kill the life of the Church?

    What less central/important areas of theology are you talking about?

    You wrote:

    “ You also seem to have a very serious problem in Rome. Both of you claim the same things about AS and church authority, and yet you accuse the other side of what I can only refer to as wide-spread heresy, which must be admitted to have crept in rather slowly and then given retroactive status as “tradition.” I would be interested to know what “feedback mechanisms” you think were firmly in place in the East and not the West?”

    This would only be a problem if the conditions I’ve talked about in this post are sufficient for being the Church. But they aren’t. In order to claim to be the institution founded by Christ, you have the fit the criteria for continuity of the identity of a group across time: continuity of organization and continuity of aim. But Rome has neither.

    In terms of tradition, Rome doesn’t claim that papal infallibility or ADS or the Fillioque are part of the original tradition–the deposit of faith. They are developments of doctrine. So they don’t actually consider them to be the originally-delivered tradition, but rather implications of the content of the original tradition.

    The feedback mechanism in place in the East had to do with Church-state relations and not giving in to pagan philosophical categories.

    You wrote:

    “ In summary, yes, I’m inclined to think that if your version of AS is true, then Protestantism must be false, if only because your understanding of AS seems tied to your ecclesiology, which is fundamentally opposed to the ecclesiology of Protestantism.”

    Exactly. AS is part of the ecclesiology of high-church Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. It is not a part of the Protestant ecclesiology. So by definition if it is true, Protestantism is false.

    You wrote:

    “ (As a side note, I like Anglicanism a lot, so if you can sufficiently prove your version of AS to me, I’ll have an excuse to officially become Anglican! Haha).”

    Be careful what you wish for.

  14. David Says:

    “But surely you aren’t affirming (a) that Reformational churches are part of the same institution that Rome was or (b) that there is a succession of ordination between Rome and the Reformation churches, right?”

    Correct. But remember that Protestants do not identify the true body of Christ with any single, visible institution. So while the Reformers did not view themselves as being in direct succession from the Roman church, they did view themselves as being in direct succession from the church universal (which has always existed, in and out of Rome). So it isn’t simply that “Rome had hierarchs and so do we, even though we don’t really mean the same thing.” We DO mean the same thing, in the sense that some Roman (and EO) hierarchs, whether they recognized it or not, were preaching the true gospel and administering the true sacrament to the true body of Christ.

    “Didn’t the NT Church also have apostles, not just elders and deacons?”

    Yes. Is that relevant?

    “But that’s hardly a reason to question the whole apparatus, especially given the remarkable continuity of belief and practice in all content.”

    I simply mentioned one example, which seems to be a big one. I could look for more, if you like. The point is that I still haven’t seen the “remarkable continuity of belief and practice” you keep talking about. I see some continuity, but it’s certainly not remarkable. The only true universal consensus I see comes from Nicea and Chalcedon, and we don’t disagree on those things. Especially after reading J.D.N. Kelly (and he’s by no means a minority voice in Patristic scholarship) it seems pretty obvious to me that there was significant development over time in Christian doctrine (and that’s in the core stuff: incarnation and trinity!), which very strongly contradicts the notion that there is this massive body of Apostolic teaching handed down orally that explains everything. Obviously that isn’t a discussion we’ll be able to have on a blog, so hopefully we can talk in person some time. It just seems a bit absurd to me to think that Paul and John told us everything we need to know about free will and icons and the bread and wine being substantially transformed, but didn’t explain the Trinity very well. (And I don’t just mean that the doctrine wasn’t precisely formulated in philosophical language, I mean that there is good evidence to suggest that the earliest Christians weren’t agreed on whether or not the HS was God, and that the majority report for the first 2 centuries or so seems to be straight-up modalism, etc.).

    “Do you think that false teachings kill the life of the Church?”

    Yes.

    “What less central/important areas of theology are you talking about?”

    Things like icons and the perpetual virginity of Mary. But also I would say soteriology and the Eucharist. These are by no means unimportant, but they were not in the forefront of debate and so were undeveloped (and of course I would argue that soteriology was very underdeveloped until the time of Augustine).

    “The feedback mechanism in place in the East had to do with Church-state relations and not giving in to pagan philosophical categories.”

    Gotcha.

    “Be careful what you wish for.”

    Luckily the BCP and 39 Articles are mostly Reformed (defiantely Predestinarian), so I’m not too worried. 🙂

  15. MG Says:

    David–

    you wrote:

    “Correct. But remember that Protestants do not identify the true body of Christ with any single, visible institution. So while the Reformers did not view themselves as being in direct succession from the Roman church, they did view themselves as being in direct succession from the church universal (which has always existed, in and out of Rome). So it isn’t simply that “Rome had hierarchs and so do we, even though we don’t really mean the same thing.” We DO mean the same thing, in the sense that some Roman (and EO) hierarchs, whether they recognized it or not, were preaching the true gospel and administering the true sacrament to the true body of Christ.

    Right; obviously you believe in the invisible church. I was just trying to highlight the radical discontinuity between the visible institution that existed before the Reformation, and the actual churches of the reformation.

    You wrote:

    “Yes. Is that relevant?”

    I was pointing out a feature of the NT Church that seems relevant for the question of whether or not people have continuity with the NT Church. I don’t see anyone occupying the Apostles’ tier of ministry–real or imagined–among the Reformed. But we will have to talk more on this later, because it would get into arguments about AS too much.

    You wrote:

    “I simply mentioned one example, which seems to be a big one. I could look for more, if you like. The point is that I still haven’t seen the “remarkable continuity of belief and practice” you keep talking about. I see some continuity, but it’s certainly not remarkable. The only true universal consensus I see comes from Nicea and Chalcedon, and we don’t disagree on those things.”

    Well, you probably do disagree strongly with both in terms of *content*. You can affirm the *language* of the creed if you’re Reformed. But you definitely don’t mean by “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” what they meant. Nor do you mean “for us men, and for our salvation” in they same way the did.

    I think that if you looked hard, you would find something close to consensus on the nature of the Church, the sacraments, and soteriology among the Fathers.

    “Especially after reading J.D.N. Kelly (and he’s by no means a minority voice in Patristic scholarship) it seems pretty obvious to me that there was significant development over time in Christian doctrine (and that’s in the core stuff: incarnation and trinity!), which very strongly contradicts the notion that there is this massive body of Apostolic teaching handed down orally that explains everything.”

    Who said anything about a massive body of Apostolic teaching?

    It would probably be good to keep in mind the distinction between the deliverances of the Apostles and pious opinion.

    “Obviously that isn’t a discussion we’ll be able to have on a blog, so hopefully we can talk in person some time. It just seems a bit absurd to me to think that Paul and John told us everything we need to know about free will and icons and the bread and wine being substantially transformed, but didn’t explain the Trinity very well.”

    We think they stated the doctrine of the Trinity, but not in the same terms as later Fathers. Explanation is not the same as development, unless new propositional content is added.

    Why does it seem absurd that the teachings of the apostles could include the necessity of iconography and belief in some kind of theory of free will, however unelaborated it may be?

    You wrote:

    “(And I don’t just mean that the doctrine wasn’t precisely formulated in philosophical language, I mean that there is good evidence to suggest that the earliest Christians weren’t agreed on whether or not the HS was God, and that the majority report for the first 2 centuries or so seems to be straight-up modalism, etc.).”

    Are you saying the early Church apostatized?

    Can you argue these things out–somewhere, at least, and at some time?

    You wrote:

    “Do you think that false teachings kill the life of the Church?”

    “Yes.”

    Do you think the life of the Church was killed by Trinitarian heresy early on?

    You wrote:

    “Things like icons and the perpetual virginity of Mary. But also I would say soteriology and the Eucharist. These are by no means unimportant, but they were not in the forefront of debate and so were undeveloped (and of course I would argue that soteriology was very underdeveloped until the time of Augustine).”

    Sometimes these were the basis for arguments about Trinity and Incarnation in debates; if error crept in here, why not think that it therefore damaged our Trinity and Incarnation?

  16. David Says:

    “You can affirm the *language* of the creed if you’re Reformed. But you definitely don’t mean by “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” what they meant.”

    Who are “they”? Many of the bishops at Nicea affirmed the language of the Creed while remaining Arian, so neither of us actually agrees fully with the *content* that “they” had in mind at the time.

    “It would probably be good to keep in mind the distinction between the deliverances of the Apostles and pious opinion.”

    I couldn’t agree more!!! 🙂

    “Explanation is not the same as development, unless new propositional content is added.”

    Yes, but I tried to avoid this response by specifying that I did not simply mean explanation.

    “Can you argue these things out–somewhere, at least, and at some time?”

    Yes, but I’m lazy. I’d much rather you just read Kelly’s “Early Christian Doctrines.” But since I’m sure you’re just as busy as I am, I’ll try to do a post on this sometime soon.

    “Do you think the life of the Church was killed by Trinitarian heresy early on?”

    Are you referring to what we would both consider Trinitarian heresy, or to my suggestion that the early church was essentially modalist? Either way, I don’t think the effect was TOO bad, given that the average lay person couldn’t (and still can’t) understand the philosophical categories well enough to know when a theologian is expressing modalism or tri-theism.

    “Sometimes these were the basis for arguments about Trinity and Incarnation in debates…”

    Early on? Like, pre-Nicea? Could you give some examples.

    “…if error crept in here, why not think that it therefore damaged our Trinity and Incarnation?”

    Because I don’t think it did. For one, it seems obvious to me that people can believe the right things for the wrong reasons. And secondly, I just don’t see any force in this sort of argument, because it seems to suggest that I can’t examine the issues on their own ground and judge their correctness. It seems to me that I can look at the doctrine of the Trinity, compare it to Scripture, and say “that looks about right to me.” Then I can do the same with doctrines about icons and say “oops, looks like they got this one wrong.” It might be different if the ONLY good argument for the Trinity was based on the EO view of icons, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

  17. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    ” Who are “they”? Many of the bishops at Nicea affirmed the language of the Creed while remaining Arian, so neither of us actually agrees fully with the *content* that “they” had in mind at the time.”

    So you don’t think that Nicea actually teaches the divinity of the Son? That seems to be implied by what you say.

    I have other responses to this, but I’m interested in how you respond to this.

    You wrote:

    Yes, but I tried to avoid this response by specifying that I did not simply mean explanation.

    Can you identify this? Earlier you wrote: “It just seems a bit absurd to me to think that Paul and John told us everything we need to know about free will and icons and the bread and wine being substantially transformed, but didn’t explain the Trinity very well.” I responded by asking why it seems absurd to say they taught we must use icons and that some theory of free will is true. I would also ask, what seems absurd about thinking that the permissibility of icons was taught by the apostles (perhaps indirectly, via their use?) and that their necessity is a disciplinary requirement resulting from the 7th Council? Also, if they specified that we have free will, and then later Christian teaching ruled out bad interpretations of that, without specifying what is actually the correct interpretation, why does this seem absurd?

    You wrote:

    ” Yes, but I’m lazy. I’d much rather you just read Kelly’s “Early Christian Doctrines.” But since I’m sure you’re just as busy as I am, I’ll try to do a post on this sometime soon.”

    I will try to actually pick up and read Kelly soon, but in the meantime, I’m curious: what other sources have you read about patristic theology?

    You wrote:

    ” Are you referring to what we would both consider Trinitarian heresy, or to my suggestion that the early church was essentially modalist? Either way, I don’t think the effect was TOO bad, given that the average lay person couldn’t (and still can’t) understand the philosophical categories well enough to know when a theologian is expressing modalism or tri-theism.”

    Is it bad to formally teach heresy, even if the average layperson didn’t immediately suffer the consequences?

    You wrote:

    ” Early on? Like, pre-Nicea? Could you give some examples.”

    Well, one of Athansius’ arguments for the deity of Christ is that baptism is a participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and that baptism deifies. That seems like a pretty clear example to me.

    I’ll try to think of more.

    You wrote:

    ” Because I don’t think it did. For one, it seems obvious to me that people can believe the right things for the wrong reasons. And secondly, I just don’t see any force in this sort of argument, because it seems to suggest that I can’t examine the issues on their own ground and judge their correctness. It seems to me that I can look at the doctrine of the Trinity, compare it to Scripture, and say “that looks about right to me.” Then I can do the same with doctrines about icons and say “oops, looks like they got this one wrong.” It might be different if the ONLY good argument for the Trinity was based on the EO view of icons, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

    That makes sense; its a good Protestant response. But what if there are cases where biblical concepts that are used with respect to the Incarnation seem to overlap with Eucharistic theology? It seems at least possible that in some cases, if we interpret certain Eucharistic texts a certain way, it may undercut our exegetical arguments for the deity or humanity of Christ, or something like that. I’m not offering an example here, but I can give at least one if you’d like.

    Now, with respect to Quatrodecimianism, why think the Church calendar is infallible? That’s certainly not something I’m committed to. Nor do I think its a commitment implied by or included in Orthodox teaching.

    Also, to return to something you wrote earlier:

    “Luckily the BCP and 39 Articles are mostly Reformed (defiantely Predestinarian), so I’m not too worried. :)”

    Are you saying that for Anglicans, the BCP should be interpreted according to a predestinarian theology that influenced the construction of the creed, and that we should read what seem to be at face value strong predestinarian statements according to authorial intent, and not try to re-read them to fit our own theology? If so, how is this consistent with the Protestant attitude toward phrases like “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”, “One Baptism for the remission of sins”, and “the life of the world to come”?

  18. David Says:

    “So you don’t think that Nicea actually teaches the divinity of the Son? That seems to be implied by what you say.”

    What I’m saying is this: Both in this case and in your last comment about the BCP, you seem to be pushing for the idea that Protestants shouldn’t be able to hold to ANY deliverance of the Early Church because, supposedly, we don’t mean what the original authors/architects meant. My response is really twofold. The first part was to point out that many of the architects of the Nicene Creed believed that they could interpret it in such a way as to remain Arian, and thus neither of us can really claim to follow only authorial intent in a completely unqualified way. My second point is also twofold. First, you are begging the question by merely assuming that, for example, NONE of the Fathers meant something close to what Reformed Protestants mean (and it’s important to remember that I am only representing REFORMED orthodoxy here, and not any other form of “low church” Protestantism) when they said “One, Holy, Catholic, etc.” Second, even if this were the case, I am not arguing that authorial intent is what matters, since I do not place any infallible authority in the original authors (whether individually or as a whole). The same goes for the BCP. I do not mean that the 39 Articles are Reformed simply because any of the authors intended them to be so, but because the text possesses an inherent meaning and you simply cannot interpret them in an Arminian way. It is possible that the HS did in fact guide the production of the Nicene Creed such that it does not contain any error (mind you, that alone wouldn’t make it infallible). I don’t think that to be the case, but it’s possible. It’s also possible that, unlike the BCP, there is a legitimate Protestant interpretation of “One, Holy, etc.” that is plausibly present in the text, and so there is no reason why a Protestant cannot make use of the perfectly good document, regardless of authorial intent, and especially since he does not ascribe any inherent, infallible authority to it.

    “Can you identify this?”

    Sure, I followed the statement you quoted by saying, “(And I don’t just mean that the doctrine wasn’t precisely formulated in philosophical language, I mean that there is good evidence to suggest that the earliest Christians weren’t agreed on whether or not the HS was God, and that the majority report for the first 2 centuries or so seems to be straight-up modalism, etc.).”

    “I’m curious: what other sources have you read about patristic theology?”

    Right now my three main secondary sources are Kelly, Chadwick and Dr. Scott Clark (my Ancient Church professor). And of course I’ve been reading a lot of the Fathers themselves this semester, so I’m including my own research into the primary texts.

    “Is it bad to formally teach heresy, even if the average layperson didn’t immediately suffer the consequences?”

    Of course.

    “It seems at least possible that in some cases, if we interpret certain Eucharistic texts a certain way, it may undercut our exegetical arguments for the deity or humanity of Christ, or something like that.”

    Sure it’s possible. But again, it isn’t really a problem unless you’re saying that no argument can be made for the Deity of Christ or the Trinity apart from Eastern Orthodox dogmas that Protestants would reject. Are you saying this?

    “…why think the Church calendar is infallible?”

    That’s not what I’m saying. My point is that this is an example of something extremely practical that surely would have been passed down to all the churches with near-perfect accuracy if indeed such a system was in place. After all, either the Apostles all celebrated Easter on the same day for all the years and decades of their ministries or they celebrated it on different days in their respective churches because the date doesn’t really matter. Either way, I would expect the churches to have known which was the case if in fact the kind of perfect unity of practice that you think Irenaeus describes was actually in place.

    I think I already responded to the last question, but you may need to ask for further clarification anyway, so I’ll just leave it at what I’ve said.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: