Church Authority, Argument 5: Private Judgment and Authority

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In two recent posts on separate blogs, Catz and David Nilsen both responded to my arguments concerning private judgment and church authority.  They articulated similar positions, trying to present an alternative to either (a) the idea that believers are entitled to an unqualified private judgment, or (b) the idea that the Church has inherent authority.  In this post, I will argue that their responses are unsatisfactory because they (1) ultimately affirm that private judgment is the final word in doctrine, (2) fail to correctly distinguish “inherent” from “underived”, and (3) falsely charge Catholic Christians with the use of private judgment.

(A note of encouragement to the reader: this post is fairly short–by my standards, at least–but has long footnotes.  Do not be alarmed by the size of the scroll bar, because roughly half the space in this post is occupied by footnotes.)

(1) The Inescapability of Private Judgment

In the case of both Catz and David’s responses there is an indirect answer to my question “is the Church capable of making an interpretive decision that can be inherently binding on your conscience?” This question creates a dilemma that can be given a yes or no answer.  If you say “yes, the Church’s interpretive decisions can bind our consciences”, (which means you deny private judgment) it will be difficult to deny that Catholic (universal, common) beliefs such as apostolic succession, the trifold ministry, baptismal regeneration, the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist, etc. are doctrines you are obligated to accept. Because the Fathers taught a different doctrine of justification from the Reformers, Catz and David would be obligated to agree that the Reformation was a mistake (at least on some level with respect to doctrine).  Lastly, denying the infallibility of the Church would be difficult.[1] Protestantism seems hard to maintain if the Church has intrinsic authority.

On the other hand, if they say “no, the Church’s interpretive decisions cannot bind the believer’s conscience” (to affirm private judgment) it is hard to see what kind of authority the Church has.  After all, it seems that authority just *is* the normative ability to bind consciences to believe and do certain things. To say the Church can’t make any inherently conscience-binding decisions is then to say the Church lacks authority. This seems to imply precisely the kind of individualism that Protestants are sometimes accused of.  Even if one agreed with the teachings of the Fathers, it would be coincidentally out of private judgment—not because they are special as Christian teachers.[2] Furthermore, it is hard to make this view fit with the biblical picture of Church leadership (see Church Authority Argument 3, linked in footnote 2).[3]

Instead of accepting this dilemma, David and Catz try to propose a third alternative.  However, it seems their view reduces to a simple affirmation of the right of private judgment and a denial that the Church can bind our consciences.  To see this, consider their responses.

David seems to be saying that Lutheran and Reformed Protestants ascribe some degree of conscience-binding power to their confessions.[4]  But what kind of obligation does a Protestant Creed put on a conscience?  The obligation is conditional upon voluntary membership: if you are part of this denomination, then you must believe this creed.  And on what basis are you supposed to join that denomination?  Is it because the denomination teaches with inherent authority the doctrines binding on the consciences of all Christians?  No; rather, you should join the denomination if its teachings reflect your own, independently-arrived at beliefs about what is biblical doctrine.

This kind of authority seems thin because someone in disagreement is not bound to agree with his or her church, and submit his private judgment, based on the decision to join and stay in his or her church.  Instead, if an individual’s private judgment leads to conclusions contrary to his church’s teachings, the individual is entitled to leave and join a different denomination.  The decision to join a denomination (and stay) is based off of private judgment—deciding you think this denomination’s beliefs are well-argued and probably true; the obligation to believe a denomination’s teachings is based off of the decision to join that denomination (not the authoritative quality of the teaching); consequently, the obligation to believe a denomination’s teachings is based off of private judgment.  So David implies that believers ultimately have the right of private judgment.

David tries to argue that my dilemma is a false one.  He suggests that a person may become an authority as a result of being accurate.  He gives this example:

For example, a doctor is not inherently authoritative in medical matters because he is still human and can err in his diagnoses. However, his medical training makes him far more accurate at diagnosing, and with that accuracy comes a degree of authority over others who lack such training. We would be far wiser to accept the medical advice of a doctor over that of an accountant. This is not merely because the doctor is more accurate at diagnosing medical problems than the accountant, but because that accuracy grants the word of the doctor a level of authority that the accountant’s does not have.

David’s point is that there is a kind of normativity introduced by the accuracy of a professional’s judgments.  The more accurate a practicioner of medicine is, the more binding his medical judgments are.  Though David says this, I can see nothing about the fact that we should accept the diagnosis of a doctor over an accountant that seems to imply a doctor has any real authority.  The wisdom of the decision to trust a doctor can easily be explained as following an expert—someone who has a higher probability of being correct in a specific field.[5]

It does not follow from the fact that the doctor’s decisions are accurate that therefore they are authoritative. The idea that accuracy produces authority conflates two kinds of normativity.  The accuracy of a doctor does not lead to him or her having “the power to bind human consciences to believe and do certain things” in medical matters.  Instead, the skill of a doctor is evidence that his decisions are *more likely to be correct*. In fact, for any given doctor A, another doctor B with better medical abilities is to be trusted more (all other things being equal).  The latter’s decisions could trump the decisions of the former.  If doctor A says “don’t pay attention to him; believe my decision is correct because I am the one making the decision” we would not be right to say “okay, what you say I will obey” but should rather insist “who do you think you are to tell me what to do?”[6]

It is very important to consider the fact that if doctor A can produce a better argument for his medical decision than doctor B, we should side with doctor A, even if doctor B is more experienced.  This shows that what matters is persuasion—the ability of the doctor to offer convincing reasons to agree with him.  It is not a matter of authority—the power to bind human consciences to believe and do things.  If it were, then the argument’s force would be weaker when we stacked it up against the decision of the more experienced doctor; but it isn’t.

David then goes on to say that “if a person truly believes that his church is accurate in its interpretation of Scripture, then he ought to give her the benefit of the doubt”.  Of course if you think your church is accurate (it teaches the truth), then you should agree with what it teaches (because you think what it teaches is true).  But this is no different from the use of private judgment.  Rather, it seems to concede that private judgment is the criteria for whether we should agree with what our church teaches.  Disagreement based on private judgment should then lead one to either “find another church or continue to study and seek council from their elders.”  This shows that even if the humility of laity leads to relatively few incidents where they have to seriously disagree with their church, their church’s teachings are believed by the individual based on the private judgment of their conscience.

Now looking to Catz’s responses we notice that she says the following:

In my view, private judgment is being used as a tool. If I were to see that the Church practice was at odds with Scripture, I would be using my “private judgment” to make this call. This does not mean I am correct or am not bound by true authority in any way. It is simply one of several tools used in personal decision (something that is not used exclusively by Protestants).

This seems to implicitly deny the normativity of the Church’s decisions.  Nothing about the fact that “the Church said x” is a reason to believe “x”.  Rather, I can tell whenever the church is making a doctrinal claim I am obligated to believe based solely on whether or not this doctrine has good arguments for it.  A conscience is bound to believe a view when a person finds good arguments for a view. I am only obligated to agree with a church on a given subject if I have independent reasons to accept as Scriptural the doctrines taught by that church.

The fact that Catz can speak of using private judgment to measure the present church up against the final authority shows that she does not think the church is in a better position to bind her conscience with respect to what to believe about biblical teaching than she is.[7]  She thinks that this does not imply she is “the authority”.  But how is her conscience being bound here?  By the arguments she finds persuasive, or by the normativity of the recognized judgments of another person or group?  It is hard to see how she is not the final judge with respect to which doctrinal formulations (interpretations) ought to be believed.

Thus both Catz and David agree that at the end of the day, the private judgment of a believer is capable of overriding the decisions of any leader or council.  The church’s judgments are not inherently normative; they cannot bind our consciences (unless we can be persuaded of them on independent grounds, other than “the church said it”).

(2) Inherent and Underived

Both David and Catz say that the church’s authority is not inherent, and must be derived from Scripture.[8] David and Catz assume that if the Church has inherent authority, it must be underived authority.  But this is not so.  Rather, the Church’s authority could be inherent and derived.[9] On this view, to say that the Church’s authority is derived, therefore, means that the inherent fact of the Church having authority is given from God.  To say that the Church’s authority is inherent means that, given the fact that the authority has been put in it by God, its decisions are conscience-binding on the people that are under its authority regardless of extrinsic factors such as their private assent or independent acceptance of the teachings given in those decisions.[10] [11]

To say the Church’s authority is extrinsic (instead of inherent and intrinsic) is to say that its actual teachings have normative significance when those teachings meet certain external-to-the-authoritative-person/group conditions.  David enunciates those conditions as follows:

This authority is a derivative authority, then, because it derives from the degree of accuracy that the church body has in interpreting Scripture (which means, of course, that the authority ultimately derives from Scripture).

But who is the one who decides if the Church is accurate in its interpretation of Scripture?  Apparently, the believer is always in a position to check the interpretive decisions of the Church and see if they fit with Scripture or not.  This implies the Church’s interpretive decisions do not, in and of themselves (intrinsically, by derived authority from God) serve as reasons for accepting the doctrines taught.  They serve as reasons to accept the teaching when one already accepts it (for independent reasons) as biblical (which is just to say they do not serve *as a reason to accept the teaching itself*).

To recycle the above example of the child who is told to take out the trash (from footnote 11), if the child’s parents have inherent authority, then the fact that they said “do y” is itself a reason (with some force, though not infallible force—see footnote 11) to do the action y.  What happens if we deny these parents have inherent authority?  Then “do y” becomes a reason for action *only if external conditions are met*; it becomes extrinsically authoritative.  In other words, the parental decision will only have normative force if the child independently agrees and wants to do the action.  The child could say “no, dad, I don’t feel like taking the trash out”.  If the dad said, “why don’t you respect my authority and do it?” the child could then say “I am not persuaded that I should follow your advice for some reason other than the fact that you said so.  Until my own reasons for acting become strong enough to make it necessary for me to take the trash out, I am not bound by your authority.”  It seems doubtful that this can really be called “authority”.  Similarly, a Protestant who says concerning the ancient teachings of the Church “I’m not yet persuaded on exegetical grounds to submit to their authority”, simply does not seem to consider the Church to be an authority at all.  Thus it is hard to see how anything other than intrinsic authority is real authority.[12]

(3) Do Catholic Christians use Private Judgment?

Catz and David charge Catholics (Orthodox, Roman, and Anglo-Catholic) with the use of private judgment in their decisions about which Church to join.[13] Both David and Catz are correct in that we of course choose which Church to follow.  How is this not private judgment?  The answer is this: choosing whether to be Roman Catholic or Orthodox requires that, once we have identified a body that is inherently authoritative, we submit to its judgments.  The process of identifying where authority is requires accuracy.  We must ask “what does the Church look like in the New Testament?”[14] and try to find a Church that fits these criteria.  If we accept that the Church has authority we must also ask “what did the ancient consensus of the Church have to say about x?”  These inquiries can lead to conclusions such as “the New Testament Church seemed to have a tri-fold ministry” or “the ancient Church taught the doctrine of papal infallibility”.  Under these conditions, we may be able to identify one (or more) of the three communions in question as “the Church”.  But once this authority is picked out accurately, we submit to the teachings and judgments of that authority.  This submission is based on the fact that the Church has the power to bind our consciences to believe and do certain things.

Protestants, on the other hand, when deliberating between denominations, do not identify a body and submit to it on the basis of the fact that they identify it as having inherent authority.  Rather, they decide to join if the teachings of that denomination agree with their own private judgment.  No organization has a claim to making inherently normative judgments about what we ought to do or believe.  But they can make accurate judgments.  And when a person can come to agree with what a given church teaches, he or she can join it.[15]  So if we apply the definition of “private judgment” to Protestant decisions to join a denomination, we see it fits.  If we apply it to Catholic Christians, we see that it does not fit at all.[16]

In a previous post, I discussed what I call “insanity conditions”—conditions where a leader is not acting in his or her capacity as leader, and consequently cannot make normative judgments.  The follower must, of course, discern when this is happening and identify correctly if the leader meets these “insanity conditions”.[17]

Catz responded with the following:

This statement is remarkable. The child or churchgoer can actually use their private judgment to decide whether or not the significant other is insane or not and by consequence whether or not he or she should obey the parent. Does this mean authority is ultimately located in the child or churchgoer? Does this idea defy either’s “intrinsic” authority?

The problem with Catz’s assessment is that this is not a use of private judgment.  In fact, it was specifically worded to distinguish my position from that of private judgment.  For it is not a denial that the Church’s interpretive decisions are conscience-binding on us.  Rather it is an affirmation that we must recognize when the Church is actually exercising authority.  Once we have recognized when the Church is exercising authority, we become obligated to agree.  Furthermore, the conditions for identifying someone as in a condition of insanity are not “when my private judgment disagrees with the person in question”.  In order to maintain the idea that the Church has authority the condition for insanity cannot be “when the Church disagrees with my private judgment.”  Actually, the conditions I am thinking of are when a hierarch is either blatantly disagreeing with the teachings of the Church (for instance, teaching Arianism or Nestorianism) or is in gross moral error (practicing adultery or embezzling funds).  Then their judgments are not normative, for they fail to act in their capacity as leaders.

Now, regardless of the application of the criteria for insanity to individual leaders, I think there are no conditions under which the Church as a whole can be insane.  This is because I believe in the indefectibility of the Catholic (whole, complete) Church.  Christ promises that the gates of death will not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18).  Whatever happens with any given member of Christ’s body, the whole remains intact, in full incorruptibility and integrity.  It consequently cannot fail to teach the Gospel; there are no conditions under which the entire Church can go insane and fail to have Christ’s divine power energizing it to be deathless and infallible.[18][19]

Conclusion

In this post, I argued the following.

(1) David and Catz both deny that the interpretive decisions of some Christians have the inherent authority to bind our consciences to believe and do certain things.  Their positions reduce to a denial that the interpretive decisions of hierarchs have any more normative significance than the decisions of private individuals.  It is hard to see how this is not individualistic and a very counter-intuitive way of reading the biblical text (even by their own standard of private judgment—see Church Authority, Argument 3).  There are other problems that come from this understanding of authority; but that will have to be discussed in later posts on infallibility and the canon of Scripture.

(2) It is possible for something to have intrinsic authority in a derivative way.  Furthermore, someone or something can be intrinsically authoritative without being infallible. If the authority of the Church is not intrinsic, it is hard to see how it amounts to real authority.  After all, extrinsic authority basically means “a church’s decision has authority when it fits with my private judgment”.

(3) Non-Protestant Christians do not use private judgment when trying to decide whether to be Roman or Orthodox.  After all, when they realize that a specific communion is the Church, they recognize the conscience-binding power of the teachings of that communion.  Once the Church and its teachings have been identified, we ought to submit.  Protestants, however, must be privately persuaded of doctrine their church teaches in order to submit to it.  The conclusion “this is the church” can only be drawn if one has privately judged that church’s doctrine to be correct. And the conclusion “this is the church” does not entail “I am conscience-bound to accept all of its teachings”.  Exercising one’s intellectual abilities and trying to be accurate in identifying authorities is not the same as using private judgment.

Endnotes:

[1] The beliefs listed as “Catholic” are so widely attested in the Fathers and frequently stated in Ecumenical councils that it would be difficult to see how they could avoid concluding that these constitute part of the Church’s authoritative teaching—a teaching they would be conscience-bound to accept. Concerning infallibility, if the private judgment of an individual could not overturn the judgment of the Church as a whole, this would be tantamount to saying the Church as a whole has ultimate, unqualified, conscience-binding authority.  It seems this would only be possible if the Church as a whole were incapable of error.  Consequently, the Church as a whole would be infallible.

[2] This is similar to an occasion where a child that does not submit to its parent’s authority happens to want what his parents want.  The child is not really deferring to his parents or giving them the respect they deserve; he is just agreeing out of coincidence.  If we said “no” to a parental instruction, we would be acting somewhat individualistically.  If we just so happened to agree, and said “yes” then we wouldn’t really be treating them like a parent in this instance.  After all, we would not be willing to defer to their judgment because *they are our parents*. For more on the definition of authority see this post: http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/accuracy-authority-and-the-visibility-of-the-church/ .

[3] Concerning David’s interpretation of my views about Protestantism at the beginning of his post, he is largely correct.  But I would qualify it as follows: I actually do not think most Protestants could consistently claim to believe in “that which has been affirmed everywhere, at all times, by all” or “universality, antiquity, and consent” (the canon of St. Vincent of Lerins).  For if they did, they would believe in things like apostolic succession, the trifold ministry, baptismal regeneration, the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the patristic doctrine of justification.

[4] David says:

Lutheran and Reformed denominations subscribe to creeds and confessions that all professing members must affirm. This is not because the creeds and confessions are believed to be infallible or on equal ground with the Bible. Rather, they are seen as binding because they were produced by official synods (or councils) of the church and are believed to accurately reflect what the Bible teaches.

So individual members are obligated to believe in their church’s creeds. Ministers swear an oath to uphold their denomination’s teachings, which obligates them to not teach contrary to their denomination’s doctrinal statement, and to inform their synod if they become unable to do so.

[5] A doctor has certain skills (capacities developed through practice) that make him or her a more reliable decision-maker in medicine than other people.  If he or she is reliable, that means he or she tends to be right more often.  If a doctor tends to be right more often than someone that lacks the developed medical skills, then there is a much higher probability that any given decision made by the doctor versus an accountant will lead to health.  Because a doctor is more accurate, he or she ought to be trusted.

[6] One might reply that doctor A simply does not have as much authority as doctor B, because doctor B is more accurate than doctor A.  But again, it is not the fact that doctor B has a power of judgment that is intrinsically more normative than that of doctor A that makes us side with doctor B.  Hence the legitimacy of “who do you think you are, commanding me what to do?”

[7] Catz says:

in the context of this discussion, it seems the use of one’s private judgment does not make the person reasoning the authority but rather one using a gift from God. It also reveals what he is measuring the present church up against to be the final authority and the others derivative.

[8] Something that is inherent is “intrinsic to; within; grounded inside of (as distinct from outside of)”.  Something derived is “coming from elsewhere; caused; not self-existent”.

[9] We have many inherent, derived properties.  Think of my property “having an intellect”.  This is something I have; it is one of my constitutive qualities, something that is within me.  So it is inherent/intrinsic.  But it is also derived.  God caused it, after all.  The fact that it is inherent just means it is not something that is true of me in some purely external way (like where I’m located) that does not depend on my intrinsic qualities.

[10] To give an example, if someone is joining the Roman Catholic Church, then he or she is obligated to agree with its teachings whether he or she likes it or not.  If they previously had, based on private judgment, disagreement with some teaching of the Church z, they would be bound to agree with the Church in virtue of the fact that it authoritatively teaches z.  Their obligation to agree with the Church concerning z would not be based on whether or not their own private judgment could be persuaded into accepting arguments for z.  So the Church’s authority would not be based on external conditions (such as whether my private judgment agrees with them).

[11] An inherently authoritative person or group is not necessarily infallible.  Our parents are inherently authoritative, but not infallible.  When my parents tell me to do some action x, the fact that they said “do x” has normative significance, totally apart from whether I feel like doing x or privately judge x to be the most intelligent action to do.  The fact they said “do x” is *in itself* a reason (of some strength) to do x.  But it is not an overriding, unqualified reason to do x.  Some reasons for action are stronger than others.  For instance, a strong reason not to obey my parents when they say “take out the trash” would be if I knew that there was a murder roaming the neighborhood.  My parents’ command may have some significance, but it isn’t infallible in its normativity.  It doesn’t bind the conscience without qualification, and when there are overriding reasons to disobey, a parent’s judgment can be overturned.  It is still inherently normative though, because the fact that it supplies a reason for action is not dependent on my own private judgment.

[12] To clarify the sense in which the Church derives its authority from Scripture, it includes minimally this: that the Scriptures are the infallible rule that the Church must apply as a source of doctrinal content.  However, the Church’s authority is also derived from the fact that Christ has commissioned it.  Notice that none of this implies that the Church’s authority derives from Scripture only when the Church gets its interpretation in line with the private judgment of the individual.  This would be to deny that the Church’s authority is intrinsic.

[13] David writes:

If it is argued that the individual still has greater authority than the church because he or she can choose which church to follow and submit to in the first place, I would simply point out that the same is true for those who choose to follow either Rome or Constantinople.

Catz says:

Again we see the judgment of the individual come into play. He first recognizes the Church is indeed sane- considers the appeal made by the Church to what always has been believed by the Christian community and decides “yes, they do appear to be functioning in their proper roles and exercising their God-given authority.” This does not seem so unlike the route the Reformers took except they reached a different conclusion. They recognized that the Church was not living in accordance with Scripture or what the Christian community believed at all times. At least, this is what they claim to have done.

[14] Saying we must look at what the New Testament teaches about the Church may seem to affirm private judgment.  After all, isn’t the believer going off of what seems true to him or her from Scripture?  Surely this is not being done in submission to a particular Church hierarchy, right?  While this is true, it does not entail that no decisions of any hierarch or council are authoritative.  It just means that prior to accepting any particular authority, the most we can do is trust in the accuracy of our own inferences from Scripture.  This is a reliable guide to which kind of church to identify as the Church.  But it is just reliable–it is not infallible.  Its decisions can be trumped by an authority that can bind the conscience.  It should also be noted that because the structure of the primitive, post-apostolic Church plays a role in the identification of the Church for someone who is already committed to Catholic Christianity, there is an extent to which the normativity of the judgments of hierarchs will play a role even prior to the acceptance of a particular authority.

[15] Notice a crucial difference in terms of the decision-making process in these two cases (the Protestant deciding between denominations vs. the person trying to decide whether to be Orthodox or Roman).  For the person trying to decide whether or not to be Orthodox or Roman, the identification of a body as “the Church” will entail that one submits his or her private judgment and accepts the theological teachings of that Church’s hierarchy to the best of one’s ability to understand them.  For the person trying to decide between Protestant denominations, he or she will have to be persuaded to accept a given church’s teaching not on the basis of the fact that “this is the Church, and it says x is true” but on the basis of the fact that he or she can agree with the accuracy of the Church’s inferences to doctrinal positions.  When one agrees that there is a visible Church with inherent authority, but has not yet decided which Church’s decisions to consider normatively significant, one will obviously not be in submission to the decisions and teachings of one of those hierarchies.  But once one identifies an institution as the visible Church, he or she must submit to the decisions of that hierarchy.

[16] To experiment, let us take the definition of private judgment, and see if it applies to someone who is deliberating about whether or not to be Orthodox, Roman, or Anglo-Catholic:

Private judgment: A believer’s conscience cannot be bound by the inherent authority of the interpretive and doctrinal decisions of other Christians.

Does this condition apply to Protestantism?  Yes, at David and Catz’s admission.  Does this condition apply to Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, and Anglo-Catholicism, as they say?  Do we deny that the inherent authority of the interpretive decisions of other Christians can bind our consciences to believe certain things?  No.  Again, once one identifies an institution as the visible Church, he or she must submit to the decisions of that hierarchy.  This is because one has accurately recognized the location of genuine authority.  This is not private judgment, because there is inherent authority in the Church’s decisions that can bind your conscience.  As a consequence, once a person has identified the Church as the visible, hierarchical, sacramental institutuion, perpetuated through Apostolic succession and having the infallible power to bind human consciences to believe and do certain things, he or she cannot “check” the Church’s actual teachings up against Scripture.  Rather his or her understanding of what Scripture teaches will be limited by the conscience-binding power of the Church’s decisions.

[17] I wrote: “The cases in which it is legitimate to disregard the normative force of what our parents say are when they are obviously being prevented from acting *as parents*. We can describe these as cases of “insanity”, which means severe malfunction of a person that clearly prevents them from properly using the powers vested in them by nature (such as with our biological parents) or grace (as with our spiritual parents).”

[18] Catz goes on to write: “If it is at all possible one be permitted to judge a parent or church to be insane why can’t one make a judgment call about either not aligning with Scripture? If both Sola Scriptura and Prima Scripture believe Scripture is sufficiently clear, then it seems the individual checking the Church’s claims against the final authority (Scripture) as well as what other Christians in those early years believed, could use the tools of reason and judgment to identify a counterfeit form of Church authority or rightly identify the Church’s interpretation as clearly in error.”

In response, first, if the decisions of early Christians after the New Testament have no inherent authority, then they cannot be used to identify a counterfeit form of Church authority.  Only the application of private judgment to the teachings of the New Testament could do so.  For further responses, see my comment #23 on “Church Authority, Argument 4”

[19] Catz raises an additional issue:

Your use of “private judgment” as a technical term indicating the absence of intrinsic Church authority (and the implications you also give) maybe is too misleading of a statement and I am not sure it even is a Protestant technical term (?). In fact, most protestants (a good number who are Reformed and informed) have never heard of the doctrine of “private judgment” though they understand the concept I am putting forward. Maybe an explanation on why you chose to make this a technical term would help.

I chose to make it a technical term because there is a specific concept I am trying to pick out.  The concept (1) “no interpretive decisions by any Church hierarchs can bind a believer’s conscience” is a different concept from (2) “believing accurately; believing in accordance with how strong the evidence is for a proposition”.  Idea (1) is different from idea (2), and importantly so.  Thus it is best to distinguish how we label them in our language.

To see how different these concepts are, consider what happens when I say “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” to someone, versus when Jesus says the same thing to someone.  In the first case, if the person I’m talking to knows who I am, they could legitimately say “that’s nice” (if they’re not familiar with the beatitudes) or “yep, that’s what the Bible says” (if they are familiar).  But in the second case, if they know who Jesus is, they ought to say “Yes Lord, your word is true.”  What is the difference between these two situations?  Both utterances are true; yes, it really is true that the poor in spirit are blessed.  I even have good reasons to accept the truth of the beatitudes; so I am being accurate.  But when I say it, there is nothing inherently conscience-binding about *the fact that I said it*.  No one is obligated to believe it based on the fact that they heard me say it and understood who I am and what I meant.  I could argue for it all day long (and present an excellent case for this being true) and still nothing about *the fact that I said it* would bind a person’s conscience to accept it.  When Jesus says it, things are different.  The fact that it was Him who said the phrase obligates us to believe what He said.  This is not because we come to agree with the inferences He makes that lead him to believe and utter this.  Rather, it is because He, as a speaker, has a kind of quality to his words that obligates us to believe and do what He says.  He is an authority, I am not.  I may be accurate, by my words are not inherently authoritative.

The term “private judgment” was used in Anglican-Protestant-Catholic debates as evidenced by Newman’s “On the Use of Private Judgment” and “On the Abuse of Private Judgment” in his Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church.

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62 Responses to “Church Authority, Argument 5: Private Judgment and Authority”

  1. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello MG,

    Would you say that your understanding and interpretation of what the Eastern Orthodox church teaches authoritatively could be mistaken? Surely you must know that most epistemologists think that any empirical a posteriori knowledge is fallible. Do you think that there is a sense in which you have to have private judgment about what your church authoritatively teaches and interprets? I guess my concern is that the only real difference that I see is that you believe in a infallible church and infallible scriptures whereas Protestants believe in a fallible church but infallible scriptures. My concern about your reasoning here is that given what you have said both parties seem to have private judgment but the only thing is that you add an extra infallible church that you have to interpret on top of the infallible scriptures, whereas the Protestant just has to interpret the infallible Bible. What do you think about this?

    God Bless,

    NPT

  2. MG Says:

    Nate–

    How does my definition of private judgment compare to your definition of private judgment?

  3. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello MG,

    Private Judgement – a rejection the Church’s interpretive decisions can bind our consciences. In light of this understanding which you state in your blog post: Did you understand my questions and what I was trying to get at in my first comment?

    God Bless,

    NPT

  4. catz206 Says:

    You are using “private judgment” as a technical term when it is not. In the way most understand the term you yourself would be guilty of exercising private judgment. If you mean to simply say that protestants deny church infallibility then we agree with the concept but not the rhetoric you use.

  5. catz206 Says:

    “you are using ‘private judgment’ as a technical term when it is not” meaning: there is no Protestant doctrine of “private judment”.

  6. David Nilsen Says:

    MG,

    1. I honestly don’t see that you have moved the conversation forward at all. You correctly point out that I denied that the church has the inherent authority to bind someone’s conscience so that a believer ought to believe something for no other reason than “the church said so.” Then, as far as I can see, you simply restated your definition of authority and concluded that I effectively denied that the church has *any* real authority at all. But the whole point of my post was to argue that someone can have authority without it being either inherent or infallible. So when you say, “The accuracy of a doctor does not lead to him or her having “the power to bind human consciences to believe and do certain things” in medical matters” you seem to be disregarding the entire point of my post. I admitted at the outset that the doctor does not have that *kind* of authority, but you failed to show that he has no authority whatsoever. You suggested that all that really matters in my scheme is persuasion. But would you really accept the medical advice of a high school freshman who has never even taken a biology class (and say, who is on the debate team) over the advice of an experienced doctor because the freshman was able to make a more convincing argument? Surely this is a possible scenario, but I don’t think anyone would deny that the word of the doctor carries more authority than the word of the freshman. The doctor’s experience and accuracy should be factored into one’s decision-making and should outweigh the persuasiveness of the freshman’s argument (especially since you are not an experienced doctor either, and so you shouldn’t put too much trust in your ability to weigh medical arguments).

    2. On the matter of the EO and RC using private judgment, you say: “Protestants, on the other hand, when deliberating between denominations, do not identify a body and submit to it on the basis of the fact that they identify it as having inherent authority. Rather, they decide to join if the teachings of that denomination agree with their own private judgment.”

    It seems to me that you really are doing the same thing, simply in a different way. You say, “I’m not using my private judgment to weigh the teachings of the Orthodox church, I’m only using it to identify whether or not the Orthodox church has inherent authority.” But how is that different in practice? How, specifically, do you determine whether or not the Orthodox church has inherent authority? Didn’t you first decide whether the Bible even teaches that there is such a church (i.e. you made a private judgment about what the Bible teaches)? And didn’t you then make more private judgments about whether or not an institution exists today that meets the biblical criteria (perhaps having to make a choice between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism)? It seems to me that at almost every step you have to make private judgments about what the Bible says and whether or not Orthodoxy can meet the burden of proof for its own claims, etc.

  7. Jordan P. Says:

    Rather than type out my question, i’ll just say this: My question is basically the last paragraph of David’s comment. cheers =)

  8. MG Says:

    Catz—

    You wrote:

    You are using “private judgment” as a technical term when it is not. In the way most understand the term you yourself would be guilty of exercising private judgment. If you mean to simply say that protestants deny church infallibility then we agree with the concept but not the rhetoric you use.

    Even if I would be guilty of exercising private judgment in the way you claim it is most commonly understood, that doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not I am doing something that is somehow objectionable. How we label the action is comparatively irrelevant. “A private judgment by any other name would smell as pungent”. What matters is whether what is being done is bad, or has bad implications. The Protestant denial that the interpretive decisions of any other Christian can bind your conscience (private judgment according to the more technical use I have given) is bad and also has objectionable implications (as I have argued at great length above). That is not something Orthodoxy does. The use of my own faculties in making inferences to identify truth (which is how I assume you think the phrase is used in popular discourse) is not objectionable. There is nothing inherently bad about this, nor is there any bad implication to the use of one’s faculties in discerning reality. And it is something the Orthodox do. So it seems one must address the content of what I am saying, not just the phrase “private judgment”. To overturn my arguments, it must be shown either that its okay for Protestants to claim “the interpretive decisions of hierarchs have no inherent authority”, or that Protestants can claim that “the interpretive decisions of hierarchs have inherent authority.”

    And no, I am not simply saying that Protestants deny the infallibility of the Church. I am giving arguments that they deny the authority of the Church. According to your definition of authority as “power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior” (though I think the point stands regardless of your use of this definition) it seems that the fact that the Church says “x is true” must be a reason (of some strength) to believe “x is true” independently of my prior reasons to agree with the doctrine “x” in question. As I argued in section 2 above, the only real kind of authority seems to be intrinsic authority (even if it is not infallible intrinsic authority). If Protestantism is committed to the denial that the Church has intrinsic authority, then it is committed to the denial that the Church has authority. So it seems one should either accept my argument and admits that Protestantism is committed to the denial that the Church has any authority, or deny my argument and articulate a sense in which the Church has authority even if Protestantism is true. If one accepts my argument, then this either means Protestantism is false (if the Bible teaches that the Church has authority) or that one must accept that the Bible does not teach that the Church has authority. Which of these three options do you affirm?

  9. MG Says:

    (continued)

    You wrote:

    “’you are using “private judgment” as a technical term when it is not’ meaning: there is no Protestant doctrine of ‘private judment’.”

    Even though (as I pointed out above) this is not an issue for my argument, I’d still like to give evidence that Protestant theologians have used the phrase “private judgment” in a technical sense in roughly the way I have used it here. What do you make of these quotes? I think the first one establishes something about the common usage, and the others make a significant point about the long history of this doctrinal formulation in Protestant theology (though the concept itself dates back to Luther or maybe earlier).

    “private judgment

    –noun
    personal opinion formed independently of the expressed position of an institution, as in matters of religion or politics.” (from Dictionary.com)

    “(a) The specific distinction and contention between the Roman Church and Protestantism is the right of private judgment…

    (g) If the Church is to be the ultimate point of interpretation and authority, then the right of private judgment quoad hoc must be abandoned…

    (h) If we prefer to abandon the right of private judgment than the Church then where is the difference in principle between the (Protestant) Presbyterian Church and the Roman Church?…

    Shall we veil, or rather readjust, the standards, and so maintain Protestantism with the right of private judgment, or shall we maintain the standards, abandon the right of private judgment, and so set the stream of tendency in logical and moral minds either toward a more philosophical morality or else toward the Roman Church?
    As a lawyer, I may be taking a narrow view. My own associations are with the Presbyterian Church and the broad Church Episcopal; yet it seems to me that the Presbyterian ship is fast steering between the devil and the deep sea. Dogma has its place, but to substitute dogma for truth can never be other than fatuous.”

    From here: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9501E7DA1F31E033A25752C2A9649D94639ED7CF

    “Not satisfied with these specif1c objections, they attacked the general principle on which, as they supposed, these rules were founded. They say, “We humbly conceive that the aforesaid acts, in their present form, are founded upon a false hypothesis, namely, that a majority of synods or other church judicatories, have a power committed to them from Christ to make new rules, acts, or canons about religious matters, on this ground, viz: That they judge them to be either not against or agreeable to the general directions of the word, and serviceable to religion, which shall be binding on those who conscientiously dissent therefrom, on certain penalties, which are to be inflicted upon those who judge the acts they enforce, to be contrary to the mind of Christ, and prejudicial to the interest of his kingdom. This is, in brief, a legislative, or law-making power in religious matters, and this we do utterly disclaim and renounce.”

    Against any such power as that here described, they argued, 1. That Christ has not given such authority to church judicatories, or required his people to submit to it. 2. It is an invasion of Christ’s kingly office. 3. It involves a reflexion on the perfection of the Scriptures, as though they did not contain a sufficient rule of duty. 4. It is inconsistent with Christian liberty. 5. It is incompatible with the rights of conscience and of private judgment. 6. This power supposes either that the church is infallible, or that she can make what is wrong in itself, right by commanding it. 7. If such a power belongs to the church, then the reformation and dissent from the Church of England, must be condemned. 8. Such religious laws are superstitious and uncharitable. 9. The power complained of would open a door for an intolerable bondage, and expose men to be persecuted for conscience sake.”

    From The Constitutional history of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, pg. 129 by Charles Hodge
    http://books.google.com/books?id=2tsCAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=the+constitutional+history+of+the+presbyterian+church#v=onepage&q=private%20judgment&f=false

    “But although we do not decline your invitation because we are either heretics or schismatics, we are nevertheless debarred from accepting it, because we still hold with ever increasing confidence those principles for which our fathers were excommunicated and pronounced accursed by the Council of Trent, which represented, and still represents, the Church over which you preside.

    The most important of those principles are: First, that the Word of God, contained in the
    Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. The Council of Trent, however, pronounces Anathema on all who do not receive the teachings of tradition pari pietatis affectu (with equal pious affection) as the Scriptures themselves. This we cannot do without incurring the condemnation which our Lord pronounced on the Pharisees, who made void the Word of God by their traditions (Matt. 15:6).

    Secondly, the right of private judgment. When we open the Scriptures, we find that they are addressed to the people. They speak to us. We are commanded to search them (John 5:39). To believe what they teach. We are held personally responsible for our faith. The apostle commands us to pronounce accursed an apostle or an angel from heaven who should [teach] anything contrary to the divinely authenticated Word of God (Gal. 1:8). He made us the judges, and has placed the rule of judgment into our hands, and holds us responsible for our judgments.

    Moreover, we find that the teaching of the Holy Spirit was promised by Christ not to the
    clergy only, much less to any one order of the clergy exclusively, but to all believers. It is written, ‘Ye shall all be taught of God’. The Apostle John says to believers: ‘Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things . . . but the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you; and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him’ (1 John 2:20, 27). This teaching of the Spirit authenticates itself, as this same apostle teaches us, when he says, ‘He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself’ (1 John 5:10). ‘I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth’ (1 John 2:2 1). Private judgment, therefore, is not only a right, but a duty, from which no man can absolve himself, or be absolved by others.”

    To Pius IX, Bishop of Rome from Charles Hodge, on behalf of the PCUSA
    http://www.chriscastaldo.com/resources/Hodge%20to%20Pius%20IX.pdf

  10. MG Says:

    (continued)

    “What is private judgment?

    I come then to the question, What is private judgment? Before I seek to define it, it might be worthwhile to refer to one of the most notable demonstrations of the exercise of private judgment in history, and that was Luther’s famous stand at Worms,

    “Unless I am convinced by testimonies of the Scripture, or by evident reason—for I neither believe the Pope nor the Councils alone, since it is clear that they have often erred and contradicted one another—I am overcome by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is taken captive by the words of God, and I neither can nor will retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience.”

    This was the declaration that established the principle of private judgment in Protestantism. Before this, as in Luther’s disputation with Eck at Liepsic, Luther had been compelled to recognize that ultimately he must take his stand against the claims of the Church of Rome solely upon the authority of Scripture. The main result of that meeting with Eck was that Luther no longer recognized the authority of the Roman Church in matters of faith. At first, he had only attacked the instructions given to the preachers of indulgences and the rules of the later schoolmen, but had expressly retained the decretals of the popes: then he had rejected these, but with appeal to the decision of a Council: he now emancipated himself from this last remaining human authority also; he recognized none but that of the Scriptures.

    While Luther was thus engaged, Melancthon his colleague, to whom the principles of protestant theology can be traced as much as to Luther, was engaged in study which led to the enunciation of one of those first and fundamental principles, which was published in a little treatise in 1519 viz., that the Scripture was not to be expounded according to the Fathers, but that the Fathers were to be understood according to the sense of Scripture. Thus he overthrew and turned upside down the principle to which the Church of Rome had always adhered and taken for granted, viz., that the Scripture must be understood and interpreted by the Fathers and by the Councils of the Church. The Reformers maintained that the Fathers contradicted each other and could err, as indeed councils could err. The only infallible authority is Scripture; the sayings of the Fathers and the decrees of Councils must therefore be interpreted by Scripture and not vice versa.

    Councils and Churches

    Luther afterwards took up and developed this principle in his little book Councils and Churches, in which he also argues, while examining one by one all the early Councils of the church, that Councils are not for the resolving of what was formerly unclear in Scripture, but rather simply for affirming what is clearly taught in Scripture, and they bear witness to that truth, for the truth is not established by Councils or articles, but by God himself in Scripture. It was, said Luther, an error, under which the Church of Rome laboured, to assert that Councils are invested with power and right to establish new articles of belief and abolish the old. This is not true. Such a proposition we Christians must also tear to tatters. No Councils have done this, and never could they have done it; because the articles of faith must not emanate from terrestrial Councils, as if they arose out of a secret and new suggestion, but they must be openly given and revealed from heaven through the Holy Spirit. If not, they are no articles of faith.

    The Council of Nicea did not invent the doctrine that Jesus Christ is God, it was revealed to the apostles by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. It has remained and descended from the apostles down to this Council, and so came down in a straight line to ourselves, and will remain, too, down to the end of the world.

    The Scriptures, Luther maintained, are more plain and clear than Councils. The proper purpose of Councils is not to teach anything, but to prevent any new doctrine superseding the old.

    ‘They must confess and defend the primitive faith against new articles of belief, and not
    the new to the disparagement of the old’.

    Holy Scripture, not the Fathers or Councils, is the source of truth. ‘All Councils therefore which follow not Scripture are Councils of Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, which took counsel against the Lord and His Anointed (Acts 4, Psalm 2).

    All this is necessary for us to understand how the Reformers completely turned the tables on the Church of Rome, and established a quite different way of doing theology, the basis of which was the appeal to Scripture as supreme and sufficient, the only rule of faith, by which everything else, Fathers, Councils, Church must be tested and tried. It was, of course, quite revolutionary, and especially when Luther appealed to this principle in his disputation with Eck, and later at Worms, as the ground for his refusal to recant. It must remain fundamental to our Reformed and Protestant position”

    http://www.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/CMan_108_1_Samuel.pdf

  11. MG Says:

    Nate—

    You wrote:

    “Private Judgement – a rejection the Church’s interpretive decisions can bind our consciences. In light of this understanding which you state in your blog post: Did you understand my questions and what I was trying to get at in my first comment?”

    Are you saying this is what I mean by “private judgment” or what you mean (or both)? If you’re saying that’s what I mean, then ya, you are roughly correct. I was mainly curious how you are using the phrase “private judgment”—what you mean by it. One reason for my curiosity is this:

    If you are using the definition of private judgment you stated above, then if we substitute that definition in for every use of the phrase “private judgment” into your response, then it can read as follows:

    “Do you think that there is a sense in which you have to [reject the idea that the Church’s interpretive decisions can bind our consciences about] what your church authoritatively teaches and interprets?”

    “My concern about your reasoning here is that given what you have said both parties seem to [reject the idea that the Church’s interpretive decisions can bind our consciences] but the only thing is that you add an extra infallible church that you have to interpret on top of the infallible scriptures, whereas the Protestant just has to interpret the infallible Bible.”

    I’m not sure that the above sentences make sense under this interpretation, which leads me to wonder if you are using the phrase “private judgment” in a different way than I am. It doesn’t seem like I’m rejecting the inherent authority of my Church’s interpretations, at least not based on anything that I’ve seen anyone say. Can you explain what you mean by private judgment?

    I’m also curious how I can be categorized as using “private judgment”, and how that is a bad thing (if it is), or an inconsistent thing for me (if it is).

  12. MG Says:

    (continued)

    To continue my response to your first comment…of course I could be wrong about what Orthodoxy teaches. And of course epistemologists are right that empirical a posteriori knowledge is fallible (though what really seems to matter for your question is whether or not our faculties are fallible—which they are). But I just don’t see any sense in which I use private judgment about what my church teaches. After all, I don’t deny that its interpretive decisions are inherently authoritative. I use my faculties to try and understand what the Church teaches, but that is not the same as denying its interpretive decisions are inherently authoritative. If “using my faculties to try and understand something that is authoritative” means the same thing as “denying the inherent authority of the thing you are trying to understand” then it seems Protestants deny that the Bible is inherently authoritative.

    There is more of a difference between Protestants and Orthodox than the Orthodox affirmation that the Church is infallible in its interpretations. Like I argued in this post, Protestantism seems to entail that the Church has no authority. I argued in section (2) of my post that “inherent authority” just is *authority*, and that “extrinsic/relative authority” is not authority. Thus, if Protestantism is committed to the idea that the Church has only extrinsic authority, then it is committed to the denial that the Church has authority.

    And like I said, it seems, given the definitions, that Orthodox and Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics do not use private judgment in deliberating about what their Church teaches.

  13. MG Says:

    David—

    You wrote:

    “1. I honestly don’t see that you have moved the conversation forward at all.”

    I challenged your idea that Confessional Protestants can claim to have authoritative creeds, argued that accuracy cannot produce authority, clarified the nature of intrinsic authority in relation to infallibility, argued that intrinsic authority is the only kind of real authority, and tried to show that your criticism that Catholics use private judgment is unfounded.

    You wrote:

    “You correctly point out that I denied that the church has the inherent authority to bind someone’s conscience so that a believer ought to believe something for no other reason than “the church said so.” Then, as far as I can see, you simply restated your definition of authority and concluded that I effectively denied that the church has *any* real authority at all.”

    Actually what I did was argued that the authority you claim the church has is not actually authority. You did not address my argument about the father and the obstinate child. This seems like a very important case for illustrating the nature of authority, given that parental authority is basically the first and most basic kind of authority we come into contact with. Does the father in this scenario have authority or not?

  14. MG Says:

    (continued)

    You wrote:

    “But the whole point of my post was to argue that someone can have authority without it being either inherent or infallible. …The doctor’s experience and accuracy should be factored into one’s decision-making and should outweigh the persuasiveness of the freshman’s argument (especially since you are not an experienced doctor either, and so you shouldn’t put too much trust in your ability to weigh medical arguments).”

    1. What you seem to be articulating by the word “authority” is expert testimony, where you trust what an expert tells you because of his or her superior intellectual abilities. But expert testimony is not the same as authority. Expert testimony can be reduced to a probabilistic matter; authority can’t. It is true that when an expert gives testimony, we should often prefer his or her conclusions to those of a non-expert, all other things being equal. It is even true that sometimes the doctor’s word should outweigh the freshman’s sophisticated argument. But expert testimony still has the same kind of normativity as other kinds of arguments and evidences. Such testimony only provides a reason to believe a proposition based on the relative likelihood that an expert is right given what we know about his or her specialties, compared to our other evidence (whether personally constructed arguments or arguments given by a freshman). The likelihood that he or she is correct in his or her beliefs and arguments can sometimes be higher than the likelihood that a non-expert offering a persuasive argument for an opposing view is correct, all other things being equal. But there’s really nothing different from our normal evidence-based reasoning practices in the case of deferring to experts. In fact, given significant arguments from non-experts, we can easily overturn expert testimony. This doesn’t seem to capture the fact that authority is something stronger than and more normative than our general reasoning processes—something that can override them in many circumstances.

    2. Expert testimony does not play much of a role in reasoning about things that we have considerable knowledge of. In fact, as our own expertise increases, it seems to decrease the degree to which we should take the judgments of experts as bits of evidence. How does this map on to the authority of the church? Does the church’s authority in its ministers decrease as the intelligence of its laity increases? Do the church’s judgments have a weak, probabilistic status as a kind of supplemental evidence for the truth of some proposition believed by uneducated people? Or are the church’s decisions strong reasons to accept propositions—reasons that have more than just slight probabilistic significance, primarily for the uneducated?

    3. Your parents are authorities, but they may not be experts. You should not obey your parents only under the condition that they have highly-developed cognitive capacities. Many parents do not have expertise, and yet they ought to be obeyed. A genius child with vastly superior intellectual abilities and extensive knowledge of his or her own developmental psychology should still listen to his or her parents’ judgments and take them into account as intrinsically valid reasons for action (though, as I said in my post, not infallible reasons for action). This shows that authority is not identical to expertise. In fact, the representative case of authority—parental authority—is not one where expertise is the meaning or ground of authority. So even if “authority” can be used loosely to describe expertise in a subject, there is a distinct, stronger concept of authority that is more than just expertise.

    4. Further, if you are right, laity can become higher authorities than elders based on their degree of scholarly expertise. In fact as soon as a layperson reaches a certain degree of expertise and accuracy, this layperson is in principle identical (or greater) in authority to an elder of equal or lesser expertise. There is nothing distinctive about the elder as a teacher in comparison with the educated layperson, who can also teach. So what is the difference between an elder that teaches and a layperson that teaches?

    5. On a related note, once some layperson reaches the level of competence of an expert, they seem to instantly become an authority on your view. At the point where a layman is just as much of an expert as a cleric, in what sense is the cleric an authority over the layman? Surely clerics are authorities over laymen, right? Also, if a female layperson becomes a greater scholar (both in accuracy and expertise) than a cleric, shouldn’t they be considered more authoritative?

    6. It seems your view takes away the significance of ordination. What is the difference between an ordained person and an unordained person? It is possible in principle for both of them to be equally experts at some specific area of theology. But then what does ordination do? If it just recognizes the abilities of a scholar, then why aren’t all scholars of a certain degree of expertise in a Protestant (specifically Presbyterian) church ordained? If it gives the scholar an administrative role in the goings-on of the church, then how is this different from a highly-involved layperson on a church council? If it imparts a unique gift, then how is this gift relevant to the execution of a teaching office? Will it make them a better scholar? If so, why not give it to all the scholars in a church?

    7. Do you think that church leaders have more or less authority than Jesus attributed to the scribes and Pharisees?

  15. MG Says:

    (continued)

    2. “It seems to me… that at almost every step you have to make private judgments about what the Bible says and whether or not Orthodoxy can meet the burden of proof for its own claims, etc.”

    In response:

    1. None of these decisions deny the intrinsic authority of the Church’s decisions. So its not the use of private judgment. That is a major principled difference between the two situations.

    2. Not assuming at one step of the way the intrinsic authority of any particular current day church does not equate to denying the intrinsic authority of any church tout court. You don’t assume or affirm the intrinsic interpretive authority of the Church as part of how you decide what to believe about Scripture’s teachings—not from the get-go or at any other point. I can assume (based on arguments from Scripture) its inherent interpretive authority and affirm the existence of such authority prior to identifying a particular claimant (see below in 4 on the question “didn’t you first decide whether the Bible even teaches that there is such a church?”). The definition of private judgment isn’t “not taking into account the intrinsic authority of the interpretive decisions of the entire actual hierarchy at a given point p in trying to think about what one ought to believe.” The definition is “The *denial* that the Church’s interpretive decisions are inherently authoritative”. Not taking into account the inherent authority of hierarchs at some point in the process does not entail an unqualified denial of the Church’s claim to make intrinsically authoritative decisions.

    3. As I said in my post, one who is trying to decide between Orthodoxy and Catholicism will look at the form of the Church in its patristic childhood after its Apostolic infancy. The interpretive decisions of past hierarchs will have to be compared with the teachings of present hierarchs. As such, someone who is deciding between Rome and the East will need to incorporate common ground between the two traditions’ claims to intrinsic interpretive authority as part of the reason for accepting one of the two traditions.

    4. You ask: Didn’t you first decide whether the Bible even teaches that there is such a church (i.e. you made a private judgment about what the Bible teaches)? It seems you are asking me something like this: “well how do you move from a state of being a Protestant and affirming private judgment to a state of being some sort of Catholic (whether specified or not) who affirms the intrinsic interpretive authority of the Church, given that all you have to go off of is private judgment? Won’t the decision be based off of private judgment?” I would say we should think of the process presuppositionally. There are various presuppositional starting points from which one can assess Orthodoxy. As a Protestant, one starts with a specific canon and exegetical method. And I think that from here, Protestantism negates itself. We can infer that, given a Protestant doctrine of Scripture, one ought to accept the intrinsic authority of the Church. So there could be a kind of self-negating interpretive act here. One can start from a position of private judgment to conclude that private judgment is inadequate (because based on private judgment, one should deny one has the right of private judgment). Consequently, one will end up affirming the inherent interpretive authority of the Church’s decisions; so one will at this point cease to deny that the Church’s decisions can bind our consciences. Thus, no tout court denial of the Church’s intrinsic authority is necessary if one is trying to infer whether or not there is an intrinsically authoritative Church. Again, no denial that the Church is an intrinsic authority is happening—just a decision prior to the acceptance of this fact.

    Also, the conclusion that the Church has intrinsic authority will not entail that the previous inference to the conclusion “I don’t have the right of private judgment, and the Church has intrinsic authority” is a bad inference, because it was made without incorporating the interpretive authority of the Church into the decision-process. After all, Catholic Christians do not deny that they can make accurate inferences from Scripture with a considerable degree of probability. They just think the Church’s judgment can trump conclusions they come to that conflict with the Church’s teachings.

    If you are curious about how it is different on a practical level deciding to become Orthodox versus being a Protestant who deliberates about which church to join, I would say this. The situations are very different. In fact, much of what I believe now I would not have believed if I did not think the teachings of the Orthodox Church were both inherently authoritative and infallible. It was the act of identifying the Church and its teachings that bound my conscience to accept things my private judgment would not have permitted (at the time, at least). And regardless of whether or not it is different on a practical level, it is different on a principled level.

  16. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello MG,

    Thanks for answering my questions. I am glad that you are honest in areas that most Roman Catholics are not as open about on the issue of infallibility and authority with respect to epistemological fallibility. But I have two interesting questions that I think might start a interesting discussion: Why could not a Protestant say that accuracy entails authority and that authority is fallible and that it fallibly binds the consciences of others (unless it is shown unreasonable)? It would seem then in this case the only difference between the Protestant and EO/RC is that one holds to a infallible authority and the other holds to a fallible authority. But suppose that the Protestantism were committed to private judgment as you have articulated it: Do you think this makes Protestantism less reasonable than EO/RC with all things being epistemologically equal (50/50)? In Short, is there even a problem with the “doctrine of private judgment”? Sorry for all the questions. Thanks for your time.

    God Bless,

    NPT

  17. MG Says:

    Nate–

    What do you mean when you say “accuracy entails authority”? Are you picking out the concept that David is trying to argue for? If read in a straightforward way, this statement seems false. After all, if a child is accurate on one occasion when his parents are not, he does not immediately gain authority over them at that point. Nor does a math book writer who writes the statement “1+1=2” seem to be an authority in virtue of the fact that she has been accurate in this instance. So I’m curious if you mean what David means, or if you meant that statement to be read in a straightforward manner.

    If you meant what David means, then I have addressed this idea both in section (2) of my post, and in my comments in response to David. Because I take what David articulates to not actually be authority, but merely expert testimony, I do not think that his concept can capture what it means for the church to be authoritative. It still denies the inherent authority of the Church. And as I have argued in (2) and my comments with David, inherent authority just seems to be *real authority*.

    So insofar as Protestantism denies the intrinsic authority of the Church, it seems to deny the authority of the Church. If the doctrine of private judgment is the denial that the Church has any inherent authority, it is also a denial that the Church has authority. Because this seems contrary to biblical teaching about the authority of the Church, I would consider it to be a major problem with the doctrine of private judgment.

    No need to apologize for all the questions; that’s just how interaction works.

  18. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello MG,

    What do you mean when you say “accuracy entails authority”? Are you picking out the concept that David is trying to argue for? If read in a straightforward way, this statement seems false. After all, if a child is accurate on one occasion when his parents are not, he does not immediately gain authority over them at that point. Nor does a math book writer who writes the statement “1+1=2″ seem to be an authority in virtue of the fact that she has been accurate in this instance. So I’m curious if you mean what David means, or if you meant that statement to be read in a straightforward manner.

    Response: I would say general accuracy and reliability entails authority. Very much like an expert in a field like a doctor, linguist and scientist. They know the material very well and are studied and in that area they are a authority. I would distinguish three types of authorities (all which are fallible): General Accuracy Authority, evidence authority, and prescribed authority. General Accuracy Authority is sort I just mentioned that a doctor and scientist has. Evidence authority is sort of authority any good argument or evidence has to bind ones conscience to think that a proposition is more reasonable to believe rather than not. Thus, one who gives good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus the argument he gives to prove that conclusion has authority because good reasons transfers authority to proposition to make it more reasonable to believe rather than not. The third, sort of authority is prescribed authority: This is the sort of authority that husband has over a wife, or a Father has over a child, or that a elder has over the members of his congregation. These sorts have authority because the word of God prescribes them as authorities. What would be the problem with the Protestant understanding of that? Often times accuracy authority and prescribed authority are working together but there are some instances were that is not necessarily true (take for instance the husband and wife analogy). Now if a child has more evidence than his father then the child is displaying evidence authority to the proposition he believes and thus evidence authority can trump any authority it seems to me. This would be true of claims of infallibility on your side as well, evidence authority could disprove the so called infallibility of any church if they were shown to not correspond to the evidence. This is even true of things like the Bible for example. Any sort of evidence authority that is transferred to a proposition can over rule anything in epistemological principle (unless it were epistemologically infallible of course). Now in the cases were the parent or the elder has false teaching and distorts the Bible then the parent or the elder is not longer functioning according to their office as the Bible prescribes it and thus they do not have authority. This is the very essence of fallible, ministerial, and derived authority that we as Protestant are speaking about.

    If you meant what David means, then I have addressed this idea both in section (2) of my post, and in my comments in response to David. Because I take what David articulates to not actually be authority, but merely expert testimony, I do not think that his concept can capture what it means for the church to be authoritative. It still denies the inherent authority of the Church. And as I have argued in (2) and my comments with David, inherent authority just seems to be *real authority*.

    Response: I would have to disagree in our language community we seem to use authority in that way and the Protestants seem to use authority in that ways with respect ministerial and derived authority. So this would be just a fundamental presuppositional disagreement, now if you have anything to defeat that claim I would be interested in hearing it.

    So insofar as Protestantism denies the intrinsic authority of the Church, it seems to deny the authority of the Church. If the doctrine of private judgment is the denial that the Church has any inherent authority, it is also a denial that the Church has authority. Because this seems contrary to biblical teaching about the authority of the Church, I would consider it to be a major problem with the doctrine of private judgment.

    Response: Oh I see. I tend to agree. If your points go through then it would seem that Protestantism would contradict the Bible. But it seems to me on reading most of the authority passages that Orthodox and Catholics appeal to that they could be understood ministerially because in each instance the actions that are being used to described the authority are perfect passive participles which has the notion that they have already been done.

    What do you think?

    Thanks for your time MG and I look forward to your response.

    God Bless,

    NPT

  19. catz206 Says:

    MG-
    In the future please limit your responses. I am currently in graduate school and overwhelmed with all the reading due. I am sure your goal is dialogue and are not aiming to be a burden. I understand it is difficult given that this is a subject you are passionate about and will also try and keep my comments brief.

    You wrote: “How we label the action is comparatively irrelevant. ‘A private judgment by any other name would smell as pungent’. What matters is whether what is being done is bad, or has bad implications.”

    Labeling is, as you know a tricky thing. Consider the following slanted uses of rhetoric: anti-choice or calling your view “The Doctrine of Agenda”. I can define it using what you actually believe but the word I use can say more than its definition might. Labels are not irrelevant since they aim to communicate.

    You wrote: “So it seems one must address the content of what I am saying, not just the phrase ‘private judgment’ To overturn my arguments, it must be shown either that its okay for Protestants to claim “the interpretive decisions of hierarchs have no inherent authority”, or that Protestants can claim that “the interpretive decisions of hierarchs have inherent authority.”

    There is no need to worry that we will ignore the content of your argument either. I and my blogmates have been doing just that on ByWhoseAuthority and I suspect Nate and Nilsen have launched into that here already (I thought it might be a good idea not to overwhelm you with too much since there were four of us commenting. It didn’t seem right).

    As for what you have said about the Church not having true authority in the Protestant sense. My disagreement remains but consider this: Paul commands the church to submit to those in authority (including the Roman government). Might the Roman government be corrupt and wrong in many areas? Yes. Were they still to obey? Yes. However, this must not extend too far. For instance, when the Christians were ordered to sacrifice to the gods in honor of the emperor many were martyred as they could not obey because the government derived its authority from God and when it went against God’s clear commands one had to choose between God and man. Another example: Arianism infected the Eastern church for a long time. Before then there were many disagreements in doctrine but ultimately many tried to submit their ideas before the Church. But what is one to do when the church is teaching Arian heresies? Try and bring about reformation or be excommunicated. In the last example those who “rebelled” against Arianism were not rebelling against the Church or denying the Church’s authority. They simply recognized that what was clear from Scripture and seen to be true by many before them was not being practiced. The Reformers had a similar grievance against Rome. They exercised their private judgment (not to be confused with your “doctrine of private judgment”) and both Athanasius and the Reformers ought to have had the right to do so.

    “Even though (as I pointed out above) this is not an issue for my argument, I’d still like to give evidence that Protestant theologians have used the phrase “private judgment” in a technical sense in roughly the way I have used it here. What do you make of these quotes? …”

    You quoted dictionary.com. I had actually used Webster after asking around Westminster and other knowledgeable persons in vain trying to find a doctrine of private judgment- which there was none. As for some of the definitions you gave: Your definitions do not appear to be used as theological technical terms and I would agree that if the Church is the ultimate point of authority then the “right” of private judgment would be abandoned. Here personal rights are in view and the word is being used to express that in this context. This is different from the individual making private judgments. This action itself is done by Protestants, E Orthodox and Roman Catholics alike. Still, I now see where you are coming from better. Perhaps it is better said: Both Eastern Orthodox and Protestants make private judgments but Protestants believe in the individuals right to make them. This is definitely something I would assent to. However, I still fail to see how this makes the individual the authority. If the mere making a private judgment was enough to make one an authority Eastern Orthodox believers would also be guilty. But what seems to be in view here is the idea that ultimately the individual is to be bound by Scripture and held responsible for his judgments (like your quote said). If the individual believer is held accountable for his judgments does this mean he is the authority? No, if God is still judging him for his beliefs and actions- including whether or not he submits to the Church‘s authority which is derived from Scripture. If the Church clearly goes against God and is no longer functioning *as the Church* then the believer is obligated to object (as Athanasius did and was exiled by the Arians) and be held responsible before God if he does not.

    You asked: “What is private judgment?”
    It would seem it remains the same as Nate, Nilsen and I have been defining it but the real question before us is whether or not one has the right or obligation to use it if a given church’s teachings are contrary to Scripture (on an essential point).

    As for Luther maintaining that the Scriptures are the source of truth rather than the councils, this is nothing new. And we can definitely discuss this in detail in the future.

    Anyway, the quotes you provided though tedious have given me a better understanding of where you are coming from. It seems as though the question before us is: Given the reality of private judgment (of everyone), should the individual have the right to exercise it? Does this sound adequate to you?

  20. Larry Short Says:

    Thanks to all in this discussion. I will add some ideas that you all may have not looked at. First, the variety is far higher than you suggest. While there may be some differences between Catholic practice in various countries, in theory all major doctrine is the same. This is far less true in Prot. groups, where some have no central authority. The growing trend in the USA is non-denominational mega churches with no visible authority above the congregation. If this trend continues, the religious variety, and individual choice will be enormous.
    Second, if I read the NT correctly, I see no defined authority of the church except fellowship/disfellowship, and that only applies to a congregation. The pattern is each beleiver is a saint, priest, and a direct servant of the HIght Priest, Jesus Christ. Also each Christian has the indwelling Holy Spirit, giving direct connection to God. In that aspect each person should have major authority.
    Third, while I have read several comments above about Biblical Church authority, I have not seen any book, chapter, and verse. Look for I think it will be rare. I realize my brief comment has no references either, but I will work on them if anyone requires them. May we all cherish the work of the past, draw fresh air, and come to some glimpse of the eternal truth.

  21. Omar Says:

    Hey MG!

    It is good to see that you guys are still discussing these important matters. Although I am completely sympathetic to Orthodoxy, I still have a question about this post. Why not think that reason is the authority when it comes down to interpreting Scripture? Perhaps this type of authority is not similar to what you think is authority, but nonetheless it is sufficient. In other words, this type of authority does not require one’s conscious to be morally bound to an authoritative claim. Rather, one’s conscious is epistemically bound.

    We often speak of (at least in philosophy) a person being epistemically negligent. That is, that person is being careless with her or his reasoning. Or that person is intentionally bypassing defeaters. Why is this type of authority not sufficient for the Protestant?

    That is my first question. My second question is: Why not think that the Holy Spirit provides the authority for an individual to interpret Scripture? That is, the Holy Spirit leads the individual into correct doctrine. The main difference that I see is this: the Orthodox and others hold that the Holy Spirit leads the entire church into truth. We might call this a corporate view. On the other hand, why not think that the Holy Spirit merely leads an individual to the correct interpretation of the Bible? Why is authority not legitimate when it is no longer corporate but individualistic?

    I hope my questions are clear. I would like to hear what you have to say about them.
    ,
    Omar

  22. MG Says:

    Nate—

    You wrote:

    “What would be the problem with the Protestant understanding of that?”

    1. Given your definitions of accuracy and authority, do you have more authority than a minister in your congregation who is less intelligent than you are? And when you make a better historical-grammatical argument about how to interpret a passage than a pastor who is unable to rebut that argument against his view, does this negate all normative force from his interpretive decisions?

    2. You wrote: “Now if a child has more evidence than his father then the child is displaying evidence authority to the proposition he believes and thus evidence authority can trump any authority it seems to me.”

    If a child has more evidence for belief in what kind of proposition? Is it a proposition about what kinds of behaviors one ought to have, or about physics, or about theology?

    Let’s say a smart child has more evidence that orange juice is healthy to drink than he has that orangeade is healthy to drink. His mother tells him to drink orangeade instead of orange juice. If the child disobeys his mother, has he done wrong? Is the child conscience-bound to accept the decision of his mother?

    Also, are you disagreeing with David’s idea that sometimes, the judgments of experts can overrule the most persuasive arguments of amateurs?

    3. You wrote: “The third, sort of authority is prescribed authority: This is the sort of authority that husband has over a wife, or a Father has over a child, or that a elder has over the members of his congregation. These sorts have authority because the word of God prescribes them as authorities.”

    When you use the predicate “prescribed”, do you mean that the authority consists in the ability to prescribe belief and behavior? Or does “prescribed” refer to the prescription of Scripture that these are authorities? If the former, do these prescriptions have normative significance only when we have independent reasons to accept them? If the latter, what does the authority consist in?

    4. When Jesus says “the Pharisees and Scribes sit on the seat of Moses; do whatever they tell you”, do you think he is just saying “the Pharisees and Scribes tend to be accurate, obey them when there isn’t evidence (evidence authority) against their teachings”? Does the Church have more or less authority than the Scribes and Pharisees had?

    5. To bring up my standard example again, consider a child who is told by his father to take out the trash. The child says “no, dad, I don’t feel like taking the trash out”. If the dad said, “why don’t you respect my authority and do it?” and the child said “I am not persuaded that I should follow your advice for some reason other than the fact that you said so. Until my own reasons for acting become strong enough to make it necessary for me to take the trash out, I am not bound by your authority” would you say the father has authority over his son?

    You wrote:

    “Response: I would have to disagree in our language community we seem to use authority in that way and the Protestants seem to use authority in that ways with respect ministerial and derived authority. So this would be just a fundamental presuppositional disagreement, now if you have anything to defeat that claim I would be interested in hearing it.”

    First, the issue does not ultimately seem to be how our language community uses the word “authority” and related words, but what Scripture means by words such as authority. Does it mean by “authority” and words related to it such as “office” a kind of general expertise? Does Scripture in some places mean by the word “authoritative” or “binding” nothing more than “plausible, likely”? When Scripture speaks of commands and obedience in the Church, does that always merely consist in being persuasive and persuaded by appeals to reason? It seems to me that when Scripture designates people as authorities (and makes similar ascriptions), it ascribes something roughly like the intrinsic power to bind human consciences to believe and do certain things.

    Second, on a scale of kinds of authority, it seems that expertise and making a plausible inference is lower than the kind of prescriptive power that our parents have over us, and that supreme court justices have with respect to the interpretation of the constitution. Intuitively, it seems like God would give the Church at least as much authority over its members as our parents have over us and at least as much authority as judges have over their people. So even if our culture uses the word “authority” to describe things according to your taxonomy, it seems there is an intuitive case to be made for the Church having the kind of authority I’m arguing that it has.

    You wrote:

    “Response: Oh I see. I tend to agree. If your points go through then it would seem that Protestantism would contradict the Bible. But it seems to me on reading most of the authority passages that Orthodox and Catholics appeal to that they could be understood ministerially because in each instance the actions that are being used to described the authority are perfect passive participles which has the notion that they have already been done.”

    When you say that the passages can be read ministerially, what do you mean? Can you articulate ministerial authority in comparison to my conception of Church authority? And can you give me some examples of how this relates to perfect passive participles in biblical passages?

  23. MG Says:

    Catz—

    The reason I provided such extensive documentation was threefold. First, if I didn’t cite anything, the point would not be made. Second, if I cited only one or two things from a single time period, then they could be dismissed as not reflecting awareness of a specific doctrine across time. Third, if I just provided links, this would make it difficult to sort through, and many viewers probably would not bother to access the links. I didn’t mean to overwhelm you, but it seemed necessary to make the point.

    I understand what you say about being careful in the use of labels. However, I find nothing inaccurate or slanted about using the phrase “private judgment” to describe what I am designating by it.

    “As for what you have said about the Church not having true authority in the Protestant sense… The Reformers had a similar grievance against Rome.”

    I will return to your issue of your disagreement about Protestantism and authority at the end of my post.

    I understand what you are saying about the fallibility of the Roman government. Nevertheless, if you put this in an analogy with the Church, you would still have to conclude that the Church is inherently authoritative. Paul teaches that civil governments have intrinsic (though derivative, fallible, limited in scope) authority. The fact that we shouldn’t obey a government that tells us to do things that are morally outrageous does not mean that such a government lacks intrinsic authority, just that it isn’t an underived, infallible, and unlimited in scope authority.

    When some of the Church’s bishops taught Arianism, the response was twofold: biblical and traditional. Exegetical arguments were offered by St. Athanasius and others, based on appeal to Scriptural texts and shared theological principles. But the Church’s response extended to a dogmatic, binding, infallible reformulation (interpretation) of the Scriptural teaching concerning Christ based on the inherited oral tradition of the Church—not just an attempt (successful though it was) to best the Arians at biblical exegesis. Its not just that the Nicenes knew there were fathers who had looked at the biblical text the same way that they did, and wanted to respect them for being smart exegetes or good Christians. It was that they submitted to the authority of the Fathers’ interpretations. Hence Athanasius’ insistence on the divine power of the Catholic Church’s oral tradition, the unrevisability of the Council’s Decree as God’s word, and the consequent shipwreck of the faith made by the private interpretations of the Arians.

    Though I agree with your acknowledgement that the Nicene Fathers were not rebelling or denying the Church’s authority, what they did was strongly disanalogous to what the Reformers did. The Reformers taught doctrines unknown in the early tradition of the Catholic Church, such as sola fide and sola scriptura. Many of them denied beliefs that could be called “staples” of early Christian teaching, like baptismal regeneration, Chalcedonian Christology, and the communication of divine energies to Christ’s humanity (the list could go on). The Nicenes fought against a faction within the Church that had denied the common (or Catholic) faith and life of the early Church.

    You wrote that “They exercised their private judgment (not to be confused with your “doctrine of private judgment”) and both Athanasius and the Reformers ought to have had the right to do so.” This confuses me, and seems to come into conflict with your earlier insistence that the Church’s authority is not intrinsic. Are you saying the Reformers did not deny the inherent normativity of the Church’s interpretive decisions? Or are you just saying they both used their accuracy (private judgment in your sense) and denied the inherent authority of the Church’s interpretations of Scripture (private judgment in my sense)?

    You wrote:

    “Your definitions do not appear to be used as theological technical terms and I would agree that if the Church is the ultimate point of authority then the “right” of private judgment would be abandoned.”

    What are you referring to by “your definitions”? The ones offered in the selections from Protestant texts? Seems to me like they fit with my definition of private judgment as a denial that the Church’s interpretive decisions are inherently authoritative. For example, I don’t think that Hodge is stupid, and he probably thinks the Pope is performing accurate acts of thought and belief at some points during his life. So surely he doesn’t deny the Pope is using private judgment in your sense of the words. But then, if Hodge means by private judgment what you mean by it, how does it distinguish him from the Pope (who he knows clearly does the same thing) to say that the principles he disagrees with the Pope about include “the right of private judgment”?

    What do you mean when you say that “Here personal rights are in view and the word is being used to express that in this context.”?

    You wrote:

    “Perhaps it is better said: Both Eastern Orthodox and Protestants make private judgments but Protestants believe in the individuals right to make them. This is definitely something I would assent to.”

    If by private judgments you mean “attempts to make accurate inferences” then of course I think that individuals have the right to do this. I just think that inferences that go against the authoritative decisions of the Church are based on incorrect presuppositions. Its not a matter of whether we have rights, but of whether or not we use our right to personally make inferences, and accurately identify the Church as authoritative. More on this below.

    “However, I still fail to see how this makes the individual the authority. If the mere making a private judgment was enough to make one an authority Eastern Orthodox believers would also be guilty.”

    Sure, if we are using your definition of private judgment. But of course that isn’t my argument at all. My argument is that the denial that the Church’s interpretive decisions have inherent authority implies a denial of authority simpliciter. What are you trying to get at here?

    You wrote:

    “But what seems to be in view here is the idea that ultimately the individual is to be bound by Scripture and held responsible for his judgments (like your quote said). If the individual believer is held accountable for his judgments does this mean he is the authority? No, if God is still judging him for his beliefs and actions- including whether or not he submits to the Church‘s authority which is derived from Scripture..”

    Are there any circumstances where a person should submit to the Church’s authority by giving up beliefs that he or she privately holds on the basis of what he or she considers to be strong exegetical arguments?

    By the way, the words “What is private judgment?” in my comment #10 were a quotation from the article “The Place of Private Judgment” by David Samuel. The quote continued to the bottom of that comment.

    You wrote:

    “It seems as though the question before us is: Given the reality of private judgment (of everyone), should the individual have the right to exercise it? Does this sound adequate to you?”

    I do not think this is an adequate way of formulating the question. Consider what the question would mean if we used first, my definition of private judgment, and second, your definition:

    (inserting my definition) “Given the reality of the denial of the intrinsic authority of the church’s interpretive decisions by everyone, should the individual have the right to deny the church’s power to bind the individual’s conscience to believe and do certain things?”

    (inserting your definition) “Given the reality of the use of each person’s own faculties in making inferences to identify truth, should the individual have the right to use his or her own faculties in making inferences to identify truth?”

    The first proposed reconstruction of what you are saying does not seem to make sense; so I assume you were using your own definition of private judgment. The second one makes sense. But both Protestant and non-Protestant Christians have the right to use their own faculties in making inferences to identify truth. So answering the question will not distinguish our views. The answer is obviously yes for both. The difference is located not in the possession of rights or lack of rights to make inferences. It is located in the kinds of things we are able to identify by making inferences. Non-Protestants just so happen to think that sometimes, truth-preserving inferences are made to identify the inherently authoritative interpretive decisions of hierarchs. Protestants think that no use of one’s faculties will ever identify the inherently authoritative interpretive decisions of hierarchs, because of course no hierarch’s decision is ever inherently authoritative. Thus, without elaborating the kinds of things our faculties can identify—namely the existence or absence of inherently authoritative ecclesiastical decisions—we can’t give a helpful question that will distinguish our views.

    This leads us back to my original question: “is the Church capable of making an interpretive decision that can be inherently binding on your conscience?”

    If you say “yes”, then it will be hard to remain Protestant for the reasons summarized briefly in section (1) paragraph 1 of my post. If you say “no”, it will be hard to interpret the biblical material about Church authority, accept anything the holy Fathers say about the Church’s authority, affirm that the Church is at least as authoritative as the family or government, or to block the appearance of being individualistic.

    I could be wrong about the implications I am drawing from either choice, but because they seem to follow, it would be helpful if someone could either explain why they don’t follow, or accept the implications and affirm one or the other side of the dilemma.

  24. Nathanael P. Taylor Says:

    Hello MG,

    1. Given your definitions of accuracy and authority, do you have more authority than a minister in your congregation who is less intelligent than you are? And when you make a better historical-grammatical argument about how to interpret a passage than a pastor who is unable to rebut that argument against his view, does this negate all normative force from his interpretive decisions?

    Response: If my minister’s judgments correspond to the word of God then my minister has ministerial authority over me whether or not he is more intelligent than me. If he is wrong and he is unable to give any sort of evidence authority or defense and what he is teaching does not corresponding to the word of God then he is not functioning as an elder similar to your case of insanity and church authority.

    2. You wrote: “Now if a child has more evidence than his father then the child is displaying evidence authority to the proposition he believes and thus evidence authority can trump any authority it seems to me.”

    If a child has more evidence for belief in what kind of proposition? Is it a proposition about what kinds of behaviors one ought to have, or about physics, or about theology?

    Response: The evidence authority would be referring to any and all propositions. But then again evidence authority would have more authority than the Eastern Church in your case as well because you would not believe the Eastern Church if it was 1) saying something that is unreasonable, 2) if there was no reason to believe the Eastern Church in any way.

    Let’s say a smart child has more evidence that orange juice is healthy to drink than he has that orangeade is healthy to drink. His mother tells him to drink orangeade instead of orange juice. If the child disobeys his mother, has he done wrong? Is the child conscience-bound to accept the decision of his mother?

    Response: He is not conscience-bound because the Mother is not longer functioning as a Mother because of the evidence authority that orange juice is healthier, just like in your case of the insane Bishop or if you had evidence against the Eastern Church.
    Also, are you disagreeing with David’s idea that sometimes, the judgments of experts can overrule the most persuasive arguments of amateurs?

    Response: I do not disagree with David. Someone like a Doctor or an expert in the Hebrew language can have habitual principles that are reasonably grounded in their continual experience of their practice. They may not be able to give internal grounds for such principles but they know them to be reasonable. In those cases when someone gives an argument from all the limited principles he has of Hebrew or health care the doctor or the Hebrew expert can say in his or her experience that is not how things usually function or work without giving any sort of examples. At this point the persons experiential feel for things defeats the unexperienced persons are argument who does not have the same strength of the experiential feel. Now if both are experts that have done equal amount of study then of course the doctor or the Hebrew expert is unable to pull that card.
    When you use the predicate “prescribed”, do you mean that the authority consists in the ability to prescribe belief and behavior? Or does “prescribed” refer to the prescription of Scripture that these are authorities? If the former, do these prescriptions have normative significance only when we have independent reasons to accept them? If the latter, what does the authority consist in?

    Response: Good question: I would say both. Scripture prescribes that the government official have this sort of prescribed authority (1 Peter 2:13-20). The government is able to bind our conscience to believe a certain person has a more authority over others in the government and that this individual commands behaviors such as pay taxes, but if the government officials explicitly go against the word of God in their governing then in that instance they are not acting as government officials (Acts 4:19-20). Their authority consists in the fact that when we have no good or bad reasons to believe them either way they can command us what to believe and do and we are morally obligated to follow them.

    4. When Jesus says “the Pharisees and Scribes sit on the seat of Moses; do whatever they tell you”, do you think he is just saying “the Pharisees and Scribes tend to be accurate, obey them when there isn’t evidence (evidence authority) against their teachings”? Does the Church have more or less authority than the Scribes and Pharisees had?

    Response: Yes, Jesus was either saying that or he was saying it sarcastically because elsewhere he speaks about some of their bad practices and teachings (Matt. 15:9; 16:12). The church would have this ministerial authority as well.

    5. To bring up my standard example again, consider a child who is told by his father to take out the trash. The child says “no, dad, I don’t feel like taking the trash out”. If the dad said, “why don’t you respect my authority and do it?” and the child said “I am not persuaded that I should follow your advice for some reason other than the fact that you said so. Until my own reasons for acting become strong enough to make it necessary for me to take the trash out, I am not bound by your authority” would you say the father has authority over his son?

    Response: Yes, the child is obligated to obey the Father unless the father violates the word of God, in which case the father would not be functioning as a Father like the insanity case. Feelings and inscrutability are not sufficient to overrule any authority.

    First, the issue does not ultimately seem to be how our language community uses the word “authority” and related words, but what Scripture means by words such as authority. Does it mean by “authority” and words related to it such as “office” a kind of general expertise?

    Response: I think I have given evidence above and in my previous post for the scriptural grounds for my view of prescribed and/or ministerial authority. The Bible teaches the prescribed authority as I have defined with governments, elders, and husbands/wife relations. I think that from the fact the Bible gives these prescribed authorities that we are reasonable in inferring that in all instances of prescribed authority we ought to think that there is accuracy as well, but of course when the prescribed authority is wrong he is no longer acting as a prescribed authority like your example of the insane person.

    Does Scripture in some places mean by the word “authoritative” or “binding” nothing more than “plausible, likely”?

    Response: I never said that the Bible meant that. I think you have misunderstood my position. When the Bible means prescribed authority it does not mean just accuracy authority but rather both until you know that the authority is no longer acting as a prescribed authority like the case of the insane person that you mentioned.

    When Scripture speaks of commands and obedience in the Church, does that always merely consist in being persuasive and persuaded by appeals to reason?

    Response: It consists in it both being reasonable and having intrinsic authority.

    It seems to me that when Scripture designates people as authorities (and makes similar ascriptions), it ascribes something roughly like the intrinsic power to bind human consciences to believe and do certain things.

    Response: I would disagree. I would say they derive the authority ministerially from the Bible and they can bind people’s consciences ministerially so long as they do not contradict the word of God and when they are no longer acting as authorities like in the case of insanity as you have mentioned.

    Second, on a scale of kinds of authority, it seems that expertise and making a plausible inference is lower than the kind of prescriptive power that our parents have over us, and that supreme court justices have with respect to the interpretation of the constitution. Intuitively, it seems like God would give the Church at least as much authority over its members as our parents have over us and at least as much authority as judges have over their people. So even if our culture uses the word “authority” to describe things according to your taxonomy, it seems there is an intuitive case to be made for the Church having the kind of authority I’m arguing that it has.

    Response: I agree, if you have thought I was saying otherwise then perhaps you have misunderstood my position.

    When you say that the passages can be read ministerially, what do you mean? Can you articulate ministerial authority in comparison to my conception of Church authority? And can you give me some examples of how this relates to perfect passive participles in biblical passages?

    Response: When I speak of ministerial authority it is authority that already revealed in the Bible and set in stone, but that the elders declare it to the church authoritative fashion which entails binding the consciences of all who hear it (if it is false then they are not acting as elders as in the case of your insane person elder or bishop). Your concept of authority is beyond the Bible (in the cases of Icons which cannot be supported by the historical grammatical method as you have admitted elsewhere) and it is intrinsic as opposed to derivative. The perfect passive participle conveys the idea that something has already been completely bound by an agent and so the Apostles would simply be proclaiming something that has already been done and revealed and thus acting in a way that derives the authority from something that is already the case.

    These are good questions MG. But I am having difficulty seeing any trouble with the Protestant view of authority. I hope you are well.

    God Bless,

    NPT

  25. catz206 Says:

    Hey MG, I would love to read your response but it is too long and I am pressed for time. If you wouldn’t mind condensing it down we could continue our discussion the next time I am free

    thankx

  26. MG Says:

    Catz–

    Don’t worry about not replying for the time being. Maybe you could just respond to this section right now, and come back to the rest later:

    You wrote:

    “But what seems to be in view here is the idea that ultimately the individual is to be bound by Scripture and held responsible for his judgments (like your quote said). If the individual believer is held accountable for his judgments does this mean he is the authority? No, if God is still judging him for his beliefs and actions- including whether or not he submits to the Church‘s authority which is derived from Scripture..”

    Are there any circumstances where a person should submit to the Church’s authority by giving up beliefs that he or she privately holds on the basis of what he or she considers to be strong exegetical arguments?

  27. catz206 Says:

    Well, if the eastern church decided to become Arian I might have some issues with that but if it was a lower level issue then one should submit. Example: If I was firmly old earth and my church was not and attempts to persuade didn’t work then I should not try and userp authority or lead a split over it…but biblically speaking the Church also has disciplinary powers. If I decided to take on three lovers and have sex with them all before marriage then the Church should rightly excommunicate me until I repent.

  28. MG Says:

    Omar—

    I’m sorry for taking so long to get back to you. You wrote:

    “It is good to see that you guys are still discussing these important matters. Although I am completely sympathetic to Orthodoxy, I still have a question about this post. Why not think that reason is the authority when it comes down to interpreting Scripture? Perhaps this type of authority is not similar to what you think is authority, but nonetheless it is sufficient. In other words, this type of authority does not require one’s conscious to be morally bound to an authoritative claim. Rather, one’s conscious is epistemically bound.

    We often speak of (at least in philosophy) a person being epistemically negligent. That is, that person is being careless with her or his reasoning. Or that person is intentionally bypassing defeaters. Why is this type of authority not sufficient for the Protestant?”

    1. One significant issue with that suggestion is the fact that the way Scripture seems to understand authority is in terms of an inherently normative power to bind the conscience. Consider these examples:

    For he taught them as [one] having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:29)

    Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. (Matthew 23:2-3)

    For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth [it]. (Luke 7:8)

    And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. (Luke 22:25)

    For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. (Acts 15:28-29)

    These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. (Titus 2:15)

    These quotes seem to presuppose a concept of authority as the intrinsic power to bind human consciences. In the first quote, Matthew does not seem to be contrasting accuracy of interpretation with inaccuracy; after all, Matthew probably thinks the scribes are accurate on the whole in their interpretation of Torah. It is the way in which Jesus teaches, speaking as one who can prescribe action to the human conscience. With the second quote, we see an attribution of the power to bind human consciences to do certain things to the scribes and Pharisees. To say that this is nothing more than the ability to exegete a text well seems incorrect, because exegetical argument is not something that seems to be in view. Rather, it is the commands of people in authoritative positions that bind consciences. The statement of the centurion gives a similar understanding. To be an authority means to have a position in a society where you can bind human conscience by command. Notice how different command is from mere persuasion. When someone persuades, they appeal to the reason of another person and try and show that their claim is well-evidenced enough to be accepted. When a command to perform action x is issued, there is inherent authority to it. You should obey not because you find the arguments in favor of performing action x persuasive. Instead, obedience to a command is based on the fact that “*this* person said I ought to do x”. The conscience-binding normativity of the command is based on the fact that a particular person says “do this”. The statement about the kings of the Gentiles seems to show the same kind of concept is operative in the use of the word “authority”. In Acts 15 we have an example of an exercise of Church authority. Here it seems pretty clear that the Council’s decision is not merely a matter of plausible inference to be accepted by those who are persuaded on independent grounds that the council is correct. On the contrary, the decree is described as “lay[ing] upon you no greater burden…”, implying the laying of a small “burden”. The same idea seems to be in play with Paul’s exhortation to Titus. It goes without saying that Titus would want to make plausible inferences if he were speaking, exhorting, and rebuking others. So “do so with all authority” seems to be going beyond mere inferential operations of the intellect. If this is the correct way to understand these texts, then we need to assess whether or not the Church has authority from within this framework.

    2. A second issue is this. Authority is linked to office in Scripture. Now, lets assume that authority is purely a matter of reason. If so, office would serve no purpose. Why do some people in the Christian Church have the office of Apostle, or of Bishop, or of Presbyter, or of Deacon? Is it just because they make more plausible inferences and are better Bible scholars? It sure seems like there are awfully good Bible scholars among the laity in any given denomination or communion, and they are sometimes better at it than clerics. So whatever office is, it can’t just be a matter of being a better bible scholar. The most plausible explanation for what office means is that the authority it confers involves something more than accuracy and reason (which plenty of people without office have).

    3. It seems intuitive that the Church Christ established should have as much (or more) authority over its people as parents have over children or judges have over courts. For various reasons (some of which I have given in my comments to Nate) it seems implausible to me that parental or civil authority can be reduced to expertise (even if expertise can be called “authority” in a loose sense within our culture). Instead, there is an inherent conscience-binding normativity to what our parents and governments say. This is a higher kind of normativity than mere expertise. So if we would expect the Church to have higher authority than our parents or governments, and our parents and governments have intrinsic authority, the Church should be at least as intrinsically authoritative as our parents and governments.

    You wrote:

    “That is my first question. My second question is: Why not think that the Holy Spirit provides the authority for an individual to interpret Scripture? That is, the Holy Spirit leads the individual into correct doctrine. The main difference that I see is this: the Orthodox and others hold that the Holy Spirit leads the entire church into truth. We might call this a corporate view. On the other hand, why not think that the Holy Spirit merely leads an individual to the correct interpretation of the Bible? Why is authority not legitimate when it is no longer corporate but individualistic?”

    Are you talking about the Holy Spirit bestowing accurate knowledge of the truths of Christian religion on an individual?

    Does this question presuppose that accuracy is sufficient for authority? If not, are you suggesting that the Holy Spirit could bind human consciences by direct divine revelation to an individual privately? If so, would confirming miraculous signs have to accompany this revelation?

  29. MG Says:

    Larry—

    Sorry for taking a long time to get back to you. You wrote:

    “Thanks to all in this discussion. I will add some ideas that you all may have not looked at. First, the variety is far higher than you suggest. While there may be some differences between Catholic practice in various countries, in theory all major doctrine is the same. This is far less true in Prot. groups, where some have no central authority. The growing trend in the USA is non-denominational mega churches with no visible authority above the congregation. If this trend continues, the religious variety, and individual choice will be enormous.”

    Do you think this trend is consistent with the biblical picture of the Church?

    You wrote:

    “Second, if I read the NT correctly, I see no defined authority of the church except fellowship/disfellowship, and that only applies to a congregation. The pattern is each beleiver is a saint, priest, and a direct servant of the HIght Priest, Jesus Christ. Also each Christian has the indwelling Holy Spirit, giving direct connection to God. In that aspect each person should have major authority.”

    1. It seems that part of what the Church’s authority consists in is the power to interpret the revelation of Christ in a conscience-binding way. Consider for instance texts such as the following:

    “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19

    “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 18:18

    “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;” Acts 15:28

    “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.” Titus 2:15

    The binding-loosing power of the Apostles is, given the Jewish context of these words, more than just the ability to excommunicate. It is also the power to authoritatively interpret the revelation of God. Acts 15 seems to be a time at which this power of binding and loosing was used by the Church to bind a “burden”, interpreting what the revelation of Christ meant for the inclusion of Gentiles into salvation. And Titus 2:15 seems to be an example of a non-Apostle (namely a local leader of a congregation) being charged with the use of this power to bind and loose. So it looks to me like the Church’s authority is more than just the ability to exclude or include people in fellowship.

    2. With respect to whether this only involves congregations, Acts 15 does not seem to fit neatly or obviously into this pattern. Titus also seems to have a duty grounded in his office to ordain at multiple congregations:

    “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:” Titus 1:5

    Timothy also seems to be involved in writing an authoritative letter to a Church that he is not personally located at (2 Thess 1:1). So these seem to be examples of extra-congregational authority.

    3. Even though it is true that every believer is a saint, it doesn’t seem like every believer is equally holy. We must give honor where honor is due, and honor is due to those who are more receptive to divine holiness, who have received more gifts and are more fully indwelt by God.

    4. Also, though all believers are priests, priest is a title that can be used to describe ministers in the Christian Church (Romans 15:16). Paul is said “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” The fact that there exists a priesthood of all believers does not preclude the existence of a ministerial priesthood, anymore than a universal priesthood in the Old Testament precluded the existence of a ministerial priesthood.

    5. Furthermore, the reception of the gift of the Holy Spirit initially in the life of a Christian does not entail that there aren’t other kinds of spiritual gifts that can be given—other ways of participation in the Spirit (1 Cor 12:28-31). Some of these divine gifts are had by ordination, for instance (1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6). So just because all have the Holy Spirit does not mean that all have an identical role in terms of authority.

    You wrote:

    “Third, while I have read several comments above about Biblical Church authority, I have not seen any book, chapter, and verse. Look for I think it will be rare. I realize my brief comment has no references either, but I will work on them if anyone requires them. May we all cherish the work of the past, draw fresh air, and come to some glimpse of the eternal truth.”

    If you can provide arguments for your congregational view of the ministry, that would be helpful in comparing the plausibility of each of our views.

  30. MG Says:

    Catz–

    You wrote:

    “Well, if the eastern church decided to become Arian I might have some issues with that but if it was a lower level issue then one should submit. Example: If I was firmly old earth and my church was not and attempts to persuade didn’t work then I should not try and userp authority or lead a split over it…but biblically speaking the Church also has disciplinary powers. If I decided to take on three lovers and have sex with them all before marriage then the Church should rightly excommunicate me until I repent.”

    (1) When you just say “if the eastern church decided to become Arian I might have some issues with that”, I agree that if the church decided to change it wouldn’t be okay to obey. But what if instead of *changing* to Arianism, we existed in an alternate reality where the historic Christian position among all the major Church Fathers was Arianism? For example what if the rule of faith in the second century had stated that Jesus was a creature? What if Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and all the rest had been clear Arians? Lets assume we have the words of the same Bible (for now, at least) but that we aren’t 100% sure what all of the Christology passages mean. In this alternate reality, would it be appropriate to submit to the consensus of the Fathers and the rule of faith and believe Arianism? (Note: I’m not making claims about what is actually true about Christ in that alternate reality, much less claiming Arianism is in fact true in this reality. I’m just raising an impossible hypothetical and asking what you would do to try and illustrate a point about different views of Church authority)

    (2) Doesn’t it seem like only submitting to the Church on “lower level issues” doesn’t give the Church much authority? It seems like it only gives the Church authority to tell us what to do on issues we don’t feel very strongly about or on doctrines we don’t hold with a great amount of conviction. That doesn’t seem to be very authoritative to me. The Church’s authority doesn’t play a definitive role in our faith and spiritual formation—just a role that we are willing to let it have. I’m not sure if this is a correct assessment. So I guess I’d just like to know how you would respond to this?

    (3) Would you change your mind if it could be shown that the vast majority of the Fathers taught a specific view on a lower level issue that you don’t agree with?

    (4) What issues count as “lower level” for you?

  31. catz206 Says:

    MG-

    I didn’t know you responded until someone just recently told me! Oh well good to hear from you again.

    The ref to the eastern church deciding to become Arian was actually a historical reference. A good portion did and those in those churches had to make some tough decisions. This was just to say that one should not obey simply because the Church claims authority as the Church…perhaps we both agree on this point?

    As for your alternate reality scenario…I do not see it as a possibly. We both believe in a God who is active in the world and wants to be known. The Rule of Faith is from the apostolic tradition (oral and in different word forms) and reflects what is in Scripture. Scripture is clear and the internal witness of the Spirit testifies to the clear things in Scripture.

    If the Scriptures were not clear then God could be said not to wish to be known- but He does as He has shown throughout history in His Word. If the Spirit communicated a falsehood then He would not be the Spirit at all. If Arianism were actually true then again- we get something other than God.

    These would make God other than He is. And there can be no other god than God. Your question is not valid.

    As for the aim of your question. There are no illusions as to whether our two views on authority differ. This is obvious to both of us and our readers. You have questioned whether or not Protestantism actually can have authority. I think my previous response indicates they do. You may disagree as to whether this type is ideal or even The model for authority but that is another issue.

    “Doesn’t it seem like only submitting to the Church on “lower level issues” doesn’t give the Church much authority?”

    The Word of God is where the Church derives authority. If the church decided to become Arian then the individual is bound by God’s Word and must split. If the individual decides to split because he is Arian he should have the right to do that but will be rightly condemned by God since he has turned his back on God.

    The Church is not confined to lower level issues by any means (take my adultery example for instance). I speak of the practice of the individual who uses his private judgment in the context of the authoritative Church.

    The individual has private judgment. He can decide to join the Church or not and be judged accordingly. A higher level issue such as Arianism determines whether or not the Church is the Church. If it is Arian then it is not the Church and the individual should leave. If it is not then the individual should not be disruptive. Depending on what he does He will be held accountable by God. Judgment or life. In the case of lower level issues (old earth and young earth) he should submit to his brothers who are in error as to Christ and not be divisive. Either way, the individual is bound by the Word of God as reflected in the authority of the Church. The question of practice (higher and lower level issues) has to do with individual churches and whether or not they are acting authoritatively.

    “Would you change your mind if it could be shown that the vast majority of the Fathers taught a specific view on a lower level issue that you don’t agree with?”

    It might and does influence it- but primary and inspired sources carry more weight.

    “What issues count as “lower level” for you?”

    Can I eat meat sacrificed to idols? Do I have to be a vegetarian?…infinite. Better to keep the discussion on what is primary (Rule of Faith).

  32. MG Says:

    Catz—

    You wrote:

    “The ref to the eastern church deciding to become Arian was actually a historical reference. A good portion did and those in those churches had to make some tough decisions. This was just to say that one should not obey simply because the Church claims authority as the Church…perhaps we both agree on this point?”

    The question is whether the Arians represented the consensus of the Fathers. If they didn’t then any claim to represent the tradition, or to exercise conscience-binding authority as the Church in their teaching is ruled out.

    Obviously one should not just obey anyone merely because they say “I claim authority; obey me”. But if one has reason to accept that the speaker has genuine authority, the circumstances change. I think one should obey because the Church has authority as the Church. That’s what its intrinsic authority amounts to. But discerning the Church’s teaching requires not buying into innovation, of course.

    You wrote:

    “As for your alternate reality scenario…I do not see it as a possibly. We both believe in a God who is active in the world and wants to be known. The Rule of Faith is from the apostolic tradition (oral and in different word forms) and reflects what is in Scripture. Scripture is clear and the internal witness of the Spirit testifies to the clear things in Scripture.”

    Its not important whether or not the scenario is actually possible. Impossible scenarios can be used to illustrate the relationships between and definitions of our concepts. The same goes for unlikely scenarios. Thought experiments are useful for illustrating points and principles.

    I was trying to raise issues about what one should do in one situation as opposed to another. The issue I was trying to get at was whether there are circumstances where we should look to the Church to learn what Scripture teaches on any important issues. It seems you don’t think we should go to and submit to the Church to learn about what the Christian view of God is. Can the Church ever correct my perception of who God is by appealing to its authority as an interpreter of Scripture?

    You wrote:

    “If the Scriptures were not clear then God could be said not to wish to be known- but He does as He has shown throughout history in His Word. If the Spirit communicated a falsehood then He would not be the Spirit at all. If Arianism were actually true then again- we get something other than God.”

    Is Scripture clear when read by an infant? Is the clarity of Scripture dependant on the context of the reader at all?

    You wrote:

    “As for the aim of your question. There are no illusions as to whether our two views on authority differ. This is obvious to both of us and our readers. You have questioned whether or not Protestantism actually can have authority. I think my previous response indicates they do. You may disagree as to whether this type is ideal or even The model for authority but that is another issue.”

    Your previous responses indicate that the Church has authority when we let it have authority. When we don’t want it to correct us because we consider some doctrine we hold to be important, it can’t bind our consciences to revise our views. That doesn’t sound like authority.

    You wrote:

    “The Word of God is where the Church derives authority. If the church decided to become Arian then the individual is bound by God’s Word and must split. If the individual decides to split because he is Arian he should have the right to do that but will be rightly condemned by God since he has turned his back on God.”

    From whose interpretation of the Bible does the Church get authority? From the Church’s own interpretation or from your interpretation?

    You wrote:

    “The Church is not confined to lower level issues by any means (take my adultery example for instance). I speak of the practice of the individual who uses his private judgment in the context of the authoritative Church.”

    What if your Church disciplined you by telling you that you needed to receive the sacrament of chrismation from a ministerial (not lay) priest? (note: this situation is obviously very hypothetical)

    You wrote:

    “The individual has private judgment. He can decide to join the Church or not and be judged accordingly. A higher level issue such as Arianism determines whether or not the Church is the Church. If it is Arian then it is not the Church and the individual should leave. If it is not then the individual should not be disruptive. Depending on what he does He will be held accountable by God. Judgment or life. In the case of lower level issues (old earth and young earth) he should submit to his brothers who are in error as to Christ and not be divisive. Either way, the individual is bound by the Word of God as reflected in the authority of the Church. The question of practice (higher and lower level issues) has to do with individual churches and whether or not they are acting authoritatively.”

    Howabout the Fillioque? What if your church told you that its members were conscience-bound to not accept the fillioque?

    You wrote:

    “It might and does influence it- but primary and inspired sources carry more weight.”

    Why should your own interpretation of primary sources be considered more binding on your conscience than the church’s interpretation of primary sources?

    You wrote:

    “Can I eat meat sacrificed to idols? Do I have to be a vegetarian?…infinite. Better to keep the discussion on what is primary (Rule of Faith).”

    I’m curious what counts as a lower level issue for you, because it might be the case that there are lower level issues you should change your views on. I think that discussion of what you consider lower level issues might be a useful way of bringing out whether or not a person thinks that the Church and its Fathers are authoritative in various senses of the word authoritative.

    Do you consider Apostolic Succession a lower level issue?

    Do you consider baptismal regeneration to be a lower level issue? (note: not paedo vs credo baptism)

  33. catz206 Says:

    “The question is whether the Arians represented the consensus of the Fathers. If they didn’t then any claim to represent the tradition, or to exercise conscience-binding authority as the Church in their teaching is ruled out.”

    We both agree on this. However, my statement was to bring out the fact that things are not always clear when one is in the middle of heresy or false belief. With a good portion (if not most) of the Eastern churches becoming heretical the person within is going to hear all sorts of interesting cases (which fathers do we listen to) in favor of Arianism…it is unwise for them to simply take the church at its word- because the church is not exercising binding authority.

    “I think one should obey because the Church has authority as the Church. That’s what its intrinsic authority amounts to. But discerning the Church’s teaching requires not buying into innovation, of course.”

    The Church has authority as the Church in so far as she abides by God’s will as He has given to us all in Scripture. If She departs from that then she is no longer acting as the Church and Her authority is absent.

    “Its not important whether or not the scenario is actually possible. Impossible scenarios can be used to illustrate the relationships between and definitions of our concepts. The same goes for unlikely scenarios. Thought experiments are useful for illustrating points and principles.”

    If you change God then the whole fabric of reality is undone.

    “The issue I was trying to get at was whether there are circumstances where we should look to the Church to learn what Scripture teaches on any important issues. It seems you don’t think we should go to and submit to the Church to learn about what the Christian view of God is.”

    Not at all. That is quite unwarranted. However, my reasons for looking back at what Christians have believed at all time and at all places relies on the view that the Scriptures are clear in essential matters.

    “Can the Church ever correct my perception of who God is by appealing to its authority as an interpreter of Scripture?”

    Can the Church ever really tell us to believe in Arianism by appealing to its authority as an interpreter of Scripture?

    “Is Scripture clear when read by an infant? Is the clarity of Scripture dependant on the context of the reader at all?”

    I will assume you know about the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture and what it actually says. If not then I will give you a summary.

    “Your previous responses indicate that the Church has authority when we let it have authority.”

    Not really. In the New Testament the Church has excommunicated people over matters of major doctrinal deviation, major and continuing moral disobedience and persistent, ungodly divisiveness. I pointed out earlier the issue of adultery. If I were to decide to have adulterous relationships and the Church excommunicated me I do not see how one can glean from this action that I had a choice in the matter other than my own repentance.

    Case in point: pastors have been excommunicated for adulterous relationships or harming children. He can decide not to abide by the church’s decision and go find some other church across the world that does not know what his crimes but none the less the judgment stands and he is condemned by God.

    “From whose interpretation of the Bible does the Church get authority? From the Church’s own interpretation or from your interpretation?”

    Scripture interprets Scripture. When we perceive Scripture we are held responsible against what actually is the case. If I decide that Scripture does not actually condemn homosexual practice and it really does then my interpretation does not matter. I am in trouble. Authority is independent of anyone’s interpretation though interpretation can be a tool in perceiving God’s Word.

    “What if your Church disciplined you by telling you that you needed to receive the sacrament of chrismation from a ministerial (not lay) priest? (note: this situation is obviously very hypothetical)”

    Then I will happily comply.

    “Howabout the Fillioque? What if your church told you that its members were conscience-bound to not accept the fillioque?”

    Then I will do nothing to try and cause division if they will not listen to me. The same principle applies if I am visiting another person’s church or gathering like when I went to your Orthodox group.

    “Why should your own interpretation of primary sources be considered more binding on your conscience than the church’s interpretation of primary sources?”

    My “interpretation” and the Church’s on the Rule of Faith are not at odds. This is assuming the Rule of Faith actually reflects Biblical authority.

    “I’m curious what counts as a lower level issue for you, because it might be the case that there are lower level issues you should change your views on.”

    Good. Then what I have provided should be helpful. We can discuss all these after we exhaust what we are discussing above or even if I ever get around to making a Sola Scriptura or Apostolic Succession post. It is about time but needs a lot of care.

  34. catz206 Says:

    A bit more to say on your Arian example:

    From what I have heard, the use of logically impossible yet conceivable senarios is debatable. I actually don’t think it is legitimate to use something that is only conceivable- much less establish a principle using a state of affair that is not logically possible. I wouldn’t mind using an example that is logically possible though.

  35. MG Says:

    Catz—

    You wrote:

    “We both agree on this. However, my statement was to bring out the fact that things are not always clear when one is in the middle of heresy or false belief. With a good portion (if not most) of the Eastern churches becoming heretical the person within is going to hear all sorts of interesting cases (which fathers do we listen to) in favor of Arianism…it is unwise for them to simply take the church at its word- because the church is not exercising binding authority.”

    Actually it does seem wise for them to take the Church at its word, but the person must try to discern what the Church actually says.

    You wrote:

    “The Church has authority as the Church in so far as she abides by God’s will as He has given to us all in Scripture. If She departs from that then she is no longer acting as the Church and Her authority is absent.”

    Granted, strictly speaking, you’re right—if the Church fails to teach what God’s will is as revealed in Scripture, then it forfeits its authority (whether or not this is actually possible is another question). But why think that we are in a better position to decide what doctrines are normative for us to accept than the Church?

    You wrote:

    “If you change God then the whole fabric of reality is undone.”

    Which is why, in impossible scenarios, we suspend the implications of the change made with respect to some entities we are imagining. With other entities that are being imagined, we maintain the implications that the change would have on this alternate imagined way the world couldn’t have been.

    You wrote:

    “Not at all. That is quite unwarranted. However, my reasons for looking back at what Christians have believed at all time and at all places relies on the view that the Scriptures are clear in essential matters.”

    If you think we should go and submit to the Church to learn what the Christian view of God is, then surely the Church can correct our perception of God in at least some ways, right? (note: by correct, I don’t just mean argue better than us, but tell us to obey the Church’s interpretation of Scripture)

    You wrote:

    “Can the Church ever really tell us to believe in Arianism by appealing to its authority as an interpreter of Scripture?”

    Yes, if the Christian tradition had been Arianism, then we should take this as an indication that Arianism is true. If the Church can’t correct us on important issues by trumping our interpretive decisions, then the Church doesn’t seem like it is *over* us, right?

    You wrote:

    “I will assume you know about the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture and what it actually says. If not then I will give you a summary.”

    I do have a rough and ready idea of what perspicuity means. But I actually don’t know how someone who believes in perspicuity would answer these questions.

    You wrote:

    “Not really. In the New Testament the Church has excommunicated people over matters of major doctrinal deviation, major and continuing moral disobedience and persistent, ungodly divisiveness. I pointed out earlier the issue of adultery. If I were to decide to have adulterous relationships and the Church excommunicated me I do not see how one can glean from this action that I had a choice in the matter other than my own repentance.

    Case in point: pastors have been excommunicated for adulterous relationships or harming children. He can decide not to abide by the church’s decision and go find some other church across the world that does not know what his crimes but none the less the judgment stands and he is condemned by God.”

    Well if the Church excommunicated people over major doctrinal deviation, then doesn’t this mean the Church is in a position to make people obey its teachings on major doctrinal issues, even if the person out-argues the Church in claiming he or she has a major doctrine right?

    What if a Christian exercises private judgment and rejects the Church’s interpretive judgment about what adultery consists in? Is he or she still conscience-bound by the Church’s judgment? What if he can out-argue the elders of his church on the interpretation of the meaning of “adultery”?

    You wrote:

    “Scripture interprets Scripture. When we perceive Scripture we are held responsible against what actually is the case. If I decide that Scripture does not actually condemn homosexual practice and it really does then my interpretation does not matter. I am in trouble. Authority is independent of anyone’s interpretation though interpretation can be a tool in perceiving God’s Word.”

    If authority is completely independent of anyone’s interpretation, then it seems like the Church’s interpretation can’t have more authority than my interpretation. Would you agree?

    Obviously I’m not disagreeing that there is an objective fact of the matter about what is right. The question is whether the Church is in a better position to bind our consciences regarding interpretation and discipline. Is the Church in a better position to bind my conscience, or am I in a better position to bind my conscience?

    You wrote:

    “Then I will happily comply.”

    What if your Church’s practices diverged from the historic, patristic Christian tradition about the sacraments? Would you submit to your Church, or side with the consensus of the Fathers?

    You wrote:

    “Then I will do nothing to try and cause division if they will not listen to me. The same principle applies if I am visiting another person’s church or gathering like when I went to your Orthodox group.”

    Is the doctrine of God a Church-dividing issue in your view? If the Church can bind your conscience about the Fillioque, then why not about Arianism?

    You wrote:

    “My “interpretation” and the Church’s on the Rule of Faith are not at odds. This is assuming the Rule of Faith actually reflects Biblical authority.”

    That doesn’t seem to answer the question I asked. If one just happens to agree about something with an authority, that coincidental agreement is not the same as obeying that authority. If you had to choose between the consensus of the Fathers and your own view on some important issue, why would you consider your own interpretation of a primary source more binding on your conscience than the Church’s interpretation?

    You wrote:

    “Good. Then what I have provided should be helpful. We can discuss all these after we exhaust what we are discussing above or even if I ever get around to making a Sola Scriptura or Apostolic Succession post. It is about time but needs a lot of care.”

    Well I haven’t gotten around to writing arguments for half the things I’ve told you guys I would write on, so no worries.

    That being said, I’m still interested in whether or not you think that Apostolic succession and baptismal regeneration are lower or higher level issues.

  36. DisposableSoul Says:

    -MG-

    How do fallible people lend themselves to making an infallible church?

    -DS

  37. catz206 Says:

    I had said that in the case of Arianism that most of the Eastern church became heretical at a time. The individual in the middle of it was going to hear all sorts of interesting cases in favor of it. And so one should not just go along with what the Church says because it is not in that case exercising binding authority because it is no longer aligned with Scripture and off of that what all Christians everywhere have acknowledged.

    “Your said: Actually it does seem wise for them to take the Church at its word, but the person must try to discern what the Church actually says.”

    If this is true the you have just consigned yourself to heresy or come up against the problem of recognizing the true Church. This has to do with the question of Orthodoxy. Which fathers do you follow? How do you know they are Orthodox? It all goes back to the apostolic witness and that is preserved in their own words in Scripture and is clear.

    The Church has authority in so far as she abides by Scripture. You said strictly speaking I am correct and asked what makes me think we are in a better position now to discern whether or not she does that. I will answer once you tell me who safe guards the one’s in control. If Scripture is supposed to be a safeguard in the case of Orthodoxy but what happens when those who are in control are in charge of what their check and balance means without sanctioned challenge?

    In regards to response to the Arian scenario: I do not accept the implications of logically impossible scenarios. This is not a philosophical anomaly either. It is better for you to use a logically possible one to move this along.

    “If you think we should go and submit to the Church to learn what the Christian view of God is, then surely the Church can correct our perception of God in at least some ways, right? (note: by correct, I don’t just mean argue better than us, but tell us to obey the Church’s interpretation of Scripture)”

    The Church herself is submitted to the apostles and the apostles and prophets are her foundation. If the words of the apostles are clear as you also believe then one should ultimately go to the apostles and look down the line at the stunning agreement the Church has had with them as they remain in continuity. It is foolish to only look at the later, uninspired and non-foundational sources first and read them back into the foundation.

    I said: “Can the Church ever really tell us to believe in Arianism by appealing to its authority as an interpreter of Scripture?”

    You said: Yes, if the Christian tradition had been Arianism, then we should take this as an indication that Arianism is true. If the Church can’t correct us on important issues by trumping our interpretive decisions, then the Church doesn’t seem like it is *over* us, right?
    How do we know what the Church tradition is? Do we appeal to what the Arian tradition says it is? Perhaps their long line of secondary sources espousing Arianism? Do we simply accept their Arian interpretation? Or do we look at what the apostles have actually said? This question is not over whether or not the Church has authority but when the Church has authority and how it does and whether the a given church actually belongs to the Church. If you accept Arianism based mainly of f of a churches’ interpretation then you are in real trouble.

    “I do have a rough and ready idea of what perspicuity means. But I actually don’t know how someone who believes in perspicuity would answer these questions.”

    Oh no problem. Basically, the clearness of Scripture is not used to indicate there is nothing else necessary for understanding. No one expects the Bible to magically walk up to the pulpit and preach itself or expects a person to be able to look at it if they do not know how to read. The Church is very much and necessarily involved as a secondary authority and resource.

    “Well if the Church excommunicated people over major doctrinal deviation, then doesn’t this mean the Church is in a position to make people obey its teachings on major doctrinal issues, even if the person out-argues the Church in claiming he or she has a major doctrine right?”

    The Church is in a position of authority over and above individual private judgment. The individual can exercise private judgment but this does not make him or her authoritative above the Church. However, if the Church does not act in accordance with God’s Word when exercising authority than the individual is not condemned by God but merely by man.

    “If authority is completely independent of anyone’s interpretation, then it seems like the Church’s interpretation can’t have more authority than my interpretation.”

    Not really. I am not an institution that can expel members from myself.

    As for some of your other questions: I would submit on what is negotiable and not on essential matters of faith. I would not become Arian to appease my local church. The Fillioque clause was a new introduction and is not in the Rule of Faith. It might be true but is not essential or recognized by all of the Church.

    My agreement on the Rule of Faith is not accidental. God has made Scripture clear and this is something even the most ancient churches have agreed upon. I am part of the Church and the Holy Spirit has illuminated this to all of us. The witness of the Holy Spirit is not unique to me by any means but has been given to all of us as promised.

    “Well I haven’t gotten around to writing arguments for half the things I’ve told you guys I would write on, so no worries.”

    Ya. Its sad how reality comes in and steals our blogging gusto.

  38. MG Says:

    Disposable Soul–

    You wrote:

    “How do fallible people lend themselves to making an infallible church?”

    Is this question intended as an objection to the possibility of there being an infallible Church (“if the church is made up of fallible people, doesn’t this imply that the whole church is fallible?”)? Or is it intended as a request for an explanation (asking for what the Church’s infallibility consists in, what the fallibility of the people consists in, how it exercises infallibility, how this exercise of infallibility relates to the fallibility of its members, etc.)?

  39. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    I think originally it was intended as number one, but the other questions seem interesting enough. Can a yes to all of those suffice?

    -DS

  40. MG Says:

    DisposableSoul–

    Sure.

    Reasoning from a property of all of a thing’s parts to a property of the whole sometimes works. For instance, if I have a puzzle made out of all red pieces, the whole puzzle is red. However, this inference does not always work. If the red puzzle were made of triangular pieces, for instance, this wouldn’t imply that the whole puzzle was triangular. It could be a rectangle or a square. So reasoning from a property of all the parts to a property of the whole does not necessarily work. To assume that what is true of the parts must be true of the whole is called “the fallacy of composition”.

    It is much the same with institutions. Just because some members of an institution believe or teach x does not necessarily mean that the institution itself believes or teaches x. For instance, just because there is probably some Baptist pastor out there who doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t mean that *the Baptist church* doesn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Just because some members of an institution perform action y doesn’t mean that the institution itself has performed action y. Just because some Roman Catholic priests perform clown masses doesn’t mean that *Roman Catholicism as such* is an institution that performs clown masses.

    So the infallibility of the Church is similar. Just because not all of the parts are infallible doesn’t mean that the whole isn’t infallible. Individuals (both laity and clergy) within the Church can teach false things that are against Christian teaching. But this doesn’t entail that the Church as such teaches false things.

    (I tried to address these issues awhile ago; perhaps this post will be of help for that: http://wellofquestions.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/the-significance-of-the-incarnation-3-ecclesiology-and-identity/ )

    For the second set of questions, I am writing a blog post. Its almost done so it should be up very soon (sometime between tonight and Tuesday).

  41. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    “To assume that what is true of the parts must be true of the whole is called “the fallacy of composition.”

    I am not assuming that what is true of parts (fallible people) is true of the church (fallible church).

    It’s not a matter of shape or function, but purity. It seems to me, that if you have impure puzzle pieces, you get an impure puzzle. I don’t understand how you get impure people to constitute a pure church. I don’t see where this holds any grounds in scripture. But I’m also not a theological genius, and can’t wade through all the philosophical smoke on some of these posts.

    “Just because some Roman Catholic priests perform clown masses doesn’t mean that *Roman Catholicism as such* is an institution that performs clown masses.”

    Okay.

    I’m sorry to say, but this essentially sounds like religiously motivated nationalism, except it isn’t the state you are pledging allegiance to, it is the church. Given how we’ve seen how pastors and priests behave, it strikes me as odd to pledge myself to something other than the Spirit of Christ.

    Thank you for your quick response!

    -DS

  42. MG Says:

    Disposable Soul–

    You wrote:

    “It’s not a matter of shape or function, but purity. It seems to me, that if you have impure puzzle pieces, you get an impure puzzle. I don’t understand how you get impure people to constitute a pure church.”

    On the Orthodox understanding, everyone in the Church partakes of the divine power of infallibility by union with Christ’s body, its just that not all of Christ’s members use it. I will explain this Christologically-grounded idea of infallibility more in a post soon. So all the members do have infallibility indwelling them; they just don’t access it equally and at all times.

    By the same logic you use, would you say that as soon as one member of a church sins, that automatically that church is impure?

    Also, would you say that as soon as someone starts preaching false doctrine in a church, that that church has fallen away?

    You wrote:

    “I don’t see where this holds any grounds in scripture.”

    Well, do you think that the Church became defiled as a result of divisions in loyalty in Corinth about which of the Apostles people wanted to follow?

    It seems to me like Paul considers the Church (Eph 5:26-27) to be sanctified and cleansed by Christ’s divine power. But surely Paul recognized that there were sinners in the Church. It seems like he is ascribing sanctity to the Church as a whole, despite the defilement of her members. How would you understand this?

    Also, it sure seems like Paul thinks a family can be holy just by virtue of one Christian parent (even if the other parent is a non-Christian).

    You wrote:

    “I’m sorry to say, but this essentially sounds like religiously motivated nationalism, except it isn’t the state you are pledging allegiance to, it is the church. Given how we’ve seen how pastors and priests behave, it strikes me as odd to pledge myself to something other than the Spirit of Christ.”

    What do you mean when you say this is religiously-motivated nationalism? I’m not familiar with the way you are using the term “nationalism” here.

    Do Christian ministers have the Spirit of Christ?

    Would you say that your allegiance is with the Bible? If so, do you think it is the Spirit of Christ?

    Christ taught that the Pharisees and Scribes had authority, and that we should follow their teachings, and yet acknowledged that they were also hypocrites. By your logic doesn’t it seem like his hearers should have disregard Christ’s command?

  43. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    “On the Orthodox understanding, everyone in the Church partakes of the divine power of infallibility by union with Christ’s body, its just that not all of Christ’s members use it. I will explain this Christologically-grounded idea of infallibility more in a post soon. So all the members do have infallibility indwelling them; they just don’t access it equally and at all times.”

    “By the same logic you use, would you say that as soon as one member of a church sins, that automatically that church is impure?”

    -I would say given that a church person, particularly leaders, would sin is a testament to the fallibility of the church.

    “Also, would you say that as soon as someone starts preaching false doctrine in a church, that that church has fallen away?”

    -Well, again, I would say it’s fallible. I would not go so far as to say it’s fallen away. I’d point out that’s it’s run by fallible humans, and you can’t get something pure (perfect teaching) from something that isn’t pure (the human mind).

    -Beyond that, a lot of these others questions just seemed kind of irrelevant to my question. No offense, but I just can’t follow that many tangents. For the sake of my sanity, and reducing carpel-tunnel in your hands, let us stay on the question at hand.
    Also, you seem to be asking me questions instead of giving me your own opinion. Not that you’re not welcome to my opinion, but I’d rather get a response first. Besides, I doubt you’d find my doctrine worth your time. 😉

    -In fairness, you did give me a verse. My own thought about that is I don’t see how the verse connects to infallibility. There seems to be a potential for infallibility, but I doubt any of us would see that until our death. To esteem a human to the point of sainthood before their passing into the afterlife seems to be a bit of a leap from this passage, in my own opinion.

    More and more, that is what this all seems to be: opinions.

    Thanks for your rapid response!

    -DS

  44. MG Says:

    Disposable Soul–

    You wrote:

    “-I would say given that a church person, particularly leaders, would sin is a testament to the fallibility of the church.”

    Alright. How does the fact that a single member sins imply that the group as a whole can’t make an infallible decision?

    You wrote:

    “-Well, again, I would say it’s fallible. I would not go so far as to say it’s fallen away. I’d point out that’s it’s run by fallible humans, and you can’t get something pure (perfect teaching) from something that isn’t pure (the human mind).”

    But if one person in the church has fallen away, couldn’t we by that logic say that that church organization has fallen away?

    You wrote:

    “-Beyond that, a lot of these others questions just seemed kind of irrelevant to my question. No offense, but I just can’t follow that many tangents. For the sake of my sanity, and reducing carpel-tunnel in your hands, let us stay on the question at hand.
    Also, you seem to be asking me questions instead of giving me your own opinion. Not that you’re not welcome to my opinion, but I’d rather get a response first. Besides, I doubt you’d find my doctrine worth your time. ;-)”

    The questions are actually very relevant. When I asked about division in Corinth, I was trying to point out that even in the midst of polarization Paul asked “is Christ divided?” The implicit answer to this question is “no”. It seems like Paul is making a point about divisions within the Church, and is identifying the Church with Christ. Just because particular people within the Church divide doesn’t mean that you break apart Christ himself, in whose body (the Church) his members have unity. I am trying to bring out the fact that your assumption (if one part is impure, the whole is impure) is false. And if this is false, then your critique of infallibility based on the fallibility of members of the Church does not succeed.

    I think what Paul says about the Church being sanctified and made holy (despite the fact that he knew of wicked members) shows that Paul can ascribe something to the Church as a whole (holiness) that not all of its members practice equally. So again, just because the parts are impure doesn’t mean the whole is impure.

    And the same applies to the family. Paul thinks that a Christian wife can sanctify her children by being their mother, even if the husband is not Christian. And again this shows that impurity in one part does not necessarily make the whole impure.

    So what I was trying to do is show that your reasoning from the impurity of some of the parts to the impurity of the whole does not follow. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Church (or any organization) is more than just the sum of its members. And why think that because the members are occasionally wrong that decisions of the whole organization are therefore guaranteed to be fallible?

    You wrote:

    “-In fairness, you did give me a verse. My own thought about that is I don’t see how the verse connects to infallibility. There seems to be a potential for infallibility, but I doubt any of us would see that until our death. To esteem a human to the point of sainthood before their passing into the afterlife seems to be a bit of a leap from this passage, in my own opinion.”

    One of my questions was a reaction to what I thought was a controversial claim: that what I was saying implied “religiously motivated nationalism”. I was hoping you’d offer support for that charge, because it might be a serious one if it were true. If you could explain what you meant, I’d be interested to hear it.

    I was trying to argue, based on your insistence that we only give our allegiance to the Spirit because some pastors have done wrong, that your statement led to unacceptable conclusions.

    If the Spirit of Christ is within Christian ministers, then it seems like being loyal to the Spirit is compatible with being loyal to the Church. So we don’t have to choose between the two.

    Also, if we interpret what you said (about loyalty only to the Spirit) in a strict sense, then we shouldn’t even follow the Bible. The Bible, even if inspired, is not the Spirit.

    My point about the Scribes and Pharisees was this: Jesus told his hearers to follow the authority of a group that included some bad people. You seem to be saying “because there are bad people in the Church there isn’t infallible authority”. By that logic, it seems Jesus was wrong. So I think that shows that your idea is false that if an organization has bad people it lacks authority.

    You wrote:

    “More and more, that is what this all seems to be: opinions.”

    Are you objecting to my claims because not all of them are supported by explicit statements in Scripture?

    I hope you realize that in my responses to you, I’m not arguing for the infallibility of the Church. I’m just defending the *possibility* that the Church is infallible, against your objection that it isn’t possible.

  45. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    I noticed some of your statements were similar, and my objection to them is the same. As such, to save you time, I’m not going to type endless, pointless, pages, but limit my responses to where I believe the discussion is breaking down.

    You noted:
    “…I’m not arguing for the infallibility of the Church. I’m just defending the *possibility* that the Church is infallible, against your objection that it isn’t possible.”

    -This seems to be the fundamental problem with our communication thus far. We have been talking past each other. I don’t want a statement of possibility. My objection resides not just in logic, but in trusting an institute made of fallible people to itself be infallible. This requires more than just saying, “it could be”. I need fact, not mystical possibilities. Honestly, I think you should too. Possibility should not merit belief.

    This seemed an important difference as well:

    “…Alright. How does the fact that a single member sins imply that the group as a whole can’t make an infallible decision?”

    -In every other instance observable the group think phenomenon, i.e., decisions made by the group as a whole, are more fallible, not less. People’s characteristics are amplified when they are around like-minded people.

    -Moreover, Two things that go with infallibility are inerrancy (without error) and the inability to err. If a prophet made a mistake in the Bible, he was stoned as a false prophet. He had to be right 100% of the time. No mistakes allowed.

    Of course, the question of division is very relevant to this conversation:
    “…I think what Paul says about the Church being sanctified and made holy (despite the fact that he knew of wicked members) shows that Paul can ascribe something to the Church as a whole (holiness) that not all of its members practice equally. So again, just because the parts are impure doesn’t mean the whole is impure…”

    -I am talking about impurity in an infallible sense. I’m not speaking of one status before God, or the church’s status. These are not contingent on whether people, or the church err, but on God declaring them righteous.

    And I won’t go without addressing your references to scripture:

    “My point about the Scribes and Pharisees was this: Jesus told his hearers to follow the authority of a group that included some bad people. You seem to be saying “because there are bad people in the Church there isn’t infallible authority”. By that logic, it seems Jesus was wrong. So I think that shows that your idea is false that if an organization has bad people it lacks authority.

    -Jesus told the Israelites to follow their legal and societal authority, who were scribes and Pharisees. I am not questioning the churches social authority; I am questioning its fallibility. This point here is a straw man. If I wanted smoke blown at me, I’d go to a bar.

    Now, your main argument seems to be:

    “So what I was trying to do is show that your reasoning from the impurity of some of the parts to the impurity of the whole does not follow. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Church (or any organization) is more than just the sum of its members. And why think that because the members are occasionally wrong that decisions of the whole organization are therefore guaranteed to be fallible?”

    – I know you’re saying that. But, it doesn’t follow what I can plainly see. A bike with a flat tire is not a perfect bike. Okay, maybe it can be a holy bike, but not a perfect bike. I was really hoping you could prove your case, rather than try to disprove mine. Like I said, to a degree this is a matter of opinion; rather than disproving my own opinion, it would be nice if you proved your own.

    -I will address my controversial ‘religiously motivated nationalism’ quote when we’ve come to a conclusion about our current dialogue.

    Thank you for getting back to me!

    -DS

  46. catz206 Says:

    DS-

    You make some excellent points.

    “Jesus told the Israelites to follow their legal and societal authority, who were scribes and Pharisees. I am not questioning the churches social authority; I am questioning its fallibility. This point here is a straw man. If I wanted smoke blown at me, I’d go to a bar.”

    This is interesting and an important distinction! I might just steal it. In Matthew 23:2 Jesus says that the scribes and Pharisees have seated “themselves” in the chair of Moses and “therefore” the people should do all that they tell them to do…but the Pharisees are depraved and there is only One Leader- “Christ.”

  47. catz206 Says:

    Also, Jesus and Paul taught obedience to the Romans! In the case of Jesus’ audience the Romans stole this position in the first place. These commands are truly astounding and something Christians in the US should take notice of.

  48. MG Says:

    Disposable Soul—

    You wrote:

    “-This seems to be the fundamental problem with our communication thus far. We have been talking past each other. I don’t want a statement of possibility. My objection resides not just in logic, but in trusting an institute made of fallible people to itself be infallible. This requires more than just saying, “it could be”. I need fact, not mystical possibilities. Honestly, I think you should too. Possibility should not merit belief.”

    You’re right, possibility should not merit belief. But your written objection was not “I have no evidence for the infallibility of the Church; so why should I believe in the infallibility of the Church?” Your objection was that “It seems like it isn’t possible for a church to be infallible if its members are fallible.” So I was addressing what you wrote. You didn’t ask, as far as I could tell, for arguments for the infallibility of the Church; you just posed an objection to try and show it was impossible. Even if the possibility of an idea being true does not merit belief in that idea, it does merit an acknowledgement that arguments for the impossibility of that idea do not succeed.

    It seems to me now that your request was twofold. You were asking for a defense of the possibility of the Church being infallible, and an argument in favor of the infallibility of the Church. Do I understand you correctly? In any case, I will give an argument for the infallibility of the Church.

    There are plenty of arguments (Scriptural and theological) for the infallibility of the Church. Here is a brief sketch of one: Paul teaches the Church is the body of Christ in a literal, physical sense—not just a metaphorical sense. The physical body of Christ has God’s powers of immortality, incorruptibility, and infallibility (and others); in the case of infallibility, this is obvious because the human words of Jesus were divine teaching. If the body of Christ is infallible, and the Church is the body of Christ, then the Church is infallible. Therefore, the Church has God’s power of infallibility.

    It seems like in this argument, the three things you can challenge are: (1) My statement that the Church is Christ’s body in Paul’s teaching; (2) My statement that Jesus’ body was infallible; (3) The inference from the fact that the Church is Christ’s body and the body of Christ is infallible to the conclusion that the Church is infallible. Which would you disagree with? (I can defend any of these propositions if you disagree with them)

    You wrote:

    “-In every other instance observable the group think phenomenon, i.e., decisions made by the group as a whole, are more fallible, not less. People’s characteristics are amplified when they are around like-minded people.”

    This might hold true if the Church were not uniquely graced by divine guidance to protect the gates of death from prevailing against it. But because of the divine power of the Spirit that guides the Church, the good like-minded tendencies of the Church’s members tend to be increased.

    You wrote:

    “-Moreover, Two things that go with infallibility are inerrancy (without error) and the inability to err. If a prophet made a mistake in the Bible, he was stoned as a false prophet. He had to be right 100% of the time. No mistakes allowed.”

    Right. And I would say that the Eastern Orthodox Church has never nor can ever error in any of its actual teachings. However, individual leaders or laity can error in their teachings, or their representations of the Church’s teachings. If we just look at what one officer or layperson says, it might appear that the Church can or does teach something false. But the claim is not that each of the members of the Church exercises the power of infallibility. Rather we think that decisions made by the institution of the Church as a whole are the actual (not merely apparent) decisions of the Church. As such, they are not wrong nor can be wrong (similarly to how the Bible is never wrong in what it says, nor can be wrong). Of course this is just a statement of the Orthodox understanding of the Church, not an argument for our view. But if the Church has never and can never error in its actual official teachings, then would you counsider this to be sufficient for infallibility?

    You wrote:

    “-I am talking about impurity in an infallible sense. I’m not speaking of one status before God, or the church’s status. These are not contingent on whether people, or the church err, but on God declaring them righteous.”

    It seems based on context that “holiness” here denotes actual moral purity, not the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Even if that idea is taught in Scripture, that doesn’t seem to be what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 5 (if you can argue for it, though, then this may undercut what I’m saying). And if its moral purity, and Paul thinks the Church as a whole is fully and truly holy, then Paul thinks we can ascribe in full to the Church what is only present to some extent in the parts. And if that is so, why not think it is possible for the Church as a whole to be infallible even if the parts are fallible?

    You wrote:

    “-Jesus told the Israelites to follow their legal and societal authority, who were scribes and Pharisees. I am not questioning the churches social authority; I am questioning its fallibility. This point here is a straw man. If I wanted smoke blown at me, I’d go to a bar.”

    I am not arguing from the legal and societal authority of the scribes and Pharisees to the conclusion that the Church is infallible. My argument was that if your logic is “bad people in an institution make void the authority claims of an institution” then your argument does not succeed.

    Also, it seems like the Scribes and Pharisees had authority within *Israel*, which was the divinely-instituted nation of the people of God. They have religious authority, not just some kind of social and legal authority.

  49. DisposableSoul Says:

    MG-

    Thank you for your rapid response, and for answering my question. Hopefully, we can avoid these miscommunications next time. I have no desire for a throwdown that will lead into a month long argument, and will therefore accept what you have said as your own personal opinion.

    Having heard your opinion I will now tell you mine. I now understand how you can believe your church has never made any errors. But looking at it from an outside perspective, I cannot and will not trust your church. Even if, by chance, it has never made any mistakes, who knows what tomorrow may bring.

    Which brings me back to your inquiry about why I used the label “religiously motivated nationalism.”

    As you know, nationalism is defined as: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination.

    It seems Eastern Faith is tied up in identity within a specific denomination. There is no word I know of to describe this; but the claim that a church is incapable of error and merits that level of devotion, is best described as religiously motivated nationalism.

    When you combined infallible authority of a governing power with religion you get what reminds us outsiders of the following: imperialism, slavery, and World War II. This is not an accusation, it simply seems scary to any of us who are not in the church and have a memory of history.

    Like I said, it is an issue of trust. If you are claiming to be Christ’s body (even from a supernatural/ mystical standpoint), then you need to be as morally perfect as Christ was. Like I said, I know that you believe this; but I never could. I am explaining why I feel as I do, not trying to insult you or spark another argument.

    Thank you for your quick responses!

    -DS

  50. MG Says:

    DisposableSoul—

    You wrote:

    “Thank you for your rapid response, and for answering my question. Hopefully, we can avoid these miscommunications next time. I have no desire for a throwdown that will lead into a month long argument, and will therefore accept what you have said as your own personal opinion.”

    Sounds good. I’ll try to ask better clarifying questions next time in conversation with you.

    You wrote:

    “Having heard your opinion I will now tell you mine. I now understand how you can believe your church has never made any errors. But looking at it from an outside perspective, I cannot and will not trust your church. Even if, by chance, it has never made any mistakes, who knows what tomorrow may bring.”

    If you reject the argument I gave for the infallibility of the Church, I would be interested in hearing why. If any of the premises are false (or even implausible), or if the premises don’t imply the conclusion, I’d like to know which of these you think is the problem.

    If the Church has Christ’s infallibility, then there is 0 probability of it making mistakes. Its similar to believing in the truth of the Bible, or having faith in a series of things God tells you directly. If you read one chapter of the Bible and you already happen to agree with what it says, and then you read another chapter and disbelieve it because you think there is a chance it could have mistakes, then you are assuming the Bible isn’t infallible. If God speaks to you once and you happen to agree with what God says, and then you hear God speak again and disbelieve what He says, it seems like you are assuming God is not infallible. The Church doesn’t give us divine revelation like the Bible or direct manifestations of God (it interprets revelation) but if its teachings have the same authoritative character, then there is no probability that it teaches anything false. So it seems like what we really need to do to figure out the probability that the Church could err is assess whether or not there are good arguments for the claim that the Church is infallible.

    You wrote:

    “As you know, nationalism is defined as: (1) the attitude that the members of a nation have when they care about their national identity and (2) the actions that the members of a nation take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination.

    It seems Eastern Faith is tied up in identity within a specific denomination. There is no word I know of to describe this; but the claim that a church is incapable of error and merits that level of devotion, is best described as religiously motivated nationalism.”

    Well, I don’t know what’s so bad about caring about group identity. It doesn’t seem to be something bad in and of itself. And I’m not sure if part (2) is applicable to the Church.

    You wrote:

    “When you combined infallible authority of a governing power with religion you get what reminds us outsiders of the following: imperialism, slavery, and World War II. This is not an accusation, it simply seems scary to any of us who are not in the church and have a memory of history.”

    Couldn’t a similar point be used against the authority of the Bible? If you reject the application of this argument to the Bible, then why not reject its application to the Church?

    You wrote:

    “Like I said, it is an issue of trust. If you are claiming to be Christ’s body (even from a supernatural/ mystical standpoint), then you need to be as morally perfect as Christ was. Like I said, I know that you believe this; but I never could. I am explaining why I feel as I do, not trying to insult you or spark another argument.”

    Do you think the feelings of some atheists that biblical ideas cause war is good grounds for their rejection of the teachings of the Bible?

    Also, the Church is as morally pure as Christ if my argument for its infallibility is successful. Its members may not all be, but the Church itself is.

  51. David Nilsen Says:

    MG,

    I just skimmed through your interactions with Catz. You’ve been busy! Now I see you’re in a debate with DS. I don’t want to add too much to your plate, but I’ve been thinking these issues over recently and I would like to run something by you.

    If I said that I agree that it is a sin to disobey the elders/prebyters of the church, what would you say?

  52. MG Says:

    David–

    For better or worse, when I have a moment to spare, and a short comment to respond to, I can rarely resist replying. Unfortunately I haven’t found time yet to respond to you and Catz and Nate with respect to other longer (or otherwise more involving) posts, emails, or phone calls, but I can respond to your quick question.

    You wrote:

    “If I said that I agree that it is a sin to disobey the elders/prebyters of the church, what would you say?”

    Are you asking if I would agree it is consistent with your view to say that? Or are you asking something else?

  53. David Nilsen Says:

    Yes, that, but also just general comments. Do you think I could say that consistently? If I can, what do you think that does for your arguments regarding Protestantism and church authority? Etc.

  54. MG Says:

    Disposable Soul–

    Sorry to say, but because of a new blog post spacing policy, I won’t be posting my post about how the Church is infallible until tomorrow (the next day after the last post). Hope you’ll still take a look…

  55. catz206 Says:

    MG-

    No worries in responding 🙂 We can chat about it when there is less going on. Till next time!

  56. DisposableSoul Says:

    -MG

    I will happily read your new post, and respond accordingly. I’m sure many of these these important issues will be present in your new post and we can discuss them there.

    Peace,

    -DS

  57. Urorurururur Says:

    I’m going to jump in here.

    “So it seems like what we really need to do to figure out the probability that the Church could err is assess whether or not there are good arguments for the claim that the Church is infallible.”
    -Notably, Infallibility carries an impossible burden of proof. Because you have to accept an order from an infallible source, you have to be 100% certain of infallibity claims. Certainty requires value judgements to compare facts. Value judgements are subjective. This really isn’t a matter of logic so much, as DS said, trust.

    “Couldn’t a similar point be used against the authority of the Bible? If you reject the application of this argument to the Bible, then why not reject its application to the Church?”
    -The Bible does not rule as a legal/governing authority. It contains truth, but is not a governing body, like a church. These are very different things, honestly, that should be pretty self evident.

    I’m going to read your argument for church infallibity now.

  58. MG Says:

    Uror—

    You wrote:

    “-Notably, Infallibility carries an impossible burden of proof. Because you have to accept an order from an infallible source, you have to be 100% certain of infallibity claims. Certainty requires value judgements to compare facts. Value judgements are subjective. This really isn’t a matter of logic so much, as DS said, trust.”

    It seems to me like it isn’t necessary to be 100% sure that a source is infallible in order for us to be reasonable in believing everything the source says. For instance, I don’t think the evidence for the proposition that Jesus Christ is God can give us 100% epistemic certainty (in other words “proof”) that the proposition is true. But yet it is reasonable to accept wholeheartedly everything Christ teaches because there’s better reason to accept He is an infallible teacher and a divine person than the reasons we have to think that He is a merely fallible human person.

    If I believe that a person or group is infallible, I am not claiming I can argue compellingly (in a way that gives 100% epistemic certainty) for the truth of everything that person or group claims. Nor am I claiming I can give arguments that yield 100% certainty that the person or group is infallible. All I’m claiming is that there is better reason to accept the person or group’s infallibility than the reason to reject the person or group’s infallibility. If there’s better reason to accept their infallibility, then this is reason to think everything he/she/they teach/es is true. This is because having infallibility implies that the infallible person cannot error and implies that the infallible person’s commands and teachings have an unqualified conscience-binding authority on everyone. This goes back to the distinction between accuracy and authority that I’ve outlined elsewhere. I don’t need to be infallibly accurate (the epistemic side of infallibility) or infallibly authoritative (the authority side of infallibility) to have good, adequate, fallible justifying reasons for recognizing an infallible authority and identifying its claims.

    Do you agree that the Bible is infallible? If so, would you say you have 100% epistemic certainty about the infallibility of the Bible? It doesn’t seem like you have to have 100% epistemic certainty (complete proof) that the Bible is infallible in order to know it is infallible and therefore accept its teachings.

    By the way, the epistemic value judgment “it is certain” is not subjective per se. The psychological statement (which is probably a case of introspection) “I am certain” is subjective. But “certain” in the epistemic sense concerns the kind of epistemic justification available for a claim. That means it concerns the kind of reasons offered for belief in a claim. And while different people may perceive reasons as having different degrees of value, having reasons for a belief that are *actually* good reasons gives a belief objective epistemic value, and makes it actually justified.

    You wrote:

    “-The Bible does not rule as a legal/governing authority. It contains truth, but is not a governing body, like a church. These are very different things, honestly, that should be pretty self evident.”

    I completely agree. The Bible is not an authority, it is authoritative (though I’m not sure if Catz and the other folks from BWA would agree…). It is not a judge, it is a rule.

    I was responding to the following claim:

    “When you combined infallible authority of a governing power with religion you get what reminds us outsiders of the following: imperialism, slavery, and World War II. This is not an accusation, it simply seems scary to any of us who are not in the church and have a memory of history.”

    The point of what I was saying is that people often reject the Bible because it unsettles them, because it reminds them of things like imperialism and slavery and war. But the fact that it reminds you of bad things doesn’t seem like a good reason to reject something. Stating the fact that the Orthodox Church’s claim to be infallible is unsettling because it reminds one of imperialism, slavery, and war does not seem to be any more forceful than saying that it is unsettling to oneself that the Bible claims to be infallible and reminds one imperialism, slavery, and war. It doesn’t seem like a good reason to reject the Bible’s authority; nor does it seem like a good reason to reject the Church’s authority.

    You wrote:

    “I’m going to read your argument for church infallibity now.”

    If you’re referring to my most recent post, its not an argument per se. It is just a model or explanation of what it means to say the Church is infallible, though I offer a preview of a future argument at the beginning of the post.

  59. Urorurururur Says:

    MG

    Hmm… that’s a whole lot. Very well, tally hoe. I wish it were possible to be more concise on these forums, though. For the sake of not regressing into essays, I will limit my own responses.

    You noted:
    “It seems to me like it isn’t necessary to be 100% sure that a source is infallible in order for us to be reasonable”
    -You’re right, one doesn’t have to have a 100% proof to have a reasonable belief. I didn’t say anything like this. I said that certainty (an internal state of conviction) depends on value judgments (so as to compare facts). Value judgments are subjective. More importantly, when one is dealing with a thing one has a relationship with (the Church or God or a friend) trust, in addition to rationality, becomes a factor. I feel this is rarely addressed.

    “I am not claiming I can argue compellingly (in a way that gives 100% epistemic certainty) for the truth of everything that person or group claims.”
    -I am aware of this. However, as I said, the issue of trust I feel is not entirely addressed by either side of this debate. And, in fact, you seem to be disallowing it. Although I do understand you cannot possibly address that on this forum, I thought that it would be honest to say that many beliefs are ultimately based on this, and not logical proofs.

    “All I’m claiming is that there is better reason to accept the person or group’s infallibility than the reason to reject the person or group’s infallibility.”
    -Reasons require comparison of facts. This requires value judgement. What you value is contingent on what you’ve experienced. Saying “better reason” implies that your value judgements are superior to another’s, such as DS’s.

    “Do you agree that the Bible is infallible?”
    -I will not answer a rhetorical question beyond saying my own reasons for what I believe are based on what I have seen and heard of the power of God and nothing else. I do not expect another to think as I do, as God has not shown them what he has shown me. Infallibility is not something one can, or should, idly accept based on argumentation, it is something one should test.

    “The psychological statement (which is probably a case of introspection) “I am certain” is subjective. But “certain” in the epistemic sense concerns the kind of epistemic justification available for a claim.”
    -I’m very familiar with philosophy. The feeling of certainty affects the manner in which we approach epistemic justifications for a claim. These notions are not separate.

    “I completely agree. The Bible is not an authority, it is authoritative (though I’m not sure if Catz and the other folks from BWA would agree…). It is not a judge, it is a rule.”
    -Very well. Though, I don’t want to unwind that ball of yarn as I don’t know what you are implying. I didn’t say it wasn’t an authority, I said it wasn’t a legal/governing authority.

    “If you’re referring to my most recent post, its not an argument per se.”
    -Very well. I hope my reaction to it was merited.

  60. MG Says:

    David–

    You wrote:

    “If I said that I agree that it is a sin to disobey the elders/prebyters of the church, what would you say?”

    I would say that a distinction needs to be introduced between disobedience being blameworthy because of private judgment and disobedience being blameworthy because of authority. Is it a sin to disobey the elders when they teach something that seems true to your private judgment, and you act or believe contrary to what seems true by your private judgment? In that case, the fact that the elders taught it is just an accompanying circumstance, not intrinsically related to the fact that it was blameworthy. Or is it a sin to disobey the elders in virtue of the fact that it was *the elders* that told you to obey? In this case, there is something intrinsically about the elders’ telling you to obey that bound your conscience.

    If you take the first route, that’s consistent with Protestantism’s virtual denial of any real church authority, and doesn’t seem very significant. If you take the second route, it is harder to justify the Reformation. You could still try to do it like Catz and Nate seem to by saying “the elders have intrinsic authority on issues where Scripture isn’t clear or where it isn’t a major doctrine” but that doesn’t seem very helpful. After all, what good is another person’s authority over you if it can’t extend to anything important on which you have specific and serious disagreements with them? It doesn’t seem like authority is *doing much* then.

  61. David Nilsen Says:

    MG,

    I was suggesting your second option, but let’s not forget that all of our beliefs have an element of the first option. What I mean is, you have admitted that there is an “insanity clause” such that you must at times use your private judgment to determine whether or not your authority is still acting as a proper authority. In the same way, I would say that I must also make sure that my elder is not overstepping his bounds or acting in a way that is contrary to Scripture (or in some instances tradition). As long as he is not acting contrary to Scripture (which is his authority as well), he is a God-ordained authority, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and I am obligated to obey him. Now you might say, “but if you have to check his decisions with Scripture, then isn’t your private judgment the real authority?” But I am doing nothing different than you have already admitted even an Orthodox person must do, making sure that my authority is not “insane.” And as I argued before, I as a layperson in the church am also obligated to approach these situations with humility and charity. I should assume that my elder is not “insane”, even if I find that I disagree with him, until my motivation for disagreement is so overwhelmingly strong that I can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt. At that time I should bring it to all the elders, or even Synod (or General Assembly). If an entire synod determines that I am in the wrong, I ought to have the humility to defer, or else I should be prepared to leave the church. But of course, such situations would be very rare and involve only very serious matters.

    From this it should be clear how I would justify the Reformation. Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Vermigli and others simply came to recognize that the current Roman authority structure was “insane.” Remember that the Magisterial Reformers and the later Puritans were not trying to start a brand new church, but to return to the Apostolic AND Patristic church. Many Reformed theologians saw themselves as the true heirs of the Early Fathers (especially with things like the Eucharist). Thus they were working well within an ecclesial model that allows for genuine authority, despite their being in the middle of a “rebellion.”

  62. MG Says:

    Uror—

    You wrote:
    “-You’re right, one doesn’t have to have a 100% proof to have a reasonable belief. I didn’t say anything like this. I said that certainty (an internal state of conviction) depends on value judgments (so as to compare facts). Value judgments are subjective. More importantly, when one is dealing with a thing one has a relationship with (the Church or God or a friend) trust, in addition to rationality, becomes a factor. I feel this is rarely addressed.”

    Okay, but originally you objected that infallibility carries an impossible burden of proof. Is that something you believe, or not? Have you retracted that statement, or is it still something you believe and consider relevant to this discussion?

    If by “burden of proof” you mean “need to overcome an overwhelming, insurmountable psychological bias against it” then that fact isn’t normative. Why would it matter, if we are trying to decide whether or not to trust the Church as infallible, to take into account the fact that if the Church seems infallible, it should be trusted despite biases (or that if it does not seem infallible, ie. there are no good reasons to accept its claimed infallibility, it should not be trusted)? Shouldn’t we just try to believe what is true instead of thinking about “even if this is true, it is difficult for me to psychologically admit that it is true”? And it also seems false that such psychological biases (which are so severe that they preclude reconsideration) exist. Many people with psychological biases against the infallibility of Scripture have been led to believe that Scripture is infallible eventually.

    Yes, the human action of making a value judgment is subjective, just like the human action of saying “trust is a factor” is subjective—both are done by subjects, persons. But that doesn’t seem to be relevant to whether or not your points should influence us to believe in the infallibility of the Church. Saying “trust is required” doesn’t seem like it is relevant to whether or not the Church *should* be trusted. Again, if it is an assertion of psychological bias, I don’t see why that should be a deterrent to belief in the infallibility of the Church. Psychological biases are not excuses. In fact, if there is a good argument for the infallibility of the Church, then “trust is required” might imply that we need to start trusting the infallibility of the Church.

    I’m not saying that your statement “trust becomes a factor” means “psychological biases get in the way, because it is difficult to trust the claims of an institution” or something like that. Really, I’m not sure what it means in this context or how it is relevant to truth claims about whether or not the Church is infallible. Could you please explain a bit? You seem to be asking for someone to address the issue of trust. Depending on what you mean by “trust becomes a factor” I may or may not be able to address your concern.

    You wrote:

    “-I am aware of this. However, as I said, the issue of trust I feel is not entirely addressed by either side of this debate. And, in fact, you seem to be disallowing it. Although I do understand you cannot possibly address that on this forum, I thought that it would be honest to say that many beliefs are ultimately based on this, and not logical proofs.”

    What do you mean when you say your beliefs are based on trust?

    You wrote:

    “-Reasons require comparison of facts. This requires value judgment. What you value is contingent on what you’ve experienced. Saying “better reason” implies that your value judgments are superior to another’s, such as DS’s.”

    Yes, of course. I don’t see why this is a problem.

    To see why, consider this example. If I say “there is better scientific reason to believe the earth is round than flat”, then I am making a value judgment. Yes, it is quite true that what I value is contingent on my experiences. And indeed, saying “better reason” implies that I think my value judgments are superior to another’s (such as the value-judgments concerning rationality made by some flat-earthers, who think there is better reason to believe the earth is flat instead of round).

    But that’s hardly a reason to reject the claim that “there is better reason to believe the earth is round than flat”. My value judgment, in fact, would be more objectively normative (more reasonable) and, in fact, correct. Further, my experiences (over which I have some measure of control—I can choose what to ignore or focus on, for instance, as I am experiencing the world) may have led me to a state where my mind is better-suited to interpret arguments about the flatness or roundness of the earth than the mind of a flat-earther. But surely it is still more objectively reasonable to believe the earth is round instead of flat. Would you agree that it is more reasonable to so believe?

    Consider the alternative, where we accept that the influence of experience on what we value precludes some people being in a better position than others to make value judgments. If we think the influence of experience on what we tend to value precludes any of our value-judgments from being more appropriate than others, then no value judgments can ever be more normative than others. For everyone has experiences that are different. And actually, some experiences have a positive role in forming our reasoning abilities. They teach us to value the right things in the context of intellectual arguments. People that lack these experiences (whether by choice or circumstance) will lag behind in their ability to reason correctly.

    It should be kept in mind that if no one is in a better position to believe anything than anyone else, then we should refrain from believing anything and everything. For if someone else were to disagree with us, there would be no ground for taking our own belief as true over taking theirs as true.

    Also, it is pretty clear that some reasoning processes are better than others. Isn’t the reasoning process “thinking carefully and considering all of the possible answers to a question” better than “dropping acid and banging your head up against a wall until you get an answer”?

    It is worth considering what grounds the relevance of your points about the influence of experience and the claim to superiority in value judgments. Are you trying to point something out of significance to the argument at hand when you observe that there are value judgments based on experiences, and that I think my value judgments are sometimes superior to those of other people? Are you trying, for instance, to show that my concerns are not valid—that they are not more important for deciding the fact of the matter about what we should believe? If so, you are appealing to the normativity of your own arguments as being better than the rationality of my considerations. And that sounds self-defeating.

    If you’re not trying to claim that reason isn’t normative or that biases preclude rationality, then please word things more clearly. If, for instance, you are just trying to point out “everyone has biases, we should be careful” then it would be helpful if you didn’t give the impression that you are making general claims against the possibility of epistemology. When you seem to be making claims that reason isn’t normative or that biases preclude rationality, I see a need to respond to them. These claims are obviously false, but unfortunately they sometimes take a lot of time to overturn in writing (hence the length of this comment). If you’re claiming something more innocuous, it would be helpful to just say what you mean instead of leaving everything up to the interpreter. And actually the fallibility of reason and the existence of bias is something I am already very aware of. If you know me personally, you know that I’m very careful in making intellectual claims. Rarely do I do so without considering what others have said, especially people I disagree with. The fallibility of reason is one of the main focuses of my studies in philosophy.

    You wrote:

    “-I will not answer a rhetorical question beyond saying my own reasons for what I believe are based on what I have seen and heard of the power of God and nothing else. I do not expect another to think as I do, as God has not shown them what he has shown me. Infallibility is not something one can, or should, idly accept based on argumentation, it is something one should test.”

    It was an actual question. I’m actually curious, because I’m not sure what your positions are on things. I’m not just asking questions as a rhetorical technique without wanting a real reasponse. You don’t have to respond, but the questions are genuine. If my questions seem rhetorical, it may be because they are relevant to the arguments at hand, and are intended to bring up points that have bearing on the issues at hand.

    You seem to be saying that there is something appropriate about the fact that, given your circumstances, you believe what you do. Would you then agree that if someone else had gone through exactly the same circumstances and came out the other end still denying the existence of God or the authority of Scripture, that they would have made a mistake (perhaps moral, perhaps intellectual, perhaps both)? If so, you *do* expect others to think as you do, you just don’t think they have been put in the same circumstances.

    What test do you propose other than seeing if the claims are reasonable? (note: by reasonable, I don’t mean “rationalistic” or “cold-hearted” or “done like an analytic philosopher or a scientist”; I just mean more intellectually normative, and if you need me to explain that I can try). Even if it doesn’t take the strict (or explicit) form of a syllogism, it sure seems like we should go through some *specific kinds of processes* as opposed to others in trying to decide what is appropriate to believe.

    You wrote:

    “-I’m very familiar with philosophy. The feeling of certainty affects the manner in which we approach epistemic justifications for a claim. These notions are not separate.”

    They are not totally separate, but they are distinct. Feelings do not control us completely, do they? And we can fight and resist unfounded feelings of certainty about our beliefs, and distinguish these feelings from the actual intellectually normative qualities that some our beliefs have, right? I’m not saying its easy, but surely you think its possible?

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