Archive for the ‘Ecclesiology’ Category

Energetic Procession post: Prayers to Saints in the Pre-Nicene Era

July 29, 2011

It is commonly claimed that the practice of praying to departed saints and to angels is a late development in Christianity, probably post-dating the Council of Nicea. In this post, I will try to argue that prayers to departed saints were relatively common in the pre-Nicene Church. There are 5 to 8 clear post-Apostolic references from at least 3 locations. Some of the references come from official Christian teachers. The earliest reference may be first or second century, and many of the second and third century writers’ beliefs probably reflect the customs of even earlier times.

Read more at Energetic Procession.


Church Authority, Argument 5: Private Judgment and Authority

September 24, 2009

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.) (more…)

Church Authority: Argument 3

December 30, 2008

Accuracy, Authority, and the Visibility of the Church

In this post, I will argue that (1) There are some reasons to think the Church’s leaders have intrinsic authority, (2) Saying our parents have intrinisic authority is compatible with questioning our parents once we incorporate the concept of “insanity” into our model of authority, (3) Authority and accuracy are two distinct things, and this is implicitly accepted by Protestants, (4) Jesus thought the Scribes and Pharisees had intrinsic authority, (5) The Church continues the visible leadership structure and intrinsic authority that the Scribes and Pharisees had.

This post is a response to a comment in a very long discussion that can be found here on the blog By Whose Authority? about private judgment in the interpretation of the Bible. David Nilsen has been arguing that the gift of the illumination of the Holy Spirit helps individuals to interpret the Bible, and that the Spirit’s infallibility can speak directly to the soul of a Christian, binding his or her conscience to believe an interpretation of the Bible. Much of the discussion has already happened on his blog, and may be good background for this post.

(1) There are some reasons to think the Church’s leaders have intrinsic authority. (more…)

On the Sacrament of Holy Chrismation in Scripture

December 30, 2008

Under the Mosaic law, only specific persons received the special gift of the Holy Spirit—prophets, priests, and kings, and other such folk. The new relationship between God and man inaugurated in Christ involves the incorporation of all citizens of the Kingdom into a participation in the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit in Christians was promised by Christ (John 7:37-9). The Spirit becomes incorporated into humanity supremely in Christ’s miraculous anointing at his baptism. This is the first step in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, for Christ sums up all flesh in himself (1 Corinthians 15, Ephesians 1:10).

To “receive the anointing” which is a gift of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20-27) or “receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, 8:14-17, 9:6, 17-18, 19:1-7) refers to a sacrament still practiced in the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism to this day. The word “Anointing” is “criso” in Greek; hence “Chrismation”. (more…)

Church Authority: Groundwork 1

October 7, 2008

The Issue of the Visible Church and Apostolic Succession


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

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


Cirlot on Grace in and Outside the Church

September 24, 2008

The Anglican bishop Cirlot wrote a book on whether or not apostolic succesion is true (incidentally, its title is Apostolic Succession: Is It True?  Practical name for his book, eh?).  One of the objections he had to deal with to the Catholic position was that there seems to be a lot of Christians outside of of the visible Church.  The Catholic view (not Roman–just universally held by Christians across the centuries; this is the view shared by Anglicans, Orthodox, and Roman Catholics) is that the Church is an organization with visible criteria of membership, instituted directly by Christ with a heirarchical structure that has sacramental grace.  The Church is a polis, a city or nation of sorts–not an earthly one, surely, but a true polis none the less.

Cirlot mentions the arguments of the archbishop of Cantebury William Temple for the conclusion that Protestants are fully the Church in just as unqualified a way as the Catholics (which here designates Anglicans, Orthodox, and Romans).  The main argument is from the superabundance of grace that we see outside the Church.  The moral and spiritual character of Protestants is not excellent across the board; there are some bad apples.  But there are so many good Protestants that it makes the Catholic view of the Church improbable.  How could a Catholic possibly deny that a good Protestant is in the Church? 


Church Authority: Argument 1

August 8, 2008

From Reliability to Infallibility

Most Protestants don’t want to say awful things about the Church.  They don’t want to say that the Church became apostate for over a thousand years.  They don’t want to say that the Church is just a mere human institution.  There is something special about it.  The beliefs of its members aren’t just normally-arrived-at human beliefs.  There is divine guidance of some kind.

But in order to not cross the line over to a Catholic ecclesiology, [1] a Protestant must deny the infallibility of the Church.  An essential doctrine of Protestantism is Sola Scriptura.  This view can be defined as the position about authority and Christian teaching that holds that there are no divine authorities about Christian teaching distinct from the content of the Old and New Testaments.  This rules out (a) oral or written tradition distinct from the Scriptures as a source of infallible divine authority and (b) decisions by the Church as a source of infallible divine authority.

How does a Protestant deny the infallibility of the Church but still hold onto the idea that being in the Church tends to make you have the correct beliefs about the content of Christian teaching? (more…)

Church Authority: Reply 1

August 1, 2008

When engaging with a sophisticated and elaborate ancient worldview that has been held by thousands of brilliant minds and many a pure heart, it is important to give that tradition the benefit of the doubt. Giving someone or something the benefit of the doubt does not imply assuming it can answer all of the objections that can be leveled against it and make an airtight case for its plausibility. But it does imply assuming that the tradition one is critiquing has answers to what seem like obvious problems with its core teachings.

(Special thanks to a phantom menace for providing many of the resources and ideas for this post.)


Veneration of Mary in Scripture

March 1, 2008

The Virgin Mary is honored highly in Scripture:

Luke 1:28-30
Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you… for you have found favor with God.

Luke 1:41-3
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken her by the Lord.

Luke 1:48
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…

Exodus 20:12
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

John 2:1-7
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.

1 Corinthians 11:1
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

In Luke, the angel Gabriel–a being of power and wisdom far exceeding that of ourselves–praises Mary and singles her out among all women as uniquely full of God’s presence and life. She found favor with God in a way that no other human being had ever found favor before her–through a paradigmatic, unwavering faith in Christ. He gives her the title “full of grace”–a name used elsewhere only of Jesus Christ (John 1:14). God’s act of recognizing Mary by incarnating himself in her is an honor that not even the highest order of angels could even claim.

Then Elizabeth is inspired by the Holy Spirit and praises Mary and exclaims that she is uniquely blessed among women. Note that this precedes her blessing of the Incarnate One who she bears in her womb. It is the sound of Mary’s greeting that brings John the Baptist to leap joyously. And Mary’s faith is commended a second time by an agent of God as uniquely valuable.

To top it all off, Mary is to be blessed by every generation. To say this about oneself in the context of divinely-inspired prophecy about the people of God implies that there is a kind of obligation we have to acknowledge the blessedness of the Virgin Mary.

Think also of how Christ himself honors Mary, granting her requests at the wedding, even going out of his way to command servants multiple times. Christ is simply obeying the ten commandments like we would expect the representative Jew to do in the process of fulfilling the law–he is honoring his mother. As imitators of Christ, we must imitate the honor that he gives to both his heavenly Father and his blessed Mother. She is truly “more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim”–the greatest servant of her Son, who showed the greatest faith and cooperation with grace of any mere human who ever lived.

Mary as Intercessor in Scripture

February 28, 2008

There are two places where Mary acts as intercessor in Scripture:

John 2:1-6
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece…

Acts 1:12-14
Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James [the son] of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas [the brother] of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

In the Gospel of John, there are numerous events that are anticipatory of the new creation. This is clearly one such case: note the changing of water into wine, the fact that this is a marriage feast (Christ and the Church), and the manifestation of Jesus’ glory. Mary’s intercession comes in close association with the world to come.

In Acts, the scene is in an upper room, paralleling the Eucharist in Luke. This scene is a manifestation of the unity, authority, and glory of the Church, right after Jesus’ departure at a time of crucial decision and determination. Mary participates in the prayer that begins the first and greatest evangelistic outreach.

We already know that those in heaven are interceding for us (Rev. 5:8, 8:3-4). We already know that they are aware of what is happening on earth (Rev.6:9-11). The Saints have powers that are far beyond our present earthly abilities (Mat 17:1-3). It is okay to pray to (=ask of) angels that they would praise God with us (Psalms 103:20-21). If Mary’s intercession is so intimately connected with the new creation and the inbreaking of the kingdom of God (both of which we participate in) why not pray to her?