Sunday, March 14, 2010

When The Church Is Fallible: Why Protestants Can't Account For The Canon

The Bible was not given to us in full all at once. God chose to work through dozens of human authors to write the books of the Bible over the course of hundreds of years. The Bible - the unified whole of God's speech committed to writing - is the compilation of these writings.

But how does one know which writings are divinely inspired and thus are supposed to be included in the Bible in the first place? I believe that Protestants cannot adequately answer this fundamental question because they reject the idea of an infallible church.

Remember, Protestants hold to sola scriptura. For them, Scripture itself is the sole highest and final authority on all matters pertaining to theology. They reject the idea that there exists a living Church teaching authority. Instead, as Protestants understand it, the church - which is usually defined as merely the aggregate of all individual Christians worldwide - is always capable of mistakes. In other words, Protestants believe that Scripture is infallible but that the church is fallible.

But there is no passage in the Bible which lists the names of all the writings that were inspired by God and should be regarded as Scripture. Even if there was, how could a person be sure that that particular list was authoritative anyway?

Some books in the Bible will refer to other books in the Bible as Scripture. But not all books that Protestants regard as Scripture are cross-referenced by other books. And even if they were, that particular collection of writings would still be a closed system that a person would have to have a reason to accept as Scripture in the first place.

This means that one must discern the canon through outside criteria. Many Protestants realize this and have put forth various sets of criteria as to how to discern the canon. 
Here is one such criteria put forth by John Calvin in the French Confession of Faith, Article IV (1559):
"We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church, as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books..."
Here is another set of criteria which has become common among Evangelicals for supporting the canonicity of the books of the New Testament: (1) the book can be attributed to an Apostle or the close companion of an Apostle with a high degree of certainty, (2) the book was accepted by all major Christian communities early in the Church, (3) the book was used by the early Church regularly during meetings, and (4) the book's teaching harmonizes with other books accepted as Scripture.

There are two major problems with any sort of sets of criteria like these.
First, how can we be sure that any criteria is the right criteria to use? 
Second, how can we be sure that we have applied the criteria correctly?
If the church is indeed fallible, then it is always an open possibility that it has made mistakes in either of these areas. 

Now, if its possible that the church has made mistakes in choosing and/or applying criteria for a book being canonical, doesn't this imply that the canon is perpetually open for correction or adjustment?  What if the Holy Spirit seems to be leading people today to believe that a particular book shouldn't be in the canon anymore? Or maybe we'll discover through careful study that a particular book's theology actually contradicts the teachings of the other books (for example, Martin Luther thought this was true regarding the New Testament book of James and argued that it should be removed from the Bible, along with HebrewsJude, and Revelation).

The last way that a Protestant might try to argue that the canon of Scripture is definitive is by asserting that the Holy Spirit infallibly guided the church into adopting the correct canon. This might seem workable at first, until one remembers again that Protestants hold sola scriptura and therefore reject the notion that the church is normally infallible in any way whatsoever. This means that this would have to be counted as some sort of an exception - a very convenient, and might I say completely ad hoc, exception. And even if this was the case, since Protestants reject the notion of apostolic succession, what means did God use to have the the church make such an infallible decision? Where was it made and by whom? How would one even go about determining where and when such a decision was made? And if we think that the church is trustworthy in discerning the canon, why is the church then incapable of infallibly interpreting that very canon?

It's clear that if you're a Protestant and believe that the church is fallible, but still want to believe that the canon of Scripture is infallibly definitive, you are contradicting yourself.

The Catholic Church has a coherent, workable, and relatively simple answer to this problem: the Church is infallible. The Catholic Church is, and has been, able to accurately and definitively discern which writings are inspired and which ones are not through its Holy Spirit guided living apostolic authority - the same authority that settled questions regarding the Trinity, the dual-nature of Christ, the nature of justification, the nature of the sacraments, etc.

Because they have rejected the idea of an infallible Church teaching authority in accepting sola scriptura, Protestants cannot account for why they accept so firmly the canon of Scripture that they do.

*I have argued for other ways that sola scriptura is highly problematic in my previous blog posts How Sola Scriptura Leads to Pluralism and Sola Scriptura Isn't Scriptural.

20 comments:

  1. "...doesn't this imply that the canon is perpetually open for correction or adjustment?"

    Yes -- and many thoughtful liberal Prots argue precisely that. Concerns the freedom of God. Also, in the 70s, there was a serious movement to get MLK jr's Letter from a Birmingham Jail in the NT.

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  2. With the reasoning used in your post, wouldn't any evidence of church fallibility on other issues destroy your entire argument?

    Obviously, the Catholic Church has shifted stances several times throughout the years (Galileo, Copernicus, Vatican II) as well as been caught in some very serious scandals (church leadership covering for pedophile priests).

    What does one also make of wayward popes (secret marriages, etc)? Shouldn't at least the pope, who is the inheritor of apostolic secession be infallible?

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  3. I completely agree with what Anonymous said-- while the argument you lay out is fairly compelling at first glance, it rests upon the idea that the Church is infallible. This idea that the Church is infallible is simply laughable when subjected to empirical test (which, interestingly enough, the Catholic church has moved towards accepting due to its' acceptance of natural theology-- which I happen to like, and do not find at all at odds with my Protestant faith).

    One of the reasons Luther started having problems with the Church was due to abuse of papal bulls (yes, and transubstantiation, but lets be honest, is that really that important?). Abuses of tradition and papal authority are what caused the backlash towards sola scriptura (rightly in my opinion). It's also the primary reason I'm not Catholic-- because nobody has given me a good reason why papal infalliability makes any sense, either biblically, empirically, or even traditionally (The apostles were not perfect either...).

    Finally, I fail to see why Calvin's criteria problematic to you. Even if the church is fallible, the Holy Spirit is not (which comes out of scripture), and why is it inconsistent to believe that the Holy Spirit is the one who created canon? Humans are fallible, and it follows the church is as well, but it does not follow that it is impossible that the Holy Spirit could act in each Christians heart to straighten out canon. After all, the Spirit was given as a counselor, and part of counseling is helping others make right decisions. Of course, you might point out that the Holy Spirit could council the church in a similar manner, which, of course, I accept without seeing how it makes any difference in my overall point.

    I guess most of the above makes sense to me, though I welcome any feedback you might have (with grace and peace!).

    Finally, a question about theology-- what do you see its' primary purpose as?

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  4. Infallibility is a very limited concept. It applies ONLY to matters of faith and morals (Galileo and Copernicus do not fit that concept). Also, it does NOT mean that every time the pope speaks that he is infallible; it is only when he teaches something that is meant for the entire Church, and usually it doesn't happen unless it's along with a council of the bishops. Anonymous, I'm not sure exactly what you meant by using Vatican II as an example of why the Church is not infallible?? If you have a more specific reason why you think that V II proves the fallibility of the Church, I would be happy to look into it.

    Also there is no claim that the Church or its leaders are impeccable (sinless). In fact, it seems like the only thing that kept a couple of the popes from teaching heresies is that they were too busy sinning up a storm! I hate writing that, but I can't ignore it.

    Andrew- As I said above, infallibility does not mean perfection.

    I don't know quite what to make of your last full paragraph. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Councils and through the popes that allows the Church to be infallible in matters of faith and morals. Where else would it come from? While I do believe that the Holy Spirit works in each individual person's heart, if that was the way that the Holy Spirit passed on His infallible decisions, then why do so many individuals interpret the Bible so many different ways? One of the reasons that I love the Catholic Church so much is the unity of teaching that I see throughout time, and throughout geography. One of the things that confuses me so much about Protestantism is how much the teachings change from one church to the next; and not just different denominations, either! Sometimes it's different in the same denomination depending on which pastor you listen to.

    Huh. Well, now I'm not sure that I'm still on the topic! :) Anonymous, Andrew, I do not mind you disagreeing with me, but I do hope you understand that infallibility does not mean that the Church will always speak the right word at the right time; does not mean that it will always have the most timely answers, and certainly does not mean that it will be sinless. It only means that when it speaks in certain situations and only on topics regarding faith and morals, it will not teach error. Also any infallibility is not due the the Church's merits, but due to the Holy Spirit's work through the Church.

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  5. Anon2 and Andrew,

    Thanks to you both for reading and offering your opinions, especially because they are disagreeing with me. I always appreciate the fact that people who disagree with me would take the time to read and respond.

    I think both of you have misunderstood my post. My argument isn't that the Catholic Church is infallible. My argument is that Protestants can't make good sense of why they accept the Canon as definitive. I simply mention at the end that at least the Catholic Church's answer to why they can accept the Canon as definitive - Church infallibility - is a coherent and workable answer this specific question.

    Also, both of you misunderstand what Church infallibility means, as CM pointed out, which is at the heart of your critiques.


    Now, some comments to you both individually:

    Anon2,
    You wrote:
    "With the reasoning used in your post, wouldn't any evidence of church fallibility on other issues destroy your entire argument?"
    Absolutely. But, like I said above, Church infallibility must be correctly understood.

    You wrote:
    "Obviously, the Catholic Church has shifted stances several times throughout the years (Galileo, Copernicus, Vatican II) as well as been caught in some very serious scandals (church leadership covering for pedophile priests).

    What does one also make of wayward popes (secret marriages, etc)? Shouldn't at least the pope, who is the inheritor of apostolic secession be infallible?"
    None of these examples are arguments against the Catholic Church's claims of infallibility, unless the Second Vatican Council changed dogma, which it did not.
    And the Pope is not the only inheritor of apostolic succession. All the bishops and priests in the world are.

    Andrew, my response to you will be in the next comment...

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  6. Andrew,
    You wrote:
    "This idea that the Church is infallible is simply laughable when subjected to empirical test (which, interestingly enough, the Catholic church has moved towards accepting due to its' acceptance of natural theology"
    The Church is indeed infallible and has always been so.
    I don't know what you think Natural Theology is, because the context in which you are using it doesn't really make sense. The Church has always accepted Natural Theology (that there are certain theological and moral truths that are discernible naturally to us). In fact, many Protestants reject Natural Theology. As far as I understand it, Karl Barth, the renowned Reformed theologian of the 20th century, claims that this distinction (analogy of being vs. analogy of Christ) lies at the heart of the Reformation.

    You wrote:
    "It's also the primary reason I'm not Catholic-- because nobody has given me a good reason why papal infalliability makes any sense, either biblically, empirically, or even traditionally (The apostles were not perfect either...)."
    There is also a vast array of literature from the last 2000 years defending what you say no one has explained to you. I would begin by first understanding the doctrine correctly. A good place to start for that would be the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Maybe future posts will try to explain this further. One of my previous posts actually could help you start on this too: "The Early Church Was Catholic: Apostolic Succession and Authority".

    You wrote:
    "Finally, I fail to see why Calvin's criteria problematic to you."
    Of course the Holy Spirit is infallible, and He is the one who guarantees the infallibility of the Church. Calvin's criteria is highly problematic because it relies on the individual to correctly interpret the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I hope no one reading this blog thinks they are capable of infallibly interpreting the Holy Spirit, because I'm certainly not. And if individuals somehow across the board are indeed capable of infallibly interpreting the promptings of the Holy Spirit as to what Scriptures they should hold as Sacred (1) why is there/has there been disagreement about what should be held as Scripture? (2) Why can't people also infallibly interpret the Spirit's leading on other matters of theology? Clearly people are unable to do so as proven by the fact that there are 1000s of Protestants denominations in the world. The model is clearly unworkable. For Catholics, the Magisterium of the Church is an institution that's been designated by God that will always be correctly led by (and will always be able to correct interpret) the Holy Spirit given the right conditions.

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  7. I find it incredible that you have concluded that the church is infallible in scriptural and moral matters but gets a pass on everything else? That seems awfully too convenient.

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  8. Anon,
    I have not "concluded" what I believe about Church infallibility, as though I'm creating my own definition to make it work somehow. I believe what the Church teaches about its infallibility, which is not, by the way, that it "is infallible in scriptural and moral matters but gets a pass on everything else".
    Please, first rule of any kind of debate is to understand the positions of the other side. Otherwise you're guilty of the fallacy of making a "straw-man argument".

    You're taking the phrase "Church Infallibility", making up a meaning in your mind for what you think it should stand for, and then attacking it, and then when someone says you're wrong in your definition saying that their definition is "convenient".

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  9. I've read the parts of the Catechism relating to papal (or even apostolic, as you pointed out, it isn't just the pope) infallibility. I think I understand the doctrine, as you've pointed out. I still don't buy it, because, as I've said, I hold a much lower view of humanity than most Catholics (or reformed thinkers for that matter) do. I simply cannot accept either rationally or biblically the doctrine of human infallibility, no matter how it is presented, no matter how limited (and I do understand it is limited and doesn't apply to every time the pope opens his mouth-- give me a little credit;).

    As far as natural theology-- I'm not Barthian in the least, and really not too reformed either. I'm Lutheran, and thus have no real problem with natural theology (Confessional Lutherans, for the record, are probably closer to Catholic theology than any other Protestant denomination). In fact, I would be remiss to not mention that CS Lewis, (aka, the Protestant "Pope") was an astute defender of natural theology. My point was that Catholics use the doctrine of natural theology as a way of understanding the way the world is ordered, because (the following is a crude definition) natural theology is the belief that things can be understood about God and the world we live in through empirical observation. Thus, the idea of an infallible church, which makes little logical sense (at least to me), seems at odds with natural theology (again, this is my reading). I apologize if that didn't (or doesn't) make sense.

    (more in next post)

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  10. Brantly, you say that "Why can't people also infallibly interpret the Spirit's leading on other matters of theology? Clearly people are unable to do so as proven by the fact that there are 1000s of Protestants denominations in the world. The model is clearly unworkable. For Catholics, the Magisterium of the Church is an institution that's been designated by God that will always be correctly led by (and will always be able to correct interpret) the Holy Spirit given the right conditions."

    Here's a question-- what's the empirical proof that makes the Catholic Church any different than those 1000's of other denominations? It seems to smack of arrogance, especially given the Catholic Church's history of less than stellar behavior. (For the record, I'm not trying to point to the things Catholics have done wrong--Protestants hold just as much blame). I'm also trying not to misunderstand Church infallibility. Even if the Church only claims infallibility in moral issues or things such as Canon, what's to say that the authority of the Church didn't "flip" after the reformation to the followers of Luther? (for the record, I know this is an extreme example, and I'm not arguing it for real, just using it as reductio ad absurdum)

    Finally, if it's so unworkable, how come it's worked for hundreds of years;)? I would actually argue that the reason for 1000's of denominations is due to sin, and the human tendency to never get things quite right, though I'd love to hear your thoughts on that idea.

    As always, thanks for the responses, I appreciate them, and they always make me think, even if I don't agree:)

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  11. Andrew,
    Wow, I'm impressed that you actually went to the Catechism! lol Thank you for showing that kind of interest and respect. I appreciate your responses as well, especially, as I've said before, because you disagree. I'd definitely want people who disagree challenge me than to just have this blog be soley preaching to the choir. Also, are you still in the Wheaton area? Email me if you'd be up for getting together sometime: bcmillegan@gmail.com

    I apologize in advance for the use of Caps. I can't use italics in the comments and caps is the best way otherwise to emphasize different words.

    You wrote:
    "I still don't buy it, because, as I've said, I hold a much lower view of humanity than most Catholics (or reformed thinkers for that matter) do. I simply cannot accept either rationally or biblically the doctrine of human infallibility, no matter how it is presented, no matter how limited"
    Then you haven't understood the doctrine of Church infallibility. The doctrine works regardless of how high a view of humanity you have because the infallibility of the Church has nothing to do whatsoever with the goodness of those who have apostolic authority. You can think that the only thing humans ever do on their own is sin and still hold to the infallibility of the Church. The infallibility is based entirely on God, the Holy Spirit working through the Church. It's more like there are certain people who hold an office which God has said he will protect no matter what.
    If you hold that the Bible is perfectly divinely inspired, then I see no reason why you would be unable to hold to Apostolic authority. Christians believe that God gave us the Bible THROUGH human authors. God did not just give us the Bible out of the sky. He gave it to us through humans, and yet we believe it to be perfectly true, untouched by sin. Even Protestants will say that the authority of the writings of the New Testament are based on Apostolic authority. The real issue between Protestants and Catholics is whether or not that authority has been PASSED ON. This means that the real issue is not about whether or not apostolic authority can exist, but is a historical question of whether or not it was passed on all the way down to today. My early blog post about the Early Church and Apostolic Succession makes a historical case that Apostolic Authority was indeed passed on.

    (more in next comment)

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  12. (continued for last comment)
    You wrote:
    "Thus, the idea of an infallible church, which makes little logical sense (at least to me), seems at odds with natural theology (again, this is my reading)."
    First of all, natural theology is not necessarily based entirely on empirical observation. The Ontological Argument, for example, is an example of natural theology which does not depend at all on empirical observation. It's theology based on what we can know naturally, rather than supernaturally through special divine revelation. Second, it is still possible for people to make mistakes doing natural theology, due to sin. Thus, the Church still has a place to make the final ruling on such matters (for a great example of this being spelled out, read the beginning of the encyclical Humanae Vitae).

    You wrote:
    "Here's a question-- what's the empirical proof that makes the Catholic Church any different than those 1000's of other denominations? It seems to smack of arrogance, especially given the Catholic Church's history of less than stellar behavior."
    Produce the evidence. Here's a piece of counter evidence in favor of the Catholic Church: Many mainline Protestant denominations have accepted a much lower view of the Scriptures compared to their founders, and they have only existed a few centuries. The Catholic Church has existed for 2000 years and still believes that the Bible is the speech of God committed to writing. They have maintained the traditional Christian views on contraception, divorce, homosexuality, ordination, abortion, etc, topics that many, if not all Protestants have caved on.

    You wrote:
    "Even if the Church only claims infallibility in moral issues or things such as Canon, what's to say that the authority of the Church didn't "flip" after the reformation to the followers of Luther?"
    Because the Church's infallibility has always been based on it's Apostolic authority passed down in succession from the Apostles themselves. The Church didn't lose its succession. If you try to argue that maybe the Church lost it because of its grievous sins (of which there have been many, esp in the 16th century), you will be falling into the Donatist heresy which Augustine fought against.

    You wrote:
    "Finally, if it's so unworkable, how come it's worked for hundreds of years;)? I would actually argue that the reason for 1000's of denominations is due to sin, and the human tendency to never get things quite right, though I'd love to hear your thoughts on that idea. "
    I don't understand your point here. You say it's worked, and then say that the incredible splitting, which I interpret as a sign of failure, is due to sin. So has it worked or not? You can say it just hasn't worked due to sin.
    At no point in history has sola scriptura worked, not even in the Reformation. During the Reformation itself there was division among the various Reformers. And I believe, as I argued in this post, that sola scriptura has not and actually cannot work to explain why the Canon is what it is.

    Thanks for your responses as well, which also make me think, even if I don't agree either. =)

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  13. Alas, I'm in Madison WI going to med school, and am no longer in Wheaton-- so I miss these kinds of conversations quite a bit:(

    I liked your explanation of church infallibility. I've never heard it explained that way (even in the Catechism), and it made sense (though I still think Catholic theology regardless holds too high a view of humanity given my exposure to Catholic political theology).

    I agree there can be mistakes in doing natural theology (and while I didn't mention the ontological argument because of my emphasis on the empirical, I do understand that's part of natural theology), though I take issue with the Church (made up of people) being able to interpret natural law correctly. The Humanae vitae says that:
    "No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, (l) that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, (2) constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men's eternal salvation." I agree, but would point out that Peter (an apostle) was chastised by Paul later on in Scripture about his unwillingness to fellowship with non-Jews. This, to me, points out that even Peter, who would by all accounts be a member of apostolic succession, was imperfect even after his encounter with Christ, and as an illustration of how the Church (led by Peter) made the wrong decision early on its life, only to be corrected soon after. My question is this-- is it possible under Catholic doctrine for the church to be ULTIMATELY infallible, but temporarily fallible (such as during the crusades?). I honestly don't know, and would be interested to hear an answer.

    (More below)

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  14. You point out that "The Catholic Church has existed for 2000 years and still believes that the Bible is the speech of God committed to writing. They have maintained the traditional Christian views on contraception, divorce, homosexuality, ordination, abortion, etc, topics that many, if not all Protestants have caved on." I'm pretty sure not all Protestants have caved on this one-- I haven't, and the denomination I belong to has not either (other than contraception, which is the topic of one of your other posts, and that only because it isn't really mentioned by our synod). However, I would point out that liberation theology came out of the Catholic Church (though not explicitly endorsed by the Vatican of course), and given your argument as apostolic authority as coming from bishops and priests, this seems to throw a wrench in the argument. (Unless, of course, you think liberation theology is kosher, in which case we need to have an entirely different conversation;)

    As far as my Luther argument, what's to say the apostolic authority (granting that it still exists) couldn't have shifted to Luther? I'm not saying the Church lost it, only asking if it could pass to someone outside the Catholic Church, to the catholic (universal) Church.

    And by working I mean this: The gospel has been preached around the world, both by Protestants and Catholics. I think that's instructive-- whatever differences there are in theology and ecclesiology, the gospel MUST remain pre-eminent, and is the only thing that truly gives us salvation and hope. Apart from the gospel, it doesn't matter how good of Catholics or Protestants we are. In the end, theology to me is understanding how Christ's sacrifice (and his love for us) allows us to become better able to lover our neighbors by the preaching and teaching of the word-- making disciples of all nations and baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

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  15. Andrew,
    You wrote:
    "I agree, but would point out that Peter (an apostle) was chastised by Paul later on in Scripture about his unwillingness to fellowship with non-Jews. This, to me, points out that even Peter, who would by all accounts be a member of apostolic succession, was imperfect even after his encounter with Christ, and as an illustration of how the Church (led by Peter) made the wrong decision early on its life, only to be corrected soon after. My question is this-- is it possible under Catholic doctrine for the church to be ULTIMATELY infallible, but temporarily fallible (such as during the crusades?)."
    Infallibility is not the belief that the Church will always be right about everything all the time. Peter was a human being just like the rest of us and was subject to sin and error. He was only infallible when he taught definitively as an Apostle. His hesitation to admit his dealings with gentiles would not fall under this category. Bishops discuss, bishops debate, this happens today and happened at the beginning as you've pointed out.

    You wrote:
    "I'm pretty sure not all Protestants have caved on this one-- I haven't, and the denomination I belong to has not either (other than contraception, which is the topic of one of your other posts, and that only because it isn't really mentioned by our synod)."
    Contraception being a non-issue is a cave. I'm assuming your denomination believes that divorce is sometimes permitted, which goes against historical christian teaching as well. And although your particular denomination might not, many protestant denominations now accept the "ordination" of women and the acceptance of homosexuality. (I put the word 'ordination' in quotes because the lack of apostolic succession means they aren't really ordaining, at least in the sense that Catholics and the vast majority of Christians in history mean the word).

    You wrote:
    "However, I would point out that liberation theology came out of the Catholic Church (though not explicitly endorsed by the Vatican of course), and given your argument as apostolic authority as coming from bishops and priests, this seems to throw a wrench in the argument. (Unless, of course, you think liberation theology is kosher, in which case we need to have an entirely different conversation;)"
    Liberation theology is not the only bad theology that has come from the inside of the Catholic Church. In fact, as far as I understand, for something to be a 'heresy' properly speaking, it's got to be in-house. Muslims aren't normally called heretics because they're not in the Church anyways. Heresy has always been a problem. That's why we need the Church's teaching authority, that's why they convene councils - to settle issues related to heresy that has been accepted.
    Also, only the Pope, as far as I understand, can teach something dogmatically by himself. Other bishops can teach dogmatically as well, but only as a group headed up by the Pope. So a bishop here or there teaching heresy does not go against Church infallibility. There have been heretic bishops throughout Christian history.
    (more in next comment)

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  16. (continued from above)
    You wrote:
    "As far as my Luther argument, what's to say the apostolic authority (granting that it still exists) couldn't have shifted to Luther? I'm not saying the Church lost it, only asking if it could pass to someone outside the Catholic Church, to the catholic (universal) Church."
    Apostolic authority is only passed by ordination, which Luther never received. And it would seem to me to be very obviously an ad hoc move to interpret Christian history in such a way that the Roman Catholic Church was the correct Church until the Reformation when suddenly everything got opened up.

    You wrote:
    "And by working I mean this: The gospel has been preached around the world, both by Protestants and Catholics. I think that's instructive-- whatever differences there are in theology and ecclesiology, the gospel MUST remain pre-eminent, and is the only thing that truly gives us salvation and hope. Apart from the gospel, it doesn't matter how good of Catholics or Protestants we are."
    Yes, but what exactly is the full gospel? There's the rub. Ecclesiology is very important, for Catholics and the vast majority of Christians in history, for soteriology. Many Protestants today reject ecclesiology as important because they have to because they basically have no ecclesiology. For example, traditionally speaking, the Church is the new Noah's Ark, in which a person must in order to be saved. When a person is baptized, they are baptized into Christ, and thus also are becoming a member of the Church which is his body. The Church is where a person receives the Sacraments - God's normal means for dispensing grace to his followers.

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  17. A couple responses:
    How do we know when one is teaching as a definitive apostle, and when someone is simply saying they are in order to garner authority? I would imagine many popes taught as authoritative while espousing untrue doctrine, and Peter was clearly teaching that gentiles were second class while a leader of the church, until a vision from God changed his mind (Acts 10). Talk about a wake-up call!

    I'm curious to as how you interpret Matthew 19:9 with respect to divorce always being contrary to church teaching. I agree that "God hates divorce" certainly, and think it is always terrible, but unfortunately I've seen enough instances of marital unfaithfulness (and I would also point out that abusive relationships are a sticky issue as well) to see why Jesus throws in a caveat.

    While I actually resonate with your argument on contraception, I also think that it is an instance of minutae becoming more important than the big picture: the gospel. I would define the gospel being the story of how God humbled himself, became man, and died on a cross to save us from our sins and redeem the world, all that we might have eternal life, as well as an opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus. Or, in short, the only really good news we've ever had on this earth.

    Quick question while I'm thinking of it: Has there ever been a heretic pope? If there was, how would he be dealt with? (Defining heretic here as contrary to the tradition and teaching of the Roman Church before his own papacy)

    No argument on the sacraments-- remember that you're speaking to a Lutheran;)

    (more below)

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  18. A point of clarification: Luther WAS (pardon the caps) ordained as a priest in the Catholic church (1507, I'm citing the following website, which is so anti-Luther it's almost absurd, so there can be no disagreement on ordination: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09438b.htm), so following your argument, he would have been part of apostolic succession. While my argument was strictly theoretical (I agree that it would be an ad-hoc argument to say the Catholic church was true until the reformation, and then not), it gets at my larger idea, which is the idea of the church invisible (something you will obviously disagree with), where the true apostolic church is that which follows the apostolic gospel as preached by the original followers of Jesus as taught in scripture (2nd Timothy 2:1-2)

    For the record, I think part of what draws me to Luther is the fact that he was so honest about his sin (and reading his writing makes it abundantly clear that he struggled with it constantly), which endears him to this fellow sinner, as opposed to the papacy, which necessarily--I'm not begrudging this point-- portrays itself as on a higher moral order. For the record, it's actually not a problem with authority (at least for me), which is the inevitable rejoinder, but an un-compelling one in my eyes.

    This, of course, leads me to the concept of priesthood of all believers, which I would be interested to hear your comments on (Esp. given Galatians 3:28). I would argue that it is here we find the apostolic succession given to all believers through the holy spirit. Along with the concept of the invisible church, I think I would get around your argument as Protestant churches as having a multitude of problems with sound theology by saying that the true invisible church, which is only some members of the visible church, has actually received the holy spirit, and thus is receiving the apostolic teaching of scripture correctly. (Though I have to think about that one a bit more, it's not entirely coherent yet)

    Finally, ecclesiology matters-- yes. Absolutely. But Paul, along with other writers in the NT, speaks more about the church being rooted in the work of Jesus Christ than it ever does about how the Church is actually organized dogmatically. I believe this is because the dogma of the early church WAS the preaching of the story of Christ. As a Lutheran, I would be remiss not to mention the idea of first preaching law (and sin) in order to convict the heart, and then the joyous celebration of the gospel afterwards, so that true repentance is the greatest thing ever! My point is that all ecclesiology, theology, soteriology, and whatever other ology's we may come up with are all primarily rooted in the cross and resurrection of our Lord--the gospel story. And that's something I'm sure we can agree on:)

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  19. Hey Andrew,
    I haven't forgotten about you! I've just been busy the last few days with some other things. Wow, these keep on getting longer and longer...lol

    You wrote:
    "How do we know when one is teaching as a definitive apostle, and when someone is simply saying they are in order to garner authority? I would imagine many popes taught as authoritative while espousing untrue doctrine, and Peter was clearly teaching that gentiles were second class while a leader of the church, until a vision from God changed his mind (Acts 10)."
    There are a few ways. An Ecumenical Council is a clear sign of the Church using its infallibility. If the Pope speaks ex cathedra, or in some other way makes it very clear that he is teaching is to be taken as authoritative. I haven't personally studied all the ways that it can happen, but it's usually, esp nowadays, the Church makes it very clear when it is declaring something definitively.
    There have been no Popes that taught things wrongly dogmatically.

    You wrote:
    "I'm curious to as how you interpret Matthew 19:9 with respect to divorce always being contrary to church teaching. "
    I'm familiar with the passage. It would be too much to go into too much depth here. But I will say that the word there that is the exception is "pornea". For various reasons, Christians have taken that to mean unfaithfulness during a betrothal period. Thus the divorce Jesus is speaking about is not what we would think of divorce because the marriage has not taken place yet. The overall passage, as well as other passages, make it clear that marriage is indissoluable.

    You wrote:
    "I also think that it is an instance of minutae becoming more important than the big picture: the gospel."
    This here is the extreme danger of Protestantism, right here. I don't mean to be speaking to strongly, but I really think it is the case. Since when did moral issues become "an instance of minutae"? Since when did the marriage bed become "an instance of minutae"? For Protestants, the answer is: the moment there was enough disagreement about it. That's how most Protestant today operate. If you want to know more about what I'm trying to say, read my post "How Sola Scriptura Leads to Pluralism".

    You wrote:
    "Has there ever been a heretic pope?"
    I could be wrong here, but I'm pretty sure the answer is many. The only problem comes in if a new Pope started to dogmatically declare something that was heretical. He can go on thinking whatever he wants and it wouldn't mess with the doctrine of infallibility.

    You wrote:
    "A point of clarification: Luther WAS (pardon the caps) ordained as a priest in the Catholic church"
    Oh, my bad. I thought he was a monk only. Thanks for the clarification.

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  20. (continuation)
    You wrote:
    "so following your argument, he would have been part of apostolic succession."
    Only partially. As far as I understand, priests do not have full apostolic succession, only the bishops do. Priests share in a part of the apostlic powers of their bishop. So as far as I understand, this means that he might have been able to perform valid sacraments after he split from the Church, maybe, but that he would not have had any infallibility going. Anyways, he would not have been able to confer holy orders on anyone because only a bishop can do that.

    You wrote:
    "where the true apostolic church is that which follows the apostolic gospel as preached by the original followers of Jesus as taught in scripture (2nd Timothy 2:1-2) "
    Ironically the verse you quote up there would offer evidence of Tradition alongside Scripture, since Paul tells Timothy to pass on what Paul has SAID, not just what he WROTE. See my post "Sola Scriptura Isn't Scriptural"
    Besides, no one in the history of the Church understood the Church the way you are describing it until the Reformation, and the Reformers only redefined the Church that way because they had to to make their systems work. It's a made up idea. See my post "The Early Church Was Catholic: Apostolic Succession and Authority"

    You wrote:
    "as opposed to the papacy, which necessarily--I'm not begrudging this point-- portrays itself as on a higher moral order"
    This is just untrue regarding the papacy. The Pope is not necessarily better than anyone. The Pope sins and goes to confession just like anyone else. In fact, I have been told that the current Pope sets an example by going to confession every week.

    You wrote:
    "I would argue that it is here we find the apostolic succession given to all believers through the holy spirit."
    The Catholic Church believes in the priesthood of all believers just so you know. We are all priests in our own way. The people we refer to as "Priests" have a special ministry. The idea that all Christians have that same ministry is an idea foreign to history before the Reformation. I'll ask you this, in the New Testament, do all believers have the same authority of Paul? If so, how can Paul, citing his apostleship, authoritatively tell people that they are wrong on certain things? I thought we all have apostolic succession through the Holy Spirit? The answer: not everyone has apostolic authority.

    You wrote:
    "Along with the concept of the invisible church, I think I would get around your argument as Protestant churches as having a multitude of problems with sound theology by saying that the true invisible church, which is only some members of the visible church, has actually received the holy spirit, and thus is receiving the apostolic teaching of scripture correctly.(Though I have to think about that one a bit more, it's not entirely coherent yet)"
    I don't think that this is coherent. Who's who. Where are they. How can we tell. Sincerity? Passion? Most followers? I have no idea. There are people with all of those things who disagree fundamentally. In fact, a person can't even tell which beliefs are fundamental or not if you're a Protestant. It doesn't work.

    You wrote:
    "Finally, ecclesiology matters-- yes. Absolutely. But Paul, along with other writers in the NT, speaks more about the church being rooted in the work of Jesus Christ than it ever does about how the Church is actually organized dogmatically."
    I agree that the work of Jesus Christ is what the Church is built on. But, ok, like you said, ecclesiology still matters. So I don't know what you're trying to say. It sounds like you're trying to say it matters, but ultimately doesn't matter at all.

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