Further discussion of Protestant conversions to Rome and Jason Stellman’s views over at Green Baggins have set me thinking about a curious feature of the Called To Communion paradigm (how do you like them apples?). Jason is trying to give a biblical account for Bryan Cross’ understanding of agape and he has challenged Reformed Protestants to show where Calvinism’s idea of imputation is found in the gospels or Christ’s own teaching. His point is that if Paul’s teaching on justification were so basic, you’d expect to see it in the accounts of Christ’s teaching and ministry.
My counter to this is that if Paul’s teaching is consistent with Christ’s, then Paul’s views of justification may very well be what he learned from Christ. Doctrinal development being what it is, you surely wouldn’t want to imply that Paul was making this stuff up. Jason says he’s not positing a red-letter edition of the Bible, or Jesus against Paul, but the tensions are there in his view. He can read Jesus through the lens of Paul or he can read Paul through the lens of Jesus. (Or you try to harmonize.)
Either way, this discussion has made me wonder if CTCers are guilty of their own form of deism. According to Cross’ idea of ecclesiastical deism, Protestants have no way to explain convincingly how the true church popped up after 1,000 years. So to counter the Protestant and Mormon view of church history, he doubles down and insists that the church was there all along. And to do this, CTCers put great emphasis on the early church fathers as a body of teaching that reflects what the apostles handed down to the church from Christ. Hence the continuity, authority, and infallibility of Rome’s teaching in the CTC paradigm.
But there is a gap here that is quite startling when you think about it. Consider three important Roman Catholics beliefs, the primacy of Peter, the status of the virgin Mary, and the authority of the papacy. You may be able to find biblical support for these in the gospels. But where do you find in Acts or the epistles a stress upon Peter, belief in the import of Mary, or signs of the bishop of Rome? The New Testament after the gospels is virtually silent on these matters.
So how do CTCer’s account for the gap between Christ and the Early Church Fathers? Do they suffer from a deism of their own? Did the Early Church Fathers all of a sudden pop up with the teachings found in the gospels after the New Testament epistle writers neglected them? Of course, CTCers will deny any gap exists. But two can play this game.