Conciliarism and Protestantism

Francis Oakley traces the appropriation and extension of conciliarism by the Reformers (another historical development that cracks Jason and the Caller’s paradigmatic squint):

‘A general councell is a Congregation of Pastors, Doctors and Elders, or others, met in the name and authority of Jesus Christ, out of all Churches, to determine according to the word of God, all controversies in faith, Church-government or manners, no faithfull person who desireth being excluded from reasoning and speaking’. The author of this definition correctly noted that the definitions given across the two centuries and more preceding by the conciliar theorists Jean Gerson and Jacques Almain did not differ much from his own ‘save that they thinke that councells are lawfully convened, if such and such onely, as are of the Hierarchike order be members thereof . . . as also the Pope president . . . [which] we disclaime.’ . . .

These comments are drawn from The Due Right of Presbyteries which Samuel Rutherford, the Scottish Presbyterian, published in 1644. I do not believe it fanciful to suggest that they reflect in intriguing fashion the knowledge of, interest in, and sympathy with the long conciliarist tradition which had been so marked a feature of Scottish ecclesiological thinking since the first quarter of the fifteenth century, and of which, in the early sixteenth, John Mair had been the ‘outstanding representative’. . . . Significant elements of this conciliar ecclesiology are evident also in the Catechism which John Hamilton, archbishop of St. Andrews, published in 1550, and then were later reflected also in such official statements of the Reformed Scottish Kirk as the Scots Confession of 1560 and the Second Book of Discipline, this last drawn up in 1578 and recognized by James VI’s government in 1592. This Second Book of Discipline, indeed, affirmed the general Council to be an integral part of the Kirk’s organization, a capstone, as it were, to the structure of local, regional, and national or general assemblies.

But when James VI became James I, his suspicions of presbyterianism did not put him off conciliarism altogether even if his resolve for Reformed Protestantism was not as think as a Scottish accent:

Within a year of his becoming king of England, after all, and even before he told his first parliament that he acknowledged ‘the Romane Church to be our Mother Church, although defiled with some infirmities and corruptions’ and expressed, accordingly, his own heartfelt desire to help promote ‘a generall Christian union in Religion’, he had proposed to the papal curia via diplomatic back-channels that the pope should ‘summon a General Council, which, according to the ancient usage,’ would be ‘superior to all Churches, all doctrine, all Princes, secular and ecclesiastic, non excepted’. And if he believed the pope to be subject in jurisdiction to that of the general council (as the Council of Constance had demonstrated), he still insisted that he regarddd hierarchy as ‘essential’ to the Church, and the pope ‘the first Bishop in it, President and Moderator in Council, but not head or superior’. (142-144)


57 thoughts on “Conciliarism and Protestantism

  1. Interesting cover story in the 9/2 issue of “The New Republic”: “The New Pope has given progressive Catholics Hope, but can he change the Vatican? Nope.”

    Calls into question just how much real power the audacious one has.


  2. “Here at Called To Communion, much has been said about the epistemic problems with sola scriptura and the way in which the Catholic paradigm is not subject to those criticisms.”

    Really, they’ve discussed that at Called to Communion? Who knew…


  3. D.G. on CTC –

    Mike, so it is always about epistemology? How neo-Calvinist of you. I deal with this sort of argument all the time in Reformed circles. It is not fun to be told that the real world is all in my head when I keep tripping over Garry Wills and Pope Francis.

    The one big whole in your argument is that this normative CIP is — as the Big Lebowski might say — well, all your opinion, man. Please show me where the magisterium has weighed in on CIP, or where Denzinger cites it. No offense, but your telling me what is normative for the Roman Catholic Church is like John Frame telling me what is normative for Reformed Protestantism.

    You also misunderstood my point about the political/temporal nature of the papacy’s claims. It was not a form of disparagement or innuendo. Again, I have lots of experience with Calvinists who assert the Lordship of Christ for theological and devotional reasons before then voting for the GOP and despising Obama. In other words, the spiritual and political are sown together in the minds of many and I believe the papacy was no different. The pope’s political power was simply an extension of its spiritual power. I get that.

    The problem for RC’s is that a millennium of papal history was wrapped around that conjunction and it all came undone at Vatican 2. But nothing changed, right? It’s all the same development. I don’t think so. You don’t either since you admit Pio Nono was wrong about politics for the health of the church. But if he was wrong about a claim that goes so close to the heart of high papalism, the guts of your system are about to burst.

    I guess no one will notice if you keep insisting on the right epistemology. But why don’t you insist upon it with your fellow RC’s rather than belaboring it with Reformed Protestants? It seems getting your own house in order would take at least a lifetime. But then that raises the question of where this Call is going? Why not Call all those RC’s with the wrong IP (address).

    Meanwhile Michael Liccione replies by splitting hairs thinner and thinner:

    “If you had adduced an argument that the set of statements for which I claim magisterial force do not, in fact, constitute accurate reports and summaries of magisterial teaching, you would have a point. But you have adduced no such argument. Instead, you assume that I can’t credibly say what’s magisterial because my status in the Church is not that of one who actually exercises the Magisterium. Now if that assumption were correct, then no lay catechist could be said to be presenting magisterial doctrine. Lay catechists–who are the vast majority of catechists–could be said to be presenting only what, in their non-authoritative opinion, is magisterial doctrine. But that would be a silly thing to say. According to magisterial authorities themselves, the job of catechists, whether lay or clerical, is to present and inculcate magisterial teaching. That teaching remains magisterial whether or not the person presenting and inculcating it has the status in the Church of one who actually exercises the Magisterium. That’s all I claim for the content of what I call the ‘CIP’ and for my presentation of it. My effort exemplifies what used to be called “propagating the Faith”–which every confirmed Catholic is supposed to do, according to their talents and opportunities. And you can test my claims against pertinent, published magisterial documents. But rather than do that–which, of course, would fail to achieve your purpose–you resort to taunting me. Such behavior is beneath a scholar. I hope this isn’t how you behave in the classroom.”

    This reads like the insurance policies sitting across my desk.


  4. Michael,

    Your hair-splitting and use of jargon in 497 is breathtaking. Between explanations like this and your 3,ooo Q&A Catechism that Dave refers to above as a simple answer, you guys might need to do a little work to refine your apologetic to make it a bit more palatable to the common man.

    When I reply with simple, straightforward Creeds & Confessions you are going to be at a serious disadvantage.


  5. D.G.,

    Check out O’Malley’s book on Vatican ii. These debates are still very much alive in the Catholicism.


  6. Ray (505) – We are not trying to win a popularity contest, but rather find the truth. If your “straightforward” Creeds & Confessions give you a rhetorical advantage among a sound-bite audience, but at the price of pat or sophistical answers to deep and messy problems, so be it.

    Erik – “Concise” does not necessarily mean pat or sophistical. Maybe the gospel is just a lot simpler than you guys make it out to be?

    When I see extreme wordiness I usually conclude that whatever is being defended is not terribly consistent or coherent.

    Jason (#507) – It’s called “Divide and Dismiss,” and is pretty typical of how one argues when he becomes desperate.

    Erik – How many iterations of Christianity do you have to adhere to before you find one that yields some maturity? No one is desperate — we’re Calvinists — you know that.


  7. Erik — you cited Liccione:

    “If you had adduced an argument that the set of statements for which I claim magisterial force do not, in fact, constitute accurate reports and summaries of magisterial teaching, you would have a point…”

    Sometimes I think he thinks that the less people understand him, the smarter they will think he is.

    But he has a point. “Papal infallibility” (and in fact, infallibility in general) is construed so narrowly (and with such a degree of plausible deniability, and with the trump card of “development”), that you’ll never be able to pin him down, no matter how many big words he uses, and no matter how much common sense he is presented with.

    Eric Svendsen rightly titled his book “Upon This Slippery Rock”.

    “And you can test my claims against pertinent, published magisterial documents.”

    Said “published magisterial documents” have been construed in just such a way as to stand up to this kind of scrutiny. But the problem is, they are construed as being within the realm of “revelation”, and outside the tests of history.

    You said “This reads like the insurance policies sitting across my desk”.

    Think of it as “Magisterial insurance”.


  8. “If your “straightforward” Creeds & Confessions give you a rhetorical advantage among a sound-bite audience, but at the price of pat or sophistical answers to deep and messy problems, so be it.”

    Where was it that Paul wrote that Christianity was sophisticated and appealing to the wise? I seem to remember him boasting about the robust philosophical nature of his arguments. Was a real attraction the Greeks, right? Christianity isn’t for the simple minded after all.


  9. Erik, you’ve engaged a group who are themselves in the middle of a fight for the soul of their communion. They’ve just seen the heyday of their conservative ‘renaissance’, which best I can tell lasted about 15 years, from early 90’s till about 2007. And actually Ratzinger, in lobbying for the office, was a last ditch effort to keep the movement on life support. I was just going back through Pachence’s notes after I left and it looks to be about ’92 when he starts to notice a swing in the seminarians coming through the formation center. And it looks to be what you’re seeing now is the Vat II vanguard pushing back and gaining steam right around the time Ratzinger took office, which is a great deal of why he quit shortly thereafter. So, now you’ve got both sides marshalling different bishops, theologians, and putting them forward as the ‘official position’. You even had Ratzinger making movements toward SSPXers trying to shore up the conservative flank.

    Remember ‘interpretation’ in Rome is a multi-headed beast. There isn’t ONE conclusion, there are multiple and since 2005 now officially,-not ex cathedra(huge loophole) the only bounding that has been set is “no rupture”. Well if no definitive bounding(single conclusion) was set at Vat II, and the hermenuetical purpose was to allow for multiple interpretations so that Rome could effectively morph pastorally with modernity you will forever have swings one way or another, you will effectively have sects, factions, movements all LEGITIMATELY being able to claim grounding in ALLOWABLE interpretation. Which is why you have Anglo-catholic communions, SSPXers(dissent), Vat II ‘liberals’, Latin-rite communions, the Network, social conscience academics, etc..

    Now they want to say this isn’t confusion, like what you see in protestantism because sacramentally we are all on board. Well, I’ll grant that everybody, who practices, goes to mass. Let me be generous here; I’d say 1 in 200 catholics can explain to you their sacramental theology. And that’s me being uber-generous to my former communion. Nobody reads the bible and less read the catechism. Which means pastorally, effectively, practicing-wise you have a group who’s religious practice is NOT propositionally considered, much less inscripturated-apostolically grounded by even the conservatives own paradigmatic considerations: ‘Lexicon and Tradition”. What you have is a religious communion grounded in the priestly charism of the ordinary magisterium. They have sacerdotalism. They have grace and benefit mediated to them per priestly mediation and justification/salvation conveyed by way of ontological renovation and purgation. Now, 1 in 1000(uber-generous) could explain that to you. But since you have ex opere operato at work, and your official posture is to want to receive the benefit conveyed, you’re still good.

    So, when Mike argues his fideistically enabled CIP on you, which is somehow impervious to observable phenomenon-disunity but the PIP isn’t-multiple denominations, pat him on the head and bless his heart.


  10. Sean,

    Is it just me or is Rome just this giant automaton sustained by inertia? Nobody except a precious few actually know or care about what they believe. They just know its a good idea to go to mass a couple of times a year but they don’t know why. Then you have these CTC guys who want to come in and argue for the superiority of a system that by its very nature (ex opere operate) produces nominalism. There’s Protestant nominalism of course, but our emphasis on personal faith—I think—means that nominalism is never a necessary consequence.

    Maybe I’m just off base.


  11. Robert, RC is sacerdotalism. It is priestly mediation of the benefits of God through Jesus Christ via the sacraments of the church. Full Stop. This is what she does and is organized to do. You can add to that a feminine touch per the veneration/worship/mediation of Mary. Outside of sacerdotalism and the ontological renovation and purgation of the soul provided therein, she’s a bazaar of different theological and ethical and political ideologies, movements, considerations and practices. All of which rank somewhere below ‘infallibly considered’ on the authority tree that cabals of canon lawyers can’t all come to agreement about, much less theologians, academics and ethicists. Most people’s religious expression in RC amounts to; “I go to mass, went to mass, tried to do right, went to confession a few times and I hope the priest gets there in time for last rites.” And some like the CtCers even sign off on what amounts to a very general claim of; “I believe what the church believes”

    Protestantism only shows the sort of propositional disunity of Rome in it’s most liberal manifestations; mainline. All of those folks SHOULD go ahead and be RC, they’ll be right at home and sleep better at night.

    Perspicuity of and an adherence to inscripturated apostolic tradition is the hallmark of confessional protestantism. For all our differences we come closer to a propositional unity of the biblical religion than any I’ve been a part of or am aware of. Rome, even in it’s anglo-catholic/prot-catholic forms; CtC, beg off that requirement: “lexicon and the Tradition”.


  12. Sean, can I just tell you, you rock? Don’t know what we cradle prots would do without you around these parts…

    I issue my hearty interweb “amen” to your last paragraph.

    As much as I hate to be “that guy,” I still wonder, “where do we go from here?” I mean, I know the answer, “we press on,” but I think it’s something for all of us Christians reading and writing in comboxes at oldlife. Can we combox our way to Christian unity in all the various ways that we need to seek it? (ie amongst fellow protestants, AND others?)

    I don’t write as one with answers. We are called to follow our Lord. May we pray continually for the strength to do just that. We can move forward boldly in the knowledge of the One who has achieved the victory, for each and every one of us, personally.

    It’s been a good week at oldlife,



  13. Memo to…everyone: Sean understands what Romanism is about better than almost anyone, especially the clowns at CTC. The idolatrous mass is the heart of the thing. My advice: Quit arguing with Cross on the finer points of you-name-it and hit ’em with the 1st (saints, Mary) and the 2nd (images, mass). Deep down I believe/hope they are embarrassed by these parts.


  14. Sean, what you say of the disunity of the RC church, how much would apply to the priests and bishops? Obviously, theologians would be a mixed bag. But could CTCer’s claim that Rome has a modicum of conformity among clergy?


  15. Darryl, which one’s; The effiminate, the lesbians, the Marxists, the contemplatives, the cloistered?

    I assume they would all know the mechanizations of the mass and it’s resulting ontological import. But, it’s the clergy who were most eager to throw off the constraints after Vat II. I was debating with clergy who were trying to shove German protestant theological liberalism down our throats. I think Ratzinger was successful in raising up conservative clergy within the ranks over the past 20 years but it looks to be that even that movement is already on the decline. Apparently you’ll get pockets in the anglo-catholic communion but I wouldn’t look for it much outside of that.


  16. Good grief, Sean. What did you eat for breakfast? Did you stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night?

    That’s a blog post.

    Now if you could only get some decent music at your church.


  17. Sean, I do have to say that you have given one of the best overviews of the state of Roman Catholicism that I have seen.

    Quick definition: Who are the “Vat II vanguard”? I’m guessing the liberals?

    This is dead on: Most people’s religious expression in RC amounts to; “I go to mass, went to mass, tried to do right, went to confession a few times and I hope the priest gets there in time for last rites.” And some like the CtCers even sign off on what amounts to a very general claim of; “I believe what the church believes”

    I’d only disagree with you on one point:

    All of those folks SHOULD go ahead and be RC, they’ll be right at home and sleep better at night.

    They might sleep better, but they wouldn’t be any better off.

    But do you mind if I quote you on some of the other moving parts?


  18. Erik, it’s Darryl’s fault. Everytime I think I’m out, he pulls me back in.

    Erik, it’s been a process. I got over the charism of the collar progressively in my teenage/seminary years. Then the evangelicals got hold of me for a couple of years until I started reading again and since then it’s been a growing understanding of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. A consistent diet of the word of God has done more to wean me off Rome than anything else.


  19. Robert,

    I wanted to address something you said on Jason’s blog here, where my sarcasm may be misunderstood and incite a lynching. I write it to you because I commiserate with you…

    You said,

    In fact, given some of the earliest post-apostolic documents such as 1 Clement, the whole plurality of elders model that you find in Presbyterianism and many Baptist churches is actually far closer to what the EARLIEST fathers tell us than the single-bishopric model.

    Ah, but don’t you see? That is all entirely consistent with a papacy that *could* have existed at the time. A plurality of leadership in Rome *could* have existed in Rome with a multiplicity of elders and one of those men carrying on the office of St. Peter. Just because Clement, Ignatius, & Hermas don’t mention a Petrine office (and as Andrew points out, Irenaeus doesn’t either) or a monepiscopate in Rome doesn’t mean there wasn’t one. Provide me one piece of evidence that doesn’t *explicitly* say that a Petrine office didn’t exist!

    Just because there is no indication from early evidence that a Petrine bishop was in Rome does not mean it *couldn’t* have existed. You’re reading from a hermeneutic of discontinuity HOD, but you should read from a hermeneutic of continuity HOC. After all, as Jason has argued, without the HOC Protestantism is

    …nothing like a divinely-instituted Church.

    because we know a priori that a divinely-instituted church necessarily must be infallible. The fact that Protestantism has the audacity to claim that the church is not infallible proves that Protestantism is false. (footnote Liccione, Mike PhD). Divine revelation would be impossible without the church being infallible as you can plainly see from Scripture Philosophy.

    Once you understand it all, its pretty simple. It goes down real easy, Robert. Come on, just tilt your head back a little and take a sip of this Kool-Aid. It’ll make the whole world feel so much more certain.


  20. John, if there’s anything useful to you there you may have it. Just keep the schoolmarms away from me. They make me PTSD symptomatic.

    Vat II vanguard are the ‘liberals’, yes. Though I will argue there’s nothing inherently inconsistent with their interpretive takeaways from Vat II, particularly the group of theologians who were advising the bishops on what the Vat II documents should pronounce. Kung, for example.


  21. John Bugay,

    Brandon would agree with you and he often makes those kinds of arguments on Jason’s blog. In fact, he’s done an admirable job pointing out the whole problem with the lack of evidence for a papacy being the single biggest obstacle that Rome has to overcome in its retelling of church history.

    He’s responding here in a bit of sarcastic fun to something I wrote to Jason.


  22. John,

    We’re on the same page here. As Robert notes, I was being facetious. I know Jason, Andrew Preslar, and Bryan Cross are very intelligent people so I’m trying to understand what I could possibly be missing, but I just don’t see how it is plausible that such eminently intelligent men come to the conclusions that they have.

    WRT your blog about Liccione, I’m not sure that he is a liar as much as he is wedded to what he knows must be. He simply knows that in order for Divine revelation to be accessible there must be an infallible interpreter. His strong a priori has him encouraging people that talking about the historical evidence is not really that important. But, as I pointed out to him, the entire philosophical system of CtC depends on those historical claims.

    And you are completely right about the argument from silence. I’m again at a loss for words how Sean Patrick can ask for a piece of evidence stronger than Irenaeus…How about 1 Clement, Hermas, Ignatius, silence from Justin Martyr, and no mention of a bishop (let alone a Petrine bishop) when Marcion appeals to the presbyters of the church. This silence in the early evidence, where we would expect to hear something so important that without it the church could not exist, is deafening. Appealing to it is not a logical fallacy but is the historians responsibility.


  23. Brandon – . I know Jason, Andrew Preslar, and Bryan Cross are very intelligent people so I’m trying to understand what I could possibly be missing, but I just don’t see how it is plausible that such eminently intelligent men come to the conclusions that they have.

    Erik – No matter how intelligent you are there is a leap of faith in something at some point. Once you make that leap of faith, you use your intelligence to gather evidence to support the leap and to suppress evidence that calls the leap into question. Observe it happening with eminently intelligent people of all faiths.

    It’s when these guys think they haven’t taken a leap, that’s it’s all just logic, that they slip up.

    If they admit they’ve taken a leap then they’re back where they were as Protestants and they can’t stomach that.


  24. By the way Brandon, I do think he is blatantly dishonest — whether he is “wedded” to “what he knows what must be” or not, if he is the kind of great and brilliant teacher of philosophy that he says he is, he ought to understand that the counter arguments exist, and he ought to say why his theory (in this case about the “argument from silence” about the Assumption of Mary) doesn’t meet the criteria for that counter argument. But he doesn’t. He just clams up. Or at least, I don’t get the sense that he’s even explaining all this to the hometown folks. He just lets them fester in their blissful ignorance on this matter.


  25. Sean’s post on understanding RC is a winner. I think Old Life should adopt something akin to the Dundies; monthly awards for best posts. I wonder what categories we could come up with.


  26. An interesting question with Jason and the Callers is whether or not we should even resist them. They say Scripture is not clear, there are a lot of Protestant sects, therefore we need an infallible interpreter. We respond that Scripture is clear and our Confessions are a faithful summary. After that we just go round-and-round, ad infinitum.

    Say one of our members comes to us and says they are becoming Catholic, a la Jason. We tell them the same thing about Scripture and our Confessions but they persist and leave anyway. As Calvinists are we really responsible to do anything more? We know some will hear the gospel, accept it, and persevere. Others will hear it but fall away. It’s unfortunate, but is it really alarming?

    Do we really need to be concerned with Jason and the Callers?


  27. Erik, there’s a reason why our church has a committe on ecumenical and inter-church relations. Catholics deserve no special attention from them, however. They get in line with the rest of the churches we deem to be false.


  28. Chortles, I thought the heart of the matter was justification? Do the mediation and offering sacrifice errors stem from a wrong theology of justification, or vice versa?


  29. Hey AB,
    Sort or jumping in here. Hope everybody is well.

    How is, [“churches we deem to be false”], not a manifestation of the basic root of postmodernism we all fight. One person or church says this makes a church or doctrine false while another says, “no no no this makes one false.”
    I think part of where we go from here is realizing our own histories Reformed and Catholic cause problems with our point of departure in discussing issues between us. We can’t stand in judgement over others standards until we are judging our own properly. That is why I spend time in a place like oldlife when I can. I can find some guys who can relay their point of view well. I like to hear my standards judged so that I might judge them better.


  30. MichaelTX,

    Good to hear from you.

    Certainly your communion is given the right to choose between what is true and false. You would necessarily state that my communion’s doing so makes us postmodern? I understand you may feel we are incorrect calling the Catholic Church in error. Members of the PCUSA would feel the same as you do.

    Here is a relatively recently link (2011) which, while not representing an official position of the OPC, shows what some in our communion think are the differences between the OPC and the Catholic Church, just FYI is all:



  31. Sean,
    Our invertedness is hard to fathom sometimes.
    You said, ” RC is sacerdotalism. It is priestly mediation of the benefits of God through Jesus Christ via the sacraments of the church. Full Stop.”
    Basically we agree, yet another way of saying this in Biblical language is: God, by grace, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ comes to save His beloved people who are spirit and flesh in a way suited to that created nature. In the Flesh by the Spirit for and by His one people.
    Pretty wild that my steady diet of Scripture brings me closer to Christ while in union with Rome, while you are driven farther away from Rome. It is a difference of belief in what is created by Christ’s teachings revealed in the Scriptures. I believe it to be a unified unbreakable universal teaching church which teaches to the end of time. Pretty wild for a Protestant fellow to decide is true, but I guess that is what happened. Just this Catholic’s opinion of what is objectively true. I can be wrong but Truth can’t. He will reveal what/Who is correct to us all. Likely it won’t be us, but will be Him.


  32. Thanks AB.

    I am not saying your communion is postmodern. I am saying having different arbiters of truth for society creates a postmodern society. Here is just where we are because of it. One truth or many truths? For it to be one it must be revealed from above and solid in its daily delivery to current society. The OPC could do this, but I do not think it claims to be that delegated revealer of Truth. Right?


  33. MichaelTX,

    The OPC believes she is a branch of the true church. She does not believe she is the lone proclaimer of revealed Truth.

    “As a faithful branch of the true church, the OPC acknowledges Jesus Christ as her only head and his word as the final authority in all matters of faith and life.”

    You believe you belong to the communion that says it is the “delegated proclaimer of revealed Truth,” right?



  34. MichaelTX,

    Further, this is what I learned, and still hold to, in 2009, at the conference I attended in San Jose, CA. I think interested readers of ecclessiology per the OPC should read all the transcripts at this link. This quotation below the link is from a man I respect, Dr. Alan Strange. If you are interested in the OPC, I can think of no better place to get your fill, than from the lectures here:

    Myth Number One: We interpret the Bible, but not the Westminster standards. Now, sometimes that gets said, and I understand where that is coming from, but let’s think through that together. It’s an understandable error given the nature of the standards, as I argued earlier, as clear statements of doctrine. I agree – the standards are clear statements of doctrine. The Scriptures contain obscurities at points. It tells us that itself. The standards aren’t supposed to contain obscurities of that kind so much. If they do, we should straighten them out, we should make it clear. But, one I think could wrongly assume in saying we interpret the Bible but not the standards that they need no interpretation. Rather, they need only to be received in their teaching. Well, this is similar to the fundamentalist’s error about the Bible – “No book but the Bible, no creed but Christ” – applied to the creeds. Let’s not think that creeds neither warrant nor need interpretation. Of course they need interpretation. The hermeneutical task can’t be escaped. They are going to have to be interpreted. The Word is interpreted in the creeds and confessions and then we are going to together interpret our creeds and confessions and we are going to administer them. You can’t escape that. That’s the hard work of the church. Sometimes we want at some level everything done for us. It’s like, I tell my students this all the time – I teach church polity – and I say you can’t have reformation by tweaking the polity and getting it just perfect because the best polity that we could have from the Word of God if it’s administered by men of ill will will fail. Please don’t be shocked here. I’m not Episcopalian at all. But, then I’ll go on to say episcopacy if the bishop is a good man could have some good things happening. Now, I don’t think that’s the Biblical form of government – I think Presbyterianism is, but I don’t think because we have the form Presbyterian that we’ve got a lock on things. That’s just not the way it works. We have to always be faithful. We have to come before God and in humility look to Him and serve Him together, communing with him and each other as members of His mystical body. There is a real spiritual aspect to this that can’t be gotten around. So, one can’t preserve doctrine by saying, well if we could perfect our confession (I’m not saying we don’t need to – our confession doesn’t need to be as clear as we can make it), but to say, you know, this is how we’re going to have reformation and everything we need by getting it all down. No. We have to continue to serve faithfully and humbly. Interpretation, the hermeneutical task, is at every level inescapable. The question, then, is not whether we interpret the standards – we do. The question is whose interpretation prevails. My possibly idiosyncratic one? Or the one that the imposing body acting in integrity holds? And, of course, as I’ve said, that really refers ultimately to the whole church. One may object that the imposing body might be wrong, and it might – we don’t believe in the infallibility of the church. I don’t. I don’t know about you. I don’t believe the church is infallible. I believe the Word is infallible. One may object that the imposing body might be wrong, or is not acting in integrity, but that’s another matter and remedies for such exist in our Book of Church Order. There are ways that we have to address unfaithfulness, but we need to recognize here that we do interpret our secondary standards. Variations of interpretation on a particular matter in the imposing body could signal on the one hand, it could mean departure from the faith. If you say, there is this interpretation and there is this interpretation, maybe this interpretation means departure from the faith, but it can’t be assumed. What do I mean? Please follow me here. You’ve got a doctrine stated in our confession. You’ve got some various ways of understanding or interpreting the confession. It may be that this party over here is faithless or it may be that this particular doctrine in terms of some of the specifics has about it or there is a proper elasticity. There are certain doctrines that we say- no, we want this in the narrowest way confessed this way. Or, there are other things that we may say, well, there is a permission here. I think John will be talking about the millennial issue. And, I think you can read the standards in certain ways that would have a certain millennial point, but we have not read them that way. Now, maybe you think we should read them that way. But, that isn’t the way we read them. We haven’t read them as clearly excluding certain historic positions. And, so, here’s what I am saying: The fact of different interpretations on a particular matter doesn’t mean that there is a terrible departure from the faith, but it may mean a proper elasticity in enforcing the confession on that particular point is at issue. Think of the issue of exclusive psalmody. Now, I understand that those who may be committed to exclusive psalmody say, well, you’re wrong. But, the fact is that we have an elasticity on it. You may not like that there is an elasticity on it, but there is. That’s just a fact. One has to judge and act accordingly. There is no escaping that hard work. We can’t eliminate the hard work that the church is called to do always by reducing everything to rules – have as many rules as you wish. That’s what I was saying earlier. Governing bodies have to apply and interpret and make hard decisions. You just can’t get around making hard decisions. You just can’t get around it.


  35. Yes AB that is what I believe.
    “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” I know I was not one of the ones sent by Christ and the Scriptures teach me that some men were. It also teaches the Holy Spirit was sent to help them recall all Christ taught them and also to guide them “to all truth.”

    The problem I have with the multiple branch theory of the Church is that all branches get their life from the source and all branches of a single tree produce the same fruit. Christ is the head. Christ is our life, truth and way. Different doctrines or ways are not the same fruit. So the OPC must say it’s doctrines and ways are “the” doctrines and way of the one Church and the OPC is displaying its fruit because it is commanded to in the scriptures and connected to the one source, which it can say, and churches with different doctrines are therefore false; or it must say separate churches teach different doctrines and they could be from Christ who is the head of the churches. I doesn’t seem to say the previous and would therefore be left with the latter and be unable to teach against having other churches. This seems to leave there being more that one sent Church. And also leaves the individual to discern the truth or falsity of the differing doctrines and churches. This is the postmodern situation. Right?


  36. MichaelTX,

    As a Christian, I have no warrant to say my particular church is the one True church. I do have warrant to say that the Word is the one True Word.

    I actually don’t see the point in your saying I am post modern. You’ll have to explain your point more clearly for me.



  37. AB,
    I think you may have read into what I have said somewhere. I haven’t said you are post modern. I am saying society is postmodern because society can’t hear “one True Word” to conform itself to. That is our fault. We don’t present it with “one True Word” but with many possible true words. Do we all say Christ is King? yes. Do we say there is a inerrant bible? Yes. But what happens when we start talking about baptism or the Church?


  38. MichaelTX,

    Your church calls me a separated brother. So you believe we are united, but in separation. My church says Roman Catholicism is error, and on that basis, we are not united. The work of Christian unity must be pursued in all its forms. I believe one of those ways is for the Roman Catholic Church to correct her doctrine. You disagree. I get it. So there’s more work to do. I encourage you to keep reading here at OldLife. It is my hope and prayer that Roman Catholics read what an elder in my church thinks about, by reading his blog. His most recent book, by the way, is really good. I think it would make a great gift for a friend.



  39. Michael, to piggyback onto what AB has said, we make distinction as to the marks of A true church without claiming exclusive infallible charter for same. We deny, you affirm. I know you want to charge; “well, that’s your opinion or how postmodern of you”. But that just earns you; “how fideistic of you to think of Rome that way” from me anyway. Can we not do MOC and CIP and PIP please. It’s old and tired already and protestant ‘skepticism’ is only surpassed by the radical skepticism of a group that has to lock dogma up in a fideistic circle of supernatural enablement-discernment to be able to make claims of philosophic ‘certainty’. To me that’s incredibly skeptical of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and inscripturated apostolic tradition, who thought the same(scripture-Holy Spirit illumination and yes, we can throw in subjugated church authority/tradition-teaching offices) was entirely adequate to the job of faith and morals; 2 Tim 3:16. And let’s not do Tridentine RC before the 11th century, it makes me grumpy and then I get accused of being a meanie.

    BTW, hope the house is dried out and in shape again.


  40. Sean,
    Things are good.
    That’s a lot thrown in there in such a short comm. Don’t think I have the time or brains to get to all that. But, what is wrong with being fideistic if we are one in the truth faith? What do you mean when you say fideistic?


  41. Sorry Mike. You’re getting carryover from the past few days. Nothing necessarily wrong with fideism if we’re starting with the same ground of scripture. I’m thinking polemically, comparing the relative merit of approaches to the faith.


  42. Katy, you are not adressing me, but I do think you ask a very good question. FWIW, this sacerdotalism issue raised, and the current impasse over undrstandings of Christian Justification are related issues. I simply don’t need a human mediator. “Christ alone” is one of the solas of the reformation. Christ alone is my mediator and his earthly merits are my righteousness. The Catholic will necessarily disagree that Christ’s righteousness, outside of myself, is the basis for my standing before God on the day of Judgement. Rather, the Catholic says my basis is an infused righteousness which I participate in, in my doings before that day.

    A Catholic says I need to go to confession for this and that reason. My Presbyterian minister tells me to live a life of repentence. He does not need me to spill my guts at Bible study, if I tell him my devotional life is sound and God is leading me into paths of righteousness. My pastor is not my mediator, he’s more like a teacher.

    Not sure any of that is an answer. Just my thoughts..


  43. Gotch ya. It’s ok. Our Christian faith is awesome from all directions. It’s a bit like a diamond. Shines in all directions, beautiful in every way, hardest faith there is and cuts the hardest heart sharper than any sword.


  44. MichaelTX, we have Catholics to thank for 1500 years of church history. As Machen says, we share the incarnation. No small thing there. Just ‘cuz there’s work to do, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. In fact, thoughtful Catholics are very important to what we are trying to do. Thanks for chatting with me today. Regards, AB


  45. Re Conciliarism:

    I stopped in at St. Thomas Aquinas today to see if they were having their annual rummage sale. In the hallway by their fellowship hall they had a bunch of really nice plaques that were paid for by their long-time priest and the Knights of Columbus. Were the plaques of the Popes? No, they were really informative descriptions of all of the Councils going back to the Council of Jerusalem. Very interesting stuff.


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