Presbyterians Who Don’t Want to Be

David Robertson gives away his tell when he responds to criticism for dedicating children. He thinks that critics strain at gnats while swallowing camels — the camel being a market model of ministry:

At the risk of overgeneralization it seems to me that there is a Scottish/UK version of Presbyterianism that seeks (but does not often practice) visible church unity and does not accept the ‘market place’ mentality that Paul mentions. On the other hand in the US, the land of 1,000 denominations, there is a much greater market place mentality with the pros (greater initiatives, freedom etc.) and cons (disunity, less church discipline etc.). It seems sad to me that even as the number of Christians in the US declines, the number of Presbyterian denominations will probably increase – all owning allegiance to a Confession of Faith which was set up to prevent that happening!

In England there are hardly any Presbyterians and yet we have at least two denominations committed to the WCF. In Scotland the situation is embarrassingly worse. I feel bad that the Free Church has to exist. Because of the apostasy of the Church of Scotland, I think we do have to, but I would much prefer that we didn’t. At one point I was even part of a delegation from the Free Church that met with the C of S and looked at whether and how we could reunite. But it is even more shameful to me that after a lifetime devoted to evangelism in a declining church in a decaying culture, instead of the churches which adhere to the WCF uniting together we have further divided. In my time in ministry in Scotland we have even seen four new Presbyterian denominations, all adhering to the WCF, come into being. The Associated Presbyterians, the Free Church Continuing, International Presbyterian Church and Covenant Fellowship. We talk about church unity but actions speak louder than words. My hope and prayer is that one day the Free Church will cease to exist (that will certainly come true in heaven!). I would be even more radical than that – I would prefer to work in organizational unity with Baptists and others – not just networking but pooling resources and genuinely being the one Church of Jesus Christ.

Notice that he wishes the Free Church did not exist and that he would prefer to minister with Baptists. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Scotland, I suppose, like the United States is a free country (Free Church in a Free Country). But I’m not sure how confessional or Presbyterian that attitude is. It does explain Robertson’s attachment to Tim Keller. It also suggests a certain kind of naivete. Does Robertson really think that TKNY is not part of a market model, or that Keller has not become a brand? Either way, why be a Presbyterian when you could just as easily minister with Baptists?

Robertson may also explain why Keller appeals to pastors in small, out of the way, denominations (perhaps unintentionally):

When evangelicals in the Church of Scotland decided that enough was enough and began to leave – they of course looked for a Confessional Presbyterian Church that was faithful to the Bible. For doctrinal and practical reasons most could not join the Reformed Presbyterians, the APC, the Free Church Continuing or the Free Presbyterians – amongst other reasons they were exclusive psalmody. That basically left the Free Church. Now there may be theological reasons why some ex C of S ministers and congregations could not join the Free Church (e.g. those who had women elders and wanted to retain them), but what of those who subscribe to the WCF, are complementarian and Presbyterian? Many have joined but an equal number haven’t – why? Some of it may be the Free Churches own fault – not being welcoming enough etc., but is that the real or adequate reason?

I think that it is the religious market place that Paul so rightly complains about which kicks in here. The reasons are not doctrinal and theological but social, personal and historical. Some had an aversion to the Free Church because of past experience (love remembers no wrongs?), image or misunderstandings about our positions. I have heard others though express things in terms of what I could only call social and class snobbery. We are perceived as not sophisticated enough, too Highland, too working class. I recall a C of S man having what I can only describe as a ‘coming out’ dinner in his home – where he invited his middle class friends to a dinner at which he introduced myself and a couple of others from the church and then announced he was attending the Free Church. It was as though he had announced he was gay! In fact he probably would have got a more favourable response! That attitude may be extreme but in a more modified form it is still there. Is not wanting to be called ‘Wee Free’ a sufficient reason for setting up yet another denomination?

This part of Robertson’s post was intriguing if only because in the United States, conservatives in the PCA seem to have a similar aversion to the OPC — not sophisticated, too tacky, ugly buildings on the wrong side of the beltway. But instead of identifying with communions of like faith, practice, and awkwardness, Robertson instead regards Keller as the right kind of American Presbyterian.

This may make sense since with all of the writing for newspapers and speaking in public that Robertson does, he may regard himself as a kind of public intellectual after the fashion of Keller. He is certainly akin to Keller in the way in which denominational attachments rest lightly on his ministerial shoulders:

The parish and pastoral approach is one that I prefer. We are not engaging in the religious market place (ironically those who take the purist/polemical approach are much more likely to do that), but we are seeking to reach out to every one in the community where we are based. (I realize of course that most of us would claim that is what we are doing and I should also point out that I think that is what Paul’s church is doing in Ealing – I’m talking about the wider issue here – not having a subtle dig – I don’t do subtle!). This means that our primary identity is not that we are a Free Church, or a Reformed church, or the church with the best preaching in Dundee, or David Robertson’s church or any other claim we might foolishly want to make. We are a church of Jesus Christ.

This is the way of pietists, to claim the high ground and act as if denominational particularities are inconsequential in comparison to vision, mission, or devotion. What happens, though, when Robertson or Keller need to explain why another church, say the Church of Scotland or the PCUSA or the Methodists are not quite up to the status of “the church of Jesus Christ”? At that point, don’t arguments about purity and polemics and doctrine kick in?

And what happens when Robertson or Keller receive funds from Presbyterian sources that were given precisely to uphold Free Church and Reformed convictions? Don’t you have to explain the way you are going to use the funds? You will use them for generic Christian purposes, not for Presbyterian ones only?

That is the sort of equivocation that captured the Church of Scotland and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. before the Free Church and the PCA formed separate communions. Such a separate status is not everyone’s cup of tea. That’s why we have evangelicals. But evangelicals presenting as Presbyterian? That’s why we have The Gospel Coalition.

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109 thoughts on “Presbyterians Who Don’t Want to Be

  1. Is it really possible to be generically Christian? Isn’t that something like being human without a family? We are seeing attempts at both, but does anyone reading this site expect them to end well?

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  2. I hope this post gets a lot more reasonable comments and input, but maybe it sadly won’t as it does not concern North American issues and people. I know first hand how Americans can be incredibly USA focused, but can we have some input for the rest of us in the world who have to witness the muddled thinking, influence and direction of those like Robertson and many of his peers? Simply put, can these movers and shakers ( as they may like to see themselves) and want a Reformed badge for credibility, go with their true colours and go evangelical, soft charismatic, Baptist or whatever the zeitgeist is now? This in the UK includes all the City to City (Keller inspired) folks, Gospel Partnerships (Anglican evangelical, middle class, jolly nice folks) and such others who seem to be becoming dominant as the independents continue to wither on the vine.
    With a few final questions, does Robertson often speak well of Presbyterian polity and practise? Does he advocate the creeds and confessions? And what about those comments about the Free Church Continuing and other Presbyterians in the UK outside his orbit of influence? I would suggest what he says is not positive and quite unhelpful.

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  3. It never ceases to amaze me how we as Christians can ague so well about things that God did not invent (e.g. denominations), while disregarding clear teaching in the Bible (e.g. unity and love). In the light of John 13:35 what do such critical attitudes towards each other tell us? Is it not important that we adhere to Scripture in all its parts. Having been brought up in a Presbyterian church (in Ireland), I joined a Baptist church when I committed my life to Christ and later returned to a Presbyterian church (Church of Scotland). What I have found over the years is a narrowness of view that is not peculiar to one denomination. There are plenty of people out there who think they have exclusivity of knowing exactly what Scripture says about things like baptism (infant versus adult, sprinking versus immersion). In my experience I have found that there is great diversity of view and there is efficacy in some of them (not all).
    I’m not trying to find fault with either David or Paul’s view. What I think is needed is a moderation of language that any unbelievers reading these posts would still see the underlying love and unity that exists in the Christian church. I am not advocating ignoring the authority of Scripture, just in case anyone thinks that I fit into a liberal camp.

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  4. UK Paul, given how much DR writes for the newspapers, it’s hard not to think that part of his reluctance about high church Presbyterianism is the old Social Gospel’s desire to unite Protestants to make a difference in the nation (read politics). Whenever Protestants want to do social stuff, there go the creeds, liturgy, and polity.

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  5. profsloan, curious rhetorical tack. The Bible is “clear” about unity but not so much about church or baptism.

    Well, isn’t that convenient.

    Paul didn’t write letters to “Christians.” They were in places — Ephesus, Rome, Corinth, Galatia. Were they united the way you conceive of unity (whatever your conception is)? Did they all report to Jerusalem?

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  6. Many things are clear in the Bible, but others are open to interpretation (no matter how strongly I might see something), I am open to the fact that others may have different interpretations.

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  7. Darryl, Prof Sloan, Dan etc.

    You’re noticing tribalism among Christians, but how is your own local Presbyterian or Baptist community immune if the basis of its authority( like every other denomination and non-denomination) is Scripture that depends on someone’s interpretation? If you are convinced that to baptize or not to baptize is important, but not clear to everyone, how did you determine its importance in the first place? From my view, it looks like you put yourself under the authority of someone else’s interpretation trusting that they got it right. Maybe I’m wrong, but it appears that the closer a person believes his church to be to the people who started the Reformation, the more adamant their conviction that that person’s interpretation is correct. So no matter how much one says that their denomination’s confessions are a fallible summary, that testability of that apparently humble admission, is itself not testable. Whoever would claim to have found a flaw and takes issue with the confession( say The Westminster for instance) and talks it over with the elder or pastor or even takes it all the way up to the top of the denomination’s hierarchy, the man who took issue( even if he is correct) is going to lose to the authority of the confession( which still cannot be proven to be correct). One either holds by faith that all that the confession of any particular denomination is a true summary or they are out. Protestantism is self-defeating by nature, making doctrinal unity impossible.
    Anyways, I was taking a break from studying, so I thought I’d comment.

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  8. And Darryl, an additional point to your

    “Whenever Protestants want to do social stuff, there go the creeds, liturgy, and polity.”

    This ceases to be an issue in Catholicism. The Church’s identity isn’t touched by its member’s involvement in as far as they vote and act according to moral principles. If they don’t, you are right to conclude( and you do) that they are bad figs( at least at present, but give’m time to turn!). If they are involved in social stuff, then their motivation must( is supposed to be, not that it always stays that way) be for the good of their neighbor which we all know is expected of everyone( do good), and to omit to do is reason for judgment( 1 John 3:17 for example). The church carries on victoriously until the age of the harvest when the wheat and the chaff will be separated, but we who by our sin of commission or omission do cause her to appear to be limping.

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  9. Susan, shoe on foot.

    If you are convinced that to baptize or not to baptize is important, but not clear to everyone, how did you determine its importance in the first place?

    If you are convinced that the papacy is what gives the church unity and authority, but it is not clear to everyone (Orthodox and Protestants), how did you determine its importance in the first place?

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  10. Susan, you mean the politics in which the papacy was involved for the better part of a millenium has nothing to do with the Bishop of Rome’s authority for Roman Catholics?

    You’re still not thinking.

    And then you have all that “social teaching” that gives so many converts goosebumps, as if the papacy only minds spiritual matters.

    psshaw!

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  11. “And then you have all that “social teaching” that gives so many converts goosebumps, as if the papacy only minds spiritual matters.”

    I didn’t say that the papacy only minds spiritual matters, and I can hardly see it being in the name of Christ not to be concerned with justice on earth. But be clear, the Church has roundly condemned Liberation Theology. However, what it condemns and what it approves is of no significance if it isn’t a major player in the world, and has been for 2000 years. From what I see, it keeps standing in the way of modernism( think contraception for an example).

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  12. Susan,

    There’s plenty of tribalism in your own communion.

    Liberation theology
    Jesuits
    Dominicans
    Franciscans
    Augustinians
    Thomists
    Molinists
    Catholics for Choice
    SSPX
    New Ways Ministry

    Etc.

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  13. Robert,

    Let’s take serious your objection. Take each of those groups, and consider which ones have departed from Catholicism, and which ones are representing a type of spirituality but are still fully Catholic. Or another way to think of it is: which parts do you recognize as not being in union with the Holy See. This situation is different than Protestanism, can you detect how?

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  14. Personally, I think Presbyterians who like Keller too much do so out of authoritarianism more than anything else. I’ve heard some of them and their authoritarianism can be found in their unwillingness to cite less acceptable people in their sermons.

    On the other hand, I find Keller to be a more acceptable Presbyterian than some in the OPC whose allegiance to the standards resembles an all-or-nothing approach that leads to being Pharisaical. They have lost nothing to the pietists in claiming the high ground over others though the basis for their claim is different.

    People should make a distinction between how some accept Keller from how he markets himself. And yes, he markets himself just like those pure Presbyterians market themselves but using a different basis for their marketing.

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  15. How come arguments for “unity” are usually “come join our bigger party”? Is it really a cry for unity if you just want more people to come join your church? I guess that is sorta kudos to Robertson because he is kinda wishing away his church.

    And I think pointing out sects in RCism is very important too. Referring to Protestantism as a whole though I think is entirely a pejorative move. I am a Protestant sure, but I do not stand up for Protestantism as a whole over RCism. Not even in the sense of “there are problems with Protestantism but its better than Rome.” We are not unified as Protestants. There is ecclesiastical unity among certain Protestant bodies and there is spiritual unity among the entire invisible church. So I guess I’m saying I feel no need to defend Protestantism.

    Also something to consider is that calls for unity like Robertson’s can sorta leave out church authority. If the people get to pick and choose (baptize or dedicate), will it soon be up to families who gets to take communion? Or whether or not they attend church? Or what they believe?

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  16. Susan, “what it condemns and what it approves is of no significance if it isn’t a major player in the world.”

    Say that about Jesus circa 32 AD and see where your faith is. You believe in the church and greatness. You can’t help your theology of glory.

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  17. Susan, first, it doesn’t take much to be Roman Catholic. Departing? How would anyone ever know given how few Roman Catholics follow church teaching — and you have the gall to bring up contraception.

    Second, look at what happened to Roman Catholic universities:

    Fifty years ago this summer, a group of prominent Catholic university presidents and professors put forth a “Statement on the Nature of the Contemporary Catholic University,” now commonly known by its provenance as the “Land O’Lakes Statement.” As is typical of the work of committees, the statement consists wholly of vague abstractions. Most of these were meant to sound notes of confidence.

    The signatories were sure they and their institutions would meet the unspecified challenges of the time. They wished to affirm the distinctive yet undefined character of a Catholic university and to celebrate with benign satisfaction the wonderful development of said university, from its humble beginnings under the tutelage of the Church to its current adulthood, ready to stand alongside its secular counterparts and to be recognized for its seriousness and its independence.

    Had they taken themselves less seriously, the statement might have enduring merit; but then they never might have drafted a statement in the first place.

    As it is, Land O’Lakes must go down in history as a case of the maximum possible error: a prediction that flies in the face of what the predictors could have seen had they not shut their eyes to the obvious, and that is therefore proved in short order to have been disastrously and absurdly wrong.

    You have no reason to boast but you keep boasting. It’s unbecoming. And it’s funny.

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  18. Susan,

    Let’s take serious your objection. Take each of those groups, and consider which ones have departed from Catholicism, and which ones are representing a type of spirituality but are still fully Catholic. Or another way to think of it is: which parts do you recognize as not being in union with the Holy See.

    If I do that, I am exercising my fallible interpretation of the Magisterium. So how am I better off than exercising my fallible interpretation of Scripture?

    We’ve spoken of these things at length. At the end of the day, all that Roman Catholicism does is add another layer of infallible teaching that the individual must apply. It is not self-evident that such a reality puts the Roman Catholic in a better position. And in fact, if you look at the diversity in Roman Catholicism on any number of theological and moral issues. it doesn’t work better in practice than with Protestantism.

    To put it another way, why is nominal visible unity wherein Roman Catholics holding contradictory moral and theological positions are all welcome to the Eucharist better than Protestantism wherein we acknowledge that some differences prevent visible union?

    This situation is different than Protestanism, can you detect how?

    The difference is this: Roman Catholicism enjoys nominal, visible, organizational unity under the titular headship of the pope. But within that one organization, you can believe almost anything you want and still take the Eucharist. Do priests make sure that everyone to whom they give the body and blood of Christ has been to confession? No. Does the modern Roman church excommunicate notable figures who hold moral positions that appear to be directly contradictory to the church’s official teaching? No. And on we go.

    Protestants don’t have nominal, visible unity. But if you sit down a confessional Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran, you are going to have fundamental agreements on the nature of salvation and other matters. Plus, it is likely that even though there is visible differences, you can take Communion at one of these churches if you have an authentic profession of faith even if you do not belong to the tradition the church represents.

    Or to put it another way, I, a Presbyterian, and James White, a Baptist, and Jordan Cooper, a Lutheran, will have more in common between us theologically and morally than you and a member of Catholics for Choice will, yet you and said person are in the same visible church. So why is your system better?

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  19. “Protestants don’t have nominal, visible unity.”
    Robert, I know what you’re getting at and I mostly agree, but I would qualify this a bit. Protestants may not have organizational unity in the sense that the retirement plan for methodist pastors is not the same as presbyterian pastors, ordination exams are created and administered independently, etc… However, a Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Anglican member in good standing in their church can worship and take communion at any of the others. There is real catholicity here. The same is not true for the Roman Catholic church even if you believe in the real presence and are say Eastern Orthodox. Flipping from Presbyterian to RCC or EOC requires a conversion and renouncing one’s “calvinism” (in the case of the EOC). The same isn’t true when one transfers one’s membership from the SBC to the PCA and then onto the ACNA.

    It is not at all clear to me that institutional unity is what either Jesus or Paul had in mind when they touch on this in the NT. The unity was one of communion and true belief.

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  20. profsloan – you are correct: church unity is one of the top emphases of the NT writers and Jesus. The early Reformers envisioned a universal Protestant church with a magisterium similar to the RCC, with a degree of doctrinal flexibility in each local congregation. Don’t tell the hard-core Presbyterians of Old Life though – it’s OPC or the highway.

    Susan – I sympathize with your point, generally speaking. However, one can join a Presbyterian church without believing 100% of Presbyterian doctrine, but one cannot join the RCC without submitting to 100% of RCC doctrine, including canon law. I believe Catholics get a lot of things right in worship and personal piety and service of our neighbors and community. And as you pointed out, the RCC has been more flexible than the Protestant church in allowing different groups to minister in their own way, under the broad authority of the Church. The Protestant church should learn from all of these things. But the problem is that to become a Catholic I have to accept things like transubstantiation (even if most lay Catholics really don’t) and teachings on contraception and other sexual matters that I find outdated and anachronistic, and a bizarre ecumenicism with other religions, none of which are defensible from Scripture. If Presbyterians are too wrapped up in the Confessions (and they can be), Catholics are too wrapped up in the Magisterium.

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  21. VV, you’ve learned well from the Metropolitan of Manhattan — gold medal for winsome false equivalency and fallacious flattening. We’ve all got problems…confession-addled presbys (please show me one) are as bad as idolatrous papists. Great stuff.

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  22. Robert, Vae Victis, and CW,

    I have to admit, I don’t understand the value of “Lutherns, Presbyterians, and Baptists having much in common but disagreeing on some issues” as being better epistemologically than there being a correct view somewhere in the world( and I believe it’s Catholicism) even if people oppose it or struggle to believe it. It sounds like you are saying, “in a world where unity of belief is impossible, you have to pick your level of relativism and live with it”. If that is the case and if that’s the way it is supposed to be, then why argue with the law of nature?

    But, something is fueling this idea in me that there is supposed to be one church and in that idea I suppose that while it will have a mixture of error( because, individually, people really do have a mixture of knowledge and of that mixture they have degrees of knowledge, or they know correctly[ see] and protest in their conscience and in their acts) it can still provide, not only an answer, but the correct( true) answer to straighten out confusion and/or provide the truth where there was once ignorance, but it may not be what I thought or wanted.

    If there is such a thing as one visible church( and I believe there is) it will not suddenly present itself in the future because that would mean that there was some past revelation to tell us to expect the church that is still to come, and there is no such revelation.
    That means if there is such a thing as one visible church( and I believe there is) then it must exist now and if it exists now it had its beginning at a fixed point in history( Just like the nation of Israel had a fixed point of existence in the calling of Abraham).
    I am getting this idea that there is supposed to be one visible church from someplace, so what determines if I listen to the reason for such a thing? If it is coming from an assertion by that entity that claims to be that one visible church then I should examine, not so much it’s doctrinal content( because if it is what it says, it’s doctrines will be true), but it’s historicity and I can do that by its internal coherence( a succession of popes that began from a time that accords with the first century, etc) and any external witnesses( it being in the world in its hierarchal form; church fathers testifying either deliberately and explicitly or by casual mention).

    My question to you is, is it wrong, considering the evidence( objection to doctrine is not evidence) to suppose that there is a visible church where unity of doctrine can be found, even if people refuse to believe it or obey it( secondary issues)?

    Vae Victis, let’s consider your objection to the Church’s doctrine on contraception. Either the church is right or it’s wrong, but that has nothing really to do with your opinion. If you approached this discourse with a substantive argument about why the church couldn’t possibly be correct to hold such a view, then you and I could discuss the rationale of the church. I assure you it has nothing to do with being stuck in time-warp or being mean to women. Sometimes we are not aware of our fallacies, but you are committing a Bulverism. Overall, I appreciate your goodwill.

    Take care all,
    Susan

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  23. Susan – the Church is incorrect in its view on contraception because it is based on an incorrect understanding of biology and the human reproductive process. Until about 140 years ago it was thought – by pretty much everyone – that sperm were “seeds” with tiny little humans in them that had to be implanted into a woman’s uterus and then grow to a full human being. This is obviously completely incorrect. But it formed the basis of the Church’s ban of contraception, because if the sperm were killed artificially in any way it was tantamount to taking a human life because it was believed sperm (though they really didn’t understand what sperm were anyway) were thought to contain miniature humans that had to be implanted into the women’s womb to grow. If they realized that sperm were simple cells and did not contain little humans, it is unlikely this doctrine would have developed. Now, some in the Church today will try to rationalize the ban on philosophical grounds because they don’t want to admit the Church was completely wrong for hundreds of years, but anyone with an ounce of thoughtfulness knows the jig is up.

    And that’s just the problem with emphasis on the Magisterium: if you admit the Church was wrong about its official doctrine and canon law in the past, then you have to admit it could be wrong in the present. In which case why should anyone trust the Church on these issues at all? So they have to rationalize outdated and disproved beliefs in order to cling to the idea that the Church can be trusted on these issues of personal behavior that should be left up to individual conscience rather than canon law.

    cw – I can admit when Presbyterians are wrong and Catholics are right. That’s just basic intellectual honesty.

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  24. Susan,

    I have to admit, I don’t understand the value of “Lutherns, Presbyterians, and Baptists having much in common but disagreeing on some issues” as being better epistemologically than there being a correct view somewhere in the world (and I believe it’s Catholicism) even if people oppose it or struggle to believe it.

    I’m not advocating that Protestantism is better epistemologically than any alternative. That’s the specific claim of Roman Catholicism, particularly of the Called to Communion variety.

    The real question isn’t “what is better epistemologically” but “what has God given us to know His will?” There’s no rule that says that God must give us what we have philosophically determined to be the best for us. When I read your posts and the posts of other RCs, particularly on CtC, the sense I get is: “This version x is better epistemologically than Protestantism; therefore, God has given us version x.” It is an exercise in abstraction, especially since the evidence on the ground shows that version x hasn’t actually produced the unity and certainty you all say it has.

    It sounds like you are saying, “in a world where unity of belief is impossible, you have to pick your level of relativism and live with it”. If that is the case and if that’s the way it is supposed to be, then why argue with the law of nature?

    Not at all. In fact, there is great unity of belief between confessional Protestants, for example. Trinity, justification by faith alone, two natures of Christ, sola Scriptura, solus Christus. No one is saying unity of belief is impossible.

    But, something is fueling this idea in me that there is supposed to be one church and in that idea I suppose that while it will have a mixture of error( because, individually, people really do have a mixture of knowledge and of that mixture they have degrees of knowledge, or they know correctly[ see] and protest in their conscience and in their acts) it can still provide, not only an answer, but the correct( true) answer to straighten out confusion and/or provide the truth where there was once ignorance, but it may not be what I thought or wanted.

    But what is fueling the idea? Is it divine revelation? If so, you haven’t considered the diversity of early Christianity enough, I would say. To read Bryan Cross, for example, it seems that what fuels him is his desire to have a particular level of agreement guaranteed by some external, human organization because without that, certainty is impossible. Well, that’s simply not true philosophically, and wanting something doesn’t mean that’s what’s been given.

    I am getting this idea that there is supposed to be one visible church from someplace, so what determines if I listen to the reason for such a thing? If it is coming from an assertion by that entity that claims to be that one visible church then I should examine, not so much it’s doctrinal content( because if it is what it says, it’s doctrines will be true), but it’s historicity and I can do that by its internal coherence( a succession of popes that began from a time that accords with the first century, etc) and any external witnesses( it being in the world in its hierarchal form; church fathers testifying either deliberately and explicitly or by casual mention).

    We all agree that the New Testament is inspired. But when Paul warns the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 about coming false shepherds, he doesn’t tell them to look for a historical succession or any such thing. He tells them to hold on to what He has taught them. He points them to doctrine.

    Further, there isn’t an unbroken succession of popes. No credible historian makes such a claim. The claim is that the papacy developed over time, and mostly as a result of the bishop of Rome being the only one in the West who could negotiate with the barbarians to preserve the city of Rome. A great deal of the historical evidence the papacy itself has used to bolster its claims (the Donation of Constantine, for example) has been proven false. Then you have periods when there were three popes. If your system was so great, how does that happen? And how does it help the medieval man or woman who lived in that era to find the church? These are questions for which you have no answer that I can see but that should at least cause more pauses when arguing for Roman Catholicism. If the visible church is the chief thing and there are periods when you can’t find it because you don’t know who the pope is, you’re in lots of trouble, I think.

    My question to you is, is it wrong, considering the evidence( objection to doctrine is not evidence) to suppose that there is a visible church where unity of doctrine can be found, even if people refuse to believe it or obey it( secondary issues)?

    This is circular. Unity of doctrine means no dissent, or at least that those who do dissent are disciplined. That’s just not happening in modern Rome. You’ve got actual members of the Magisterium, for crying out loud, who very clearly want to change historic Roman Catholic beliefs on human sexuality. But I can’t take that into account? That’s not helping your argument. It’s like saying, “I’m going to prove that my room is clean but pointing out that there are clothes and papers on the floor is not evidence against its cleanliness.”

    Considering the historical evidence, it is incorrect at the present to believe that there exists one visible church where unity of doctrine can be found. Is it impossible that one could exist one day? No. But right now, the only way the church you want to describe exists is if you take the existing Roman Catholic Church and remove anyone who dissents from church teaching, which won’t happen. And if you get two Roman Catholics—or even two popes—to do the removal, they aren’t going to agree on which doctrines are essential, which merit removal, etc. That’s not a good argument in favor of Rome. And besides, I could pick any church and do the same thing.

    IOW, you are extolling the virtues of something that has no concrete existence. It’s an abstraction.

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  25. Dear Robert( and I mean that, for I have grown fond of all of you guys),

    I see some ways to try to address what you and Vae Victis have countered, and believe me, I want to speak to it all right now, but I have course work due today, so it will have to wait.

    Thank you for your willingness to engage in thoughtful dialog. I will do my best to respond, but I also welcome the input of anyone else, who might see the error that I see whether or not they are Catholic, and of course, I welcome the input of any Catholic who is able to help out.

    -Susan

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  26. Darryl,
    My brain hurt as I tried to pick apart Robertson’s riposte to Levy. Indeed such men make me wonder if there is quite a bit of intellectual plumage on display by these blokes. Robertson likes to weave a dizzying knot of very clever themes mixed in with a big dollop of sarcasm. Odd though that he ends up constantly showing a rather negative model of Presbyterianism. Perhaps he has witnessed too much first hand the sheer weirdness of Scottish church factional politics and the stuff that has gone on the revered Isle of Lewis. Levy may believe Robbo is breaking a covenant or perhaps he using hyperbole in his post to draw David into responding.

    I wonder if David R.’s regular concern with education, the media and other internet driven themes is to do with him subconsciously wanting to be recognised, and how many clicks his Weeflea site gets. No doubt he would clearly deny this. Being a Scot though may be the biggest aspect of his social gospel slant. Didn’t the Scottish firebrand Knox want the church to govern all social institutions? And as an English man I reckon the pesky Scots deliberately hate, with some justification, any whiff of English Whig/Tory stuff. To tick us off they have gone with the head bangers who think socialism state control is cool and think a unitary one size fits all solution is the way forward in social and monetary policy.

    If the contributor Susan reads this, try and stick chuck to commenting on the post and not skewing it onto the rather tiring Catholic stuff. Although you didn’t mention your church background in your first comment, it stuck out a mile and it was no surprise when you finally showed your true colours.

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  27. Susan, “better epistemologically”

    I had not realized that life was a philosophy seminar.

    I hear Jesus grades on a curve for those who are clothed in his righteousness. But maybe your seminar has fashion rules.

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  28. UK Paul, DR was a big proponent of independence and he sneered at London a lot. As someone with a fondness for provincialism, I partly appreciate swipes at the big cosmopolis. But then DR is strangely warm about NYC, why, because TKNY works there?

    Optics!!

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  29. Paul,

    “If the contributor Susan reads this, try and stick chuck to commenting on the post and not skewing it onto the rather tiring Catholic stuff. Although you didn’t mention your church background in your first comment, it stuck out a mile and it was no surprise when you finally showed your true colours.”

    Most everyone here knows my church background. Some people might find the Catholic “stuff” tiring, and that’s okay, but others engage with me and Darryl often brings it up, so maybe they don’t share your opinion. But if they do, I don’t mind getting nixed. If Darryl doesn’t want Catholics to add their input, I will let him tell me that. No hurt feelings

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  30. DR may have wanted independence, but does he and his fellow Scots seriously think they would survive apart from the big wad of cash they they get from Westminster which is more per head for the Scots than the English get? I agree with DR that the UK is sickeningly London centric; witness how the BBC rarely ventures outside it’s plush London empire to report on the rest of us. Probably we don’t have the diversity they want the whole of the UK to have.
    DR and now many others like the intellectually formidable City to City Keller influenced church planters are dazzled with TKNY because it reflects the middle class, professional city culture many of them come from. How they think their smart city model of mission would work in places like Hartlepool, Bury, Hull, Workington, Plymouth, Barrow in Furness and such like non University towns which make up the back bone of England I cannot imagine. The gospel is not for any intellectually constructed model of mission, be it made for city, town, or village. It is for everyone, everywhere.

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  31. Susan,
    Sorry I’d never noted your RC background before. I will leave responses to Catholics to CW and others more qualified. I know OL does raise RC issues regularly but I hope RC contributors comment mainly about their views on such posts and leave one’s like this to stay focused on the subject and not be diverted to RC matters.

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  32. Paul,

    If you would kindly follow my first comments, I WAS( emphasizing, not yelling:) commenting on the subject. If Protestants are in-fighting over doctrinal this-or-that, the reason is is that scripture alone cannot serve as the basis since it cannot answer second or third order questions. If you think about it, one should be concerned when they see that schematic diagram at the top of this post There are many like it other parts of the world. What does it say about Protestant church(es) ability to solve doctrinal disputes?

    But, I will get out of your way since you don’t want the distraction.

    Best to all,
    Susan

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  33. Susan – I don’t mean to pile on here – I know how it can be going it alone, especially on Old Life. I’ll back much of what you say, and am certainly sympathetic to some of your arguments in favor of the RCC. But when you make the claim that history is on the side of the visible church being represented by the RCC in one post, and then in your most recent post imply that the Magisterium is superior to Scripture/Confessions for solving doctrinal disputes – well, that is a contradiction I can’t support. If anything, history shows that the RCC Magisterium is very poor at “solving” doctrinal disputes. How many flip-flops and changes of course have their been in doctrine – even core doctrine – within the RCC? Too many to list here, but let’s start with something as fundamental as the sacraments, including their number and their actual practice, to say nothing of transubstantiation. If the RCC was so well-equipped to solve doctrinal issues, why the many changes? Silencing dissent is not the same as solving a dispute.

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  34. Vae victis,

    What I was trying to do was start from the idea of “Church” as a mystical body begun by God as a place where the sacraments came forth from. In other words, revelation comes from God through the church. Yes, individual Christians can read the testimony of witnesses of the OT and NT, but being a Christian already( or during most of Christian history) presumes that one is part of that visible mystical body through God’s covenant, and so the revelation belongs with that body proper. That is why a person( no matter how well meaning and opposed to anything cultist) cannot authentically “be” the church. For someone who has not gone to church, they too can, of course, read the scriptures( its a free country), but since all churches are not alike and not all are true( only one is) then when they discover that Christianity means being a covenant member and receiving the efficacious sacraments from the community that has authority because it receives authority, he will want to obey God and worship in that place.
    If a person who lives say, in the rain forest of South America, meet meets five different missionaries representing five different Christian faith traditions, how is he suppose to know which one is the real church?

    I understand that you believe that transubstantiation is a false way to understand how Jesus is present in the church, but consider that the Eastern Orthodox also believes this doctrine. Protestant belief came later and morphed with the person who was attempting to define the doctrine( Luther, Calvin, Zwingli).
    https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc7.ii.vii.xi.html

    How does a person who was not raised in any of these traditions, never “churched” so to speak, “know” who is correct.?
    And I know that there are people here who will quickly say that it isn’t that important, but it seems to me that that is a diversion if a person really wants to know if there is a true understanding available. It seems that the inability to have unity about this doctrine means it is very important, otherwise why split over it. However, even if they came to a consensus, consensus doesn’t mean it is correct, either. I chose to go further back than the 16th century and let myself be taught by the church rather than impose my private reading and modernist presuppositions on the mysteries that way precede me.

    Thanks for reading Vae Victis, I know not everyone goes through an epistemological crisis like I did. I wish you well. I need to focus on my work so I won’t e able to keep up any further correspondence.

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  35. Susan,

    I understand that you believe that transubstantiation is a false way to understand how Jesus is present in the church, but consider that the Eastern Orthodox also believes this doctrine.

    No they don’t. They believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist but consider it a mystery and don’t employ Aristotelian philosophy to explain it. The same, by the way, is true of Calvin.

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  36. Then again, Orthodox Eucharistic theology does not explain the change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ as a result of “transubstantiation,” the teaching that the “accidents” (visible properties) of the elements remain unaltered, while their “substance” or inner essence becomes the actual Body and Blood. Orthodox tradition speaks of “change” or “transformation,” (metamorphôsis; in the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy metabalôn, “making the change”) but always with a concern to preserve the mystery from the probings of human reason. It also speaks of the Body and Blood of the glorified Christ, making the point that our communion is in the personal being of the Resurrected and Exalted Lord, and not in the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, torn and shed on the Cross. The incarnate Jesus and the risen Christ are certainly one and the same Person (“Jesus Christ is Lord,” the apostle Paul declares in Philippians 2:11). But our communion is in the radically transformed reality of the risen Christ, who ascended into heaven and makes Himself accessible to us through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within the Church.

    Fr. John Beck, oca.org

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  37. Susan – “I chose to go further back than the 16th century and let myself be taught by the church rather than impose my private reading and modernist presuppositions on the mysteries that way precede me.”

    Madre mia. Again, I don’t mean to pile on here, but have you not been paying attention? Do you not realize that theology – as in fundamental, core doctrine – changed significantly before the 16th Century within the RCC? Do you adhere to Pope Gregory’s ransom theory of atonement (7th century) where Jesus’ was the bait on a hook to catch Satan, or do you adhere to the scholastics and their satisfaction theory (11th-13th centuries)? Do you believe in the monergism of Augustine or the synergism of Trent? Do you believe concubinage should be legal in canon law – as it was for over 1,000 years until the Council of Trent – or do you accept the Church’s “modern” teaching on sexuality?

    Do you see the problem? The point is that there was no consensus within the Church on even core matters going back to the apostolic fathers. That’s why Creeds and Confessions matter: a definite set of beliefs, based on Scripture, that transcend time and human epoch. Relying on the Magisterium as the source of truth is a sure way to end up with malleable, incorrect beliefs that vary over time and circumstance.

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  38. VV,

    Again, I don’t mean to pile on here, but have you not been paying attention?

    I don’t know how well you know the Called to Communion “certainty” apologetic, but it demands that you ignore history and pick only those parts that support your particular claims.

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  39. Vae Viicts, ( Jeff, see second to last paragraph)

    I think it best if we kept to one belief and try to see if it really changed or if it has yet to be defined. From what I understand about atonement theory, it’s okay to hold to either. If an idea isn’t clearly understood( yet) one can’t be dogmatic about it. If the church has come to know something and defines it, thereby binding our conscience, we cannot hold to an opposing view.

    But I will go ahead and talk about soteriology so that you can see that I am understanding you.
    Augustine was a great, great theologian in the Catholic Church and so he understood a heck of a lot, but if he had a notion of how our salvation is accomplished with our free will in view that contradicts the church when it was forced to settle the matter, then he was wrong. But, I’d have to be shown proof of his extolling the sovereignty of God in a way that excluded man’s ability to love. God is sovereign, yes, but his hands are tied when it comes to making us love him or making us trust him, so this has to be accounted for by some explanation. So if Trent defined it, then that’s the church’s final word on that subject.
    Again, a person might squirm not liking something, and sinners are prone to squirm, but I cannot deny it. Plus, it’s a completely reasonable explanation to account for some men being lost without making God predestining some to hell.
    Further, the doctrine as defined by Calvinism doesn’t have universal agreement, so I am not bound to believe that it is correct, and if I deny it, I cannot be called a heretic except by a small group whose authority isn’t recognizable to me. Given that there are varying ideas about it among sects, I’m willing to risk that Calvin was mistaken or in direct opposition to a doctrine already defined inside the church. I know Jansenism was condemned, so how much does it share with Calvinism?

    Your comment about creeds and confession mattering proves my point. Counsels are sometimes the beginning of the process that will end in a definition, thereby putting it into a creed and confession.

    Jeff, by adding in an explanation of how the EO believe, you haven’t advanced our mutual search for who is right. If ever group is entitled to believe however they want then why be derisive about someone else’s view? I like calamari, you like sushi, so-and-so likes tenderloin, so what? Why can’t Catholics believe however we define it?
    I will explain a little more to see if I’m making myself clear to Vae Victis:
    Catholics like the EO believe it’s a mystery too because we don’t see the change, but we believe one has been made. Ask an EO if they believe that there is an actual change taking place during the consecration. That’s why it requires faith to believe it.
    That Catholics deny it or struggle to believe it is beside the point. We are all so entrenched in Modernisms scientism, atheism, agnosticism, idealism etc, that we have a hard time believing in mysterious things. So Catholics believe, by faith, that a change in substance takes place, that we receive Jesus’ body and blood. It’s a mysterious miracle, but Jesus said if we didn’t eat and drink that we have no life in us. Again, the explanation might not make sense to you, but how do you disprove what we believe by faith happens?

    Am I wrong or are we back at the beginning of our epistemological seminar, of ” You believe it this way, she believes it that way, he believes it the other way”. If this is the way the world is, why fight it? You can’t say it doesn’t matter and then begin to argue about it. You can’t say that different Protestant groups have differing ideas but have no doubt that they all believe it on faith when I am asking which one has the correct view, even though they all believe that it is a matter of faith. Relativism is self-defeating.

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  40. Susan,

    1. You keep assuming that it’s “one visible church” or relativism, which is not a self-evident assumption.

    2. You said explicitly that transubstantiation is the EO position, presumably as evidence of it being there from day one in the church, or at least that EO and RC have the same Eucharistic theology. It has been pointed out to you by several of us that you were wrong on that, so you go into “well, we both believe it is mystery.” Well, that’s what Calvinists believe as well, so I guess our Eucharistic theology is a-ok.

    3. But, I’d have to be shown proof of his extolling the sovereignty of God in a way that excluded man’s ability to love.

    Neither Augustine nor Calvinism extols the sovereignty of God in a way that excludes man’s ability to love. Never have.

    4. God is sovereign, yes, but his hands are tied when it comes to making us love him or making us trust him, so this has to be accounted for by some explanation.

    God’s hands are tied? Really. So I would think that would mean you would stop praying for someone’s conversion. What is God going to do to bring that about if you ask Him to? Try harder? But you’ve just said that in the matter of loving and trusting God, our wills can thwart his will. Who is responsible for salvation, then. Certainly not God. We make the final decision.

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  41. Susan,

    Further, the doctrine as defined by Calvinism doesn’t have universal agreement.

    The doctrines as defined by Trent don’t have universal agreement. The EO reject them. So do Protestants. Yet your current pope says we are all Christians. Hmmm.

    Augustine was a great, great theologian in the Catholic Church and so he understood a heck of a lot, but if he had a notion of how our salvation is accomplished with our free will in view that contradicts the church when it was forced to settle the matter, then he was wrong.

    If Rome had actually settled the matter, then Thomism, Molinism, and Augustinianism would not all be live options for Roman Catholicism. They don’t hold common views of free will, the efficacy of grace, or conditionality/unconditionality of predestination. Augustinianism and Thomism are relatively close, but Molinism certainly isn’t.

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  42. Susan – from the Catholic Catechism:

    “”For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who “makes himself an offering for sin”, when “he bore the sin of many”, and who “shall make many to be accounted righteous”, for “he shall bear their iniquities”. Jesus atoned for our faults and made SATISFACTION for our sins to the Father.”

    The Catechism says nothing about a “ransom” as understood by Gregory, and most Catholics seem to regard this theory as more of an embarrassment than a legitimate theological position. The point is the doctrine of atonement – among others – has certainly changed. But the main point is that the Church does not dictate truth – Scripture does. I’ll grant – as the Westminster Confession does – that not all Scriptural truths are equally clear. But I hope you can see that the Magisterium of the RCC is not the way to establish those truths with any degree of certainty.

    The question then becomes, why would you accept 100% of the doctrines of the RCC when it has been proven wrong in the past? Creeds and Confessions are great, but 100% agreement with the WCF is not needed for Reformed church membership. I take exception to small items in the WCF, and object to some of the hermeneutics used in developing the WLC. I’m still a Presbyterian in good standing. Why would you put 100% blind faith in something that you know is flawed and fallible?

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  43. VV,

    You introduced the CCC. Okay, there is its confession, if there are opponents then, let them be corrected. The Catechism is not a flawed understanding, it is a true summary of all that is found in scripture and theology.

    “Westminster Confession does – that not all Scriptural truths are equally clear.” Okay then how do I find out which summary of scripture contained in the WCF are true summaries of what is true? If there are mistakes in the WCF, how do I know what they are, if I don’t already know from some other source that the WCF is mistaken? In other words, what parts of scripture are not clear? Is the true view of what to think about the Eucharist clear from scripture or not?
    Could you tell me whose interpretation is correct among all the views? I will assume that when you tell me, that you believe that all the others are wrong in some way or fashion. Should I conclude that your belief about what you think is your private interpretation or does it demand that everyone should believe it too because its true?

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  44. Susan,

    The Catechism is not a flawed understanding, it is a true summary of all that is found in scripture and theology.

    Unless I am mistaken, the catechism does not claim to be infallible.

    Could you tell me whose interpretation is correct among all the views?

    Without using the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, how do you determine which church is teaching the truth? Rome, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal—how do you pick?

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  45. Susan – you’re missing the point. I brought up the Catechism to demonstrate that if it is not a “flawed understanding,” as you say, then Pope Gregory (the Great) could not be a Catholic today. Gregory (and many Catholics after him) was wrong or the Catechism is wrong – they both can’t be right. In which case the Church was at some point wrong about the atonement. If they were wrong about such a central issue, why would you trust them to get anything right?

    The difference between you and me on this is that I accept that the WCF is flawed because it was written by uninspired humans, while you cannot accept that the Church is flawed despite being made up of uninspired humans that have been wrong in the past. So I trust the WCF only insomuch as it agrees with Scripture, which we all agree is the ultimate source of truth. You trust the Catholic Church no matter what, even if it does not square with your understanding of Scripture. I can’t understand why anyone with epistemological issues would do that.

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  46. VV, Robert,

    Do you know with absolute certainty that Catholics and EO are wrong about our beliefs about the Eucharist? If they EO hold a completely contrary view from Catholics( they don’t) would that mean that Catholics were wrong?
    If the landscape is such that we are all doing our best based on scripture and tradition to have a correct view, then let’s each of us think that our view is correct( because if it isn’t we can never know), or let live with the uncertainty. If none of us is correct then everyone is allowed to have their own “view”. If the Protestants are right then some denomination within it own the correct view and knows with certainty, or they own it without knowing it has landed upon the truth. So we should all search out which of those views is true. If Protestants as a group are correct to believe that the Eastern Orthodox view is wrong then they should be able to prove it wrong.

    The WCF if correct should be able to bind our conscience, but since it is incapable I should conclude that it doesn’t mind if I look to other Christian traditions.

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  47. VV,

    ” I trust the WCF only insomuch as it agrees with Scripture, which we all agree is the ultimate source of truth.”

    No, I don’t grant that. The scripture is the written experience of people within the church. I see that the church comes first. When Paul said that Jesus is raised from the grave, he is appealing to scripture, but he is getting that scripture from the gospel writers who are men. Who is inspired, Paul in 1 Corinthians or Luke in Luke 24?

    If you would just answer my question about not who you believe is correct about the Eucharist, but what is true, that would help.

    I

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  48. Susan,

    Do you know with absolute certainty that Catholics and EO are wrong about our beliefs about the Eucharist?

    The question is ambiguous. What does it mean for humans to know with “absolute certainty”? I would argue that absolute certainty entails knowledge that cannot admit even the logical possibility of error, and such I think is available only to God. Basically, absolute certainty about any one fact would seem to require knowledge of every fact and how all facts interrelate. It’s a high bar that I’m not sure any mere creature can reach. I’m not even sure that Roman Catholicism can grant it. Is the “certainty of faith” the same thing as “absolute certainty”? I’m pretty sure that is not what is intended.

    The polar opposite of absolute certainty is not radical subjectivism and relativism. I don’t have to be absolutely certain to be certain, and I’m certain that the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation is wrong from a biblical perspective. It’s even wrong from a philosophical perspective in the way it separates substance and accidents. Aristotle didn’t think that was possible. I’m not as familiar with the EO view, and that’s mainly because even the EO can’t really articulate it.

    If they EO hold a completely contrary view from Catholics( they don’t) would that mean that Catholics were wrong?

    No, in itself the difference between EO and RC only means that they both can’t be right. It does not entail that RC theology must be wrong.

    If the landscape is such that we are all doing our best based on scripture and tradition to have a correct view, then let’s each of us think that our view is correct( because if it isn’t we can never know), or let live with the uncertainty. If none of us is correct then everyone is allowed to have their own “view”. If the Protestants are right then some denomination within it own the correct view and knows with certainty, or they own it without knowing it has landed upon the truth. So we should all search out which of those views is true. If Protestants as a group are correct to believe that the Eastern Orthodox view is wrong then they should be able to prove it wrong.

    I’m not sure what you are arguing here. Politically speaking, we are all allowed to have our own view. Morally speaking, we are obligated to believe only what is true.

    The Protestant position is that all churches on this side of glory are a mixture of truth and error. A church can be a true church without being correct on every single jot and tittle. Paul’s teaching on conscience, for example, would seem to allow this. As would the doctrine of sin. Even Roman Catholicism can admit erroneous teaching in the true church in a way. As long as the church does not “dogmatically” teach error, the Roman church can still teach error and remain a true church.

    You have to understand that from an outsider’s point of view, Rome has corrected itself on many matters—religious freedom, capital punishment, the state of salvation for Protestants, the use of the sword to spread the faith, the inquisition, etc. She just can’t own up to actual errors because of her doctrine of the church. But it’s special pleading. If I go to Vatican City today and stand on the corner and proclaim that Rome is false, the worse that will happen is that I’ll be kicked out. A few hundred years ago, I could be killed by people who taught that capital punishment was God’s will for heretics. Rome would never do that today. That’s a substantive change in doctrine.

    Furthermore, certainty and truth are not equivalent concepts. You can be “absolutely certain” and be wrong. Many people affirm true things but with some degree of uncertainty. What is better, to be certain and be wrong or to be right and have some doubts? The CtC argument comes across as saying “certainty at all costs.”

    But am I certain that the Westminster Confession of Faith is a true summary of God’s Word. In the main, yes, though I would qualify some of its points. But the only access I have to figuring that out is my own mind, just as the only access you have to figuring out Rome is your own mind, and neither of us is infallible.

    The WCF if correct should be able to bind our conscience, but since it is incapable I should conclude that it doesn’t mind if I look to other Christian traditions.

    The WCF can bind the conscience where it accurately reflects God’s Word. You want a special sign for when that happens. But without an Apostle, we don’t have that. And you don’t have it for Rome either.

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  49. Susan,

    No, I don’t grant that. The scripture is the written experience of people within the church.

    1. If I may be so bold as to speak for VV, I believe he meant that between us, the only thing with infallible authority that we hold in common is Scripture.

    2. But in any case, to call Scripture the written experience of people within the church is exactly what modernists and liberal critical scholars say.

    I see that the church comes first.

    1. That’s wrong historically. The Hebrew Scriptures predate the church at Pentecost. And in good Reformed fashion I date the beginning of the church to Eden, but as you look to the Old Testament history, God never provided an infallible magisterium so it’s doubtful he would do so now.

    2. The Apostles say that we are brought to life by the Word (James 1:18). The Word gives birth to the church, so divine revelation precedes the church. The question is, where do we find divine revelation today. Because of our differences, the onus is on you to prove we find divine revelation anywhere but Scripture.

    When Paul said that Jesus is raised from the grave, he is appealing to scripture, but he is getting that scripture from the gospel writers who are men.

    To my knowledge, Paul quotes only one gospel—Luke—and he does not quote it with respect to the resurrection.

    Who is inspired, Paul in 1 Corinthians or Luke in Luke 24?

    Both, as even the RCC would affirm.

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  50. Susan – I say this in the most charitable way possible: you really need to study your own Church’s teaching more. It’s pretty clear that most of us here know Catholic doctrine better than you do. It’s pretty hard to defend your beliefs when those who disagree can make your case better than you can. Robert is basically right about what I was saying re: Scripture, but Catholics do believe Scripture is God’s living Word, and that it is the ultimate source of truth. You seem to imply there could be discrepancy between Scripture and Tradition, which the Church absolutely does NOT do. And saying 1 Corinthians is not inspired because Paul derived the information from Luke, which is inspired, is just…well, I dunno. I’ve honestly never heard anyone even near the realm of orthodoxy try to make that point.

    As for the Eucharist – like Robert, I’m not sure what your point is. I believe the Calvinist position is the correct one: it is a vitals means of grace by which the Holy Spirit works through the physical bread and wine to sanctify the Christian through faith. I believe this is the most Scriptural view. Though in defense of the RCC, I believe they are correct to celebrate the Eucharist every worship service, and to make it the centerpiece of worship. Throw out transubstantiation and emphasize the homily a bit more, and Catholic worship would probably be better than everyone else.

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  51. Guys, I’m asking you if the WCF has correctly interpreted all of scripture. If it has then the EO’s view and the Catholic view and all the rest, are wrong. Are you willing to say absolutely that everyone else’s interpretation as it related to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is wrong?

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  52. VV,

    If I conceded the scripture is the ultimate source of truth, how do we now decide who’s interpretation is right?

    Let me say this, the EO and Catholic do believe that an actual change takes place during the act of consecration, and both have apostolic succession. So, I am forced to say that since Protestantism doesn’t have this, it has no true churches, but people within the various communities, as they seek to follow Christ and are baptized, are Catholic by virtue of the one baptism that binds us. This is why we speak of “separated brethren”. We do not all share the same Eucharist communion, though, because there really is one correct view. That’s not to be exclusive or mean, it’s that Jesus is actually present under the species of bread and wine, and He’s worshiped there in that hidden way( Hidden Manna). We are all invited to partake but we have to recognize Him there to be able to partake without bringing judgment upon ourselves.

    I’m bowing out because I can’t keep up the conversation.

    I wish you all the best,

    God Bless You,
    Susan

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  53. Susan,

    Guys, I’m asking you if the WCF has correctly interpreted all of scripture.

    There are points where the WCF goes too far in my estimation. For example, it says that we may not even form images of Christ in our minds. That’s ambiguous. If I read the Gospels, I’m going to have some image in my mind. In fact, the way Isa. 53 describes Jesus would seem to invite us to make images of Him in our minds at least.

    If it has then the EO’s view and the Catholic view and all the rest, are wrong.

    Only where the WCF is right and disagrees with EO and RCism.

    Are you willing to say absolutely that everyone else’s interpretation as it related to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is wrong?

    I’m willing to say that anyone who does not affirm Calvin’s view of the Supper, which is identical to the WCF view, is in error. But I don’t think having a wrong view on the nature of how Christ is present in the Eucharist is going to send you to hell.

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  54. Susan,

    If I conceded the scripture is the ultimate source of truth, how do we now decide who’s interpretation is right?

    Through careful study as an individual and in community, trying to discern the text’s meaning according to its intent, trusting in the Holy Spirit to guide us.

    You probably won’t like that answer, but that’s what God has given us. You can say that church decides the right interpretation, but that only means that you, Susan, have to ask how you decide which interpretation of the Magisterium is right. There are multitudes of competing interpretations of the Magisterium.

    The only answer you can give is to do your best read the Magisterium in context according to the intent of the Magisterium. You aren’t the Magisterium. You don’t have direct access to the Magisterium. Even if you did, you are fallible and can still misinterpret the Magisterium. And, contra Bryan Cross, this is true even if you ask it a simple yes or no question.

    It turns out that at the end of the day, the answer for you, Susan, is the same as it is for me or VV. You decide the correct interpretation of divine truth by seeking to understand the proclamation of truth in its context. There’s no magic wand. Appealing to the Magisterium doesn’t solve your problem; it only gives you more stuff for you to fallibly interpret.

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  55. Robert,

    It turns out that at the end of the day, the answer for you, Susan, is the same as it is for me or VV. You decide the correct interpretation of divine truth by seeking to understand the proclamation of truth in its context. There’s no magic wand. Appealing to the Magisterium doesn’t solve your problem; it only gives you more stuff for you to fallibly interpret.”

    No, I really haven’t done that. I really have let the Church tell me every doctrine( that I have investigated thus far) to believe. Given the Calvinist view of what was happening in John 6 and given the Catholic view, I am going with the Catholic view because I see that it makes good sense so I am using my reason, but that doesn’t mean I’m interpreting. I’m examining the interpretations already given and explained. To tell the truth, I’d walk away from Christianity completely if it weren’t for Catholicism.
    There are things that are faintly mentioned in scripture, like for instance, doctrines that the church has concerning the Virgin Mary that I would not have know apart from the tradition. You see, I never expected full-fledged doctrine about her, but I saw that both the EO and Catholics held to more that Calvinism did. So while I may ponder it, at the end of the day I accept it because the church has revealed it. Same thing goes for the Trinity. Those are two examples. I’m sure I could think of more if I had to.

    But again, I really need to get:)

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  56. Susan,

    No, I really haven’t done that. I really have let the Church tell me every doctrine( that I have investigated thus far) to believe. Given the Calvinist view of what was happening in John 6 and given the Catholic view, I am going with the Catholic view because I see that it makes good sense so I am using my reason, but that doesn’t mean I’m interpreting. I’m examining the interpretations already given and explained.

    If you are using your reason to understand, then you are interpreting what the church teaches. How do you know your interpretation of what transubstantiation means actually matches what the church teaches? How do you know your understanding of the Magisterium’s teaching actually matches the Magisterium’s teaching? If there is a way other than applying your reason according to the best intent you can discern from the Magisterium, I’d like to hear it. If not, you are doing exactly what Protestants do in interpreting the Bible.

    So all you are left with is more stuff to interpret. We are always interacting with the world and we are always interpreting. Rome doesn’t rescue you from that bind.

    There are things that are faintly mentioned in scripture, like for instance, doctrines that the church has concerning the Virgin Mary that I would not have know apart from the tradition.

    Okay. So did Peter the Apostle (or Paul or any other Apostle) teach the bodily assumption of Mary as the Roman Catholic Church now understands it? It’s not in Scripture but it’s in the tradition, so where can I find the words of Peter or another Apostle to the effect that Mary was assumed into heaven bodily?

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  57. Susan says: To tell the truth, I’d walk away from Christianity completely if it weren’t for Catholicism.

    Susan, Are you sure? this sure seems like an insult to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

  58. Susan: If the landscape is such that we are all doing our best based on scripture and tradition to have a correct view, then let’s each of us think that our view is correct( because if it isn’t we can never know), or let live with the uncertainty. If none of us is correct then everyone is allowed to have their own “view”…. To tell the truth, I’d walk away from Christianity completely if it weren’t for Catholicism

    Why is utterly dispelling uncertainty so crucial to you, so much so that you would walk away from Christianity if uncertainty remained?

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  59. Jeff,

    Think of it this way: Sola Scriptura is nowhere in the tradition prior to the Reformation. Sola scripture becomes untenable. Where does one go?

    Night all,
    Susan

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  60. Susan says: Where does one go?

    To Jesus, Susan

    John 6:7 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.

    Hebrews 10: 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

    As Paul said: 2 Timothy 2: 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

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  61. Susan,

    You wrote, “No, I don’t grant that. The scripture is the written experience of people within the church. I see that the church comes first. When Paul said that Jesus is raised from the grave, he is appealing to scripture, but he is getting that scripture from the gospel writers who are men. Who is inspired, Paul in 1 Corinthians or Luke in Luke 24?”

    Setting aside the RC/prot polemics, this is a curious comment that caught my eye. I was recently reading through Hebrews and find it really interesting how the author refers to various passages he cites from the OT. For example in Heb. 3:7 he writes, ” Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,…” and quotes from a Psalm. I find two interesting things here. Firstly, the writer tells us that the Holy Spirit says (not David or the Psalmist). This indicates that the author of Hebrews doesn’t agree woth your assertion that scripture is the written experience of people in the church, but instead the Holy Spirit speaking. Secondly, the author uses the present tense. The author believes that the Holy Spirit is actively speaking…this is a theme throughout the epistle.

    Taken in light about what Peter says about the origin of revelation and his reference to Paul’s writings of Scripture paint a picture at odds with your characterization of Scripture.

    The mistake many Christians make is to view the Bible as a book like other books. But that is inconsistent with the claims it makes for itself. The book is the living, active, speaking Word of God. God tells us that his sheep know his voice. Fundamentally this is how we know.

    Of course, God has appointed means by which we hear his voice. We may disagree with the principal means God uses, and I would hope this is the arena where we have our polemical battles. Adopting a modernist understanding of scripture whether cath or prot flavored does not do justice to what the text claims for itself.

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  62. sdb,
    I never said that the Holy Spirit was not inspiring people who wrote scripture. I don’t have any modernist views about scripture.

    I believe what the church teaches about sacred scripture.

    ‘CHAPTER II
    HANDING ON DIVINE REVELATION

    7. In His gracious goodness, God has seen to it that what He had revealed for the salvation of all nations would abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations. Therefore Christ the Lord in whom the full revelation of the supreme God is brought to completion (see Cor. 1:20; 3:13; 4:6), commissioned the Apostles to preach to all men that Gospel which is the source of all saving truth and moral teaching, (1) and to impart to them heavenly gifts. This Gospel had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing. (2)

    But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their own place.”(3) This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2).

    8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) (4) Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.

    This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. (5) For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

    The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).

    9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.(6)

    10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. (7)

    But the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, (8) has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, (9) whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.

    It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.’

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  63. Susan, “The Catechism is not a flawed understanding, it is a true summary of all that is found in scripture and theology.”

    How do you know? Because a pope told you he is infallible and that the magisterium doesn’t err?

    That works for you? Then simply say that you put your trust in the hierarchy and stop trying to make your belief plausible. It hangs on your assent to the truths articulated by someone else. That’s not reasonable. It’s gullible.

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  64. Susan, ” I see that the church comes first.”

    Fine. That’s the church of Jerusalem, the one Jesus founded.

    Become Eastern Orthodox and you believe the church. Jesus never ministered in Rome.

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  65. Susan, you know that you have to interpret the popes and magisterium, right? It’s not like by becoming RC you turn into the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    Wait. There’s Bryan Cross.

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  66. Susan, it’s not about epistemology. It’s about fashion:

    At the dusk of the Second Vatican Council, priests in their droves discarded their clericals and hid amongst the faithful, resulting in a downward spiral still bearing rotten fruit today. Many priests stopped acting like priests when they ceased living like priests; they ceased living like priests when they stopped praying like priests. And they stopped praying like priests when they stopped dressing like priests.

    Recently, I came across several instances where seminaries around the world were partaking in the centuries-old tradition often referred to as the taking of the cassock and tonsure. Without going into finer detail, this milestone on the road to priesthood predominantly occurs for seminarians commencing their second and third years of formation, though this can vary. On a personal level, I confess that reading such articles makes me quite envious of these seminarians.

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  67. Susan,

    Think of it this way: Sola Scriptura is nowhere in the tradition prior to the Reformation. Sola scripture becomes untenable.

    That’s actually quite debatable. I suspect you don’t really know what Sola Scriptura means.

    Where does one go?

    Okay, even if I grant that you are right about Sola Scriptura, going to a Magisterium doesn’t give you more certainty. There is certainly no agreement on how the Magisterium is to be interpreted, and since you are fallible, you can just as easily get the Magisterium wrong as you can get Scripture wrong. Do you claim that your understanding of the Magisterium is infallible?

    Since you are fallible, there goes the absolute certainty you keep talk about. Why is fallible certainty such a bad thing? You live by it every day of your life.

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  68. Susan says: To tell the truth, I’d walk away from Christianity completely if it weren’t for Catholicism.

    Susan, just a last again, since it’s so serious to say that…

    You were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them you too formerly lived in the lusts of your flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature a child of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved you, even when you were dead in your transgressions, made you alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised you up with Him, and seated you with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward you in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast ?

    …and you would ‘leave Christ?’ I don’t think so.

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  69. Jeff – you nailed it. Susan is looking for truth, but she is also looking for absolute certainty, which doesn’t exist. She thinks she will find it in the Church, but we all know she won’t. And we know that not because we’re anti-Catholic, but because the Church has, without question, been wrong in the past. So why she’s throwing her lot in with an institution that – like all churches – is fallible makes no sense to me.

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  70. Robert,

    “Okay, even if I grant that you are right about Sola Scriptura, going to a Magisterium doesn’t give you more certainty. There is certainly no agreement on how the Magisterium is to be interpreted, and since you are fallible, you can just as easily get the Magisterium wrong as you can get Scripture wrong. Do you claim that your understanding of the Magisterium is infallible?”

    First of all, I do understand the doctrine of sola scriptura. It isn’t tenable, for two main reasons that stand out to me, 1) It can’t answer second or third order questions and that is why Christianity without a visible head is in a quandary. You deny that there is a problem. You deny that it matters what interpretation about the Eucharist is correct, but in doing that you squelch my desire to know what the Holy Spirit would have me know, by telling me it isn’t important. But I, like many others, see that it is important. If you grant that an interpretation is an act of faith and reason using a hermeneutic with a view of the scripture that understands a four-fold sense then why doesn’t that system yield what it is supposed to. You will tell me that it is some fault in the reader, but you can’t be sure of that. Besides, it assumes that you don’t have any problem that keeps you from a correct interpretation. That sounds the opposite of humble considering that interpretation has men’s poor intellect, self-deceit, and sin, stacked against it.
    2) It’s a latecomer. Where is it laid-out, developed and defined in scripture itself or in the tradition of the church prior to the Reformation? That’s a glaring problem for the doctrine.

    You claim that scripture is supposed to be the chain of continuity, but you also know that scripture speaks of a church. That’s a dilemma, so to solve it, the church is said to be invisible. but that’s a departure from how ecclesiology was believed before the Reformation.

    “Since you are fallible, there goes the absolute certainty you keep talk about. Why is fallible certainty such a bad thing? You live by it every day of your life.”

    Forgive me but you sound like Pontius Pilate.
    What is “certainty” when it comes to the things that man can know with his natural reason? Well, concerning God, I am certain that God exists. All men can see this.

    “For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.”

    What do you call this “type” of certainty? Fallible or infallible? What do you personally hold in your heart about the existence of God? Are you certain that He exists or do you just hope that He does, since our human minds cannot penetrate the infallible? Sounds pretty Kantian to me. I hope you don’t tell your children that faith is unreasonable, but you gotta have it anyway.

    Take your “type of certainty” and compare it with that which the Catholic Church professes:

    “Today, in this catechesis, I would like to reflect on the reasonableness of faith in God. The Catholic Tradition, from the outset, rejected the so-called “fideism”, which is the desire to believe against reason. Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd) is not a formula that interprets the Catholic faith. Indeed God is not absurd, if anything he is a mystery. The mystery, in its turn, is not irrational but is a superabundance of sense, of meaning, of truth. If, looking at the mystery, reason sees darkness, it is not because there is no light in the mystery, but rather because there is too much of it. Just as when humans raise their eyes to look at the sun, they are blinded; but who would say that the sun is not bright or, indeed, the fount of light? Faith permits us to look at the “sun”, God, because it is the acceptance of his revelation in history and, so to speak, the true reception of God’s mystery, recognizing the great miracle. God came close to man, he offered himself so that man might know him, stooping to the creatural limitations of human reason (cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum, n. 13). At the same time, God, with his grace, illuminates reason, unfolds new horizons before it, boundless and infinite. For this reason faith is an incentive to seek always, never to stop and never to be content in the inexhaustible search for truth and reality. The prejudice of certain modern thinkers, who hold that human reason would be as it were blocked by the dogmas of faith, is false”( Pope Benedict XVI General Audience Nov 21, 2012).

    Then there is this( again), taken from the portion I posted last night from the encyclical “Dei Verbum”.

    “Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her ‘certainty’ about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.”

    The pope clearly understands what I mean by ‘certainty’. If I believe that there is such a thing as “revelation”, first of all, I have to be certain that God exists. Next, I have to know where God has spoken, and when what he has said has been received, I have “to know”, possess that word. When it comes to God speaking, well, we can have absolute certainty because God neither deceives nor is He deceived.

    CCC 156:” What moves us to believe is not the fact that revealed truths appear as true and intelligible in the light of our natural reason: we believe “because of the authority of God himself who reveals them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived”.28 So “that the submission of our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason, God willed that external proofs of his Revelation should be joined to the internal helps of the Holy Spirit.”29 Thus the miracles of Christ and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability “are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all”; they are “motives of credibility” (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is “by no means a blind impulse of the mind”.”

    To sum up, we can know with certainty, but that doesn’t mean that all things that exist are known, and it doesn’t mean that people can’t be deceived or that our senses are always telling us the truth, but we can know with certainty that the world is real, that God exists and the He has revealed Himself.

    Have you ever read Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Address? I think you’d appreciate it.

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg.html

    I’m out for a few day, at least.

    -Susan

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  71. VV,

    After I finished writing to Robert, I was thinking about how I could put succinctly, to you, what I mean.

    “Susan is looking for truth, but she is also looking for absolute certainty, which doesn’t exist.”

    We should define what we mean by “absolute”.

    We can know universals. And we can know things totally.

    Let’s define “certainty”. It’s a word, it’s in our vocabulary and so, it means something. You used it to convey how a person’s reason is limited. Are you certain that I can know with certainty?

    If you think I’m playing games, I’m not. I really want to know how you distinguish what you know from what you hold by opinion.

    “She thinks she will find it in the Church, but we all know she won’t. And we know that not because we’re anti-Catholic, but because the Church has, without question, been wrong in the past.”

    That’s an assertion based on either a false belief from a bias, or from reading something that appeared to you to be a contradiction. If it can be proved as a contradiction, then your belief is invalidated.

    ” So why she’s throwing her lot in with an institution that – like all churches – is fallible makes no sense to me.”

    People are fallible, but the Church is Holy and its teachings are absolutely true, that’s why.

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  72. Susan,

    First of all, I do understand the doctrine of sola scriptura.

    I’m not trying to be insulting, but I haven’t seen any evidence of this. You seem to think sola Scriptura means no Protestant church authority and that if it were true, there would be no disagreement. And there are other evidences as well that you reject something you don’t quite understand. It’s incredibly common with the CtC certainty apologetic.

    It isn’t tenable, for two main reasons that stand out to me, 1) It can’t answer second or third order questions and that is why Christianity without a visible head is in a quandary.

    This assumes God gave Scripture for the purpose of answering second and third order questions. What if your assumption on this is wrong.

    You deny that there is a problem.

    I don’t deny that Protestants have a problem or that sola Scriptura can be difficult to put into practice. What I deny is that the Magisterium does a better job of giving a solution.

    You deny that it matters what interpretation about the Eucharist is correct,

    No. It does matter. All I said is that you can misinterpret the Eucharist and still go to heaven. I don’t see anywhere in the verifiable Apostolic tradition (ie, the Bible) that says “If you get the Eucharist wrong, you’re going to hell.” I see it on other topics.

    but in doing that you squelch my desire to know what the Holy Spirit would have me know, by telling me it isn’t important. But I, like many others, see that it is important.

    How are you certain that your desire is from the Holy Spirit on this matter?

    If you grant that an interpretation is an act of faith and reason using a hermeneutic with a view of the scripture that understands a four-fold sense

    I don’t grant a four-fold sense to Scripture, and neither does modern Romanism. Which members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission would admit that Scripture has a fourfold sense?

    then why doesn’t that system yield what it is supposed to.

    Who said that Sola Scriptura is supposed to lead to one visible church? That’s a RC assumption.

    You will tell me that it is some fault in the reader, but you can’t be sure of that.

    If Scripture is from God and always speak the truth, then I am quite sure that misinterpretation is always somehow the fault of the reader.

    Besides, it assumes that you don’t have any problem that keeps you from a correct interpretation.

    Wrong. I have misinterpreted Scripture incorrectly many times. And the church has helped to correct me on it.

    That sounds the opposite of humble considering that interpretation has men’s poor intellect, self-deceit, and sin, stacked against it.

    Susan, do you realize that in every post you make, you assume that you have interpreted the Magisterium correctly? Are you even reading us when we point out that Roman Catholics in good standing with the church disagree with you on fundamental matters. And I’m not being humble?

    2) It’s a latecomer. Where is it laid-out, developed and defined in scripture itself or in the tradition of the church prior to the Reformation? That’s a glaring problem for the doctrine.

    2 Timothy 3:16–17 says Scripture is God-breathed, authoritative, and sufficient for all good works. That’s sola Scriptura.

    You claim that scripture is supposed to be the chain of continuity, but you also know that scripture speaks of a church. That’s a dilemma, so to solve it, the church is said to be invisible. but that’s a departure from how ecclesiology was believed before the Reformation.

    Augustine believed in an invisible church as well. You simply don’t know the history.

    What do you call this “type” of certainty? Fallible or infallible? What do you personally hold in your heart about the existence of God? Are you certain that He exists or do you just hope that He does, since our human minds cannot penetrate the infallible? Sounds pretty Kantian to me. I hope you don’t tell your children that faith is unreasonable, but you gotta have it anyway.

    Unless I become omniscient, I am always fallible. Fallible doesn’t mean wrong. It doesn’t even mean likely to be wrong. And it doesn’t mean uncertain either.

    You like to go on and on about natural reason, but you do realize that the things we know even by “natural reason” are approximations. The atomic clock, for example, is incredibly accurate, but even it does not tell time with absolute precision. We can calculate Pi to 3.14, but in reality we know that the number actually is infinite. Yet we are content with 3.14 because it is sufficient for our purposes.

    That’s the kind of certainty I am talking about for creatures. We can have sufficient certainty, but not absolute, infallible certainty. The latter belongs only to God.

    To sum up, we can know with certainty, but that doesn’t mean that all things that exist are known, and it doesn’t mean that people can’t be deceived or that our senses are always telling us the truth, but we can know with certainty that the world is real, that God exists and the He has revealed Himself.

    I don’t deny any of that. What I deny is infallible certainty. But infallible certainty is not required to be certain that the world is real, that God exists, and that He has revealed Himself.

    You have said certainty=absolute, not even a logical possibility of error, certainty. What I am fundamentally denying is that equality.

    But again, even if I grant all of your premises, the Roman Church does not solve your problem. Presumably, you and Catholics for Choice have a different view on abortion and whether or not it is a mortal sin. How am I certain of which view is correct? You can point me to Magisterial documents, and that’s great, but why can I be certain that you are reading them correctly and I can’t be certain when my Pastor is reading the Bible correctly?

    You can point me to the living Magisterium, but the living Magisterium doesn’t bar high-ranking supporters of abortion on demand from the Eucharist, so why should I believe the Catholics for Choice view is wrong? Surely if it were a mortal sin, the Magisterium would not be giving the Eucharist to abortion supporters.

    So how do I know?

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  73. Susan,

    If you think I’m playing games, I’m not. I really want to know how you distinguish what you know from what you hold by opinion.

    Let’s assume that you are anti-abortion. How do you distinguish your knowledge of that position from your opinion that said position is true?

    Will you point me to the Magisterium? Probably.

    Okay. How do you know your interpretation of the Magisterium is true and not a mere opinion. Plenty of Roman Catholics disagree with you. In fact, a large number of Roman Catholics who faithfully volunteer in their parishes disagree with you.

    Who is right and how do you know?

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  74. VV,

    Please see the two post above. I am adding this right after I finished the above.

    To your question as to why I am throwing my lot in with an institution that—like all churches– is fallible, I responded that people are fallible and that the Church is Holy and its teaching are absolutely true.

    I say this because Scripture calls The Church “the pillar and bulwark” of the truth( 1 Timothy 3:15). You, however, believe in an invisible church that is made up of lots of individuals who have different interpretations of scripture. How is that schema holding up and guarding the truth?

    If I granted you that all churches are fallible and that mine is no different, then why is it a problem that I throw in my lot with a community that is an admixture of beliefs? Why is it a problem that I do exactly what you do? Again, if that is the sad truth then leave Catholics( or anyone else who don’t believe in your interpretation of scripture or of ecclesiology) alone.
    In other words, be consistent. That you don’t like the CC claim to be the true church on earth is beside the point.

    This isn’t meant to be mean spirited, I only want you to see how contradictory your stance is.

    I’ve said all I can to this conversation, and will not be back.

    With all my heart I wish you the best,

    Like

  75. Robert,

    Reason tells you murder is wrong. People look for excuses to do what’s convenient. Please read that address that I linked above.
    Do you really have any doubt that the church has one stance about abortion? There are varying opinions in the pews, sure, but how does one be faithful to God and to His church if there isn’t a way to know? Are we left without a way of knowing then? Is that what you think? What is the final word of your hierarchy? Is there a final word in your hierarchy? Can you locate it? Or is your hierarchy able to err on what it pronounces concerning abortion? And I mean, as in declaring it licit and not binding consciences against it, so that whoever disagrees will have to find a new church(or start one)?

    http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/abortion/on-the-importance-and-priority-of-defending-innocent-human-life.cfm

    Are you really that uncertain about our ability to know? Are you buying into this gender confusion bit? Is the world binary or not?

    Do your homework.

    Like

  76. Susan,

    Reason tells you murder is wrong. People look for excuses to do what’s convenient. Please read that address that I linked above.

    How can I be absolutely certain when I have exercised my reason properly?

    Do you really have any doubt that the church has one stance about abortion?

    If I apply the principle of good-faith reading of church documents according to the intent of the Magisterium, then no, I have no doubt. All I am saying is that I can do the same with the Bible. But you don’t believe that I can. So, why are you able to attain more certainty in interpreting the Magisterium than I am in interpreting the Bible?

    There are varying opinions in the pews, sure, but how does one be faithful to God and to His church if there isn’t a way to know? Are we left without a way of knowing then? Is that what you think?

    We’re not left without a way of knowing. We are left without a way of personally knowing things infallibly because we are creatures. You want infallible knowledge for yourself, but you have not yet explained how Rome gives that to you. At best, all you have is a Magisterium with infallible understanding. But you are not the Magisterium, and you are always fallible in understanding the Magisterium just as I am not the Apostles and am always fallible in understanding the Apostles. So how are you better off?

    What is the final word of your hierarchy? Is there a final word in your hierarchy?

    Same as yours. The final word for Susan is Susan’s understanding. You don’t escape your fallibility or interpretation simply by saying “I believe what the church says and the church is infallible.” Well, “I believe what the Bible says and the Bible is infallible.” Why does it work for you and not for me. And diversity of interpretations doesn’t count as evidence because there are just as many interpretations of the Magisterium.

    Can you locate it? Or is your hierarchy able to err on what it pronounces concerning abortion? And I mean, as in declaring it licit and not binding consciences against it, so that whoever disagrees will have to find a new church(or start one)?

    I’m not sure what you are asking. If you are asking how I can locate a church with authority, my answer is, the church that preaches the biblical gospel. But I have to figure out the gospel and accept that it is true first. You aren’t in a better situation. You have to first figure out that Apostolic success is a thing and is true and then look for the church that meets the criteria. Looks like an exercise of your private, fallible, interpretation to me.

    Are you really that uncertain about our ability to know? Are you buying into this gender confusion bit? Is the world binary or not?

    No I’m not uncertain. I’m quite certain that we can know true things. I’m simply saying that you have no more certainty than I do simply because you believe in an infallible Magisterium.

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  77. Susan – if you were to say that the Catholic Church is flawed and you don’t agree with everything, but that you believe it to be the best, truest Church in existence today, I would respect that. I might disagree, but I would respect it. But that’s NOT what you’re saying. You entered this thread to point out the inferiority of Protestant tribalism based on the fact that there are different interpretations of Scripture. Your thesis is that the Catholic Church is superior because it provides the definitive truth. I (and Robert and others) have pointed out the logical inconsistencies and outright fallacy of this belief. Not only is it impossible to support the assertion that the Church provides the truth doctrine from historical and theological arguments, but Robert and DGH have clearly demonstrated that even the Magisterium is open to individual interpretation. So at the end of the day, you are left with the need to individually interpret the Magisterium of the RCC, which is itself demonstrably flawed. Why not simply study and interpret infallible Scripture rather than a fallible institution?

    I know I sound like a broken record, but that’s the real head-scratcher for me: the fact that you had an “epistemological crisis” and resolved that by embracing the Magisterium as definitive truth makes no sense to me whatsoever. If I were you I would actually embrace the EOC before the RCC if you want certainty. The EOC largely derives its theology from the liturgy, and is perfectly content to leave many theological questions in the realm of mystery. In your shoes I would just embrace the mystery and trust that there is a definitive truth, even if you can’t discern what that is. And since the EOC and RCC have the same view of the Eucharist in your view, you’re practically there already.

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  78. Susan, papal infallibility, the cream in your cup of epistemic certainty, didn’t emerge until 1870. At least the canon of Scripture was around by the fourth century.

    You’re not THINKing.

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  79. Darryl,
    You mean ecclesial infallibility – since papal infallibility is only a subset of the STM-triad. Aquinas would’ve been surprised he was 600 years too early to the party:

    “Now it is manifest that he who adheres to the teaching of the Church, as to an infallible rule, assents to whatever the Church teaches; otherwise, if, of the things taught by the Church, he holds what he chooses to hold, and rejects what he chooses to reject, he no longer adheres to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule, but to his own will. Hence it is evident that a heretic who obstinately disbelieves one article of faith, is not prepared to follow the teaching of the Church in all things; but if he is not obstinate, he is no longer in heresy but only in error. Therefore it is clear that such a heretic with regard to one article has no faith in the other articles, but only a kind of opinion in accordance with his own will.”

    “A heretic does not hold the other articles of faith, about which he does not err, in the same way as one of the faithful does, namely by adhering simply to the Divine Truth, because in order to do so, a man needs the help of the habit of faith; but he holds the things that are of faith, by his own will and judgment.”

    “Consequently to publish a new edition of the symbol belongs to that authority which is empowered to decide matters of faith finally, so that they may be held by all with unshaken faith. Now this belongs to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff….Hence our Lord said to Peter whom he made Sovereign Pontiff: “I have prayed for thee,” Peter, “that thy faith fail not, and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.” The reason of this is that there should be but one faith of the whole Church, according to 1 Corinthians 1:10: “That you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you”: and this could not be secured unless any question of faith that may arise be decided by him who presides over the whole Church, so that the whole Church may hold firmly to his decision.”

    “This prohibition and sentence of the council was intended for private individuals, who have no business to decide matters of faith”

    “The universal Church cannot err, since she is governed by the Holy Ghost, Who is the Spirit of truth: for such was Our Lord’s promise to His disciples: “When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will teach you all truth.” Now the symbol is published by the authority of the universal Church. Therefore it contains nothing defective.”

    “Hence it is not human knowledge, but the Divine truth that is the rule of faith: and if any of the learned stray from this rule, he does not harm the faith of the simple ones, who think that the learned believe aright; unless the simple hold obstinately to their individual errors, against the faith of the universal Church, which cannot err, since Our Lord said: “I have prayed for thee,” Peter, “that thy faith fail not.””

    “The various conclusions of a science have their respective means of demonstration, one of which may be known without another, so that we may know some conclusions of a science without knowing the others. On the other hand faith adheres to all the articles of faith by reason of one mean, viz. on account of the First Truth proposed to us in Scriptures, according to the teaching of the Church who has the right understanding of them. Hence whoever abandons this mean is altogether lacking in faith.”

    But we’ve been here before. Vulcan mindmelds and the like. Claiming the Magisterium’s authority is superfluous and can’t offer you anything more than just more stuff to fallibly interpret because followers are still human and always interpret is like claiming Christ and the Apostles authority was superfluous in NT times and couldn’t offer NT followers anything more than just more stuff to fallibly interpret.

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  80. James Young, are those quotes from Charles Hodge and Carl Henry? I mean, last time you peeped I thought it was a giant hug fest.

    But you know, the professional historians who are Roman Catholics don’t see history the way you and Aquinas do. At some point, the Vatican might want to address that. Oops. There went aggiornamento.

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  81. Darryl,
    “it was a giant hug fest.”

    Protestantism has truth in it, to varying degrees according to which group. That should be celebrated. One of those many truths is that a purification of some type takes place after death. It also has errors in it.

    “the professional historians”

    I’m glad the church and faith aren’t reduced to some current slate of “professional historians” opinions. Do you follow Bart Erhman’s and William Dever’s and Peter Lampe’s and Crossan’s historical conclusions on Scripture?

    “At some point, the Vatican might want to address that.”

    It has – see its documents concerning the work of theologians and scholars in relation to the faith.

    Like

  82. Cletus,

    When was the last time a Roman Catholic historian or biblical scholar was actually disciplined for teaching contrary to the Magisterium and tradition?

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  83. James Young, since the popes themselves aren’t of one mind about how to interpret the Second Vatican Council, you have to do better than than. And don’t forget to read the fifty-year tributes to the Land of Lakes Statement at National Catholic Register.

    Then shrug.

    Like

  84. Darryl,

    Meanwhile, Pope Francis scolds conservative American Roman Catholics who join with evangelicals on issues the Magisterium is supposed to uphold…

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  85. Robert,

    The pope could discipline absolutely no one and that would not impact that the Resurrection and virgin birth is part of the RC faith. The pope can even (shock) be incorrect in his prudential or theological judgments and opinions and warrant correction from the faithful, as history shows. If your presbytery fails to discipline a known serial adulterer or some scholar in its ranks teaching Christ was an alien from Andromeda, do you rush to the WCF and associated Reformed standards in your abject confusion to double-check whether they actually affirm such things? Of course not.

    Like

  86. Susan,

    Can you give an example of a “third order question” that sola scriptura should be able to answer?

    Like

  87. CVD: But we’ve been here before. Vulcan mindmelds and the like. Claiming the Magisterium’s authority is superfluous and can’t offer you anything more than just more stuff to fallibly interpret because followers are still human and always interpret…

    Indeed, we have been here before. The responses have not addressed the central question: How can you achieve certainty of belief when you cannot infallibly interpret the statements of the magisterium?

    To address that question, you have only three options, logically speaking. You must

    (1) Explain how certainty can arise in spite of being able to infallibly interpret the magisterium
    (2) Deny the premise and claim to be able to infallibly interpret the magisterium
    (3) Admit that you don’t have certainty.

    CVD: … is like claiming Christ and the Apostles authority was superfluous in NT times and couldn’t offer NT followers anything more than just more stuff to fallibly interpret.

    If this rebuttal were to be effective, it would have to show a logical link between “couldn’t offer … anything more than … stuff to fallibly interpret” and “Christ and the Apostles’ authority was superfluous.”

    There is no logical link there.

    The infinite authority of Christ and the delegated authority of the Apostles was non-superfluous. The Apostles wrote down infallible Scriptures … which must be fallibly interpreted.

    That gives my interpretations something less than certainty, yet that fact does not detract from the authority of the Apostles (or Christ).

    Likewise, the authority of the Church is real not “superfluous.” Yet it can only deliver words, which must be fallibly interpreted by its members — giving something less than certainty to its members. It does not follow from this that the authority is superfluous.

    The whole rebuttal is based on a non-sequitur, leading to a straw man.

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  88. Erratum: (1) Explain how certainty can arise in spite of being unable to infallibly interpret the magisterium

    Fallibility.

    Like

  89. Cletus,

    Your system does not logically give you the right to determine when the pope or the Magisterium is in error.

    Like

  90. James Young, sorry but the truth by which you judge popes — get this, a lay person judging the vicar of Christ — you would not have without the popes. Haven’t you been reading Susan? No magisterium, no certainty. Now you know independently of the papacy?

    Say hello (again) to Protestantism.

    Like

  91. Robert, what if the system (of James Young) is located in the U.S. of A.? Freedom of conscience is down stream from 1776 (and only affirmed in Rome around 1965). Thank YOU, John Courtney Murray.

    Like

  92. But when you agree with Calvin, quote Calvin.

    Tim Keller—But existentially, Calvin wants us to know and preach that Jesus was as bereft of God’s love and presence as a damned soul. Of course the Father continued in his love for his Son, but on the cross Jesus lost all sense and experience and any practical possession of it. He felt like a soul in hell. On that Calvin is emphatic. He goes on to argue against those who rightly stress this continual love of the Father to the Son but who go on to over-emphasize it to the point of trivializing or minimizing what Jesus suffered… Calvin engages those who say, for example, that Jesus did not actually feel forsaken or estranged. “They hold it incongruous that he would fear for the salvation of his soul.” (II.16.12) But Calvin insists that Jesus did indeed lose his assurance of God’s love and did fear for his soul. He insists that Jesus “wrestled hand to hand with the devil’s power, with the dread of death, with the pains of hell” and so “he was victorious and triumphed over them.” (II.16.11)

    Tim Keller—Calvin addresses others who say that “although Christ feared death, he did not fear God’s curse and wrath, from which he knew himself to be safe.” (II.16.12) These are people who say that Jesus never feared or felt the loss of God’s favor and presence. He feared, perhaps, the pain of physical death, but he never felt damned and cut off from the Father’s love. They believe that Jesus on the cross thought, as it were, “Though I’m physically suffering I know the Father loves me, and this will be over soon.” Calvin says this makes Jesus more “unmanly and cowardly than most men of the common sort”. Why, he asks, was Jesus in such torment in Gethsemane? If Jesus was only afraid of physical pain and death, then plenty of human beings, who “bear it calmly” have faced death better than Jesus. (II.16.12) Instead, Calvin argues, he was trembling before the spiritual torments, “the terrible abyss”, of the loss of God’s presence and love, the experience of being “estranged and forsaken.” If Jesus did not face and experience the dreadfulness of damnation, and the feeling that he was not “safe”, but lost and cursed, then he didn’t really take the penalty we deserved.

    Tim Keller– If we say that Jesus never felt the loss of God’s love on the cross, then it diminishes his astonishing faithfulness. When he quotes Psalm 22, calling the Father “My God”, he not only calls God by his covenant name, but he is invoking a Messianic psalm with a triumphant ending. If he did this when he felt nothing of God’s love and presence—as Calvin argues—it was then an act of obedience unique in the history of the universe.”

    https://derekzrishmawy.com/2017/07/31/calvin-on-he-descended-into-hell-guest-post-by-tim-keller/

    Steven Paulson—Unfortunately, Christ suffered on the cross the cost of anthropological projection of the heart’s faith, where he came to believe that his Father was not pleased with him, thus multiplying sin in himself just like any other original sinner who does not trust a promise from God. …Then finally in the words on the cross, “My God, my God…” he made the public confession of a sinner, “why have you forsaken me?” Confessing made it so, and thus Christ committed his own, personal sin—not only an actual sin, but the original sin. He felt God’s wrath and took that experience as something truer than God’s own word of promise to him (“This is My Son, with whom I am well pleased”). (104-5)

    Balthasar stresses that Sheol is not a place, however, but a condition and thus an intimate spiritual reality. Hence, just as a soul is UNITED to God through the beatific vision , so likewise Christ does not MERELY “see” sin objectively outside himself but is subjectively UNITED and conformed to it: Christ is “LITERALLY ‘made sin.’”

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  93. Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Susan is looking for truth, but she is also looking for absolute certainty, which doesn’t exist.

    You mean, because God is God it does exist, it’s just that in God’s plan…
    1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

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  94. and
    Susan says: People are fallible, but the Church is Holy and its teachings are absolutely true, that’s why.
    -Jesus says People are fallible, but God is Holy and true

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: So at the end of the day, you are left with the need to individually interpret the Magisterium of the RCC, which is itself demonstrably flawed. Why not simply study and interpret infallible Scripture rather than a fallible institution?
    -Amen. He who overcomes, I will make him (each) a pillar in the temple of My God.

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  95. Cletus, I’m going to push a little harder.

    You can either infallibly interpret the magisterium, or you cannot.

    If so, we agree that certainty follows.

    If not, then you can either achieve certainty without needing to infallibly interpret, or you cannot.

    If so, then explain how.

    If not, then admit that you do not have certainty.

    Like

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