Saturday, April 05, 2008
The basis for the mass kidnapping was that a single girl aged 16 had alleged physical abuse. From this tenuous and dubious thread, the authorities apparently took every last girl they could find from the compound. Quite possibly the authorities had the best intentions of trying to do good to these girls. Fundamentalist (and mainstream) Mormonism is an evil cult, and promotes illegal marriages. It is even possible that the allegation of physical abuse by the single 16 year old girl was a true allegation.
The major problem, however, is that this sort of action fundamentally interferes with the sphere of authority of parents in raising their children. It is not the government's right or responsibility (in Texas or anywhere) generally to interfere with parents raising their children. This kind of event is easy to dismiss, because the government is interfering with a fairly oddball cult.
The problem is that if this sort of precedent is upheld, we can expect to see the same mechanism applied to other religious groups - including both Muslim and Christian religious groups, depending on who is the prevailing group controlling the government.
I hope that the Texas government will realize their mistake and rectify it quickly. This persecution of the Fundamentalist LDS folks may be well intentioned, but it is improper and heads us down a slippery slope. I'm not sticking up for the LDS in any way. Their religion is corrupt and false.
By God's grace, perhaps some of these kidnapped girls will end up in Christian foster families where they will hear the gospel and be saved. If so, God be praised! He can use the sinful acts of men for His own glory. Indeed, I hope that will be the end result of the process. I hope souls will be brought to Christ even through this debacle.
As a practical note, we should be prepared for the opposite situation. We should be prepared that our children - the children of our churches - may someday be taken from us and scattered above. With that in mind, we should do what we can to give them the gospel early and often - to put the word of God in their hearts and minds, so that if they are placed in a gospel-free environment they will be a salt and light to it, as opposed to absorbing the teachings of their new captors.
Perhaps this is a one-off occurance that will never happen again. I am not suggesting that the end is near or the sky is falling. I certainly do find the actions of these Texas officials to be most imprudent and unlawful. I certainly can see how anti-Christians governments could apply this sort of precedent to shatter Christian communities, and that is troubling.
One of the most troubling things about the situation is that it is eerily reminiscent of the situation that transpired in Waco, Texas with the Branch Davidian cult. In that case, the results were much more dramatically bad in terms of their physical consequences in loss of life. I am very thankful that the FLDS folks did not defend their rights with guns, because it would probably have meant their immediate extermination.
Let us pray for the Texas officials that God will give them wisdom to do what is right, and for the broken families that they will be brought to the truth of the gospel.
Reginald has provided some additional comments in a new post (link).
Before going through Reginald's comments in detail, I think it would be worthwhile to address a couple matters briefly and generally.
1. I think Reginald may think that I have identified 2 Thessalonians 2:15 as a sort of proof text against Roman Catholicism. That was not my intent, or at least not as such. There are ways in which 2 Thessalonians 2:15 comes into conflict with Roman Catholic dogma, but the point is not to quote 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to criticize tradition, for example. For that I'd turn to other Scriptures. Instead, I've brought of 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to rebut the use I've seen it put to again and again in Catholic apologetics, to suggest that it is a sort of proof text for Catholic positions on tradition.
2. I think Reginald may have taken the position that the "Reasons" and "Impacts" I presented are themselves an attempt to refute the "Catholic position." Not so. In fact, I'm glad that Reginald can so freely agree with at least some of them. They are the facts that we draw from the text that are then used in the antidotes to the various specific abuses of the text.
With such antidotal use in mind, the focus of the discussion is a little different than the focus would be if I were trying to positively some doctrine from the text. It is important to realize that there is a difference between trying to positively establish a doctrine from a text, and trying to demonstrate that a doctrine cannot be established from a particular text.
To put it another way, just because (as I demonstrate) the verse does not say what fans of "tradition" need or want it to say, does not mean that it is a clear enunciation of the opposing reformation doctrine. Perhaps this is hard to see, so I'll use an example.
Suppose that someone took the account of Judas' suicide to be a teaching that one can redeem themselves from serious sins via suicide. There are several doctrines that oppose such a teaching, such as that only Christ's sacrifice can redeem us from sin and that suicide is itself a sin. Nevertheless, an exposition of the "proof texts" for such a teaching would not necessarily find either of those doctrines in the text. A verse that says Judas hanged himself may not actually say that suicide is wrong, nor may they necessarily explain the unique role of Christ's atoning sacrifice. We'd be surprised if they did.
Hopefully such an example demonstrates why we'd be surprised if the supposed proof texts for the "traditionist" point of view positively demonstrated Sola Scriptura. It would be lovely if they did - and sometimes one may find that happening. Nevertheless, we wouldn't expect such a thing as a matter of course.
Rebuttal as to Reginald's Comments on the Specific Examples
1. The First Specific Example
The first specific example was a situation in which someone is trying to say that we need to permit some "tradition," because this verse says so. I think Reginald may have misunderstood this situation. Frankly, as I went through my concrete examples, I found this kind of abuse with lower frequency than the other two. That is not to say it does not happen.
Searching quickly, one might pick on Sungenis' argument in a Catholic Answers article (link) in which he argues, defending the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, "... in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul told these same Thessalonians to preserve the oral instruction, along with the written." Let me be clear: I think Sungenis is really trying to go after the broader issue of Sola Scriptura, even though the argument is part of a defense of the bodily assumption of Mary. Nevertheless, the point is that on this particular debate, Sungenis has brought in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.
We can ask ourselves the three questions I posed, and discover that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn't help Sungenis establish the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption.
Now, Reginald seems to think that the first question ("Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?")is vague, because (apparently) the term "gospel" is vague. I'll leave that softball aside for a while. The point of the question was intentionally not to be more specific than the text. Tying back to the "Reasons" and "Impacts" section of the original post, though, I think we had basically agreed that the answer is "the gospel."
Likewise, Reginald seems to think that the second question ("Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?") is irrelevant. In the example of Sungenis' use to support the Bodily Assumption of Mary, the question is plainly not irrelevant. If Sungenis cannot demonstrate that Paul taught the Thessalonians the Bodily Assumption of Mary, then we don't have any particular reason to think that Paul telling the Thessalonians to hold fast to the things that they were taught has any significance to the particular doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary.
Finally, Reginald seems to think that the third question ("Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?") is also irrelevant. However, for much the same reasons, it is relevant when the verse is brought to bear for support of a particular doctrine, such as the Bodily Assumption of Mary.
Reginald's comment, "There is no documentary evidence showing the full content of St. Paul's preaching in Thessalonica, so he cannot demonstrate that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught there," seems misplaced. I would not suggest that we could demonstrate (at least not simply from this verse) the negative proposition that distinctively Catholic traditions were not taught in Thessalonica. Instead, my point is a rebuttal point, as noted above.
My point is that one cannot point to 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to support the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary, because no one could demonstrate that Paul was referring to a body of doctrine that included such a doctrine. Even if Paul had simply said, "Hold fast everything you've ever been taught," that wouldn't establish the Bodily Assumption of Mary unless we could discover somehow that the Bodily Assumption of Mary had been taught to the Thessalonians.
That's not the same as demonstration from 2 Thessalonians 2:15 that the Bodily Assumption of Mary was NOT taught to the Thessalonians. That's not what the argument aims to demonstrate and it is critical that Reginald grasp this point. I'm not suggesting that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 disproves the Bodily Assumption of Mary.
2. The Second Specific Example
The second specific example seems to be the most frequent abuse that I've seen in a quick informal survey. The second specific example posits the following situation: "someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture."
We can ask ourselves the three questions I posed, and discover that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn't help "traditionists" establish their thesis that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture.
Reginald thinks that the first question ("Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or "our epistle" and other "things preached"?") is irrelevant, but Reginald is mistaken. Reginald's comment: "nothing in the passage proscribes Sacred Tradition as being the content of the traditions that were preached - traditions whose referents we do not know." Something in the passage may well proscribe "Sacred Tradition" (indeed, we do know the referents in general terms, even if the precise specifics are not stated), but that is not the point here. The point here is somewhat the opposite: that is it say the point is that nothing in the passage prescribes "Sacred Tradition" as being the content of the traditions that were preached.
Or to put it more generally, nothing in the verse provides a dichotomy between Scripture as a category and non-Scripture as another category. That's one reason the concrete examples of this specific abuse fail.
Reginald also thinks the second question ("Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?") is irrelevant. But again, Reginald seems to have misplaced the argument. His comment confirms this fact. Reginald states, "the verse also doesn't say that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture," but - of course - that wasn't the claim. Perhaps it is the case that they had been taught things solely found in Scripture, and perhaps we could even establish that. But that's not why we asked the second question, just as we did not ask the first question to prove that "Sacred Tradition" is not the content of the traditions that were preached. Instead, the question is raised to demonstrate the the verse does not support the Catholic thesis.
The same goes for the third question ("Does the verse explain anything about the "things preached" beyond that they were the "truth" and "the gospel"?"). Reginald comments, "Question 3 doesn't exclude Sacred Tradition, which is certainly true and transmits the gospel, so the fact that the verse doesn't spell things out is irrelevant." The point, though, is not that "Sacred Tradition" is excluded. The point is to highlight what we know about the content of the "traditions" mentioned by Paul. The content is the "truth" and more specifically "the gospel." Neither of those categories requires the inclusion of something beyond Scripture. Since that it so, the verse does not support the Catholic thesis.
3. The Third Specific Example
The third specific example is a case in which the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public.
Reginald thinks that the first question ("Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?") presupposes a mistaken view of Catholic theology. Reginald points out, "Sacred Tradition ... isn't "hidden" from anyone." I understand his concern.
The problem is that if one makes an investigation of the doctrine of, say, Papal Infallibility, one doesn't find any positive evidence that anyone believed in the doctrine more than say 150 (or even 50) years before it was enunciated by Vatican I. Some Catholic commentators adopt a theory that essentially the magesterium reveals knowledge about doctrine (such as the doctrine of papal infallibility) progressively - and thus the doctrine of papal infallibility could be said to be - in effect - "hidden" for hundreds and and hundreds of years.
Furthermore, one does find those in the early church (such as Clement of Alexandria) adopting a view of alleged secret traditions (see this letter of Clement's for example). Undoubtedly this was due to the influence of Gnosticism, but then that's why Reformed Christians sometimes level charges of tendency towards Gnosticism on Roman Catholicism. After all, if all that the apostles taught is in the public knowledge, then it shouldn't take a magisterium to provide its contents, just as no magesterium is necessary to provide us with Homer's Odyssey or Aristotle's Physics.
But there is no need to be contentious about the question of secrets. Let us suppose that for the particular Roman Catholic in question, we are talking about a supposedly well-known tradition, or about a tradition that has allegedly been held by all Christians everywhere always. Then, perhaps, it would possible to suppose that the first question might be moot.
Proceeding to Question 2 ("Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?"), Reginald claims that this question misleads. Reginald argues that "the fact that the bishop or presbyter(s) of the Thessalonian church taught them oral traditions doesn't change the fact that oral traditions were taught." While I agree with Reginald's flow of thought (who taught the traditions wouldn't matter to the fact that the traditions were taught), the point was a bit different. The point was that these were not traditions that had been passed down among the religious elite and were finally being revealed to the people, but were traditions that had been given directly to the brethren. Thus, these traditions are not analogous to modern Catholic traditions that are missing from any written record for much of history.
Finally, the most significant question (whether or not questions 1 and 2 were relevant) is the third question ("Does the verse specify that the "things taught" were not things that were committed to writing?"). Reginald - again misplacing the issue - argued irrelevance of the question, "since the verse also does not say that they were written down." (emphasis in original). The problem, of course, is that the verse does not support the Catholic thesis, not that the verse necessarily refutes the Catholic thesis.
The anticipated objection is that while the verse does not support the Catholic position, it doesn't refute it either. In fact, while I call this an anticipated objection, one almost sees it expressed in Reginald's concluding remark
I think that he and I might be able to agree on one thing: 2Th 2:15 is not by itself a foundation for the entire Catholic understanding of what Sacred Tradition is. It doesn't have to be. But it most certainly does not contradict the fact that God's revelation has been preserved in Sacred Tradition.The supposed "fact," is the thing to be proved. Thus, this sort of objection is an argument that we would typically call "begging the question." That is to say, it hasn't been established that there is a class of knowledge called "Sacred Tradition" that is a part of God's revelation separate from Scripture.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 is sometimes quoted as though it did establish such categories, but we have discovered that it does not. We can understand and appreciate how one would apply the modern Catholic categories onto the verse, but when we read the verse itself in context, we have no reason to suppose that it is suggesting the Catholic (or "Orthodox," for that matter) categories.
Indeed, when we look at the verse itself, we discover that the point of the verse is that the Thessalonians are to hold fast to the gospel. Reginald thinks that the term "gospel" is vague, and like many things its precise boundaries may not be clear. No matter. We can perhaps look to other places where Paul or other Scripture writers explain what the gospel is to get a better sense and clear up the matter. But that can wait for another time - for now it should suffice to have been demonstrated that the verse doesn't support the Catholic theses for which it is so often quoted, even if it is only neutral with respect to them.
To go back and remind ourselves of the previous analogy, the statement "Judas went and hanged himself," is not a proof text for a Mormon doctrine of "individual blood atonement" even though it (itself) is not inconsistent with such a doctrine.
A Patristic Example
John Chrysostom wrote a a large amount, and even more that he did not write has been attributed to him over the years. Among the things attributed to him (whether he wrote it or not, I haven't seen any compelling case made) is a statement that is frequently used by advocates of the "traditionist" position. Commenting on 2 Thess. 2:15, "So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word, or by Epistle of ours," the person writing under the name Chrysostom states, "Hence it is manifest, that they did not deliver all things by Epistle, but many things also unwritten, and in like manner both the one and the other are worthy of credit. Therefore let us think the tradition of the Church also worthy of credit. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken."
That's the entire commentary on the verse. There's certainly some ambiguity as to what the writer means by "tradition." Does he mean "Sacred Tradition" or something else?
When we look ahead to the next homily in the collection, we can see attributed to Chrysostom, the following commentary on 2 Thess. 3:6:
"Ver. 6. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly and not after the tradition which they received of us."
That is, it is not we that say these things, but Christ, for that is the meaning of "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"; equivalent to "through Christ." Showing the fearfulness of the message, he says, through Christ. Christ therefore commanded us in no case to be idle. "That ye withdraw yourselves," he says, "from every brother." Tell me not of the rich, tell me not of the poor, tell me not of the holy. This is disorder. "That walks," he says, that is, lives. "And not after the tradition which they received from me." Tradition, he says, which is through works. And this he always calls properly tradition."
If both of those homilies are by the same person, we would tend to view Chrysostom considers "tradition" to refer to how one lives one's life - to discipline, but not doctrine.
Regardless, however, of what Chrysostom meant (and regardless of whether he actually wrote either or both of the comments), if Chrysostom meant what he is so often quoted for, then Chrysostom is wrong. We have demonstrated that from the text.
The point for which Chrysostom is quoted is normally Specific Abuse 2 from my original article, in which it is argued that something in addition to Scripture is binding on believers today. Since it has already been demonstrated in the original article and again by response to objection above, that the verse does not teach such a thing, it is not necessary for us to resolve the other historical issues, which might bore the reader of this already-long post.
Very briefly, in conclusion, please remember to consider that if someone is citing Scripture as allegedly teaching their doctrine (whether my doctrine or Reginald's doctrine or Chrysostom's doctrine) we need to look to Scripture to see if it is so. We need to examine what the Scriptures say, if we are interested in what their author intended for us to know.
As a practical matter, we must hold fast to the gospel, living a life of repentance and faith manifesting itself by love: love for God, love for the brethren, and even love for our enemies.
Thanks be to God who has provided the gospel in Scripture,
Friday, April 04, 2008
The following article provides an anecdotal rebuttal to those claims. In the article, Italian prosecutors are essentially charging a Catholic priest, "Father" Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi with fraud on account of his fake exorcisms. (link to article) This priest also claimed to perform healing.
Why is the government so interested? Apparently the priest has accumulated an enormous amount of money (millions of Euros) through his exercise of his supposed gifts.
It is interesting to note that the priest's bishop had cautioned him previously against performing exorcisms, and that the priest claims that he doesn't perform exorcisms, just "blessings." In fact the priest's bishop (who is also a cardinal) had apparently prohibited exorcisms!
What is the point? The point is to illustrate how invalid anecdotal arguments for the supposed efficacy of holy water are. There are plenty of deceivers and showman out there whether Benny Hinn or his Catholic equivalent Bazzoffi.
We need something more reliable than the fact that someone has claimed that they accomplished something using Holy Water before we accept it as a valid, efficacious practice. Does the article prove anything conclusively? Of course not. All it does is demonstrate how inconclusive anecdotal evidence is. It rebuts the case for Holy Water practices. Thus, at the end of the day, we don't find any reason to accept Holy Water practices as anything more than superstition.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
Recently, I heard a radio message in which the speaker provided an illustration: whether it is true or not, I do not know. It's believable, which is all that matters for my purposes.
This is the story. I young doctor is working for a large hospital, which includes a facility for those suffering from maladies of the mind. The young doctor is not very experienced, but he's very idealistic and he hopes to make a difference.
One day, the young doctor meets a patient who swears that he is dead. In fact, he swears that he's been dead for years. This poor patient is somewhat delusional, obviously, but the young doctor thinks that some cognitive therapy might help. Surely, he could talk this man out of his delusion.
So, he sits the man down and asks him, "You're dead, eh?"
"Yes," the young man replies, "been dead for years."
"Tell me," the doctor replied, "do dead men bleed?"
The young man answered, "No, I don't think I've ever heard of a dead man bleeding. That wouldn't really seem possible."
At this point, the young doctor recognizes he has found the solution. One can almost see the glimmer of hope in his eye as he pulls a sterile hypodermic needle from his kit, requests the man finger, and pricks it with the needle.
Imagine his face, however, when hears the man exclaim, "Well look at that! Dead men DO bleed."
The story is amusing to most people, because it is so absurd, and yet conceivable. That made me ask why. I realized that the thinking ran this way:
Premise 1: I am a dead man.
Premise 2: Dead mean don't bleed.
From those premises, the natural conclusion is that I don't bleed. We might characterize that as the expected conclusion.
Expected Conclusion: I don't bleed.
But along comes evidence intended to disprove Premise 1 (that was the doctor's intent). We'll call this evidence the falsifying datum.
Falsifying Datum: I bleed.
It was hoped that this would cause the "dead" man to recognize that premise (1) was false, but instead the "dead" man instead rejected premise (2).
Parallel - the Scotsman Porridge-Sugaring
Readers may recognize this as similar to what has been called the "No True Scotsman 'fallacy'," ("fallacy" gets an extra set of quotes, because it is not strictly speaking a fallacy) in which
Premise (1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
Premise (2) No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Conclusion (1) Angus is not a true Scotsman.
Conclusion (2) Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
It has occurred to me that both of these examples, the "No Dead Man" and the "No True Scotsman" examples, are simply examples of attempts to falsify, in which something goes wrong.
We could rearrange the NTS example this way:
(P1) Angus is a Scotsman.
(P2) No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
(EC) Angus doesn't put sugar on his porridge.
(FD) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
Selection (by Gourmand): P1 is wrong.
There is a fundamental problem in both cases. In the first case, we'd like the dead man to select P1 as being wrong. In the second case, we'd like the Porridge gourmand to select P2 as wrong. In each case, we feel (intuitively) that the wrong selection has been made, but I respectfully submit to you, the reader, that the error made is not a strictly logical one. Instead, the error is epistemological. I'll explain that in more detail shortly, but first let's examine yet a third example (or actually a set of examples).
Roman Catholic Error Examples
(P1) Rome is the true church.
(P2) The true church cannot err.
(EC) Rome does not err.
(FD) Rome errs.
Let's knock out the non-Catholic answer right away. The non-Catholic simply says, I'm not surprised by the FD, because I never accepted either P1 or P2. That's completely uninteresting.
Next, let's turn to the reaction of someone like Gerry Matatics, who holds a "Traditionalist Catholic" to the point of being labeled by others a "Sedavacantist" and contrast that with the selection of mainstream conservative Catholic (presumably someone like Jimmy Akin or Scott Hahn).
Both of these folks would select not P1 or P2 as false, but would claim that the FD is incorrect. GM would argue that the FD is incorrect because while a mistake has been made, "Rome" is not a correct identification of the errant party. The MCC would argue that the FD is incorrect because, while Rome is the right party, "err" is an incorrect identification.
In other words, using the NDM example, it is as though the "dead" man says, "that's not my blood" (GM case), or "that's mine, but it's not blood." In the NTS example, it would be as though the gourmand says, "that's not Angus putting sugar on the porridge" (GM case) or "Angus is putting SALT (or whatever) on his porridge" (MCC case).
As you can see, in the GM case, it is P1 that is - in essence - favored, whereas in the MCC case, it is P2 that is - in essence - favored. Perhaps "favored" could be alternatively expressed as "emphasized." GM emphasizes that Rome is the true church, whereas the MCC emphasize that the true church does not err.
Explaining the Outcomes
What dictates the result? Aren't any of those escapes as validly logically as any other? Apparent contradictions require resolution, and there are lots of ways to resolve them. One can deny one or another previously held premise, or one can reject the new datum, either favoring one premise or the other. There's one other option, which we occasionally see from irrationalists, which is to accept all the data, but throw out reason (criticizing rational thought as an "either/or mentality").
Each of these outcomes reject something:
NTS => reject first premise
NDM => reject second premise
GM => reject falsifier for first premise reason
MCC => reject falsifier for second premise reason
Irr => reject logic
The Irrationalist position is the oddball, but I think we'll see that it can be fit within an overarching scheme. There are basically two intuitive ways to group the remaining four, either by which premise they favor (NTA and GM vs. NDM and MCC) or by whether they reject a premise or the falsifier (NTS and NDM vs. GM and MCC). Neither way is necessarily incorrect, as will be seen.
Ultimately, the answer to the question as to which outcome gets selected, is "what is the mostly tightly held view?" In other words, is it the first premise (the major premise), the second premise (the minor premise), premises as opposed to new data, or data as opposed to logic.
The Irrationalist falls in the last category. He holds logic the least strongly of all the items. Thus, he's willing simply to accept contradiction, and throw out logic.
Those who favor the first premise simply interpret the FD in light of that premise, and vice versa for those who favor the second premise.
Finally, those who favor the premises over the FD are those who are not willing to be persuaded.
Judging the Processes
We intuitively recognize in the NTS and NDM examples that the person ought to accept the FD and ought to alter one of the premises. That's partly because we know that one of the premises is suspect. In the NDM example, we're pretty sure the guy is alive, and in the NTS example, we think that the broad claim about Scotsmen is too much.
We, Reformed Christians, view the GM and MCC situations as problematic for much the same reason: we believe that both the premises are false, and consequently we think that the FD should persuade those groups to reject the premises. Unfortunately, their minds prefer their premises over the new data.
We run that risk too. Any time something appears that facially contradicts an expected conclusion of our systems of thought, we need to ask ourselves how our premises are grounded. Indeed, that's what we'd counsel the "dead" man and the gourmand.
"Why do you accept the premise that you are dead?" "Why are you so sure that Scotsmen don't sugar their porridge?"
To the Catholics, we ask the same questions: "Why do you think that Rome is the true church, but more importantly, why do you think that the true church cannot err?"
Conclusion / Application
I respectfully submit that there is not a valid epistemological basis for the view that the true church cannot err. But trying to prove that to someone who tightly holds that as a premise is quite difficult, because mens minds seek to compromise that which they hold less tightly.
I sincerely think that there are many Catholics (and Orthodox and so forth) who hold to the premises that their church is the true church, and that the true church cannot err so tightly that when an error in the teaching of their church is presented to them they will either deny that it is an error (the majority reaction in the long run), or deny that it is a teaching of their church (the minority reaction in the long run, although sometimes the majority reaction in the short run).
That's one reason that we need to be careful to limit our premises to things which cannot fail us. By God's revelation, we are aware that this includes the Word of God in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. By keeping our presuppositional acceptance of Scripture as a minimal set of tightly held premises, we can avoid the various errors mentioned above.
Likewise, I hope that Catholics will consider whether an approach in which they presuppositionally accept the premise that Rome is the true church or (more importantly) the premise that the true church cannot err, is really the best hope for their discernment of the truth of the matter. I respectfully submit to them that they ought to reconsider those premises, as we have good reason to believe that both are incorrect.
May God give us grace to discern our errors,
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
"Reginald de Piperno" has provided a post that appears to be aimed at objecting to my previous post on 2 Thessalonians 2:15, available here. I appreciate that he read my post and took the time to respond.
As best I understand, RdP grants 1(a) and seems to grant 1(b) although he wants to define "gospel" broadly. RdP makes a claim of apparent self-contradiction, but RdP appears to have overlooked that an area can be defined other ways than by its boundaries. We may not know the precise content of Paul's preaching that is referenced, but we know the topic and the topic is the gospel.
RdP also appears to grant (2). RdP doesn't seem to directly engage (3), although he goes on to discuss Impacts (a)-(d).
RdP appears to grant (a)-(b). It's unclear whether RdP grants (c) ... he says he doesn't see its relevance. Perhaps we should presume he does grant (c), as he doesn't provide any reason not to accept it. Finally, with respect to impact (d), RdP says that Catholics wouldn't say it that way ... but I suppose that RdP doesn't directly disagree with (d).
RdP seems to try, in the course of mostly agreeing with what I had written, to insert various contentions that Catholicism does not abuse the text, because (apparently) Catholicism doesn't disagree with what I had written. However, RdP ends his consideration of the post, with the Impacts, without getting to the three specific abuses. It would be interesting to hear whether RdP would agree that those identified abuses are actually abuses or not.
I'm not overly worried about the inserted dialog provided by RdP. Presumably the underlying concerns expressed in RdP's dialog may be set aside by reference to several concrete examples of how the verse is put to use by "traditionist" commentators.
I provide the following example abuses of the verse. I know that some of these are from fairly popular Catholic sites, so hopefully no one will think I picked only the most obscure or atypical Catholic presentations. In one or two instances, the person may even be a non-Catholic ... I was focused more on the content and error than on the person presenting it:
1. "Well for starters, look in your Bible in Thessalonians: [quotation of 2Thes 2:15] This verse is telling you to honor the traditions which have been handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation." (Source)
Antidote: No, it's telling the Thessalonians to hold fast to the gospel preached to them by Paul. See "Specific Abuse 3."
2. "Well I guess if Sola Scriptura is correct then II Thessalonians 2, 14 would be incorrect then. [quotation of 2Thes 2:14/15, depending on your version] We all know that St. Paul is correct though." (Source)
Antidote: Paul is correct, but 2 Thessalonians 2:14/15 doesn't indicate that the Thessalonians are to hold to any extra-scriptural doctrine. See "Specific Abuse 2."
3. "Divine Revelation "By Letter" (2 Thess 2:15): The Bible ... The Bible itself does not define what it includes; nor does it claim to contain all that God revealed. Paul affirms that some of what is handed on--the way Jews passed on revelation--was "by letter," in writing." (Source)
Antidote: Paul is not distinguishing between Scriptural and oral traditions, but between his preaching and written admonitions. We're passing over the canon issue for now, and we agree that the Bible does not claim to contain all that God revealed. That sentence is just provided for context. See "Specific Abuse 2."
4. "2 Thess. 2:15 - the fullness of the Gospel is the apostolic tradition which includes either teaching by word of mouth or by letter. Scripture does not say "letter alone." The Catholic Church has the fullness of the Christian faith through its rich traditions of Scripture, oral tradition and teaching authority (or Magisterium)." (Source)
Antidote: There's simply no way to a get a tripartite division from 2 Thess. 2:15, even with the most violent of abuse. Furthermore, Paul does not in any way suggest that Scripture does not itself of itself contain the entirety of the fullness of the Christian faith. Instead, Paul's direction is specific to the brethren to whom he preached the gospel at Thessalonica. One interesting aspect of this particular explanation is that it appears to recognize the relationship between the gospel and "traditions" mentioned in the verse. If you try to make "the gospel" to broad a category, you are going to run into difficulties in another area: something that may or may not be appreciated by this comment's author. This comment doesn't fit neatly into one of the example specific abuses mentioned in my original post.
5. "FACT: There is something in Scripture advocating reliance on both Scripture as well as oral Tradition [citation to 2 Thess 2:15 among other verses]. ... the same Scripture which testifies that Christian truth comes to us in two ways: through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (2 Thess 2:15). " (Source)
Antidote: This one is more subtle. It's actually not wrong until you understand that the author is suggesting that "oral Tradition" is as reliable as Scripture, and that Paul is speaking of oral Tradition in the abused verse. Of course, the verse says neither of those things, though it is the case that we can and do rely on the preached word and on oral traditions. We do not rely on them as though they were a rule of faith, but then again we are not preached to by apostles. See "Specific Abuse 2."
6. "This means that Scripture itself is tradition and it is part of the greater category of Tradition (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15). Both means of transmitting the deposit of faith, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other." (Source)
Antidote: In fairness, again, this one is rather nuanced. For one thing, the author uses the "cf." tag, which means we shouldn't necessarily assume that he's saying the verse says just what he's claimed. On the other hand, considering the page as a whole, it seems to be what the author is trying to convey. If so, then he's abusing the text - because it does not establish the Roman Catholic categories that the article presupposes in much of its discussion. Again, this doesn't neatly fall into one of the specific examples of abuse mentioned in my original post.
7. "The point, however, is that the things taught - not merely written - are deemed to be of equal authority with the epistle. And it is nothing but question-begging to insist that their content is the same." (Source)
Antidote: The verse doesn't say that the things taught are of equal authority with those written. It says that the Thessalonians should hold fast to the Gospel Paul taught, whether he did so by word or epistle. It does not say that Paul was creating general categories (such as the Roman Catholic categories) or that Paul was contrasting all things written with a separate category of all unwritten things. Reading those "traditionist" categories into the verse is question-begging. Furthermore, the question that is raised is not whether what Paul preached was coterminous with what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. Instead, the question raised is whether Paul preached some "gospel" that expands beyond the 4-in-1 gospel, the acts of the apostles, and the rest of Scripture. To assert that the "traditions" commended by Paul in anyway exceed the content of Scripture would also be question-begging. This particular comment seems closest to "Specific Abuse 2," in my original post.
Conclusion / Warnings
As a general caveat, I encourage skeptical readers to click through to the pages linked as "source" material for the quotations provided. Perhaps you will disagree about the way that I've quoted the material.
Furthermore, just because the people who made the comments above are (or some of them are or were or called themselves) Catholic, doesn't make any of their positions "the Catholic position." That's not how Catholic theology works. Nevertheless, they are arguments that Catholics try to use to justify acceptance of what are - upon a reasonable inquiry into the historical data - traditions of men.
My second post was here.
Now, Dan has responded (full response here). I address his new comments below.
I had written: since the first decree [that Christ should die, making men savable] does not include any decree for application of the benefit of Christ's death, it actually does not mean "salvation is possible for everyone through Christ's death." In fact, it does not mean that salvation is possible for anyone at all, since it does not include any way for the benefit of Christ's death to be applied to men.
Dan responded: "This actually is somewhat of a fair comment, or at least it provides me the opportunities to clarify. When I say Christ death makes salvation possible, I don’t mean the application of Christ’s blood is unnecessary for salvation. It’s true Christ’s blood also has to be applied. What I mean is now Christ’s blood is available and can be applied."I answer: It's not even a question of the application being necessary. It's a more fundamental question. It is a question of applicability being necessary. There is no provision (yet, in the Arminian order) for the blood to be ABLE to be applied. It's just a decree to spill blood, with no apparent purpose in sight.
I had written: There is a real question about whether there is any Scriptural basis for an intent to make mankind "savable," as distinct from "saved.
Dan responded: "Hum… Intent is tricky. Normally, when we speak of intentions, we talk about the end goal, not an immediate one. Let’s say my family has colds and I go to the store, get them medicine and come back home an offer it to them. What’s my intent for going to the store? Is it getting medicine or that my family feel better? Both. Getting the medicine is an immediate goal and my family feeling better is the final goal. But it is normal to speak of that final goal as my intention. Similarly, God’s final goal in Christ’s death is salvation for everyone, but His immediate goal is provision for salvation."
I answer: The medicine analogy doesn't work in Dan's favor, but just the opposite. Here's why:a) In the analogy, the fact that I intend to get the medicine is essentially an instrumental intent for the major intent of making my family better by medicating them.
b) But, in the Arminian order of decrees, the "medicating" or "saving" is apparently NOT in sight in the decree that Christ would die. Instead, it's as though I show up at the store planning to buy medicine, and then think to myself - "hey, some of my family is sick, I better give this to them." That's intuitively not how God's logical order would flow, and it's hard to believe that anyone would suggest such an analogy.
In fact, the (a) analogy is the one people would think of. The decree to go to the store is logically subsequent to the decree to medicate one's family, as it is the instrumental means whereby the end is carried out. First I think, "Boy I wish my family were well," and then I think, "I'll buy them some drugs at the pharmacy."
Dan continued: "As for a Scriptural basis, I would point to Christ’s intercession. It’s based on Christ’s death (John 17:4), but not the same as Christ’s death. Both Christ’s death and His intercession are necessary for justification (Romans 8:34). So it seems Christ’s death is an intermediate part of Christ’s overall work in salvation; although it’s the basis for salvation. Hence, God’s intention in decreeing Christ’s death was immediately to provide for salvation and ultimately to save."I answer: I don't follow Dan's argument here at all. I understand how one might argue that Christ's intercession is necessary for justification, and how one might therefore argue that Christ's death itself was a part of the overall work in salvation. I think such an argument would have problems if we turned to Hebrews, but even if it did not (and I'd rather not head down that rabbit trail) I don't see how that would help Dan out. In fact, it would seem to make his problem worse! The less that the death of Christ becomes in actually saving people, the less sense it makes for God to decree Christ's death without having the ultimate end in mind.
I had also written: the second decree [the decree to save anyone who believes] still seems counter to the first decree by providing a barrier to the savability of men
Dan responded: "I don’t think it should be called a barrier. In the medicine example above, would anyone say that my coming home from the store with medicine and calling out to my family, “if you want some, come and get it” a barrier to their feeling better?"I answer: It would, if your medicine was an adrenaline shot and your family were sick from an overdose. It would be a practically insurmountable barrier in that instance. It is a barrier here also, and an insurmountable one too unless there is a decree to give grace (which there isn't yet, in the Arminian order). And unless that grace is irresistible (which it isn't in the Arminian system) again there is a barrier, however small it may be even after the further decree to give "prevenient grace."
Dan continued: "Hum… Perhaps you were addressing a difference sense for “savable” than the one I intended. Does my response above help with this as well?"I'm not sure. It doesn't appear (to me) to address the inherent conflict in the Arminian order of decrees, which is the fundamental problem that seems to prevent it from being a reasonably acceptable position.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
At least one Catholic, however, has pointed out that this comparison is not completely fair, since "Islam" is actually a collection of many different sects. The largest of those sects is still (so far) smaller than Catholicism. Likewise, if we were to combine Catholicism with the other sects of Christianity, Christians (they say) are still more numerous.
My response is this:
a) The way Muslims are multiplying by having large families, the only ways that they are not going to outnumber all kinds of Christianity is by mass deconversion from Islam (preferably to faith in Christ and salvation of their souls);
b) Since when does Catholicism claim to be just another sect of Christianity? Hasn't Catholicisms claim traditionally been to be the only authentic Christianity? It seems a little ad hoc to start including Protestants and Orthodox folks in the mix in order to outnumber Muslims; and
c) Numbers don't matter. I should know, I'm a Reformed Christian. The true faith has often been the minority faith. Remember that this was the case even within Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha. Recall that there only about 7000 believers in all of Israel at that time, and the rest of the world was in darkness and unbelief. Recall as well how few of the Jews believed on the Lord Jesus even when He was in their midst, especially among the religious leaders.
We are already facing a clash of cultures as Muslim populations expand in Muslim-majority countries and in Christian-majority countries. What both such countries need is the gospel of Christ: the message that men are saved from their sins only by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. But so does a lot of what calls itself "Christian." A lot of "Christians" need to repent and trust in Christ alone for salvation.
Calling people to faith in Christ, preaching that gospel, is this blog's raison d'etre,
May God's kingdom be increased,
You're totally ignoring the issue.
Adam had a non-corrupt nature. But he defied that nature and sinned.
People today have a corrupt nature. But they can defy that nature and repent.
If you deny the latter, then you cannot wave away the theological problem of Adam and say he was "tempted". If a person with a good nature can be tempted to sin, then a person with a corrupt nature can be tempted to repent.
You were pushing the line with that video that we are total slaves to cause and effect and our nature. But if that was the whole story, Adam with his good nature would not have sinned.
There are several answers that need to be given:
1) As to "totally ignoring the issue," that hardly seems reasonable. In any event, since the objections are now being answered, even if they were ignored before, that particular criticism is moot.
2) Orthodox's claim "Adam had a non-corrupt nature. But he defied that nature and sinned" doesn't represent the matter well.
Adam had a nature that was not corrupt, yes. Nevertheless, as repeatedly pointed out and apparently overlooked by "Orthodox," Adam had a fallible nature. Adam was acting within that nature (not in defiance of it) when he sinned and fell.
4) Orthodox's argument from analogy ("People today have a corrupt nature. But they can defy that nature and repent."), therefore, collapses. Furthermore, we have direct Scriptural evidence that Orthodox's conclusion is incorrect.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
Luke 6:43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
5) Orthodox continued with the argument that, "If you deny the latter, then you cannot wave away the theological problem of Adam and say he was "tempted"." Orthodox's justification for this claim was that, "If a person with a good nature can be tempted to sin, then a person with a corrupt nature can be tempted to repent." The "wave away" comment is just rhetoric. Adam in fact was tempted by the tempter, Satan, through the voice of the deceived Eve.
Orthodox's justification is wrong for similar reasons to those already discussed above. Orthodox appears to have wrongly imagined a symmetry between Adam's not corrupted nature and our corrupted nature.
If human nature had not been corrupted by the influence of the fall, the symmetry between temptation to sin and "temptation" to repentance might be fair. The problem is that human nature was corrupted. As a result, there is a lack of symmetry.
Adam was not constrained by his nature either to do good or ill. His nature permitted him to sin.
Our natures (prior to regeneration) are corrupt and constrain us (internally) to sin. In fact, our wills delight to sin, and sin (not righteousness) is appealing to us. Our natures do not permit us to do righteousness, because it is antithetical to us. We are not born neutral to God, but as His enemies.
This is not symmetrical to Adam's condition. Adam was not created with a nature that was only capable of loving God. Instead, he was created with a nature that was capable of falling - of loving the creation above the Creator.
6) Orthodox's final argument is this: "You were pushing the line with that video that we are total slaves to cause and effect and our nature. But if that was the whole story, Adam with his good nature would not have sinned." "Slaves" again is rather rhetorical than substantive. Since all that is not God is subject to cause and effect, "slaves" is an inappropriately pejorative term. To say that the only choices are to be gods or to be slaves is rather akin to Satan's delusion than to the reality of the matter.
Furthermore, Orthodox's argument relies on the already-debunked theory that Adam's nature was symmetrical to our fallen nature. It is not. However, rather than just repeat that an umpteenth time, perhaps it is easier to draw the lines of symmetry:
State 1 - Adam before the Fall
Posse Peccare - Able to Sin. Adam had a fallen nature that was capable of sinning.
State 2 - All men in Adam before Regeneration
Non Posse Non Peccare - Not Able Not to Sin. To phrase it more positively: unable to avoid sinning. As a result of Adam's fall, all mankind descending from him naturally have a corrupt nature that hates God and loves sin. As a result of his nature, fallen man is unable to love what is good.
State 3 - Regenerate Men before Death
Posse Non Peccare - Able Not to Sin. As a result of regeneration, men are enabled to what is good in God's sight, though men still have a war in their members. Thus, regenerate men still sin, but are able to do such things as repent and believe.
State 4 - The Elect in Glory
Non Posse Peccare - Not Able to Sin. As a result of glorification, the souls of believers (and later their bodies, if they die) are made perfect, so that they become naturally (i.e. as to their nature) unable to sin.
States 1 and 3 are roughly symmetrical and States 2 and 4 are roughly symmetrical.
Thanks be to God, who saves us by grace alone from the condemnation that we deserve,
It's the closest that this blog will come this year to making any of its readers Le Poisson d'Avril, though apparently (sadly) the story is true.
(link to Oak Leaves' account of the matter)
(link to original story)
Incidentally, this is not a criticism of Catholicism or monasticism, both of which I soundly reject for other and more important reasons. Also, although the habit/habit pun is funny to me, embezzling funds is no joke - whether performed by a supposedly religious person or by any other person.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
The usual way this verse is abused is to make a loose claim, such as:
a) See, tradition according to Scripture includes both written and oral components; and
b) See, oral tradition is also as binding as written tradition.
There are several reasons why these are abuses, and there are several reasons why even these abuses are not particularly helpful to those who usually attempt them.
Reasons why such loose statements are abuses of the text or unhelpful to those trying to use them.
1(a). We do not know precisely the content of the traditions mentioned is. The significance of this fact will become apparent shortly.
1(b). We know from the context that the general content of these traditions is the gospel:
13But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: 14Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
2. The "brethren" (not simply the bishops/elders) are those who received the "traditions" mentioned.
3. The "traditions" mentioned are a combination of the things preached to those brethren and "our epistle" and not between the things preached and Scripture generally.
Impacts of the facts above.
Why are these three/four facts significant to stop abuse of the verse?
A) The verse is not saying to hold anything taught outside of Scripture, as such.
B) The verse is not saying to hold fast to something other than the gospel.
C) The verse is not saying making a general statement about all teachings by every apostle.
D) The verse is not saying that Scripture generally fails to contain the gospel to which Paul required the Thessalonians to hold fast.
Specific Abuse 1
If someone is trying to say that we need to permit some "tradition," because this verse says so, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if they'll answer) three questions:
1) Is the tradition that they want us to permit the gospel preached by Paul to the Thessalonians, or something else?
2) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate Paul taught to the Thessalonians at all?
3) Is the tradition they want us to permit something that they can demonstrate that any of the apostles or prophets of the apostolic age taught to the Thessalonians?
If the answers are "something else," "no," and "no" (as is usally the case) then it should be apparent that their reliance on this verse is completely in appropriate.
Specific Abuse 2
Likewise, if someone is trying to use this verse to suggest that we must consider as infallibly authoritative something in addition to Scripture, we need to ask ourselves (and them, if possible) three questions:
1) Does the verse contrast Scripture and oral traditions or "our epistle" and other "things preached"?
2) Does the verse say that the Thessalonians had been preached extrascriptural doctrines?
3) Does the verse explain anything about the "things preached" beyond that they were the "truth" and "the gospel"?
If the answers are "the latter," "no," and "no" then it should be apparent that the verse cannot stand for the proposition for which they are attempting to use it.
Specific Abuse 3
Finally, if the verse is provided as an argument that the magesterium of the church has been entrusted with oral teachings that are passed down orally for long periods of time, but which must be accepted when finally revealed to the public, we must ask the following questions:
1) Is there any reason to think that Paul taught things in secret, especially from this verse?
2) Is the verse directed to the leaders of the Thessalonian church or to the brethren?
3) Does the verse specify that the "things taught" were not things that were committed to writing?
If the answer is "no," "brethren," and "no," then it should be apparent that the verse is being abused by the person citing it.
As demonstrated above, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 does not defeat Sola Scriptura, nor does it establish the "traditionist" positions. It's important, of course, to recall that those two things are separate issues. The "traditionist" position that we have to have an infallible magesterium in addition to Scripture is not proved simply by attacking Sola Scriptura. For example, the "traditionist" claims for their tradition are not simply that there is a body of inspired knowledge that is additional to Scripture that was taught by the apostles. Instead, the claim is usually a claim to be able to - in essence - add to the base of inspired knowledge additional infallible teaching that was not the teaching (by word or letter) of Paul to the Thessalonians. In short, to make assertions that 2 Thessalonians 2:15, because it uses the words "traditions" is supportive of a "traditionist" position such as Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, is simply to demonstrate one's unfamiliarity with the text, and one's inability to consider what the text itself has to say.
May God give us wisdom to hold fast to the gospel that Paul preached to the Thessalonians,
Sunday, March 30, 2008