Wednesday, November 24, 2010

False Dichotomy Between Infallible Church and "Subjective, Individualistic" Conclusions

Over at the GreenBaggins blog, in a comment box, Roman Catholic Bryan Cross wrote:
If we deny that the Church has such a gift [a gift (or charism) of infallibility in matters of faith and morals], then we are left with a subjective, individualistic, “changes hearts” criterion of canonicity, and such a subjective criterion is, as you say, bogus.

This false dichotomy is fairly easily smoked out.

It can be smoked out a few ways.

I. Historical Example

The Roman church did not claim to infallibly define the canon of Scripture before Trent, and yet people (both in the Roman communion and outside it) felt perfectly comfortable having a fallible canon. It worked for over 1500 years.

Ignatius was satisfied with a canon that was not based on a church having a gift of infallibility. So were all the church fathers and all the medieval theologians.

The North African councils produced a canon themselves rather than attempting to seek an ecumenical decision on the question. Before them, Athanasius provided a list of the canon of Scripture without even relying on a church council!

And then, after the Reformation comes along, Trent tries to infallibly define the canon. And when they define it, they contradict two leading cardinals of the immediately previous generation (Cardinals Ximenez and Cajetan) - cardinals who affirmed Jerome's (and the Protestants') canon.

II. Analogical Counter-Example

What Bryan is arguing for on the level of books is also an issue with respect to parts of books - to the issue of the text of the books themselves. Is the story of the woman found in adultery in the original text? Is the famous passage in 1 John 5:7-8 part of the original text?

Bryan could try to argue that "If we deny that the Church has such a gift [a gift (or charism) of infallibility in matters of faith and morals], then we are left with a subjective, individualistic, “changes hearts” criterion of [textual authenticity], and such a subjective criterion is, as you say, bogus."

But it should be readily apparent that one can have a knowledge of the text of Scripture and reach conclusions of textual authenticity without resorting to completely subjective and individualistic exercises of authority.

Trent itself originally attempted to define not only the books themselves but also the parts of books (with a focus on things like the apocryphal additions to Daniel and Esther). However, Rome has subsequently issued a New Vulgate that does not entirely follow the text of the Clementine Vulgate.

III. Logical Analysis

Obviously, the portion of Bryan's comment I've quoted above is simply a fragment of a larger argument. As such, it is a little informal. On the one hand, we could simply insist that Bryan should formalize his argument. However, until he does so, we can explore his argument in the form in which it has been presented.

As presented, it seems to suggest that there are really only two options:

1) Infallible Church
2) Subjective, Individualistic Judgment

This set is not well-defined. At least, it does not appear to be well-defined.

Is our knowledge of the facts of history generally simply a matter of subjective, individualistic judgment? Is our knowledge of which books Homer wrote the domain of subjective, individualistic judgment? Is our knowledge of which are the previous presidents of the United States merely a matter of subjective, individualistic judgment?

Unless the words "subjective" and "individualistic" are simply epithets (which is a real possibility), then there is a third way - a way in which we conclude that historical facts (God inspiring 66 books, Homer composing two epic poems, 40+ men becoming president of the U.S.) are true, without either resorting to subjective, individualistic means or relying on an infallible church.

IV. Scriptural Analysis

Scripture does not, of course, directly address Bryan's complaint. However, Scripture does provide teachings that undermine Bryan's complaint.

One of the areas of teaching relates to the fact that the elect, upon regeneration, are sheep that hear the voice of the shepherd:

John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.

John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

Psalm 95:7-9
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work.

Bryan cannot deny that the Scriptures are the voice of the Shepherd, and consequently we conclude that the elect will recognize and follow the Scripture. This does not mean that they will always do this perfectly. They remain human and fallible. There have been great men of God who have erred with respect either to rejecting an inspired book or accepting as inspired a book that is not.

Deuteronomy 33:3 Yea, he loved the people; all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet; every one shall receive of thy words.

John 17:8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.

1 Thessalonians 2:13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.

The point here is that the people of God do receive the Word of God. That's true whether it is in preached form (as in a sermon that conveys the Word of God) or in written form (principally in the Scriptures).

This recognition of God's word for what it is, a recognition that the Holy Spirit gives to all believers to a greater or lesser degree, does not translate into an infallible ability. The Thessalonians were fallible human beings. Nevertheless, they were able to receive Paul's message for what it was. According to the same principle, we can receive the Scriptures for what they are.



Anonymous said...

"The Roman church did not claim to infallibly define the canon of Scripture before Trent, and yet people (both in the Roman communion and outside it) felt perfectly comfortable having a fallible canon. It worked for over 1500 years."

We'd be better off if we realized that canon is still fallible.

Anonymous said...

For me, without giving much concentration to this thread, yet, in a hurry right now because my wife is pressing me to stop what I am doing and come with her, so in haste, when reading this by Bryan I comment:

If we deny that the Church has such a gift [a gift (or charism) of infallibility in matters of faith and morals], then we are left with a subjective, individualistic, “changes hearts” criterion of canonicity, and such a subjective criterion is, as you say, bogus.

I get a sense that Bryan, though he may have a knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, in that he has read them and read others exegesis' of them, does not have ears to hear what the Spirit is speaking to the Churches.

Ironically, reading the book of Romans, as in the book written to those who make up the Church in Rome, I get the sense, by way of the opened ear by the sanctification work of the Holy Spirit, that faith comes by hearing to an individual being elected and called forth by the will and purpose of God, as established for them and their adoption from before the foundation of the world subjectively and individually! It is all about hearts changing anyway. Hasn't he ever read what God spoke through the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel about the heart being changed by the Spirit of God?

Apparently not??

How can this be then unless God opens the heart and regenerates it one individual at a time:

Rom 5:5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

What makes us a member of the Church is this, it's apparent when the Spirit of Grace produces the fruit of the Spirit in the heart of the individual member of the Body of Christ. We are individually given both eyes and ears to see and hear the work of the Spirit in another which in turn opens our heart up to them to join with them in agreement with God and the Word of His Grace!

There is the True Church today called out of and excised from the world and then there is the impostor church today, running around doing works of righteousness that have been disqualified by the Work of Righteousness done by Christ for God so that God through Christ by One Spirit can regenerate the heart of His Elect, one Elect at a time, even when there is a mass exodus from the world and entrance into the Kingdom of Righteousness, Peace and Joy in the power of the Holy Spirit as we read was recorded that happened in the Book of Acts when 3,000 and then 5,000 people were moved upon at the same time by the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom!

Oh, wouldn't that be grand to see that happen again today? :)

As was written, so I say, "with God all things are possible"!

Anonymous said...

Ok, back and pondering this thread more deeply.

And then, after the Reformation comes along, Trent tries to infallibly define the canon.

In Dr. J.V. Fesko's book, Justification, Understanding the Classic Reformed Doctrine, P&R Publishers, Dr. Fesko develops an idea for our consideration and accurate it is, page 394:

"... In fact, when one delves deeper into Eastern Orthodox hermeneutics, he finds that they are not as concerned with the literal meaning of the text as they are open to its spiritual interpretation. Eastern Orthodox hermeneutics bears some similarities to that of the Roman Catholic Church, in that both hold that the church produced the Scriptures rather than, as in the Protestant understanding, that the Scriptures produced the church."

Borrowing from the Apostle Paul then, one should let these two Scriptural basics sink deep within your spirit, soul and body:

Eph 4:17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
Eph 4:18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.

Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

One might wonder what all the fuss is about?

A great error is about if one continues in that self same logic Bryan Cross is living by.

Our warfare is not against flesh and blood so to simply present the Gospel of the Kingdom in Truth is Truthful dealing indeed; just as we learn also from the Scripture of Our Heavenly Father that He goes about reconciling His beloved Eternal Children excising us from this world, from our own corrupt fallible flesh and from the devils working worldwide oppressing the hearts and minds of mankind. We see from the Scriptures examples to live by. Abraham's way of life is the premiere example to follow, after he was given Faith.

He went about glorifying God through the gift of Faith that he was given to live by:

Rom 4:20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
Rom 4:21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Rom 4:22 That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness."
Rom 4:23 But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone,
Rom 4:24 but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,
Rom 4:25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

We can see the same example with Jesus Christ. He too lived before God with the same Faith at work in Him as was at work within Abraham, understanding this when we read what He prayed to Our Heavenly Father, here:

Joh 17:4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.
Joh 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

With individual Scriptural examples like Abraham and other men of God living by the Faith given to them, to God's Elect, as we read are recorded in the Sacred Scriptures, and what we can understand about Jesus' Life, we too, now, we can live by the same Faith through Christ by One Spirit as the Body of Christ and bring glory to God ourselves! We no longer live by our own self-works of righteousness, but now, having been freed from self, we get to live before God in this life by the same Faith of Christ Abraham and others lived and live by and bring God the Glory due His Name:

Rom 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.

Paul said...

Well said, Mr. Turretin. I especially liked your pointing out that there are portions of books at debate as well, not just which books.

I'm with Beowulf2k8 as well. The canon is still fallible. The church did just fine without thinking that its spiritual health somehow depends on a defined canon! The very thought is bizarre.

Finally, what you said about the sheep hearing our Great Shepherd's voice is such a necessary reminder. Now more than ever in these days of division and worldliness.

Lvka said...

Hi, TF!

here's my own private and personal opinion on the matter. :-)