Monday, December 26, 2011

Response to Cursilista Regarding Church History

Cursilista wrote:
The one thing that bugs me is that the question I would ask is for a protestant explanation of how did Christianity move forward through time after Christ died. 

We have a pretty clear answer to that.  Read the book of Acts.  It says zero about a Roman-centered Christianity.  Rome is part of Paul's mission field, it's not the locus of a papacy.  We see churches being planted all over the world, wherever Paul and other missionaries go.

Cursilista continued:
Give an explanation of what form of organization did Christianity take that survived since the time of Christ to today. 
The form of the organization was initially elders in every city (Titus 1:5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:), accompanied by deacons (Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:). The terms bishop and elder were originally synonymous.

Eventually, a monarchical episcopate emerged, in which one of the elders became designated as "the" bishop.  Later, certain bishops gained a preeminence over others, particularly in cities that were important in the Roman empire.  I could go on, and recite the tale of the development of a variety of different organizational forms that have existed from ancient times down to modern times, but suffice to say that there have been a significant number of different organizational forms that have existed, both in ancient times and - of course - in modern times.

Cursilista continued:
Christ said that his church would not be overcome by the gates of hell. Satan would not prevail over his church, therefore Christ's church had to have existed since his death to current time and will continue to exist forever. 

This is a non sequitur, premised on a misunderstanding of what Christ said. 

First of all, the organizational form of the apostolic era church (with a plurality of elders accompanied by deacons in every city) was quite not carefully maintained.  Even historians within the Roman communion (such as Robert Eno and Francis Sullivan) acknowledge this fact. 

Second, the apostasy of individual churches (even very many of them) does not entail victory of Satan over Christ's church.  Recall that during the time of the Old Testament, it seemed to God's prophet Elisha that he was the last follower of God on earth, but God replied that there were 7000 others.  Thus, even if for a few years - or even a few hundred years - there were only 7000 scattered followers of Christ, it would be Satan's error to think he had the victory over the church.

We need not, however, assume that apostasy was so complete that there were only 7000 believers.  Certainly there were many errors that crept into the churches, even from a very early time.  Nevertheless, salvation is not obtained by having perfect doctrines or perfect practices, but rather by trusting in Christ alone for salvation.

Third, the reference to the gates of hell is a reference to death, not Satan.  Recall that Wisdom 16:13 states: "For thou hast power of life and death: thou leadest to the gates of hell, and bringest up again."  The promise that Jesus is making in Matthew 16 is not some kind of victory in spiritual defense against Satan (after all, in warfare gates are themselves defensive not offensive) but rather victory over death: resurrection.  The "church" that Christ is talking about here is all believers.  As Christ explains: "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.  And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.  ... No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.  ... Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:39, 40, 44, and 54)

Cursilista continued: 
So name that church, name the leaders of that church, show a succession of those leaders, there is a 2000 yr. span of time which has to be accounted for. 

This request proceeds from the faulty premises identified above.  Christ does not promise that every apostle would be faithful, much less that those who came after them would be faithful.  The head of Christ's church is one: Christ, as it is written: "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church," (Ephesians 1:22), "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body."  (Ephesians 5:23), "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." (Colossians 1:18).

It is true that Christ died, but Christ was raised again on the third day and continues to live even until this day.  So, the two thousand year time span is fully accounted for.

Moreover, while Christ is bodily absent from us, he has provided us with both the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit.  Thus, we can learn what we need to believe to be saved from them.  The churches are an aid to that, but they are (and must be) subordinate to both.

Cursilista wrote:
What churches did the Apostles start. They should still be around today. 
Why would one assume such a thing?  Look at the letters to the seven churches in Revelation (sorry, Rome didn't make that list).  There is no promise to those churches, which were started in the apostolic era that they would endure forever, or that they would endure without apostasy.  Indeed, can you find those seven churches now?

Cursilista continued:
For 1500 years, my only knowledge of such a Christian church is the Catholic Church. 

There are other churches that claim an ancient lineage.  The Eastern Orthodox churches are the most visible alternative, but there are others as well - such as the Copts in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox.  The fact that a church claims an ancient lineage does not demonstrate that the church teaches what the apostles taught.  We can know what the apostles taught from the Scriptures, and we can compare the teachings of churches like Rome to those teachings to see whether they have maintained or departed from the apostolic faith.

Moreover, Rome's claims to being ancient are easily challenged.  Events like the Council of Constance or the move from election by the people of Rome to election by the Cardinals suggest that the modern papacy is disconnected from the older Roman bishoprics.  The fact that men have obtained the papacy by simony similarly negate the idea that somehow the Roman bishopric has been maintained against Satan's attacks.  Do we even need to mention mention men like Julius III and Alexander VI who occupied the papacy but demonstrated by their way of life that they were not Christians?

Cursilista wrote:
The protestant reformation took place in the early 1500’s. 
That's a typical sociological date.  However, of course, at the time Luther was treated as being a continuation of what Huss (1369-1415) and Wycliffe (1328-1384) had started before him, in terms of opposing Rome.  And we could back even prior to Wycliffe to the Waldensians, who trace their roots to Peter Waldo (1140-1218).  Of course, this is only in the West.  An East-West division occurred in 1054.  So, while the Protestant Reformation was a very notable and important event, it's more of a continuation of lots of people disagreeing with the bishop of Rome, and the bishop of Rome (at least from the 11th century) acting as an autocrat (see the power struggle between Emperor Henry IV and the pope of his day, for example).

Cursilista continued:
The protestants need to fill in a 1500 yr. gap as to what was Christ's church, other than the catholic church, here on earth for those 1500 yrs. If they cannot, then, they have to admit that the Catholic church is the church that was established by Christ. If Christ said he church would endure forever then, either his church started at Pentecost and continues to today or Jesus waited 1500 yrs. to start his church during the protestant reformation. The later proposition is hard to believe.
Mostly, this is already addressed above.  The faulty presupposition behind this argument is that Christ came to establish a single denomination.  Instead, the rock upon which Christ's church is built is a confession of faith in Christ alone ("Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God").  That is to say, "the church" is whoever trusts in Christ alone for salvation.  It's not an organization with a headquarters in Rome, ruled by men in fancy clothes who sit on thrones.

Cursilista again:
Also in this debate, my two cents would be to ask the question and make this supposition . Is god a god of order or disorder. In order to organize men, there needs to be a committee and a head of that committee that controls the debate with authority. 

Cursilista assumes too much. In the Old Testament era, there was no pope, yet the same God ruled his people then.  Now, we have Christ as the head of our church, and we have his official word, the Scriptures, to guide and rule us.  That, however, is not enough for some, it seems.

Cursilista wrote:
When Jesus left this earth , he left his church in the hands of the apostles, humans, his committee, to organize and keep intact all of his teachings. 
Actually, when Jesus left, he sent the Holy Spirit who inspired the apostles and evangelists to write Holy Scripture. 

Cursilista continued:
Some of those teachings were not written down, so the bible says, because, all that Jesus taught his apostles couldn’t be written down, it would fill up the earth with books. 
Cursilista may have misunderstood the verse in question, but let us suppose that not all of Jesus' teachings were included in the Bible.  If so, how could we reliably know what those other teachings were?  We would have to examine the historical record to see what else the apostles were teaching, beside those things that were included in Scripture.  But when we examine the historical record, we don't see the distinctively Roman teachings (like papal infallibility, the bodily assumption of Mary, or the immaculate conception) being taught in the earliest period.

Moreover, the distinctively Roman dogmas are not that hard to put into book form.  So, it is not the case that these were simply not included because the amount of dogma was too much for the New Testament to fit it all.  Indeed, certain Roman advocates attempt to allege that Rome's distinctive dogmas actually are found in Scripture.

On top of that, we see that the early Christians plainly did not hold to things like papal infallibility.  While many people say nice things about Rome, and many people even seek the wisdom or authority of the bishop of Rome at various times in the patristic era, where does anyone argue that the bishop of Rome is infallible?  It's absurd to think that such a doctrine is apostolic or from Christ himself, yet we see people try to argue that today.

Cursilista again:
Therefore, The apostles with someone as the , lets call it chairman of the board of the committee, was the governing authority of the faith. 

The book of Acts does not reflect this.  On the contrary, the seeming "chairman" of the council described in Acts 15 is James, not Peter (who was living in Antioch or Samaria at that time, not Rome), and certainly not Linus (who is not even mentioned).  Likewise, as noted above, Rome's own historians dispute the idea the Roman papacy is something that was from the beginning.

Cursilista concluded: 
How else would the faith survive intact if not for some form of human organizational body in place to keep the teachings intact and without error or human interpretation to twist the teachings to cultural changes as time went by.
The answer should be obvious: Holy Scripture and the Holy Spirit preserve and persuade us of the apostolic faith.  There is no promise all believers will have beliefs totally free from error.  But our faith does not depend an organization of men or a particular denomination of believers.



A. Brother said...

Dear Francis Turretin:
I am in complete agreement with your responses here to Roman dogmatism. One thing I would add. All attempts to "religionize" Christ are bound to become anti-Christ in some form. As I am a "reformed evangelical" so we must all be "reformed" by the Spirit of Christ into a true Christ-follower.

As I read Scripture, I see the Paul and the original apostles understood absolutely and emphatically that the Church was Christ's alone, and that all leadership we could give was frail and weak and ineffectual in comparison to Christ's leadership. That He is the Head, and no other can dare supplant Him. Where Rome and all other denominations and movements get it wrong is in this essential understanding. They don't really believe, as evidenced by Cursilista's comments, that Christ really is in charge, nor that He has the power to guide His people in the Way. There is an underlying unbelief that characterizes these men and women who set up committees and bureaucracies to "control" what goes on among the churches. It presupposes this weakness and absence on the part of our Christ.

Nothing could be further from the Truth. Christ today is working among His People, His Holy Nation, and His Household is being grown in His Way, bound together not be ecclesiastical declarations, but by His Spirit, according to His Word. The fact that many do not even recognize this is proof positive that they do not believe in Christ, but in some outward man-made religious form of "Christianity" which does not resemble Christ's Church.

Thank you for your faithfulness.

All for Christ, and Christ in all, and by His power alone.

A. Brother
The Narrow Gate

Ljdibiase said...

Well said, gentlemen!

Philip said...

I am only an amateur historian, but from first and second century Church writings (especially those penned by saints Ignatius, Clement, and Irenaeus), it seems that the episcopal structure was established very early, possibly during the lifetime of the Apostle John.

Like so many arguments, this battle boils down to the question of silence in Scripture. How do we deal with issues that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible? Do we take silence to mean sanction or prohibition? Seems to me, Protestants typically assume the latter, while the ancient churches both east and west assume the former.


A Seeker... said...

In regards to your last paragraph: How is one to determine who the Holy Spirit is leading and who is just following their own pride and egotism? Also, who is the final judge on Holy Scriptures?

For example: If the pastor of Church X on 10th St. in town says that Baptism is absolutely essential for eternal salvation (And quotes John 3:5 to back it up), and will only perform full emersion for adults who profess a belief in God, while at the same time the paster of Church Y on the other side of town says that Baptism is only symbolic, that it doesn't really mean anything, and that it is not at all needed for eternal salvation, how am I to determine who is right? I have heard both positions from within Christendom.

Those are two mutually exclusive positions. One can be wrong and the other correct or vice versa, they can also both be wrong, but they cannot both be right. And that is just one single issue, there are many more (The Eucharist, Mary, Confession, TULIP, etc.) If my eternal life is indeed on the line, I don't think it's too much to ask to have some sort of assurance that the path that I am on is indeed the correct one.

The Mormons, Muslims, and Seventh-Day Adventists all have their own scriptures as well, why are they, and their scriptures, wrong? Because you don't like them? There were also numerous gnostic texts that never made it into scripture. I've read many of them, and they present some interesting ideas, and tales of morality -- ie: One could make the argument that The Infancy Gospel of Thomas presents a good story about the absolute power of Almighty God, and his power over life and death, which is foreshadowing His coming resurrection.

Why can't I say that I am hearing the voice of my shepherd, citing John 10:27 to back that up, in that gnostic text, and that I should follow those scriptures instead of the four Gospels, or even in addition to the four Gospels? If the reformers could remove books, stating that they weren't inspired, why can't I add some stating that they are inspired?

Who is to be the final judge?

turretinfan said...

A Seeker:

There is a difference between knowing the truth and winning a theological battle. To win a theological battle, you need to vanquish your foes. To know the truth, it is enough for you to have justified belief in the truth.

Theological questions can be answered from the Scriptures. Whether your theological foes accept the answers is a question of winning a theological battle, it's not a question of having a knowledge of the truth.

The things that are necessary to know for salvation are all clearly set forth in Scripture. So, when your eternal life is on the line, that is the place to which you ought to turn.

In fact, you don't hear the voice of the Shepherd in the apocryphal gospels. Perhaps some poor souls might be in that boat, but since you are not, your objection is plainly spurious.

As for the Reformers "removing" books, why not say that Jerome "removed" books? or Athanasius "removed" books? or that the Jews "removed" books? Better yet, why not just say that Trent added books - books which still aren't enough to prove Rome's dogmas.


BlackSheep75 said...

Hi Turretinfan,
Enjoyed your post;

"While many people say nice things about Rome, and many people even seek the wisdom or authority of the bishop of Rome at various times in the patristic era."

Might be a dum question, but is there much evidence of people seeking wisdom from other city churches around the same time?
Were other churches held in the same esteem?


turretinfan said...

Yes. Alexandria is a prominent example.

John said...

I am not sure what you meant when you wrote, "To know the truth, it is enough for you to have justified belief in the truth." Can you expand on that ?

Ljdibiase said...

Wow! Really? You think their claim is "modest?!" We think the church may still loose and bind with heavenly keys also (see WCF ch.30); if that's all there was to it, who would object?

Philip said...

I didn't say modest, I said "much more modest." See the difference?

John Watt said...

TF you said, "To know the truth, it is enough for you to have justified belief in the truth." I am a bit unsure as to what you meant by that. Can you please expand on that a bit more. I posted this question via iphone, but somehow it does seem to show in the comments. Thanks.

Ljdibiase said...

We can argue semantics if you want, but I don't think you adequately appreciate how extreme their claims are. It's because of such things that the Confession identifies the pope as the antichrist; you say they are "much" more modest than that. See the difference?

Philip said...

Let us be charitable to one another, LJ. Let me say that I am very fond of Reformed Christianity. For Christmas, I received the work of Luther and Tyndale. The Westminster Confession is among the most beautiful statements in Church history. Many of my favorite theologians and apologists are Reformed: Calvin, Spurgeon, Pink, Hodge, Packer, Sproul. I am thoroughly Augustinian when it comes to matters of sovereignty, providence, depravity, will power, and election.

That said, I am a Roman Catholic because only the Roman Church remains true to the apostles and only the Roman Church provides the true meat of heaven: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Scripture is plain enough: the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Its visible solidarity and earthly unity is grounded in the Spirit working through the bishops, chief among whom is successor of Peter. The testimony of Church history is that Christian life is rooted in the Scripture, which must be read with the Church, and the Eucharist, which can only be manifested by Spirit-filled apostolic authority.

As for your assertion, let me ask you: Are any Christian claims "modest"? We worship an incarnate and crucified God, after all! We aren't exactly in the game of intellectual caution. The primacy of Peter is plainly affirmed in Scripture. I have read the arguments of Catholic and Reformed apologists on this matter and, with some hesitation, have decided in favor of Rome. Can I do anything else but follow my conscience on this matter?

Ljdibiase said...

Well, Philip, that explains it. I didn't know you were RC.

First, we are talking about modesty within the context of biblical Christianity. Christ's claims arent' modest, but that doesn't justify the bold claims that some make with regard to Him -- little horns, "speaking great things."

Since you've studied these issues already, I won't presume to debate them with you. As far as following your conscience, apparently at the root of it is an idolatry of the Eucharist and a questionable (at best) understanding of the church and of history. What else can you do? Pray, repent, search your heart, fall on your face and seek Christ alone for your salvation.

God doesn't work the way we expect Him to. What *should* His church look like? A small group of backwoods fishermen, along with a rebel and a tax collector? A band of fugitives from the lawful King of Israel? Seven thousand of a divided and scattered remnant that refuse to bow the knee to baal? What should it look like today? Don't presume. He makes foolish the wisdom of the world.

Smithborough said...

The quote from Irenaeus provided by Philip:

"The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric."

Interestingly Irenaeus does not mention Peter as a bishop of Rome.

turretinfan said...

Regarding Irenaeus' claim about Linus - note that in 2 Timothy Paul does mention a Linus:

2 Timothy 4:21 Do thy diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.

He's squished in there between Pudens and Claudia, with no indication at all that he's a person of any greater dignity than either of those two. What seems more likely is that these three are people who personally knew Timothy. In any event, of course, the most that this can prove is that there was a Christian named Linus in Rome during the apostolic era (at least we assume Paul was in Rome, based on 2 Timothy 1:17).