Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Clarifying the Rebuttal to the Necessity Argument for the Papacy

Scott Alt has posted a response to my earlier post, which mentioned the fact that the papacy is not necessary.  Mr. Alt's primary error is confusing a rebuttal argument and a positive argument.  Mr. Alt misunderstood my post as something like the following argument:

1) If something is not necessary, it is not true;
2) The papacy is not necessary;
3) Therefore, the papacy is not true.

That argument is not correct, because (1) is false.  That was not my argument.

Rather my argument was a rebuttal to the often-heard allegation that the papacy must be true because it is necessary.  In other words, my actual argument was a response to this argument:

1) If the papacy is necessary, it must be true;
2) The papacy is necessary;
3) Therefore, the papacy must be true.

My rebuttal is that (2) is false.  The papacy is not necessary.  Therefore, as I said, "Any argument for the papacy … needs to come from some other quarter than from necessity."

Mr. Alt makes a comparison to the U.S. presidency.  But no one argues that we have a president because that's necessary.  They argue that we have a president because that's what the U.S. constitution provides for.  We could have a parliamentarian form of government or a monarchy or any number of other forms of government.  A presidency is not necessary.  And indeed, Mr. Alt himself states "the point, rather, is what the Founders intended to give us."

Then, Mr. Alt tries make an analogous argument for the papacy:
The papacy isn’t “necessary”; but the point isn’t what is “necessary,” but what Christ intended for His Church.  ... The point is what God chooses, not what human beings feel they need.
This, however, is an assertion in search of an argument.  The argument it is looking for is not the kind rebutted in my post.  So far, so good.

But to extend Mr. Alt's own analogy, we know that having a succession of presidents is what the founders wanted, because they left behind documents describing what they wanted, most significantly the Constitution.  By contrast, what Jesus and the apostles left behind as documentation of what they want is the New Testament, which makes no mention at all of any papacy (Roman or otherwise).

Mr. Alt has some comments on the "unbroken succession" claim, but as I've already pointed out, that claim is meaningless.  Apparently, Mr. Alt finds it "sophomoric" to point out when Rome makes meaningless claims, but so be it.

Mr. Alt asks "does TF really mean for us to believe that when there’s a sede vacante the slate is wiped clean and the Church has to start over again as if it were 33 A.D.?" Obviously, that is not what I mean for him to believe.  I mean for him to believe that the Roman system of ecclesiology is not the system of ecclesiology that Jesus and the apostles appointed.  In fact, it hardly has any resemblance to it.  I also mean for him to believe that Rome's claim to "unbroken succession" is not simply flawed, it's meaningless.

Mr. Alt tries to turn the tables by pointing out that the elders in Reformed churches are not necessary, in the sense that Christ could have established things differently.  The difference, of course, is that Jesus through the apostles actually established churches in which there is oversight by elders.  Jesus through the apostles did not establish a papacy.

Mr. Alt concludes:

Really, those on the Reformed side need to come up with better arguments.  Any argument against the papacy must be made on the basis of what Christ did or did not intend, not on any subjective, earth-bound idea about what’s “necessary.”
Actually, it is the advocates for the papacy that need better arguments.  Strictly speaking, those who want to advocate for a papacy need to make the argument for the papacy.  We can limit ourselves to rebuttal arguments - arguments that demonstrate the flaws in the various and sundry arguments for the papacy.  We do not need to provide a definitive disproof of the papacy (although that has been done as well).  Most importantly, not every post needs to be such a definitive disproof - it can simply be a rebuttal to a specific pro-papal argument.


No comments: