Friday, April 23, 2010

Lourdes and other "Worthy of Belief" Fictions

Louis asked:
But does your church believe this story [the story of "St. Philomena"] is true? Or are they saying that even if this vision [revelation that Maria Luisa di Gesù, a Roman Catholic nun, claimed she received] is a delusional lie (a false sign or wonder), then it is still "not contrary to the Catholic faith", and may still be used to express devotion to this saint?
Paul Hoffer (Roman Catholic) responded:
Hi louis, The Church does not offer an opinion as to whether it is true or not because we, as individual Catholics, are not required to accept as true a private revelation made to a private individual as true as such do not belong to the deposit of faith. What the Church has said is that a person may accept the revelation as true if they wish without danger to their soul. [CCC 67] We recognize that such revelations are devotional in nature, not doctrinal.
I answer:

The RCC is a little unusual in this regard. In some cases, things are written off as frauds. In other cases, things are indicated as being, in essence, believable or "worthy of belief." For example, people are permitted to believe that something miraculous happened at Lourdes, but a person is not required to believe that.

On the other hand, sometimes (much more rarely) the RCC adds some new requirement to the list of things that must be believed. For example, about four years before the Lourdes event, the RCC defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception - requiring people to believe the unbiblical (and frankly Pelagian) doctrine of the Immaculate conception.

Interestingly, at Lourdes, a 14-year-old local girl named Bernadette Soubirous (who is the central figure in the event) claimed that the apparition of a beautiful woman told her, "I am the Immaculate Conception." This oddly ungrammatical claim (original French: "Je suis l'Immaculée conception" UPDATE: the French is not original ... apparently, the original is the Basque Bigourdan dialect: "Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou.") is probably best explained by the fact that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception had recently been defined, and Bernadette, while aware of the definition, didn't fully understand it. Mary calling herself the "Immaculate Conception" would be like Jesus saying, "I am the virgin birth." Of course, an alternative is that since Mary was a Palestinian Jewess, perhaps her French (UPDATE: Basque Bigourdan dialect) just isn't that good. But this seems unlikely, because other things that Bernadette reportedly heard from the apparition were more well constructed grammatically - even to the point of being formal.

In any event, Rome views the Immaculate Conception itself as a dogma that must be believed (despite the fact that we can't find it in Scripture or among the extant writings of orthodox Christians for the first few centuries of church history). In contrast, the fraud at Lourdes is viewed as being "worthy of belief." Rome won't say that it is true, and won't say that it is false.

Lourdes, as a result, is one of the most popular Marian shrines (probably the most popular in Europe, and perhaps in the world). There are dozens of miracles that are attributed to visits to Lourdes and use of the water there. Furthermore, while there may not be an official pronouncement that the Lourdes' apparitions were genuine, we see Benedict XVI acting as though he thinks they were:
Lourdes is one of the places chosen by God for his beauty to be reflected with particular brightness, hence the importance here of the symbol of light. From the fourth apparition onwards, on arriving at the grotto, Bernadette would light a votive candle each morning and hold it in her left hand for as long as the Virgin was visible to her. Soon, people would give Bernadette a candle to plant in the ground inside the grotto. Very soon, too, people would place their own candles in this place of light and peace. The Mother of God herself let it be known that she liked the touching homage of these thousands of torches, which since that time have continued to shine upon the rock of the apparition and give her glory. From that day, before the grotto, night and day, summer and winter, a burning bush shines out, aflame with the prayers of pilgrims and the sick, who bring their concerns and their needs, but above all their faith and their hope.
(13 September 2008 - Emphasis added to one of the most outrageous comments.)

Sean Patrick of the Roman Catholic blog "Called to Communion" has suggested that I should point out worship to Mary in each post I do on Roman Catholicism. I don't really think that is necessary, but I've included the paragraph above as an example to help satisfy his request. I'm sure that there will be those who deny that paying religious homage and giving Mary "glory" are worship, but I trust that there are those who will see it for what it is.

Nevertheless, to return to the point of the post, the answer is to Louis' question is that if something is designated as "worthy of belief," the RCC is not saying that it is true, but rather that you are safe believing it (i.e. doing so won't harm your faith or morals), even if it is false. Where these apparitions (and the like) tend to get into trouble is when they start to try to speak authoritatively on things (Rome doesn't like competition). So, while "I am the Immaculate Conception" should be seen to be a clumsy fraud, Rome approves of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and consequently sees no harm in letting people believe that the events of Lourdes are true.

- TurretinFan

Scripture's Clarity Confirmed Against Smudges - 7/25

Dave Armstrong has posted a series of "25 Short Arguments on the Difficulties of Perspicuity (Clearness of Scripture for Salvation)" (link) from his book "501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura: Is the Bible the Only Infallible Authority?" I can see that his list of arguments has received nearly a thousand views, so perhaps it makes sense to provide a response to each of these. The arguments themselves are not long - individually they are no more than smudges that aim to obscure Scripture's clarity. This is number 7/25 of my wiping away of the smudges.

Armstrong's Argument

7. The U.S. Constitution might be regarded as true and wonderful and sufficient, etc. But the fact remains that this abstract belief only lasts undisturbed as long as the first instance of case law in which two parties claim divergent interpretations of the Constitution. It's the same with Protestants.

Short Rebuttal

The major error in this argument is that it assumes a bogus standard for sufficiency. The minor error is that the analogy to the U.S. Constitution is false.

Longer Rebuttal

For the Scriptures to be wonderful and sufficient, there is no requirement that they eliminate every disagreement about themselves. Such a false standard for sufficiency is strange - Dave's own church includes plenty of internal disagreement over their own standards. We don't claim that the Scripture prevents people from disagreeing - and surely disagreement is an invalid standard of measurement of the sufficiency of any standard.

As for the U.S. Constitution - it is not divinely inspired. The Holy Spirit doesn't promise to lead Americans into a proper understanding of the Constitution, but does promise to lead believers into the truth:

John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

Likewise there is no American spirit that provides as fruit the analogous equivalent of "goodness and righteousness and truth."

Ephesians 5:9 (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)

Thus, while the U.S. Constitution may be as clear as men can make it, the Scriptures are a divine production - they are inspired.

- TurretinFan

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ray Comfort Tells it Like it Is!

I think it is straight-shooting like this: "Response of a Jerk" that makes me really appreciate the work that Ray Comfort does. I don't know all of his theology, but what I've seen I like.


Possum Kill, North Carolina

Ergun Caner: "My wife's Dad is from Possum Kill, North Carolina." (link to clip from start of show)

One of the readers of this blog (a guy named "Dan") alerted me to the fact that he tried to track down "Possum Kill, NC" on the map, and couldn't do it. I tried to do the same, and couldn't do it either. I also didn't find it mentioned on any websites or in any books.

There are two exceptions:

I. The first exception is that Ergun Caner himself uses the place as an illustration in his contribution to the Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, p. 327, left hand column, first full paragraph.

With some sad irony, Ergun Caner ends that entry with the following paragraph:
It is essential that the Christian diligently attempt not to use logical fallacies. The Bible implores the Christian to speak truthfully and without deception. Indeed, Jesus said "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).
(p. 328)

Dr. Caner is right about that. It is one of many good things that Dr. Caner has to say. People may get the wrong idea from my posting articles that are critical of Dr. Caner, but I do not consider the man's work worthless. I do hope God will bring him to repentance on the issue of autobiographical embellishment.

II. The second exception is another blog also trying to track down the same point (link to blog). As of when I published this, no one had found an answer there either.


I think Caner is just trying to speak generically about a rural town. I've heard others use statements like "Smalltown, USA" or "Podunk, [state]", and things like that. I would interpret Caner's words here the same way. I think his usage of it in the encyclopedia entry backs up my understanding. I don't think Dr. Caner meant for people to take the name of the town of his father-in-law literally as being "Possum Kill." It may technically not be true, but I wouldn't classify it in the arena of a lie or an embellishment.


UPDATE: In the testimony at the following link, Dr. Caner insists that the name of the town is "not a joke" (link). That's slightly disturbing, although arguably it was supposed to be for comedic effect.

FURTHER UPDATE: Caner mentions "Nostril, Texas" and "Earlobe, Arkansas" in this clip (link). "Possum Kill" would just be a similar fake place name.

ADDITIONAL UPDATE: When speaking to the Ohio Free Will Baptists, Caner said "this is not a joke, this is the truth, anybody from North Carolina will know this city, her father is from Possum Kill, NC, right near Smithfield." (link).

Scripture's Clarity Confirmed Against Smudges - 6/25

Dave Armstrong has posted a series of "25 Short Arguments on the Difficulties of Perspicuity (Clearness of Scripture for Salvation)" (link) from his book "501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura: Is the Bible the Only Infallible Authority?" I can see that his list of arguments has received nearly a thousand views, so perhaps it makes sense to provide a response to each of these. The arguments themselves are not long - individually they are no more than smudges that aim to obscure Scripture's clarity. This is number 6/25 of my wiping away of the smudges.

Armstrong's Argument

6. Is every Christian in the world able to find enough time, and become educated enough and familiar enough with Scripture to be his own theologian? And if he consults other ones, wise enough to always get it right when he chooses?

Short Rebuttal

The most necessary things of Scripture are simple enough not to require someone to be a "theologian" per se, and the right approach is test others' teachings by Scripture rather than relying on one's own wisdom.

Longer Rebuttal

The way to avoid relying on one's own wisdom is to rely on the Scriptures:

Proverbs 3:1-7
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: for length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: so shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil.

Furthermore, the Scriptures assist even the simple:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 119:130 The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

That's one of the reasons that the Proverbs were written:

Proverbs 1:1-4
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.

So one does not have to be wise to nevertheless receive wisdom from Scripture. Scripture is prepared and even specifically provided to help give light to those who are not professional theologians.

- TurretinFan

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Scripture's Clarity Confirmed Against Smudges - 5/25

Dave Armstrong has posted a series of "25 Short Arguments on the Difficulties of Perspicuity (Clearness of Scripture for Salvation)" (link) from his book "501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura: Is the Bible the Only Infallible Authority?" I can see that his list of arguments has received nearly a thousand views, so perhaps it makes sense to provide a response to each of these. The arguments themselves are not long - individually they are no more than smudges that aim to obscure Scripture's clarity. This is number 5/25 of my wiping away of the smudges.

Armstrong's Argument

5. Since Protestants can't agree in their interpretation of Scripture, of what practical use is an infallible Bible? If the interpretation is fallible and contradictory, then -- practically speaking -- the Bible in effect is no more infallible than its differing interpretations.

Short Rebuttal

The practical use of the Bible is explained below:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Longer Rebuttal

The argument, if we can call this question an argument, seems to be trying to suggest that the appropriate test of the sufficiency of a rule of faith is if everyone agrees about it. But there is no rule of faith about which everyone agrees. To take the alternative for which Armstrong is trying to argue by tearing down Scripture, Roman Catholicism provides a rule of faith in the form her allegedly infallible teachings. Nevertheless, there are differences of opinion among Roman Catholics regarding how to interpret their rule of faith. Thus, if we accept the extremely skeptical premise of this argument, the result is agnosticism: we wouldn't be able to have any rule of faith at all, because people have differences of opinion over any given rule of faith.

- TurretinFan

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ergun Caner, Rick and Bubba, and Daisy Duke: How LBTS Does Apologetics

Ergun Caner was on the nationally broadcast "Rick and Bubba Show." The name may sound a little backwoods to my urban readers, but Ergun Caner's own web page makes a big deal about this show (link to discussion). This is touted on that link as being an example of how LU does apologetics: "As you can see at LBTS, we don't just talk apologetics, we do apologetics."

You can imagine our disappointment then at listening to the show, particularly the linked five and a half minute segment (the entire show apparently stretched to 90 minutes, this appears to be the first segment of the show) and finding the following comments (link to clip from start of show):

1) "I was raised in - I'm Turkish - 21 generations"

This may be technically true, because he changed his sentence halfway through, but he is giving the false impression he came from Turkey. Instead, he came from Sweden.

2) "Came to America when I was 13 years old."

As far as we can tell he was 4 years old, or so, when he came to America from Sweden.

3) "My father wasn't the imam but he was the 'ulema' one of the scholars in the mosque."

Elsewhere in Caner's discussion of his father, his father takes on various roles in the mosque. As best we can gather from the conflicting evidence, his father occasionally served as a "مؤذن mu’aḏḏin" which is not a kind of scholar, but rather someone who leads the prayers (something like a worship leader).

4) "This was the 70's, '78."

Caner was born in 1966, so Caner wasn't 13 until 1979. Moreover, Caner came to America around 1970. (UPDATE: I say "around 1970" because all we know for sure is that it was between 1968 when Ergun's brother Erdem was born and 1970 when Ergun's brother Emir was born.)

5) "Lost my family, lost everything"

He was disowned by his non-custodial father. It is a sad loss to be disowned by one's father, but it is not quite the same as being disowned by one's entire family and losing everything.

6) "That's the only television I saw - the only American television, the only American television in Turkey, was whatever got approved, and so we got the Dukes of Hazzard ... "

a) Ergun didn't live in Turkey.

b) We're supposed to believe that Islamic Turkish censors approved the Dukes of Hazzard?

c) The Dukes of Hazzard didn't start until January 26, 1979

You might think that "Dukes of Hazzard" was just a slip of the tongue. But on another occasion, Ergun Caner made the same claim and further embellished it: "The second television we received was a thing called, 'The Dukes of Hazzard.' Man- whew - I know we in church and everything, but I wanted to marry Daisy. I wanted to go to the Boar's Nest - I wanted to drive a car like this ..." (link to clip).

7) "... every two weeks we would get out of Georgia, from TBS, Gordon Solie Georgia Championship Wrestling."

TBS was launched December 17, 1976, which is also when the show (with TBS as a station) hit satellite. As noted above, Caner came to America with his family from Sweden in 1970. (UPDATE: as noted above, 1970 is the latest date, based on the fact that Emir was born in the U.S.)

Was the remainder of the 90 minutes better than the first five? I hope so. I'm sure Dr. Caner has a lot of good things to say. I've heard him say some pretty intelligent things. Nevertheless, may I suggest that this is not what LBTS wants to list as being an example of how LBTS does apologetics.


UPDATE: I found a second segment (here).  In the second segment he claims he was raised in a madrasa in Istanbul, Turkey - and he says that twice and claims that it was a Sunni madrasa.  He claims that his high school friend evangelized him for four years.  He claims he does debates.

And a third segment (here).  Ergun uses a fake foreign language while purporting to provide an original language for a message on a wall in a mosque in Kabul, allegedly translated as: "Do not teach the women to read and write." 

And a fourth segment (here).  Ergun claims to have been debating a woman in Chicago when the topic of Surah 4:34, and the question of whether the Koran means that men should beat their wives.

Scripture's Clarity Confirmed Against Smudges - 4/25

Dave Armstrong has posted a series of "25 Short Arguments on the Difficulties of Perspicuity (Clearness of Scripture for Salvation)" (link) from his book "501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura: Is the Bible the Only Infallible Authority?" I can see that his list of arguments has received nearly a thousand views, so perhaps it makes sense to provide a response to each of these. The arguments themselves are not long - individually they are no more than smudges that aim to obscure Scripture's clarity. This is number 4/25 of my wiping away of the smudges.

Armstrong's Argument

4. I think Scripture is pretty clear (I've always found it to be so in my many biblical studies), but I also know from simple observation and knowledge of Church history that it isn't clear enough to bring men to agreement.

Short Rebuttal

The fact that the Scriptures don't bring all men to complete unanimity isn't really relevant to the issue of perspicuity.

Longer Rebuttal

In other words, the Scriptures are sufficiently clear to present the Gospel so that people can hear and believe. The fact that not all believe has nothing to do with the clarity of the message.

The Scriptures make Christ manifest, even if sinners refuse to accept what the Scriptures say:

Romans 16:25-27
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.

Furthermore, there is no need for there to be complete unanimity on every teaching of Scripture. One of the joys of Scripture is that one cannot exhaust all of its treasures. The fact that, in the process of exploration, we are going to disagree with other Christians about some teaching or other is reasonable, especially since we are fallible human beings.

- TurretinFan

An Argument for Fallibility, not Against Infallibility

Yes, while in Malta the pope himself fell asleep during Mass (link to report - caution, some of the advertisements do not comply with Reformation principles of modesty). This doesn't, in itself, prove that the pope is fallible. It's certainly not a disproof of infallibility. It is just more evidence that he's a normal human being.

Likewise, the comparison between the Steelers handled a crisis and the way the Vatican handles a crisis does not, in itself, prove either that the Vatican is fallible or that the Steelers are a better institution (I'm not a big fan of either institution)(link). However, it is evidence of fallibility and, indeed, corruption within the Vatican.

However, both of these stories (like my own previous note regarding typos in the on-line English version of Rome's canon law) help to demonstrate to the ordinary reader that Rome's leadership is not something supernatural. They are men - and like other men they are fallible, sinful, and so forth. Their fallibility isn't proved by their humanity, but it is evidenced that way.

The fact that the apostles and prophets had the Word of God was attested by true miracles, signs, and wonders. Christ's own resurrection served, as one of its purposes, to testify to Christ's divinity and the truth of his message:

Acts 13:35-37
Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption: but he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.

And again:

Matthew 12:38-42
Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here.

But the Roman magisterium is merely human. It lacks any supernatural manifestations of God's favor. Benedict XVI cannot raise from the dead those who fall asleep during preaching as Paul raised Eutychus from the dead, indeed Benedict XVI himself falls asleep (we do not know whether it was during the brief homily or some other portion of the mass).

That fallibility is seen in practice in the heresy of mariolatry illustrated in two ways during Benedict XVI's Maltese Visit:
Pope Benedict XVI said he was "pleased" to be able to pray before her image and presented her with a Golden Rose "as a sign of our shared filial affection for the Mother of God."

He asked that she be prayed to as "Queen of the Family," a title introduced by Pope John Paul II to the Litany of Loreto.
(source)(official source for those who don't trust the media)

Notice the three ways in which idolatry, in the form of mariolatry, is evidenced:

1) The offering of a golden rose.

2) The prayers to her and encouragement of others to pray to her.

3) The exalted title "Queen of the Family" given to her and intended to be used in prayer to her.

There is no Scriptural warrant for such a title for Mary, and the headship of a family problem resides in the Father. Furthermore, the context of such usage is the following:
Contemplating this mystery, we confidently entrust all our families to the gentle protection of Mary, Queen of the Family and Saint Joseph her spouse.

And here:
58. The preparation of the engaged should be accompanied by sincere and deep devotion to Mary, Mother of the Church, the Queen of the Family. The engaged themselves should be taught to recognize that Mary's presence is as active in the family, the Domestic Church, as it is in the wider Church. Likewise they should be taught to imitate Mary in her virtues. Thus the Holy Family, the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, makes the engaged discover "how sweet and irreplaceable education in the family is" (Paul VI, Discourse at Nazareth, January 5, 1964).

And perhaps most blasphemously of all:
Virgin of Nazareth,
Queen of the family,
make our Christian families
schools of evangelical life,
enriched by the gift of many vocations
to the priesthood and
to the consecrated life.
Keep intact the unity of our families,
today so threatened from all sides.
making them hearths of serenity and
of harmony, where patient dialogue
dispels difficulties and differences.
Above all, watch over those
who are divided and in crisis,
Mother of forgiveness
and reconciliation.

If one cannot see that to engage in such devotion to Mary is to derogate from the glory and honour of God, simply be looking at what is being said, I am not sure that any amount of further argument will prove it to you. Indeed, I think that for some people the only problem would arise if Mary were referred to as "God." Anything short of that they seem to find acceptable, no matter how much worship is given her and power is ascribed to her.

- TurretinFan

Monday, April 19, 2010

Baptized Children Should Know Their Election?

So then, for those who are baptized (for those in God's covenant), a proper sense of identity involves knowing that they are chosen by God to receive grace and inherit glory with all his people, and that they are called to live with God and for God forever with all his people, fulfilling the purposes for which he made his human creatures.
I was surprised to find the above paragraph on an OPC website (here), attributed to Benjamin W. Miller, who is presently an associate pastor at the Franklin Square OPC. I don't mean to suggest that Pastor Miller is in any way associated with the Federal Vision, although my criticism of Pastor Miller's argument is similar to the criticism I would have of certain Federal Vision ideas. Pastor Miller eagerly makes reference to the fact that certain covenant membership is specifically visible, and he does so in this very paragraph. My understanding is that some (if not all) Federal Vision proponents refuse to acknowledge the visible/invisible distinction. The first portion of the paragraph states:
These people are visibly identified as the households of those who profess the Christian faith, on whom God places his covenant name in baptism. They are nourished on Christ, the covenant Mediator, as he gives himself to his people through the means of grace in his church. Their lives are progressively renovated to worship God (cultus) and to work for God (culture).
With respect to Pastor Miller, however, I think he's overstated his case. The children of believers are certainly visibly and outwardly members of the covenant. However, those children may or may not be nourished spiritually, for the spiritual nourishment of Christ is associated with invisible covenant membership of which regeneration and faith (not their sacrament, baptism) is the entrance.

While it is permitted to hold to views of presumptive regeneration in the OPC, it seems that Pastor Miller may have taken his position of presumptive regeneration too far. Those who are only visibly identified are provided with the means of grace, but they may not be provided with grace. Christ nourishes his people through the church, but as with the Old Testament church - not all are Israel which are of Israel.

There is real danger in attempting to discern one's election based solely and specifically on membership in the visible covenant, particularly for those whose membership is as a result of household baptism. The danger is not merely hypothetical: we have the example of the Jews to remind us of the fact that true circumcision - true membership into the covenant - is inward circumcision of the heart.

While children in the covenant ought to be reminded of their identity, they also ought to be reminded of the fact that their membership is presently external and visible until by repentance and faith, as instrumental means, they are justified before God and become true children of Abraham by faith.


Sold Their Souls for Negative Five Pounds Sterling

It was a little disheartening to see that about 90% of the purchasers of one particular game sold their souls for negative five pounds (British) (link to story). Technically, they optioned their souls for that price, since the game company has to exercise its option ... but since the exercise of the option includes no further payment, they have effectively sold their souls. There were several points to the offer, the primary one being that no one bothers to read the click-wrap (or whatever they are calling them these days) license agreements for products purchased on-line. In this case, those people who read the agreement and opted out of the option received five pounds (British).

- TurretinFan

Thanks to Roman Catholic blogger Mark Shea for bringing this to my attention.

Scripture's Clarity Confirmed Against Smudges - 3/25

Dave Armstrong has posted a series of "25 Short Arguments on the Difficulties of Perspicuity (Clearness of Scripture for Salvation)" (link) from his book "501 Biblical Arguments Against Sola Scriptura: Is the Bible the Only Infallible Authority?" I can see that his list of arguments has received nearly a thousand views, so perhaps it makes sense to provide a response to each of these. The arguments themselves are not long - individually they are no more than smudges that aim to obscure Scripture's clarity. This is number 3/25 of my wiping away of the smudges.

Armstrong's Argument

3. If Protestants discount the Church's binding authority because men are sinners, then they obviously have to discount every individual's interpretation, as each person is a sinner, too!

Short Rebuttal

Yes, of course. Nevertheless, Scripture is able to speak clearly.

Longer Rebuttal

The fact that men are sinners is true. However, Scripture still speaks clearly to sinners. The Scriptures are able to make men wise unto salvation - Scripture itself says so.

- TurretinFan

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Eastern Orthodoxy and Reformed Radar

Mr. Mark Shea is determined to make sure that Eastern Orthodoxy is on our radar (link to Shea's post). While we appreciate Mr. Shea's attempt to bring clarity to the table, we are well aware of the Eastern Orthodox.

In fact, we're well aware of attempts like those those of Mr. Shea to overplay the similarities between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. I responded to one such attempt in article called "If You Look Only at the Similarities, They're Exactly the Same!"

That article is actually an example of me discussing Eastern Orthodoxy with a Roman Catholic, but I've also defended Augustine against false charges brought by the Eastern Orthodox crowd in an article called "Eastern Orthodox Confusing Augustine with Gnostics"

I've discussed the difference between the Western and North African canon of Scripture and the canon of more "eastern" fathers, such as John of Damascus in an article called "Did Hippo, Carthage, or Rome's Bishop Settle the Canon?"

I've responded to an Eastern Orthodox blogger on the topic of Ecclesial Infallibility (link).

Other posts related to the topic of Eastern Orthodox may be found under the "Orthodox" label on my blog (link to list of posts with that label).

I've even done a debate on Sola Scriptura with an Eastern Orthodox opponent (link to debate, in reverse chronological order).

Does some of the Internet apologetics world have a blind eye for Eastern Orthodoxy? Undoubtedly. Does Eastern Orthodoxy occupy as much of our energy as Roman Catholicism? Certainly not. Yet it is on the radar screen.

Shea quotes himself as thinking:
Dude. Have you ever heard of the Orthodox? They don't exactly get their marching orders from the Pope, but they will laugh you out of dodge if you tell them these things are not apostolic or try to get them to sign off on some cockamamie theory of sola scriptura as though that's what Athanasius believed.
If the Sufficiency and Perspicuity of Scripture a "cockamanie theory" so be it, but we've already seen that Athanasius held them (link to discussion of one of Athanasius' letters).

It's interesting that Shea said "laugh you out of dodge" rather than "refute your arguments." It is, of course, one thing to laugh as Shea himself does, and as some Eastern Orthodox folks do. It is quite another to investigate Scripture to find out what is apostolic. It takes more than a jelly-bowl-imitating belly to digest history and investigate the truth of both Rome's and Moscow's claims.

This requirement for some amount of cerebral activity may explain the general paucity of apologists of all stripes (on both sides of the Tiber and the Bosporus). And while there may not be many Roman Catholic apologists of note in the English-speaking blogosphere, there are even fewer Eastern Orthodox, for a variety of reasons.

Even if the Eastern Orthodox were more numerous, however, there is at least a perception (among Reformed apologists) that Eastern Orthodoxy doesn't have a Trent: it does not have a dogmatic definition that declares the gospel of Christ to be anathema. It does not have a Vatican I: it does not claim that any of its bishops are infallible, nor does it claim that even the so-called Ecumenical Patriarch is the jurisdictional visible head of the church.

Eastern Orthodoxy has had men like Cyril Lucaris (1572–1638), who served as Patriarch of Alexandria and subsequently Patriarch of Constantinople. Cyril Lucaris allegedly (and various folks dispute this) wrote a Calvinistic "Confession" (link to confession). He also provided King James I with a copy of the ancient Scripture manuscript Codex Alexandrius (5th century) as a gift.

There may be many serious errors in Eastern Orthodox doctrine and practice, and we do respond to them as the opportunity presents itself. Nevertheless, Rome's opposition to the gospel is more systemic and blatant.

This article was initially drafted in response to Mr. Shea, but in the meanwhile, I notice that a number of additional Roman Catholic bloggers have picked up on the same idea. The transmission of this argument is thus:

Dave Brown at Orthocath building on his own earlier post

via Dave Brown, Mark Shea at Catholic and Enjoying it!

via Mark Shea, Fr. Dwight Longenecker at Standing on my Head simply asserts that "Mark Shea makes a good apologetical [sic] point."

via Mark Shea, Brian Visaggio at Saint Superman (quotes from Brown, with some comments on the beauty of the Coptic/EO liturgies)

via Dave Brown, Devon Rose at St. Joseph's Vanguard and Our Lady's Train (quotes from Brown, with repetition of some of Brown's claims)

via Dave Brown, Francis Beckwith at Return to Rome (Beckwith simply provides a block quotation from Mr. Brown)

via Dave Brown, David Palm at The Reluctant Traditionalist (Mr. Palm makes a number of additional claims )

Additionally, one of Mark Shea's readers, Alphonsus, points us to Jonathan Deane at Called to Communion with some similar thoughts.

Thus, I'd like to slightly broaden this post. First, in response to Mr. Brown, it is true that "Protestants" sometimes do sometimes think that church history goes from the book of Acts (or perhaps John on the Isle of Patmos) to Luther in 1517 (or to Billy Graham or their own parents). This is sad. There is much to learn from history, even though Scripture, not history, is our infallible rule of faith and morals.

Mr. Brown criticizes Lorraine Boettner, stating "This same list of “inventions,” popularized by Protestant theologian Loraine Boettner, puts the idea of seven sacraments as late as 1439." In fact, in one list that Boettner provides, Boettner states: "34. The doctrine of Seven Sacraments affirmed: a.d. 1439." The list of a list of dates of adoption, not dates of innovation, a distinction that Mr. Brown would do well to note.

In point of fact, while the Council of Florence (1439) enumerated seven sacraments, it remained to the Council of Trent (1545-63) to formally define the matter. Others may point to the idea that the Council of Lyons (1274) had the same enumeration among the documents presented to it. However, Roman Catholic sources themselves (such as the so-called "Catholic Encyclopedia") will acknowledge that the honor or infamy for the "seven sacraments" distinctive lies with with Otto of Bamburg (around 1139) or more properly Peter Lombard (lived from about 1100 to 1160). Both of these men post-date the 1054 division between the eastern patriarchates and Rome. While the continuing interaction between East and West may well have cross-pollinated the error of seven sacraments to the East, it began as a distinctively Western error, even if folks like Otto of Bamburg and Peter Lombard were not "Roman Catholic" in the modern sense.

Mr. Brown goes on to overstate the separation of the "Coptic Orthodox" both from the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics. His idea is to suggest that when Coptics, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics agree on something, it proves it goes back to 450 A.D. This kind of idea is naive at best, for it ignores the very real interaction and cross-pollination that exists amongst those three groups, as well as between those groups and other groups, such as the Assyrian Church of the East or the Ethiopian Orthodox.

Mr. Brown concludes: "At the very least, we can say that at the time of the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), a Protestant theological approach is light years away. Did it exist before then? Were there Christians in the Early Church who looked like the Evangelicals of today? If so, they left no mark in either the Ancient Churches nor in the writings of the Church Fathers in East or West." However, Mr. Brown should read more of the writings of the fathers, if he wants to find marks of the "Protestant theological approach" (at least as it relates to the formal principle of Sola Scriptura).

Cyril of Alexandria (patriarch of Alexandria from 412-444), for example, said: "That which the divine Scripture has not spoken, how shall we receive it and reckon it among verities?" (Glaphyrorum in Genesim, Book II) He also wrote: "It is best not to love to be moved by the bold assertions others, since they carry us away to incorrect views, but to make the words of the inspired writers the correct and exact rule of faith." (Of the Holy Trinity, Dialogue 4)

Let us grant that Cyril died in the decade prior to the Council of Chalcedon, yet it should be apparent to all but the most obstinate readers that his comments quoted above sound more "Protestant" than not. Surely, Cyril was not a "Protestant" nor would his church have looked like a typical American Evangelical church in a number of ways. Both ideas would be anachronistic. While we Reformed Christians would agree with Cyril on most things, there would doubtless be points where we would differ from him. When we would do so, we would do so because methodologically we agree with him: we make the words of the inspired writers the correct and exact rule of faith and do receive and reckon among those things to be believed those things the divine Scripture has not spoken.

And if someone will insist that we must bring forward someone who lived through the Council of Chalcedon, we will cheerfully point to Theodoret of Cyrus (lived from about 393 to 457) who wrote: "Now, I do not state this dogmatically, my view being that it is rash to speak dogmatically where holy Scripture does not make an explicit statement; rather, I have stated what I consider to be consistent with orthodox thought." (Question 4 on Genesis) Keep in mind that Theodoret was, at times and on certain issues, a theological opponent of Cyril of Alexandria (I am understating the level of their disagreement). Yet both men agreed with each other and us on the fundamental rule of faith.

While Mr. Brown was more cautious in his claims, Mr. Palm was rather more reckless. Mr. Palm stated, among other things:
Christians have always been distinctively Catholic in their doctrine and worship. The Protestant "Reformation" was not a return to a lost "pure Christianity" but was in many areas something entirely new and revolutionary.
This sort of assertion is bold, but unfounded. Whether one looks at Newman and his development hypothesis, or the work of more recent historians such as J.N.D. Kelly or Jaroslav Pelikan, anyone who seriously studies history will find that as they get closer and closer to the time of the apostles, more and more of the "distinctively [Roman] Catholic" elements disappear. Indeed, the early church is "catholic" in the true sense, but it is not Roman Catholic.


While Eastern Orthodoxy is on our radar, it gets less attention for a variety of reasons that are discussed above. Like Rome, Eastern Orthodoxy alleges historical continuity - but a serious historical investigation shows that both Rome and (to a lesser extent) Eastern Orthodoxy have wandered from the purity of the apostolic faith and practice.