"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Friday, August 29, 2008

Why I Cannot be a Roman Catholic (Part 2): I believe in Tradition.


In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul recounts how Peter acted hypocritically, denying the gospel in his works, eating according to the Law with the circumcision party. The circumcision party believed membership in the community required subscription to the Jewish law. Paul rebuked Peter to his face, in front of everyone, for his deeds which proclaimed a false doctrine (2:14).

I began to wonder, what would have happened if Peter told Paul to take a flying leap? What if Peter excommunicated Paul? Who the heck was Paul, a murderer and by his own admission the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9), who wasn’t even around when Christ gave to Peter (Matt 16:19) and the other apostles (Matt 18:18) the right to bind and loosen. How dare Paul?!

Paul, one of lesser authority rebuked one of higher authority over the importance of the purity of the gospel. But what if Peter commanded Paul to recant? Paul was disrespecting the dignity of Peter’s office and causing disrepute to Peter’s ministry and the appointment of Christ.

Question: What happens when apostolic authority is challenged by apostolic doctrine? Biblically, apostolic doctrine trumped apostolic authority.

Actually, the question can be asked differently now, for we do not have divinely appointed apostles in the same manner today. The question today focuses on the nature of apostolic tradition. Roman Catholicism when confronted with a man calling for repentance played their card of apostolic authority. Martin Luther was not to question the authority of the church, for this was the nature of apostolic tradition according to the Pope: the transfer of authority.

What is Apostolic Tradition?
The difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants is NOT the acceptance of tradition by Catholics and the rejection of tradition by Protestants. For Scripture itself speaks to tradition, sometimes negatively, but the tradition of the apostles is always positive such as in 1 Corinthians 11:2:

Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.

Biblical Christianity requires “maintaining the traditions.” So what is the primary nature of apostolic tradition? Our answer is clear in 2 Thessalonians 2:15:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

The church is commanded to hold firm in the traditions “taught.” Tradition is primarily the content of faith, not the transfer of authority over what is taught. That is tradition’s own self-understanding as well. It is in 2 Thess 2:15, and in early church history. Why else would the Athanasian creed say salvation was based on the catholic faith, which was the doctrine of Christ’s assumption of human flesh for the accomplishment of salvation (with no mention of authority of the Pope)? The Athanasian creed defines the catholic faith as doctrine, not authority. Irenaeus defended his doctrine because his teacher was Polycarp, and Polycarp’s teacher was the Apostle John. Irenaeus had tradition on his side, a tradition of a taught doctrine of catholic faith.

Galatians 2:11-14 presents a vivid picture of what happens when apostolic authority clashes with apostolic teaching; the apostolic faith takes precedence over all authority. Obedience to apostolic tradition means defense even against those higher in authority who contradict the gospel, be they a priest, a Bishop or even the chief of the apostles Mr first Pope himself Peter. Paul even includes himself, an apostle of authority, as under the standard of measurement, in the same book, in 1:8:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”

The Protestant case is that of, as Jaroslav Pelikan put it, “obedient rebels.” The Reformation is a question of “catholic substance and protestant principle.” The obedience of the Reformers was to the catholic faith in rebelling against the claim of apostolic authority to invalidate a call to repentance. Peter denied the gospel in deed and then repented. Rome denied the gospel in deed, then invented (or solidified the teaching of) another doctrine of the gospel to validate its deeds. Remember, Luther did not seek to found a new church, he sought repentance - he got excommunication when he refused to recant his call to repentance. To say Luther was unconcerned about the church or unity would be like saying John the Baptist had his beheading coming to him for not respecting Herod or the Pharisees. The gospel defines the church, the church does not define the gospel. The first Reformation confession, the Augsburg confession, claimed to teach nothing new, that "the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church catholic" and is but the catholic faith so very old, - the gospel of Christ and Paul explained so well by Augustine and the fathers. That is, it taught the Reformation faith - the catholic faith.

So was that truly the case with Luther against the Leo X? I submit that it was, but more on that in Part 3.

Until then, enjoy:



19 comments:

M. Jay Bennett said...

Peter denied the gospel in deed and then repented. Rome denied the gospel in deed, then invented (or solidified the teaching of) another doctrine of the gospel to validate its deeds.

Good stuff. Much of your argument seems to be in line with one of Calvin's primary arguments against Rome in The Institutes. Were you aware of that?

Jared Nelson said...

Uh...Yeah, of course I knew that, me and Johnny-Boy we're...ok, no, I didn't know that. But I will have to look at that. I am partially building this from late medieval reflections, Luther, Hus, and my attempt at an approach to tradition I formulated in reading Scripture, the Early Church and Pelikan (such as "the vindication of Tradition," and the first four volumes of "Christian Tradition")

Good to know though. Calvin really is a strange creature of a writer (to echo Barth). So much (like Edwards' approach to religious affection) can be found in Calvin, almost like the seeds of a thousand trees, later to grow up. There are really only a few theologians like him: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther to a lesser degree,...

Andrew said...

ugh Calvinolatry... lol. I want to respond to 2 quotes here:

"Peter denied the gospel in deed and then repented. Rome denied the gospel in deed, then invented (or solidified the teaching of) another doctrine of the gospel to validate its deeds"

You know well Jared that Papal Infallibility has nothing to do with deeds. And I would hope you'd remember -as a historical theologian- that Rome did not 'invent' their declarations on Justification. Luther was the innovater.

Philip Schaff once said 'those looking for the doctrine of sola fide in the church fathers will be sorely disappointed'. Clerical abuses does not allow for new doctrines. And last time I checked, Luther nor Calvin were Apostles/Bishops like St. Paul.

If the Reformation only attacked abuses that would be one thing, but in reality it invented a whole new Christianity.

In your example of Galatians 2 you forget Hebrews 13:17 "Obey your leaders and submit to them"

Andrew said...

You also said the gospel mandates the church not the church mandates the gospel. My question to you is: Where is this in the bible?

Jesus never commanded anything to be written down. No NT writer alludes to Christianity as a 'religion of the book'. And yet the Church is called the Pillar and Foundation of Truth (1 tim 3:15)

M. Jay Bennett said...
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M. Jay Bennett said...

Now Andrew, you know Reformed Protestants only venerate Calvin. And when we do set him up as an idol, by God's grace we remember his firm teaching on total depravity and worship him for reminding us not to worship him (I jest, of course).

You know well Jared that Papal Infallibility has nothing to do with deeds.

I fail to see what this Romish doctrine has to do with anything, besides denying Christ's rightful place as head of his church of course.

And I would hope you'd remember -as a historical theologian- that Rome did not 'invent' their declarations on Justification. Luther was the innovater.

Yes let's be factual, cause I think I smell a fish here (I am feeling extra cheeky tonight). It is a matter of fact that there was no official statement on the questions of justification that were answered by Augsburg and Trent.

Clerical abuses does not allow for new doctrines.

Really? Why then did Rome issue the counter-reformation document called Trent? Oh, wait, you're going to say there can never be new doctrine in the church, only further explanation/clarification. Well, in that case I think I'll say the same, with respect to Luther's sola fide of course.

In your example of Galatians 2 you forget Hebrews 13:17 "Obey your leaders and submit to them"

Yes, that works. One Scripture trumps another. I would advise revisiting that hermeneutical principle.

You also said the gospel mandates the church not the church mandates the gospel. My question to you is: Where is this in the bible?

This question has nothing to do with finding a proof text (i.e. 1 Tim 3:15) and everything to do with defining the church. Rome of course defines it as the office of Peter passed down through the generations (based on a misunderstanding of Matt. 16:19, see Matt. 18:18 and Jared's excellent post about Paul's rebuking of Peter based on the TRUTH of the gospel).

We Protestants, of course define the church as where the pure gospel is preached and the sacraments are rightly observed. It is in this sense that the church is "a pillar and buttress of truth" (1 Tim 3:15).

Wesley said...

Hmmm…

My Anglicanism finds me somewhat in the middle, albeit more on the “Reformed Side”. But since I’m mostly engaging your article, I’ll play advacatus diaboli a bit as well :)

1) I also do wonder what would have happened had Peter continued to “deny the Gospel in deed”. Paul seemed to feel like he had the right to rebuke Peter, even publicly. At the same time, the issue was not really settled until the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. I better question may be, what would have happened had the council ruled against Paul? Because I think officially, RC theology places the infallibility in the hands on the “magisterium”, which is focuses on the Pope, but is not exactly the same. It is good to remember (for the RC’s as well) that Popes have been convicted of heresy before (Honorius anyone?). The problem is he didn’t and so it is hard to say what Paul would have done. I think it is a jump to move from this incident to “Biblically, apostolic doctrine trumped apostolic authority” because this is what didn’t happen. Peter didn’t “pull rank” so to speak on Paul. All we can really say from this passage is that the apostolic authority is not always infallible, but this does not mean it is (or isn’t) infallible in other cases, like Acts 15.

2) I agree that tradition is primarily what is taught, more then the authority itself. I think we are on the same page here. I would say we can not fully understand scripture without tradition (or basically, it is not “my bible and I plus some vague leading of the Spirit”, but that tradition is not exhausted by any singe organizational body and can make the decisions. I do wonder in Acts 15 type councils however…

3) Small critique of your comments about Galatians again: “presents a vivid picture of what happens when apostolic authority clashes with apostolic teaching; the apostolic faith takes precedence over all authority.” I think is inaccurate because what happened in Galatians (as you admit) wasn’t exactly what happened in the Reformation. Peter didn’t “pull rank”. Second part of the issue was “how does someone know they are interpreting the scriptures correctly” It is fine to say anyone, even an authority, is condemned if they preach a false Gospel, but it is another to actually prove that is what they are doing. Neither side will admit to it, so who is right? It seems the issue is more along the lines of epistemology.

4) Along with the Galatians incident. I find it notable that the scriptures never condemn Peter as being apostate, nor revoke his apostleship. One thing Paul doesn’t seem to do is call Peter a false Apostle, or is Church a “false Church” due to his actions. Which is what the Reformation does when it labels Rome as a “false Church”. It goes one step beyond Paul. For all the strong language Paul uses he never “un-churches Peter” nor is there any idea that apostleship can come and go depending on the doctrinal purity of the person having it, it seems pretty stable.

5) when it comes to tradition. Hypothetical, what if it could be proven (by time machine even) that the post-Apostolic Church up till Luther held to a much more Catholic view of salvation? Would the post-Lutheran or the Early Church interpretation of scripture have priority?

Jared Nelson said...

Andrew -

1) You said: “Papal Infallibility has nothing to do with deeds.” I would add, that a minister is not voided of his title or the efficacy of his preaching and sacramental duties are not invalidated by deeds alone. Deeds however cannot be starkly separated from doctrine, for wrong deeds betray either a hypocrisy or a hidden doctrine, hence Paul‘s test of obedience being word and deed (Rom 15:18). Deeds, however, are not the entirety of question, it is doctrine. The contrast is between Peter who repented of his deeds (and showed his deeds to be hypocrisy) and Leo X who when Luther challenged Leo’s actions, did in fact invent a new doctrine of indulgences in an encyclical in 1518 (who showed his deeds to be based on heretical doctrine). As I will explore in my next post, even the supporters of indulgences had to admit that indulgences did not exist until very recently in the history of the church. So I might counter to the quick jump to Sola Fide (which I have not even mentioned yet) that one would look in vain to find indulgences in the Church Fathers.

2) You have set up Heb 13:17 against Gal 2. My post in fact was to define the nature of tradition and the primacy of the gospel in the Church. Let me then set up against Heb 13:17 the passage Galatians 1:8. I would submit this is about as explicit as you can get that the gospel defines the church and not the church the gospel. Those preaching another gospel, even if it is “we” (I.e. the apostles), they are anathema, cursed, and so outside the church - for you cannot be in the invisible church if you are cursed. There the gospel has defined the church, not the apostles the gospel. Dialogue on this issue must take into account Gal 1:8 or your position is one of ignoring the issue I bring up in the post rather than debating and engaging it.

3) On Jesus never commanding anything to be written down: How do you know? On what basis do you make this claim? By silence in the Scriptures? Is your rule of faith in such a matter a book? Just another reason why deeds are important as they betray an implicit doctrine. If so, then your faith of the word is in good company, from the Psalmist in Ps 119, who puts his trust in the word; to Paul’s focus on the revealed nature of the word he brings to the churches.

Jared Nelson said...

Wesley -

I share your preference for councils in Acts 15, that’s why I’m Presbyterian :) and why I side with the Greeks against Rome’s power grab of Papal power.

On your fifth point, My priority would be first on Scripture. If at any point there is contradiction, Scripture has priority. What the Reformation fought against was the Latin church’s departure from tradition, partially post-Augustine but especially post-Great Schism. Hence I have already told you in person my preference for Greek doctrinal development. Some of this I am getting to in later posts…

M. Jay Bennett said...

Andrew,

Please accept my apologies for the snarkiness of my last comment. I was in a rare mood last night, but that is no justification for my tone.

M. Jay Bennett said...

I find it notable that the scriptures never condemn Peter as being apostate, nor revoke his apostleship. One thing Paul doesn’t seem to do is call Peter a false Apostle, or is Church a “false Church” due to his actions. Which is what the Reformation does when it labels Rome as a “false Church”.

But Wesley, you're forgetting one VERY important difference here. Peter repented of his sin. The Pope did not. That's one of Jared's points in the post above.

Andrew said...

It's ok Jay, though when I read you post I was about to get really snarky as well... I just think I should probably not argue on here right now, for the sake of my soul...I could, but I don't want to, and you're like a seminary professor, and we're both dogmatically set in our own ways, so there isn't much point. Though I've read your blog alot and I find (I especially found it when I was a Calvinist) that it is great.

God bless.

ps. I laughed SO hard at the 'we only venerate him' part.

Andrew said...

I would also question all of these Jaroslav Pelikan quotes about the reformation being a tragic necessity etc, as since he converted to Orthodoxy he didn't really believe in it that strongly, at least at the end of his life. (though of course I know he was no Catholic)

Jared Nelson said...

Perhaps I would quote a Catholic saint then: "The revolt from the church began because the German people could not and cannot but be devout." -Clemens Maria Hofbauer

But Pelikan just puts it so well: "the necessity of the Reformation consists in the loyalty of the reformers to the best and highest in Roman Catholic Christianity and their obligation to summon Rome back to it."

Pelikan did convert at the end of his life for multiple reasons, some pertaining to the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod, some to Pelikan's understanding of tradition, but it was to Orthodoxy because Pelikan could not accept the Roman abandonment of catholicity.

Wesley said...

Not that we will solve the Puritan/Anglican debate on apostolic succession and the nature of the Church but… :)

Where in the OT was Israel ever removed from the covenant due to being unrepentant in heresy or sin? Punished many times, yes. Distinctions made between the “remnant” and everyone else yes, but as apostate as a whole that nation may have been, they always remained part of the nation. As a covenantalist, shouldn’t this inform your ecclesiology? Second where in scripture is a Church ever removed from that status for being unrepentant? 1 Corinthians 5 there is refusal of discipline by a true Church, in revelation several Churches tolerate heresy, or have fallen away from “their first love”. And judgment is proclaimed eventually, but they are not in those states condemned as false anymore the Israel was. And is some level of repentance is needed to remain a true Church, how much? Only the clergy? 50%+1 of the people? Official statements? How long in unrepentance does it take to lose "true Church status"?

If Apostolic succession is based only on “purity” in some form, then it seems unstable. I would not deny succession of doctrine as articulated by Jared, but I cannot deny apostolic succession of objective-sacramental continuation. Even Jesus considered the Pharisees to have some type of legitimate authority in the midst of a litany of condemnations against them (Matt 23) and Paul considered the High Priest after Christ to be a legitimate authority (Acts 23). There always seems to be an objective authority outside the personal worth of the person in the position.

*No offense to the R.Catholics here, I don’t actually consider your Church apostate/heretical/ect. Just wrong like all other non-Anglican Protestants :) (If I didn’t I would be something else!)

Jared Nelson said...

Wesley - Of course God's covenant is irrevokable, and that is why (though the Reformed Church sees Rome as not being a true church,) none the less their baptism puts them under covenant and it is recognized as valid baptism, just as the Northern Kingdom of Israel was under covenant despite their disobedience and the separation of Judah from them.

Andrew said...
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Andrew said...

Is Sproul's argument that the Roman Catholic Church is not a true Church the standard Reformed argument?

he argues that it doesn't preach 'the true gospel' thus it isn't a true Church. However the question again comes back to "Who has the right to interpret the 'true' gospel"? if it is every individual, then no one has a true church as they all are contradictory.

The problem is INTERPRETATION. Jared, you challenged me to respond to Galatians 1:8, I will say: Who interprets the gospel? who has that Authority? I say the Bishops, you say John Calvin. The reason I jump to Sola Fide, is because in Reformed -as in Lutheran - Christianity the gospel is equivalent to sola fide, or as the Lutheran's say "by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone"

Jared Nelson said...

I don’t know that R.C. Sproul represents more than an American Reformed laymen’s explanation. I would take preached more as “proclaimed” in creed and confession. The use of creeds and confessions is to make our confession not dependent on the person or mood of the day, but the confession of the church. In the liturgy of Reformed churches, when the congregation is asked “what do you believe?” the response is usually the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed or a part of a Confession: it becomes the assent of the corporate church, not the individual.

Interpretation is part of the problem, I concur. Yet authority is the bigger issue. I do not say Calvin has ultimate authority to interpret. The true interpreter is the Holy Spirit. He breathed out the Scriptures and is the only true interpreter of them. Understanding of words in a book (Scripture) is not the mere consultation of other words in a book (canon law, papal encyclicals, or even councils) but the illumination of the Spirit. Proper interpretation becomes a matter of several factors of exegesis, linguistic considerations, reason, prayer and a process of the community so not one person even if that person is a laymen or pope is his own interpreter, and such a consultation is with the present and past community.

That's all I the time I have for now, I've got an anniversary to celebrate when the wife gets home!