Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Guest Blog: Response To a Catholic Critique Of The Reformed Protestant Doctrine of Inscripturation (Part Three)

This is part three of a response to a paper critiquing The Reformed Protestant Doctrine of Inscripturation and The Fullness of Time.

Part one can be found here: Guest Blog: Response To a Catholic Critique Of The Reformed Protestant Doctrine of Inscripturation (Part One).

Part two can be found here.

Iohannes offered to take a look at Frank’s paper, and provide a critique. His response will be posted here in parts. To really appreciate this interaction, it is essential that one actually first reads the paper posted by Frank Ramirez.

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A defense of the Protestant position on Scripture

Here it is needful to demonstrate two things: (a) that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and (b) that the testimony of an infallible church is not necessary for the reception of the Scriptures as being, with certainty, the word of God. In both cases it will be possible to give only a cursory overview of the subject matter; but nevertheless, this overview will hopefully provide an accurate depiction of the larger issue.

There are many approaches to proving that the Scriptures are the rule of faith and practice, and a thorough, albeit condensed, treatment of this matter is available in the fifth chapter of A.A. Hodge’s Outlines of Theology. Rather than repeat unnecessarily the breadth of the arguments there presented, here we shall focus only on one argument, which is that “Christ and his apostles always refer to the written Scriptures, then existing, as authority, and to no other rule of faith whatsoever.” This does not mean that the word as proclaimed orally in the ministry of Christ and the apostles was without authority. The point is rather that the example of Christ and the apostles shows that for the Church today, “The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, having been given by inspiration of God, are the all-sufficient and only rule of faith and practice, and judge of controversies.”

It was noted at the outset that the Savior’s words in John 5:39 can be read as a command to “search the scriptures.” Even if the imperative reading be rejected in this particular verse, there is abundant witness elsewhere in the Bible to the fact that the Scriptures are the authoritative corpus of divine revelation, and that it is by the standard of Scripture that all teaching is to be tested. To begin with, Christ constantly quoted and appealed to the Scriptures in order to establish his doctrine and defend it against the charges of critics. In this he followed the watchword of Isaiah: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

The practice of Christ shows that the law and testimony, as delivered by the oracles of old, was to be found in Scripture. This is exemplified in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Abraham responds to Dives’ entreaty for his brethren by saying, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” Moses and the prophets, though they had perished long ago, were yet still speaking in Christ’s time through their written testimony. Although oral traditions about the teachings of the prophets may have survived at that time, nevertheless the definitive account of the prophets’ doctrine was in fact the written word. This is shown, for example, in Luke 24:27: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (cf. vs. 44) When the risen Lord wished to show the disciples ‘all that the prophets had spoken’ about himself, he took them through all the scriptures, since that is where the prophets’ revelation was authoritatively recorded for the church. As Hodge said, it is significant that in his ministry on earth Christ both taught with his own authority and appealed to the authority of Scripture, but nowhere does it appear that he recognized any further rule of faith.

Christ’s practice continued after his ascension, as is shown by the letters and history of the apostles. The apostles not only taught authoritatively as Christ’s ambassadors, but, like their Lord, also frequently made appeal to Scripture. They did not countenance any doctrinal authority not countenanced by Christ. Moreover, as the commendation of the Bereans in Acts 17 shows, the message of the apostles themselves, like all doctrine, was to be judged by Scripture. In the current age, with Christ and the apostles departed, the Church must continue to follow their example. And as was the case with the prophets of old, Christ and his apostles, though not present with us in the body, are yet still speaking to the world, their doctrine having been likewise authoritatively set down for the Church in Scripture.

Thus, in its simplest form, runs one of the arguments for the sola scriptura. This argument may not put to rest every thesis that may be advanced in support of the Roman doctrine of tradition, but it does, at any rate, hopefully give some insight into how the Protestant position may be substantiated. Having addressed the place of Scripture as the rule of faith and life, it is proper now to look at the last matter requiring our attention, namely the basis on which the Christian receives the Scriptures as the word of God. This was already covered at length in the previous discussion, and rather than repeat everything that was said there, it is best here only to restate the Protestant view and to point out the main weaknesses of the claim for the necessity of the Church’s infallible testimony.

Protestants hold that God, in the abundance of His wisdom and mercy, has given men many useful external testimonies to the truth and authority of Scripture. These include the evidence of history and the witness of individual believers, as well as, perhaps most importantly, the testimony of the Church. Furthermore, the written word does itself exhibit magnificent characteristics that foster an impression of credibility. The totality of this evidence is quite weighty, but as the Westminster Confession says, “yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority [of Scripture], is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” In the nature of the case, nothing less than this would be sufficient; and at the same time nothing else could be more persuasive. Calvin puts the matter well in saying:

In vain were the authority of Scripture fortified by argument, or supported by the consent of the Church, or confirmed by any other helps, if unaccompanied by an assurance higher and stronger than human Judgment can give. Till this better foundation has been laid, the authority of Scripture remains in suspense. On the other hand, when recognising its exemption from the common rule, we receive it reverently, and according to its dignity, those proofs which were not so strong as to produce and rivet a full conviction in our minds, become most appropriate helps.[Institutes, Bk. I, Ch. 8]

A defense of this position was made at length in the sixteenth century by William Whitaker in his Disputations on Holy Scripture [pp. 332-358 of the Parker Society edition]. In that work he advanced in meticulous, even scholastic fashion, nineteen arguments in its favor. It is not necessary, however, to argue in this way, nor is it necessary that each of Whitaker’s arguments be accepted; for the strength of the position can be shown through its comparison with some of the simplest teachings of Scripture. In the parable referenced above, Abraham informs Dives that if men “hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Calvin, commenting on the verse, observes that “faith does not depend on miracles, or any extraordinary sign, but is the peculiar gift of the Spirit, and is produced by means of the word.” Just as men will not ultimately believe in Christ until the Spirit gives them eyes to see salvation in Him, so too they will not receive the Scriptures for what they are until the Spirit gives them ears to hear God’s word in them.

It should be remembered that when the ancients heard Christ preaching, they did not have the benefit of the church, infallible or otherwise, telling them to receive his words. Christ simply taught as one with authority, and his word was with power (cf. Mat. 7:29, Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32). It is true both that John the Baptist bore witness to Christ, and that Christ wrought many miracles that showed himself and his message to be from above. But it is also true that, in spite of this impressive evidence, very many people refused to believe. “The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” Christ’s preaching did not produce true faith in any of his hearers until the Spirit unstopped their ears; until He opened their eyes and hearts, and thus illuminated their minds and understandings. It is this illuminating testimony of the Spirit that gives believers the certainty of their faith. Once it is enjoyed, all other testimonies, even the most forceful of them, appear as what they properly are—what Calvin called “secondary helps to our weakness,” or testimonies corroborating “that chief and highest proof,” i.e. “the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit.” And as Owen said, “When our Saviour Christ himself preached, what he spoke was as much the word of God when he spake it as now that it is written.” [Sermon on Luke 16:29] Even as the hearers of Christ had many corroborating testimonies to the truth and authority of his message, so too have we many to the truth and authority of Scripture; but just as their certainty came ultimately from the testimony of the Holy Spirit, so must ours also.

There are other places in Scripture which shed light on this doctrine. Among them is the line in First John: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.” (vs. 2:20) Regarding this verse, John Murray wrote, “This anointing is an abiding possession and invests believers with discernment of the truth and stedfastness in it.” [The Infallible Word, ed. Stonehouse & Woolley.] For the present purposes, however, it is appropriate now to turn from the positive case in order to respond to an objection. It was asked whether an Old Testament believer would, when accepting the teaching of Isaiah, need to have faith in the prophet in addition to faith in his message. Here the trust had in Isaiah would indeed be an important confirmation of the truth of his proclamation. But in this case as in others, the message was to be received with certainty not so much because the believer heard Isaiah utter it, but because he heard God speaking in what Isaiah uttered. When Paul was in Athens, he was so little esteemed by some of the learned men that they called him a “babbler.” (Acts 17:18) This is an idiomatic rendering of a rather contemptuous word. Yet although Paul was despised, his words to the Athenians and foreigners at the Areopagus did not lose any of their authority or their trustworthiness. In the same way, when Paul first entered the synagogue in a town and began to preach the gospel, he was not immediately recognized as an apostle commissioned by the Lord Jesus. Whatever trust men had in him as a teacher, it was not because of this that they were ultimately led to embrace the good news he brought. They embraced the gospel in the end because God enabled them to see the truth of what Paul preached. It is only after they recognized Jesus as Lord that they could properly recognize Paul as their Lord’s duly appointed herald.

This leads us to the often-made claim that without an infallible church, believers could not have certainty that the Bible they receive is the word of God. Two main responses have been made to this, in order to show it is mistaken. The first is that it seems problematic historically. For the ancient Jews did not have an infallible Church to settle for them the matter of which books were divinely inspired. As Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young said:

How the books were gathered together we are not told. Apparently, no religious council in ancient Israel ever drew up a list of the divine books. Rather, in the singular providence of God, his people recognized his Word and honored it from the time of its first appearance. Thus was formed the collection of inspired writings which are known as the canonical books of the Old Testament. [The Infallible Word]

The key concept here is that “in the singular providence of God, his people recognized his Word.” This is what Protestants hold to be case in the New Testament age, as well. And the historical facts seem to fit well with this thesis. It makes sense that in the absence of a distinct body of tradition that authoritatively resolves the matter of the canon, there may at times, especially early on, have been some disagreements about it. As was suggested previously, it is conceivable that in the days before the cessation of the gift of prophesy, Christians may sometimes have erred in thinking something to have been delivered from God which in fact came only from men (cf. 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:21) In the same way, Christians may sometimes have erred in their judgments about the canon. Yet if the position of the Church of Rome is correct, it seems peculiar that other very ancient Churches, each claiming to follow the tradition of the apostles, have different canons. It seems also a little strange that the church fathers, who are said to have transmitted apostolic tradition to the later church, did not have a more perfect agreement about the canon.

It might be asked how, if the Protestant position is correct, the Church could ever finally settle on a single recognized canon. Calvin’s remarks on the command to ‘try the spirits’ in 1 John 4:1 may be helpful with this and like questions. The passage is somewhat too lengthy to quote in full, but the most relevant portion is the following:

But here a difficult question arises: If every one has the right and the liberty to judge, nothing can be settled as certain, but on the contrary the whole of religion will be uncertain. To this I answer, that there is a twofold trial of doctrine, private and public. The private trial is that by which every one settles his own faith, when he wholly acquiesces in that doctrine which he knows has come from God; for consciences will never find a safe and tranquil port otherwise than in God. Public trial refers to the common consent and polity of the Church; for as there is danger lest fanatics should rise up, who may presumptuously boast that they are endued with the Spirit of God, it is a necessary remedy, that the faithful meet together and seek a way by which they may agree in a holy and godly manner. But as the old proverb is too true, “So many heads, so many opinions,” it is doubtless a singular work of God, when he subdues our perverseness and makes us to think the same thing, and to agree in a holy unity of faith.

The last sentence is especially interesting. The general consensus on the canon that appears historically is a precious token of divine providence. This consensus is not altogether perfect, and it is not in itself infallible. Nevertheless, given that so many believers have historically testified that God speaks in the recognized books of the Bible, their testimony carries great weight. They were, after all, the people of God, indwelt and guided by the Holy Spirit. Although the testimony of the Spirit is ultimately decisive as the source of the believer’s certainty—for our faith stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God—nevertheless, if a man thinks the Spirit leads him away from the consensus reached by the great body of believers, then he should carefully consider whether his perception is correct. There is a time when it is necessary to stand, like Athanasius, against the world. Protestants believe this was the case at the time of the Reformation. The judgment of men, and even of the men of the church, is not infallible, and God’s word must remain the final arbiter of controversies. Nonetheless, believers should treat with a healthy respect the conclusions of their brethren and forebears in the faith.

This brings us to the other weakness of the notion that an infallible church is required for the certainty about the canon. It may be assumed, for the sake of argument, that the Roman Magisterium is infallible in its teaching on the canon. However, even if this were the case, for our certainty about the Scripture to be mediated through the infallible judgment of the Magisterium, it would first be necessary for us to recognize the authority of the Magisterium. We must then ask on what basis a Roman Catholic comes to believe that, as his Catechism says, “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone.” The answer is bound to be similar to the Protestant’s reason for receiving the Scriptures as the word of God. The Roman Catholic believer might indeed be able to point to many objective evidences that support the claim for authority made by the Magisterium. But would he not in the end say, that even after all these important testimonies have been considered, his full persuasion and assurance about the infallibility and divine authority of the Church’s teaching office come from nothing less than work and witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit? Is it not because of this witness of the Spirit that the Roman Catholic believer finds himself, in the last analysis, truly certain that the Roman Church has correctly interpreted the apostolic tradition, while the Greek Church has not?

The same tremendous epistemological weight therefore bears down on the Roman Catholic deciding to accept the judgment of the Magisterium that bears down on the Protestant deciding to receive the books of Scripture. In both cases, although the believer’s conviction may be buttressed by objective evidence, it nonetheless derives its certainty not from anything of this world, but from the voice and agency of the Triune God. Only God Himself can handle the epistemic burden. Only the light of the Spirit can finally illuminate and dispel the twilight of uncertainty.

It is true that both Roman Catholics and Protestants reason in a circle. Being the finite creatures of the infinite God, the situation could not be otherwise. The important question that must be asked is, whose template of beliefs fits reality? Which position can consistently harmonize the facts of Christian faith and experience? As contraries rather than contradictions, it is possible that both sides could be mistaken. But for my part, I firmly believe that one is correct, and hope that this response might show something of the reason.

With Prayer and Respect,

Iohannes

4 comments:

FM483 said...

Johannes,

I liked your good work on these posts! Thank you for your contribution to all the readers. Permit me to make a couple of comments regarding your post.

First, I liked the fact that you acknowledged God has provided a Church on earth to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Personally, I would have stressed the fact that there are many biblical passages which clearly establish the Office of the Keys: the power,or authority, to preach the Word of God, to administer the Sacraments, and to forgive and retain sins. Proof texts include 1Peter 2:9; Mark 16:15; Matt 28:18-20; John 20:22-23; Matt 18:18, and Matt 16:19.

You referenced the Westminster Confession which stressed the importance of the Holy Spirit as “the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”. Now, Mormons make a similar claim, insisting that God will move a person to acknowledge the truthfulness of the Mormon message by a “burning in the bosum”. Notice how such truth claims are similar? A person cannot prove anything based on their experiences or internal witness in their hearts, as the Westminster Confessions claim. All unChristian cults are immersed in this kind of “internal witness”. The Christian does not rely on his feelings or any claim to the “testimony of the Spirit within his heart”. The Christian always looks OUTSIDE himself for confirmation. To the cross of Christ. To God’s Holy, infallible testimony in His Word. And in the concrete expressions of salvation through the forgiveness of his sins by hearing the Gospel and physically experiencing the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The adoption papers into the Kingdom of God are a Christian’s baptism papers.He can look, feel, touch, and as an adult remember that Jesus Christ chose him,not vice versa(John 15:16), and all the blessings connected with these sacraments are his as a condition of the Last Will and Testament of Jesus Christ on the Passover before his crucifixtion.

Another point, you stated that a Christian believes the Scriptures only when the Holy Spirit “gives them ears to hear God’s word in them”. This is the question: Are the Scriptures the Word of God, or do they merely contain the Word of God? I think it makes a huge difference.

You also mentioned that Christ “simply taught as one with authority” and the ancients did not have the benefit of the church. That is not really true. Both Christ and Paul always went to the Temple first to preach and announce the Kingdom of God. In the Temple the ancient Hebrews had teachers and leaders who memorized Scripture and taught it to the people. They had converts and disciples.In fact, whenever Gentiles were converted to the Hebrew religion they and their families were always baptized as an initiation into the Synagogue life of the Hebrew faith.

You continually claim that “the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit”provides the certainty of the Christian faith, quoting John Calvin. You state that this inward testimony provides “certainty” of the “truth of Scripture”. Remember, the Holy Spirit Himself is the author of all Scripture(2Peter 1:21). The Holy Spirit,the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, is never disconnected from the Word, but always works in, with, and through the Word of God. As Jesus said, the Holy Spirit bears witness of Him. This is why Mormonism’s claims are false – their claims are contradictory and in opposition to the truthfulness of God’s Word. Similarly, a Christian cannot have real asssurance of salvation or the truth of Scripture merely by relying on subjective feelings, as do Mormons and all cultists. The Christian always looks outside himself to the inerrant, immovable, unchangeable God in His Word. The Sacraments are a physical connection of God’s promises in the physical world to confirm and establish our faith as testified by God in His Word.

You mentioned that John Murray wrote “This anointing is an abiding possession and invests believers with discernment of the truth and stedfastness in it.”. You made the point that God enabled people to see the truth of the claims of Christ, Isaiah, and the apostles – that not even miracles enabled faith.That is true, but notice that faith always comes by hearing the preached Word of God(Romans 10:17) and through no other vehicle. The Sacraments are merely the Word connected with physical elements to reach us in our physical universe and physical states of being we are presently in. That is to say, God has chosen to use specific MEANS by which to generate faith in the hearts of men so that they can receive His blessings of the forgiveness of sins won by Christ FOR them.

You stated that “the ancient Jews did not have an infallible Church to settle for them the matter of which books were divinely inspired.”. These ancient peoples’ religious life centered around their Temple and animal sacrifices and since the Babylonian captivity had increasingly been concentrated upon obedience of the Law of God as revealed through Moses. They had many religious leaders, scholars, and scribes to instruct them in the Law and the Prophets and were continually reminded of their unique heritage as the only nation founded by God Himself. Hence, they had a church to advise them on theological matters, albeit a fallible one.

I understand the point of this post is to address the canon of Scripture and the basis by which we know it is the Word of God. But the critical truth is not the canon but the Gospel. The Gospel itself is the power of God for salvation, not the collection of books recognized as canonical. If I only had Romans and Hebrews I would have everything necessary for eternal life and a good grasp of the history of how God worked through the ancient Hebrew people to bring Christ and the message of salvation. I would never have to even know the dozens of other books of the bible to inherit salvation. The problem is that this entire argument over the canon masks the central problem with the doctrine of Justification: how is a man made right with God? Is it through works or by Grace? Is it through God the Holy Spirit empowering man to keepHis Law, thus pleasing God and achieving paradise? Or is it all a matter of the Grace of God as found in Romans, which states that when we were yet sinners,Christ died for us(Romans 5:8)? Do we inherit salvation or find favor with God by our righteous lives? Are we declared righteous on account of Christ or made righteous? Are we grafted into the Tree of Life by Christ via baptism, or saved in other ways?(Romans 6:4ff)

Frank Marron

Iohannes said...

Greetings Mr. Marron,

I appreciate your concerns and will try to address them. At the outset, it should be said that the purpose of the letter was specifically to show that the Protestant, without relying on an infallible magisterium, can be certain that the Scriptures are the word of God. The purpose was not to explore and defend the entire Protestant doctrine of Scripture. Other aspects of that doctrine were considered only in so far as they were relevant to Mr. Ramirez's paper. Further, it is true that the reason why believers have certainty about Scripture is not, by any means, the most important doctrine of Christianity. However, looking at this one doctrine does not trivialize the importance of justification or any other core teaching.

The point about the Mormon's ideas is an important one. The reason why I reject Mormonism is that it is contrary to what God has taught me about Himself and His religion. Mormonism, like Islam, is a clear cut application of Gal 1:8, "though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." My reason comes from what I know and believe about God. Now, that would not be a very persuasive answer to a Mormon. If I needed to demonstrate that it is right to reject Mormonism, I would do so through a critical examination of the Mormon world view. I would show how its tenets are inconsistent with themselves and with experience. This is how I would argue apologetically with most any rival world view. But I do not believe in Christianity because I have seen everything else and have independently verified that it is wrong. I believe in Christianity because God made me to realize that beyond Christ there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

You wrote that "The Christian always looks OUTSIDE himself for confirmation." I agree. The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal cosmic force that inexplicably makes people feel warm inside when they read the Scriptures, hear the word preached, pray, or partake of the sacraments. He is the third person of the Trinity, and his testimony consists, at least primarily, in opening the eyes and ears of blind and deaf sinners (cf. Mat 13:14f) so that they can look upon Christ and see not just a Jew who died two thousand years ago, but see the risen Savior who loved them and gave himself for them. I receive the Scriptures because, as a result of the gracious working of the Spirit, I hear God speaking in them. God speaks to all men in the inspired Scripture, but not all men hear him because they have not all been regenerated by the Spirit. As Owen said, The testimony of the Spirit in the word is open, public, general, to all, if they have but eyes to see it; whereas the inward application of it by the efficiency of the Spirit is only to believers.

This leads to the next point. You asked, "Are the Scriptures the Word of God, or do they merely contain the Word of God?" I would say both. The Scriptures, by that meaning the physical book, or the canon of Scripture, or the collection of inspired writings, contain the word of God. But the Scriptures, meaning the inspired writings themselves, are the word of God. I am not trying to use some sort of neo-orthodox subtlety. I am a confessional Presbyterian and fully believe that the Scriptures are, objectively, the word of God, and that, moreover, "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God."

You disagreed with the assertion that the people who heard Christ did not have the benefit of the Church telling them to receive his words. I don't really disagree with anything you said in explanation of your objection. My point was only that the institutional Jewish Church did not in any way give the sort of approval to Christ's spoken word that some Roman apologists hold is required to have certainty about Scripture being the written word of God. For it was even in spite of the strident opposition of the leaders of the Jewish church that men received the teaching of Christ and the apostles. Therefore the Church's testimony is not necessary in the way that some in Rome's camp maintain it is.

I should mention that the chapter in the Institutes from which I quoted was called, "The credibility of Scripture sufficiently proved in so far as natural reason admits." Calvin stresses the illuminating testimony of the Spirit not as something to the exclusion of all other evidence, both within and without the word, but as the decisive validation of it all. To make this clear, it should be asked, would unbelievers be persuaded of Christianity if they saw Christ risen from the dead? Does the resurrection itself convince men of Christianity's truth? Scripture answers the question for us, 'they will not be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.' The resurrection is indeed the vindication of our faith, and without it we would believe in vain, but we only see the resurrection for what it is, and have our faith strengthened from it, because we see it through eyes opened by the Spirit.

To sum things up, I don't think there is any major disagreement between us on the issue of the authority of Scripture and the reasons why it is to be believed. My expression in the letter apparently was not a clear enough, and I hope this post clears the matter up somewhat. We might differ in some of the technical questions about how the sacraments testify to Christianity, but beyond that, I am not aware of any significant divergence between Lutherans and Calvinists on the matters examined in the letter. And although this letter was specifically in response to Roman claims about the canon, I share your belief that "the critical truth is not the canon but the Gospel".

Regards,

John

FM483 said...

Johannes-

Thanks for your response. I enjoy the exchange. Allow me to offer a few more thoughts on your recent response.

You stated that Mormonism is wrong and that “I believe in Christianity because God made me to realize that beyond Christ there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” . To be more specific and consistent with the subject of this thread: Mormonism is wrong because it is contradictory to the Holy Scriptures. Logically, both Mormonism and Christianity can both be wrong, but they cannot both be correct.There are simply too many contradictions to the bible in Mormonism. Which is why they have generated their own scriptures and insist on a form of “sola ecclesia” with their church body, similar to the Roman variety. You cannot say that Mormonism is wrong because God made you realize certain truths. Mormons make exactly the same claims for their religion! What you can say is that there are 2 belief systems: orthodox Christianity and all others. Christianity expounds the Grace of God in Christ. All others are based upon forms of law keeping (legalism) in order to placate a God of their imaginations. The Christian message is that the one true God has already reconciled the entire world to Himself through the sacrifice of His Son(2Cor 5:19ff), while all other belief systems cater to an angry God that must be appeased through sacrifices and good deeds. Many Christian bodies have totally abandoned their Reformational heritages and returned to the bondage of legalism. Merely reviewing the popular book “The Purpose Driven Life” reveals how true this is for many Evangelicals. Evangelicals have gone full circle back to Rome. They may have abandoned the robes, candles, and monasticism, but have embraced a theology based primarily upon obedience rather than the Grace of God in Christ, the Gospel. Such people “live under the Law” rather than “live under the Gospel”.

You also stated that “As Owen said, The testimony of the Spirit in the word is open, public, general, to all, if they have but eyes to see it; whereas the inward application of it by the efficiency of the Spirit is only to believers.” , The Scriptures tell us that all men are born in bondage to sin, the devil, and their flesh – that the natural man cannot perceive nor understand anything spiritual(1Cor 2:14). Hence, the only way that people “have but the eyes to see it” requires the resurrection of the DEAD (Eph 2:5) through the Word of God, as in the case of Lazarus. This is also similar to the resurrection of the dry bones by Ezekiel through preaching the Word of God(Ez 37).In other words, it requires a miracle of rebirth(John 3:5ff),where an entirely New Creation(2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15) is created out of nothing(ex nihilo) but the power and authority of the Word of God, similar to the creation of the first Adam.

Regarding your point that an “institutional Jewish Church” was unnecessary to the approval of the Scripture and in fact was a stumbling block to recognizing the truth of Christ, I partly agree and partly disagree. Although the instutional Jewish Church hated the Christ and attempted to destroy His mission, the True Israel of God was an effective vehicle for receiving and spreading the Truth of the Gospel. This True Israel consisted of Abraham and all the prophets, whom the visible “institutional Jewish Church” persected and often put to death. The apostles were also members of this True Israel as described by Paul in many passages( Romans 9:6ff; Phil 3:3; Gal 6:16). The testimony of the True Israel was absolutely necessary for the dissemination of the Word of God and the critical Gospel message. It should be noted that the True Israel historically was at best a subset of the ethnic nation, and included believers of all races who cleaved to the promises of God, especially Messiah/Christ. Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and other members of the “institutional Jewish Church”, (e.g. the Sanhedron), were also most likely members of the True Israel.The New Testament Church is merely a continuation of the True Israel of God. In our baptism we are grafted into the Tree of Life, Christ Himself, Who was the epitome of the True Israel, the Servant of the Almighty God. I say this to emphasize that the witness of the True Israel has always been necessary in validating and reaffirming the Scriptures. Note how this view of the Church is in conflict with the Roman emphasis upon the visible, institional entity. The True Israel, True Church of Christ, is not visibly seen in it’s entirety in this world. It consists of believers of all ages past and present who cleave to the promises of God in Christ. The only way this True Israel is visible is where it gathers together to hear the Word of God and receive the blessings of the right administration of the Sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Since there are also hypocrites in various congregations, only on the Last Day will the completed True Israel be revealed(Col 3:4).

Finally, your last paragraph stated that you believed Lutherans and Calvinists are in general agreement regarding the authority of Scripture. This is true. However, your statement that the disagreements are over minor “technical” areas such as the sacraments is a big understatement. It is really amazing that while Lutherans and Calvinists almost stand alone regarding the doctrine of Total Depravity, when it comes to assurance of salvation the Calvinist is as uncertain as the Roman Catholic with his belief in purgatory, etc…One of the primary reasons I am a Lutheran revolves around the issue of ASSURANCE.


Your brother In Christ,

Frank Marron

Iohannes said...

Hello Mr. Marron,

Thank you again for your thoughtful response. Now as previously I agree with most of what you have written. There are only a few points on which comment is necessary, so as to explain better what my position is.

You wrote: You cannot say that Mormonism is wrong because God made you realize certain truths. Mormons make exactly the same claims for their religion!

What must be remembered is that my claim is not made in a vacuum, but rather in the context of an entire outlook on the world. I am subjectively aware that Mormonism is wrong because I know that it is, objectively speaking, in conflict with what God has revealed in his word. There is always going to be a subjective component in this, because it is as an individual person that I recognize one thing as true and another as false. But Mormonism does not become wrong because of my subjective recognition. It is wrong because it is a false gospel. From my perspective as one recognizing this fact, the case is a straightforward application of Gal 1:8. Mormonism, as you have shown, is another gospel, and even if the Mormons were right and it were delivered by an angel, it still must be rejected. When you say, "Mormonism is wrong because it is contradictory to the Holy Scriptures," I don't at all disagree. But an individual can only affirm the quoted statement because he has an antecedent recognition of the authority and infallibility of Scripture. It is because God has made me to realize that Scripture is his inspired word that I can further realize that Mormonism is a pernicious lie.

In response to the line from Owen, you noted "that the natural man cannot perceive nor understand anything spiritual." This is exactly my position. The Scriptures are spiritual. But we can only recognize them for what they are once God through the agency of the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and understanding and gives us a new heart. When the Spirit does this, a man sees Christ and sees that he is his savior. He also sees the Scriptures and sees that they are God's word.

I agree fully with your remarks about how the real Israel was always those who were truly God's people. "They are not all Israel, which are of Israel." The reason I spoke about the institutional Jewish church is that I was addressing a RC argument, and showing how it seems to break down when applied to the old covenant era. That I assumed Rome's ecclesiology for the sake of argument does not mean that I support it.

Finally, I would not say that the differences between Lutherans and Calvinists on the sacraments as a whole are purely technical. That would indeed be an understatement. But I think that these differences, in so far as they apply to the matters considered in the letter, are relatively small. However, I may be mistaken. Your comments on assurance are interesting to me. I personally consider the Calvinist position on assurance rather robust. But I would save a discussion of this for another time, since the issue at the moment is the canon, and it is probably best to move one issue at a time.

Respectfully,

John