Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In Dialogue

I've been visiting my old cyber-home, the CARM boards this summer. Here's a snippet from a recent dialog. The aspect of the discussion I was involved with was on perpetual virginity and quotes from the Reformers.

Dbechtel78: Catholics do exaggerate the importance of Luther and oft perpetuate myths about him. However protestants do the same Mr. Swan and you know that- perpetuating myths and exaggerations about the crusades and Inquisition, etc.

Argument analysis: justification for Catholic misinformation. Simply because group x incorrectly does y, does not give group z the justification to incorrectly do y as well.

Dbechtel78:However the reason we often point to Luther and make such a big deal out of him is that he was the champion of Sola Scriptura. Even IF it could be shown that the Church was always "Sola Scriptura" nowhere in history do we see someone like Luther champion the Bible and "Sola Scriptura" the way he does. You have to admit the Reformation slogan of "Sola Scriptura" changed Christendom forever.

Luther is one of a number of people throughout history that have held Scripture as the sole infallible rule for the church. This does not deny that there are other authorities over the life of a Christian, but it does deny that there are other infallible authorities over the life of a Christian. All authorities less-than-God are subject to the sole infallible rule. See William Webster and David King's, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith Volume III- The Writings of the Church Fathers Affirming the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura (WA: Christian Resources, 2001). There are numerous people throughout history that look to Scripture as the sole infallible rule, and likewise recognize lesser authorities governing the life of the church. See some examples, here.

Dbechtel78:Our point then in bringing up Luther or Calvin is to try and show that these very same people who championed "Sola Scriptura" believed the Bible taught some unique Catholic things- the PV of Mary for example.

It is quite within the realm of possibility that Luther could be wrong on a Biblical interpretation. This in no way proves the failure of sola scriptura, nor the correctness of Perpetual Virginity.

Dbechtel78:In fact (with the exception of Calvin all of the reformers clearly believed the PV of Mary. Calvin is as I said unclear on his stance. At minimum what we do know about Calvin is that he believed certain verses in the Bible cannot be used to DENY the PV of Mary.) So Catholics wonder how it is that the very people who championed Sola Scriptura can believe so differently from the likes of protestants today? How is it Luther can find in Scripture the PV of Mary but you can't Mr Swan?

I base my understanding on Biblical exegesis, which has grown deeper and better since the 16th Century. Our abilities to study the Biblical languages far surpass any time that has come before (with the exception of the century in which the Biblical documents were penned). A Christian who adheres to the Scripture as the sole infallible authority will continually study the Scripture, and be humble enough to abandon non-Biblical tradition, and strive towards understanding the Scriptures coherently and consistently.

Dbechtel78:How is it Calvin can find Double Predestination in Scripture but Luther could not?

Well, I would suggest reading Luther's Bondage of the Will. I don't find too much different- however, they had a different way of explaining what they meant.

Dbechtel78:How is it sir that Luther could find in Scripture a very different (almost Catholic understanding) of the Last Supper then you and the other Calvinists?

I've read that Luther found Calvin's understanding of the Lord's Supper plausible, and said positive things about it. He recognized it to be quite different than what Zwingli was saying. Keep in mind as well, Catholics throughout history were not even completely united on the number of sacraments, let alone what they meant.

Luther, like all of us, was plagued with tradition. All of us have tradition. It is not surprising to me Luther retained many wrong traditions or interpretations. Simply because he was crucial in peeling off many layers of incorrect tradition from the church, doesn't mean he peeled them all off.

Dbechtel78:Catholics wonder at this rate how can the truth be known with certainty when it seems the Church is always moving from error to error, rather then from darkness into light?

Catholic interpretive "certainty" of the Bible is a myth. I wouldn't claim "certainty" if I were you, because Catholics don't have any infallible pronouncements on Predestination, nor was there complete Romanist unity throughout church history on the Lord's Supper. You can't logically criticize another position if yours falls from the same criticism.

Dbechtel78:Again sir, what is the truth? Where is the truth? Again, to point to Scripture and say "That is the truth" really doesn't solve anything does it? The arguments will go on and the Christian is left to judge for themselves what the truth is.

Again, apply your own standards to your own position before claiming to have "truth." Romanists do not have perfect unanimity now, or then, on important issues. Any study of church history both then and now clearly shows this. Catholics aren't even united on what the word "Tradition" means, and this is supposed to be an infallible authority!

Eric Svendsen has pointed out, variations among belief in a religious system among its advocates either invalidates that system or does not:

“One cannot…argue that his religious system is more legitimate on the basis that there is less disagreement within it than within other systems of belief. It is an all-or-nothing proposition. Either disagreements nullify a system, or they do not. Otherwise, the best one can argue is that his religious system more nearly conforms to a set standard of unity, but does not actually meet that standard. It is also important to keep in mind that the ‘diversity of belief’ argument is one that was invented by Roman Catholic Apologists….Any system that argues for an arbitrary criterion for being the ‘true’ church must itself conform to that criterion.” [Source: Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock, 23].

The example Svendsen uses to dismantle Rome’s claim for absolute unity is the Vatican II document, Dei Verbum. He goes right to an extremely pertinent issue for anyone claiming the name “Christian”: the authority of Scripture. Dei Verbum states:

107. The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore ALL that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures." [Vatican II DV 11]

Svendsen points out that this statement itself is prone to multiple interpretations with the Roman community. Conservative Roman Catholic apologists see this as a clear statement that the entirety of Scripture is without error. Some Roman Catholic scholars though (like R.A.F. MacKenzie and Raymond Brown) see the phrase “for the sake of our salvation” as limiting inerrancy to only those sections of Scripture that teach about salvation.

Svendsen notes, “No one can tell us what the ‘official’ Roman Catholic teaching is on this issue, and Rome’s ‘infallible interpreter’ is of absolutely no advantage to the Roman Catholic apologist, for he has remained silent on the matter." [Source: Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock, 24]. Thus, the actual teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are prone to interpretation. The Catholic apologist must use his own private interpretation to determine what the meaning of Roman Catholic teaching is. The conservative and liberal Roman Catholic can read the same document and come to two differing opinions.

So on a fundamental issue- what are, or are not, the very Words of God, Catholics are not unified. Svendsen also points out that these important issues likewise do not have an "official" clarification, thus granting divergent opinion:

- Predestination

- The Literal vs. Mythical interpretation of the creation account in Genesis

- The validity of the new mass

Dbechtel78:Now you would most likely at this point say something like "Oh Yeah? Well Rome hasn't offered a better solution, so there."

What I'm saying is for your argumentation to be sound, it shouldn't refute your own position. This is one of Rome's biggest problems. It can attack sola scriptura, but it can't offer anything consistent in its place. Romanists hope that if they cause enough doubt in the sola scriptura paradigm, that is enough to bring someone "home to Rome." what Romanists typically never do, is apply the same standards to their own position they attack Protestants with. I'm sorry- this is bogus argumentation that Catholic apologists put forth.

Dbechtel78:Whether "Rome" has offered a better solution is not the question right now. The question concerns protestantism and its nature.

If I outlined the actual position on sola scriptura, it is the better solution. An informed Protestant can outline a positive case for sola scriptura, defend it, and then tear Rome's authority claims to shreds. Rome cannot do likewise. They can only tear down, but not consistently apply the same standards to their own position. I think on a fundamental level, you misunderstand sola scriptura. If you did understand it, the majority of what you stated would not have been written.

A few days later, this counter response was put forth. I did not bother to respond:

Mr. Swan- if all you have ever read is the standard Catholic apologetics such as those put out by Catholic Answers and such I can see why you would think this is good argumentation. If all I ever read was the stuff they put out, I would agree with you.

Fortunately I have read more then Catholic Answers, and so let me just say your argumentation is flawed becasue it makes a number of misunderstandings, misapplications, misrepresentations, miscontructions, and the like. I will cite just one, though there are many: You complain there is no list of infallible interpretations of any Bible verses offered by "Rome." This presupposes "Rome" (whatever that means- I guess by "Rome" you mean "The pope.") is supposed to offer us such a list. Mr Swan, you confuse papalism (which "Rome" rejects) with the papacy which the Universal Church (excuse me sir, the "Romanist" or "Roman Catholic" Church) accepts, teaches, and believes, hence is also taught by "Rome." Furthermore even if there was such a list offered by "Rome" what good would that do? All it would do is push the problem back- becasue now the Catholic has to make a fallible interpretation of the infallible list! Even more problematic is the fact that "Rome" would then have to issue a list of infallible interpretations of their infallible list to clear up the mud- but it wouldn't. It would just create more mud and more lists! (and I am certain you would be happy to point that out if I provided such a list. Hence even if I produced a list for you, I couldn't win could I?) No, sir, again, you fail to understand the nature of the Church's mission, and the nature and purpose of its heirarchy. In any case sir you might want to read up on Catholocism. Catholic Answers serves a useful purpose and does quite well, but you must understand their mission is to the average Joe Catholic or Joe Protestant. Not the likes of scholars.

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