Sunday, August 09, 2009

Can't Find a Good Protestant Church, and Think Converting to an "Old" Church is the Answer?

In a comment box on another post, a person considering joining the orthodox church stopped by. She appears to have gone to a number of different Protestant churches. I realized my answer was getting long, so I figured it best to just make it in to a blog post. She asked a number of questions. This post addresses the first.

She stated, "I am increasingly convinced that the Lord is drawing me to the Orthodox faith and away from Protestant Evangelicalism." I have only a cursory knowledge of Orthodoxy. The only external means by which I could evaluate this statement is by using the only standard of absolute certainty available to mankind: the Sacred Scriptures. In her response, after outlining the differences in many of the churches she attended, she asked a crucial question: "How does one KNOW that they KNOW they are adhering to Sacred Scripture?" My immediate response: "by embracing Orthodoxy or Romanism" does not answer this question.

Sometimes Orthodoxy and Romanism will highlight differences among Protestant churches and attempt to present the alleged only other option. I call this the “old = true” argument. They argue, the oldest visible church, that entity that traces herself back to the very roots of Christianity, only that entity will be without innovations, and has an intact consistent theology, not subject to change.

I'm not sure if she's run across this argument yet, but if the “old = true” argument has been presented to her as a solution to troubles with Protestantism, it is a bogus argument. "Old" doesn't necessarily mean "true". Orthodoxy and Romanism both claim the pedigree of true and old. Which is the correct one? They don't completely agree in doctrine or practice. How do you "know" which one is the right one?

I can't speak to Orthodoxy, but I do find that there is quite a variety of troubles among Catholic churches, in both the doctrine put forth in homily, as well as style of worship. As proof, just look a bit through my blog at entries like these:

Tim Staples Says It's Wrong to Clap and do "The Wave" at Mass

Akin: "This isn't exegetical rocket science"

Seventy Percent of Roman Catholics Do Not Understand The Eucharist

I also have a strong feeling many of the same epistemological arguments used by Rome's defenders could be similarly used by Orthodoxy. Some years back I highlighted some crucial responses to Roman Catholics using the "How do you know" argument. Roman Catholics think their epistemological problems have somehow vanished by their choice to enter and believe the Roman Catholic Church. My philosophy teachers would have a field day with such a person. It would be very easy for a non-Christian skeptic to tear their arguments on "certainty" to shreds.

Protestants though approach the certainty claims of Roman Catholics a bit differently than a skeptical gadfly. We ask similar questions, but with the purpose of showing that allegiance to an infallible interpreter gives no such thing as absolute certainty. For instance, In his book, Upon This Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Claims to Authority [New York: Calvary Press, 2002], Eric Svendsen asks the following questions:

1. When the Roman Catholic apologist asks, “How do you know your private interpretation of the Bible is correct over against the private interpretation of every other denomination?,” we should respond by asking a question of our own: “How do you know that your private interpretation of Roman documents is correct over against the private interpretation of other Roman Catholics?”

2. When the Roman Catholic apologist asks, “how can you be certain that you are in the truth since all you have to go on is your own fallible private judgment that your church is right?,” we should counter with a similar question: “How can you be certain that you are in the truth since all you have to go on is your own fallible private judgment that Rome is right?”

3. When the Roman Catholic apologist asks, “How do you know you’ve picked the right denomination?, we should respond by asking, “How do you know you’ve picked the right infallible interpreter?”

4. When the Roman Catholic apologist insists that the principle of Sola Scriptura has resulted in 25,000 denominations, we should in turn insist that the principle of Scripture plus an infallible interpreter has resulted in an even greater number of religious cults.

Source: Eric Svendsen, Upon This Slippery Rock: Countering Roman Claims to Authority [New York: Calvary Press, 2002] 65-66.

Again, I'm not as conversant in Orthodoxy as I am in current Roman Catholic apologetic tactics, but I have a feeling some of these question hit the target.

As to all sorts of error and trouble in different Protestant churches invalidating Protestantism, how quickly did error and trouble enter the Church? In his History of the Christian Church, Eusebius refers to a now non-existent writing of Hegesippus. Hegesippus seems to have described what happened when the Apostles died:

In describing the situation at that time Hegesippus goes on to say that until then the Church has remained a virgin, pure and uncorrupted since those who were trying to corrupt the wholesome standard of the saving message, if such there were, lurked somewhere under cover of darkness. But when the sacred band of the apostles had in various way reached the end of their life, and the generation of those privileged to listen with their own ears to the divine wisdom had passed on, then godless error began to take shape, though the deceit of false teachers, who now that none of the apostles was left threw off the mask and attempted to counter the preaching of the truth by preaching the knowledge falsely so called.” [Source: Eusebius, The History of the Christian Church From Christ To Constantine (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1975), 143 (online link to this section)].

From the beginning, it appears error and division was always at the doorstep of the Church, waiting to come in:

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (False apostles claiming apostolic ties)
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

Acts 20: 28-31 (Paul warns of those false teachers immediately coming into the church after his departure)

“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears."

Galatians 1:8-9 (Even genuine apostles may be prone to error)
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

The apostle Peter himself fell into error concerning the gospel:

But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? (Galatians 2:14)

Keep in mind also the churches Mentioned in Revelation. Here we find controversy, problems, and some major differences. does that therefore invalidate them as churches? Where was their unity?

The Church of Pergamos: there were those who had absorbed the doctrine of Balaam, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14, 15).

The Church of Thyatira: Allowed the prophetess Jezebel 'to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols' (Rev. 2:20).

The Church of Sardis: Christ declares them “dead.” Only a few people “remembered what they received and heard and obeyed it.”

The point:
“The history of the Church subsequent to the apostolic age demonstrates that succession is no guarantee against heresy. Bishops from all the major sees of Christendom, including that of Rome and those of innumerable lesser sees, have, at one time or another, been infected with heresy. The Church fathers cautioned believers repeatedly that bishops were to be followed only if their teachings conformed to Scripture and rejected if they did not. No Church father believed the Church as a whole to be infallible. The opinion was that individual bishops, as well as bishops in Council, could err. It is our contention that the early Church fathers, with unanimous voice, point us back to holy Scripture as the only infallible norm. The Church is not infallible. The Scriptures alone, being God—breathed and therefore inspired, are the only infallible norm for the Church.” [Source: David T. King, Holy Scripture: The Ground And Pillar of Our Faith, Volume 1 (WA: Christian Resources Inc., 2001), 138-139].

I don't buy the argument that states since people interpret the Bible differently, it's central message, big points, and Gospel message can't be known or understood. My response to the question ultimately boils down to, do a little work, or a little more work. Study your Bible and pray. Trust that God will give you a teachable spirit. Hold God to his promise that his word is a lamp. But don't think for a moment that by making a fallible decision to join either Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy somehow alleviates epistemological problems. It creates more. Growing in the knowledge of the truth is lifelong. Don't give up growing spiritually by surrendering your intellect to ____________ (fill in the blank with whatever you want). Find a church that adores sola fide, and looks to the sole infallible authority of Scripture.

I'm a two trick pony: sola fide and sola scriptura. God has blessed me with a church that loves these two essential truths more than any other. To hear sermons from my church visit here. For growing in your knowledge of the faith, visit:

Alpha and Omega Ministries

Ligonier Ministries

I suggest also developing a good systematic understanding of the Scriptures. this is essential in choosing a church:

The Westminster Confession of Faith

The Heidelberg Catechism

Both of these can be read and discussed with a family after dinner.