Monday, February 13, 2012

Implications of "an honest summary of the state of Christendom at the end of the 15th century"

I skimmed through this recent account of a Tiber swim: An OPC Pastor Enters the Catholic Church. I found this comment from the author deep in the comments section:
Karl Adam, in his book Roots of the Reformation , offers an honest summary of the state of Christendom at the end of the 15th century: "[A]mongst the common people, a fearful decline of true piety into religious materialism and morbid hysteria; amongst the clergy, both lower and higher, widespread worldliness and neglect of duty; and amongst the Shepherds of the Church, demonic ambition and sacrilegious perversion of holy things….."
The argument from some of Rome's defenders goes like this: certainly there were church abuses during the sixteenth century. But Luther went too far. This new Roman convert thinks that things may have turned out differently had Luther "kept his ecclesiastical cool in the midst of the desperate need for moral reform." If there was ever a statement ignorant of history, this would certainly be a prime example. It assumes that a corrupt institution would actually politely take any sort of correction from an obscure monk. The facts of history show quite otherwise: the Luther situation was riddled with subterfuge and obfuscation, this coming from Rome herself. Luther was given a bogus hearing in which he was ultimately told to simply recant, or else. This new convert went to a Reformed seminary in which details of this information are readily available in their library. The details of Luther's kangaroo court hearing were no doubt also presented in a class specific to Reformation Church History (CH 313). Unless the requirements are now different, in order to graduate from Mid-America Reformed Seminary this class was required.  In other words, this new Roman convert has no excuse for such an ignorant portrayal of Reformation church history. The legalities of sixteenth century Romanism were not simply "hey chill out, things for you will be okay." No, you could find yourself executed quite easily and also find that the means of getting you to the point of execution weren't always fair. That Luther was never put to death for heresy should be the miracle that qualifies him for saint status in Romanism.

This section quoted from from Roman Catholic historian Karl Adam raises an interesting issue. After describing the abuses present in the church, Adam states: "In this waste of clerical corruption it was impossible for the spirit of our Lord to penetrate into the people, take root there and bring true religion to flower." It appears that for Romanism, God promises to preserve the papacy, and "papacy" equals "Church." The Spirit, according to Karl Adam can be blocked by the papacy herself from reaching the people. Now think bout this: Even though the papacy was severely corrupt (as described by Adam), the gates of Hell didn't prevail against her. In other words, some Roman Catholics view the possibility of the gates of Hell prevailing over the papacy as similar say, to a square circle. It's presupposed beforehand that it's an impossibility for the papacy to ever be that corrupt that the gates of Hell prevail against her.  Their entire argument about the preserved-from-error-papacy is simply a faith claim in which history needs to be tweaked to fit this presupposition.

Now compare this to what the Roman convert states:
"...moral abuses (as scandalous as they are) do not equal doctrinal error. Christ promised to preserve his Church in the truth of the gospel. And so he has, does, and will. Such a profound promise is consistent with the fact that men are not always morally faithful to the graces God gives them. Despite the weakness, frailty and sinfulness found within the Church, there is the divine guarantee that God, by his Holy Spirit, working in the college of bishops in union with the pope, will preserve his Church from teaching and believing that which is false in regard to the gospel."
This convert is likewise functioning with the church = papacy paradigm. There's another presupposition here that needs to be scrutinized: "Christ promised to preserve his Church in the truth of the gospel. And so he has, does, and will." Here's what isn't stated: previous to Trent there was not any official dogmatic statement as to what exactly the Gospel "is", certainly in regard to justification:
“Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a 'nude imputation' that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification.” [Jaroslov Pelikan, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther’s Reformation [New York: Harper and Row, 1964], 51-52.
Pelikan says elsewhere:
"All the more tragic, therefore, was the Roman reaction on the front which was most important to the reformers, the message and teaching of the church. This had to be reformed according to the word of God; unless it was, no moral improvement would be able to alter the basic problem. Rome’s reactions were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone—a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers—Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition" [Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (New York: Abingdon Press, 1959), pp. 51-52].
Once again, what's needed to be proven by Roman converts is simply assumed. It's assumed that the same "Gospel" decreed at Trent was the same "Gospel" previous to Trent.

The comments over at CTC will reach into the hundreds. For those of you that think you'll actually get somewhere in some sort of dialog with these new converts, you probably won't. Presuppositions are truths the heart believes without proof. If you don't first expose the unproven presuppositions, you're probably wasting your time.

42 comments:

EBW said...

Beggars All Blog,

I would say this is a good time. Within the last couple years, I made comments on this blog favoring a Romanist position.
A 4yr courtship and 8yr marriage with Rome is ending in a divorce. Thanks for all the hard work done here to expose and oppose
Romanism. It has had a profound effect by the grace of God in Christ.

Challenging their presuppositions is the only way to uproot the errors. This is done with careful Scriptural support and knowing their philosophical history. A good dose of Presup apologetics helps the medicine go down.

Thanks again,

Eric Waggoner

James Swan said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for your kind words and sharing your experience. I do recall you commenting here last year.

EA said...

"Despite the weakness, frailty and sinfulness found within the Church, there is the divine guarantee that God, by his Holy Spirit, working in the college of bishops in union with the pope, will preserve his Church from teaching and believing that which is false in regard to the gospel."

I've never found this argument persuasive.

Was Jesus' main concern and most common indictment of the people that He came in contact with their beliefs or their sinfulness? Did He ever say to anyone "You're wrong in your beliefs?" Did He ever even intimate that that was the root of someone's problem?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

EBW: "Beggars All Blog,

I would say this is a good time. Within the last couple years, I made comments on this blog favoring a Romanist position.
A 4yr courtship and 8yr marriage with Rome is ending in a divorce. Thanks for all the hard work done here to expose and oppose
Romanism. It has had a profound effect by the grace of God in Christ."


God bless you abundantly, Eric Waggoner.

Tim Enloe said...

As to the argument that behavior didn't matter because only the official teaching matters, this is an anachronism. It was a commonplace of Late Medieval canon law and theology arguments that "heresy" included living a profligately sinful life. Such a life amounted to teaching heresy by one's deeds, and this is one of the main reasons why the popes of the last century and a half before the Reformation came widely to be considered heretical - and, by another long-established Medieval principle, not due any obedience because they had forfeited their authority by reason of their heretical lives. The Modern Catholic argument that deeds don't matter, only words, is exactly that - Modern - and should not be read back onto history to explain away papal responsibility in the name of papal authority.

EA said...

"As to the argument that behavior didn't matter because only the official teaching matters, this is an anachronism."

Of course, Catholic apologists require this kind of disclaimer because the history of the popes is so well-known.

A corollary of this apologetic tactic is that rigged papal elections through bribery, coercion, and even murder, while regrettable, don't invalidate apostolic succession. Otherwise, the reasoning goes vis a vis Matt. 16, the gates of hell would have prevailed against the church.

Apparently God is bound to honor the occupant of the "Chair of Peter" regardless of the means by which they arrived there. Much like a genie is obligated to provide three wishes to whoever possesses the lamp.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Beggars All Blog,

I would say this is a good time. Within the last couple years, I made comments on this blog favoring a Romanist position.
A 4yr courtship and 8yr marriage with Rome is ending in a divorce. Thanks for all the hard work done here to expose and oppose
Romanism. It has had a profound effect by the grace of God in Christ.

Challenging their presuppositions is the only way to uproot the errors. This is done with careful Scriptural support and knowing their philosophical history. A good dose of Presup apologetics helps the medicine go down."


Eric Waggoner, could you write down your journey away from the Roman Catholic Church to where you are now?

I don't know if anyone else would like to read it, but I would.

Nick said...

The problem with the thesis of your post is fundamentally this: the very concept of "reform" becomes impossible since in your view there is no unified ecclesial institution to reform.

Think about it: which denomination today would you see as badly corrupt and needing reform? I don't see how you can answer this question, because with no official visible institution you cannot reform what doesn't exist. Thus, denominationalism is the only answer: reform doesn't happen; a pure sect simply breaks off.

Now it's very probable that Luther was living in an age where there was sufficient corruption in the right high places that made his voice go unheard. In such a case, the Christian can only pray. But everyone knows Luther did indeed go too far when he refused to even listen to the Pope and remained hard-hearted towards Rome the rest of his life. Funny that nowhere in Scripture or Tradition is there any precedent for Luther's action.

As a result of Luther's example, the very concepts of "reform," and "schism" and "heresy" cease to exist.

Again, think about it: to call for "reform" entails there was once a state of 'purity' to go back to. Leaving the visible church behind makes the whole notion of "Reformation" an oxymoron.

To say Rome never defined the Gospel is to say Rome never was Christian and thus Luther was an idiot for even trying to reform what was essentially Mormonism.

EA said...

"Funny that nowhere in Scripture or Tradition is there any precedent for Luther's action."

Really? Matthew 23 seems apropos.

EA said...

"with no official visible institution you cannot reform what doesn't exist."

There's always a visible manifestation of the church. So there's always a reformable body.

EBW said...

Truth unites...and divides,

Thanks for showing an interest in my story. Many things could be said about what caused me to enter Rome. Just for the sake of brevity, I'll give a few reasons for my departure. God the Holy Spirit moved my heart to fear His word, most especially, the first and second commandments. He caused me to repent of the idolatrous veneration of images, saints and everything Papal. No one can manufacture this grace. The blind spots of history are filled with submission and obedience to the supposed supreme authority. "Sola Ecclesia" if I may borrow a term. The weakness of the Thomistic apologetic for God's existence forced me to return to Scripture and recognize the Thomistic/Atheist commitment to the autonomous man. This is just a sample of the renovations the Lord is making in my life.

Where am I now ? Well, between a daily study of scripture and thankful prayer, I am visiting a PCA church, reading solid Christian authors, breaking idols (literally) and apologizing for stupid decisions. I am willing to answer any questions you may have.

In Christ alone,

Eric

John, an unlikely pastor said...

Over the past few months I've had ongoing dialogue online with a monk who fails to see the pope's wisdom in inviting Lutherans and Catholics into conversation. It's been interesting to watch him defend the tradition while starting to name the corruption thatlead to the reformation. He blogs as Brother Andre at Catholicism.org very interesting to dig at his presuupositions about the church and the fathers of the church.

Viisaus said...

No predecent for the Reformation in the Scriptures? How about the OT reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah?

The Mosaic Scriptures were re-discovered in the days of good king Josiah, which led to a royal crackdown on corrupt and syncretistic religious establishment.

Viisaus said...

Or the reforms after the Exile - if we consider Romanism as syncretistic (steeped on semi-pagan phenomena like the worship of images and the cult of saints), we can follow the example of Nehemiah - btw, the Jewish high priest himself was involved in corruption:

Nehemiah 13:25-28

"So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?”

And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I drove him from me."

Viisaus said...

Or the quintessential NT precedent for the Reformation:

Galatians 2:11-13

"Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy."

EBW said...

Nick,

you wrote:

The problem with the thesis of your post is fundamentally this: the very concept of "reform" becomes impossible since in your view there is no unified ecclesial institution to reform.

Think about it: which denomination today would you see as badly corrupt and needing reform? I don't see how you can answer this question, because with no official visible institution you cannot reform what doesn't exist. Thus, denominationalism is the only answer: reform doesn't happen; a pure sect simply breaks off.


This is an insurmountable problem you place on yourself. If "reform" is to include anything related to "change", then how is it possible to execute reform on a "unified ecclesial institution" or a state of purity ? No problem exists for these static states. This undercuts modern Rome's claim that the visible and institutional features of her church are subject to change. Only those features that adhere closest to the "substance" share in the permaeance. Forget Luther, pick up the current discussions between Rome and SSPX to see the extent of this problem. Reform is a problem for your perfect society.

No real problem exists for the Protestant because our substance is the Christ Son of the living God, who builds his church and avoids the gates of hades. Christ has the keys of death and hades through his resurrection. Does Christ's vicar share in these keys ? Or is it a convenient discontinuity ?

Eric

Nick said...

EA,

(1) Matthew 23 doesn't demonstrate Luther's actions had precedent nor principle. Of all the errors and sins of the Pharisees, Jesus never said to the crowds they were free to live without such leaders nor that they should become such leaders themselves. Verses 1-3 are especially problematic for your claim.


(2) This is not correct. In Protestant theology, particularly Reformed, it has become understood that the "visible church" only manifests itself in so far as true Christians preaching a pure Gospel gather together. When "visible church" becomes strictly associated with "true gospel" then by definition there is nothing to reform. And from a denominational perspective, when each person settles down in their own tradition, to speak of 'reform' is akin to invading another's denomination and imposing your will.

Nick said...

Viisaus,

(1) You have misunderstood me. I never said there was no precedent for reform in the Scriptures; I said there is no precedent for a 'reformer' breaking from the institution he originally sought to reform. Your Hezekiah and Josiah examples actually support my case.

(2) Again, no examples of breaking from the existing institution, regardless of how corrupt. Solomon and other kings drove the kingdom into various sins, yet never did some layman break away and begin a parallel 'true Israel'. In fact even when the kingdom divided it was clear only Judah was the genuine kingdom.

(3) Where does Paul insinuate that he set up a parallel church where Jews and Gentiles ate together while leaving Peter's church in shambles? If he stuck with the existing institution then that's not a 'quintessential precedent' at all but the very opposite. Never was there "I'll go my own way" moment.

EA said...

"In Protestant theology, particularly Reformed, it has become understood that the "visible church" only manifests itself in so far as true Christians preaching a pure Gospel gather together. When "visible church" becomes strictly associated with "true gospel" then by definition there is nothing to reform."

Not so. The invisible church refers to all true believers everywhere in all times and places. The visible church refers to all members of a local assembly whether they are truly saved or not. Since the tares grow up among the wheat, it is precisely the visible church which is in constant need of reform.

John Bugay said...

there is no precedent for a 'reformer' breaking from the institution he originally sought to reform.

You're assuming the institution in question had any legitimacy at all.

Nick said...

EA,

The only way the visible church can manifest itself is if true believers gather. As soon as the pure gospel is not being (formally) taught, it ceases to be visible. The invisible church is all the elect regardless of if any given elect individual is currently manifested in visible manner. Your definition entails any gathering constitutes the visible church, which cannot be since that would entail even a gathering formally professing a false gospel or composed of entirely non-elect would still be a true church.


John,
If the institution in question had no legitimacy at all, then Luther was insane to try and reform it. As I said earlier, it would be akin to you a Christian trying to reform the Mormon church. But to add to that, the Book of Concord states the Pope had primacy by divine rite, as did the bishops.

John Bugay said...

If the institution in question had no legitimacy at all, then Luther was insane to try and reform it.

Except that it was so pervasive. By Luther's time, it had become like the Stalin regime of the 1950's.

The Book of Concord makes no bones about what the papacy really is:

even though the bishop of Rome had the primacy by divine right, yet since he defends godless services and doctrine conflicting with the Gospel, obedience is not due him; yea, it is necessary to resist him as Antichrist. The errors of the Pope are manifest and not trifling.

In other words, it says the Bishop of Rome had been invited to the table [as an elder among patriarchs]. That statement reflects the level of historical research that was available to Lutherans at the time.

But by the time the patriarch system was set up, historical research has further demonstrated that the so-called "office" of bishop of Rome -- which never had existed for the first hundred years of the history of the church in that city, was, really, a usurpation of power that had never existed. The few statements you can muster to the effect that Rome was an important city in the Roman empire do absolutely nothing to demonstrate an early papacy.

EA said...

"Your definition entails any gathering constitutes the visible church, which cannot be since that would entail even a gathering formally professing a false gospel or composed of entirely non-elect would still be a true church.
"


You're using visible church and true church interchangeably. The invisible church is the true church in that it is made up of only true believers. A church which includes the non-elect along with true believers is an instance of the visible church.

It's not my definition Nick, Augustine said much the same thing. Yes, the non-elect and others including the not yet saved are in the visible church, they don't stop at the door.

For instance Catholic theology stipulates that merely receiving the sacraments in and of itself does not save you. Although to the rest of the parish they would look and act as anyone else.

I'm not sure what effects formally professing a false gospel has that simply professing a false gospel doesn't have but a congregation of entirely non-elect would still be visible, they're not invisible.

Nick said...

John,

You are further and further proving my point! You used the example of Stalin, yet by analogy this means Luther was out to effectively "reform" the Soviet Union back to a pure institution, but we know that system was never a legitimate God-fearing institution in the first place. In fact, your argument makes the Reformation itself a smaller apostasy within a greater apostasy.

You don't appear to see the devastating implications of admitting Luther had nothing to Reform in the first place.

Nick said...

EA,

That's not how Augustine defined the visible church, much less membership in it. In Augustine's view, Apostolic Succession was a central characteristic of the visible church, and anyone validly baptized was saved and truly ingrafted.

The characteristic Protestants (particularly Reformed) offer for what constitutes a visible church is the pure gospel being formally preached. By 'formally' I mean stated in some official manner in a Creed/Confession/Bylaw/etc in the congregation.

I'm not sure what you mean by:
"a congregation of entirely non-elect would still be visible, they're not invisible."

The 'visibility' here is not speaking of say erecting a sign that says "Grace Bible Church" and thus de facto constituting a true visible church. The 'visibility' in question is that which takes on its (accidental) existence when true believers congregate to profess the true Gospel.

John Bugay said...

Nick: You are right, Stalin was never a legitimate God-fearing institution.

Neither was the papacy.

Your claim "yet by analogy this means Luther was out to effectively 'reform' the Soviet Union back to a pure institution" ignores my key point: that the Lutherans were acting on historical information that was available to them at the time.

The historical information, today, is much greater, and we know now how much more the early papacy was an illegitimate usurpation.

The Lutherans indeed thought the papacy had some legitimacy at one time.

Still, given what it had become, they cast it off as "AntiChrist".

How much moreso should we, knowing of its illegitimate beginnings, totally reject it?

Nick said...

The Lutherans acting on the available historical evidence doesn't change the logical implications, it only compounds the problem.

The root question is: reform what institution?

If there was no (legit) institution to reform, then Luther wasn't a reformer by definition. And if Luther wasn't a reformer (as your own logic would entail), then something other than 'reform' took place.

Once you "see" this, you'll realize there is no valid light you can paint Luther in. To imply Luthernaism was a good thing because it was simply less apostate than Rome isn't a good argument.

John Bugay said...

There was an institution, and Luther, with his limited historical knowledge wanted to reform it.

You are quibbling over nothing. Something was seriously wrong in Luther's day, and he sought to fix it.

He may have attributed some legitimacy to the institution of the papacy. We know now, Luther was a bit naive.

Lutheranism was a good thing insofar as Luther was working to "make right" what he thought was wrong.

The disease was so much worse than it actually appeared to be.

John Bugay said...

Gorbachev, having grown up within the Soviet system, intended to "reform" the Soviet government.

But to the western world, the Soviet government was illegitimate.

Just as Gorbachev did what he could (but ultimately failed because he did not see the extent of the illegitimacy), Luther also did not go far enough.

Just as the illegitimate Soviet government ultimately failed, (though Russia continued), we should look for ways to consign the papacy to the ash heap of history (while understanding that the church has continued all along).

Nick said...

Sure you can argue Luther knew something was wrong, which is a generalization that even Catholics can admit, but a 'reformer' he was not (by your own logic).

Do you agree that Luther cannot be considered a "reformer"?

John Bugay said...

You are still quibbling about nothing. What good would it do you to say "Luther was not a reformer"? Luther changed the world.

He certainly was a reformer. He sought to reform the church. He intended for "the institution" to take his proposed reforms to heart. They rejected him. As it turns out, someone needed to take a sledge hammer to the whole papal system. Luther didn't know that when he started, but he certainly seemed to have come to that realization.

You need to understand, I distinguish the institution from the church. Christ did not found an "institution of the papacy". Although you seem not to be able to make that distinction.

Nick said...

John, you said:
>>He certainly was a reformer. He sought to reform the church. He intended for "the [illegitimate] institution" to take his proposed reforms to heart. They rejected him.>>

Where was "the church" that "he sought to reform"? If Rome was never legit, then certainly that wasn't "the church". He was knocking on the wrong door the entire time; implying legitimacy where there was none, and being heralded as a hero for doing so. That doesn't make one a reformer, but rather simply someone deeply confused yet with good intentions.

When I use the term institution, I'm speaking in a general sense of some structured visible body of professing believers.

John Bugay said...

Nick, here's the difference.

The Roman institution government had, at the time, bamboozled most of the European world, that it, in fact, was "The Church". (Some, like you, are still captives to that bamboozlement). Within that fog, there was "the church" that Luther sought to "reform".

If Rome was never legit, then certainly that wasn't "the church".

This is correct. Luther was "knocking on the wrong door" only because of the histoical misinformation that the medieval European world had bought into.

Because of our superior level of historical research today, we are not taken in by the kind of rot that Rome was peddling, that people of good faith (like Luther) believed for a time.

Nick said...

You said:
>>Within that fog, there was "the church" that Luther sought to "reform".>>

What was wrong with "the church" you speak of here that required Reforming? And how do you identify it to even know it was there or where it was located?

Since "the church" in the fog you speak of was distinct from the Roman institution, that is equivalent to a Presbyterian nailing 95 thesis to a Mormon temple. Surely that Presbyterian isn't to be considered a 'reformer' for doing the equivalent to what Luther did! In fact, I would seriously question the legitimacy of a 'reformer' who couldn't even pick out the proper institution that needed reforming.

If the Roman institution was the only game in town, then "the church" was either somewhere else geographically or had vanished entirely.

John Bugay said...

Nick, what is your point?

The Roman institution of the papacy was clearly identifiable as a corrupt institution in 1517.

If you have some inclination equate the Roman institution of 1517 with Mormon temple, you clearly have no sense of historical proportion. (It's true, both are equally ridiculous in their claims. That is, in their religious claims).

The Roman institution of the papacy in 1517 certainly is analagous to the Soviet government of 1985. But not in every way.

Both came to power illegitimately.

Both controlled large swatches of territory as a government.

Here is further analogy for you. Martin Luther is analagous to Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Both lived and worked within the systems they sought to "reform", though both eventually came to see their "systems" needed to be brought down.


But there is also disanalogy. In addition to the governmental claims of the Soviet government (which were illegitimate), Rome claimed to represent Christ. (Which it did not do in any way). Rome made two claims: secular and religious, whereas the Soviet government made only the secular claim.

Here is where your claim that Rome = Mormonism has merit. If the Soviet government had also claimed to be the representative of Christ on earth, in addition to its secular claims, you would have a good equivalent to what Luther faced.


And, here's where some further disanalogy comes in: Whereas Luther had (because of the environment he lived in) some notion that "the Roman institution of the papacy" had some legitimacy and could be reformed. But Ronald Reagan did not recognize the Soviet government of 1985 as legitimate; he did not work to "reform" it. He worked to bring it down.

So, what I say today is, the papacy is worth working to bring down.

John Bugay said...

Nick, continuing: If the Roman institution was the only game in town, then "the church" was either somewhere else geographically or had vanished entirely.

The Roman institution, while claiming to be in charge of the entire church, was not "the church" in any way.

Here is where "the church" was in Luther's day:


I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

III. Unto this catholic and visible Church, Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.

John Bugay said...

continued

IV. This catholic Church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less, visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error: and some have so degenerated as to become apparently no Churches of Christ. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth, to worship God according to his will.

VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.

Nick said...

John, you asked:
>>Nick, what is your point?>>

My point is that there seems to be historical revisionism going on in applying the title/description of "reformer" to folks like Luther.

I only spoke of Rome=Mormonism for the purposes of showing the absurdity in trying to reform a sytem that is seen as inherently corrupt. I'm not saying all are equally corrupt or equally in error, but rather inherently illegitimate.

I like the Ronald Reagan analogy, because he is not viewed as a 'reformer' as far as the USSR was concerned. If Luther is seen as RR, then Luther cannot be seen as a Church 'reformer'. If Luther is not seen as RR, then he can be seen as a Church 'reformer' but that requires conceding the 'reform' of Rome is possible.

You said:
>>The Roman institution, while claiming to be in charge of the entire church, was not "the church" in any way.>>

Then nailing the 95 and other similar interactions with Rome was nonsense and nothing of the nature of true reform.

You said:
>>Here is where "the church" was in Luther's day:>>

It seems you are quoting verbatim the WCF here, but those are guidelines rather than a direct answer. You've been adamant than the historical record is key for how we come to our conclusions, so a more concrete answer is necessary. The historical testimony should reveal clear manifestations of the 'the church', otherwise we have no reason to believe it was around in Luther's day.

Do you have any examples of manifestations of "the church" pre-existing Luther that Luther was able to abandon Rome in favor of?

Luther, if he was truly enlightened, should have fled Rome and ran to "the church" and never looked back. It seems the historical record shows (and Swan could probably back this up) that Luther never joined up with "the church" and instead simply became the father of Lutheranism, which sprung up at that time and came to eventually settle as various denominations. This "Lutheranism" was not seen as synonymous with Presbyterianism or other Reformed ecclesial/theological models.

As such, he was neither a reformer of Rome (which could not ever be reformed) nor a reformer of "the church" (which doesn't seem to need reform nor does the historical record state he had a beef with it or even sought it out and joined it).

John Bugay said...

My point is that there seems to be historical revisionism going on in applying the title/description of "reformer" to folks like Luther.

There's no "revisionism". We simply know more now than they knew then. We can more accurately describe what went on. Calling Luther a "reformer" is perfectly legitimate because that's what he sought to do. (Though in hindsight, we know now that there was no "reforming" Rome. Rome was irreformable).

Maybe you are objecting to the notion of a "magisterial" Reformation. I'll just say, our understanding of the events don't change. The writing of the history doesn't change.

There is a point at which lots of well-intentioned people thought that they could "reform" what was wrong with Rome at the time. These were called "the Magisterial Reformers". In retrospect, we can see that their efforts were doomed not to bear fruit from the beginning.


JB: **The Roman institution, while claiming to be in charge of the entire church, was not "the church" in any way.**

Nick: **Then nailing the 95 and other similar interactions with Rome was nonsense and nothing of the nature of true reform.**


Everybody's got to start somewhere. And that's where Luther started. And as I said, it was, as you say, "nonsensical and nothing of the nature of true reform" to think that Rome would reform. Some of us know better now. Others still think they can negotiate somehow with Rome. But they'll learn, one way or another.


The historical testimony should reveal clear manifestations of the 'the church', otherwise we have no reason to believe it was around in Luther's day.

I do plenty of that.


Do you have any examples of manifestations of "the church" pre-existing Luther that Luther was able to abandon Rome in favor of?

See this and this, for example. And I've got plenty more of the kind of "historical testimony" where that came from. I am not making unsupported claims.

The things I write are based on actual historical studies of ancient Rome and the ancient Roman church.


Luther never joined up with "the church" and instead simply became the father of Lutheranism

Here's where my reproducing WCF was useful. Because Luther, as a believer in Christ, was "church". As a believer in Christ, he was all about "the doctrine of the gospel, taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them".

There is one church. The "various denominations" were "particular Churches, more or less pure".

Nick said...

You said:
>>Calling Luther a "reformer" is perfectly legitimate because that's what he sought to do. (Though in hindsight, we know now that there was no "reforming" Rome. Rome was irreformable).>>

Then you need to clarify that "reformer" here has nothing to do with reforming the church, because historically that didn't happen. Instead, 'reformer' must be taken as a hobby, like bird watching.

You said:
>>There is a point at which lots of well-intentioned people thought that they could "reform" what was wrong with Rome at the time. These were called "the Magisterial Reformers". In retrospect, we can see that their efforts were doomed not to bear fruit from the beginning.>>

That's fine, but the very concept and terminology of "Reformation" needs to be dropped since that didn't happen. It's akin to saying St Francis de Sales was a missionary to the Calvinists, when in reality he wasn't a missionary because his Gospel was false and was preaching to Christians.

You said in response to Luther nailing the 95 to the door:
>>Everybody's got to start somewhere. And that's where Luther started. And as I said, it was, as you say, "nonsensical and nothing of the nature of true reform" to think that Rome would reform. Some of us know better now. Others still think they can negotiate somehow with Rome. But they'll learn, one way or another.>>

But the concern is more than that, it doesn't appear he went elsewhere to Reform. You said he had to "start somewhere," ok, but where is the record that he eventually came to his senses and realized no Reformation was to take place?

I asked: Do you have any examples of manifestations of "the church" pre-existing Luther that Luther was able to abandon Rome in favor of?

You responded:
>>See this and this, for example. And I've got plenty more of the kind of "historical testimony" where that came from. I am not making unsupported claims.>>

The first link was calling to question Vatican1's definitions. The second link was house churches in Apostolic Rome. How does that give us manifestations of 'the church' just preceding and concurrent with Luther's lifetime? I'm asking for specific names/places/groups that Luther met up with where 'the church' was alive and well and not confused with Romanism. Are there any historical accounts of a house church that Luther found and joined?


I previously commented: Luther never joined up with "the church" and instead simply became the father of Lutheranism

You responded:
>>Here's where my reproducing WCF was useful. Because Luther, as a believer in Christ, was "church". As a believer in Christ, he was all about "the doctrine of the gospel, taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them".>>

So Luther did not join up with any pre-existing group and instead the only visible "Christian" body was Rome. It seems that he played his cards entirely wrong and yet was heralded as a hero for doing so. No Reform took place and he "was church" in virtue of being a true believer.

You said:
>>There is one church. The "various denominations" were "particular Churches, more or less pure".>>

What are some concrete historical examples of these in say the year 1505?

John Bugay said...

where is the record that he eventually came to his senses and realized no Reformation was to take place?

I don't recall that Luther ever called what he was doing "the Reformation". He was trying to sort out what was true, all the while his life was threatened. The "Reformation" tag was placed some time after the events occurred. And it is an accurate label of what they were doing.


The first link was calling to question Vatican1's definitions. The second link was house churches in Apostolic Rome. How does that give us manifestations of 'the church'...

You've got to start at the beginning. Together, they provide links to a very broad picture of who the early church at Rome was, how they lived, what their leadership structure was. That's what history is all about. From this point, you can see just how false the claims of the papacy were. Just how bankrupt of actual historical understanding.


manifestations of 'the church' just preceding and concurrent with Luther's lifetime? I'm asking for specific names/places/groups that Luther met up with where 'the church' was alive and well and not confused with Romanism.

Try looking up men like Wycliffe and Wessel Gansford and Pierre D'Ailly.

Keep in mind how WCF defined the church. "The universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof".

I'm willing to concede that Augustine and Anselm and even Aquinas were of the church according to this definition. I'm also not willing to say popes [nor the papacy] were of the church.


the only visible "Christian" body was Rome.

You keep looking for some visible institution that we can call "church" [say, from the years 500-1500]. During this time, the church was "sometimes more, sometimes less, visible". I'm telling you, "the church" persisted in the hearts of those who, according to Acts 28, "turned and were healed". These had sufficient "ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints". They were the small gathering of folks who had "turned and were healed". They had less than perfect understanding of things, but they had a sufficient understanding. God did not abandon his people.


It seems that he played his cards entirely wrong and yet was heralded as a hero for doing so. No Reform took place and he "was church" in virtue of being a true believer.


What he did was to serve as "the tip of the spear", letting people know that they could get out from under the heavy yoke of Rome and still be "church", still believe in Christ, still rejoice in the Gospel.

Tom Moeller said...

Correction to above comments regarding the Book of Concord and the primacy of the Pope.

The section quoted starts with "...even though the Bishop of Rome did have the primacy and superiority by divine right..."

Modern translation, usage and context (see opening to this section Power and Primacy of the Pope) now use "...even IF the Bishop of Rome..."

The BoC and thereby confessing Lutherans know there never was a divine right given to the Bishop of Rome beyond his call as a servant of God.

http://bookofconcord.org/treatise.php