Another Ironic thing about Jason Stellman's conversion testimony to Roman Catholicism
Jason Stellman, in the interview at Called to Communion, in his testimony about how he converted to Roman Catholicism, basically asserted that we should be able to find the Protestant paradigm for Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, and church authority in the early church. He claims that there is no positive case for the Protestant paradigm in the early church after the apostle John died. Yet, it seems that one of the earliest writings, 1 Clement, if not the earliest, (after the NT books) does indeed have the 3 principles that are closer to the Protestant paradigm than a Roman Catholic one. I am not saying the early church is or was "Protestant"; that would be anachronistic. It was neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant; but these three principles found in 1 Clement are closer to the Protestant way of doing things than any Roman Catholic paradigm. We Protestants can "let the early be the early church" (Dr. White) and when they made mistakes, we confess that they are fallible men and not inspired apostles and their writings are not inspired, and yet, we have an infallible rule - the Scriptures, by which to judge them.
At one point, Jason said basically something like, "Jesus would not have set it up with Sola Scriptura as a guiding principle, because Jesus is not stupid." Yet, as Dr. White pointed out, it is ironic that he has already said that Professors Michael Horton and Steve Baugh were very smart; smarter than he is; and they knew their theology and church history and Greek and exegesis much better than he did. Jason admitted this; but says that for Jesus to set up Sola Scriptura as a guide for the church is "stupid". So how does Jason know whether he is being smart enough to know that he understands Jesus properly? How does he know that Horton, Baugh, White are not correct, since they all believe that Jesus and the apostles did teach that principle. Jesus' teaches principles in the Gospels of saying things like "thus it is written" and "you make the word of God void by your traditions", and "search the Scriptures" and "have you not read what God said to you?". How does Jason know that his decision to rely upon his own mind and judgment and call Jesus and the apostles constantly pointing back to the Scriptures as something that is "stupid"? Jason also kept saying things like "He (Jesus) just woudda", "he just woudda" set it up the way that Roman Catholicism says. "Just woulda" is not good enough; that is just Jason's own subjective personal decision. He is using his own judgment and understanding of what "should be". Jason gives no evidence of what he was arguing for, just his own decision, his own opinion - "It should have been this way". Instead, something closer to the Protestant paradigm is there in the earliest times.
Well, let's see -
Earliest writing after the New Testament writings: I Clement (96 AD)
1. Each Local Church has a college of elders (presbyters) (No Pope, not even a mono-episcopate yet) 1 Clement 42, 44 - elders and bishops are the same office.
Clement of Rome ( 96 AD) - Presbyters and Bishops are the same office – I Clement 44, confirming Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7; I Peter 5:1-4. Clement, with the Biblical passages, along with Philippians 1:1 (bishops and deacons), along with the Didache (15) (bishops and deacons), and with Jerome’s statement that a “A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop” and that the bishops being appointed above the presbyters was “a custom, not by divine appointment” (Jerome, Commentary on Titus, PL 26:562-563, cited by James White in Perspectives on Church Government, Five Views of Church Polity, Broadman and Holman, 2004, p. 251-252) shows that the deepest and oldest history is that local churches had two offices 1. elders (overseers, who teach and shepherd the flock or do the work of pastors) and 2. deacons (servants, ministers); and that it was later that the office of bishop (episcopos/overseer) was separated out from and made above the college of plurality of elders for each church.
The evidence in I Clement is that Clement himself is not a “pope”, as the Roman Catholics claim, but the moderator or secretary spokesman or “president”, in the words of Justin Martyr for the college of elders from the church at Rome. This is one church writing to another church.
“The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth, to them that are called and sanctified by the will of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, from Almighty God through Jesus Christ, be multiplied.” ( I Clement preface before paragraph 1)
I Clement rebukes the Corinthian church for deposing the elders there who have served faithfully. (42-44, 47, 54) He calls what the Corinthians have done, by getting rid of the presbyters, “a detestable and unholy schism, so alien and strange to those chosen by God” (paragraph 1) The Corinthians got rid of their elders out of jealousy and arrogance, as the rebuke of jealousy and pride is a major theme of this letter: (paragraphs 1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6; 9; 16; 43-44; 46; 54 ) He exhorts the Corinthians to humility and repentance. (1: 7-8 and 1:13; 48, 57)
“Therefore it is right and holy, brothers, that we should be obedient to God rather than follow those who in arrogance and unruliness have set themselves up as leaders in abominable jealousy.” (1:14 – Michael Holmes’ translation. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their writings. Second Edition. J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, editors and translators. Micheal Holmes, editor and reviser. Baker Books, 1992, p. 43.)
“It is disgraceful, dear friends, yes, utterly disgraceful and unworthy of your conduct in Christ, that it should be reported that the well-established and ancient church of the Corinthians, because of one or two persons, is rebelling against its presbyters.” (I Clement 47:6)
“Only let the flock of Christ be at peace with its duly appointed presbyters.” ( I Clement 54)
These are principles that Protestants would agree with - local church authority of a plurality or college of elders and another church encouraging them to follow that pattern and the Scriptures.
2. Sola Scriptura in principle
Clement also exhorted the church of the Corinthians to go back to the Scriptures:
“Let us study the records of the things that have happened from the beginning. Why was our father Abraham blessed? Was it not because he attained righteousness and truth through faith?” (I Clement, 31)
He quotes from the epistle to the Hebrews in I Clement 36, several times, which shows the early church affirmed it as Scripture very early on; even though some others in other places struggled with accepting it as canonical.
In I Clement 45, he gives a good description of inspiration and inerrancy – “You have searched the Scriptures, which are true, which were given by the Holy Spirit; you know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them. You will not find that righteous people have ever been thrust out by holy men.”
In I Clement 47, he again points them back to the Scriptures and says, “Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the apostle. What did he write to you in the beginning of the gospel? Truly he wrote to you in the Spirit about himself and Cephas and Apollos, because even then you had split into factions.” If Peter was the first Pope, or if the illustration of Jason's about siding with Peter if there was a tie in voting with 6 apostles vs. 6 apostles on an issue, "they would side with Peter (Cephas)". Well, if there was any truth to that "Peter principle" - why didn't Paul use it in 1 Corinthians to solve the disunity problem? Instead Paul said, "do not go beyond what is written". If that "Peter principle" was true, why didn't Clement use it in 1 Clement? He didn't, instead he wrote, "Take up the epistle of Paul that he wrote to you, O Corinthians!" Go back to the Scriptures "do not go beyond what is written" - 1 Cor. 4:6 - that would solve the issue of the party spirit and schisms and splits and personality cults. No pope or bishop or bishop of bishops or council is appealed to.
When we read the Scriptures on this issue and indeed, when we take up the letter of I Corinthians, we find the solution to the problem there. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 4:6, in the same context of the divisions and disunity and factions (1 Corinthians 1:10-11; 3:1-10; 4:1-6), “Do not go beyond what is written.” Paul gives them the Scriptural solution and Clement points them back to the bible. No papal encyclical here. Here in 1 Corinthians, Paul actually uses a general principle of a kind of early form of Sola Scriptura, even though all the Scriptures have not been written yet. “Do not go beyond what is written” surely refers to his exhortations and instructions in the letter itself, in dealing with the factions in the church, since he says, “I have applied these things figuratively to Apollos and myself.” It shows that the final authority is Scripture, not what a bishop or future pope or council says.
Many other times Clement says, "thus it is written" and quotes from the OT extensively (all of Psalm 51 and Isaiah 53), and some from the NT and has many allusions from the NT.
There are a couple of unknown quotes(23:4 and 46:2), and a couple that seem to be from the Apocrypha book of Wisdom of Solomon, but even those 2 are similar to canonical passages (one (Wisdom of Solomon 2:24 at 1 Clement 3:4) is close to Romans 5:12 and the other (Wisdom of Solomon 12:12 at 1 Clement 27:5). Even so, Clement is not infallible and so we don't have to justify the mistakes that early church fathers and writers made. 1 Clement 25 and the use of the legend of the Phoenix bird is indeed strange, but all this proves that 1 Clement is not canonical Scripture, and shows how the early church has mixtures of false ideas within it. Clement is not infallible nor a Pope (there was no such office or idea in the early centuries); and it also shows the important of using Scripture to judge the early church writers and never accept them as infallible; as only the Scriptures are infallible.
3. Justification by Faith Alone
Clement also has an early statement on justification by faith apart from good works wrought by us within us. Mediate on these beautiful biblically based words -
“All these, therefore, were highly honored, and made great, not for their own sake, or for their own works, or for the righteousness which they wrought, but through the operation of His will. And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” I Clement 32 It is clear that one of the earliest, if not the earliest non-canonical early church writings, 1 Clement, has 3 principles that are closer to the Protestant paradigm of "doing church" than the Roman Catholic paradigm.
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