Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Protestant's Dilemma: A Review (Part Two): Divine Authority, Church Corruption

This is a continuation of my review of The Protestant’s Dilemma: How the Reformation’s Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism (San Diego: Catholic Answers Press, 2014, Kindle edition) by Rome's defender, Devin Rose. Part one can be found here (and also at the Aomin blog). The first part of the review examined the conversion story of the author. This current installment will deal with the author's notion of authority and church corruption. The book throughout presents caricatures of Protestant positions, illogical conclusions, shoddy documentation, assumes the truth of the Roman Catholic worldview without proving it, and demonstrates that the author did not apply his own criteria to his own position.


Bible Verses Used by The Protestant's Dilemma
Rome's defenders typically raise the issue of authority. Sometimes they ask who authorized the Protestant Reformers to start new churches? Sometimes they ask if current Protestant churches have any authority whatsoever. Don't Protestants just start their own churches rather than submit to church leadership? TPD's version of this is to ask Protestants to explain when the visible church had it's divinely given authority taken away. To appeal to Protestants, TDP primarily grounds the assumption that God gave the visible church divine authority with Bible verses. This opening chapter, entitled "Divine Authority," demonstrates the author's private interpretation of a few Bible verses (remember, Rome doesn't do all that much in actually infallibly interpreting Bible verses: "To the best of my knowledge the Roman Catholic Church has never defined the literal sense of a single passage of the Bible" [Raymond E. Brown, The Critical Meaning of the Bible (New York: Paulist, 1981), p. 40].  Using his private judgment, Mr. Rose states,

We know that Christ established a Church, visible and unified, to which he gave his divine authority. In Matthew’s Gospel we read that “he called to him his twelve apostles and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity” (Matt. 10:1). But according to Protestantism, this authority must have been lost when that visible Church became morally and doctrinally corrupt.

Here the author demonstrates once again that he's inconsistent with his Roman Catholicism. He says, "We know that Christ established a Church." According to Mr. Rose, the Bible must be clear enough to be read on its own, so that "we" all see what he sees. Elsewhere in TPD the author speaks against "the principle of private judgment." The most difficult problem though for the author is his interpretation. The authority given to the apostles which is passed on the visible church is the "authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity." To my knowledge, the Roman magisterium is not going to local hospitals and healing everyone brought in. Whatever this authority is the author claims Rome has, this certainly isn't it. If it is, the author needs to demonstrate that the Roman church is using this authority over unclean spirits, casting them out, and healing every disease and every infirmity. There are cancer wards filled with children that the magisterium could help out.  

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (10:16). Notice the direct line of authority: The Father sends the Son, and the Son sends the apostles with his authority, such that listening to them (and the men whom they in turn authorize) is equivalent to listening to Jesus and the Father.

Did you notice the statement in parentheses "and the men whom they in turn authorize"? This is not exegeting this text, but rather a blatant example of reading something into the text that isn't there. As we'll see below, the early church did have an authority structure and did ordain people to the ministry. This verse though says nothing about it.

The author cites Acts 9:1-5 and states, "Notice that Jesus didn’t say, 'Saul, why are you persecuting my followers,' but rather, 'Why are you persecuting me?' For in murdering the leaders of Christ’s Church, Saul was rejecting not only them but Christ himself." Mr. Rose privately interprets the word "followers"to be the "leaders of the Church." Once again, Mr. Rose lacks an infallible interpretation. According to the author, here is a clear proof-text that apostles have the same authority as Jesus, so when someone rejects these leaders (and their successors), one is rejecting Christ. The interpretation depends though on these "followers" being the leaders of the church. Had Mr. Rose compared Acts 9 to Acts 22, he would have seen whom Paul persecuted: "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons." Even in Acts 9, the text says, "any belonging to the Way, both men and women."

From the Bible and early Christian writings, we understand that the authority Christ gave to the apostles as the leaders of his Church was transmitted to their successors. Paul speaks of this authority in his first letter to his disciple, Timothy: “[D]o not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders” (1 Tim. 4:14). In the next chapter, he enjoins Timothy to “not be hasty in the laying on of hands” to avoid ordaining an unworthy man to lead the church (1 Tim. 5:22). 

The author cites 1 Tim. 4:14 and 1 Tim. 5:22 as proof that apostolic authority was transferred to Timothy. If these verses are supposed account for the same transference of divine authority that the Roman church has practiced for years, one wonders if the magisterium is still ordaining people based prophecy. As we'll explore below, that the visible church ordains both then and now isn't the issue. The point of contention is that the author has to prove the apostles transferred a divine and unbroken line of authority that brings with it the pedigree of infallible and non-corrupted doctrines all the way to this present date.


The Visible and Invisible Church
Of major importance to TPD is the notion that Protestants believe corruption entered the church causing the visible church to lose its God-given authority. The author states:

The vast majority of Protestants believe that the visible Church did in fact lose God’s authority at some point in time; that Christ revoked it when corruption entered into its teachings. Many fundamentalist Protestants believe that the date when the Church became corrupted and lost God’s divine authorization was the year 313, when Constantine proclaimed the Edict of Milan, which ended the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire and began (they say) the mixture of pagan corruption with the true gospel. But Protestants in general are usually not so exact in their dating estimates, and instead claim that corruption entered into the Church somewhere between the second and sixth centuries. The dates vary according to when a particular Protestant, in studying the historical evidence, discovers a doctrine or practice of the Church that he believes is heretical. John Calvin describes the pervasive nature of the Church’s corruption.

Putting aside the unstated assumption for a moment that "visible church" means "Roman church" for this author, one thing suspiciously missing from this paragraph is documentation. Which "vast majority of Protestants" believe this? Here would have been the place to document a broad range of Protestant opinions with a simple footnote to a few sources. If the amount is "vast" documentation should have been easy enough for the author to produce. That said,  I don't recall ever reading a meaningful Reformed Protestant source that has posited "Christ revoked" the authority of the "visible church" "when the church became corrupted" whether in 313, or any of the centuries after the apostles lived. TPD appears to be presenting some form of the argument of Karl Keating in Catholicism and Fundamentalism, chapter 12 (Fanciful Histories of Catholicism), and has done so confusedly. Keating at least cites a few sources, presents their arguments, and formulates a response. TPD on the other hand makes broad undocumented claims and then knocks down the chimera it's created.

The author flatly denies any doctrinal corruption has occurred in the visible church.  Calvin is cited to explain church corruption, but it doesn't appear the author is citing Calvin in agreement. Perhaps Calvin is only describing "what he believes is heretical"? Or Is Calvin being cited as a representative of "the vast majority of Protestants" or "many fundamentalist Christians"?  Did "the vast majority of Protestants" inherit the ideas about dating corruption entering the church and the loss of "God's divine authorization" from Calvin? The author doesn't say.

The author continues:

The notion that “the Church” became corrupt nonetheless does not sit well with Protestants, since they also believe the Bible passages that speak in exalted terms about the Church. Their solution is to separate the historical institution originally known as “the Church”—which fell into corruption—from the true Church of Christ, which continued undefiled. At the time of its corruption, whenever that was, the visible institution became the Roman Catholic Church, while Christ’s true Church became invisible and purely spiritual. Hence, the promises Christ made in the Bible still apply to all “true believers” in the world, who make up this invisible Church: the one that quietly endured through all the apostate centuries until the Reformation unearthed it. 

Once again with this paragraph, documentation would have been helpful to know whom the author was referring to. This theme of the visible church becoming the invisible church reoccurs throughout the book. Is the basic argument here that the Reformers turned the visible church into the invisible church because of their sensing of corruption? Was it Calvin who "unearthed" the invisible church seeing that the visible church was so corrupt? The author claims in footnote #33 to have access to Calvin Institutes. In Book IV, Calvin presents a full treatment of the visible church, and it isn't the negative presentation one would expect after reading The Protestant's Dilemma. The English title for section IV.1.4 is "The Visible Church as Mother of Believers."  Calvin says, "For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matthew 22:30]." For Calvin, the visible church was an important reality. For the Reformed tradition, it is as well. The author shows no familiarity with either Calvin or the Reformed churches, or what is meant by visible and invisible church. Certainly Calvin spoke of the invisible church, but he did not do so at the expense of the visible church.


The Divine Authority of the Church?
The Protestant's Dilemma asks the following question:

Since Christ established a visible Church in the first century and gave it rightful authority, the burden of proof falls on Protestants to demonstrate that he revoked this authority universally from the Church at some point in time. What event can they point to that caused Christ to take away his authority, and which Church leaders were involved in it? Where is the historical evidence for the claim? I have asked this question to many knowledgeable Protestant apologists and pastors and have yet to receive a definite answer. The fact is, no event or even century can be pinpointed that can carry the weight of such a momentous claim, so the fallback is the idea that false teachings crept slowly into the Church and eventually tainted the gospel beyond recognition.

It's important to keep your eye on the ball with TPD. The book is vying for a church authority that not only is transferred from generation to generation, but it's also arguing that authority is infallible and that her interpretations of the Bible are also infallible. I would argue there certainly are church leaders from generation to generation, but their interpretations of the Bible are not infallible. Church leaders are to conform themselves to the the infallible words of God. It simply does not follow that simply because Christ established a visible church, the leaders in the early church transferred an infallible understanding of the Bible along with it.  

Frankly, I don't think their was a visible New Testament church "golden age" free of corruption, nor do I recall any serious theologian from my own Reformed tradition arguing there was. Simply open the Bible. Read 1 Corinthians (problems of immorality, factions), 2 Corinthians (false teachers), Galatians (Jadaizers), Colossians (diverse false teachings), and of course the letters to the churches in Revelation. The only thing free of corruption is the Holy Scriptures. The church is made up of sinners, even the leaders of the church. Note Christ's condemnation of the church in Pergamum and Thyatira:
But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.  So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14-15).
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2:20).
The author's argument that doctrinal corruption never polluted the teachings of the visible church is also directly contradictory to Paul's words in Galatians.  The apostle denies that such divine infallible authority is a given: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" He goes as far to indict Peter for not "acting in line with the truth of the gospel." Here is a dilemma for TPD: Why would an apostle say that a layman had the ability to to judge the words of an apostle, and condemn them if they were at odds with this gospel?

Addendum
TurretinFan succinctly summed up one of the primary errors of this chapter from TPD:
Christ gave authority to the apostles not “to the Church.” The fault in Devin’s argument arises from a faulty assumption about the recipient of Christ’s authority. The apostles taught authoritatively, and left behind them Scriptures, not more apostles.

13 comments:

James Swan said...

Obviously Jesus knowing those 11 men would all be dead within a few decades, dontcha' think He intended for them to have successors?

Where exactly does it say this in Luke 10:16? Or, is this your private interpretation as well? Why should your private interpretation be believed?

James Swan said...

The Church is not sinful in her Sacraments nor in her doctrines due to being the Body of Christ. The sinfulness of the priest does not take away from the grace given in a Sacrament. Remember, the Holy Spirit has been given to the Church, the "pillar and bulwark of truth".

...and this proves that the magisterium is infallible...how?

James Swan said...

Guy:

This is what got your last comment deleted:

You said:

"Now, hit "DELETE" before the boys who check their minds at the door of this blog see it and start to think!"

If you keep behaving like a troll, you'll be treated like a troll.

James Swan said...

Guy: this caused your other comment to be deleted:

Now, hide this before someone sees it like you did with my criticism of Sven's faulty logic! You have to control what EA and Zipper read or they just might form an opinion other than the one you want them to.

Do you see a pattern?

EA said...

Not to worry, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that God gave me a brain so that I could use it.

The problem that Catholics like Devin Rose have is that their arguments are not convincing. Specifically, the arguments supporting infallibility.

Cletus Van Damme said...

James,

Rome sets parameters with its declarations that circumscribe interpretation - it does not outlaw interpretation wholesale. If it did, there would never be any theological development which in turn leads to dogmas that further set parameters, nor could there be scriptural commentaries or catholic theologians. Rome's view of authority does not entail a borg-collective. So Rose is not inconsistent to appeal to verses.

Nor is he inconsistent in assuming that the Bible is clear Christ established a church. There is a spectrum of clarity to Scripture (as even Protestants admit) - an atheist can read Scripture and know it mentions Moses and not Big Bird.

"I would argue there certainly are church leaders from generation to generation, but their interpretations of the Bible are not infallible."

As well as their identification of said Bible and the view it is inerrant, inspired, and authoritative.

"Church leaders are to conform themselves to the the infallible words of God."

No RC disagrees.

"It simply does not follow that simply because Christ established a visible church, the leaders in the early church transferred an infallible understanding of the Bible along with it."

This might carry more weight if Scripture predated the church. But the church was operating for decades before Scripture was complete - the identification of the canon was based in part on the life of the church.

"The only thing free of corruption is the Holy Scriptures."

Except the identification of the extent/scope of Scripture is not guaranteed to be free of corruption by your own principles.

"The church is made up of sinners, even the leaders of the church."

No RC disagrees.

"He goes as far to indict Peter for not "acting in line with the truth of the gospel.""

Many popes have been criticized similarly so again no RC disagrees.

"Why would an apostle say that a layman had the ability to to judge the words of an apostle, and condemn them if they were at odds with this gospel?"

Cart before the horse - Paul presupposes the layman accepted his previous preaching of the gospel ("other than the one we preached to you") that he preached based on apostolic authority. By this logic, such a layman would be justified in rejecting Paul's original preaching in the first place.

"The apostles taught authoritatively, and left behind them Scriptures, not more apostles."

As said above, Scripture came out of the church which was operating with their successors before Scripture was completed. Therefore, they left behind both, not just one.

EA said...

"This might carry more weight if Scripture predated the church. But the church was operating for decades before Scripture was complete - the identification of the canon was based in part on the life of the church."

The Church still had Scripture; the first Christians, being converted Jews, had the the Old Testament to start with along with the first hand witnesses of Jesus' ministry. Secondly, the NT books did not have to be a "complete" set before they could begin circulating. Lastly, the Church predates the "Bible" when Bible means "complete canon", but as already stated it does not predate the OT and further it is by the preaching of the Gospel and the Truth of Jesus Christ that establishes the Church (Acts 2:1-13).

"Paul presupposes the layman accepted his previous preaching of the gospel ("other than the one we preached to you") that he preached based on apostolic authority. By this logic, such a layman would be justified in rejecting Paul's original preaching in the first place."

This is half-correct. Paul is presupposing that the hearer of his letter to the Galatians had accepted his preaching. It is because the listener had accepted the Gospel that the listener was in a position to reject that which was contrary. Paul takes great pains to explain how the listeners were qualified as believers in Jesus Christ to perform that task. That does not mean that the listener was "justified" in rejecting Paul's preaching unless the listener was to remain dead in his sin.

zipper778 said...

What proof have you provided guy? I've seen your comments before James deleted them and all that you do is make claims. You bring no proof. You've even admitted to provoking James to delete your comments.

You're no victim. You're here simply to antagonize.

EA said...

"You're no victim. You're here simply to antagonize."

Guy's posts are the blogosphere's version of drive-by shootings.

James Swan said...

Guy Fawkes:

If you think that by offering arguments along with troll-like comments will save your comments, you're wrong.

It takes me a second to delete your comments. I don't really care what argument you make if it's embellished with troll comments. You, sir, have worn out your welcome.

This is really simple Guy Fawkes, or Jim, or whatever your name is: make arguments and comments on the actual blog entry, without acting like a troll.

Arizona Samson said...

"I would much rather be charged with proving the Papacy over something difficult like the Trinity or the Divinity of the Holy Spirit ( I know of Catholics who would go so far as to include the Divinity of Christ here, but I draw back at that) from the pages of the NT alone."

Thanks, Guy. The enjoyable belly laugh was well worth having to clean a mouth full of tea from my monitor.

PeaceByJesus said...

Nor is he inconsistent in assuming that the Bible is clear Christ established a church. There is a spectrum of clarity to Scripture (as even Protestants admit) - an atheist can read Scripture and know it mentions Moses and not Big Bird.

However, DV argues that without an infallible magisterium it "becomes impossible to distinguish between what divine revelation actually is versus what a fallible human being thinks it is." (http://www.catholic.com/blog/devin-rose/why-catholicism-is-preferable-to-protestantism)

For support he might have invoked Cardinal Avery Dulles asserts, "People cannot discover the contents of revelation by their unaided powers of reason and observation. They have to be told by people who have received in from on high."

And the Catholic Encyclopedia>Tradition and Living Magisterium;

"..the believer cannot believe in the Bible nor find in it the object of his faith until he has previously made an act of faith in the intermediary authorities..."

Thus DVs erroneous fundamental premise is that perpetual magisterial infallibility of office is essential for discernment (as well as preservation) of Truth, for correctly ascertaining who and what is of God, otherwise "there's no way to know whether you're assenting to divine revelation or to mere human opinion about divine revelation."

However, this RC premise and its presuppositions effectively invalidates the NT church. For without any perpetually ensured infallible magisterium souls souls correctly discerned both men and writings a being of God.

And the rather than the the church beginning under the RC premise for determination and assurance of Truth, in which the historical magisterium and recipient of Divine promises of God's presence and preservation are the assuredly infallibility authority on Truth,

Instead they followed itinerant preachers whom the magisterium rejected, but whom their Leader reproved from Scripture as being supreme, (Mk. 7:2-16) and established their Truth claims upon scriptural substantiation in word and in power. (Mt. 22:23-45; Lk. 24:27,44; Jn. 5:36,39; Acts 2:14-35; 4:33; 5:12; 15:6-21;17:2,11; 18:28; 28:23; Rm. 15:19; 2Cor. 12:12, etc.)

Meanwhile, under the RC model 1st century souls could not have had assurance of Truth as to what writings were of God, and should have submitted to the historical magisterium.

PeaceByJesus said...


Yes indeed, the individual members are sinners. But the Church is greater than the sum of her sinful members.
The Church is not sinful in her Sacraments nor in her doctrines due to being the Body of Christ.


Rather, the Body of Christ does not consist of only one church, nor are the visible churches the same in content as the Body of Christ, as only the latter consists 100% of believers.

And which is in contrast to Rome and liberal Prot churches, which treat even proabortion, prohomo, promuslim pols as members in life and in death, and a near majority which support such.

Which partly evidences what they really believe, (Ja. 2:18; Mt. 7:20) and is more substantial and speaks louder than conservative paper statements.

It is the church as the Body of Christ which Christ promised to lead and preserve, which is His bride, not single visible churches thru which the Body of Christ as well as unbelievers have expression.

And Rome's doctrines of deformation will be burned up along with the so-called health and wealth gospel.