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?
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.