Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Eisegeted Verses, Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council

[This is part of an ongoing series. See my introduction.]

15:1 Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with them, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others of them should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue. 3 Therefore, being sent on their way by the church, they were passing through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and were bringing great joy to all the brethren. 4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; 9 and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” 12 All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. 13 After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, “Brethren, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. 15 With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 16 ‘AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17 SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’ 18 SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO.’ 19 Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, 20 but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. 21 “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: 29 that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” 30 So when they were sent away, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 When they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 Judas and Silas, also being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message. 33 After they had spent time there, they were sent away from the brethren in peace to those who had sent them out. 34 [But it seemed good to Silas to remain there.] 35 But Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch, teaching and preaching with many others also, the word of the Lord…16:4 Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.” –Acts 15:1-35, 16:4 NASB

Exegesis

The context of the passage is that the some of the Pharisees were teaching that one must receive circumcision in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, and so, the brethren asked that they should go to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to determine the issue.

Paul and Barnabas gave their side saying that God has been working through them in the conversion of the gentiles, but then, the Pharisees gave their side. The apostles and elders in Jerusalem then convened to decide on the matter.

After much discussion, Peter stands up and recalls to everyone his experiences in Acts 10 and 11. On this basis he agreed with Paul and Barnabas. The people participating in the council kept silent as each one took their turn speaking. As Chrysostom said:

““Then all the multitude kept silence,” etc. (v. 12.) There was no arrogance in the Church. After Peter Paul speaks, and none silences him: James waits patiently, not starts up (for the next word). Great the orderliness (of the proceedings). No word speaks John here, no word the other Apostles, but held their peace, for James was invested with the chief rule, and think it no hardship. So clean was their soul from love of glory. “And after that they had held their peace, James answered,” etc. (v. 13.) (b) Peter indeed spoke more strongly, but James here more mildly: for thus it behooves one in high authority, to leave what is unpleasant for others to say, while he himself appears in the milder part.”
-John Chrysostom, Homilies on The Acts of the Apostles, Homily XXXIII
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf111.vi.xxxiii.html

[On a quick note, some Roman Catholics have argued that the people kept silent when Peter spoke in the sense that they fell silent when he gave his ‘Papal decree’: “That’s it, the Pope has spoken.” However, this is not what the text is saying. They kept silent for everyone out of politeness and wishing to hear everyone else’s opinion. This was Chrysostom’s interpretation. It is also interesting to note that he held that James was of higher authority than Peter (see the last sentence of the above quote)!]

Next, James gives his judgment. He sides with Paul and Barnabas citing the Old Testament prophecies of the New Covenant on the inclusion of the gentiles. From this, it was his judgment that the church assembled in Jerusalem write to the church at Antioch that circumcision was not necessary (as it was part of the ritual law fulfilled in Christ) but to abstain from idolatry and other pagan practices (as they were part of the moral law which endures forever). After hearing James’ decision, the apostles, the elders, and the whole church agreed.

“To the Holy Spirit and to Us”

The letter was written and went out. The authority for this decision was given: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” (v.28). The decision was worked to by their reasoned judgment through the direction of the Holy Spirit. As Matthew Henry stated:

“They express themselves with something of authority, that what they wrote might be received with respect, and deference paid to it: It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, that is, to us under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and by direction from him: not only the apostles, but others, were endued with spiritual gifts extraordinary, and knew more of the mind of God than any since those gifts ceased can pretend to; their infallibility gave an incontestable authority to their decrees, and they would not order any thing because it seemed good to them, but that they knew it first seemed good to the Holy Ghost.”
-Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Acts 15
http://bible.crosswalk.com/Commentaries/MatthewHenryComplete/mhc-com.cgi?book=ac&chapter=015

Chrysostom gives a slightly different opinion as to why they added “and to us”:

“For it seemed good,” say they, “to the Holy Ghost and to us” (v. 28): not making themselves equal (to Him)-they are not so mad. But why does it put this (so)? Why did they add, “And to us,” and yet it had sufficed to say, “To the Holy Ghost?” The one, “To the Holy Ghost,” that they may not deem it to be of man; the other, “To us,” that they may be taught that they also themselves admit (the Gentiles), although themselves being in circumcision. They have to speak to men who are still weak and afraid of them: this is the reason why this also is added. And it shows that it is not by way of condescension that they speak, neither because they spared them, nor as considering them weak, but the contrary; for great was the reverence of the teachers also.”
-John Chrysostom, Homilies on The Acts of the Apostles, Homily XXXIII
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf111.vi.xxxiii.html

Either interpretation is valid though I prefer Henry’s.

Thus, Paul, Barnabas, Barsabbas, and Silas took the letter to the brethren in Antioch, and the gentiles accepted it with great joy.

Is the Jerusalem Council in a Paradigm Example for Ecumenical Councils?

Some Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists argue that the council in Jerusalem was given as the model for the participation, proceedings, and extent of authority of ecumenical councils. Thus, ecumenical councils would be infallible and binding on the conscience.

However, Acts 15 isn’t exactly the example they’re looking for. As Philip Schaff stated so well:

“The most complete outward representation of the apostolic church as a teaching and legislative body was the council convened at Jerusalem in the year 50, to decide as to the authority of the law of Moses, and adjust the difference between Jewish and Gentile Christianity.
We notice it here simply in its connection with the organization of the church.
It consisted not of the apostles alone, but of apostles, elders, and brethren. We know that Peter, Paul, John, Barnabas, and Titus were present, perhaps all the other apostles. James—not one of the Twelve—presided as the local bishop, and proposed the compromise which was adopted. The transactions were public, before the congregation; the brethren took part in the deliberations; there was a sharp discussion, but the spirit of love prevailed over the pride of opinion; the apostles passed and framed the decree not without, but with the elders and with the whole church and sent the circular letter not in their own name only, but also in the name of "the brother elders" or "elder brethren" to "the brethren" of the congregations disturbed by the question of circumcision.
All of which plainly proves the right of Christian people to take part in some way in the government of the church, as they do in the acts of worship. The spirit and practice of the apostles favored a certain kind of popular self-government, and the harmonious, fraternal co-operation of the different elements of the church. It countenanced no abstract distinction of clergy and laity. All believers are called to the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices in Christ. The bearers of authority and discipline should therefore never forget that their great work is to train the governed to freedom and independence, and by the various spiritual offices to build them up unto the unity of faith and knowledge, and to the perfect manhood of Christ.
The Greek and Roman churches gradually departed from the apostolic polity and excluded not only the laity, but also the lower clergy from all participation in the legislative councils.
The conference of Jerusalem, though not a binding precedent, is a significant example, giving the apostolic sanction to the synodical form of government, in which all classes of the Christian community are represented in the management of public affairs and in settling controversies respecting faith and discipline. The decree which it passed and the pastoral letter which it sent, are the first in the long line of decrees and canons and encyclicals which issued from ecclesiastical authorities. But it is significant that this first decree, though adopted undoubtedly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and wisely adapted to the times and circumstances of the mixed churches of Jewish and Gentile converts, was after all merely “a temporary expedient for a temporary emergency,” and cannot be quoted as a precedent for infallible decrees of permanent force. The spirit of fraternal concession and harmony which dictated the Jerusalem compromise, is more important than the letter of the decree itself. The kingdom of Christ is not a dispensation of law, but of spirit and of life.” (emphasis mine)
-Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church 1.10.64
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc1.i.X.64.html

In a later chapter, Schaff goes on to note the polity of later councils which was eventually adopted by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches:

But with the advance of the hierarchical spirit, this republican feature gradually vanished. After the council of Nicaea (325) bishops alone had seat and voice, and the priests appear hereafter merely as secretaries, or advisers, or representatives of their bishops. The bishops, moreover, did not act as representatives of their churches, nor in the name of the body of the believers, as formerly, but in their own right as successors of the apostles…As the episcopate culminated in the primacy, so the synodical system rose into the oecumenical councils, which represented the whole church of the Roman empire. But these could not be held till persecution ceased, and the emperor became the patron of Christianity. The first was the celebrated council of Nicaea, in the year 325. The state gave legal validity to the decrees of councils, and enforced them if necessary by all its means of coercion. But the Roman government protected only the Catholic or orthodox church, except during the progress of the Arian and other controversies, before the final result was reached by the decision of an oecumenical Synod convened by the emperor.” (bold emphasis mine)
-Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church 2.4.54
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/hcc2.v.vi.xiv.html

The Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (obviously an Eastern Orthodox source) concurs:

“The appeal to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) as paradigmatic for church decision-making procedure is frequently made by those emphasizing the importance of the hierarchy in the process of defining the faith…seemingly a perfect example…On closer examination, the example is problematical. Did the hierarchy really make the decision? First, Peter makes a speech and in it takes responsibility for the Gentile mission; but then James, the brother of the Lord, speaks and states, ‘I have reached a decision…’ Next, we find that ‘the apostles and the elders with the consent of the whole church decided…’ (v22); and again, when we read Paul’s account of what is ostensibly the same council (Gal 2:1-10), he states that he is the leader of the Gentile mission and the meeting in Jerusalem added nothing to his message or method…Finally, the Council was not really about orthodoxy at all, but about orthopraxy: The decision did not involve theology (q.v.) or the content of the faith, but only whether circumcision and certain types of abstinence would be practiced.” (emphasis mine)
-M. Prokurat et al. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Scarecrow Press 1996), 49-50.

So, the council of Acts 15 cannot be used as a proof-text for supposedly infallible ecumenical councils for the following reasons:

a.) It was attended by the apostles which makes it more than an ecumenical council. Infallibility was guaranteed because of them. [Dave Armstrong tries to respond to this in his book which I will get to below.]

b.) As noted both by Schaff and the EO dictionary, it was attended by the elders (lit. presbyters) of the church in Jerusalem and agreed upon by both the elders and the whole church (thus including the laity) in Jerusalem making it less than an ecumenical council since an ecumenical council is strictly episcopal and excludes the lower clergy and especially the laity. [In the first seven (I believe) ecumenical councils, presbyters could be part of the council but only as proxies for the bishops they represented and had to cast their votes as their bishops had commanded. So, in effect, these councils were still for bishops alone.]

c.) As the Eastern Orthodox dictionary notes, **the decrees of the council (which are supposedly comparable to the canons of the ecumenical councils) only touched on orthopraxy (practice), not orthodoxy (doctrine). Instead, the council delegated the doctrinal authority to the two apostles, Paul and Barnabas.

d.) On what basis is this council a model for ecumenical councils alone? Why couldn’t this be a basis for local councils as well? Isn’t this what Matthew 18:18-20 teaches? In other words, if Acts 15 can be applied to local councils (which are fallible) as well, then how can it be used to prove the infallibility of ecumenical ones?

A Review of Dave Armstrong’s The Catholic Verses on Acts 15:28-29, 16:4

[Unless otherwise stated, all of these quotes come from Dave Armstrong, The Catholic Verses: 95 Bible Passages That Confound Protestants (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2004).]

After citing the two passages mentioned above, Mr. Armstrong then states:

“These passages offer proof that the early Church held to a notion of the infallibility of Church councils, and to a belief that they were especially guided by the Holy Spirit (precisely as in Catholic Church doctrine concerning ecumenical councils).” (Armstrong, op. cit., p.7)

Other than the fact that this passage proves no such thing. [See the “Is the Jerusalem Council in a Paradigm Example for Ecumenical Councils?” section above.] Also, aren’t local councils also “guided by the Holy Spirit” and yet, not infallible (Matthew 18:20)?

Moving on:

“A Protestant might reply that since this Council of Jerusalem referred to in Acts consisted of apostles, and since an apostle proclaimed the decree, both possessed a binding authority that was later lost (as Protestants accept apostolic authority as much as Catholics do).” (ibid. p.8)

Actually, this is incorrect. While James made the decision and the other apostles agreed, it was also agreed upon by the church elders (lit. presbyters) and the laity as well (v.22).

Continuing:

“But this is a bit simplistic, since Scripture is our model for everything, including Church government, and all parties appeal to it for their own views. If Scripture teaches that a council of the Church is authoritative and binding, it is implausible and unreasonable to assert that no future council can be so simply because it is not conducted by apostles.” (ibid. p.8)

How can the Jerusalem council serve as an exact model for later councils if they don’t include apostles? It can never be directly analogous (i.e. the exact same).

Armstrong should prove that the post-apostolic authority is directly analogous to apostolic authority. The apostles were an unrepeatable group.

Are bishops, the so-called successors of the apostles, independently infallible as the apostles were? Do they each possess the miracle power that the apostles had? Under the presupposition of Mr. Armstrong’s statement above, why is this not directly analogous but councils are?

Acts 15 proves that we should have church councils, but it never proves that post-apostolic councils would be infallible.

Lastly, and again, the decision was made by the entire church: apostles, presbyters, and laity, not just the apostles (or the apostles’ successors as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach). So, it proves the exact opposite of what Mr. Armstrong wants it to, namely a presbyterian or congregational style of church governance.

“The Bible does not exist in an historical vacuum, but has import for the day-to-day life of the Church and Christians for all time.” (ibid. p.9)

Yes, and this is why the apostles penned the gospels at the end of their lives and the churches made sure to preserve their letters all so that the New Testament Church would not need infallible apostles or have the need for an infallible church congregate. They had divine Scripture which was sufficient above all things. As Athanasius wrote:

Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.
-Athanasius, De Synodis 1.6
http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-04/Npnf2-04-64.htm#P7323_2907659

And Augustine, who denied the infallibility of plenary (i.e. ecumenical) councils in favor of Scripture being the only *infallible* authority:

But who can fail to be aware that the sacred canon of Scripture, both of the Old and New Testament, is confined within its own limits, and that it stands so absolutely in a superior position to all later letters of the bishops, that about it we can hold no manner of doubt or disputation whether what is confessedly contained in it is right and true; but that all the letters of bishops which have been written, or are being written, since the closing of the canon, are liable to be refuted if there be anything contained in them which strays from the truth, either by the discourse of some one who happens to be wiser in the matter than themselves, or by the weightier authority and more learned experience of other bishops, by the authority of Councils; and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid, and this without any whirlwind of sacrilegious pride, without any puffing of the neck through arrogance, without any strife of envious hatred, simply with holy humility, catholic peace, and Christian charity?
-Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists 2.3
http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF1-04/npnf1-04-53.htm#P3163_1843900

Next, Mr. Armstrong states:

“St. Paul told us to imitate him (e.g. 2 Thess. 3:9). And he went around proclaiming decrees of the Church. No one was at liberty to disobey these decrees on the grounds of conscience, or to declare by “private judgment” that they were in error (per Luther).” (Armstrong, op. cit., p.9)

First of all, the passage cited, although pertaining to us imitating him, has to do with his work ethic (vv.7-12), not with his authority.

Secondly, where does Paul say to imitate his authority as an apostle? Again, Mr. Armstrong commits the fallacy of the over-extended conclusion (see my intro. to this series, part g.) by trying to extend apostolic authority into the post-apostolic church.

Again, if true, this would prove too much. Are we (or even a bishop) supposed to run around like we have *apostolic* authority (i.e. infallible individually) and the ability to write Scripture and perform as many miracles as they did? This was what some of the Anabaptists argued for. Rather than arguing for Roman Catholicism, if right, Mr. Armstrong’s argument would argue for Anabaptistry.

So, no one was allowed to disobey “these decrees” specifically because Paul was an *apostle*.

“It would be foolish to argue that the way the Apostles conducted the governance of the Church has no relation whatsoever to how later Christians engage in the same task.” (ibid. p.9)

Correct.

“It would seem rather obvious that Holy Scripture assumes that the model of holy people (patriarchs, prophets, and apostles alike) is to be followed by Christians.” (ibid. p.9)

How does this prove that post-apostolic church councils (which *are* given precedent and authority in Acts 15) are infallible (something that only the apostles possessed)? Again, he commits the over-extended conclusion. He has to show that they are the exact same instead of simply being similar but not exactly the same.

“The binding authority of the Church was present here…” (ibid. p.9)

Yes, because there were apostles present.

Of course, something else should be said at this point. Protestants don’t deny that the covenant community is to convene church councils at times (as the Schaff quote above says), and we don’t deny that they possess the authority to excommunicate based on their judgment of what Scripture says. However, this decision is fallible. Basically, we see church councils in the same way that the early church saw local church councils.

Mr. Armstrong goes on to attempt a critique of Calvin’s commentary on Acts 15:28:

“This strikes me as somewhat desperate. First, Catholics have never argued that the Pope has power to make decrees contrary to the Bible (making Calvin’s slanderous charge a straw man).” (ibid. p.10)

Obviously, Mr. Armstrong doesn’t know how to tell when one is making an assertion and accusation and when one is trying to give the other side’s position. Of course Calvin knew that Roman dogma never stated that the Popes had the right to decree something contrary to Scripture! He was making an accusation that they in fact did and forced it upon men’s consciences.

“Calvin goes on to use vivid language, intended to resonate with already strong emotions and ignorance of Catholic theology.” (ibid. p.10)

Kind of like the use of the term, “anti-Catholic”?!

Secondly, Calvin didn’t write his commentaries back in the 1950’s. He wrote them in the mid-sixteenth century when Protestant congregations were mostly former Roman Catholics. He was hardly playing on ignorance, but instead, he was making an assertion.

He goes on to quote Barnes’s Notes, a commentary, saying that the decision of the council of Jerusalem was inspired and that this was to fulfill the promise of Christ in Matthew 18:18-20 and John 14:26. Mr. Armstrong then states:

“In this instance, it was the decision of the council in a case submitted to it; and it implied an obligation on the Christians to submit to that decision. Barnes actually acknowledges that the passage has some implication for ecclesiology in general.” (ibid. p.10)

Of course, what Barnes was noting by citing John 14:26 was that the promise of the Spirit in this special sense was made to the apostles. So, again, for the umpteenth time, the council at Jerusalem was infallible because it was attended and decided upon by apostles.

Secondly, Matthew 18:18-20 states that when “two or three gather”. Why wouldn’t this apply to local councils as well?

He goes on to misrepresent Calvin:

“It is remarkable, on the other hand, that Calvin seems concerned about the possibility of a group of Christians – in this case, a council – being led by the Holy Spirit to achieve a true doctrinal decree, whereas he has no problem with the notion that individuals can achieve such certainty.” (ibid. p.10)

First of all, Calvin didn’t deny that a congregate of Christians as a whole could be led by the Spirit and be moved by Him providentially toward the truth. He simply denied them infallibility. He consistently applied the same to the reader of Scripture. [There are a number of reasons why a Spirit-led person or group can arrive at the wrong outcome: lack of prayer and meditation on Scripture, misinterpreting personal emotions for the work of the Spirit, personal traditions, lack of knowledge of the subject matter, sinful pride, etc. all come into play.] Calvin covered all of this in his Institutes (IV.9.1-14).

Again, Mr. Armstrong is inconsistent since, when we apply the same standard to local councils, he denies them infallibility but yet, believes that they were moved by the Spirit as well.

“For Catholics, the import of Acts 15:28 is clear and undeniable.” (ibid. p.11)

Yes, Mr. Armstrong, because of your overriding presupposition which your Church tells you to bring to Scripture, you have managed to ignore that the Jerusalem Council was:

a.) More than an ecumenical council since it was attended and decided upon by apostles.

b.) Less than an ecumenical council since it was attended and decided upon by the presbyters and laity of Jerusalem making it more presbyterian or congregational.

c.) ****Indeed over doctrine. However, its decrees found in the letter sent to Antioch (which are supposedly comparable to the canons of the ecumenical councils) did not touch on the doctrines of soteriology but on the practices of obeying the apostles, Paul and Barnabas, and not participating in immoral acts. The decrees of the council were over orthopraxy, not orthodoxy.

d.) Would give precedent to local councils as well as ecumenical ones. [Thus, under Mr. Armstrong’s assumptions about the implications of this passage, why aren’t local councils infallible as well?]


BTW: I encourage my readers to give comments on what I can add to these posts to make my arguments/counter-arguments more complete, and of course, I encourage criticism as well.


**This paragraph used to read, "...the issue at hand was one of orthopraxy (practice), not orthodoxy (doctrine)." It was corrected in order to be more accurate. The change was made on October 11, 2007.

****This paragraph used to read, "More over an issue of practice, not doctrine." It was corrected in order to be more accurate. The change was made on October 11, 2007.

46 comments:

orthodox said...

S&S: It consisted not of the apostles alone, but of apostles, elders, and brethren.

O: Amen and Hallelujah.

S&S: All of which plainly proves the right of Christian people to take part in some way in the government of the church, as they do in the acts of worship.

O: My goodness, has S&S discovered Eastern Orthodoxy and converted without telling us?

S&S: All believers are called to the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices in Christ.

O: Sure looks like it.

S&S: The Greek and Roman churches gradually departed from the apostolic polity and excluded not only the laity, but also the lower clergy from all participation in the legislative councils.

O: Bzzzt, wrong. While it's hard to fit 300 million Orthodox Christians into a convention centre, all Christians have a responsibility to respond to and affirm (or deny) the results of any council of church elders.

S&S: a.) It was attended by the apostles which makes it more than an ecumenical council.

O: Gee, after all that talk about participation by elders and brethren, now you are going to backtrack out of that and say the apostles did it all? Make up your mind.

S&S: c.) As the Eastern Orthodox dictionary notes, the issue at hand was one of orthopraxy (practice), not orthodoxy (doctrine).

O: So you would have no doctrinal objections in throwing out all the gentiles. Interesting.

S&S: d.) On what basis is this council a model for ecumenical councils alone? Why couldn’t this be a basis for local councils (which are not considered infallible) as well?

O: It is a basis for any council, but if any council does not fit the criteria that "the elders, and the whole church" agree with it, then it doesn't actually fit, does it? And if the whole church does agree, then it is an ecumenical council.

EgoMakarios said...

I hate to be a spoilsport, but I disagree with the following statement:

"c.) As the Eastern Orthodox dictionary notes, the issue at hand was one of orthopraxy (practice), not orthodoxy (doctrine)."

The question involved was one not merely of practice, but of soterology. 15:1 makes that very clear, saying "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”" So it did in fact have to do with orthodoxy.

Carrie said...

Great post!

This must take a lot of time to give such a detailed reply to DA’s book – thank you for that. I am really enjoying this series.

Mike Burgess said...

"First of all, Calvin didn’t deny that a congregate of Christians as a whole could be led by the Spirit and be moved by Him providentially toward the truth. He simply denied them infallibility. He consistently applied the same to the reader of Scripture. [There are a number of reasons why a Spirit-led person or group can arrive at the wrong outcome: lack of prayer and meditation on Scripture, misinterpreting personal emotions for the work of the Spirit, personal traditions, lack of knowledge of the subject matter, sinful pride, etc. all come into play.] Calvin covered all of this in his Institutes (IV.9.1-14)."

Out of a lengthy post, this paragraph stuck out so much to me that I cannot help but comment upon it.

First, as someone who has been belittled by Calvinists several times in the past as believing in a "weak," "feminized," or "incompetent" God, the idea that the Holy Spirit could "lead" and "move" (your words) some reader of Scripture "toward truth" but not get him there is beyond ironic. The truth -- and the fulness thereof -- is what the Reformation and the Counter-reformation was about.

Second, if you speak "the truth," as you put it, are you infallible? Or is truth relative in your paradigm? My former pastor (PCA) was quite clear that when he or any of the elders proclaimed the Word, they were the mouthpiece of God. Could it be that someone can fallibly proclaim what is inerrant?

Third, "lack of prayer and meditation on Scripture, misinterpreting personal emotions for the work of the Spirit, personal traditions, lack of knowledge of the subject matter, sinful pride, etc." are all works. Being led into the Truth of the Word by the Holy Spirit is not. Having the Truth and the true understanding of the Gospel is essential for salvation. It seems to me that those conditions for getting things wrong with regard to the meaning of the Word lead to either semi-pelagianism (if the works you mentioned happen before someone is regenerate), or synergistic (if someone is doing the reading of Scripture after they are regenerate).

Fourth, I think you would agree that being moved by the Holy Spirit toward the truth in reading Scripture is a means of grace. I presume that you do not make subtle distinctions between one form of grace vs. another. If I am wrong, please let me know. I am not including the Reformed doctrine of "common grace." But when I was being catechized in my Presbyterian upbringing, I was plainly and repeatedly taught the fourth point of Dordt. Are you denying irresistible grace in denying that the Holy Spirit could start out leading and moving someone to the truth through Scripture but could be thwarted by that person's sinful pride, confusion, lack of prayer, lack of preparation, etc? It sure sounds like it. It sure sounds like you are denying that God accomplishes all He desires. It sure sounds like you're limiting the omnipotence of God.

Mike Burgess said...

"It is also interesting to note that he held that James was of higher authority than Peter (see the last sentence of the above quote)!]"


I see. James was "in high authority," but Peter wasn't. Good exegesis of Chrysostom, there. Yeah. James left it to one of the rabble to do the dirty work. Uh huh.



"After hearing James’ decision, the apostles, the elders, and the whole church agreed."



Which verse said that? I read James quote and then what happened afterward. The next verses say "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, 23 and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings." So, "after hearing James' decision," what the apostles, elders, and the whole church agreed about was sending Paul and Barnabas with some others. Talk about eisegesis.



"Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.” Did the Gentiles in Antioch, Cilicia, Syria, and the other places vote? Or did they receive decrees of Apostles and elders by which they were to abide? What does the text say?



You cite Schaff ("The transactions were public, before the congregation; the brethren took part in the deliberations; there was a sharp discussion, but the spirit of love prevailed over the pride of opinion; the apostles passed and framed the decree not without, but with the elders and with the whole church and sent the circular letter not in their own name only, but also in the name of "the brother elders" or "elder brethren" to "the brethren" of the congregations disturbed by the question of circumcision.
All of which plainly proves the right of Christian people to take part in some way in the government of the church, as they do in the acts of worship.") even as you mention that the initial discussion took place with some of the Pharisees and others but that then (v. 6): " The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter." Schaff is wrong. Your description of the polity is wrong. Exegete verse 6 for me. Exegete v. 22 for me. (Reminder, you said "Actually, this is incorrect. While James made the decision and the other apostles agreed, it was also agreed upon by the church elders (lit. presbyters) and the laity as well (v.22).")

EgoMakarios said...

"Are you denying irresistible grace in denying that the Holy Spirit could start out leading and moving someone to the truth through Scripture but could be thwarted by that person's sinful pride, confusion, lack of prayer, lack of preparation, etc?" (Mike Burgess)

Did you have to turn a very simple subject into a complicated philosophical debate? That's what Calvinism is, after all, philosophy. Scripture nowhere says that grace is irresistable. This is a manmade philosophy, and surely the very sort that Paul warns against in Colossians 2:8 "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." And certainly Calvinists like no others are in the business of "doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings" as Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:4.

That the Holy Spirit is resistable is PLAINLY stated in Scripture, to the utter confundation of Calvinism, where the martyr Stephen tells the Jews "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" in Acts 7:51.

EgoMakarios said...

Mike Burgess,

So now you are arguing that agreeing to send a letter after James spoke, which letter agrees with what James said, is not agreement with James? Oh how men confuse themselves with philosophy and turn their hearts from the Scriptures.

Mike Burgess said...

"How can the Jerusalem council serve as an exact model for later councils if they don’t include apostles? It can never be directly analogous (i.e. the exact same). Armstrong should prove that the post-apostolic authority is directly analogous to apostolic authority. The apostles were an unrepeatable group."



How can the early Church serve as an exact model for us today since it doesn't have a physically present Jesus? He is not here where we can go touch His wounds and hear air moving over His vocal cords. Jesus was an unrepeatable guy.



"Are bishops, the so-called successors of the apostles, independently infallible as the apostles were? Do they each possess the miracle power that the apostles had?"



No. The Church plainly teaches that they are not. I do not know if each and every Bishop has "the miracle power." Does each believer have the "miracle power" to tread on snakes and drink their venom?



"Lastly, and again, the decision was made by the entire church: apostles, presbyters, and laity, not just the apostles...."



Nope. Addressed above. Apostles+presbyters=council. Federal headship, you know. The way God set up every other social institution, from family to nation to ecclesia. That's why the bishops have greater responsibility when they answer to Him, among other things. You really made a fundamental error in getting your polity wrong by misreading v. 22.



You cite Athanasius: "Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things;" (Who is the "they," please?) "but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture." And this proves sola scriptura?



You quote Augustine as though he says that earlier plenary councils are corrected by later ones in the sense that the earlier could be erroneous. He does not say that. He says that later examples of conduct or practice or doctrinal teaching may not have been anticipated and therefore did not fall under the purview of the earlier council's pronouncements. This is elementary. If something arises later (i.e., was "hid") when you tell your kids "you can't ever drive the car until you are sixteen," and you slice off your hand in the woods cutting down a Christmas tree, your fifteen year old can drive you to the hospital. Crude analogy, but you get the point.

Mike Burgess said...

"So now you are arguing that agreeing to send a letter after James spoke, which letter agrees with what James said, is not agreement with James? "
-egomakarios

No, I am saying that the agreement was limited to the decision of whom to send with Paul and Barnabas, as the text plainly says.

Oh, how calumny causes great sin. Please retract your accusation that I have turned my heart away from Scripture.

Mike Burgess said...

Apparently egomakarios has misunderstood me. I am no longer a Calvinist. I am a Catholic. I agree with the things you said about resisting the Holy Spirit, etc. I agree that Calvinism is fallacious philosophy. Perhaps egomakarios should read more carefully.

Magnus said...

I do not think that Calvinism says that the Spirit can not be resisted, rather that all resist but if God has elected you then eventually in His own time the sinner will effectually come.

Just my understanding of it.

Magnus

EgoMakarios said...

"No, I am saying that the agreement was limited to the decision of whom to send with Paul and Barnabas, as the text plainly says." (Mike Burgess)

Nay, but the text of the letter shows that they agreed in everything, for the letter is sent by "The apostles and elders and brethren" and contains the words "It seemed good unto us" with respect to who would be sent, but it also contains the words "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost" with respect to the actually subject matter of the letter, showing that the apostles, elders, and brethren were in agreement with everything contained in the letter.

"Oh, how calumny causes great sin. Please retract your accusation that I have turned my heart away from Scripture." (Mike Burgess)

The letter sent by the apostles, elders, and brethren plainly says "it seemed good to the Holy Ghost" yet in order to defend your manmade philosophy you say they were not in agreement on doctrine in order, and turn your heart away from the Scriptures.

"Apparently egomakarios has misunderstood me. I am no longer a Calvinist. I am a Catholic. I agree with the things you said about resisting the Holy Spirit, etc. I agree that Calvinism is fallacious philosophy. Perhaps egomakarios should read more carefully."

I did catch that. You turned from one philosophy to another, both of which equally jangle and ramble over worthless arguments ignoring what Scripture actually says.

EgoMakarios said...

LOL! I left off the "and to us" both times above where I quoted "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us" Clearly it is the "and to us" part that shows they all were in agreement doctrinally and not just about who to send as the letter carrier.

Mike Burgess said...

Magnus,
I understand that, but in the context, S&S said the Holy Spirit leads and moves people toward the truth by their reading of the Scriptures and that people can and do (through mistaking feelings for witness of the Spirit, lack of prayer, etc.) get the truth wrong. (Cf Westminster Larger Catechism Q & A #4.) If we are saved by faith alone (or, if you prefer, by grace through faith, which is the Biblical phraseology) then it behooves you to make sure you get the truth of the faith right. If you can't be sure you've got it right because maybe you forgot to pray enough, mistook feelings for the Holy Spirit's witness, etc., then how is it that the Holy Spirit's leading is operative?

Mike Burgess said...

"and they sent this letter by them, “The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, 25 it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..."

"Apostles and brethren who are elders" in v.23 = "us" in v. 28, Egomakarias. Catch up. Stop interpolating.

Magnus said...

Mike,

I only wanted to point that out, I took egomakarios post and thought that was what he was implying. That Calvinist do not believe that the Spirit can be resisted.

Magnus

Mike Burgess said...

Furthermore, what you say here is a non sequitir:
"The letter sent by the apostles, elders, and brethren plainly says 'it seemed good to the Holy Ghost' yet in order to defend your manmade philosophy you say they were not in agreement on doctrine in order, and turn your heart away from the Scriptures."

The agreement in v. 22 concerns the decision to send Paul, Barnabas and Judas and Silas. What seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to the Apostles and brethren who were elders was the doctrinal content of that letter. Two different things. The passage never says that ratification or acceptance by the other brethren who were not elders was required or sought. This does not mean the other brothers did not accept it or believe the doctrinal content, man. I never said they disagreed with it. You asserted that their input was required for a properly functioning council. Wrong.

EgoMakarios said...

"Apostles and brethren who are elders" in v.23 = "us" in v. 28, Egomakarias. Catch up. Stop interpolating. (Mike Burgess)

Rather, it is you who are deterpolating. (Yes, I know that's not really a word). The text does not say "Apostles and brethren who are elders" but says "Apostles and elders and brethren."

Here is the Greek with a word for word translation:

oi (the) apostoloi (apostles) kai (and) oi (the) presbuteroi (elders) kai (and) oi (the) adelfoi (brethren) tois (to) kata (down) thn (those) antioceian (Antioch) kai (and) surian (Syria) kai (and) kilikian (Cicilia) adelfois (to brethren) tois (to those) ex (of) eqnwn (Gentiles) cairein (greeting)

Now, cleaned up to good English, that is:

NASB "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings."

NKJV "The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings."

KJV "The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia."

NIV "The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings."

Your translation didn't really translate the Greek text, but translated some imaginary text that was made up in the translator's head.

EgoMakarios said...

The NASB and NIV above are given as irony.

The Greek text is:
oi (the) apostoloi (apostles) kai (and) oi (the) presbuteroi (elders) kai (and) oi (the) adelfoi (brethren)

Now, the NASB changes "and brethren" to "who are brethren" and NIV to "your brothers," while the other translation correctly give "and brethren." This, BTW, is a good point for the blogger and any other Protestants or non-Catholics to keep in mind concerning the NIV and NASB. The NIV and NASB do not translate this text as it is found in the Greek, but follow some Catholic bias in their translation.

EgoMakarios said...

And while on this point, I would further indicate for the owner of the blog, and for those of the Reformed faith, that the defense of the Textus Receptus, rather than tearing it down in favor of modern Critical Test, would be a good thing for them to occupy themselves in. For how do the NIV and NASB get away with their Catholic bias in Acts 15:23 of changing "apostles and elders and brethren" into "apostles and elders who are brethren"? By following the Critical Text rather than the Textus Receptus, for where the Textus Receptus says "oi apostoloi kai oi presbuteroi kai oi adelfoi" the Critical Text says "oi apostoloi kai oi presbuteroi adelfoi" which corrupt Catholic reading allows them to maintain their error. Just also as our modern 'scholars' take firstborn out of Matthew 1:25 to bolster the ever virginity claims. Just also as they remove 1 John 5:7 to bolster Rome's claim that the Trinity is a tradition of Rome rather than Scriptural teaching, in a weak attempt to have Protestant convert to Catholicism in order to keep the doctrine of the Trinity. Those modern translations and modern Greek texts are not our friends, but enemies. They are the tools of Satan to bring us back into bondage to Rome. A Protestant who mocks the Textus Receptus and defends the modern corruptions of Scripture is a Protestant who kisses the popes ring and sits on his knee. Does not the WCF say that God has preserved his word in Hebrew and Greek by his singular care and providence? And does this not mean that the text was known back in that day, in the Textus Receptus? Why then would any Prot who holds to the WCF tolerate the modern critial text, the philosophy behind which is that God failed to preserve his text and that men, yea Catholics, must reassemble it to suit their fancy?

Saint and Sinner said...

To all:

I'll post later on the orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy issue.

Mike,

As to your first post, I know of no Calvinist work, whether Confession, systematic theology, other theology book, etc. that denies that sanctification is synergistic.

Only the effectual calling is irresistible. People (including Christians) resist the Holy Spirit and God's grace all the time. However, the power of regeneration is irresistible.

"I see. James was "in high authority," but Peter wasn't. Good exegesis of Chrysostom, there. Yeah. James left it to one of the rabble to do the dirty work. Uh huh."

I don't think that St. Chrysostom considered Peter to be 'rabble'. However, there were many in the early church that believed that Peter was God's tool to start the Church at Pentecost and open the door to the gentiles, but after that, James, when he became a believer, became the head of the Church. To many in the early church, Peter was considered a preacher and a missionary like the rest of the apostles. He was a special one, yes, but not the head of the Church.

"So, "after hearing James' decision," what the apostles, elders, and the whole church agreed about was sending Paul and Barnabas with some others. Talk about eisegesis."

They also sent the *letter* which was the "conciliar decree" which is what was inspired by the Spirit (v.28).

"Your description of the polity is wrong. Exegete verse 6 for me. Exegete v. 22 for me."

The word for "elder", here, is literally translated "presbyter" which according to Roman Catholicism is a basic priest. Basic priests aren't allowed to participate in the conciliar debate, frame the issues, or vote. This makes this council closer to Presbyterianism.

Secondly, not even the EO dictionary, with EO's love of conciliarism, denies that the laity participated in the council based on v.22 (since the verse makes a distinction between the apostles, the elders, and the rest of the "whole church".)

"How can the early Church serve as an exact model for us today since it doesn't have a physically present Jesus? He is not here where we can go touch His wounds and hear air moving over His vocal cords. Jesus was an unrepeatable guy."

So you admit that the post-apostolic authority of today is different from the apostolic authority of the first decades of the church age?

The apostolic church serves as a model, but the church for today can only be similar, not the *exact* same.

"Does each believer have the "miracle power" to tread on snakes and drink their venom?"

Mike, I'm not going to respond to your posts if you keep making comments like this. You know that I'm not an Appalachian wacko. Do you want me to compare you to the wacko cults down in South America that are spin-offs of RCism? [Note: if I have misunderstood you, then you have my apologies. If not, don't make those comments.]

"You really made a fundamental error in getting your polity wrong by misreading v. 22."

See above, and read the EO dictionary that I cited. Also, "orthodox" (the comment poster) seems to say that I didn't read it wrong.

"(Who is the "they," please?)"

Bishops during the Arian controversy.

"And this proves sola scriptura?"

It proves that the Bible was clear enough to easily see the Deity of Christ proclaimed from its pages (contra most Roman Catholic apologists who believe that Nicaea was necessary to make the doctrine dogmatic).

"You quote Augustine as though he says that earlier plenary councils are corrected by later ones in the sense that the earlier could be erroneous. He does not say that."

The quote comes from "On Baptism", an anti-Donatist writing. In its context, he is refuting the idea that we should follow the doctrinal teaching of Cyprian (i.e. ex opere operato). He says that Cyprian's letters (or any bishop for that matter) are not infallible since only Scripture is infallible.

Augustine then lists several things that need to be corrected because they "stray from the truth": individual bishops, local councils, and plenary councils.

Local councils can correct individual bishops, plenary councils can correct local ones, and plenary councils can correct older plenary councils.

The issue is the correction of doctrinal error, not practice or unclarity or non-comprehensiveness of the decrees of previous councils.

The Donatists had a great precedent in their doctrine. Cyprian along with the North African Church and Firmilian along with many of the Eastern Churches disagreed with the Bishop of Rome on the matter. It was as close to an agreement of the whole church (at least a large majority) as you could have gotten back then.

Augustine's argument was that, even though it was part of tradition (and quite 'catholic' back in the time of Cyprian), it could be corrected since Scripture alone is infallible and can correct someone of the past.

[Maybe I'll post on the early church's view of authority and Scripture later.]

GeneMBridges said...

Lastly, and again, the decision was made by the entire church: apostles, presbyters, and laity, not just the apostles (or the apostles’ successors as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach). So, it proves the exact opposite of what Mr. Armstrong wants it to, namely a presbyterian or congregational style of church governance.

Thank you for this statement. I've seen too many Presbyterians press the Jer. Council too far as if it excludes something like a Baptist Association.

GeneMBridges said...

O: Bzzzt, wrong. While it's hard to fit 300 million Orthodox Christians into a convention centre, all Christians have a responsibility to respond to and affirm (or deny) the results of any council of church elders.

This is comical. One the one hand you want to defer to the authority of the Church in order to establish the canon and your doctrine, but on the other you want to castigate those who deny the results of the elders of your communion and claim their rule of faith results in anarchy.

You really are making this up as you go along, aren't you?

GeneMBridges said...

The question involved was one not merely of practice, but of soterology. 15:1 makes that very clear, saying "Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”" So it did in fact have to do with orthodoxy.

However, the question was over a particular set of practices: conformity to the Law. So, it was on this basis that the council affirmed justification by faith alone. The doctrinal component is there by implication, not explication.

"Are you denying irresistible grace in denying that the Holy Spirit could start out leading and moving someone to the truth through Scripture but could be thwarted by that person's sinful pride, confusion, lack of prayer, lack of preparation, etc?" (Mike Burgess)

Did you have to turn a very simple subject into a complicated philosophical debate? That's what Calvinism is, after all, philosophy. Scripture nowhere says that grace is irresistable. This is a manmade philosophy, and surely the very sort that Paul warns against in Colossians 2:8 "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." And certainly Calvinists like no others are in the business of "doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings" as Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:4.

That the Holy Spirit is resistable is PLAINLY stated in Scripture, to the utter confundation of Calvinism, where the martyr Stephen tells the Jews "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" in Acts 7:51.


Egomakrikos has committed an elementary error. "Irresistible grace" refers to effectual calling, eg. "regeneration" not anything broader.

Further, if Calvinism is a "philosophy" that's a charge of "rationalism." Around what central plank is Calvinism constructed and where is the proof?

Mike Burgess said...

Egomakarias,
I will not test S&S's patience by initiating a discussion of the merits or lack thereof of the Textus Receptus, and, frankly, I would be out of my depth to get into it too much. Suffice to say I believe I am safely on the side of the Fathers such as Jerome, Clement of Alexandria (who did not include the Johannine Comma in his Scriptural refutations of the Arians), and others. The controversy will not be settled by you and I, but this isn't the first time Erasmus generated such controversy. Interesting which course he eventually took: submission to the successors of the Apostles.

Mike Burgess said...

S&S,
"As to your first post, I know of no Calvinist work, whether Confession, systematic theology, other theology book, etc. that denies that sanctification is synergistic. Only the effectual calling is irresistible. People (including Christians) resist the Holy Spirit and God's grace all the time. However, the power of regeneration is irresistible."

But you said that the Holy Spirit, in leading people to the truth, could be resisted. The Holy Spirit doesn't lead the unregenerate to the truth, or even start to do so. This touches on effectual calling, which is why I referenced WLC Q&A #4.

"However, there were many in the early church that believed that Peter was God's tool to start the Church at Pentecost and open the door to the gentiles, but after that, James, when he became a believer, became the head of the Church. To many in the early church, Peter was considered a preacher and a missionary like the rest of the apostles. He was a special one, yes, but not the head of the Church."

References please? This is a mighty assertion. It is not borne out by subsequent history.

"They also sent the *letter* which was the "conciliar decree" which is what was inspired by the Spirit (v.28)."

I didn't deny this, so I don't know why you're saying it. But verse 22, again, says "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas," so what seemed good to the apostles and elders with the whole church was to send the missionaries with the letter the Apostles and elders had already drafted. That it was the Apostles and the elders who drafted it is apparent from the text of the letter as seen in v. 28. Follow Egomakarias if you want. Ask him to show you the autograph of Luke's Acts which is identical to the Textus Receptus, I guess.

"The word for "elder", here, is literally translated "presbyter" which according to Roman Catholicism is a basic priest. Basic priests aren't allowed to participate in the conciliar debate, frame the issues, or vote. This makes this council closer to Presbyterianism."

We know, and Catholics acknowledge, that there was overlap in early Church terminology. I doubt seriously that you will assert that your elders were the same as the early Church's. No sacerdotal priesthood, yours.

"So you admit that the post-apostolic authority of today is different from the apostolic authority of the first decades of the church age? The apostolic church serves as a model, but the church for today can only be similar, not the *exact* same."

The successors of the Bishops have never claimed that they can deliver new revelatory material. This does not mean their authority, which was bestowed upon them by the Apostles and their successors, is a different authority, but is a more limited version of the authority given by Christ. the Church is indwelt by the same Christ, so it is one Body yesterday, today, and forever. The Church is what it is because of Whose She is. If you believe you're in a similar but different church, you may be right.

"You know that I'm not an Appalachian wacko. Do you want me to compare you to the wacko cults down in South America that are spin-offs of RCism?"

I was merely pointing out that you were proving too much. If the successors, due to the fact that Christ's witness was sufficiently established by Apostolic miracles, do not need miraculous powers to have the same authority in a more limited role, then neither do you and I need to handle cottonmouths to prove our membership in Christ's Church. That's all.

"It proves that the Bible was clear enough to easily see the Deity of Christ proclaimed from its pages (contra most Roman Catholic apologists who believe that Nicaea was necessary to make the doctrine dogmatic)."

If it did, Athanasius wouldn't have said "but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly," unless you are asserting Athanasius was a free-church congregationalist, I suppose. But I don't recall anyone in the Catholic Church saying that Scripture doesn't say that Christ is divine, but that the interpreter He established makes clear what the proper reading necessitates.

"Augustine then lists several things that need to be corrected because they "stray from the truth": individual bishops, local councils, and plenary councils. Local councils can correct individual bishops, plenary councils can correct local ones, and plenary councils can correct older plenary councils. The issue is the correction of doctrinal error, not practice or unclarity or non-comprehensiveness of the decrees of previous councils."

I don't think that's a good reading of things. In the first place, we affirm individual bishops can be wrong. We affirm local councils are not infallible necessarily. But I stand by my assertion of the proper understanding of Augustine on ecumenical councils.

In your view, though, Augustine was one of those bishops who could very well have been wrong in this matter.

Saint and Sinner said...

Mike,

"References please? This is a mighty assertion."

Witness: Chrysostom.

"It is not borne out by subsequent history."

This is an assertion that can be falsified by simply reading modern church historians, Roman Catholic included.

"That it was the Apostles and the elders who drafted it is apparent from the text of the letter as seen in v. 28."

Verse 28 says nothing about who wrote the letter. During the apostolic church, some of the members of the laity were prophets who received direct revelation from God.

In verse 23 it says that "and they..." Who is "they"? Trace it back to verse 22, and the "they" refers to "the apostles and the elders, with the whole church". Next, it says that they "sent" the letter. Actually, the Greek is literally (i.e. this appears in the margin of the NASB) "they wrote by their hand", implying that the laity at least approved of the letter.

Even if you are right about who decided on the doctrine, the fact that the "whole church" at least participated proves that the laity may participate in councils.

"I doubt seriously that you will assert that your elders were the same as the early Church's. No sacerdotal priesthood, yours."

It depends on what time period. Read the Schaff quote in my response to Dave on 1 Tim. 3:15. Secondly, the idea of the sacerdotal priesthood did not arise until the time of Cyprian.

"The successors of the Bishops have never claimed that they can deliver new revelatory material. This does not mean their authority, which was bestowed upon them by the Apostles and their successors, is a different authority, but is a more limited version of the authority given by Christ."

Correct. Now, once you have stated that the post-apostolic church is not an exact replica of the apostolic one, the burden of proof is on you to prove that ecumenical councils are infallible.

You can't just say, like DA, that ecumenical councils are infallible simply b/c an apostolic council was infallible. Since there are obvious differences between apostolic and post-apostolic ecclesiologies, namely the lack of infallible apostles (which Protestants assert made the Jerusalem council infallible), it is up to you to prove your ecclesiology.

If DA's argument was correct, it would lead to Anabaptistry instead of stopping at Roman Catholicism.

"If it did, Athanasius wouldn't have said "but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly,""

Your turning the text on its head. He is talking about the bishops wanting to convene a council in order to present a unified front in proclaiming what they believe and in their opposition to heresy. He is not talking about a council clarifying Scripture. He had already stated that Scripture was clear enough without the council.

Read the original:
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.xxii.ii.i.html (part 6)

"But I don't recall anyone in the Catholic Church saying that Scripture doesn't say that Christ is divine, but that the interpreter He established makes clear what the proper reading necessitates."

Again, you're turning the text on its head. Of course no father denied that Scripture proclaimed the Deity of Christ. What Athanasius is saying in addition to this is that Scripture is clear WITHOUT the need of that "interpreter".

"But I stand by my assertion of the proper understanding of Augustine on ecumenical councils."

You'd have to turn the text on its head in order to do so.

"In your view, though, Augustine was one of those bishops who could very well have been wrong in this matter."

Yip. Shall I quote Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms?

Saint and Sinner said...

Gene,

"Thank you for this statement. I've seen too many Presbyterians press the Jer. Council too far as if it excludes something like a Baptist Association."

Actually, I'm a credo, and I attend a Southern Baptist church which isn't very friendly toward Calvinism.

orthodox said...

S&S: As to your first post, I know of no Calvinist work, whether Confession, systematic theology, other theology book, etc. that denies that sanctification is synergistic.

O: So does this mean people have "libertarian freedom" in all other matters? If so, didn't all that Calvinism philosophy just fall on its head? If not, isn't all the accusations about libertarian freedom against the other side, just a lot of hot air?

S&S: Augustine then lists several things that need to be corrected because they "stray from the truth": individual bishops, local councils, and plenary councils.

O: But not ecumenical councils. Augustine says that a plenary council of the whole world cannot be corrected.

S&S: The Donatists had a great precedent in their doctrine. Augustine's argument was that, even though it was part of tradition (and quite 'catholic' back in the time of Cyprian), it could be corrected since Scripture alone is infallible and can correct someone of the past.

O: Whereupon Augustine comes up with his rather novel "force them to come in" argument about the Donatists based on I think, Mt 22:9. Not exactly a great advertisment for sola scriptura.

orthodox said...

G: This is comical. One the one hand you want to defer to the authority of the Church in order to establish the canon and your doctrine, but on the other you want to castigate those who deny the results of the elders of your communion and claim their rule of faith results in anarchy.

O: Huh? Once it is accepted by the whole church, THEN it is a done deal. Your argument seems to be, let's revisit the decision of the Jerusalem council, even though it was agreed by the "whole church" as S&S wants to argue.

Mike Burgess said...

"In those days Peter rose up in the midst of the disciples (Acts 15), both as being ardent, and as intrusted by Christ with the flock ...he first acts with authority in the matter, as having all put into his hands ; for to him Christ said, 'And thou, being converted, confirm thy brethren.'" (Chrysostom, Hom. iii Act Apost. tom. ix.)

That Chrysostom?

"...modern church historians, Roman Catholic included."

You're not going to score points with me by appealing to "modern" authorities. :)

"Verse 28 says nothing about who wrote the letter. During the apostolic church, some of the members of the laity were prophets who received direct revelation from God."

Verse 6 does. Verse 6 says who were called together to discuss the matter. Then, when it was all settled, the letter with their "decrees" was sent with Paul and his companions for the Antiochenes, Syrians, and Cilicians to observe. How many layman make decrees in pre-modern times, by the way? And verse 6 is temporally and grammatically antecedent to 22, 23, and 28.

"Even if you are right about who decided on the doctrine, the fact that the "whole church" at least participated proves that the laity may participate in councils."

There were women in the "whole Church," were there not? Are you suggesting they participated? Or should we see this as a federal statement? Could we? And, again, this "with the whole Church" refers directly to the decision to send Judas and Silas with Paul and Barnabas. That's what the text says.

"It depends on what time period. Read the Schaff quote in my response to Dave on 1 Tim. 3:15. Secondly, the idea of the sacerdotal priesthood did not arise until the time of Cyprian."

I already read Schaff, and I already said he got it wrong. You are wrong in saying there was no sacerdotal priesthood until Cyprian. Gratuitous assertions can be gratuitously denied.

"Correct. Now, once you have stated that the post-apostolic church is not an exact replica of the apostolic one, the burden of proof is on you to prove that ecumenical councils are infallible."

Jesus gave the Apostles His authority, but that does not mean they became God. The Apostles gave their successors the same authority, but this does not mean that they became Apostles. All of them can proclaim the truth infallibly. Councils operate differently in that they have had authority given to them from the Apostles to rule and to teach, and to whom we must submit. The exercise of infallibility is active in Her pastors and passive in Her membership as a whole. Because of Christ's promises of perpetual presence both of Himself and of the Holy Spirit, the Church is "the house of truth," as Irenaus said. He also said " Where the Church is, there is also the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace; but the Spirit is truth." This is why the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. God gave His revelation, especially of the New Covenant, through men. He continues to lead through men. This is how he established things.

So, was Augustine wrong or right about plenary councils, and how do you know?

Mike Burgess said...

O: But not ecumenical councils. Augustine says that a plenary council of the whole world cannot be corrected.

I was thinking the same thing but couldn't find the citation I needed. Orthodox, do you have it?

Saint and Sinner said...

Orthodox said, "O: So does this mean people have "libertarian freedom" in all other matters? If so, didn't all that Calvinism philosophy just fall on its head? If not, isn't all the accusations about libertarian freedom against the other side, just a lot of hot air?"

Synergism in the Christian life does not necessitate libertarianism. If you want to get into a philosophical debate over libertarianism vs. compatibilism, then talk to Gene.

Augustine made the distinction between the free-will enslaved (liberum arbitrium captivatum) in the unregenerate and the free-will which has been freed by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Though I don't agree with all the ins and outs of this distinction, the idea is the same.

"O: But not ecumenical councils. Augustine says that a plenary council of the whole world cannot be corrected."

Orthodox, a plenary council IS an ecumenical council.

"O: Whereupon Augustine comes up with his rather novel "force them to come in" argument about the Donatists based on I think, Mt 22:9. Not exactly a great advertisment for sola scriptura."

Augustine believed in the use of force to destroy heresy, yes. However, he believed that Donatism was a heresy and could be proven so by the clear statements of Scripture, and yes, his interpretation of Matt. 22:9 was bad.

Mike Burgess said...

S&S,
Augustine believed a plenary council could be an aggregate of a region, a la an African synod. He also believed there were plenary councils of the whole world. These were irreformable, and, I believe, able to remove all doubt.

Saint and Sinner said...

"That Chrysostom?"

If you read ALL of Chrysostom, you will (hopefully) come to a far different conclusion than what is fed to you by Roman Catholic apologists.

"You're not going to score points with me by appealing to "modern" authorities. :)"

In times past, the only church historians in the Roman church were also apologists. Both the Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox were quite annoyed every time an RC apologist would rip a church father out of context by citing a single quote and not taking the rest of the father's writings into account.

Nowadays, there are men like Klaus Schatz (whom I believe to be a conservative Roman Catholic) who recognize that the bishop of Rome held only a primacy of honor amongst the bishops of the early church and not a primacy of authority.

Now, the only people who argue that Rome held a primacy of authority in the early church are Roman Catholic lay apologists.

"Verse 6 does. Verse 6 says who were called together to discuss the matter."

And yet, the whole church participated in the end. They may not have written the letter personally, but they approved.

"There were women in the "whole Church," were there not? Are you suggesting they participated?"

Possibly.

"And, again, this "with the whole Church" refers directly to the decision to send Judas and Silas with Paul and Barnabas. That's what the text says."

You're ignoring what I wrote. I made the case that the "they" in verse 23 (the "they" who wrote the letter) refers to "the apostles, and the elders, with the whole church").

"I already read Schaff, and I already said he got it wrong."

Not the Schaff quote from this post, but from the last one. In support of his assertion, he points out that episkopos and presbyteros are used interchangeably in the same section of Scripture. He also points out that there were several episkopos at Philippi. He also cites several church fathers. Do you have any reasons for why he got it wrong.

"You are wrong in saying there was no sacerdotal priesthood until Cyprian. Gratuitous assertions can be gratuitously denied."

Every church historian I read on the subject has said this. I'll not get into this topic now. Suffice it to say that I stand behind my assertion that a presbyter in the immediate post-apostolic church was what a church elder is in many Protestant churches today.

"Jesus gave the Apostles His authority, but that does not mean they became God. The Apostles gave their successors the same authority, but this does not mean that they became Apostles. All of them can proclaim the truth infallibly."

The issue on this post is whether you can prove this from Acts 15. You have never shown this from Acts 15 (or any other Scripture) that bishops as an ecumenical congregate are infallible.

"Because of Christ's promises of perpetual presence both of Himself and of the Holy Spirit, the Church is "the house of truth," as Irenaus said. He also said " Where the Church is, there is also the Spirit of God, and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all grace; but the Spirit is truth.""

I may have to start a new series: "Patristic Anachronisms".

"So, was Augustine wrong or right about plenary councils, and how do you know?"

It doesn't matter how I know whether he was right or wrong. I was providing an internal critique of your own epistemological system. Your system is bound to (or at least appeals to) the unanimous consent of the church fathers. You don't have Augustine on this issue, and so, your argument from Tradition as found in the early church is weakened (severely, I might add since Augustine was probably the most prolific theologian of the West).

"Augustine believed a plenary council could be an aggregate of a region, a la an African synod. He also believed there were plenary councils of the whole world. These were irreformable, and, I believe, able to remove all doubt."

Read it again:

"...and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of ***plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world****..."

Plenary councils are formed for the "whole Christian world". It couldn't be any clearer, man!

Mike Burgess said...

I wonder if you read the next chapter:
"Nor should we ourselves venture to assert anything of the kind, were we not supported by the unanimous authority of the whole Church, to which he himself would unquestionably have yielded, if at that time the truth of this question had been placed beyond dispute by the investigation and decree of a plenary Council. For if he quotes Peter as an example for his allowing himself quietly and peacefully to be corrected by one junior colleague, how much more readily would he himself, with the Council of his province, have yielded to the authority of the whole world, when the truth had been thus brought to light? For, indeed, so holy and peaceful a soul would have been most ready to assent to the arguments of any single person who could prove to him the truth; and perhaps he even did so, though we have no knowledge of the fact. For it was neither possible that all the proceedings which took place between the bishops at that time should have been committed to writing, nor are we acquainted with all that was so committed. For how could a matter which was involved in such mists of disputation even have been brought to the full illumination and authoritative decision of a plenary Council, had it not first been known to be discussed for some considerable time in the various districts of the world, with many discussions and comparisons of the views of the bishop on every side? But this is one effect of the soundness of peace, that when any doubtful points are long under investigation, and when, on account of the difficulty of arriving at the truth, they produce difference of opinion in the course of brotherly disputation, till men at last arrive at the unalloyed truth; yet the bond of unity remains, lest in the part that is cut away there should be found the incurable wound of deadly error."
The plenary council of the whole world is capable of settling the question beyond all doubt. The plenary council of the whole world is thus irreformable.

Saint and Sinner said...

"The plenary council of the whole world is capable of settling the question beyond all doubt. The plenary council of the whole world is thus irreformable."

Mike,

Your reading *into* his words infallibility. He is saying that Cyprian probably would have conceded if the whole world of the church was against him. This is an ad populum argument, not an argument from the infallibility of ecumenical councils.

Secondly, he argues that bishops of an earlier age may have held certain things to be true, but after theological debate and reflection over the subsequent ages, those certain opinions may come to light as being in error.

Augustine knew this personally since during and after his debate with Pelagius and Coelestius, he changed his doctrine of free-will and predestination dramatically.

Augustine's examples of changes in theological opinion and disregarding previously long-held theological tradition in the church became one of the Reformation's biggest arguments against blindly following church tradition, no matter how long it was held.

Saint and Sinner said...

Lastly, you must take into account that he said this:

"and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them, when, by some actual experiment, things are *brought to light* [see below] which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid"

Notice how he uses the same words and phrases such as "...brought to light..." when speaking (in the paragraph you cited) about Cyprian's doctrines being later proved to be in error as he does (in the above paragraph) when speaking about previous plenary councils being "corrected". He clearly believes that newer ecumenical councils can correct the doctrines of older ones.

orthodox said...

Mike:I was thinking the same thing but couldn't find the citation I needed. Orthodox, do you have it?

O: Sure:

"the several statutes of their Councils in their different districts long varied from each other, till at length the most wholesome opinion was established, to the removal of all doubts, by a plenary Council of the whole world" - on baptism, against the donatists, book I, chapter 7.

"the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world;" ibid, Book II, Ch 3

orthodox said...

S&S: Orthodox, a plenary council IS an ecumenical council.

O: No it isn't, at least in Augustine's language.

"As to the people of Vigesile, who are to us as well as to you beloved in the bowels of Christ, if they have refused to accept a bishop who has been deposed by a plenary Council in Africa,437 they act wisely, and cannot be compelled to yield, nor ought to be." - Letter LXIV

Here a plenary council is an Africa only council.

"About the same period, in presence of the bishops, who gave me orders to that effect, and who were holding a plenary Council of the whole of Africa at Hippo-Regius, I delivered, as presbyter, a discussion on the subject of Faith and the Creed. " -- Retractions.

orthodox said...

S&S: He clearly believes that newer ecumenical councils can correct the doctrines of older ones.

O: Now that you've been clearly shown that there is a difference between a regional plenary council and a plenary council of the whole world, I hope we get a retraction.

Saint and Sinner said...

"Now that you've been clearly shown that there is a difference between a regional plenary council and a plenary council of the whole world, I hope we get a retraction."

Orthodox,

Yes, Augustine believed in many kinds of plenary councils.

However, he differentiated between plenary councils of "the whole of Africa at Hippo-Regius" and plenary councils "formed for the whole Christian world".

The latter is the one he refers to in the quote that I cited. Also, if you'll notice, he cites no higher council than a plenary council "formed for the whole Christian world". If there was one, he would have cited it in order to show that it could correct the other kinds of plenary councils.

Here's the quote again:

"and further, that the Councils themselves, which are held in the several districts and provinces, must yield, beyond all possibility of doubt, to the authority of ***plenary Councils which are formed for the whole Christian world; and that even of the plenary Councils, the earlier are often corrected by those which follow them***, when, by some actual experiment, things are brought to light which were before concealed, and that is known which previously lay hid"

In the context of the quote, the plenary Councils which are "corrected" by later ones are the same plenary Councils which are formed "for the whole Christian world" in the previous sentence. Or, it could be the case that he just lumped all plenary councils into one and viewed their authority as the same.

Mike Burgess said...

Am I the only one hearing Twilight Zone's theme song? A Southern Baptist telling us what Augustine meant about an Ecumenical Council, regional councils, local councils, and letters of Bishops -- all about infant baptism? And a sacramental, regenerative baptism that could not be repeated? And that should not be administered in schism but was still valid nonetheless?

Augustine, I still maintain, is clear (from the subsequent chapter I quoted) that issues can be resolved "beyond all doubt" by plenary councils of the whole world. If there is no more room for doubt, how is that fallible? Please, please, please tell me what weird definition of infallible you have to be using.

Furthermore, back to the question of the Jerusalem council, the letter was drafted by the Apostles and elders. (Cf 15:41, "And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches, commanding them to keep the precepts of the Apostles and the ancients," Rheims. Jerusalem Bible notes 15:41 in the Western Text contains the addition and compare it with 16:4, which see.)

If you seriously want to assert that the early Church allowed women to participate, by all means, go ahead.

My sarcasm in mentioning "modern" authorities was apparently lost on you. I was making a play on "modern," not contemporary. I am not familiar with Schatz' work, but, to be frank, I am looking forward to further inquiry and development in the area of Petrine primacy as it pertains to reunion with the Eastern Churches from Benedict XVI. I presume you've heard about his recent remarks in this regard. I do not go into it with the mindset that there are insurmountable problems, and I do not believe those in authority do either.

I am going to comment on the orthodoxy/orthopraxy thread now.

Lvka said...

You make much repeated use of men like Athanasius and Chrisostom ... but have You ever actually read them?

orthodox said...

It might be interesting to see the Latin, but I would take it that Augustine is talking about "correcting" in the sense of filling in gaps of earlier councils that weren't fully discussed because, as he says a few paragraphs later:

"For how could a matter which was involved in such mists of disputation even have been brought to the full illumination and authoritative decision of a plenary Council, had it not first been known to be discussed for some considerable time in the various districts of the world, with many discussions and comparisons of the views of the bishop on every side? But this is one effect of the soundness of peace, that when any doubtful points are long under investigation, and when, on account of the difficulty of arriving at the truth, they produce difference of opinion in the course of brotherly disputation, till men at last arrive at the unalloyed truth".

Now if when the matter has been extensively discussed in the whole world, one arrives at the "unalloyed truth", clearly that is irreformable. I can only conclude that his earlier comment is regarding matters that weren't discussed in clarity.

Mike Burgess said...

Orthodox,
"3. 4. Nunc se, si audent, superbae et tumidae cervices haereticorum adversus sanctam humilitatem huius sermonis extollant. Insani Donatistae, quos ad pacem atque unitatem sanctae Ecclesiae remeare, atque in ea sanari cupimus et optamus, quid ad haec dicitis? Vos certe nobis obicere soletis Cypriani litteras, Cypriani sententiam, Cypriani concilium: cur auctoritatem Cypriani pro vestro schismate assumitis, et eius exemplum pro Ecclesiae pace respuitis? Quis autem nesciat sanctam Scripturam canonicam, tam Veteris quam Novi Testamenti, certis suis terminis contineri, eamque omnibus posterioribus episcoporum litteris ita praeponi, ut de illa omnino dubitari et disceptari non possit, utrum verum vel utrum rectum sit, quidquid in ea scriptum esse constiterit: episcoporum autem litteras quae post confirmatum canonem vel scriptae sunt vel scribuntur, et per sermonem forte sapientiorem cuiuslibet in ea re peritioris, et per aliorum episcoporum graviorem auctoritatem doctioremque prudentiam, et per concilia licere reprehendi, si quid in eis forte a veritate deviatum est: et ipsa concilia quae per singulas regiones vel provincias fiunt, plenariorum conciliorum auctoritati quae fiunt ex universo orbe christiano, sine ullis ambagibus cedere: ipsaque plenaria saepe priora a posterioribus emendari; cum aliquo experimento rerum aperitur quod clausum erat, et cognoscitur quod latebat; sine ullo typho sacrilegae superbiae, sine ulla inflata cervice arrogantiae, sine ulla contentione lividae invidiae, cum sancta humilitate, cum pace catholica, cum caritate christiana?"

emendari, from emendare I believe, although I do not have the grammar I need. This is rendered "corrected" or "improved" as the two primary meanings. I believe Augustine would have chosen a different verb, e.g., refellere, redarguere, revincere, refutare, if he had meant "refute," as another translation has it. I have next to no competence in Latin, though. Please ask someone with formal study what they think. I will too, and get back to you.