Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Doctrinal Chaos Argument

One of the frequent objections to the Protestant rule of faith, sola Scriptura, is the “Doctrinal Chaos” argument. It is usually stated along these lines:

Just look what happens when people believe that Scripture alone should be followed. There are just so many Protestant denominations, and yet, they all follow the same Bible. I heard there were as many as 20,000! Christ promised us a unity of beliefs (John 17:31), not a great splintering of denominations. If a rule of faith such as sola Scriptura causes division, then obviously it can’t be an effective (much less the true) rule of faith. This clearly shows the necessity for the Church and its traditions to bring unity to Christendom and clarify what the Bible says.”

This argument has probably been used with great success in convincing many a Protestant to convert to either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. However, there are a number of problems with this argument:

  1. Misleading Numbers: First of all, the number of 20,000 that is constantly used is a bit misleading. The source of this number comes from David A. Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World A.D. 1900—2000 (ed. David A. Barrett; New York: Oxford University Press, 1982). The actual number of Protestant “denominations” listed in this work is actually about 8,000, but of course, this number would still be gladly used by Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists. However, Barrett also lists the number of Roman Catholic denominations at 223 and the number of Orthodox denominations at 580!1 So, the numbers are derived using a different definition of “denomination” than is normally used.

In fact, Barrett is using “denomination” to refer to any body that retains a semi-autonomous jurisdiction. Thus, if there were ten Independent Baptist churches in a single city with all the same beliefs, then this would be counted as ten different “denominations”. Furthermore, if there were two Southern Baptist congregations in a city holding the same beliefs but had different worship styles (traditional vs. contemporary), then this too would be counted as two different “denominations”. So, the number of actual denominations would shrink greatly from 8,000 to some number probably within the low hundreds. See here2 and here3 for more information.

But it doesn’t stop there. There are several separate denominations which hold to the same confession of faith. For instance, the Presbyterian Church of America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and several Reformed denominations all hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith. This could be said of several Baptist denominations which hold to one of London Baptist Confessions of Faith. This would shrink the number of actual separate beliefs further down into a few dozen or so.

Lastly, it should be noted (as I argue below) that most Protestant denominations don’t differ on most theological issues and have no differences at all on issues of prime importance (i.e., necessary for salvation). In reality, the real divisions are a permutation of a few issues of secondary importance4: paedo-baptism vs. credo-baptism, Calvinism vs. Arminianism, church government, Pentecostalism5 vs. cessationism, a few minor6 sacramental divides (Luther’s, Calvin’s, and Zwingli’s), etc. So, the amount of real, substantive disagreement is actually quite small.7

  1. Begging the Question: The argument begs the question of the importance of visible unity against Protestant ecclesiology which does not emphasize institutional unity at all. It uses Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox ecclesiastical standards and priorities to judge a theology that does not even accept those standards! To the Protestant, the Church is the mystical body of the elect united spiritually to Christ and to each other. The visible church is the congregate of that body (plus pseudo-believers of course). Whether the elect meet in one church building or another with slightly different beliefs is of little importance given Protestant ecclesiology since ultimate unity will be realized at the eschaton.

In fact, according to Reformed theology, God in His providence allows for competition among viewpoints so that the truth will be revealed and refined (1 Corinthians 11:19). In this case, disunity is a means unto an end. Lastly, the appeal to John 10:16 and John 17:20-21 is eisegetical since the unity being spoken of there refers to a unity of all people groups (i.e., ethnic and diachronic) rather than an institutional unity (see John 11:51-52).

In summary, to assume that the main function8 of one’s rule of faith is to be a problem-solving device which brings about visible unity simply begs the question in favor of high-church ecclesiology. Rather, the rule of faith is only supposed to show us what we should believe about God and our duty to Him. Thus, the argument is dead because it commits this fundamental fallacy.

  1. Overstatement of Division: The argument overstates the differences between Protestant groups. In reality, most Protestant groups are very much united doctrinally. As J.I. Packer noted:

The extent of unanimity among its adherents has been remarkable. If one reviews the historic Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Congregational and Baptist confessions, or compares, for example Calvin’s Institutes with the systematic theologies of F. Pieper the Lutheran, Charles Hodge and Louis Berkhof the Presbyterians, E.A. Litton and W.H. Griffith Thomas the Anglicans, W.B. Pope the Methodist and A.H. Strong the Baptist, or if one examines the preaching and spirituality of churches which actively upheld sola Scriptura as a principle for determining faith and action, what impresses is the oneness of overall outlook and the width of the area over which substantially identical positions were taught. Whether those involved felt close to each other as they sparred over points of specific agreement, or defended their denominations against criticism, is perhaps doubtful; but what is not doubtful is that those who historically have held to sola Scriptura, recognizing no magesterium save that of the Bible itself, have been at one on all essentials and on most details too, in a very striking way. If evidence tending to confirm the clarity of Scripture is called for, this fact will surely qualify.”9

Though I may have doctrinal differences with a Methodist or a Presbyterian (and some important ones at that), I can still attend their church and receive communion there with a clear conscience.

  1. Is the Opposite Valid?: If disagreement over a doctrine means that that doctrine is unclear in Scripture, then does agreement over a doctrine mean that it is clear in Scripture? Protestants agree on the nature of justification by faith alone. Will the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox concede that this is Scriptural since there is agreement amongst those who hold to Scripture alone?

  1. Naïve Assumption of a Single Cause: The argument assumes that the *only* possible cause of disagreement between Protestant traditions is that the Bible is not clear enough. However, there are actually a number of reasons for disagreement that have nothing to do with the Bible’s perspicuity (or lack thereof):

  1. Influence of Humanistic Philosophy: Some Christians, having been influenced by autonomous philosophy10, have forced Scripture to say whatever their rationalistic epistemology dictates. This is not sola Scriptura but partim Scriptura/partim philosophia. Take free-will in the early church, for example:

The earlier patristic period represents the age of the exploration of concepts, when the proclamation of the gospel within a pagan culture was accompanied by an exploitation of both Hellenistic culture and pagan philosophy as vehicles for theological advancement…Indeed, by the end of the fourth century, the Greek fathers had formulated a teaching on human free will based upon philosophical rather than biblical foundations. Standing in the great Platonic tradition, heavily influenced by Philo, and reacting against the fatalisms of their day, they taught that man was utterly free in his choice of good or evil…It is quite possible that the curious and disturbing tendency of the early fathers to minimize original sin and emphasize the freedom of fallen man is a consequence of their anti-Gnostic polemic…Justin’s anti-fatalist arguments can be adduced from practically any of the traditional pagan refutations of astral fatalisms, going back to the second century B.C.”11

This form of epistemology arose again within Protestant circles during the Arminian Remonstrance. For an example of this, see Walls and Dongell’s Why I am Not a Calvinist where they admit that the Arminian idea of libertarian free-will is derived not from Scripture but from contested philosophical arguments.

  1. Emotional Dislike of Certain Doctrines: Some people are emotionally repulsed by certain Biblical doctrines such as Original Sin, Federal Headship, Predestination, Election, Eternal Conscious Punishment, etc., and so, they force a reading of the Bible to conform to their tastes.

  1. Verse Isolation: Many exegetes throughout the ages have taken single Bible verses removed from their surrounding context and built entire doctrines around their eisegeted verse. This ignores Scripture rather than building on it. It is ‘verse alone’ rather than ‘Scripture alone’.

  1. Ignorance of Grammatico-Historical Context: Exegetes of the past have frequently ignored Scripture’s sitz im leben resulting in eisegesis. For example, if an author of Scripture uses a proverbial phrase particular to a place and time period, and the modern reader is unaware of that, then that reader would probably misunderstand what Scripture says and end up eisegeting the verse.

  1. Influence of Tradition: During the Reformation, several of the Reformers were inclined to believe in certain doctrines simply because they had been in the Church for a long period of time. Of course, these Reformers also believed that these traditions could be supported by Scripture, but nevertheless, the possibility still remains that this psychological influence could have caused them to misinterpret Scripture.

  1. Sin: There have always been men who have gone with their pride instead of accepting correction. To quote J.I. Packer again:

The matters on which adherents of this principle have differed have been secondary. To the traditional Roman Catholic complaint that Protestant Biblicism produces endless divisions in the church, the appropriate reply is twofold: firstly, the really deep divisions have been caused not by those who maintained sola Scriptura, but by those Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, who rejected it; second, when adherents of sola Scriptura have split from each other the cause has been sin rather than Protestant biblicism, for in convictional terms the issues in debate have not been of the first magnitude.”12

  1. Some Don’t Practice Sola Scriptura: Many of the newer denominations don’t even practice sola Scriptura. Pentecostals have Scripture as their main authority but also rely on charismatic experiences and ongoing revelation. Some heretical denominations of the past, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, were started by those who claimed to be prophets, and some of their writings are used along with Scripture.

  1. Non-perspicuity in Non-Essentials: On some non-essential doctrines, Protestants will admit a degree of non-perspicuity in Scripture. Eschatology immediately comes to mind. In fact, the Westminster Confession of Faith clearly states this:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”13

The very possibility of all of these reasons should force us to give pause before we throw our hands up in the air and conclude that lack of Biblical clarity is at fault simply because of the presence of denominational differences.

  1. Old Covenant Unity: There was no infallible teaching authority under the Old Covenant system, and this even resulted in a number of competing viewpoints once the idea of theology began to develop after the death of the last prophet. The Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, the schools of Hillel vs. Shamai were all sects in existence at the time of Christ. If God did not find it necessary to install an infallible teaching authority under this covenant with the competition of viewpoints that resulted, then why should we think that any disunity under the New Covenant is unacceptable?

Of course, at this point, the Catholic or Orthodox apologist may retort that because there has been a change in covenants to a “better” covenant, the New, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then the gift of infallibility has been given and God’s standard of unity has changed. There are a few problems with this that come to mind. First, it assumes that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is supposed to cause institutional unity. Where’s the exegetical argument? Second, as it applies to the Roman Catholic Magesterium, the counter-argument assumes that the Holy Spirit would only be given to a teaching authority. Thirdly and related to the second point, Scripture, especially in the Old Testament prophets, says that not only will the teaching authority not be more centralized, it will be more decentralized! The prophets make it clear that what was given exclusively to the teaching classes of the prophets, priests, and kings, namely the charismata, would be given to all the members of the New Covenant:

  • But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

  • “You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the LORD your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame. Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and there is no other; and My people will never be put to shame. It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:26-29)

    1. Early Church Disagreement: Individual theologians and groups within the early Church disagreed on a number of issues, but never felt the need for absolute unity in doctrine14:

  1. Atonement Theories: To quote J.N.D. Kelly:

“The student who seeks to understand the soteriology of the fourth and early fifth centuries will be sharply disappointed if he expects to find anything corresponding to the elaborately worked out synthesis which the contemporary theology of the Trinity and the Incarnation presents. In both these latter departments controversy forced fairly exact definition on the Church, whereas the redemption did not become a battle-ground for rival schools until the twelfth century, when Anselm’s Cur deus homo (c.1097) focused attention on it. Instead he must be prepared to pick his way through a variety of theories, to all appearance unrelated and even mutually incompatible, existing side by side and sometimes sponsored by the same theologian.15

  1. Catharsis: Catharsis was the belief that, on the Last Day, if anyone had any sinful imperfections on their soul, then they would have to endure a painful but purifying fire that would correct that person’s disposition toward sin. This belief had its roots in Clement of Alexandria and was taught by men such as Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. The belief eventually took root in the Western Church where it would later grow into a different but similar doctrine, Purgatory. However, most of the Eastern Church didn’t believe in it then, and they still don’t now.

  1. Hermeneutical Approach: In the early centuries of the Church, there were two main hermeneutical approaches at exegeting Scripture. The allegorical school, started in Alexandria and thoroughly influenced by Hellenism, taught that every passage of Scripture had both a literal and a figurative meaning. The literal school, started in Antioch, believed that unless the context necessitated it, Scripture should be interpreted literally. These two schools disagreed, sometimes vehemently, over the interpretation of Scripture.

This is simply a small list taken out of the many disagreements found between the early church fathers. [See one of my other posts, “The Argument from Apostolic Tradition and Succession”.]

    1. The Early Church and the Perspicuity of Scripture: It is evident from a number of passages in various writings of the early fathers that they believed that Scripture was perspicuous when it came to essential doctrines16 (Justin Martyr, Dialogue of Justin ch.55, Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata 6.15, Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ch.11, Lactantius, The Divine Institutes 5.1, 6.21, Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians, Discourse 1.4.13, De Synodis 1.6, Against the Heathen 1.1, Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity 2.3, 8.43, Ambrose, On the Holy Spirit 3.14.94, Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament, Sermon 2.1, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Letters of the Blessed Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, Letter 99-To Claudianus the Antigrapharius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 5.12, John Cassian, On the Incarnation 6.4, etc., etc., etc.). Yes, they believed in using ‘Tradition’, but it was always used as a supporting argument, never the foundational one. For example, in Theodoret’s Dialogues, he spends the majority of the time exegeting the Bible against the heretic and only appeals to the fathers last. Here are his words:

“You ought to have been persuaded by the apostolic and prophetic proofs; but since you require further the interpretations of the holy Fathers I will also furnish you, God helping me, this medicine.”

-Theodoret of Cyrus, Dialogues, The Immutable

    1. Passages Presupposing Biblical Perspicuity: There are passages in Scripture which presuppose that book’s own or another book’s perspicuity (Psalm 119, Matthew 15:1-11, 22: 29-32, John 20:30-31, Acts 17:11, 1 Corinthians 4:6, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, 1 John 1:4, 5:13, etc.).

    1. Tradition Unclear Too?: Using the same standard, the church fathers weren’t perspicuous either since Mormons can use the church fathers to ‘support’ their doctrine of deification. There are also orthodox Protestant theologians such as Thomas Oden who believe that some later Protestant soteriological beliefs can be found within the writings of the church fathers. Lastly, both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox, who share the same church fathers, disagree on what is the true tradition of the Church from their interpretation of the church fathers. Of course, the accusation is that these groups take those passages out of context, but why can’t the same level of discernment be given to Scripture?

    1. Rome Has a Far More Serious Set of Disagreements: Though there may not be as large a range of opinions as found amongst Protestant denominations, Rome, for example, has a number of disagreements amongst its own, some that are far more serious than those amongst Protestants:

  1. Universalism in the Priesthood and Amongst the Peoples: Ever since Teilhard de Chardin started to influence the Roman Catholic priesthood, the Roman Catholic Church has moved leftward (i.e. more humanistic) in its theology. As a result, the priesthood (with some at the highest levels) and many of the laymen they influence have become universalist in their soteriology. This is out and out heresy, and it has affected the denomination at all levels. Conservative Protestants have split-off and no longer commune with liberals.

  1. Traditionalists vs. Conservatives vs. Moderates vs. Liberals: There is a spectrum of beliefs within the Roman Catholic Church concerning the humanist-traditionalist divide that range from Traditionalists (i.e. the most ‘conservative’) to Conservatives to Moderates to Liberals (i.e. the most humanistic). This is an extreme divide since you have people who actually believe in the faith decreed in the older Western ecumenical councils (with their anathemas) alongside humanists who are Catholic in ritual but are practical atheists by conviction. This is a *far* greater divide than anything that exists between the conservative Protestant denominations.

  1. Pro-Abortionists: Rome has yet to excommunicate politicians and others who advocate abortion. This would not be tolerated in my church or any other conservative church that I know of. Even though there is no ambiguity to Rome’s condemnation of abortion and those who support, there are still those who call themselves ‘faithful’ Catholics as well as ‘pro-choice’. Obviously, the perspicuity of a rule-of-faith should not be assumed on the basis of the number of divergent opinions who claim it. If only Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists would use the same standard with Scripture!

  1. Vatican II, A Pastoral Council?: Some traditionalists and conservatives believe that Vatican II was only a pastoral council and not an infallible one which binds the conscience. They say this because there are several statements in the council which contradict previous Roman Catholic teaching. Other conservatives, moderates, and liberals hold that it was indeed an ecumenical council.

  1. Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and Orthodox: In the past, the historic view of the Roman Church was that, outside of official communion in the Roman Catholic Church and obedience to the Roman Pontiff, there is no salvation. However, as of Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church has made statements that say that not only can Protestants be saved but also Jews and Muslims (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 819, 838, 840, and 841). Liberals and moderates will say that the Church teaches that Judaism and Islam are different paths to God and Heaven. Conservatives say that these passages teach that only those who are ignorant of the details of the Gospel in those religions can be saved and that Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are true Christians. Traditionalists continue to hold to ‘extra ecclesiam nulla sallus’ sometimes with the exception for extreme ignorance. Statements and actions by John Paul II lended support to the liberal and moderate view. However, church leaders in Central and South America have given support to the conservative and some to the traditionalist. The Roman Catholic Church refuses to clarify the issue.

  1. Dei Verbum: The historic view of the Roman Church concerning Scripture was to affirm its full inerrancy. However, a more recent dogmatic statement released by the R.C.C., Dei Verbum, has stated that the Scriptures are inerrant concerning that which is “for the sake of our salvation” (Part 11). Many Roman Catholic scholars would say that this means that the Scriptures are only inerrant on statements concerning salvation (i.e. how to be saved, etc.), but most R.C. apologists would disagree and take the more historic stance of verbal, plenary inspiration.

  1. The New Order of the Mass: There are several competing views about the ‘New Order of the Mass’ as prescribed in Vatican II. Even according to R.C. organizations, the wording is vague and used by all groups to promote their own doctrine. There are even some traditionalists who still insist that the Mass can and should only be said in Latin.

  1. Predestination: What is the official belief of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue of predestination (Augustinianism, Thomism, Molinism, etc.)? There isn’t one but many competing views: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12378a.htm

  1. Tradition’ at Trent: At the Council of Trent, there were two basic views of ‘Sacred Tradition’. One was the partim-partim view which held that the truths of Divine Revelation are found partly in Scripture and partly in the traditions of the Church. The second was the material sufficiency view which held that all Divine Revelation is contained in Scripture but not all of it is perspicuous (thus necessitating the use of Tradition). During the Council of Trent, the majority held to the ‘partim/partim’ view with the minority holding to material sufficiency. The wording of the council was specifically made obscure so that it would please both sides. For many centuries afterward, most Roman Catholics interpreted the wording of the council to mean the ‘partim/partim’ view, but now, modern Roman Catholics interpret it to mean material sufficiency. To this day, there has never been any clarification on an issue as important as the nature of the rule of faith

  1. Pagan Syncretism in South America and Africa: There is a big problem in South America and Africa with Roman Catholics combining Catholicism with elements of pagan idol worship. The Roman Church has not made any big push, such as excommunication, to stop such practices. To this, I could add a rhetorical question posed at those who use the ‘Doctrinal Chaos’ argument: does this rank idolatry nullify the perspicuity of the Roman Church?

If the Roman Catholic here retorts with, “Yes, we do have disagreements, but we are still one church,” then I should reply by noting that his church is a unity in name only and not a complete union of doctrine or spiritual love as he is so quick to chide Protestants for. The followers of the various beliefs may all go by the same name but not the same beliefs or convictions (as is most prominent in the conservative-liberal divide).

    1. The Eastern Orthodox Have Their Divisions as Well: Like Rome, there are a number of theological divides within the Eastern Orthodox churches as well:

  1. Conservatives vs. Liberals vs. Neo-Orthodox: One can go to an Orthodox seminary such as St. Vladimir’s and find several different views on the inspiration of Scripture corresponding to the conservative, liberal, neo-orthodox divide amongst professing Protestants. As I noted in the similar point under the Roman Catholic division above, this is a far greater divide than anything within the conservative17 Protestant camp.

  1. Bordering on Universalism: There have been many Eastern theologians dating back to the church fathers who have held to theologies bordering on (if not fully teaching) universalism. This is a form of rank heresy and is much more serious than any divides with Evangelicalism.

  1. Ethnic Divide: Several of the Eastern Orthodox churches are seen by many of their members as being “national” or ethnic churches. They believe in their church because that is their ethnic religion and don’t have real communion with other Orthodox churches and their bishops.

  1. Ecumenism with Rome, the Oriental Orthodox, or Protestants?: There are many, especially amongst the Russian Orthodox that don’t believe that the Orthodox should recognize the Roman Catholics, the Oriental Orthodox, or Protestants as fellow Christians. See here.18

  1. Original Sin: There are a few theologians within Eastern Orthodoxy that hold to Augustine’s view of Original Sin (i.e., that the guilt of the sin transferred to subsequent generations) while the majority do not.

  1. The Old Testament Canon: There is a disagreement within the Eastern Orthodox Church as to the extent of the Old Testament canon. There are a range of views as to what in the deutero-canonical books should be included, and some theologians argue that the Hebrew canon (i.e., the same as the Protestant canon which excludes all of the deutero-canonicals) is the correct one.19

    1. Heresy is Universal, No Matter the Authority: As noted above, even in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, heresies such as universalism and open theism still abound. Does this mean that those two churches’ doctrinal statements aren’t clear enough? If it doesn’t, then why isn’t the same slack given to Protestants?

    1. Disunity is Better Than Forced Unity: I would rather have many denominational splits which separate the conservatives from those who hold to liberal theology than to be forced to commune with and be represented by liberal theologians. Rome has more than her fare share of liberals at the very highest echelons of the church, and Eastern Orthodoxy will get to that point in time.

    1. It’s Worth It: Reading the Bible individually may be risky, but even more risky is believing in a Church with delusions of infallibility and the mistaken notion that its beliefs are apostolic when, in reality, they were ancient misjudgments on the part of the early Christians and frozen in time as ‘tradition’.


1 Lest the RC and EO apologists try to counter by saying that their 223 or 580 denominations doesn’t compare with Protestants’ 8,000, I would remind the reader that the original argument used by RC and EO apologists was that division is necessarily the result of the failure of the underlying authority structure. So, the question isn’t small division versus massive division, but rather, it is division, period. Any division at all would (by this argument’s standard) mean a failure of the authority structure.

4 Though I would still consider these important, I would not consider people who hold to different positions on these issues to be non-Christians.

5 Though, I would argue that many Pentecostal denominations don’t hold to sola Scriptura.

6 That is, in my opinion.

7 In fact, there are corresponding theological divides within the Roman Catholic Church on many of the same issues that I mentioned above.

8 Which would be the standard by which it is judged to be true or not.

9 J.I. Packer, ‘Sola Scriptura in History and Today’ in John Warwick Montgomery, ed., God’s Inerrant Word: An International Symposium on the Trustworthiness of Scripture (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1974), p.55.

10 i.e. Philosophy that starts with man’s reason and interprets the Bible through that lens instead of starting with Scripture and judging a philosophical belief or deriving one by what the immutable Word of God states.

11 Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification, 2nd edition (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1998), pp.17, 19, 20.

12 Packer, op. cit., p.55.

13 Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.7.

14 I should note that this is more of an internal critique of my opponents’ authority system. The opinions of the early fathers are simply a curiosity to me than an authority to which I should have to bind my theological system to.

15 J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, rev. ed. (Peabody, MA: Prince Press, reprinted 2003), p.375. (emphasis mine)

16 I will note again that, just as with point 6., this is an internal critique rather than accepting the premise that one’s theology should take into account the beliefs of the church fathers.

17 Liberal “Protestants” don’t hold to sola Scriptura.

19 “For the Greek Church, the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672 introduced Wisd and other Deuterocanonical books to a place in Holy Scripture. ‘There appears to be no unanimity, however, on the subject of the canon in the Greek Orthodox Church today. Catechisms directly at variance with each other on this subject have received the Imprimatur of the Greek Ecclesiastical authorities and the Greek clergy may hold and teach what they please about it (Metzger: 195),” -D. Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday 1979), p.67.

The Hebrew version of the Old Testament contains thirty-nine books. The Septuagint contains in addition ten further books, not present in the Hebrew, which are known in the Orthodox Church as the “Deutero-Canonical Books. These were declared by the Councils of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) to be “Genuine parts of Scripture”; most Orthodox scholars at the present day, however, following the opinion of Athanasius and Jerome, consider that the Deutero-Canonical Books, although part of the bible, stand on a lower footing than the rest of the Old Testament.” - T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books 1997), p.200.


orthodox said...

"In fact, according to Reformed theology, God in His providence allows for competition among viewpoints so that the truth will be revealed and refined (1 Corinthians 11:19)."

1) They are factions, not schisms.

2) The resolution of the dispute shows who is approved by God.

Except that protestants are doubling back and revisiting already resolved disputes which were approved by God.

Or do you not actually believe this verse?

" Lastly, the appeal to John 10:16 and John 17:20-21 is eisegetical since the unity being spoken of there refers to a unity of all people groups (i.e., ethnic and diachronic) rather than an institutional unity (see John 11:51-52)."

All people groups sounds fairly comprehensive to me.

“The extent of unanimity among its adherents has been remarkable. If one reviews the historic Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Congregational and Baptist..."

Let's say we give Mr Packer some credence. I would then be curious to know how the Church Fathers fit in. Are they also close enough in Mr Packer's world? If they're not, does that mean they didn't hold to sola scripture? If they are close enough, I'd like to know how EO are not close enough. If they're not close enough, is this an admission that the early church never held to sola scriptura? If that is not admitted, then what would say about the supposedly sola scriptura early church being different to protestantism?

"when adherents of sola Scriptura have split from each other the cause has been sin rather than Protestant biblicism, for in convictional terms the issues in debate have not been of the first magnitude."

Which begs the question of what is of the first magnitude. It's an easy out to say that all those who split did so for bad reasons. Anyone can claim that, and we can all be one happy family.

"If God did not find it necessary to install an infallible teaching authority under this covenant with the competition of viewpoints that resulted, then why should we think that any disunity under the New Covenant is unacceptable?
Of course, at this point, the Catholic or Orthodox apologist may retort..."

Why would an Orthodox apologist retort, when Orthodoxy does not believe in an infallible teaching authority?

"Early Church Disagreement: Individual theologians and groups within the early Church disagreed on a number of issues, but never felt the need for absolute unity in doctrine14:
Atonement Theories:"

Ok great. Are YOU willing to accept several of these atonement theories taught in YOUR church? Or would you hypocritically insist on your favorite one only?

" There are a few theologians within Eastern Orthodoxy that hold to Augustine’s view of Original Sin "


"Eastern Orthodoxy will get to that point in time."

Uh, no it won't.

"Reading the Bible individually may be risky, but even more risky is believing in a Church with delusions of infallibility and the mistaken notion that its beliefs are apostolic when, in reality, they were ancient misjudgments on the part of the early Christians and frozen in time as ‘tradition’."

Trusting the early Christians to pass on the correct canon of writings, but not the correct understanding of it, is very arbitrary.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Saint & Sinner,

I came here via your comment on Triablogue. WoW!!!

Peace and Blessings.