On September 23, 2012, the Called to Communion: Reformation Meets Rome blog published a guest post by Jason Stellman – I Fought the Church, and the Church Won – in which he described, in summary fashion, his experience of migrating from Protestantism to Catholicism.
In the post, and in the comments thread that followed, Jason made a number of statements to which I will now offer responses. His statements will appear in block quotes below and mine will follow. The first quote is from the original post. All the rest are from comments he made to others who commented.
Historically speaking, the idea that the written Word of God is formally sufficient for all things related to faith and practice, such that anyone of normal intelligence and reasonably good intentions could read it and deduce from it what is necessary for orthodoxy and orthopraxy, is not a position that I see reflected in the writings of the early Church fathers.
The early Church fathers were intent on building and maintaining the church as a hierarchical organization. This is an outworking of the apostasy that Jesus and His apostles prophesied would occur late in their generation. Thus these men were not speaking for the Lord, as the apostles had, but rather for the apostate church. The Lord had come just when He said He would but apostate leaders were more interested in maintaining church than in seeking His kingdom. See Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again and All Bible Prophecy Has Been Fulfilled in Christ.
But what I would encourage you to do is ask your pastor to make a positive case for Sola Scriptura arising in the context of the immediately post-apostolic church (the church with no universally-recognized canon). Would he admit that there came a moment immediately following the death of John in which the whole church suddenly realized that the way things had worked for the past 60 years (with the word of God consisting of both oral and written teaching) had ceased, despite the fact that the apostles nowhere gave any indication that such a thing would occur?
Well, like I said, I am not convinced that the biblical or historical evidence can prove, one over the other. That said, though, it does seem to me that without a visible head or tie-breaking vote, the ability to (1) determine orthodoxy, (2) maintain unity, or (3) call a council, become seriously undermined.
(Jason is speaking here of the contention between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church for the title of “one true church.”)
These three thing Jason mentions only matter if Christ came to build a church instead of establish a kingdom.
If the phenomenon of denominations exists in order to distinguish one church from another (which I think it does), then whichever church existed first, before there were any others, cannot be a mere denomination. So if you think the Catholic Church is a mere denomination, then the burden is on you to show that it was at least the second church to emerge onto the Christian scene.
That burden is easy to meet: the first church is the one that existed in the generation of the apostles, while the second is the church that came in the generation after that.
So, sola fide is a perversion of something very true, as is sola scriptura. There’s a baby in that bathwater.
The baby in the bathwater of church is Jesus Christ. More broadly, He is the baby in the bathwater of all three Abrahamic religions.
My point is that what you or I “find hard [or easy] to accept” about unity was not the issue I raised. The issue I raised concerned how the NT talks about unity, and I showed a couple examples of Paul speaking of unity in sacramental terms: The Corinthians were one because they partook of one loaf, and the Galatians were one because they shared a common baptism. Can you find an example in Scripture of the kind of unity you and your paedobaptist friend share, in which one of you attends a church that would re-baptize the other’s children when they make a profession of faith?
Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that baptism had nothing to do with unity.
One thing I have found interesting when dialoguing with Protestants is asking them to make a positive case for their position and how it arose in the post-apostolic church. Like, was there a chip in the back of everyone’s neck that went off the moment the apostle John died, signaling that all believers must now forget everything any of the apostles told them verbally, and adhere only to their writings (which they all, because of the microchip, now know to be canonical).
It seems that Protestantism wants to have the luxury of having piggy-backed invisibly on Rome’s back for fifteen centuries, but the problem is that by its own rules, it couldn’t have sustained the first-century church for fifteen minutes.
Without Rome there could have been no Geneva.
My question to him concerned how Sola Scriptura initially kicked in in the post-apostolic church, and his response was that there was a significant gap between the death of the last apostle and the church’s realization that God’s revelation was to be limited to the canonical texts. He likened it to the OT canon, saying that a few centuries elapsed in between God’s final prophetic word to Israel and their realization of that fact. And even though Israel had no infallible magisterium or tightly defined canon in Jesus’ day, Jesus still held them accountable to know God’s word and to distinguish between it and human traditions. So given all that, there’s no reason why it couldn’t have taken a few centuries before Sola Scriptura really emerged in the church as a recognized idea.
No one in the last first century or afterward needed a New Testament canon to know that the word of the Lord’s apostles was authoritative.
…Protestantism’s whole driving dynamic is separation and constant doctrinal re-purification (which is why I actually think the smallest and most sectarian denominations like the OPC are the most consistent Protestants, while bigger churches like the PCA are filled with inner-conflict and self-loathing over how arcane their confessional system is).
Even small denominations make the mistake of trusting each other instead of the Lord. If you trust even one person other than the Lord, you’ve made that mistake.
What you say above makes perfect sense if the Christian church started in, say, the year 500 because someone stumbled upon a collection of apostolic writings containing the story of the gospel and the teachings of Jesus and his early followers. In that scenario, there would be no other option but to say, “If it is true that God became man and revealed himself to us, then we’d better stick to these writings since we have no other source of divine teaching now that the apostles have all died.” But of course, that’s not how it happened. Jesus founded a church that ministered for decades before the first NT book was penned (let alone the entire canon completed and recognized as uniquely inspired). So the scenario you offer for why Sola Scriptura must be true is one in which there is no church authorized to speak in Jesus’ name, which just begs the question entirely.
Only when one has access to the apostles’ writings can he come to see that what church has become is not what the apostles taught. The kind of church they taught was a unique, one-generation phenomenon of preparing for the coming of the kingdom of God. Today’s churches are nothing like that.
You’re just begging the question again. I do not hold to Sola Scriptura, so I don’t have to substantiate my position by Scripture alone, you do.
My point about the microchip was to highlight the impossibility of all Christians somehow realizing upon the death of the last apostle that all their oral instruction (not that of their successors, but the apostles’ oral instruction) was suddenly to be placed in a different category than the teaching contained in the letters they wrote (which weren’t even considered canonical yet). Unless you think that Paul, during his three years in Ephesus, taught nothing except that which is contained in his epistle to the Ephesians (which would be a tough bullet to bite), then you must admit that the saints in that church had a lot more Pauline teaching rattling around in their heads than just what the measly six-chapter epistle of Ephesians contains. And moreover, we all agree that during Paul’s ministry all his teaching, whether written or oral, was considered God’s Word, right? But if that’s the case, then how did the saints in Ephesus know that once Paul died they were to forget all his oral instruction and limit themselves to his writings only?
For Sola Scriptura to be true, you need to adduce a passage of Scripture that explicitly gives this instruction.
Even Jesus our Lord subjected Himself to the word of God…and you’re saying that the church is not subject to it?