Response to Jeremy Tate on Called to Communion: Reformation Meets Rome

Jeremy, since Bryan Cross, moderating comments at Called to Communion, has deleted my most recent comments there and asked me to stop posting there, I will have to answer from here.  On

January 19th, 2013 9:24 am, you wrote in response to my comment on this post:

Hi Mike,

The apostles themselves taught apostolic succession. “[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). In this passage Paul refers to the first three generations of apostolic succession—his own generation, Timothy’s generation, and the generation Timothy will teach. This “entrusting” does not mean “take a risk with some men and see how it goes, maybe they will keep pure doctrine by their own faithfulness”. Instead, this refers to the preservation of the true apostolic faith which God preserves. What do you understand as God’s provision for preserving the true apostolic faith?

Peace in Christ, Jeremy

Jeremy, 2 Timothy 2:2 demonstrates that teaching was expected to continue, but it says nothing about hierarchical authority.  Is this what you consider the scriptural warrant for the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of “apostolic succession”?  That’s an awfully heavy harness to hang on such a tiny little hook.

via Studies On the Early Papacy – A Must Read for Church History Geeks – Called to Communion.

“The Issue of Authority in Early Christianity” by Dr. Kenneth Howell (video)

From the post’s description:

Dr. Kenneth Howell earned an M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary, an M.A. in Linguistics and Philosophy from the University of South Florida, a Ph.D. from Indiana University in Linguistics and the Philosophy of Science, and a second Ph.D. from Lancaster University (U.K.) in the History of Christianity and Science. He was a Presbyterian minister for eighteen years and a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary for seven years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1996. He is presently Director of the John Henry Cardinal Newman Institute of Catholic Thought and Adjunct Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Illinois. At last year’s Deep in History conference, he gave the following talk, titled “The Issue of Authority in Early Christianity.”

via “The Issue of Authority in Early Christianity” – Called to Communion (video 1:02:29).

Dr. Howell presented a rather weak case for the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to divine authority having been rightly derived from early Christianity – particularly if by “early Christianity” we mean “apostolic Christianity.” There are several aspects to this failure.

1. His exegesis of episkopos, prebuteros, and diakonos was…well, there’s no nice way to say it: sloppy.

2. His contention that post-apostolic church leadership (specifically, Clement) claimed to have inherited apostolic authority no more proves that God or the apostles granted it than when Pope Benedict claims it. There’s no denying that from the first generation after the apostles to this present day church leaders have claimed divine legitimacy (including the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches and of Protestant churches). What needs to be demonstrated is whether the Lord or the apostles ever conferred this authority on any of them.

3. The closest Dr. Howell came to claiming apostolic articulation of apostolic succession was 2 Tim 2:2. One verse. And a verse that could more easily be interpreted in other ways. That’s quite a stretch – unless you’re already disposed to accept the claim.

Responses to Jason Stellman’s Responses

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.

See also:

Church Is Not the Answer; Christ Is

Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church

How to Be in the One True Church


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?


The Apostles Said False Teachers Would Succeed Them

Where Is the Doctrine of Apostolic Succession?

God Destroyed Jerusalem for the Same Reason He Abandoned the Church

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.


How Did the Church Lose Track of Jesus?

True Apostles Brought Grace and Peace from Our Lord

The True People of Jesus Assemble to Him and Not to Each Other

The New Testament Church was Shiloh – The Church Afterward Was Ichabod

When Did Christ Leave the Church?

Do You Want to Go to Church or Do You Want to Live Godly?

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.


The New Testament Church Was the Body of Christ; Today’s Churches Are Not

How New Testament Church Unity Gave Way to Apostasy

Ephesians 4:13 – The Unity of the New Testament Church Was for a Specific Purpose

The New Testament Church Was Glorious, But Was Being Corrupted

There Will Never Be Another New Testament Church Just as There Will Never Be Another Ancient Israel

Where Is the Spirit of the New Testament Church Today?

The New Testament Church Was Preparing for the Government of God

The New Testament Church Was Unique

The New Testament Church Gave Its Life To Birth the Kingdom of God

The “Last Days” of the New Testament Were the “Last Days of the Church”

Christ’s Church Started on the Day of Pentecost and Ended When the Kingdom Came

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.

See The Protestant Reformation Fell Short

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.

See It’s Easier to Submit to Church than to Christ

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?

Dialogue with Bryan Cross and Others at Called to Communion (blog)

My involvement in the conversation begins at comment # 511.

I Fought the Church, and the Church Won – Called to Communion.

This is how those who write the Called to Communion blog describe themselves:

We are Christians who love Jesus the Messiah, love the faith, love the Scriptures and love the Catholic Church. We are Catholics, but none of us was born or raised in the Catholic Church. We arrived in the Catholic Church in diverse ways but through a similar path involving spiritual formation within the Reformed tradition of confessional Protestantism.

For the full context of this description, see the “Welcome” page of their About section.

Dialogue with Michael LIccione and Others at Called to Communion (blog)

My involvement in the conversation begins at comment # 280.

Christ Founded a Visible Church – Called to Communion.

This is how those who write the Called to Communion blog describe themselves:

We are Christians who love Jesus the Messiah, love the faith, love the Scriptures and love the Catholic Church. We are Catholics, but none of us was born or raised in the Catholic Church. We arrived in the Catholic Church in diverse ways but through a similar path involving spiritual formation within the Reformed tradition of confessional Protestantism.

For the full context of this description, see the “Welcome” page of their About section.

Dialogue with Catholics (from Father Barron’s Queenship of Mary video commentary)

In the comment thread on this video blog post by Father Robert Barron of I interact with various others including Father Barron, but mostly with someone who goes by the name of QuisutDeus. mpc.

Though the subject matter of the commentary was “The Queenship of Mary,” the discussions ended up dealing with a variety of subjects all having to do with church generally and the Roman Catholic Church specifically.  Of course, I was making the point that the church age is over and that we live now in the kingdom age, meaning that we should be serving Christ instead of church.

The Queenship of Mary: A Commentary by Fr. Barron – YouTube.

“Final” Comment to Brandon E – At Least For the Time Being

This post is related to a series of objections Brandon raised to me beginning here, and a series of questions I asked him beginning here.  

Brandon, I think I have a pretty clear view of your position on all the issues we’ve discussed and that you have a pretty clear idea of mine.  As a result, I think many of our comments to each other have become repetitive.  I don’t see much value in an unending and repetitive debate, and I assume you don’t either.  Therefore, I’m not going to respond further unless you want to raise some new subject or angle we haven’t covered.

If you like, you are welcome to go back and have the last word on any or all of our interactions, and/or here below as well.

I am thrilled that you call upon Jesus as Lord and look to the Bible as the word of God.  Each of us has strong views about what is true.  May God be judge between us, and may His truth prevail. And may His light shine brighter and brighter in all the world and may you, me, and every human come to know Him in the fullness of the way He deserves to be known.

Brandon E’s Objections: #11 – He Thinks I Have No Way of Finding Out if I am Wrong

For an explanation of this series, of which this post is a part, see Brandon E’s Objections:  #1.

Read Acts 18:24-28.  I read every comment to this blog (and respond to every challenge I receive face to face) looking to see if I am hearing from a “Priscilla and Aquila.”  That is, I listen humbly to see if there is understanding I should add to my own, or use to replace  my own.  As Apollos heeded Priscilla and Aquila I seek to heed all those who might speak truth to me (Ephesians 4:25).

This, of course, in addition to the listening to the Holy Spirit each day continues to teach me  just as He has taught me and just as He teaches all who look to God for a pure heart.

Brandon E’s Objections: #10 – He Thinks I Have Ascribed Too Much Importance to “Doctrinal Particulars” and “Secondary Matters”

For an explanation of this series, of which this post is a part, see Brandon E’s Objections:  #1.

When I used to hold a more traditional evangelical view as you do, Brandon, I, too, would relegate issues like the Second Coming to a secondary tier of importance.  However, when God revealed to me that the truth that the kingdom had come, this, ipso facto, elevated the issue in importance.

Here’s how: I had been ignoring, for example, the clear thrust of the New Testament which called for the coming of the kingdom of God in that generation.  Instead, I had been leaning on traditional church teaching along the lines that you follow.  It had never occurred to me to go back and take seriously all the biblical promises about the timing and the nature of the Second Coming and study them.  I had just put them out of my mind, and explained them away when troubling questions came up.  I had just been assuming – along with the rest of the evangelical and historic Protestant church – that the Lord’s coming would be physical and bodily and therefore obviously had not taken place.  Once I saw the clarity of the Lord’s promises regarding His coming, I could no longer deny them.   (By the way, I put the results of that study I finally did on those promises in the book Whatever Became of Jesus Christ?)  I realized that if these promises could not be trusted, neither could any of His other promises be trusted.

I also remembered that He told us to seek first the kingdom of God.  If the kingdom had come and I wasn’t seeking it, then I wasn’t obeying Him.  Moreover, if the kingdom of God had not come (and leaving aside for the moment the hole that would blow in the New Testament’s credibility) we should be doing the church the way it was done in the New Testament as we waited on the Lord to come.  Yet the church today is not acting like the apostolic church.  There is no one of them I could go to that would match what the apostles prescribed.  (You and I have been over this, and you never would tell me what church you go to and how closely it does or doesn’t match the one we read about in the New Testament.)

Therefore, the coming of the kingdom is directly tied to the integrity and faithfulness of the Lord.  If the kingdom has not come, then the promises were not kept, and Jesus cannot therefore be Lord of heaven and earth.  The good news is, however, that He has kept His word.  He is faithful forever.  And we can trust every single thing He says.  Oh, that we would trust Him more!