Archive for December, 2008

Bellisario Burying Himself in the Carcases of More Straw Men

December 31, 2008

More response from Bellisario has come in. I’ll try to address it as thoroughly as possible, in the hopes that he’ll carefully read it and stop attacking straw men. Surely, eventually such wanton destruction of scarecrows will cause some sort of rhetorical carbon footprint problem, and we certainly don’t want that:

I had written: a) The apostles (aside from Judas) are in heaven today. They are not among us any more. So, their case is not the same as the case today.

Bellisario:

My response.

I’m not sure what the apostles being in heaven has to do with anything. My response to the later is, prove it. There is no place in Scripture that tells that their case is not the same today as it was then. And once again TF has to fall into a circular argument to prove his case. The apostles didn’t practice Scripture alone, but, they didn’t have to. Well prove that that changed after the apostles. It is quite clear that it never changed and the Church still is guided by the same means today as it was then. Sure we have no new Divine Revelation, but that in no way means that God changed the way the Church operated based on the fact the the New Testament was written. Next…

Having present his paragraph as a whole, let me break it down, line by line:

1) “I’m not sure what the apostles being in heaven has to do with anything.”

Having prophets around is quite handy. When they go to heaven, all you have is the memory of their teachings. To make sure that we remembered their teachings accurately, the apostles left us the New Testament Scriptures. In fact, the only things we can definitively say that the Apostles taught are those things found in Scriptures.

When one stops viewing Sola Scriptura as a prohibitory rule and starts recognizing it as a practical and logical consequence of “you use what you have and you don’t use what you don’t have,” then one sees the relevance of the fact that the apostles (and their prophetic gifts) being in heaven, not among us.

2) “My response to the later is, prove it.”

Only a moron would deny it. For now, that’s my proof of the fact that “their case is not the same as the case today.” Should Bellisario decide to deny that not having the apostles around changes things, I will happily try to explain to him why not having living prophets/apostles is of significance. Now, someone might try to claim that things are not very different … but that would be a different claim, wouldn’t it?

3) “There is no place in Scripture that tells that their case is not the same today as it was then.”

Sure it does:

2 Corinthians 5:1-8
1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: 3 If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. 4 For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. 5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. 6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

This passage proves that the case of the apostles is different now than it was then. They are now absent from the body and present with the Lord. I suppose that an exceedingly stubborn person could point out that the Bible doesn’t specifically mention the death of all of the apostles – but no reasonable person thinks that the apostles (aside from Judas) are not absent from the body and present with the Lord. More importantly, Bellisario’s own church acknowledges that all of the 12 apostles have passed on. If Bellisario would like to disagree, let it be with his own church.

But that’s not really the issue – the issue isn’t whether “their case is not the same today as it was then,” but whether their case is the same as the case today. The case today is that we do not have apostles in our midst – we do not having living prophets walking amongst us. Instead, we have the Scriptures that they left us, whose purpose it was to instruct us in all things necessary for salvation.

4) “And once again TF has to fall into a circular argument to prove his case.”

Nope. Another of Bellisario’s breezy assertions, but nothing to back it up.

5) “The apostles didn’t practice Scripture alone, but, they didn’t have to.”

They used what they had, just as we do. To say that they didn’t practice “Scripture alone” is a bit like saying that Moses didn’t accept the book of Hebrews as canonical. It’s a trifling evasion of the issue through the employment of anachronism. And even if a Gerry Matatics browbeat me into providing a sound bite that “Moses didn’t accept the canonicity of the Book of Hebrews,” it really wouldn’t change anything.

I think it is important to note the particular rhetorical ploy that Bellisario (and Matatics) have tried to employ. They want to cast the issue in terms of that word “only,” as though Scripture should have to expressly say, “and when there are no prophets, you don’t use them as a rule of faith,” instead of identifying several rules, all of which we accept, when they are available. But we don’t have prophets today – we don’t have God speaking from the sky, we only have Scripture. What Bellisario seems to overlook is that even though the Apostles accepted the living prophets, Jesus himself, and visions from God, they didn’t accept the “Infallible Authoritative Tradition” of alleged ability to generate new doctrines over time. We phrase our doctrine “Sola Scriptura” simply because we don’t have Jesus and the Prophets among us. If we did, it would be “Jesus, Scripture, and the Prophets alone.”

6) “Well prove that that changed after the apostles.”

The claim is not that the “use what you have and don’t use what you don’t have” principle changed, but that it remained the same. The only thing that changed is that the apostles and prophets stopped providing us with prophecy, and consequently all we have today (in terms of revelation from God) is the Scriptures.

7) “It is quite clear that it never changed and the Church still is guided by the same means today as it was then.”

The church today is still guided by the Scriptures, as it was then. The apostles themselves no longer personally guide the church. So, no – it is not “the same means today” as then, at least in respect to the personal guidance of the apostles. Still, since the Apostles left behind the New Testament, and since they did so for our instruction, it is almost as if they were still here.

8) “Sure we have no new Divine Revelation, but that in no way means that God changed the way the Church operated based on the fact the the New Testament was written.”

It sure looks and quacks like a change, not to have new Divine revelation. For some reason, though, Bellisario doesn’t think it is a change. Or perhaps he doesn’t think that the delivery of new revelation was a church operation. Regardless, the essential operations of the church are unchanged, but the church operated subservient to revelation from the start – now the only available reliable source of special revelation is the Scriptures, since we no longer have the Apostles and prophets in our midst.

In the next section, I had written: “b) To say that the ‘apostles were being guided by the Church’ is a bit odd. We never see any examples of the apostles saying that they believed something on the testimony of ‘the Church’.”

Bellisario replied:

Uhmm, they were establishing the Church, they however were members of it guided by the Holy Spirit, in which they passed down the same practices to their followers, which also by the admittance of James White himself (See his debate with Matatics) did not practice Sola Scriptura. And there is not one ounce of proof that anyone after them did either. The Scriptures of the NT themselves don’t attest to it and in fact fall in line with that of the apostles telling us (the Church) to follow both the Oral and written Word of God. Keep grasping at straws…this is fun..

Again, I’ll go line by line.

1) “Uhmm, they were establishing the Church, they however were members of it guided by the Holy Spirit, in which they passed down the same practices to their followers, which also by the admittance of James White himself (See his debate with Matatics) did not practice Sola Scriptura.”

This is rather a run-on. Christ established his church. The apostles were simply servants of Christ. I’m glad Bellisario has abandoned his claim that the Apostles were “guided by the church.” They were guided by the Spirit in two ways (as I mentioned): (i) in the prophetic gifts, and (ii) in the way in which all believers are guided by the Holy Spirit. They passed down their teachings (at least those that the Holy Spirit decided were important enough to commit to writing) to us in Scripture. The apostles had the gift of prophecy and were personally taught by Jesus, and consequently they did not rely solely on Scripture. Dr. White acknowledged that truth, as do we. If we had living prophets and Jesus himself in our midst, we also would rely on those resources. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura, after all, is a practical doctrine: you use what you have, and you cannot use what you don’t have.

2) “And there is not one ounce of proof that anyone after them did either.”

This kind of claim just shows that Bellisario hasn’t read William Webster and David King’s trilogy, “Holy Scripture: the Ground and Pillar of Our Faith,” or William Whitaker’s “Disputations on Holy Scripture,” or William Goode’s work on the same subject. In short, the only person who would claim that there is “not one ounce of proof that anyone after [the Apostles]” held Sola Scriptura, is someone unfamiliar with the mountains of proof provided.

Frankly, even if Bellisario did not read those works, he ought to have read my posts in the recent Sola Scriptura debate we had (he and I). In those posts, he would have found oodles of evidence, amounting (at a minimum) to more than a mere ounce. (Link to Debate)

3) “The Scriptures of the NT themselves don’t attest to it and in fact fall in line with that of the apostles telling us (the Church) to follow both the Oral and written Word of God.”

This assertion was addressed at greater length in the debate I’ve linked to, above. It’s silly to note that the Scriptures don’t attest to what happened after they were written. It’s just a relevant as noting that that December 1, 2008, Jerusalem Post makes no mention of the fighting in Gaza that has taken place over the last week. Writings (aside from prophecy) generally speak about what has already taken place.

Interestingly, Scripture does speak to its own closure, though some try to dispute it:

Prophecy that prophecy will cease when that which is complete has come:

1 Corinthians 13:8-10
8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

Notification that the book of prophecy is completed:

Revelation 22:18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

As for being guided by the written and oral Word of God, no one disputes that the Word of God is any less authoritative when spoken than when written. On the other hand, we don’t have prophets today delivering the Word of God orally, and the only sure testimony that we have to what their oral teachings were are their written teachings (the New Testament) and the Old Testament Scriptures whose authority they confirmed and from which they taught.

4) “Keep grasping at straws…this is fun..”

Just another of Bellisario’s hollow assertions. Moving on …

I had previously written: “c) The apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit in two ways. In one way they were guided just as all believers (myself included) are guided. In a second way, the apostles had prophetic gifts – they were the voicepieces of God, just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on. That is not the case today – there are no more such prophets. Even Bellisario’s own church acknowledges that there is no more public revelation.”

Bellisario responded:

One thing is clear, you are not guided by anything holy. I am sorry if this offends anyone, but lets call a spade a spade here. This guy is as bad as his heroes Turretin and Calvin who were both blasphemers of the Church. Let me continue. We still have gifts of the Holy Spirit and that is self evident being that the Saints have many revelations to guide them, not in new revelation, but in hearing God and doing His will, and are given similar gifts that the apostles themselves had. So no, there are still certain prophetic gifts that have never been taken away to keep the Church teaching infallibly. And once again God never changed the way the Church operated later on after the apostles were gone and then started a new form of doctrine called Sola Scriptura. This is a pure delusional and theological fantasy that TF is living in. What kind of fool does he think he is going to convince on such a poor un-apostolic teaching that has no historical basis whatsoever, including the lacking testimony of Scripture?

Again, I’ll respond line by line.

1) “One thing is clear, you are not guided by anything holy.”

This is another of Bellisario’s vacuous assertions, and he cannot back it up. I’m guided by the Holy Spirit and Holy Scriptures. Bellisario would be more prudent to focus on the arguments from Holy Scripture, and to avoid this kind of remark, which starts to look like blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

2) “I am sorry if this offends anyone, but lets call a spade a spade here.”

I do appreciate that Bellisario does not hide his emotions, but lays them right out there. On the other hand, Bellisario’s only got his emotions to back up his claims – so they are just as unfounded as his emotional responses are.

3) “This guy is as bad as his heroes Turretin and Calvin who were both blasphemers of the Church.”

Those who want to be accused of making their church an idol should use exactly that expression “blasphemers of the Church.” If accusing Bellisario’s church of erring is equivalent to “blaspheming his church” then I am guilty as charged – and so are Calvin and Turretin (in whose company I am not worthy to be included). The question, though, is this: am I right? Bellisario doesn’t seem even to be willing to consider the possibility that his church could make a mistake: even the suggestion is apparently “blasphemy,” just as I would consider it blasphemy for someone to say that is possible God made a mistake. For Bellisario, then, “the Church” occupies the place that the Holy Spirit and Scripture occupy in my theology. It is the difference between the anti-Biblical doctrine of Sola Ecclesia and the Scriptural doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

4) “Let me continue.”

Indeed.

5) “We still have gifts of the Holy Spirit and that is self evident being that the Saints have many revelations to guide them, not in new revelation, but in hearing God and doing His will, and are given similar gifts that the apostles themselves had.”

Chrysostom says that the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit had long since ceased in his day. He is considered a “saint.” Does Bellisario want to accuse him of “blasphemy” against “the Church”?

Bellisario makes oblique reference to certain of the “saints” (mostly in the medieval period) allegedly having more or less private revelations from God and allegedly performing various miracles. This kind of comment is a distraction. The “Saints” teachings may be held in high regard in Catholicism, but they are recognized as fallible. Furthermore, the “Saints” who supposedly (in their lifetimes) performed “similar” miracles were generally not the ones who were most active in teaching doctrine.

Bellisario also fails to appreciate that as “self evident” as it may be to him, we don’t simply accept the claims of his church that the various alleged miracles of these “saints” actually happened. Instead, we attribute a lot (if not all) of these alleged medieval miracles to legend and superstition. One should really read B. B. Warfield’s, “Counterfeit Miracles,” to get a more involved discussion on this matter.

More importantly, the church councils of Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II were not composed of wonder-workers. The bishops who (by majority vote) decided doctrinal matters did not have “similar gifts [to those] that the apostles themselves had.” The teachings of Rome are not supported by wonders done by the teachers of Rome.

6) “So no, there are still certain prophetic gifts that have never been taken away to keep the Church teaching infallibly.”

Notice that this is a non sequitur on the tail of Bellisario’s last claim about the saints. The saints aren’t the teachers. But Bellisario seems to be waving his hand and trying to say that “the church” has saints (who allegedly exhibit similar gifts to those of the apostles) and “the church” teaches infallibly.

But the sign gifts that Jesus and the prophets and apostles had were gifts exercised by the prophets themselves. Moses raised his staff and the Red Sea was divided by God. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. And so on, and so forth.

What’s more – there is nothing in Scripture about a prophetic gift that is going to make the church teach infallibly. It’s just something that got made up as things went along. It’s one of innumerable innovations that crept in over time. It’s a lovely example of wishful thinking, but wishing the church would be infallible isn’t the same as proving that “the church” is infallible.

7) “And once again God never changed the way the Church operated later on after the apostles were gone and then started a new form of doctrine called Sola Scriptura.”

Scripture has always been authoritative. The only thing different between the apostles time and now is that we no longer have those living prophets. We use what we have. When we have the Scriptures we use them. Before there were Scriptures, people used what they had. When there were Scriptures and prophets, people used what they had.

But though the Scripture is infallible, and though true prophets when uttering divine revelation are infallible, even true prophets were judged by Scripture, once Scripture was given in part! Furthermore, while Scripture tells us that Scripture is God-breathed, and Scripture praises true prophets of God, Scripture does not tell us that teachers in the church never err, or that “the church” as such teaches infallibly.

Like the innovation of Christmas, so also is the innovation of the “infallible teaching of the church.” The latter is much more serious, however, since it undermines the unique authority of Scripture.

8) “What kind of fool does he think he is going to convince on such a poor un-apostolic teaching that has no historical basis whatsoever, including the lacking testimony of Scripture?”

As far as “historical basis,” see above. Bellisario’s refusal to hear the fathers doesn’t mean that they don’t speak to the issue. Bellisario’s refusal to acknowledge the practical nature of Sola Scriptura doesn’t change the nature of the doctrine. Furthermore, the only sense in which Bellisario’s claim makes any sense is in taking the words “Sola Scriptura” and ignoring the qualifications. If Jesus is in front of a person, Jesus’ words are authoritative. If God gives a prophet revelation, that revelation is authoritative. We just don’t happen to have Jesus here among us, though he will return. Also, we don’t have prophets any more giving public revelation from God. And Bellisario’s church admits these two things. In Scripture, the ONLY thing that has infallible authority, aside from Jesus himself and the oral revelation of God through prophets, is Scripture. There’s nothing else. When Bellisario starts looking at it that way, perhaps he’ll understand how it is that Scripture does teach Sola Scriptura, just not the doctrine caricatured (as though the Reformed were teaching that the Apostles should have ignored Jesus, or something like that).

I had written: “Creating new doctrines and rules that were unknown to the apostles is different from asserting the authority of Scripture (which the apostles did) and recognizing the historical fact that we don’t have living prophets as they did during the apostolic times. MB’s complaint here is sophistical rather than sophisticated.”

Bellisario replied:

Uhh no, the apostles did not assert Scripture as the ultimate authority. That is plain, and that teaching is something the apostles did not teach, and that is obviously a new doctrine. I think even your buddy James White disagrees with you there when he readily admits that the apostles did not teach Sola Scriptura, nor live by it.

This is all addressed above. Bellisario’s repetition of his assertions is just that.

Bellisario continued:

This guy isn’t even using rational arguments now. It is his interpretation and he stands there screaming like a child because someone challenges him and his incorrect interpretation. I will continue later if I get a chance and go back to Saint Paul one more time in Romans 14, since TF seems to hellbent on making Saint Paul a condemner of all Holy days, in which we anyone reading the text honestly has to admit that St Paul never even addresses this and is referencing the Jews in these passages. This is a perfect example of what you get if everyone is to interpret the Scriptures to their own liking. They interpret a passage to extend way beyond what the original writer intended it to say. And so we see nothing new under the sun. The same old heresies of old.

I answer:

1) “This guy isn’t even using rational arguments now.”

See above, as to who is using rational arguments. I am quite happy with the record as it stands.

2) “It is his interpretation and he stands there screaming like a child because someone challenges him and his incorrect interpretation.”

Presumably, the children around the Bellisario household scream by writing lengthy essays explaining the errors of their critics’ papers. Either that or Bellisario just makes up stuff, because of a mental or moral deficiency of his own. I’ll let the reader decide.

3) “I will continue later if I get a chance and go back to Saint Paul one more time in Romans 14, since TF seems to hellbent on making Saint Paul a condemner of all Holy days, in which we anyone reading the text honestly has to admit that St Paul never even addresses this and is referencing the Jews in these passages.”

More assertions. There is some irony in his following an obviously dishonest description of the situation with an attempt to impugn the honesty of anyone who reaches a conclusion different from his own.

4) “This is a perfect example of what you get if everyone is to interpret the Scriptures to their own liking.”

On the heels of that last comment, of course, this makes no sense. Either the Scripture is clear (in which case no honest person can reach another conclusion) or it is not (in which case it can be interpreted lots of different ways). There’s a reason for Bellisario’s inconsistency – his position is logically indefensible, so he just piles on the rhetoric. The problem is that the rhetoric itself has meaning. In this case, the rhetoric creates contradictions within Bellisario’s own essay.

5) “They interpret a passage to extend way beyond what the original writer intended it to say.”

This is an assertion. Bellisario is full of them, as we’ve demonstrated. Notice how we demonstrate and Bellisario asserts. That’s the biggest difference between our two positions.

6) “And so we see nothing new under the sun.”

Again, the rhetoric ends up resulting in conflicts. One minute, Sola Scriptura is a novelty, the next minute there is nothing new. Poor Bellisario! If only he could set aside the rhetoric and try to deal with matter rationally!

7) “The same old heresies of old.”

This assertion is very interesting. I wonder if Bellisario wouldn’t mind pointing to the council or pope that first condemned the supposed heresy of arguing that Christians are free not to celebrate holy days? I wonder if Bellisario wouldn’t mind pointing to the council or pope that first condemned the supposed heresy of Sola Scriptura? Anyone want to take a bet as to when that happened?

Bellisario continued:

I will add one other fact in before I conclude. Isn’t it amazing that all of these ancient churches, all over the world for over 1300 years or so celebrated these Holy days, and they obviously were not reading Saint Paul in the same way that TF is doing were they? If TF is right, then why does every Church in existence celebrate Christmas until the “Reformation” and then even only a handful of those rebels were crazy and delusional enough to try and abolish these Holy days? I think that speaks for itself doesn’t it? TF is certainly in the minority of even his Protestant Scripture Alone brethren, let alone the churches in existence before his.

I answer:

1) “I will add one other fact in before I conclude.”

Notice that Bellisario just blithely assumes that his assertions are facts. He hasn’t actually established facts, just made a pile of assertions, but now he wants to “add one other fact.” Let’s see what it is:

2) “Isn’t it amazing that all of these ancient churches, all over the world for over 1300 years or so celebrated these Holy days, and they obviously were not reading Saint Paul in the same way that TF is doing were they?”

Bellisario seems to think that I’m arguing that this passage forbids Christians to celebrate Christmas. Well, either he mistakenly thinks that, or he’s just brought up an irrelevant assertion! How so? Even supposing churches all over the globe celebrated Christmas, that’s not problematic.

If Bellisario wanted to make an argument from the consensus of church history, what he’d really need to try to do is find some evidence that “all these ancient churches” held that failing to go to a Christmas “mass” was a “mortal sin” that caused a person to fall from grace – i.e. that celebration of Christmas by attending a “mass” is necessary for salvation.

Does anyone have any expectation that such evidence will be forthcoming? Not I. I wouldn’t be surprised to see lots of fresh assertions though.

I would add this: the 1300 year number is apparently based on assuming that because the earliest references to celebrations of Christ’s birth occur in the 200’s (A.D., of course), that consequently the celebrations were immediately globally practiced and then continuously maintained until a few mavericks shook things up in the 1500’s. Can Bellisario really document the 3rd-8th century practices of Christianity in the Eastern portions of India? Has Bellisario examined when Ethiopic churches began their celebration? It may well have caught on quickly (initially it would have provided a valuable teaching aid for reminding people of the life of Christ), but the reader should catch on to the fact that what Bellisario says is often not well supported by evidence, though boldly asserted.

-TurretinFan

Advertisements

Common Grace vs. Prevenient Grace

December 30, 2008

One reader asked, “How does the Arminian concept of prevenient grace differ from the Calvinist concept of common grace? It seems to me that they each describe one and the same thing.”

In Calvinist circles, the term “common grace” is used to describe a number of things. One definition provides three aspects:

1) “a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general;”
2) “the restraint of sin in the life of the individual man and in the community;” and
3) an influence in which, “God, without renewing the heart, so influences man that he is able to perform civil good” and, thus, “the unregenerate, though incapable of doing any saving good, can do civil good.” (source)

In contrast, Wesley (one of the most influential Arminian writers) defined prevenient grace thus (I’m not sure whether these are Wesley’s own words or a distillation of his thought … they seem to be accurate, and I could not find a more pithy quotation directly from him.):

Human beings are totally incapable of responding to God without God first empowering them to have faith. This empowerment is known as “Prevenient Grace.” Prevenient Grace doesn’t save us but, rather, comes before anything that we do, drawing us to God, making us want to come to God, and enabling us to have faith in God. Prevenient Grace is Universal, in as much as all humans receive it, regardless of their having heard of Jesus. It is manifested in the deep-seated desire of most humans to know God.

(source)

One could loosely compare the two by saying that common grace simply places a limit on the depth of man’s depravity, whereas prevenient grace removes man’s depravity. Common grace makes man not as wicked as he otherwise would be, but prevenient grace makes man essentially morally neutral.

The two are quite different. It’s worth noting that some Calvinists use the term “common grace” to refer more broadly to things like the fact that God sometimes gives common physical goods to both regenerate and unregenerate alike (for example, God may give rain to water the crops of both a god-fearing farmer and his neighbor the god-hating farmer). Other times, people use the term “common grace” to refer to the outward restraints on human wickedness, such as civil government and parents.

Likewise, prevenient grace is sometimes given a range of meanings. I’ve heard the preaching of the gospel referred to, by an Arminian, as prevenient grace. Indeed, some Arminians would say that every favor or opportunity that God gives to man before he believes, prevenes (goes before) that faith, and consequently can be labeled prevenient grace.

Thus, while the central meanings of the two terms are largely unrelated, there is occasionally overlap, where a Calvinist might loosely refer to something as “common grace” and an Arminian might loosely refer to it as “prevenient grace.”

I should point out that not all Calvinists agree with using the term “common grace.” I understand the historical, linguistic, and logical rational for that disagreement (I think), but I view it as a scruple. I’m not going to debate the issue here, and I hope that I won’t unnecessarily offend my scrupulously Calvinistic friends by referring to their views that way. On the other hand, I don’t endorse the idea of saying that a person is a “hyper-Calvinist” if they don’t use the term “common grace,” or find the three points above to be an inaccurate statement of doctrine. I realize that puts me at odds with such notable contemporary bloggers as Phil Johnson, but that’s just something I’ll have to live with. And I’m not going to debate that issue here, either.

Having explained the differences between “common grace” and “prevenient grace,” I hope I will have answered my reader’s question.

-TurretinFan

Response to Hoffer’s Inquiries on Christian Liberty

December 30, 2008

PH wrote:

I would like to get your thoughts on the role of the Church in deciding whether to [celebrate] certain holidays or not.

PH went on to provide the following:

Chapter 21 of The Westminster Confession titled “Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day,” states in part:

“The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as, also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths, and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasion; which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.”

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) Chapter 24 captioned, “The Festivals of Christ and the Saints.” states:

“Moreover, if in Christian Liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly.”

Article 67 of Church Order of the Synod of Dordt (I hope that I got that right) states:

“The congregations shall observe, in addition to Sunday, also Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, with the following day; and since in most cities and provinces of the Netherlands, besides these there are also observed the day of Circumcision and Ascension of Christ, the ministers everywhere, where this is still not the custom, shall put forth effort with the authorities that they may conform with the others.”

Turretin seemed to approve of the celebration of Christmas in his commentary on the Fourth Commandment set forth in his Institutes:

“The question is not whether anniversary days may be selected on which either the nativity, or circumcision, or passion, or ascension of Christ, and similar mysteries of redemption, may be commemorated, or even on which the memory of some remarkable blessing may be celebrated. For this the orthodox think should be left to the liberty of the church. Hence some devote certain days to such festivity, not from necessity of faith, but from the counsel of prudence to excite more to piety and devotion.”

Then, Mr. Hoffer asked:

You talked of Christian liberty, yet all the authorities above provide (at least in these texts)that such liberty resides in the churches, not in the individual.

I answer:
These documents speak of the liberty of churches. They do not deny the liberty of Christians. For example, in the Westminster Confession, the section on liberty of conscience is found in Chapter XX. Likewise, the Second Helvetic Confession addresses “things indifferent” in Chapter XXVII. Similar the Belgic Confession (which is one of the “three forms of unity” in churches that use Dordt as a Normed Norm) contains Article 32, which identifies limits on the authority of the church. I’ll leave Turretin out of it, for now.

PH continued:

If your particular faith community had decided to exercise its Christian liberty and decide to celebrate Christmas would you be obligated to adhere to such a decision?

Faith community? What sort of talk is that? Reformed Christians have churches. If my church decided to celebrate Christmas, there are various ways it could do so. One way would be through holding a Christmas-day service, and exhorting (or encouraging) the faithful to attend. That’s the usual way I’ve seen it done.

What if they tried to require everyone to come? It’s an interesting dilemma. In general, the commands of the church should be obeyed if they do not cause one to sin. On the other hand, the churches ought not to insist on unnecessary things. Unless (as in Romanism) the command were phrased as a condition for salvation, it would be obligatory for Christians who could conscientiously comply.

PH wrote:

And if you are free to disregard the decision of your church on something like celebrating Christmas, does your liberty as a Christian extend to other doctrines as well?

Christian liberty extends to indifferent things.

PH wrote:

For example, purely as a hypothetical, what if you became convinced through your studies of Scripture that 2nd Maccabees should be included in the canon because Jesus celebrated Hanukkah (Jn 10:22), a holiday that is found only in that deuterocanonical/apocryphal text and nowhere else in the OT, would you be allowed to disregard the authority of your church that says that such book does not belong in the canon and hold to the contrary?

There are a number of issues tangled together in that question:

1) John 10:22 doesn’t say that Jesus celebrated the feast identified, but rather that it was that time of year, and that Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon’s porch.

2) The feast identified is the feast of the dedication (today, in Judaism, Hanukkah corresponds).

3) The feast identified was appointed during the inter-testamental time, as recorded in the apocryphal works of 1st and 2nd Maccabees (1 Mac 4:52-59, 2 Mac 10:5-8).

4) The Reformed churches do not accept 1st and 2nd Maccabees as canonical.

5) The proper identification of the canon, however, is not a thing necessary to salvation – and one is not required to deny that the books of the Maccabees are canonical in order to receive the sacraments. Accordingly, the Reformed churches would not ordinarily excommunicate someone for mistakenly thinking that 1&2 Mac were canonical. Nevertheless, in an ideal world, the elders would make time to counsel them and show them that those books are not canonical.

PH continued:

To posit a different hypothetical, let’s say that your particular Church now authorizes homosexual unions and permits the ordination of homosexual men to become ministers and you disagree with that decision, are you allowed according to the traditions or rules of your Church to dissent?

It depends what you mean by “dissent.” The issue of who can marry and who can be ordained to the ministry is not a matter necessary to salvation. So, if the church taught those things, it would normally be permitted in the church for members to disagree.
However, in these particular examples, the teachings of the church are so clearly contrary to Scripture, that it might be the duty of Christians not simply to disagree, but after attempted reformation (if unsuccessful) to leave.

PH concluded:

I am asking these questions so I can get a handle on your understanding of the limits of Church authority. I thank you in advance for your reply to this query.

I nearly didn’t respond, but at least now I can have the pleasure of saying “you’re welcome.” I hope it is helpful.

-TurretinFan

Amyraldianism and the Canons of Dordt

December 29, 2008

Someone raised the question of why I would think that the Amyraldian position is at odds with the teachings of the Synod of Dordt. The following hopefully explains.

The Amyraldian position, per Dabney, is that “God decreed from eternity, to create the human race, to permit the fall; then in His infinite compassion, to send Christ to atone for every human being’s sins, (conditioned on his believing); but also foreseeing that all, in consequence of total depravity and the bondage of their will, would inevitably reject this mercy if left to themselves … .” (source)

The relevant parts of the Canons of Dordt are as follows (all references are within the topic of the Second Main Point of Doctrine):

Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death

For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

(emphases are my own)

Also, Rejection of Errors 1 states as the error:

Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.

and provides as the answer:

For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand (Isa. 53:10). Finally, this undermines the article of the creed in which we confess what we believe concerning the Church.

Further, Rejection of Errors 3 states as the error:

Who teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.

and provides as the answer:

For they have too low an opinion of the death of Christ, do not at all acknowledge the foremost fruit or benefit which it brings forth, and summon back from hell the Pelagian error.

Further, Rejection of Errors 6 states as the error:

Who make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ’s death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.

and provides as the answer:

For, while pretending to set forth this distinction in an acceptable sense, they attempt to give the people the deadly poison of Pelagianism.

Analysis

The issue created by Amyraldianism is its making the atonement universal, by placing it before the decree of election in the order of decrees. It’s impossible, under the Amyraldian scheme (as it is presented by Dabney) for the atonement to be particular, because the election of people is logically subsequent to the decree of atonement. Accordingly, Christ dies for all mankind universally in an undifferentiated way, on the condition of faith. However, God recognizes that no one can fulfill this condition and consequently God elects to give some grace to fulfill the condition. Consequently, while the atonement itself (in the Amyraldian scheme) is universal, the application of that atonement is particular (as also in the Arminian scheme, although the way in which it becomes particular is different in the Arminian scheme).

Article 8 of Heading 2 of the Canons of Dordt is inconsistent with this view of the atonement. Article 8 states that “In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father … .” (emphases my own) This statement limits the scope of the atonement to the elect, through the explicit use of “only those.”

I realize that an Amyraldian who wished to agree with Dordt, for whatever reason, might try to latch hold of the word “effectively” and/or “redeem” to try to find a way to agree with Dordt without sacrificing their own view of the atonement. With respect to “redeem” the argument would amount to arguing that redemption is one thing, and presentation is another thing. Thus, the atonement was presented to God for all, but only the elect were redeemed by it. The argument with respect to “effectively” would be similar: only the elect are effectively redeemed, all the rest are ineffectively redeemed.

Each of these attempted end-runs are problematic. First, it should be obvious that the Arminian/Remonstrant should be able to say the same thing, and yet it is apparent from the historical context that the heading was opposed to the errors of the Remonstrants. Second, we see further clarification via the Rejection of errors sections.

The synod described, as an error, the position that “God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.” Nevertheless, if the Amyraldian position were held, it would be the case that God so appointed his Son, and the worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood whole even if the obtained redemption was never applied to any individual. Indeed, since – in the Amyraldian position – the atonement is suspended on the hypothesis of faith, if no one has faith, the atonement is perfect with zero scope.

Error 3 is less directly relevant to Amyraldianism, but is still illustrative: “[It is an error to] teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.” Again, if Amyraldianism is correct, the atonement merely enabled faith as the condition of salvation. Now, perhaps Amyraldians would deny that faith is a condition of salvation in their system (and perhaps they are right in that denial), but the practical result of their system is that they make the atonement merely a doorway, and not the definite purchase of salvation for the elect. On the other hand, they make election the definite application of the atonement for the elect. In other words, an Amyraldian might be able to distinguish themselves from this precise error, but they could not do so in the way described, namely by asserting that the atonement was specifically for the elect.

Error 6 is probably the least relevant of the errors I’ve identified, but I think it helps to provide a last piece of the puzzle: “[It is an error to] make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ’s death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.”

The Amyraldians would distinguish themselves from this error by denying that man’s own free choice applied to indiscriminately offered grace is what effectively works in them the grace of the atonement. Instead, the Amyraldian would say that it is grace that causes man to have faith that effectively works in the elect the grace of the atonement. Nevertheless, the Amyraldians would tend to use the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to argue that Christ died for all on the hypothesis of faith.

There is a real distinction between the obtaining of the redemption and the applying of the redemption, but the difference is not one of scope. The redemption is obtained for those to whom it is to be applied. Article 8 tries to make that clear by providing a chain (much like that found in Romans 8):

  • [It] was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant)
  • should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father;
  • that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death);
  • that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith;
  • that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and
  • that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

It’s worth noting one final point that sinks the Amyraldian ship (at least as defined by Dabney’s presentation of it): the article states that faith was acquired for the elect by Christ’s death (“faith (which … he acquired for them by his death)”). It would seem absurd to say that Christ universally acquired faith for all conditioned on faith.

-TurretinFan

Bellisario Swings Again

December 29, 2008

Bellisario is at it again. Let’s go through his latest post (link to the post):

MB: “Recently the un-identifiable one released an all out attack at the Catholic Church for mandating Christmas as an obligatory Holy day.”

TF: A couple of blog posts equals an “all out attack”? Does that seem melodramatic to anyone? His “un-identifiable” nonsense has already been addressed previously, no sense in beating that dead horse further.

MB: “He says over and over in his diatribe against me that the apostles didn’t teach it.”

TF: I think it is pretty clear which of the two of us uses the “diatribe” method of writing. But yes, again and again, I have pointed out that the doctrines of his church are not apostolic. This is an important point, for a variety of reasons. It is hoped that with enough repetition, the fact will eventually sink in.

MB: “The apostles didn’t need it.”

TF: Because of the style in which Bellisario’s post is written, it is a little unclear whether he is trying to repeat what he thinks I was saying, or whether he is trying to argue that his church is really free to make up all sorts of things that the apostles never taught.

MB: “The apostles didn’t teach any of these things that Rome is teaching, then he comically appeals to Sacred Scripture of the New Testament and twists it to his own liking to refute the Catholic Church’s position on the subject.”

TF: If you delete the opinionated portions of that sentence, you’re left with: “The apostles didn’t teach any of these things that Rome is teaching, then he appeals to Sacred Scripture of the New Testament and uses it to refute Rome’s position on the subject.” Now, what on earth would be wrong with that? Nothing. That’s a clue that Bellisario is just blowing smoke, to put it nicely.

MB: “He rattles off like a parrot that the apostles didn’t do it, yet what he is doing is also unknown to the apostles; that is appealing to Scripture alone for his doctrines.”

TF: Again, we have to apply a rhetoric filter to Bellisario’s banter. After we do so, we’re left with, “He says that the apostles didn’t do it, yet what he is doing is also unknown to the apostles; that is appealing to Scripture alone for his doctrines.”

a) I’m glad he acknowledges that I am, in fact, appealing to Scripture alone for my doctrines.

b) I guess his implicit argument is that if it is wrong to do things that the apostles didn’t do, then I myself am doing something wrong. This argument has superficial appeal, but it’s wrong, because he’s selectively characterized my position.

c) My position is better expressed as, “You use what you have.” Today, the only revelation we have from God is Scripture. In the days of the apostles, they had those with the prophetic gift in addition to the Scriptures. For a time, they had Jesus himself in their midst. We don’t have that today. Jesus is in heaven, and his apostles have joined him there (except, as noted above, the son of perdition). We do have, however, what the apostles left for us – their “memoirs” as Justin Martyr put it.

MB: “The apostles were being guided by the Church and the Holy Spirit, which is still the case now.”

TF:

a) The apostles (aside from Judas) are in heaven today. They are not among us any more. So, their case is not the same as the case today.

b) To say that the “apostles were being guided by the Church” is a bit odd. We never see any examples of the apostles saying that they believed something on the testimony of “the Church.”

c) The apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit in two ways. In one way they were guided just as all believers (myself included) are guided. In a second way, the apostles had prophetic gifts – they were the voicepieces of God, just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so on. That is not the case today – there are no more such prophets. Even Bellisario’s own church acknowledges that there is no more public revelation.

MB: “It happens to be the same Catholic Church then as now, and Scripture would at a later time, when it was written down, attest to that very fact.”

TF: This is why things like “holy days of obligation” are so significant. Bellisario claims that his church is the same church as the church of which the apostles were a part, but his church teachings things (such as “holy days of obligation”) that are not only things the apostles didn’t teach, but things contrary to what the apostles taught. It is one thing to claim to be the same Catholic Church, but it is another thing to prove it . The early church didn’t have a pope. The early church at Rome didn’t elect new bishops of Rome by a college of cardinals. There was (naturally) no teaching of papal infallibility in the early church, and so on and so forth. There are a myriad of differences between the doctrines and practices of modern Catholicism and the doctrines and practices of the early church. And yet we are told that it is the same church … I suppose we could just accept his claim on faith, but the Scriptures warn us that there will be false teachers. Furthermore, the Scriptures command us to discern the spirits, whether they are of God. If we refuse (as Mr. Bellisario does) to scrutinize our church in view of Scripture, we are refusing to obey Scripture.

MB: “Yet the un-identifiable one uses a means and professes a doctrine that the apostles never did (Scripture Alone), and then he condemns the Catholic Church for doing the same.”

TF: Creating new doctrines and rules that were unknown to the apostles is different from asserting the authority of Scripture (which the apostles did) and recognizing the historical fact that we don’t have living prophets as they did during the apostolic times. MB’s complaint here is sophistical rather than sophisticated.

MB: “This is par for the course with this guy who knows not when he falls into a logical fallacy.”

TF: It’s somewhat ironic that Bellisario would make this claim immediately after employing the fallacy of equivocation.

MB: “But lets go back to the real issue at hand. Romans 14.”

TF: ok … lets…

MB: “He continues to misuse Saint Paul in Romans 14.”

TF: Another claim by Bellisario (have you noticed how he makes a lot of claims but backs them up with the weakest of arguments – if at all?), but let’s investigate whether he backs it up.

MB: “It is obvious that none of the Fathers are interpreting this passage of Scripture like he is doing claiming religions [sic] liberty[.]”

TF: His first supposed proof that I am misusing Romans 14 is that (according to him) “none of the Fathers” interpreted it to refer to religious liberty. Of course, he’s already provided the evidence that shows he’s wrong, for Chrysostom used the passage to advocate religious liberty from the Mosaic law, which was attempted to be imposed by the Judaizers. Moreover, in the same homily, commenting on verse 5, Chrysostom wrote:

Here he seems to me to be giving a gentle hint about fasting. For it is not unlikely that some who fasted were always judging those who did not, or among the observances it is likely that there were some that on fixed days abstained, and on fixed days did not.(5) Whence also he says, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” And in this way he released those who kept the observances from fear, by saying that the thing was indifferent, and he removed also the quarrelsomeness of those who attacked them, by showing that it was no very desirable (or urgent, perispoudaston) task to be always making a trouble about these things.

(source)

As you can see, Chrysostom makes cross-reference to the verse that speaks of each person being fully persuaded “in his own mind,” and calls the regarding of days a thing indifferent. Short of using the words “religious liberty,” Chrysostom could hardly have been more clearly supporting the explanation I provided.

MB: “He ignorantly insists that this passage is referring to the Church as well as the Jews.”

TF: Who is ignorant, I will leave the reader to judge, but “Judaizers” were those within the Church that insisted that to be saved one had to follow the ceremonial law (generally referenced by the metonymy of “circumcision”). They weren’t Jews who rejected Jesus, but Jews (or their followers) who tried to insist on continued relevance of the ceremonial law despite its fulfilment in Christ. So, when Chrysostom mentions the Judaizers, he is talking about people in the Church, not outside it. Furthermore, as already pointed out to Bellisario (and ignored – even while being quoted! – by him) the book of Romans is to the Romans – you know, those in the Church at Rome.

MB: “He also makes his ignorance well known in that he doesn’t even know why Saint Paul is writing the letter to the Romans, nor to whom he is primarily aiming the letter at, nor who he explicitly targets in the letter at different times.”

TF: Another of Bellisario’s bilious claims, and again, nothing to back it up. Paul is writing, as already explained numerous times, to the Romans. And by Romans, he means Romans, not Jews. Thus, for example, he states in Romans 1:

Romans 1:13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

So, we can see from Paul’s own words that he was, in fact, writing to the Romans and he really meant it.

MB: “I pointed out how Paul was talking about the Jews in Roman’s 14:4-6, and their works of the law at the time.”

TF: Actually, what MB said was not limited to that. He said, “He is clearly telling the Jews that it must not be a work of the law.” Presumably, MB has realized that such a position is indefensible, and is attempting to hedge. My own previous words hit the nail on the head, and MB quotes the below, so just read on.

MB: “Yet he insists on stretching the text beyond its original intent.”

TF: Actually, that’s not true. Romans 14:4-6 does not mention the Judaizers specifically, even though they were (we believe) the primary (or perhaps only) group advocating legalism. Romans 14:4-6 is worded generically. It does not, for example, say that whoever regards Yom Kippur does so to the Lord, and whoever does not regard Yom Kippur to the Lord he does not regard it. No, to make a general point, Paul uses general language. Rather than accepting the full breadth of the original intent, MB seeks to limit its application to the Judaizers, who are not explicitly mentioned in the chapter.

MB: “He writes,

TF: The legalism of the Judaizers was the primary error being addressed, doubtlessly. Nevertheless, it is not only Judaizing legalism that is condemned by Paul’s words – he does not limit his comments on diet and days to the Jews, but words his liberating doctrines generically.

TF: Plainly aimed at them, perhaps, and yet not limited to them. In fact, as noted above, the Jews aren’t specifically mentioned in the chapter. What is truly absurd is to suppose that the Old Testament laws given by Moses with respect to days and meats are not binding but that brand new laws are binding! How bizarre! The former had the authority of God, the latter have only the authority of man. If observance of the former is not mandatory, much less so is the observance of the latter

TF: It wasn’t written primarily for the Jews of the time, it was written primarily for the Romans, see the Title of the Book, or verse 7 of the first chapter of Romans, from which the title of the book was perhaps obtained. Furthermore, although it was primarily addressed to the immediate problem of Judaizers trying to impose those holidays, the explanation provided provides a shield against the modern legalism of Rome, which tries to imposes fasts and holidays on its members, in violation of this passage.

TF: I assume Bellisario just cut and pasted these, so I haven’t gone through to check to see if he changed anything. Nevertheless, it looks like what I wrote.

MB: “So we can see that he admits that Saint Paul is really primarily talking about the Jews of the time, yet he doesn’t cease in his intention to make the text say something that is never does.”

TF: That’s not an answer to the issues raised in my comments, just opinion commentary on them. It’s, of course, not my intention to make the text say anything particular. Unlike Bellisario, I am not bound to find some particular answer in this text. I am free to read the text for what it says, and if it condemns my church for legalism, so be it. Bellisario cannot make the same claim, and unfortunately is unable to see that I’m not approaching the text with the same disregard for its authority as he must to be faithful to Romanism.

MB: “Mainly he insists that we all have religions liberty and that there are no mandatory Holy days.”

TF: Yep. That’s what Paul insists, though MB means me by “he” not Paul.

MB: “This is what this guy is trying to get from these passages.”

TF: Nope, that’s what the passage says. Consequently, that’s what I get from the passage. If it didn’t say it, I wouldn’t believe it. But, unfortunately, because of Bellisario’s commitment to Romanism – though the text says it, he cannot accept it, but must try to find some way to ignore the broad scope of Paul’s comment on religious liberty with respect to days and meats.

MB: “It is truly amazing to see this guy trying to get something from the text that is simply not there.”

TF: Another of Bellisario’s bellicose claims, and again he cannot back it up. The text says what it says, which is what I said it says. Bellisario hasn’t been able to show otherwise, and consequently his claims (while exhibiting exasperation) don’t didactically dispute the matter of meaning.

MB: “Saint Paul is talking not primarily, but directly to the Jews of the time.”

TF: No, he is not talking to the Jews, he’s talking to the Romans. In this passage, he doesn’t “directly” mention the Jews. Furthermore, while the Judaizers are the most likely primary reference (since they were the legalists of the day), Paul’s words are not limited to Jewish dietary restrictions or Jewish holy days. He speaks generally and should be understood as he wrote: generally.

MB: “This is what Saint Chrysostom says, and lets just look at another source. Undoubtedly though this guy will dodge it in favor of his own hackneyed interpretation of Saint Paul.”

TF: That’s misleading at best. Chrysostom does certainly apply the teachings to the Jewish converts of Paul’s day. In the portion of his homily on the first verses of the chapter, Chrysostom says:

I Am aware that to most what is here said is a difficulty. And therefore I must first give the subject of the whole of this passage, and what he wishes to correct in writing this. What does he wish to correct then? There were many of the Jews which believed, who adhered of conscience to the Law, and after their believing, still kept to the observance of meats, as not having courage yet to quit the service of the Law entirely. Then that they might not be observed if they kept from swine’s flesh only, they abstained in consequence from all flesh, and ate herbs only, that what they were doing might have more the appearance of a fast than of observance of the Law. Others again were farther advanced, and kept up no one thing of the kind, who became to those, who did keep them, distressing and offensive, by reproaching them, accusing them, driving them to despondency.

But does Chrysostom say that this liberty of conscience understood by the most advanced of the Jewish converts is the limit of Christian liberty as to meats and days? Of course, he does not. In fact, on the contrary, toward the end of the homily, discussing verse 13, Chrysostom begins to make application of the passage to his own congregation:

This does not apply to one less than the other: wherefore it may well fit with both, both the advanced man that was offended at the observance of meats, and the unadvanced that stumbled at the vehement rebuke given him. But consider, I pray you, the great punishment we shall suffer, if we give offence at all. For if in a case where the thing was against law, yet, as they rebuked unseasonably, he forbade their doing it, in order that a brother might not be made to offend and stumble; when we give an offence without having anything to set right even, what treatment shall we deserve? For if not saving others be a crime (and that it is so, he who buried the talent proves), what will be the effect of giving him offence also?

Granted, he does not apply the passage to the legalism of making profanation of holy days of obligation a “mortal” sin, but it’s anachronistic to ask Chrysostom to foresee that abuse.

MB: “Here we see the great biblical Scholar Haydock state the following in reference to this particular passage of Roman’s.”

TF: Before we provide the comments from Haydock’s commentary, it’s worth noting that Haydock was more of the compiler/editor, than the author of the comments. Also, it’s worth noting that this commentary was compiled and published by the papists after the Reformation. So, when reading it, we should be cognizant that this commentary is not of the Early Church Fathers, or anything of the sort.

Here is the block quotation he provides:

“Between day, &c. Still observing the sabbaths and festivals of the law. (Challoner.) — And another judgeth every day. That is, thinks every day to be taken away, that was to be kept, merely because ordered under the Jewish law. And now since both they who keep days, or do not keep them; and they who eat, or who abstain, do these things which a regard to God, and according to their conscience, let no one judge, or condemn the one party, nor the other; in these things, let every man abound in his own sense. It is without grounds that some would pretend from hence, that Christians cannot be bound to fast, or abstain from flesh on certain days. The apostle speaks only of the distinction of meats, called clean and unclean, and of fasts or feasts peculiar to the law of Moses. It does not follow from hence, that the Catholic Church hath not power to command days of fasting, and abstaining, for self-denial or humiliation. (Witham) — The apostle here treats only of the subject in hand, viz. the Mosaic distinctions of clean and unclean meats: and in this he allows, for that present time, each one to follow his own private judgment. St. Chrysostom observes that St. Paul did not wish the weak to be left to their own judgment in this, as in a point of no consequence; but that they should wait for a time. [The converts were not immediately prohibited their accustomed practices, but they were tolerated in them for a while, till fully instructed. This we see in many of the converts at Jerusalem, who were still observers of the Mosaic ordinances; this was tolerated, that the synagogue might be buried with honour. (Estius)]”

(I’ve supplied the omitted portion of the commentary myself, using brackets.)

Surely, everyone who has read those comments reaches the same conclusion: the authors of the comments want to reach the same conclusion that Bellisario wants to reach, but all they have to offer (at least in the forum provided by Haydock) is a bare assertion that nevertheless the Roman church has the power to force its members to observe feasts and fasts. They don’t tell you why, they just insist that the text is limited (though the text itself doesn’t say it’s limited).

MB: “It is complete fabrication for the un-identifiable one to use this passage as he is using it, that is very clear at this point despite the mangled rhetoric he continues to put forth.”

TF: More of Bellisario’s badgering assertions, but nothing to back it up. Rather than show that it is a “complete fabrication,” Bellisario has given the impression to the reader that all he can do is make conclusory assertions like those of Witham and Estius, even while ignorantly thinking that they come from Haydock, and all the while riddling his post with insults.

MB: “The fact is Saint Paul is speaking only to the Jews in this particular reference to feasts.”

TF: Yes, Bellisario, Whitham and Estius think so, but they cannot produce reasons why – and the text itself is not so limited. For someone so insistent on the word “only” appearing in Scripture regarding “Sola Scriptura,” Bellisario is remarkably eager to claim “only” when the text doesn’t say it. There is a rather obvious reason why: if the text is to be understood broadly (the way Paul wrote it), then Bellisario’s church is wrong, is legalistic, and is preaching another gospel than that which Paul preached.

MB: “This is a fact, say what you will.”

TF: One can almost imagine Bellisario sticking his fingers in his ears at this point, in order to have to avoid answering the objections to his method of “claim it early and often.”

MB: “It never says anything about the Church, the liturgical calendar, nor the authority of the Church.”

TF: Chrysostom recognized that the text was directed to the church, and interpreted verse 1 as showing that the passage was explaining how to deal with new converts. Even Estius reusing Chrysostom realized that the text was directed to the church, though he thought it was only to give a decent burial to the synagogues. Of course, it does not mention the liturgical calendar – such a concept hadn’t been innovated yet. And it does place a limit on the authority of the church: “let us not therefore judge one another any more,” includes not only Paul’s Roman readers but Paul too! But even if the church’s authority were not addressed explicitly, it is certainly addressed implicitly, in that if Christians are free to eat or fast, to regard one day or another, then that prevents the church from requiring (as a condition of salvation) fasting or holy day observation by its members.

MB: “He is speaking to the Jews here and the Jews only.”

TF: No. Not even Estius and Witham go that far. He was obviously talking to the Romans. Furthermore, he does not limit what he says to Jewish fasts and feats, but uses general language. Bellisario has no answer for this, and if Witham and Estius have an answer, Haydock didn’t see fit to provide it.

MB: “It is not a “shield” against Rome’s, or the Church’s authority to proclaim Holy days as this guy claims.”

TF: It’s really more of a sword that cuts through the bonds of legalism proclaimed by Rome against the Gospel of Paul and Christ. Bellisario’s remark reminded me of another passage of Paul’s:

Ephesians 6:13-20
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; 19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

-TurretinFan

P.S. Upon further reflection, let me summarize the issues:

1) The primary group that Paul probably had in mind with respect to Romans 14 were the Judaizers.

2) Many commentators, from Calvin to Chrysostom, note this probable reference.

3) Nevertheless, Paul intentionally expresses himself in general language rather than in language that would only be applicable to Judaizing legalism.

4) Consequently, it is improper to say that the verse only prevents the church from enforcing the Jewish laws and customs on the consciences of its members.

5) Indeed, it is absurd to think that it was wrong to impose God-given dietary laws and calendars, but it would be right to impose man-made dietary laws and calendars.

Bellisario vs. His Own Imagination on Christmas

December 27, 2008

Bellisario has a new post, in which he ferociously battles positions that have not been presented (link). The straw flies in every direction, but I thought I’d do a quick response (well, it started as a quick response … it ended up a bit long) to his post:

MB: “I wanted to answer the un-identifiable one and how he uses his foolish twisting of Sacred Scripture to reject honoring Our Lord’s Incarnation.”

TF: Rejecting Christmas as a holy day of obligation is not a rejection of honoring the Lord’s Incarnation. Bellisario either is unable to think clearly or has decided to use his imagination in place of the actual arguments I set forth. (See my previous post addressing the silliness of his calling me “un-idententifiable.”)

MB: “He uses Roman’s [sic] 14:6 to justify himself in doing so.”

TF: I do proclaim the truth of Romans 14, but not to reject honoring anyone but the legalistic church of Rome.

MB: “Is it about Christian liberty as this guy says?”

TF: Ah, so Bellisario has now remembered what this is about – Christian liberty, not “reject[ing] honoring Our Lord’s Incarnation,” as he so dishonestly put it.

MB: “Let’s look at this passage and see what Saint Paul is really saying.”

TF: This, of course, is what Bellisario ought to have done at once. But, at least he is doing it now. Let’s see how he does:

MB: “In this passage of Scripture Saint Paul is not talking about whether or not we should attend or not attend a day of worship as if Sunday or any other day is as good as another to worship God.”

TF: This passage is not dealing with the issue of the weekly sabbath. Nevertheless, this passage is dealing with the celebration of other holy days, such as existed both in the pagan world of Paul’s day and in the Old Testament economy of grace. For example, as I pointed out in my last post, the Old Testament called for a yearly feast of booths, which reminded Israel of their redemption from Egypt.

MB: “He is referring to the many Jews of his day who were keeping old Jewish observances such as seventh day Sabbath laws etc.”

TF: MB is a bit confused here. The Sabbath was a creation ordinance, like marriage. It predates Abraham and is not distinctly Jewish. It is not the Sabbath, but the other Jewish holy days that were among the practices that Paul had in mind. He may also have had some of the pagan holy days in mind, but it seems less likely, since abandonment of those holy days would have been natural for Christian converts.

MB: “We can tell this because this passage starts off with the Jewish dietary laws, and the Church Fathers interpreted it the same way.”

TF: The legalism of the Judaizers was the primary error being addressed, doubtlessly. Nevertheless, it is not only Judaizing legalism that is condemned by Paul’s words – he does not limit his comments on diet and days to the Jews, but words his liberating doctrines generically. We’ll get to the church fathers issue in a bit.

MB: “This passage is really referring to works of the law in reference to the Jews just as Saint Paul does throughout his writings, which are also misinterpreted by the heretics to mean all works.”

TF: As noted above, yes – the legalism of the Jews is a primary target, but Paul’s words are not limited to their legalism. In fact, Paul doesn’t actually explicitly even mention the Jews in the chapter. The issue of how “heretics” (anybody who disagrees with Bellisario’s church) supposedly misinterpret Scripture is a topic best left for another post.

MB: “To prove it lets look at Saint Chrysostom and how he interprets this passage.”

TF: You know, it is interesting. When Bellisario and I were debating Sola Scriptura, Chrysostom’s word was not viewed as “prov[ing]” Sola Scriptura. But now, supposedly, Chrysostom’s interpretation becomes imbued with magical imperviousness to error (something that goes beyond what even Chrysostom would have wanted).

MB: “It is not even close to what this guy is trying to prove from it.”

TF: I wonder how many commentaries MB has actually read. Oftentimes, Scripture is like a jewel. One commentator may comment on 5 of the facets, another may comment on 3 of those and 3 others. And a third commentator may catch 2 of the first, 1 of the second, and 2 more not noticed by the first two guys. Scripture is quite rich with meaning, which is why its careful study is so profitable. Chrysostom (or any commentator for that matter) is likely to notice those facets that are most relevant to his day and age, with less emphasis on those facets that are so blindingly obvious that no one of his day misunderstands them. Or contrariwise, if a misunderstanding is prevalent enough, it could help a commenter miss the implication of a particular text. The fact that Augustine notices one thing, and Ambrose another, does not mean that one of them is an heretic. But let us continue on …

MB: “Chrysostom says in his homily on Romans in the 4th century the following in regards [sic] to this passage,

Ver. 6. He that regards the day, regards it unto the Lord; and he that regards not the day, to the Lord he does not regard it. And, He that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that eats not, to the Lord he eats not, and gives God thanks.
He still keeps to the same subject. And what he means is about this. The thing is not concerned with fundamentals. For the thing requisite is, if this person and the other are acting for God’s sake, the thing requisite is (these words are repeated 3 manuscripts), if both terminate in thanksgiving. For indeed both this man and that give thanks to God. If then both do give thanks to God, the difference is no great one. But let me draw your notice to the way in which here also he aims unawares a blow at the Judaizers. For if the thing required be this, the giving of thanks, it is plain enough that he which eats it is that gives thanks, and not he which eats not. For how should he, while he still holds to the Law? As then he told the Galatians, As many of you as are justified by the Law are fallen from grace (Gal. v. 4); so here he hints it only, but does not unfold it so much. For as yet it was not time to do so. But for the present he bears with it (see p. 337): but by what follows he gives it a further opening. For where he says,

Ver. 7, 8. For none of us lives unto himself, and no man dies unto himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord, by this too he makes the same clearer. For how can he that lives unto the Law, be living unto Christ?

TF: And that is where MB stops quoting Chrysostom. Well, Chrysostom does mention the legalism of the Judaizers, and rightly so. Likewise, Chrysostom makes application of the text to the Judaizers who wanted to make folks follow the old laws. All this, of course, is perfectly harmonious with what I had said. It simply does not provide the further application to the innovation of holy days of obligation, or the particularly heinous abuse of asserting that it is a “mortal sin” not to regard such days as holy.

Indeed, Chrysostom, without using the word liberty, affirms Christian liberty, noting that what is important is thanksgiving. He doesn’t apply this text to the problems of modern Romanism, but is that any surprise? He did not have a time travel machine.

MB: “To use this passage does not give anyone anyplace individually the right to set his or her own worship schedule as if he were his own Church.”

TF: Ah, another of Bellisario’s imagined enemy positions. The “right to set his or her own worship schedule” position was not presented by me, and isn’t the position I’ve been advocating. Instead, what I’ve been advocating is the idea that Christians are free not to regard these man-made feast days (such as Christmas, or All-Saints Day, or the like) or to regard them, as they wish. Scripture says so, and it is only legalists, such as Juadiazers and papists, that deny it.

MB: “It is plainly aimed at the Jews and the works of the law.”

TF: Plainly aimed at them, perhaps, and yet not limited to them. In fact, as noted above, the Jews aren’t specifically mentioned in the chapter. What is truly absurd is to suppose that the Old Testament laws given by Moses with respect to days and meats are not binding but that brand new laws are binding! How bizarre! The former had the authority of God, the latter have only the authority of man. If observance of the former is not mandatory, much less so is the observance of the latter.

MB: “To use this passage to justify rejecting Church liturgical celebrations is a false interpretation. Let me continue.”

TF: Really? Suppose that a church is run by Judaizers? Suppose they impose the days and dietary restrictions of the Old Testament economy? Surely then even the belligerant Bellisario would have to acknowledge that the Scripture “plainly” (his words) condemns such. Furthermore, the explanation for why the Christian need not follow the days and diets of the Old economy is that no man is to judge another in days and meats, and that we are to give thanksgiving to God whether we are working or worshiping. Only intentionally ignoring the explanation of the text could lead to a conclusion that churches which Judiaze are condemned, but churches that invent new dietary restrictions and new holy days are approved. But we will let Bellisario continue:

MB: “The Church in her authority can have a variation in Liturgical Calendars.”

TF: The whole concept of “liturgical calendars” isn’t found in the New Testament. Presumably MB is simply repeating what he thinks his church’s position on the subject is. This is not entitled to any weight for us, since it is not founded in God’s revelation.

MB: “This means that each Church, not each individual can have variations in liturgical schedule.”

TF: That may be MB’s church’s position, and it does seem to be the practice Catholicism that different national churches and churches of different rites have variations in their calendars. On the other hand, such differences have nothing at all to do with what Chrysostom said and such differences have nothing at all to do with what the text of Scripture says.

MB: “That does not mean that each church can arbitrarily remove Christmas from their liturgical calendars.”

TF: Again, MB is just talking about what he thinks his church’s position is.

MB: “Sure the day may be different, such as Easter is different on the old calendar from the new most of the time for example.”

TF: Again, this has to do with MB’s perception of his own church’s laws. The reason for the difference in the calculation of Easter between the “East” and the “West” is that the celebration of Easter, as an annual holiday, was not an Apostolic tradition, although it became a widespread custom very early on.

MB: “This passage is not really in reference to this, but could be later interpreted to be referring to the spiritually weak in faith accusing other churches of not following their liturgical calendars, as sometimes happens today between the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church over Easter.”

TF: Of course, it is not really in reference to that, as the explanation provided in the text proves. The explanation in the text indicates there are no Christina obligatory feast days, and no Christian obligatory fast days. For Romanism to claim that a man is committing a mortal sin by not going to Easter mass or by eating meat on a particular Friday, is to violate the Christian liberty God through Paul in Scripture gives to the believer. It is not freedom from the old diets and calendars to bondage to a new set of diets and calendars, but into liberty.

MB: “There are numerous other passages of Scripture that prove that there are appointed days of worship by the early Church. Read 1 Cor 16, Acts 20:7, Rev 1:10 for example.”

TF: There is one day of appointed worship, namely the weekly day of rest. It is appointed by God, not “the early Church.” Acts 20:7 refers to this weekly observance:

Acts 20:7 And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.

So does 1 Corinthians 16:2

1 Corinthians 16:2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

So does Revelation 1:10

Revelation 1:10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

The Lord’s day, a creation ordinance, is the only perpetually binding day that obliges the believer to cease from work and worship His Creator and Redeemer. These verses tend to prove that, especially Revelation 1:10, which mentions “the Lord’s day” as though it were one – not one of dozens throughout the year, or as though it were a church-innovated holiday.

MB: “So once again we see this passage when read in context is not an excuse for each individual to decide whether or not to worship Christ in his incarnation individually. It was written primarily for the Jews of the time.”

TF: It wasn’t written primarily for the Jews of the time, it was written primarily for the Romans, see the Title of the Book, or verse 7 of the first chapter of Romans, from which the title of the book was perhaps obtained. Furthermore, although it was primarily addressed to the immediate problem of Judaizers trying to impose those holidays, the explanation provided provides a shield against the modern legalism of Rome, which tries to imposes fasts and holidays on its members, in violation of this passage.

MB: “Next lets look at the age long persecution of Christmas by the Protestants to really get an idea of where this guy is coming from.”

TF: Persecution of Christmas? One has to chuckle at the personification of Christmas in order to make such an inane rhetorical claim.

MB: “In England the Catholics were persecuted so harshly that certain Christmas carols were invented to communicate Catholic doctrine at Christmas time because of the hatred of the Catholics celebrating Christmas. One of these carols is the well known 12 days of Christmas. Another example is when the people of Ireland placed lit candles in their windows at Christmas so that passing priests would know that the people wanted to have Mass celebrated in their homes. Once again the likes of the English crown persecuted the Catholics in Ireland.”

TF: The harshest treatment of Irish papists was probably under Cromwell’s reign, but he did not take the crown, styling himself “Lord Protector of England.” In any event, criticism by the papists of the “persecution” (so called) of their fellow-papists in England and Ireland is like someone with Ebola pointing out that his neighbor once came down with bad case of chickenpox. The old saw about those in glass houses being careful springs to mind.

MB: “The English Puritans had a hellbent hatred for Christmas and went to all lengths to destroy it. During the brief Calvinist reign in England, they forbade the celebration of Christmas, even going so far as to force shops to be open! This is how sick these sub-defectives were in their hatred for Our Lord’s incarnation.”

TF: Shops open on Christmas! How sick! How terrible! What a travesty! People working and doing business on that day, just like in the time of the apostles, before anyone began to celebrate Christmas as though it were a holy day! What a revolting, disgusting concept. I mean, assuming one does not want the purity of the Apostolic church, of course. Otherwise, it sounds quite excellent – men glorifying God by industry, working with their hands.

Notice how Bellisario misrepresents the Puritans. He claims that they hated the Lord’s incarnation. He makes the same false claim about me. For Bellisario, if one rejects the legalism of Rome, one must do so not because one loves to worship God as the Apostles did, but because one hates the Incarnation. What utter and complete blindness! Notice how he calls them “sub-defectives” and yet his own reasoning is full of pronounced errors. He cannot appreciate that rejection of Christmas is not a rejection of the Lord’s Incarnation.

MB: “Now the last argument is that Christmas is a new invention and that it was taken from the pagans and it has nothing to do with real Christian worship.”

TF: It is an invention. It is not new. The best explanation as to the choice of the day is that it was taken from the pagans, especially since it happens to fall about the time of the winter solistice. As Benedict XVI pointed out, on 21 December 2008, “The very placement of Christmas is tied to the winter solstice, when the days in the Northern hemisphere start to become longer.” (sourcelonger version)

MB: “This is quite absurd, since the history of the Church speaks otherwise.”

TF: Church history confirms that the celebration of Christmas is an innovation unknown to the apostles. Furthermore, while the celebration of Christ’s birth starts to come about in church history, it doesn’t start out at the end of December. Finally, even when it gets celebrated in the end of December, it doesn’t become obligatory for a while longer. Furthermore, one really has to wait a while to hear some legalist begin to proclaim that it is a mortal sin not to celebrate Christmas. In fact, the more one explores church history, the more one discovers just how much Rome has accreted new traditions on old traditions until what we have now would not be recognizable to those of 500 years ago, just as theirs would not have been recognizable to 500 years previous, and so forth. But to return to the simplicity of the Apostolic worship of God – that’s something MB regards as “sub-defective” and evidence “hatred” of the Lord’s incarnation.

MB: “We have Christmastide being celebrated in the early Church and scholars think that the celebration of Epiphany (originating in the East), which included the nativity and modern Christmastide themes, was celebrated as early as the second century.”

TF: “Scholars” think all sorts of things. Scholars are pretty much unanimous, though, that Christmas was not instituted, known of, or approved by the apostles.

MB: “The oldest manuscript that we have in the west dates from AD 336. It shows the liturgical celebration on December 25th and is in the Philocalian calendar.”

TF: One has to know a bit about the Philocalian calendar to appreciate the irony of MB’s citation of it, after claiming that the celebration day has no pagan roots. The Philocalian calendar has several sections. Although in the calendar of martyrs there is a December 25th entry for the birth of Jesus is Bethelehem Judah, in the civil portion of the calendar December 25 is marked “Natalis Invicti,” the Birth of the Unconquered (Sun). Naturally, the winter solstice, from which point the days begin to grow longer in Rome, coincides with the birth of the imagined sun god, whose feast had become an ingrained part of Roman life, to the point of being on the civil calendar. While many seek to dispute the idea that December 25 was selected for this reason, the Philocalian calendar is evidence that supports the idea that the date was simply taken over from the pagans in Rome.

MB: “The Apostolic Constitutions (c AD 380) mandated the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th, and his Epiphany on January 6 to give a united day to the celebration of the Incarnation throughout the Church.”

TF: The Apostolic Constitutions were horatory (instructional) not prescriptive (legislative). They give advice, not laws. They are obviously pseudographic (they claim to be written by the Apostles, but they are not), and they were rejected by the Trullan Council in 692. There certainly were churches that used them as the basis for church legislation, but they were unknown to the Western church for most of the middle ages. Again, history is not Bellisario’s friend, but his enemy.

MB: “Once again every Church throughout the world is living and interpreting the Scriptures different than these modern “Protestant” heretics.”

TF: The celebration of Christmas was not based on interpreting Scriptures, as though Scriptures require such a celebration. Furthermore, even once people widely began to celebrate the birth of Christ, they appear to have done so voluntarily, not under obligation or threat of mortal sin. Even if we find such a concept as early as Aquinas (and I cannot recall specifically where even he asserted that failure to communicate on Christmas is a mortal sin), we would still identify such an innovation as medieval in origin, not part of the early church teachings, and certainly not based on Scriptural interpretation.

MB: “Although the day in the early Church was not explicitly celebrated on Dec 25th, the Incarnation was a day of liturgical worship by the Church since its earliest time.”

TF: This false statement is rebutted by historians, and even by MB’s own previous claims that it was celebrated as early as the “second century.” The earliest time, would, of course, be the time of the apostles.

MB: “Once again Saint Paul is not to be understood as to not arguing over whether we should be celebrating Christmas, but possibly what day we should celebrate Christmas.”

TF: Ha ha ha. This ties into MB’s claim that the passage is really directed to the Judaizers, but we can now interpret it some new way. Paul is generically addressing the kind of legalism found both in Judaism and modern Romanism – a legalism that hangs ones salvation on not eating certain things and following certain feast days. If Paul had said that the Passover doesn’t have to be celebrated according to the Ancient calendar any more, but can be celebrated whenever – then perhaps there would be application to newly innovated holy days. But Paul says that believers have the freedom to regard or not regard days, giving thanks to God, and to eat or fast, giving thanks to God.

While MB is busy complaining that my explanation goes further than Chrysostom’s, MB tries to take the text in an entirely different direction, to justify the liturgical disunity that exists within Romanism.

MB: “There is a big difference. To interpret Saint Paul in a manner allowing each individual to decide for himself as whether he is going to go to church on Sunday or any other Holy Day is ridiculous and one must really stretch the text and twist it to get this meaning from it.”

TF: With respect to the Lord’s day, such an interpretation would be erroneous, because we must not set one part of Scripture against another. But with respect to holy days, it is not only not ridiculous, it is the true sense of the passage – for individual people are in mind who may celebrate the Passover or the feast of booths, or whatnot, or may not celebrate those ancient Israelite traditions, in the New Testament administration. The passage makes sense against the Judaizers only when applied to individual believers. This teaching against legalism, however, is not convenient for Bellisario, and consequently it is dismissed as ridiculous.

MB: “He is clearly telling the Jews that it must not be a work of the law.”

TF: He’s not speaking to the Jews, he’s speaking to the Romans. He’s warning them of the errors of legalism, which errors were first presented by the Judaizers. However, in chapter 14 Paul doesn’t specifically mention that group, but speaks generically. Furthermore, Paul isn’t (here) specifically addressing the issue of whether such celebrations should be works of the law. It’s just not there.

MB: “Meaning that we should not celebrate that day as a work of the law in and of itself.”

TF: That’s not at all what Paul is saying. Paul is speaking about Christian liberty either to regard or not to regard days, and to eat or avoid eating various foods. Thus, for example, later in the passage, Paul states (placing a boundary on Christian liberty):

Romans 14:13-15
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.

MB: “This is clearly not the case with Christmas, nor was it Saint Paul’s intention as we just read in Saint Chrysostom’s homily on it.”

TF: MB claims it is “clearly not the case with Christmas,” but the teaching of Rome is that to fail to obey their law to go to mass on Christmas is to engage in mortal sin, which amounts to a fall from grace, and essentially a loss of salvation. That’s the same basic error as the Judaizers made, except that the Judaizers had the sense to point to customs that were not of merely human origin, such as Christmas. The justification for Rome’s legalism, consequently is even less than that of the Judaizers. Chrysostom picks on the Judaizers, but if he could see Rome today, his pastoral message would (we have every reason to expect) point out that they are violating the Apostle’s words in Scripture.

Furthermore, if Chrysostom failing to mention something is really the standard for that “something” being error, then why does MB provide an interpretation that is not found in Chrysostom? But, of course, it is not absurd to see new applications to the commands of Scripture, which is why we are not locked in by what Chrysostom happened to mention in the portion of his homily that was recorded and passed down to us.

MB: “Isn’t it funny how heretics will throw Scripture verses at the Church not even knowing what they mean?”

TF: It’s quite sad to see how fanatical papists will ignore what Scripture says in order to try to justify their church. It’s quite sad that they will refuse to carefully consider what Scripture means in order to determine whether their church is in error – particularly on an issue such as this, where the error of legalism is glaring. At moments it may be humorous to see just how wildly illogical the arguments are, but at the end of the day it is quite saddening to see such fanatical devotion to the pope and his doctrines over the Scripture.

MB: “Just reading the Scriptures and interpreting them as you see fit is not real Christianity.”

TF: It truly is not, and yet that is what we have seen from Bellisario. He reads the Scriptures (or at least tiny parts thereof) and tries to interpret them to make them fit his church’s position. Real Christianity is diligently searching the Scriptures to see what they say: letting Scripture interpret Scripture.

MB: “You have to live the Scriptures and unite yourself to Christ in His Church.”

TF: Living Romans 14:6 can include not regarding holy days (or regarding them). So, the only question is, “Is a church that denies Christians their Romans 14:6 rights, a church of Christ?” If we determine whether a church is Christ’s by comparing its doctrine to Scripture, we can give an answer. If we refuse to compare our church’s doctrine to Scripture, we cannot know whether we are following the false teachers that Scripture warns will come.

MB: “The Scriptures are to be lived in the Church by the Church.”

TF: And when a church contradicts Scripture, it shows its own fallibility. When it refuses to submit itself to Scripture, it shows its arrogance. When it tries to impose legalism, it shows itself to be preaching another gospel.

MB: “The un-identifiable one will always be on the outside looking in until he decides to repent and follow Christ.”

TF: Christ is my Lord. Therefore, whether I live, I love to the Lord, and whether I die, I die to the Lord. Consequently, whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s, which is the very reason he was incarnate, died, and rose, that he might by my Lord. Bellisario would know this, if he would read Romans 14 carefully, humbly asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate his reading of the Scriptures so that he could investigate whether the doctrines I speak of are of the Lord or of man, and likewise whether the doctrines of his church are of divine or human origin.

MB: “Is this legalistic that the Church provides us with a liturgical calendar to follow so that we may immerse ourselves in the life of Christ and become more Holy through Him and the Sacraments of the Church? I think not!”

TF: It is not for providing a liturgical calendar that I have been criticizing Rome for legalism: it is for insisting that Christians are obligated to follow this calendar or commit mortal sin. Having a liturgical calendar may be a very handy thing, and – while it is prone to abuse – it is not inherently legalistic. Bellisario’s battling his imagination again.

MB: “And I think it is the one who is spiritually dead who makes such accusations at the Church.”

TF: Since I make different accusations than those he attributes to me, I’ll just let his judgment of spiritual deadness (essentially the same false judgment made by Judaizers against those who refused to celebrate the old liturgical calendars) lie.

MB: “The Church provides these things to us because we need them and because it is our spiritual hospital so to speak.”

TF: The Apostles didn’t need them, and didn’t appoint them. Does Bellisario think that his church is wiser than the Apostles (frankly, considering how little he cares for what Scripture says, I’m afraid to imagine what his answer might be).

MB: “Do the healthy need a hospital?”

TF: The great Physician is not the church calendar, but Christ himself. The best revelation of that Physician is not the church calendar, but Scripture. Thus, Basil the Great compared Scripture to a pharmacy, from which everyone get the medicine they need.

MB: “Woe to those who think they are spiritually sin-proof for they are really spiritually dead!”

TF: So saith Bellisario, but John the Apostle says:

1 John 3:9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

MB: “Those who oppose the authority of Christ are those who think they don’t need help, those who think they they know better than Him.”

TF: Legalism is not “help,” but Scripture is. Let God judge the heart, but let it be clear that while Bellisario is placing faith in the teachings of his church, I am placing my trust on the God of Scripture, the God taught in Scripture, the God of liberty.

1 Peter 2:15-16
15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

MB: “It is not a legalistic obligation we are following, but one of love towards Christ.”

TF: It is possible for a person to observe religious holidays out of love towards Christ, or to fast from certain foods out of love for Christ, or not to observe religious holidays out of love towards Christ, or to eat food out of love for Christ. Romans 14:6 makes it clear that all four of these things are possible. What is legalism is insisting that holy days (beyond, of course, the Lord’s Day) must be observed, and particularly insisting that a person who refuses loses their salvation. That is rank legalism, of essentially the same kind promoted by the Judaizers.

MB: “The Church knows that those who immerse themselves in the Holy Days will reap rewards of grace from God because those that love God want to be with Him on these most Holy days of worship.”

TF: I could sarcastically comment that “reap[ing] rewards” sounds absolutely nothing like legalism, but perhaps it would be more helpful for me to note that saying “The Church knows” is not really an argument for something. The Scriptures don’t teach that doctrine, and the Apostles didn’t teach it either. So from whence did Bellisario’s church get this knowledge? The most obvious answer is that it comes from their imagination, or simply from Bellisario’s imagination – since perhaps his church never makes such a claim.

MB: “It is love that the real law is based on, not legalistic transactions as you have in Protestantism.”

TF: The law is one of love: for God and our neighbor. That is the teaching of the Reformed churches. Bellisario’s confused comment regarding “legalistic transactions” appears to be the result of Bellisario not understanding forensic imputation, and confusing “juridical” with “legalistic.” Nevertheless, an explanation of those problems in Bellisario would exceed the scope of this already-long post.

MB: “This is what is condemned in Scripture.”

TF: Actually, what is condemned in the first part of Romans 14 is insisting that other people observe holy days or eschew certain foods. It doesn’t address legal concepts of the covenants of grace and works, at least not in a direct manner.

MB: “We don’t have to look very far as the “Reformed” church looks at Christ and salvation as getting your ticket punched at the train station.”

TF: No, that’s not the Reformed soteriology. Bellisario seems to be even less familiar with Reformed soteriology than he is with history, for him to be making a claim like that. But, correcting Bellisario’s errors in that regard will have to wait for another day.

MB: “Talk about legalistic nonsense.”

TF: This sentence is the result of Bellisario confusing “legalistic” with something else. What exactly he has in mind, it is hard to say.

MB: “I will close with this beautiful Arabic Christmas Carol from You Tube! It is truly amazing! Christ is born! Glorify Him!”

TF: The refrain from the eastern liturgy is already addressed in my previous post (link). And, of course, the beauty of the Arabic Christmas Carol is neither a particularly salient or important issue.

In conclusion, I encourage the reader to carefully read and consider Romans 14 (link). Consider what it says, and recognize whether it permits a church to require observance of particular diets or religious holy days.

-TurretinFan

Herman Witsius on the Atonement

December 27, 2008

Herman Witsius (1636-1708) produced a classic work which is entitled “The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man.” In that work, which covers a broad range of subjects, there is a chapter devoted to the Reformed doctrine of Limited Atonement. This chapter is Chapter 9 of Book 2 in Volume 1. It is pages 255-71 of the den Dulke Christian Foundation’s reprinting of 1990 (distributed by P&R Publishing), an edition that has a nice introduction by Tom Ascol.

In chapter 9 of Book 2, Witsius provides primarily a positive case for particular redemption, addressing the Remonstrant error of Universal atonement in very general ways, while setting forth the positive arguments with great clarity.

Witsius does not waffle on the issue of Christ’s atonement. At section VI, he states ” … Christ, according to the will of God the Father, and his own purpose, did neither engage nor satisfy, and consequently in no manner die, but only for all those whom the Father gave him, and who are actually saved. This is that truth which is controverted, and which we are now to confirm, in a concise but solid manner, from the sacred writings.” He goes on to provide just such a confirmation, and I would commend his explanation to those readers interested in a positive Reformed presentation on the issue.

Witsius does use a few words that are not widely used today in his presentation. For example, he speaks of the impetration of Christ, which is the act of obtaining by prayer or petition. One of the helpful points of explanation that Witsius provides is a demonstration that salvation is impetrated by Christ, and not only impetrated but also applied.

Witsius quotes Remigius of Lyons (9th century) as stating, “The blood of Christ is a great price; such a price can, in no respect, be in vain and ineffectual but rather is filled with the super-abundant advantage arising from those blessings for which it is paid.” Unfortunately, Witsius himself provides only a quotation to a secondary source (Forbes. Instruct. Hist. lib. 8. c. 16), and I have not been able to track this quotation back to an original source from Remigius at this time.

As noted above, Witsius provides mostly a positive case. At section XXXVI, Witsius politely declines to reproduce all the excellent answers to Remonstrant objections, and instead points the reader to the worthy Dutch theologian, Gomarus. In particular, he points to a dissertation inserted into Gomarus’ commentary on Galations. Sadly for us, Gomarus’ works are (for the most part) not readily available in any language, and mostly have not been translated into English (as far as I know).

Nevertheless, the reference to and reliance on Gomarus can help to solidify a taxonomy of Witsius as siding with the strict Calvinists against the Remonstrant errors, even on the doctrine of the atonement, for those trying to provide taxonomies of the Calvinists. I realize that the Amyraldian (or quasi-Amyraldian) folks with whom I have been dealing on this doctrine have read at least portions of what Witsius wrote, but I would like to encourage them to read it again, focusing on Witsius’ excellent explanations for why he believes as he does.

-TurretinFan

UPDATE: Thanks to a friend, I believe I may have located the Latin original to which Witsius was referring: “Unde penset unusquisque fidelis, cum sanguis ille tanquam Agni incontaminati et immaculati Christi ab Apostolo pretium magnum dicatur esse, utrum possit tale pretium in aliqua parte esse inane et vacuum, an potius illarum mercium pro quibus datum est lucro et cumulo refertum.” Remigius of Lyons, De Tribus Epistolis Liber, Chapter XVI, PL 121:1015B-C

Giordano Bruno

December 26, 2008

Those outside of Rome may be as surprised to learn about Giordano Bruno, a sort of patron saint of modern, independent Rome. Read all about it (link).

-TurretinFan

Bad Exegesis Illustrated

December 26, 2008

I stumbled across an example of truly terrible exegesis today (link). It’s not exegesis of Scripture, but exegesis of another written document, the PCA’s Book of Church Order. The author of the post, Gabe Martini, argues that this restriction, “58-2. The ignorant and scandalous are not to be admitted to the Lord’s Supper,” should bar all from the Lord’s table, because all men are ignorant or scandalous on some level. This is a bizarre reading of the text.

What the PCA BCO is saying is that those unable to “discern the Lord’s body” (1 Corinthians 11:29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.) and those who are living in open, unrepentant sin (Matthew 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.) should not be admitted to the Lord’s table.

Now, this bad exegesis is not because Martini cannot read, but because he disagrees with what is written. He generally understands that these two restrictions are meant and not that “Nobody’s Welcome” as he proclaims.

I am guessing that Martini is not opposed to the latter restriction, but only to the former. In fact, I don’t have to guess, his railing continues:

Realistically, this is simply meant to ban two groups of people that Jesus hates from the Table: retarded people and babies. Yeah, those [expletive omitted] babies and retarded people! God surely doesn’t care about them, right? Right.

WRONG.

Martini’s objection is misplaced. 1 Corinthians 11:29 doesn’t teach that Jesus hates children and the simple-minded, but rather that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a serious matter, not to be undertaken without proper self-examination. Barring children and the simple-minded from the communion table is not out of hatred for them, but love for them – and concern that they do not eat unworthily.

-TurretinFan

Response to Nick on Christmas Observance

December 25, 2008

In response to my previous post (link), Nick has provided some comments:

There are many “home based” non-denominational churches that apply your logic and in effect take away any common day of worship for Christians. The “Lord’s Day” on Sunday is no more binding than say Saturday or Tuesday worship. On top of that, any form of weekly worship is technically not binding, so someone could argue for one day a month.

This logic played a big role in the secular world for stripping Sunday of an religious significance as well as Major Holidays.

Places like Acts 15:28-29 show the Church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to (even if those acts are not intrinsically sinful). So based on Scripture, the Church can bind the Christian conscience.

I answer:
a) It’s not “my logic,” it’s a question of what Paul says. If Paul (in inspired Scripture) says that we don’t have to observe holy days, then we do not.

b) Even if people start from that Scriptural principle, and try to undermine the Lord’s Day, that doesn’t make the Scriptural principle invalid. People have been misusing Scripture for thousands of years, but Scripture remains true.

c) Part of the problem for those who try to apply this text (not this logic) to try to avoid keeping the Lord’s Day holy, is that in doing so they must place Scripture against Scripture. Not so, of course, for arguing that we have Christian liberty not to celebrate the birth of Christ.

d) It is rather absurd to argue that it is an exegesis of Paul’s epistle to the Romans that has “played a big role in the secular world for stripping Sunday of an religious significance as well as Major Holidays.” Actually, the stripping of Sunday of religious significance in the “secular world” has been mostly accomplished through arguments for the total separation of church and state. It has also been accomplished through an abandonment of Scripture in favor of hedonism. If there has been abuse of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, it is a contributing factor only at the lowest level. Mostly, the Lord’s Day has been appropriated by men because they are unwilling to acknowledge the creation ordinance of one day of rest in seven, wishing to have all seven days for themselves.

e) Towards the end of the comment, we have something close to an argument (much closer than we saw in Bellisario’s post (critiqued here)):

Places like Acts 15:28-29 show the Church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to (even if those acts are not intrinsically sinful). So based on Scripture, the Church can bind the Christian conscience.

Let’s examine what those verses actually say:

Acts 15:28-29
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.

i) These verses certainly don’t say that the church has the power to dictate practices Christians are bound to. I think Nick has recognized that they do not, which is why he said they “show” rather than “say.”

ii) These verses do not provide an example of Christ’s being bound to engage in any practice. In fact, these verses provide a prohibition. What is interesting, though, is that these verses say that this is the outer limit of the burden to be placed on Christians: “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.”

iii) The things with which Christians are burdened in Acts 15:28-29 are “necessary things.” Although Nick thinks that these things are not intrinsically sinful, that’s not quite what the verse says. Paul elsewhere provides other instructions that help to inform these commands:

1 Thessalonians 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

1 Corinthians 10:23-31
23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 24 Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth. 25 Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: 26 For the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. 27 If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. 28 But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: 29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience? 30 For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.

In view of those passages, we can understand the prohibition provided. While eating certain foods is not sinful, appearing to participate in paganism is sinful because it leads the pagans astray.

iv) Those giving the command in Acts 15 are not simply the church, but the apostles. To assume that because the apostles did something, therefore the church can do something is to make an unwarranted assumption. The unique authority of the apostles was testified by sign gifts, such as the ability to raise the dead. The church (if we are to equate the apostles and the church) no longer raises people from the dead, no longer cures people by having a shadow pass over them, and so forth. Those extraordinary gifts have ceased, and the apostles have gone to be with the Lord.

v) Furthermore, the command in Acts 15 has the authority not only of the church, but more importantly, of the Holy Spirit. It is explicitly stated that it “seemed good to the Holy Ghost.” This command was provided during the time of inscripturation, while all the things necessary to salvation were still in the process of being written down. These apostles had the prophetic gift. In this case, they were appealing not to their own authority as church leaders, but to the Holy Ghost’s authority. Even the so-called Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged that public revelation has ceased. When Trent spoke, it did not claim to have new revelation from the Holy Ghost.

vi) Perhaps, most importantly, the command in Acts 15 is properly viewed as a release! As hard as it may seem to modern observers, Christians did not immediately recognize that the ceremonial law of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Christ. Recall that even after Acts 15 and even after Simon Peter had received a vision from God and seen the conversion of Cornelius, he didn’t fully appreciate that the dietary laws of the Old Testament had generally been done away in Christ.

Acts 15:28-29, which merely prevents us from appearing to join in with pagan worship, is actually a release: it is actually a proclamation of liberty, with only a small reservation of “necessary” restrictions.

vii) Furthermore, even if all of the above were wrong, the restrictions identified in Acts 15 do not relate to the observation of holy days. Even supposing the church can bind the conscience, the church cannot contradict Holy Scripture, and Holy Scripture gives Christians freedom with respect to the observation of holy days, either to observe them to God, or to omit observation of them to God.

So, in view of these things, we can reasonably reject Nick’s conclusion that Acts 15 provides warrant for “the Church” to bind the consciences of people in respect to holy days.

-TurretinFan


%d bloggers like this: