Archive for the ‘Called to Communion’ Category

The "One Visible Church" Argument – Response to Bryan Cross

October 2, 2012

The “Called to Communion” blog has posted a roundup of their previous posts that allegedly provide a positive case for the papacy. Within that round-up, the leading section is entitled, “Christ founded a visible Church and Magisterium.” The first post of that section is entitled, “That Christ founded a visible Church.” The first argument of that post is entitled, “The Body of Christ is a Visible Unity.” Since this is the first of the first of the first of their supposedly positive case for the papacy, let’s examine the flaws in their argument.

CtC argues that (1) “One reason Christ came into the world is to build His Church, that through and in His Church men might ultimately come to eternal life, that is, to the beatific vision of the Triune God.”

a) Eternal life and the beatific vision are two distinct things. True Christians have eternal life now, but they do not yet possess the beatific vision. This error in CtC’s argument does not really affect its main point, so let’s leave it to one side.

b) The purpose of “the Church” is to proclaim the Gospel, but also to provide for the communal worship of God and to build up the flock of God. In other words, the Church has multiple purposes. One purpose of the church is to be the “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). While salvation is ordinarily within and through the evangelical work of the Church, salvation comes to all those who trust in Christ (“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Romans 10:13-15). More certainly could be said on this point, but since these issues in CtC’s argument do not directly affect its main point, we will also leave them to one side.

c) We agree with CtC’s statement that “one reason Christ came into the world is to build his Church,” and we agree that Matthew 16:18 (which they cite) supports this point. We would note that in context, what defines the church is the confession of faith “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:16) In other words, it is by believing the gospel. We see this same short form of the gospel message in a number of places.

i) It is the accusation that Jesus admits to in his trial:

Matthew 26:63-64But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

ii) It is the beginning of the gospel according to Mark:

Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

iii) It is the testimony of the demons:

Luke 4:41
And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ.

iv) It is Peter’s confession in John 6:

John 6:61-69
When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, “Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.”
From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, “Will ye also go away?”
Then Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”

(Side note: note that it is the words of eternal life, not the “church of eternal life” – the church proclaims the gospel, but the church is not the gospel – the gospel is the gospel)

v) It is Martha’s Confession in John 11:

John 11:23-27
Jesus saith unto her, “Thy brother shall rise again.”
Martha saith unto him, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Jesus said unto her, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
She saith unto him, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”

vi) It is the reason John’s Gospel was inscripturated with its particular contents:

John 20:30-31
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

vii) It is the Ethiopian Eunuch’s Confession:

Acts 8:30-37
And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, “Understandest thou what thou readest?”
And he said, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.
The place of the scripture which he read was this, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: in his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.”
And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, “I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?”
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”
And Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”
And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

viii) It is the gospel that Saul preached from the very beginning:

Acts 9:17-20
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

ix) And it is one way that Paul defines the church:

1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

x) And (of course) the confession of Peter in Matthew 16:

Matthew 16:15-18
He saith unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?”
And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

(We have seen elsewhere (part 1, part 2) that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” means that the people will be raised from the dead and experience eternal life.)

So, yes – Christ came to build his church – and his church is built through a proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that says he is the Son of the living God. But this church is defined by the confession of faith.

CtC next argues (2) that “In the New Testament we find different terms used to show distinct aspects of the Church. One such term is “the Body of Christ”.”

a) The terms used are not necessarily used to “show distinct aspects,” but …
b) There are various terms used, and one such term is “the Body of Christ.”

CtC next argues (3) that “In these passages [Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Colossians 1:18,24; Ephesians 1:22, 4:15-16, 5:23] St. Paul teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ is a unity; it is one Body. God has composed it so that there would be no division in it.”

a) Paul does teach that all believers are “one body”:

Romans 12:3-5
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
1 Corinthians 10:15-18
I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
1 Corinthians 12:3-14
Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.

(it is interesting to note that the CtC guys skipped over 1 Corinthians 10, quoted Romans 12 without quoting verse 3, and quoted 1 Corinthians 12 without quoting the preceding context)

b) But note that Paul’s definition of that unity relates to faith, the operation of the Spirit, and relying on the sacrifice of Christ. It’s not clear that the CtC guys have appreciated this.

c) The statement, “God has composed it so that there would be no division in it,” does not seem possibly supportable as it stands. Look at the part of 1 Corinthians 12 that the CtC guys failed to quote. The unity that the body has is not one that eliminates divisions, but one that transcends divisions. Thus, the text states:

  • there are diversities of gifts
  • there are differences of administrations
  • there are diversities of operations

Yet there is still a unity because there is

  • the same Spirit
  • the same Lord
  • the same God

(a nice Trinitarian allusion).

c) Indeed, it is not intrinsic that there are no divisions, because one of the messages of Paul to the Corinthians is one to overcome existing divisions:

1 Corinthians 1:10
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
1 Corinthians 3:3
For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
1 Corinthians 11:18
For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.

In other words, even with a unity of fellowship in the same assembly there were divisions.

d) If we simply understand CtC’s argument as being that it is aspirational there not be divisions, even then it is important to distinguish. There are divisions that serve an important purpose

1 Corinthians 10:20
But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
2 Corinthians 6:14
Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
Ephesians 5:11
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.
Galatians 1:8-9
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
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.

and divisions that are a result of sin

James 4:1 
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?

See also, 1 Corinthians 3:3 (above).

So, there is a sense in which the statement is correct, and a sense in which it inaccurate, and it is important to distinguish between the two.

CtC next states: “Yet, in another sense, the Body is a plurality, because it has many members.”

The body is composed of a plurality. It is, however, a fallacy to ascribe to the whole the quality of the parts simply by virtue of composition.

CtC continues:

And yet the members are joined together in one and the same Body. Each of the members of the Body has a different place and function in the Body. They do not all have the same function or role. Some are apostles, some are prophets, some are teachers, etc., each according to his gifts. And St. Paul teaches that some gifts are greater than others, even while each member is dependent on the others. This mutual dependency is true not only of the hands and feet, but even of the Head; the Head cannot say to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’

Much of this statement is correct.

CtC then states, however:

In this way, the Body is hierarchically organized, each of the subordinate functions contributing to the unified activity of the whole Body. If the Body were not hierarchically organized, there would be many different activities, but not one unified activity. There would be many different individuals, and not one Body.

a) The text does not describe a hierarchical organization of people, but of gifts. Moreover, that hierarchy is this:

1 Corinthians 12:27-31
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

But that’s not where Paul stops, even if that’s where the chapter stops, in chapter 13 Paul goes on to explain that the greatest gift is the gift of Love or “Charity” as it termed in the KJV:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

b) There can be a unified activity without a hierarchy.

Proverbs 30:27 The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands;

Even today, the mechanism that allows periodical cicadas to arise as a brood is not fully understood. Nevertheless, it is possible to have unified activity without a hierarchy.

c) More significantly, there is no need for a multi-layer hierarchy.

Proverbs 6:6-8
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

d) The hierarchy of gifts does not correspond to a hierarchy of people. That’s true of the early church (Philip had seven daughters who prophesied, but they were not hierarchically above the brethren who did not prophesy). That’s also true of modern Rome (people who supposedly are wonderworkers in Rome’s communion often have no or very low ecclesiastical rank, while many of the popes are not thought to perform any miracles at all).

e) Furthermore, the analogy of the body does not lend itself well to the “hierarchy” theme. While the head is over the rest of the body (as governor), the feet are not over the hands, nor are the ears over the legs. There is no hierarchy among the members of the body, aside from the head ruling all.

The CtC argument continues:

At the top of the hierarchy is Christ, the Head of the Body. The Head and members together form one Body, with one shared divine life. The life of a body is its soul, in which all the members of the body are made to be alive and to share in the same life of the body. So likewise, the Life of the Body of Christ is the Holy Spirit, who is the Soul of the Church.

There’s nothing especially objectionable about this, although it will become significant a little later in the argument.

CtC continues:

This is why St. Paul says that by one Spirit the Corinthian believers were baptized into one Body and all made to drink of that one Spirit. This incorporation into Christ’s Mystical Body is what is meant by union with Christ.

a) It should be readily apparent that union is a state, not an action. So, “incorporation into Christ’s Mystical Body” is not union.

b) Scripture talks about the “unity of the Spirit” and the “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”

Ephesians 4:3
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:13
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

These references actually show two important aspects of the kind of unity envisioned by Paul. The first is that the unity exists, whether in peace or out of peace. We are to endeavour to keep it in the bond of peace, but the issue is one of peace.

Look at those passages in their full context:

Ephesians 4:3-16
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

Notice that in this context, the “unity of the faith” is something associated with an aspirational goal – something into which we are growing, not something intrinsic and inherent.

CtC continued:

When St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” (Gal. 2:20) this should not be understood in an individualistic ‘me-and-Jesus’ sense, but as referring to our union with Christ in His Mystical Body, the Church. Our union with Christ is accomplished through our incorporation into His Mystical Body, the Church, which is composed of many members. Likewise, when St. Paul says in Galatians 3:27-28 that those who have been baptized into Christ are all one in Christ, he is referring to believers being incorporated into the unity of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church.

a) One interesting thing is that unlike circumcision, which leaves a generally unseen mark, baptism leaves no visible mark at all.

b) Also note that the RCs hold that the baptisms of heretics and schismatics are valid.

c) Thus, the thing that unites believers into the body is – in this argument – a sign that leaves no mark and results in a unity that transcends denominational divisions.

d) And, it’s worth pointing out – the verses quoted don’t say that it is the baptism that accomplishes the unity or union.

Galatians 3:22-29
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

As can be seen in the passage, it is faith that is key. Baptism is a sign of what is accomplished by faith. Thus, for example, Abraham was saved without baptism, but not without faith.

CtC continued:

Concerning that union, St. Augustine wrote:

Let us rejoice and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ. Do you understand, brothers, the grace of Christ our Head? Wonder at it, rejoice: we have become Christ. For if He is the Head, we are the members; He and we form the whole man . . . the fullness of Christ, therefore; the head and the members. What is the head and the members? Christ and the Church.”7

Notice the strong language that St. Augustine uses. Because of our union with Christ the Head in His Mystical Body, we are not only Christians, but, in a true sense, Christ. How is that possible? Because the members and Head form one “whole man.” Of that “whole man” St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

The Head and members are as one mystical person [quasi una persona mystica] and therefore Christ’s satisfaction belongs to all the faithful as being His members.

St. Augustine and St. Thomas both maintained that through baptism we are incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body, and that this union is not extrinsic, but intrinsic.

These quotations from Augustine and Aquinas seem essentially redundant to the argument.  Whether or not Augustine and/or Aquinas agreed with what Scripture teaches is not really of central importance.  Moreover, the quotations provided don’t actually address the question of whether it is baptism or faith that unites us to Christ.

The idea that “we are Christ” doesn’t add much to the discussion, except to emphasize the fact that the unity of the body of Christ is unity with the head.

The CtC argument continued: “Through baptism we are incorporated into a unity greater than ourselves, and so become one with the Head and other members, yet without losing our individual identity.”

As noted above, Christians are united to Christ by saving faith. That said, yes, they become one without losing their individual identity.

Then CtC continued:

This unity of the Mystical Body is a visible unity, precisely because it is the unity of a Body. Bodies are visible and hierarchically organized, not invisible. Because the Church is a Body, the Church is essentially visible. The visibility of the Body is not reducible to the visibility of certain of its members; the Church per se is visible, just as your body per se is visible. Because the Church is a Body, “it must also be something definite and perceptible to the senses.” In order to understand how the Body is visible, we need to consider the ways in which a living body is unified.

a) Bodies can be invisible.  Recall that Jesus made himself invisible to the Jews on at least one occasion:

John 8:53-59
“Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?”
Jesus answered, “If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”
Then said the Jews unto him, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?”
Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”
Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.

Jesus’ body did not cease to be a body, just because it ceased being visible.  Moreover, Jesus physical body is not currently visible, but that does not mean it is not a true body.

b) Moreover, according to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation, Christ’s body is present without being visible (instead the accidents of bread and wine are visible).  Thus, it cannot be (within Roman doctrine) necessary for a body to be visible in order to be a body.  Indeed, the body of Christ in the Eucharist is not something “perceptible to the senses,” according to the Roman doctrine of transubstantiation.

c) Furthermore, Christ himself is not visibly present and he is the head.  Thus, either the body does not essentially require visible unity or there is no body.  But there is a body, therefore, the body does not essentially require visible unity.

d) Additionally, this is an argument from an extension of an analogy.  In other words, visibility was not an aspect of the Biblical analogy to the body.  Reference to visibility is an extension of the analogy.  There is not, however, any warrant for this extension of the analogy.  If making unwarranted extensions to analogies is legitimate, there are almost no limits.  The only way to avoid giving the Scriptures of nose wax is to require that any applications of analogies have warrant.  There is no warrant for this extension.


The above argument demonstrates that CtC’s supposed positive argument for the papacy cannot stand.  There are more points of argument in the linked post, but these points of arguments are premised on the points analyzed above.  Since the points analyzed above fail, it is not necessary to continue analyzing the further arguments that hang from the failed argument.  We may, at some point, come back and examine some of the remaining arguments presented, but doing so is outside the scope of this particular post.

Rather, here we have seen that the entire post from CtC hinges on an unwarranted extension of an analogy.  Moreover, this unwarranted extension of the analogy actually comes back to bite CtC, because maintaining CtC’s position regarding the essence of “body” requires giving up transubstantiation.  Finally, this unwarranted extension of the analogy cannot be right, because Christ is the head of the Body and Christ is not presently visible to us.

– TurretinFan

A Distinction in Principle between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura

December 8, 2009

Tim Troutman over at the Roman Catholic blog Called to Communion wrote:

The Reformed claim to believe in Church authority but they subject that authority to their own private interpretation of Scripture and thus their self-view of Church authority is no different in principle than the Protestant who would explicitly state that his only authority is his private interpretation of Scripture. That’s what the article demonstrates. If someone disagrees they need to say so and start out with something like this: “There is a principle of distinction between sola and solo scriptura and it is this:” (and then go on to explain what that principle is).

But if they do not do that or something very similar, then they do not refute the article and don’t really engage it. In 349 I gave two very explicit examples of what a refutation would look like. So far, nothing has looked like that at all.


I answer:

Tim is mistaken about how the article can be refuted. He is correct that one way to refute the article would be to use the format he mentioned: “There is a principle of distinction between sola and solo scriptura and it is this:” (and then go on to explain what that principle is). However, there are other ways to refute the article, such as by demonstrating that the article is unfounded or that the article is self-defeating. Those sort of refutations of the article have been offered (both by myself – here, for example – and by others.

Yet, lest he continue to assert that no refutation has been offered according to his preferred form:

There is a principle of distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura and it is this: respect for subordinate authority.

Scriptures teach that the elders are overseers (Act 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.) and that they are to be accorded special dignity (1 Timothy 5:1 Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; & 1 Timothy 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. ). This respect, of course, is not without limits. An elder can be accused by a plurality of witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19), an elder can be entreated when in error (1 Timothy 5:1), and there will be false teachers that will come in (2 Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. ).

Submission to the elders of the church is part of a Christians overall duty to submit to authority to authority (Romans 13:1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. & Titus 3:1 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,). Indeed, even the civil authorities in an ungodly empire are called ministers of God:

Romans 13:1-7
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Indeed, Jesus himself commended human authority to his disciples (Matthew 23:1-3 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.”) However, this submission to human authority was rightly understood by the apostles to be tempered by a higher duty toward God (Act 5:27-29 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them, saying, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”)

The elders, like the civil magistrate, are ministers of God (1 Thessalonians 3:2 And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith:). They accordingly ought to be obeyed and respected, so long as obedience to them does not conflict with obedience to God.

There is one further parallel that must be made. Obedience to parents is repeatedly emphasized in Scripture:

Exodus 20:12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Deuteronomy 5:16 Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Micah 7:6 For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

Malachi 1:6 A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name?

Matthew 15:4-6
For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; and honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

Matthew 19:19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Mark 7:10-13
For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: but ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

Mark 10:19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

Luke 18:20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.

Ephesians 6:2 Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;)

Colossians 3:20 Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

Yet even the divinely commanded obedience to father and mother is tempered by a necessary trumping obedience to God (Ephesians 6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. & Matthew 8:21-22 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. & Luke 9:59-60 And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.)

Now the Roman Catholic church does not deny that the authority of parents and kings are subordinate to the authority of God. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic church (at least in theory) affirms that God is a higher authority than the church. Thus, this principle of distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura ought to be understandable, at least, to the Roman Catholic reader.

Finally, and this is where the refutation extends beyond simply stating the principle of distinction and explaining it, the sola scriptura position is the position that best fits our present circumstance. Our elders are men. They are not incarnations of the Logos – they are not divinely inspired prophets. They are teachers and pastors. They are owed submission and respect, but not absolutely. Even the apostles (who were sometimes divinely inspired prophets) were not given absolute respect (Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. & Galatians 2:11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.).

Even Jesus himself, though he could have insisted on his divine prerogative, opened his ministry to Scriptural examination (John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. & Matthew 11:2-5 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said unto them, “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” & compare Isaiah 35:4-6 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. & Luke 24:25-27 Then he said unto them, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.).

The Scriptures, after all, are the very word of God, not the private interpretations of men (2 Peter 1:20-21 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.) Furthermore, the Scriptures are both formally and materially sufficient (2 Timothy 3:15-17 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. )

Accordingly, not only is there a principled distinction between sola scriptura and solo scriptura, but sola scriptura is distinguishable from (and superior to) an unbounded submission to the successors (real or alleged) of the apostles. I’m aware of Bryan Cross’ objections to this distinction and I’ve answered them (here – where I demonstrate that his objection amounts to a denial that there can be subordinate authority).


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