Archive for the ‘Sola Ecclesia’ Category

"It is not Possible to find Jesus Outside the Church"

April 23, 2013

Pope Francis in today’s homily stated (Vatican Radio translation):

And so the Church was a Mother, the Mother of more children, of many children. It became more and more of a Mother. A Mother who gives us the faith, a Mother who gives us an identity. But the Christian identity is not an identity card: Christian identity is belonging to the Church, because all of these belonged to the Church, the Mother Church. Because it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church. The great Paul VI said: “Wanting to live with Jesus without the Church, following Jesus outside of the Church, loving Jesus without the Church is an absurd dichotomy.” And the Mother Church that gives us Jesus gives us our identity that is not only a seal, it is a belonging. Identity means belonging. This belonging to the Church is beautiful.

I want you to note that line, “it is not possible to find Jesus outside the Church.” There we have an exclusivistic note that we have not noticed in the past few pontiffs.

I can’t predict whether this statement will be qualified to death, or not. However, taking the statement as stated, how can there be “separated brethren”? Are they “brethren” who are separated from Jesus? If so, in what sense are they brethren? Likewise, if people are potentially saved “outside the church,” then are they not saved through Jesus?

Francis’ statement seems to fit better with traditional thought than with the modern inclusivisitic statements we’ve heard from a variety of cardinals. Recall Cardinal George talking about how Mormonism and Roman Catholicism have a “common ground” in Jesus (link). Likewise, recall Cardinal Pell suggesting that hell may be empty or nearly empty (link). Neither of these ideas fits well with what Francis is saying.

I will say this, Francis and Paul VI would be right on the point where he is quoted, if “church” were properly understood as the visible church (composed of all gospel-preaching churches) and if this were described as the general rule. In other words, our love of Christ should lead us to unity with the brethren in the churches. However, except those of us who grow up in the church, we come to faith in Christ outside the church and therefore join ourselves with the churches.

Moreover, Jesus is found in Scripture. The church ought faithfully to proclaim the Scripture and particularly the Gospel, but Jesus can be found and has been found by many outside the visible church, through the work of the Spirit opening their eyes, ears, and heart to the proclamation of the Gospel.


Sola Scriptura vs. Sola Ecclesia at Domain for Truth

April 9, 2012

EvangelZ at The Domain For Truth has a four-part paper on Sola Scriptura vs. Sola Ecclesia, that can be found here: Part 1 – Introduction. Part 2 – Definition of Sola Ecclesia. Part 3 – Definition of Sola Scriptura. Part 4 -Arguments from Scripture and Answers to Some Objections.

– TurretinFan

"Your Interpretation of" – a Common Objection Debunked

February 13, 2012

The Called to Communion clique is fond of replacing “Scripture” with “your interpretation of Scripture.” This has the rhetorical effect of making the appeal to Scripture sound less authoritative. After all, “that’s just your interpretation” is idiomatic of something that has little value. It’s part of the culture of relativism, in which your interpretation is just as good as my interpretation is just as good as anyone else’s interpretation.

Of course, Called to Communion uses this bait to try to plant the hook of “The Church’s Interpretation” as a non-relativistic alternative to the sea of relativism. The sea of relativism, though, is not a true alternative. Not all interpretations are equally valid, and the fact that something is one’s interpretation doesn’t mean it has no validity or that it has equal validity with the interpretation of someone else.

In the case of a document, like Scripture, that has an intended meaning, the meaning is what the author intended, which is generally a single meaning – or in the case of certain genres a pair of meanings (the technique of double entendre is an example of the latter). And, of course, certain texts which employ figures of speech have multiple layers of meaning (depending on how one analyzes meaning – a topic really beyond this short article).

What makes an interpretation correct is it’s correspondence to authorial intent. Things like majority vote of the people, or endorsement by the right number of credentialed and certified scholars, do not matter in this sphere. Instead, all that matters is alignment with what the author actually intended.

There are a variety of hypotheses about how we can determine what an author meant. If we assume that the book is incoherent or corrupted, so that it cannot convey its actual meaning itself, then we need to go to another source. This is what the Gnostics alleged, and what – in essence – each of Rome, Islam, and Mormonism have had to allege.

On the other hand, if we believe the book to be preserved and coherent, then the best way to determine the meaning of the book is from the book itself. If we want to know what some phrase or word means, we look to the context. When we read the Scriptures as a whole, we read them harmoniously – not discordantly. Paul’s teaching of justification by faith apart from works doesn’t contradict James’ teaching on justification – even if the solution does not immediately smack everyone in the face with a two-by-four.

If we adopt the former hypothesis, we undermine Scriptural authority, if we adopt the latter hypothesis, we affirm Scriptural authority.

In a previous post, I made a comparison between the religion of Roman Catholicism and Islam (as well as Mormonism). The one particular comparison I made, which is significant, has to do with whether the Scriptures are themselves the rule of faith. Catholicism, like Islam and Mormonism, rejects this – along, I might add, with Gnosticism (see this more detailed discussion of Gnosticism’s hermeneutic).

Islam makes the Qur’an (and the teachings and example of Mohammed) their rule, Mormonism makes the Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price (and the teachings of Joseph Smith and subsequent alleged apostles) their rule, while Catholicism makes the teachings of the Magisterium (the “universal and ordinary magisterium” but also and chiefly the teachings of the allegedly ecumenical councils and the allegedly ex cathedra statements of the bishops of Rome) their rule.

The analogy is very precise: these religions offer an authority that supersedes Scripture’s authority. Rome doesn’t call the decrees of their allegedly ecumenical councils and “ex cathedra” papal statements “scripture,” but they give them superior authority to Scripture. (I should point out that the teachings of the “universal and ordinary magisterium” are also given authoritative weight. The only problem here is that it is far from clear what exactly that body of teachings is. While the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faithful sometimes appeals to the UOM on certain points, they themselves are not considered infallible.)

One objection that I received in response from “Ryan” is the sort of objection promoted at the “Called to Communion” blog. The objection is as follows: “I give statements of the Magisterium and ex cathedra papal statements superior authority to MY OWN interpretation, not to Scripture itself.”

It may sound nice to those in the Roman communion to say “interpretation” but what they are really saying is that it doesn’t matter to them how clearly Scripture contradicts the allegedly ecumenical councils and ex cathedra papal statements, they are going to believe the magisterium. That’s just saying that Scripture has no authority to them – or at least no authority in matters on which the magisterium has also spoken.

The objection continued: “What you are really saying is YOUR INTERPRETATION of Scripture is more authoritative than the Catholic Magisterium.”

I answer:

a) “The Catholic Magisterium” has very rarely actually interpreted Scripture. Try to find me any whole chapter for which there is an allegedly infallible interpretation (and this supposedly after almost 2000 years of existence).

b) What I’m really saying is that Scripture itself has more authority than the Roman magisterium. After all, you have to “interpret” the magisterium just as you have to “interpret” the Scriptures. So, compare apples to apples.

c) In other words, if you insist on pedantically inserting “interpretation of” into the discussion (as the Called to Communion crowd encourages folks to do), then the comparison is between “your interpretation of Scripture” and “your interpretation of the magisterium.” But really, the comparison is between the Scripture and the magisterium. The “your interpretation of” or “my interpretation of” is just a needless insertion.

d) In some cases, the insertion of “your interpretation of” next to “Scripture” but not next to “magisterium” is part of the overall campaign of trying to supersede Scripture’s authority. I don’t assume that was Ryan’s intent. Nevertheless, the result of adding “your interpretation of” next to “X” is rhetorically speaking to make the “X” sound less authoritative. “Scripture” sounds more authoritative than “your interpretation of Scripture,” as well it should!

e) In some cases, the insertion of “your interpretation of” next to “Scripture” is just wrong. For example, our rule of faith in Christianity is not “my interpretation of Scripture” (which is something changeable) but Scripture itself (which is unchangeable). Scripture (like everything else, including the magisterium’s writings) must be understood to be applied. Nevertheless, it is Scripture itself that is our rule of faith.

The objection continued: “Because you believe the Bible teaches monergism, and the Catholic Church does not believe the Bible teaches monergism, you are really comparing your interpretation to the Church’s interpretation, whereas I submit my own interpretive authority to the Church.”

I answer:

a) As I noted above, that’s just another way of saying “no matter how clearly the Scripture teaches monergism, I will follow what the magisterium says to the contrary.” It’s not “submitting [your] own interpretive authority to [Rome]” it’s failing to do your duty of discernment, for Scripture warns you that false teachers will arise, and it warns you about this eventuality quite clearly.

b) Your church may well insist by dogma that the Bible does not teach monergism, but she does not do so by interpretation of Scripture. Look at Trent, for example. There cooperation is defined dogma, but where is any interpretation of any particular scriptures provided? So you should see that she is not so much interpreting as just insisting.

The objection continued: “You might not think baptism regenerates us, but the Church has interpreted the Bible to mean we are indeed regenerated by baptism.”

I answer: I think as you look more closely, you will find that this too is a matter of insistence, not interpretation, per se.

The objection continued: “The difference is not that the Church has superseded Scripture by daring to interpret it authoritatively; the difference is that you think your interpretation is better.”

I answer:

a) Actually, I think that Scripture’s meaning is truth and it is objective. So, in questions of interpretation, the question is who is right, not who is “better.”

b) Your church has attempted to supersede Scripture by demanding that you understand Scripture only in ways that do not contradict what you understand your church to be saying is true. In other words, your interpretation of Scripture must be submitted to your interpretation of the magisterium, or to speak normally – Scripture’s authority must be submitted to that of the magisterium.

The objection concluded: “If your analogy holds, YOUR own authority has also superseded Scripture.”

I answer: Unlike your church, I don’t purport to be infallible. What I insist is true is always open to correction from the authority of Scripture. What your church insists is true is not open to similar correction. She feigns to speak infallibly, I do not.


Faith in the Church of Rome

June 14, 2011

VATICAN CITY, 14 JUN 2011 (VIS) – Yesterday at 7.30 p.m. in the Roman basilica of St. John Lateran Benedict XVI inaugurated an ecclesial congress marking the close of the pastoral year of the diocese of Rome. The congress, which will run from 13 to 15 June, has as its theme: “The joy of engendering the faith in the Church of Rome”.

I suspect that the translation is just “unfortunate” and the modifier “in the church of Rome” really is meant to go with the “engendering” rather than “faith.” Nevertheless, “faith in the church of Rome” is what Rome’s apologists are promoting these days; especially those who push hard against the formal sufficiency of Scripture.


Innocent IV as Reported by Von Dollinger

March 2, 2011

Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger wrote the important work, “The Pope and the Council.” One of his interesting observations regarding the mutation of the papacy is this:

Innocent Iv. supplemented the hierarchical organization by adding a link hitherto wanting to the papal chain, when he established the principle that every cleric must obey the Pope, even if he commands what is wrong, for no one can judge him. The only exception was if the command involved heresy or tended to the destruction of the whole Church.[fn1]

1. Comment, in Decretal. Francof. 1570, 555. Innocent wrote this commentary as Pope. He has openly told us what amount of Christian culture and knowledge, both for clergy and laity, suits the Papal system. It is enough, he says, for the laity to know that there is a God who rewards the good, and, for the rest, to believe implicitly what the Church believes. Bishops and pastors must distinctly know the articles of the Apostles’ Creed; the other clergy need not know more than the laity, and also that the body of Christ is made in the sacrament of the altar.—Comment. in Decr. 2. Naturally, therefore, the laity were forbidden to read the Bible in their own tongue, and, if they conversed publicly or privately on matters of faith, incurred excommunication by a Bull of Alexander iv., and after a year became amenable to the Inquisition.—Sext. Dec. 5, 2.

(The Pope and the Council, pp. 161-62)

I should note that apparently the summary above provided by von Dollinger has been picked up by others due to some sort of typo as being a quotation from Innocent III. Unfortunately, this has lead to a variety of spurious “Innocent III” citations both on the Internet and in print.

This “hand your mind over to the church” attitude is not a defined dogma, per se. However, when you think about it, it is the logical conclusion of a sola ecclesia mindset: just place implicit faith in the church and go about your business. Know that God exists and trust in the church that if you do what they say, you will be saved.

That’s not the line we hear from Rome today, and Rome is no longer excommunicating laymen who speak not just privately but publicly about theological issues (not to mention reading the Bible in their own tongue). Is that for better or for worse?

I think it’s for the better, since thinking critically about theology and reading the Bible in one’s own tongue is the way that a person can become free from the tyranny of Rome.

May God give abundant grace so that this freedom of mind will bear fruit in repentance and faith in Christ alone (rather than in Christ as supposedly mediated by the Roman church) for salvation.


I Can’t Do it Perfectly, So I Won’t Even Try!

February 20, 2011

One of the obstacles to becoming free from Rome’s power is a refusal to think critically about Rome’s claims. This refusal to think critically can be dressed up in pious clothes. What it amounts to is the adoption of a sola ecclesia position in which the person hands over their judgment to their church, or at least does so whenever it matters. The following provides an example of this anti-intellectualism in pious garb.

“Deacon Bryan,” in the comment box at Called to Communion, quoted this from a commenter named “Brent” (source):

The beauty of the Church is that Truth is not subject to my weak intellect, sinfulness and pride. So, even when my “gut” or “head” or “heart” tells me birth control is “a-ok”, I’m wrong. Ah, I’m free! (Jn 8:32). Free from my weak intellect, sinfulness, and pride to reject my “gut, head, or heart” from telling me that Jesus is 50% God, baptism is a symbol, or Mary sinned.

The problem, of course, is that implicit faith in the Roman church also “frees” one to reject Scripture from telling one that Christ is the only head of the church and that Mary was a sinner in need of a savior.

Deacon Bryan then added:

Excellent! In matters of doctrine, God truly has set us free from our darkened intellect by using the Bible and and His Church to preach the truth to the poor. It strikes me as interesting that it is those involved in this discussion who believe our intellect has been destroyed, as I understand the reformers to have taught, who are the ones who think that the human mind is capable of formulating true doctrine on its own and without the need of God’s continued work in the Church. Of course, many protestants might label that a straw man, however until it is proven that there is a principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura that is simply going to be the way I will continue to see it.

Except, of course, whenever one sees a difference between what the Bible says and what Rome says, the person with implicit faith in Rome accepts Rome and rejects the Bible. So, it’s not really “the Bible and [Rome]” but rather “Rome and the Bible, as long is it doesn’t contradict Rome.”

Moreover, Calvin and the Reformers didn’t teach that the intellect of regenerate man is “destroyed.” Calvin actually wrote: “To charge the intellect with perpetual blindness, so as to leave it no intelligence of any description whatever, is repugnant not only to the Word of God, but to common experience.” Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 2, Section 12. So yes, it is a straw man.

Furthermore, the Reformed position is not so much that “the human mind is capable of formulating true doctrine on its own and without the need of God’s continued work in the Church,” but rather that God can communicate true doctrine to his people using the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, as well as a fallible church.


It may sound pious to say that one recognizes the weakness of one’s own intellect. Moreover, there is truth in the fact that one’s intellect is weak. The solution, however, is not implicit trust in men. If a man said that because his arms are weak, he plans not to use them, we’d either laugh at him, or criticize him as a sluggard.

When a Christian says that his intellect is weak, and therefore he will simply hand over his reasoning power to the elders of his church (whether he is an apostate church or a sound church), we ought to have a similar reaction.

The solution instead is continued study of Scripture (listening to what God says) and prayer to God for wisdom (speaking to God), as well as qualified reliance on the fallible means at our disposal, including our own intellect and the counsel of the church. Through this God-appointed means, we can seek the truth. There is no guarantee that we will get all of our doctrines perfectly correct. After all, God does not promise to remove the weakness of our intellect fully in this life.

Nevertheless, we can and should make use of the intellect that God has given us in pursuit of the truth. The Scripture commends the Bereans for this, and commends no one for implicit faith in the church – for refusing to investigate teachings and to compare them to Scripture.

A man who refuses to wash himself because he knows he can’t get himself perfectly clean is a lazy slob who is making an excuse. The man who refuses to search the Scriptures because he realizes his own fallibility is much more abominable.


Erasmus’ Words – Could Beckwith, Cross, and Liccione Endorse?

January 7, 2010

Erasmus wrote:

What weight the authority of the church may have with others, I know not; but with me it weighs so much, that I could be of the opinion of the Arians and Pelagians, if the church had approved their doctrines.

Latin Text:

Quantum apud alios valeat auctoritas ecclesiae nescio; certo apud me tantum valet ut cum Arianis et Pelagianis sentire possim, si probasset ecclesia quod illi docuerunt.

Citation: Erasmus, Letter to Pirkheimer, written from Basle on October 19, 1527 (Translation from John Jortin, The Life of Erasmus, Volume 1, , pp. 387-88 of London 1808 edition)

Those are the words of Erasmus, but given the comments provided by Francis Beckwith, Bryan Cross, and Mike Liccione, it seems it expresses a sentiment that they could also share.

What about my Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox readers? Do you think Erasmus went too far?


(Thanks to Pastor David King for leading me to this quotation.)

Sola Ecclesia – A Reformation Maxim?

January 2, 2010

We normally refer to sola ecclesia as Rome’s alternative to sola scriptura. Dr. Bruce Atkinson (Psy. PhD) proposes it as an addition to the five Reformation solas:

5. Sola ecclesia (through the church alone) – This newly recognized sola is needed to battle the extreme individualism and anti-church sentiment that is becoming more and more prevalent. I hear: “I believe in Jesus but I don’t trust organized religion.” “All the churches are full of judgmental hypocrites.” “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, I can just watch services on TV.” Surely you have heard similar statements; they are very common these days. Let us examine the historical and present value of the Church for salvation and sanctification.

[I’ve removed the body of his argument here. The conclusion of the section follows.]

A final warning is in order for this particular sola. There is a reason why sola scriptura comes before sola ecclesia. Church authority must always be secondary to the authority of God’s Word. All traditions of doctrine, worship, and human authority in the church must be tested by the Canon. In the history of the Church, we have seen how human power tends to corrupt and change things. But Jesus Christ does not change (Hebrews 13:8, Rev 1:8) and His words will never pass away (Matthew 24:35). Humans (other than Jesus) can and do change, sometimes for the worse. Remember that the churches in the world are still made up of both sheep and goats, and there are some wolves in sheep’s clothing at the highest levels.


Given the other sense that sola ecclesia already has, I don’t think it’s the best proposal, but it is an interesting one.


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