Archive for the ‘Unity’ 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

Sola Scriptura and Unity Debate

April 11, 2010

(UPDATE: the audio issues seem to be fixed – you may need to refresh your browser if you tried to view previously) The debate below took place April 10, 2010, between William Albrecht (Roman Catholic) and myself. The resolution was: “Does Sola Scriptura foster disunity and division in the [Christian] body?” This resolution was originally proposed by Steve Ray. Albrecht took the affirmative position and I took the negative position. While the constructive speeches may be of interest, I think both sides will most appreciate the lengthy cross-examination segments, which make up 4/7 of the debate.

If the above doesn’t work:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7



Unity vs. Disunity – Round 2

November 25, 2009

Dr. White has responded (link to Dr. White’s response) to some comments found at a Roman Catholic blog (link to source of comments).

Dr. White points out that Reformed Baptists worldwide are far more unified than Roman Catholics. He’s right, of course. But he could have taken the matter further.

He’s being far too fair to the Roman Catholics.

After all, the Roman Catholic approach is to contrast the unity within their sect to the unity among either “all other groups” or “all other groups of some particular category.” They are not willing to compare themselves to Reformed Baptists (where they would lose the unity battle) but instead they try to compare themselves to a bundle of many different groups.

The Roman Catholic argument works for every group. Eastern Orthodoxy is far more unified than the collection of all groups that are not Eastern Orthodox. Anglicans are far more unified than the collection of all groups that are non-Anglican – or even all Protestants that are non-Anglican. And so on, and so forth. Reformed Baptists are more unified than all non-Reformed Baptists.


Catholicism Not a Good Predictor of Convictions

May 30, 2009

This article, put out by the secular press, highlights a point I have made repeatedly on this blog: there is a great lack of unity of conviction among Roman Catholics (link). Key quotation:

But scholars of religion and the Supreme Court also say that the court’s Catholics have spanned the ideological spectrum, from William J. Brennan Jr. on the left to Antonin Scalia on the right, suggesting that a justice’s Catholic faith does not predict how he or she will rule even on issues such as abortion and gay rights, where the Catholic Church has staked out clear positions.


Bellisario vs Portuguese Bishops – An Audio/Video Response

April 1, 2009

Bellisario has tried to respond to my previous post (link to Bellisario, link to my previous post). I now respond by video (just audio, but with a mostly unrelated slideshow on top of it). This video discusses the fact that Catholicism cannot provide unity on issues like contraception. We sometimes hear claims that Catholicism’s magisterium is needed to provide doctrinal and moral unity and certainty, but the facts belie this erroneous conclusion. The organizational unity of Rome may lead to doctrinal unity on some issues, but it does not on the contraception issue: one of the pet issues in Romanist apologetics today.



Thomas Smythe on Church Harmony

February 5, 2009

The Virginia Huguenot has provided a list of 12 ways to enhance the harmony of one’s church, taken from the great Southern Presbyterian, Thomas Smythe (link). It’s rich in Scriptural truth, and promotes the peace and unity of the body. An excellent preventative medicine for every generation.



Not Because of Sola Scriptura

November 20, 2008

This ultra-traditional (not a technical term) sect of Catholicism is effectively its own denomination (link). They would claim, I believe, to be “Catholic” and they claim that the real pope is locked up in a Vatican dungeon, so they cannot really be called Sedavacantists.

The folks out there who have been trying to wield the “Sola Scriptura causes disunity” claim have trouble dealing with this kind of data. Rationally, though, if cultic groups of this sort can crop up without any reference to Sola Scriptura, why besides blatant exercise of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy would one blame the large number of denominations on Sola Scriptura? To put it a different way, don’t groups like this demonstrate that people tend to form their own groups regardless of Sola Scriptura?


Team Apologian

June 20, 2008

As many of my blog readers already know, I’ve been inducted as a member of the Team Apologian at the blog of Alpha & Omega Ministries. I look forward to doing my best to try to contribute to that blog. At the same time, I think it worthwhile to provide a couple of caveats.

a) Dr. White, the leader of the team, does not endorse everything I write here (he may not even endorse everything in every article I write at the A&O Ministries blog).

b) Conversely, I don’t agree with Dr. White (or other members of the team) on everything.

Given all that disagreement, how can we be on one blogging team?

The answer is simple: we agree that Scripture is the rule of faith and that the Gospel message is one of faith in Christ alone for salvation. We are divided in some ways, but we can have Christian fellowship and unity that bridges the denominational and lesser doctrinal differences among us. We worship one God, and defend faith in Him against all those who question our sure hope of Salvation from the wrath which is to come.

In the essentials: Unity
In the non-essentials: Liberty
In all things: Prudence and Charity


Response to Armstrong’s Historical Revisionism

May 7, 2008

In a post today, Dave Armstrong claims: “And Protestants continue to argue that folks can disagree on the “secondary” issues and still have unity. Nuh-uh. That ain’t a biblical view. The original Protestants didn’t argue this way at all. They felt that they had spiritual and theological truth and fought for it. It’s only when liberalism came in and continuing Protestant sectarianism, that this other worldview of acceptance of the necessary presence of contradiction and error somewhere, started being accepted.” (source)

I’m not going to sit here and correct his grammar or logic. I am simply going to demonstrate from Calvin (one of the Reformers – and someone indisputably entitled to be one of “the original Protestants” by any typical Roman Catholic Standard – which normally places the start of the Reformation with Luther) that – in fact – the Reformers did believe in liberty in the non-essentials (See as well this earlier post):

Calvin, John – Institutes of the Christian Religion (presented here in Beveridge’s 1599 translation), Book IV, Chapter 1, Section 12.

Heeding the marks guards against capricious separation

When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognise a church in every society in which both exists our meaning is that we are never to discard it so-long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults.

Nay, even in the administration of word and Sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position. Some are so necessary to be known, that all must hold them to be fixed and undoubted as the proper essentials of religion: for instance, that God is one, that Christ is God, and the Son of God, that our salvation depends on the mercy of God, and the like. Others, again, which are the subject of controversy among the churches, do not destroy the unity of the faith ; for why should it be regarded as a ground of dissension between churches, if one, without any spirit of contention or perverseness in dogmatising, hold that the soul on quitting the body flies to heaven, and another, without venturing to speak positively as to the abode, holds it for certain that it lives with the Lord? The words of the apostle are, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you,” (Phil. 3: 15.) Does he not sufficiently intimate that a difference of opinion as to these matters which are not absolutely necessary, ought not to be a ground of dissension among Christians? The best thing, indeed, is to be perfectly agreed, but seeing there is no man who is not involved in some mist of ignorance, we must either have no church at all or pardon delusion in those things of which one may be ignorant, without violating the substance of religion and forfeiting salvation.

Here, however, I have no wish to patronise even the minutest errors, as if I thought it right to foster them by flattery or connivance; what I say is, that we are not on account of every minute difference to abandon a church, provided it retain sound and unimpaired that doctrine in which the safety of piety consists, and keep the use of the sacraments instituted by the Lord. Meanwhile, if we strive to reform what is offensive, we act in the discharge of duty. To this effect are the words of Paul, “If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace,” (1 Cor. 14: 30.) From this it is evident that to each member of the Church, according to his measure of grace, the study of public edification has been assigned, provided it be done decently and in order. In other words, we must neither renounce the communion of the Church, nor, continuing in it, disturb peace and discipline when duly arranged.



Unity, Liberty, and Charity – Who said it first?

April 28, 2008


I happened to be reading LP Cruz’s blog today, and noticed an article in which he ascribed to “a 17th century Lutheran pastor” the famous saying, “In the essentials, unity, in the non-essentials, liberty, and in all things, Charity,” or something to that effect.

It seems like sound-thinking and appeals to our softer side; but who said it first? LP Cruz’s post sparked my interest to dig deeper into the subject.


Ramage’s “Beautiful thoughts from Latin Authors,” ascribes the maxim to Melancthon, and notes that it has been carved in stone above his garden gate. (link) Cox too seems to maintain Melancthon as the originator, posting that quotation prominently on the title page of his biography of that reformer (link). Matthes likewise seems to be of the same view in his life and works of Melancthon (link), though my German and ability to read the older scripts is not good enough for me to be definitive. Hoefer also seems to be willing to attribute the saying to Melancthon (link).


Belton thinks that the origin of the phrase is “really unknown,” though he seems to have found it in a few 17th century writers (link). This is perhaps the most honest and direct conclusion we could give, but it is our part as scholars to dig, guess, and delve. To that end, we cannot be satisfied with Belton’s willing agnosticism on the matter.


Remarkably, the earliest I was able to find a reference (published 1719) to this famous maxim was in the works of the unworthy son of Francis Turretin, Jean Alphonse, who provides the saying with the addition of Prudence to the final line of the saying (link). J.A. Turretin appears to ascribe the phrase to Witsius. Cunningham (and others) agree that Witsius adopted this as his favorite motto (link).

Meldenius – not Augustine
Stanley ascribes the quotation to Rupertus Meldenius, and notes that it had for a time been falsely ascribed to Augustine (link). Jones notes the dubious ascription to Augustine here as well (link). Hamerton appears to have bought the Augustine line (link).

Narrowing it down Further

Hoyt lists both Meldenius (his preference) and Melancthon (link) (much the same thought here, as well).


Augustine was a rather obvious misattribution, his weighty name getting the credit for anything good in Latin among many Protestants. Ironically, the saying eventually came to be approved by a pope, as this thoughtful web page noted (link) and seems to have become taken essentially as dogma in other Catholic writings (e.g.). This may perhaps have been due to its misattribution to Augustine, though the pope seemed to have been aware of the dubious origin of the maxim.

Witsius probably did help popularize the expression, but does not seem to have taken credit for its origin. Furthermore, the 1626 date of Meldenius’ publication is slightly before Witsius’ birth, which naturally seals Witsius off from further consideration.

Melancthon (1497-1560) is old enough to antedate Meldenius’ publication, and would even be old enough to cast Meldenius’ originality into question, but it seems that the garden gate of Melancthon’s garden may simply not date to Melancthon’s time (which would hardly be surprising), and there appears to be no other record of Melancthon having heard of the saying.

At the end of the day, Meldenius has the edge on the others, given that his usage was the first to appear in print – that we have been able to recover (though I have not even been able to recover that). Here’s an interesting brief discussion of Meldenius for those who may be interested (link). In short, L.P. Cruz appears to be justified in attributing the famous phrase to “Peter Medeirlin, a Lutheran pastor of the 17th Century.” If you explore the final link above, you will find some reasonable speculation that Meldenius is a pseudonym (yes folks, people did publish pseudonymously before the Internet) for Medeirlin, based on a rearrangement of letters.

Regardless of who originated the saying let us follow the modified form published by J.A. Turretin, in which we maintain unity among Christians on the essentials (the gospel), liberty among Christians on the non-essentials (other doctrines), and both charity and prudence in all things.


P.S. Thanks to Albert for catching an error in the original version of this post.

%d bloggers like this: