Wednesday, June 03, 2009

First Rebuttal to "A House Divided" & Ivan's Response

Rebuttal by "Ender" on a Catholic Forum

Quoting Ivan:

On my Theological Discussions blog, I raised five serious theological issues I have with the Roman Catholic Church (Immaculate Conception of Mary, Supremacy and Infallibility of the Pope, Transubstantiation, Forced Celibacy of the Clergy and the claim to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church) in the essay "A House Divided: A Critique of Roman Claims to be the One True Church".
I'll have to read the essay before commenting on it but I can make two observations now. The question of priestly celibacy is of a different type than the other four issues you raise in that, unlike the other four, the Church may at any time decide to change her position. This is not an unchangeable law of God, it a Church law and as such she may make of it what she will. I don't believe it rises to the level of a theological issue.

Your brief comment about justification by faith alone is unclear. The Catholic Church does not teach sola fide - are you saying you think she should?

Quoting Ivan:
The Church that can truly be described as One is that which spans across denominational or other dividing lines to reach those who truly believe they are sinners and that Christ's death on the Cross covers their sins and paves the way for their inclusion in the Kingdom of God.
What you describe is a collection of individuals who agree on one specific, theological point. It is not the definition of a church. A random aggregation of individuals that never meets, never discusses the implications of that (one) shared belief, and does not even know who is or is not included cannot be called a church by any reasonable meaning of the term.

Quoting Ivan:
Holy? Really? If the Church is holy, it is solely by the grace won at the Cross of Christ and not by the many traditions, dogmas and institutions of the churches.
The Catholic Church does not claim holiness derives from her any more than she claims that the doctrines she proclaims derive from her. "The knowledge which the Church offers to man has its origin not in any speculation of her own, however sublime, but in the word of God which she has received in faith." (Fides et Ratio) If she is the one true church then she would be holy by that fact alone.

Quoting Ivan:
The R.C. ceased being Catholic in a definite manner with the Great Schism of 1054
This is like the complaint that God doesn't exist because there are so many people who don't believe in him. After all, if he existed, surely he would want everyone to know about him so they could believe, but because not everyone believes he obviously doesn't exist. That not everyone accepts Catholicism is no more an argument that the Church is not what she claims to be than the fact that not everyone believes in God shows that he is not who he claims to be. Her catholicity is intrinsic to her and is unaffected by the actions of those who may or may not accept her.

Quoting Ivan:
Finally, to be truly Apostolic a church must not only hold Apostolic Succession (through the laying on of hands from bishop to bishop, though Scripturally many can make the argument that those who are presbyteros are also episkopos, and therefore are able to perpetuate that line) ...
You don't sound convincing on this point because you don't sound convinced yourself. If you don't take it seriously don't present it.

Quoting Ivan:
... but the church must also hold Doctrinal Apostolic Succession. Though a church retain lists of ordained bishops all the way back to the Apostles, if they don't preach the Gospel as stated in the Scriptures or hold dogmas that go against the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles as stated in Scripture, then they are not Apostolic.
It is not clear whether this is a merely claim for the validity of Sola Scriptura - which by definition rules out Catholicism - or (as it appears) a claim that the teachings of the Catholic Church disagree with Scripture. The latter is an interesting charge: are you claiming that the Baptist interpretation of scripture (if there is such a thing) is the true interpretation and all others are wrong? On what could such a claim be based? By what authority do you claim that only you (or only Baptists) correctly interpret scripture?

Aside from this, the claim that apostolic succession also means doctrinal apostolic succession is a real stretch. It is fair to argue that the Catholic Church is wrong on doctrine but that has nothing whatever to do with whether she is apostolic in the sensible meaning of the term.


Ivan's Response to Ender's Rebuttal
Ender, you bring up many great points and I'll try to address each of them in order (if it's alright with you, I'd like to put your comments up on my blog along with my responses, because your responses are honestly the only decent answers I've gotten back).

First, while not on the level of the other issues, clerical celibacy hits home to me. If I am called to be a pastor (presbyteros in the Church (as I believe I am, and this is the vocation I'm currently pursuing in the Baptist church), then it's something that I personally would have to address if I am to convert to Catholicism, especially as I have a wife and son.

As for sole fide, my understanding of the doctrine is that while faith alone is what opens us up to the grace of God, real faith always pours forth into pious action. If the action is missing, then the faith is too (these views are based primarily on Ephesians 2:8-9 and James 2:14-26). Where the Catholic system is one of grace born out of the merits (and meritous acts) of Christ (primarily and all encompassing) and the Saints, I think a Protestant could agree in the understanding that these merits are brought about by faith. Correct me if I'm wrong on that.

You make an excellent point about the "Oneness" of the Church. The guidelines I provided were totally insufficient, though I think there is more cooperation between these groups than you realize. Those who are moved by the faith in and love of Christ find themselves working for charity in any way they can (and often with other communions). Currently the R.C. Church and most Protestant denominations use virtually the same lectionary, which means that the Gospel read in these churches on any given Sunday remains consistent. And recent documents between the R.C. Church, the ELCA, and the Eastern & Oriental Orthodox Churches (and the Assyrian Church of the East) have shown that the different sides ARE talking, though this dialogue must be bottom-up (like what we're doing right now) as well as top-down to be effective. To me this shows a desire on all sides to truly be One, but to do so, I believe the R.C. Church (and others) will have to seriously address not just why they broke apart, but what changes they've endured since then.

Anyway, I still haven't found a convincing argument that identifies the R.C. Church as THE One True Church above, say, the Eastern Orthodox Communion (as they have all the claims to apostolic succession the Roman Church has, and they also have a chair of Peter in the bishopric of Antioch).

Quoting Ember:
The Catholic Church does not claim holiness derives from her any more than she claims that the doctrines she proclaims derive from her. "The knowledge which the Church offers to man has its origin not in any speculation of her own, however sublime, but in the word of God which she has received in faith." (Fides et Ratio) If she is the one true church then she would be holy by that fact alone.
You bring up a good point here, too and I honestly can't contest it.

Though you dispute my claim that the Roman Church lost its Catholicity at least after the Great Schism, as far as I can tell the Eastern Orthodox Churches have as much a claim to that same Catholicity (based on the reasoning above).

On the next point of Apostolic Succession through both the presbyteros and the episkopos as they are arguably synonymous in the New Testament (see Acts 20, Titus 1:5-7 and 1 Peter 5:1-2), I do believe I am convinced (though only recently, and through much wrestling with the subject) based on the authority of Luke, Paul and Peter. Anyway, if they truly are synonymous from the earliest period, then the later (though still very early in the 2nd century) division of the office would still be an innovation and one that, while dividing the administrative duties of the office, cannot diminish its apostolic authority. So there, I will present it! Bwa ha ha!

Finally my appeal to Doctrinal Apostolic Succession is one of more of logic than an appeal to sola scriptura, which I agree would preclude Catholics. As Paul repeatedly lays the guidelines for appointing leaders in the Church, he emphasizes that they be taught rightly and uphold certain standards of behavior (two of which are being married only once and ruling over their children well).

Anyway, that all oughtta give us a few things to think about for a while. And, believe it or not, we did resolve a few things, namely the guidelines for the Holiness of the Church. I welcome any more comments on all this and above all I ask that whoever reads this prays for unity between the Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians (on whatever terms God wills).


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