Thursday, October 18, 2007

Not Much - But Love Covers a Multitude of Sin

A Christian has no stomach for heresy, and yet we stop short of expressing revulsion for all those in error around us because love covers a multitude of sins. We recall the words of our Lord that we need to correct our own faults before we set about excising the faults of others. So, we do not yearn for heresy, and we do oppose it, but not every error is equally heinous.

There are more questions, either implicit or explicit in that last post than there were fathers listed in favor of icon-use in the previous post. Nevertheless, let’s take the question a line at a time, viewing the title question as answered by the title of the present post.

O: “Francis, in your last answer you seemed to be perfectly happy with church hopping as a system.”

No. It appears that the present author’s last answer was not read or perhaps not understood. “Church hopping,” is not a strategy, it’s a tactic. Sometimes it is necessary, sometimes it is convenient. A reaction to error is never something to be happy about. It is better to vomit than swallow poison, but that doesn’t mean one is perfectly happy with a poison vomiting as a “system.”

O: “If you don't like what's going on, you jump ship.”

This is an even worse misrepresentation of the preceding answer. Matters of conscience are not just someone “not lik[ing] what’s going on.”

O: “This makes me wonder how you advise applying this to either different times in history or different situations.”

This would seem to be rather a moot point in view of the mischaracterization of the foregoing answer.

O: “For example, what issues would cause you to jump ship from a church that otherwise has many compelling reasons to stay.”

Same thing that caused the apostles to do so: “We must obey God rather than man.” We should assume, out of charity, that this question is intended to mean “you” generically, and not to mean “Turretinfan.” The present author’s own opinions are of no consequence to this debate – no one should affirm the resolution because of what I say, but because of what the Bible says. No one should affirm the resolution on the basis of my sanctity, but because of the Holiness of the Spirit who wrote it, identified it, and preserved it.

O: “Do you need to jump for:

  • believer baptism
  • not following the Calvinist system
  • venerating the scriptures like Jews do
  • venerating other holy items like Jews do
  • religious imagery in church
  • icon veneration
  • chrismation and other sacraments that protestants perceive as unscriptural
  • seeking the intercession of the saints in heaven
  • monarchial episcopate
  • eschatology
  • what you perceive as the wrong canon of scripture
  • details of moral discipline (e.g. WC XXIV on divorce)
  • the perpetual virginity of Mary
  • the assumption of Mary
  • the nature or reality of the eucharist
  • ecclesiology
  • anything else you can think of

The Scriptural answer is that it depends. The list above is multi-faceted yet unspecific. Is the entire authority of the church saying that one must believe in the bodily assumption of Mary or face the wrath of God, Peter, and Paul? Or is Joe Smith, one of the elders, teaching in Sunday school that Mary was bodily assumed – or at least that’s his opinion. Clearly there is a difference, and the question does not address that difference. There are many Scriptural principles that can be brought to bear on the matter.

Surely, if the church denies the gospel, a Christian needs to get out. That’s the Scriptural bright line.

O: “Having told us what issues are necessarily unpalatable to you, it will be interesting to see where the early church become unpalatable to you.”

The early church had a wide variety of views, with different pastors teaching different things on many details.

O: “Apparently you would not have been in the catholic church of the Fathers.”

This question assumes without justification that there was a “catholic” church with respect to doctrinal beliefs on each of those various issues. It’s not a valid assumption.

O: “I take it that you recognize that God at least places some value on unity.”

This also is taken incorrectly: God does not place value on “unity” in the abstract. In some cases unity is excellent, other times it is most inappropriate. Paul and Barnabas separated and it was for the best.

O: “So having given us your list from above, how do you know this list is the true list?”

As noted above, the one item on the “must leave” list was denial of the gospel, and we know that item to be correct because the Bible says it. As for the other items, it has been noted that the principles to be applied are Scriptural principles. So, again, the source of knowledge is the Bible.

O: “Because it would be a pretty major step when there was just one Church, to separate yourself from it to form the first schism.”

One does not have to separate oneself from a church to form a schism, so the assertion is disjoint. Moreover, there were already schisms in the apostle’s time within particular churches, and there were many churches in the apostle’s time.

O: “So I take it you need to be pretty sure of your list.”

See above.

O: “Now if your list doesn't at least contain most of the above items, what hope is there for the traditional presbyterian church, which I take it you are a member of?”

This question does not make any sense. The Reformation became a movement separate from Rome largely because of the Council of Trent, which denied the gospel, by anathematizing justification by faith alone. It also became a movement separate from Rome because many Christians were excommunicated from Rome. The Reformation has spread the gospel in many places, and local churches have been formed all over the globe.

O: “If you don't recommend that Christians MUST bail out on any significant breach of the list, then what you're saying is there are other important considerations that can cause traditional presbyterians to join other wrong churches, or conversely, to allow wrong believing christians to be in the presbyterian churches and dilute their belief in their WC distinctives, leading to the church's ultimate demise as a WC church.”

This question/assertion is also not completely coherent. It seems to be based on one or more of the prior misconceptions. Specifically, Orthodox seems to have failed to recognize that Presbyterian ecclesiology is about churches bonding together to preserve doctrinal/practical purity, not about trying to promote one’s own views.

No Presbyterian church holds to the WCF because it is traditional: all who hold to it hold to it because it is Scriptural, same with the other confessions and creeds. One would think it was only in a church that overly elevated tradition that a massive split could occur because of an addition/subtraction to a creed, divorced from the issue of whether that addition/subtraction was Scriptural.

O: “How can there be unity in the church when everyone has a different list?”

As noted above, because love covers much sin.

O: “Some have equal indifference to unity with Roman Catholics or presbyterians alike. Others draw a circle around themselves so tight that only they can stand in it.”

Indifference is rarely a good thing, and assuming one is the last Christian is mistake, even if it is a mistake with excellent precedent.

O: “On the other hand, if your list does contain most of the above items, that means you would have advocated leaving the established church in the early 2nd century.”

There was no “established church” (as to the singularity, for there were many, and as to established, at least in a political sense) in the second century.

O: “That makes me ask how your hypothetical tiny family breakaway church that you would have been in, would have known the canon.”

This seems to be a rehash of the previous question. As previously noted, no matter how “facile” Orthodox may think the answer, and no matter how he may mock it by miscomparison, the truth is that the Spirit is the one who persuades us of the inspiration of Scripture. The same is true for Paul, for Timothy, for Augustine, and for us: whether he reveals it directly in a vision (as with Paul) or indirectly in the family (as with Timothy) or by evangelists (as with Augustine).

O: “Would your tiny schism have figured it all out by yourself?”

See above. God is self-revealing.

O: “Would you have lied to the established church, or someone in the established church in order to get a chance to make your own copy of the scriptures for your schism?”

See above regarding the mistaken notion of an established church. Furthermore, the churches of the second century did not conceal the content of the Scriptures.

O: “And if everyone had been doing what you advocate back then, and we had the explosion in denominations that we have in protestantism, except with all of them deciding for themselves what the canon is with the same alleged lack of clarity and discernment that they did on all the list of issues (above) which you consider the church went off the rails, how much clarity would you have about the canon today with 1000 different ancient traditions with 1000 canons?”

This lengthy sentence raises an interesting dilemma for “Orthodox.” He realizes that while a few Protestants here or there may blur the edges of the canon, Evangelical Protestantism – which is unified on so few issues – has essentially a unified canon of 66 books. Yet Protestants more or less deny the binding authority of tradition. On the other hand, the Ethiopians, the Orthodox, and the Catholics each have their own canon, each including those same 66 books and some extra material.

It seems that what causes people to get somewhat derailed on the issue is acceptance of binding authoritative tradition, not the rejection of such use of tradition.

O: “Because history has shown that every major schism has had a different canon.”

This assertion is false. The Nestorian and Arian schisms among numerous others did not have a “different canon.” Furthermore, the “canon” of “Orthodoxy” is itself not well-defined, while Rome had not yet defined the canon of the Roman Catholic Church within Luther’s lifetime (and when they did define it, the “winning” canon was not even a majority (but a bare plurality) decision).

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