Bishop and Christian*, November 2011

Are Lutherans Catholic? Depending on what you mean by “catholic” the answer might vary. Many, maybe most, people in the United States and around the world hear “catholic” and automatically think of the Roman Catholic Church. And that means that the Roman Church has done an excellent job of defining themselves theologically. The word itself comes from two Greek words meaning “according to the whole.” We might say “universal.” When the Roman Church calls itself the “Catholic” church, it is confessing that it is the universal Church, visible in the structure under the pope. They are making a claim which we must answer, primarily because the majority of Christians around the world align themselves with the papacy. The claim is this: we (the Roman Church) are the Catholic Church of Christ on earth, and if you do not join us, you may still be saved, but you are outside the Church. Your “church” (Lutheran or otherwise) is not really Church, but a breakaway sect.

This is a serious charge for Christians who want to claim a connection with the whole Church throughout the world going back to the Apostles, and so to Jesus. Shall we concede the name and the theological claim of catholic to the Roman Church? I suggest that if we do, we are bound either to join them or admit that we are a sect (which means that we have left the true Church of Christ and have formed our own little enclave—a dangerous position if Christ has promised to be with His Church.) We have only those two options: accept the Roman claim, and join that church; or make the claim that we are the true catholic Church. This is the claim that our Lutheran fathers made in the Augsburg Confession and in the other documents in the Book of Concord. They essentially made the case that it was Rome who had departed from the catholic Faith, and that the “Evangelicals” (Lutherans) had kept it. True, our ancestors in the Faith removed the things in the liturgy and the calendar which had obscured the free Gospel of Jesus (such as prayers to saints and, especially, the Mass as the priest offering Jesus back to the Father for the sins of the people), but we claimed (and still claim) to be the heirs of all that the catholic Church had and was. The only condition was that it could not be opposed to the Scriptures and the Gospel; in other words, whatever ritual or symbol was used, if it was not commanded or forbidden in the Scriptures, it could not be made into a law for salvati0n.

Which brings us to things to which Lutherans claim the right, but which “look” Roman. I will let our first president, C.F.W. Walther (whose 200th birthday we just celebrated!) speak to that:

It is true that of all the church bodies which have left the papacy, it is precisely the Lutheran Church which is accused of retaining many papal abuses and of having been the least successful in cleansing itself. It is pointed out, for example, that in our church priestly clothing, church ornamentation, pictures, altar, crucifixes, candles, confession, the sign of the cross, and the like are still apparent. But, my friends, whoever regards these innocent things as vestiges of the papacy knows neither what the papacy is, nor what the Bible teaches. The very fact that the Lutheran Reformation was not aimed at indifferent adiaphora, but retained those things which were in harmony with God’s Word, shows that it was not a disorderly revolution, but a Biblical reformation; for whatever did not agree with God’s Word was unrelentingly cleansed from the church by the Lutheran Reformation even though it seemed to glow with angelic holiness.”

In other words, there are differences between Rome and the Evangelical Catholic Church, but the above “indifferent” things are not the differences. Our theological claim is and has always been that we are indeed the catholic Church, teaching and confessing the truth that the Church has always confessed. That is why we keep the traditions which have been handed down to us through the centuries: not because we are Roman, but because we are catholic, just as those earlier Christians were. As we observe All Saints’ Day (November 1) on November 6, rejoice in the fact that you are joined to all the saints of all times and places by the one Christ, whose one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church we are.

Pr. Winterstein

 

*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”

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87 responses to “Bishop and Christian*, November 2011

  • Ken Ranos

    When I was a child attending a Lutheran school, the creed they used replaced the word “catholic” with “Christian”. I am glad that the Lutheran church I grew up in retains the word “catholic”.

    I would amend the statement that “we are the catholic church” to instead say “we are part of the catholic church”. For to claim that the whole of the catholic church is among the Lutherans is repeating the error of the Roman church. The catholic church transcends all of our humanly-ordained institutions.

    • prwinterstein

      Thanks Ken. Saying that we are the catholic Church is not the same as saying the Lutheran Church is coterminous with the catholic Church. I did not say that we are the whole of the catholic Church. But wherever Christ’s Word and Sacraments are preached and given out, we can be sure that Christ Himself is. And if Christ Himself is there, then His Church must be there, though we can only believe it, and not see it. The Roman Church claims that it is the visible catholic Church on earth; that is the claim we dispute; while we claim the catholicity of the Church for our teaching, we do not deny that the Roman Church, or the Reformed Churches, have members of the true catholic Church.

      Thanks for the clarification.

      Pr. Winterstein

  • Hoc Cogitat

    Are we believers in Sola Scriptura or do we believe the Councils (like the Council of Nicea) are authoritative?

    • prwinterstein

      The Councils of the Church are authoritative (Lutherans claim the first seven as ecumenical councils) because they correctly interpret Scripture. They are not higher than Scripture or even on the same level, but it is clear from the history of the Church that when Christians reject the Councils and Creeds, or the Book of Concord, they also reject the Scriptures.

      Thanks,
      Pr. Winterstein

  • Hoc Cogitat

    But the Second Council of Nicea proclaimed that Mary was sinless and ever-Virgin. And we reject that right? So aren’t we, by that rule, “also rejecting the scriptures”?

    • Ken Ranos

      Luther didn’t reject the ever-virgin status of Mary. The issue arises when one looks in the scriptures and finds mention of Jesus siblings (the word used is “brothers”, and could possibly mean “siblings”), and especially James, the Brother of Jesus. Scripture says one thing, a council says another. Which one is right? Lutherans have tended to uphold the authority of the seven Ecumenical Councils except where they contradict scripture.

      The issue of where authority lies is not always clear as crystal. For Lutherans, scripture is the highest authority by which all others, even councils, are judged.

      • Hoc.cogitat.mail@gmail.com

        What about the sinlessness part though?

        And how do we know what writings are scripture and what aren’t given that Luther, Lutherans, and Catholics have 3 different answers?

    • prwinterstein

      I cannot find this in the proceedings of Nicaea II. Do you have a reference? The Immaculate Conception of Mary was not declared until 1854.

    • Matthew Lorfeld

      It is actually Chalcedon which spoke of Mary remaining a virgin (though not in its canons but in the documents and discussions surrounding it). Nicaea II lacks such language.

      It was at the non-Ecumenical Council at Lateran (649) that first saw a council speak definitively of Mary remaining a virgin.

      Chemnitz reflects this same language in the Formula of Concord:
      “He demonstrated his divine majesty even in his mother’s womb in that he was born of a virgin without violating her virginity. Therefore she is truly the mother of God and yet remained a virgin.” FC-SD VIII.24 (Tappert)

      It was not until 1854 that the Immaculate conception became Roman Dogma. In fact, in the middle ages, there was quite a debate between the Franciscans and the Dominicans concerning this.

  • Hoc Cogitat

    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf214.xvi.xii.html

    Note references to “our spotless Lady, the Mother of God”; the immaculate Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary”; etc.

    There is a difference between the immaculate conception and the sinlessness. The former of which wasn’t officially defined till 1854, but the sinlessness is plainly demonstrated here.

    Also, how do we know what writings are scripture and what aren’t given that Luther, Lutherans, and Catholics have 3 different answers?

    • prwinterstein

      Thanks for that. The Council, while they certainly believed those things (and I don’t have a problem with Mary’s perpetual virginity) did not make them things that must be believed or you are not part of the Church. I admit, everyone probably believed those things at the time, and Luther, Chemnitz, Melanchthon, Jonas, Bugenhagen, and others probably all believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity. The Lutheran position is, however, that one cannot make a law for believing out of what is neither commanded nor forbidden. That is what happened in 1854 and 19-whenever, with Mary’s conception and her assumption into heaven. Rome claims that all of those decisions are attempts to point to who Jesus is, and that is certainly true of the Nicaean Decree. People should be free to believe, with the majority of Christians throughout time, that Mary’s virginity was perpetual; even, that she was assumed into heaven; but no law can be made about it. Her Immaculate Conception, was invented to try to protect the sinlessness of Jesus. I simply don’t see it as necessary. If God could, by the grace of Jesus, keep Mary sinless, He could certainly provide for Jesus’ conception in Mary’s (sinful) womb without Himself inheriting Mary’s sin. On the other hand, if Mary needs to be sinless to bear the sinless Son of God, then why don’t Anna and Joachim need to be sinless to bear Mary? I haven’t heard a convincing answer, nor one that draws in any way on the Scriptures.

      • Hoc Cogitat

        That’s not true. It is in the form of a dogmatic definition, and with an invocation of the Holy Spirit’s guidance of the Church:

        “We, therefore, following the royal pathway and the divinely inspired authority of our Holy Fathers and the traditions of the Catholic Church (for, as we all know, the Holy Spirit indwells her), define with all certitude and accuracy…”

      • prwinterstein

        They are definitely not making the dogmatic pronouncement about Mary in that passage. It is all about Jesus, and if it had stayed that way, I’d have no problem with it.

  • Hoc Cogitat

    E.g. St. Augustine included the Deuterocanon/Aprocrypha in his list of canonical books (which is the same as the current Catholic canon). http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.v.v.viii.html And Luther, as you know doubt know, wanted to remove several books from the NT including James which he called “flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture in ascribing justification to works” http://www.bible-researcher.com/antilegomena.html

    And Lutherans agree with neither of them! Why not?

    • prwinterstein

      Personally, I like St. Athanasius’ list: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf204.xxv.iii.iii.xxv.html (esp. paragraphs 4ff.). This “problem” is probably why there is no authoritative “list” in the Book of Concord. Nevertheless, as catholics, we accepted the books which were handed down to us; Rome defined their canon authoritatively and finally at Trent, which we do not and cannot acknowledge as valid.

      Just because Luther made some harsh comments about some books (many of which he did not make in later Prefaces to those same books) is rather irrelevant. Not everything Luther says is authoritative, and only three writings by Luther are included in the Book of Concord. I guess I don’t see a big problem with the “uncertainty” about the canon. There is a core of texts that no one has ever disputed (e.g., Gospels, Paul’s Letters), a ring of books around that which should probably not be used to establish, by itself, any doctrine, and other books around that which are helpful to read. After that, it seems to me that there is a very clear line between all of those books and everything else. At any rate, Concordia Publishing House is going to put out a Lutheran edition of the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon next year.

    • Matthew Lorfeld

      Every German Lutheran BIble ever published until the 20th century had the Apocrypha in it.

      Luther, along with Erasmus, Cajetan and others simply were echoing the Church Fathers (Athanasius, Eusebeus, and Jerome). The irony is that it is the Lutherans, not Rome, who hold the same position as the Fathers. At Trent, Rome anathamatized the position of the above.

  • Hoc Cogitat

    You do? Athanasiaus counts as one canonical book “Jeremiah with Baruch, Lamentations, and the epistle.” He also omits Esther, and in fact (in #7), lists the book along with most of the DC as a non-canonical book used for new member of the Church. So he didn’t even forget Esther. He explicitly addressed her as non-canonical.

    Most Lutherans would insist that Esther is canonical. But I guess that’s ok by you. This is all very odd to me. You are ready to go with something like Marcion’s canon as the only true scripture, the rest of which may be dismissed if I like? And who says those books were never questioned? The 4th Gospel, in particular, has been vigorously disputed over the years.

    • Hoc Cogitat

      So question: If a Lutheran finds something plainly taught in Hebrews and can’t find it in your “core” books, does he have to believe it?

      • Ken Ranos

        The Bible is chock full of times when one verse flatly contradicts another. It’s why I don’t proof-text or accept proof-texting. Scripture and what it says must be taken as a whole. To take any one verse and use it to justify a position is a great injustice to the Word of God, because scripture interprets itself.

      • Hoc Cogitat

        That doesn’t answer my question. If a Lutheran finds something plainly taught in Hebrews and can’t find it in your “core” books, does he have to believe it?

      • prwinterstein

        Well, I don’t accept Ken’s position on contradictions; I am tempted to say ‘no’ to your question.

      • Hoc Cogitat

        So… no, they don’t have to believe it. Right?

    • prwinterstein

      I’ll take Hebrews over Esther any day, but I’m no Marcionite. He wanted to completely exclude the OT and remove anything “Jewish” from the NT. Not my position. I’m happy with what we’ve received in the Western Church, and I think it best to interpret from the Gospels and Paul outward.

      First show me something in Hebrews not in the Gospels or Paul.

  • Hoc Cogitat

    And, if Lutherans do follow the Councils, why do they not follow the Second Council of Ephesus, which has all the markings of a Council?

    Reformed author Keith Mathison’s Shape of Sola Scriptura quotes the Orthodox Bishop Timothy Ware, who admits, “All Orthodox know which are the seven councils that their Church accepts as ecumenical, but precisely what it is that makes a council ecumenical is not so clear.” http://books.google.com/books?id=w_PHAGr2TfgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=shape+of+sola+Scriptura&hl=en&ei=pykTTojEMY-btwfvgIHzDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=%22All%20Orthodox%20know%20which%20are%20the%20seven%20councils%20that%20their%20Church%20accepts%20as%20ecumenical%2C%20but%20precisely%20what%20it%20is%20that%20makes%20a%20council%20ecumenical%20is%20not%20so%20clear%22&f=false

    So just as Lutherans have Seven Councils, but can’t explain why those Seven and no others. Mathison is quick to pounce on Bp. Ware’s admission:

    “This is extremely important because if the Church does not know what it is that makes a council ecumenical, how can the Church say that any council is ecumenical? Ware tends toward an answer proposed by Alexis Khomaiakov which has become widely accepted within the Orthodox church. According to this theory, “a council cannot be considered ecumenical unless its decrees are accepted by the whole Church.” Of course, this answer raises almost as many problems as the original question. Chalcedon was rejected by Syria and Egypt. Does this mean that Chalcedon is not ecumenical? Khomaikov’s answer to the problem is circular. An ecumenical council is defined as a council accepted by the whole Church, yet the Church is defined as those who accept the councils. Those who do not accept the council are defined out of the Church in order to maintain the idea that the “whole Church” accepts the council.

    [...]

    This impossibility results in the added difficulty, if not impossibility, of explaining how Arianism could have been anathematized by a council. Was it unnecessary for the Arian party to accept the council? Or is the “whole Church” only those who agree with the majority decision at the council?”

    So what do you say about the Second Council of Ephesus?

  • Ken Ranos

    Ephesus II is not recognized as an ecumenical council because a later ecumenical council, Chalcedon, declared Ephesus II a “Robber Synod”.

    The political nature of the councils is of course evident. As for what makes an ecumenical council? That depends on who you ask. I don’t know the exact reasons why Lutherans accept the first seven and only those seven, but I think it may have something to do with the fact that both the Roman Catholic church (the major Western church, from which Lutherans are descended) and the Easter Orthodox church (the major Eastern branch) both see these seven as ecumenical, which means that these seven have the widest, most universal support for their status.

    • Ken Ranos

      I think there is a misinterpretation of the “core books” thing. By “core books”, what was meant was that in the canon, there are some books that were never disputed by the early Christians. Then there were some books which were disputed, but ultimately did make it into the canon. I know where the OP was coming from with that statement, but I think it’s being overblown.

      In short, yes, if something is in Hebrews, it is part of the canon, and part of God’s Word, which Lutherans teach and believe.

      • Hoc Cogitat

        If so, then it matters a great deal that we got it right that Hebrews is canonical. On what basis do we know whether its canonical?

        Luther, Lutherans, and Catholics have 3 different answers to which books are in the Bible, so its clearly not obvious what we need to follow. Why can’t I, like Luther, not follow James and Hebrews where they disagree with my interpretation of the “core books”.

      • Hoc Cogitat

        And why not follow the later councils? Why just the first 7? I mean, there were schisms from the beginning. Whenever the Church defined anything, the heretics would walk away. We don’t say that b/c the Nestorians or the Arians left, the Church split and no longer could have a council, what gives?

      • Matthew Lorfeld

        Lutherans, like the Church for 1500 years, are not utterly dogmatic about the exact list of the canon. How do you know? Simply what Christ says: Scripture testifies of Him. We must remember that Lutherans actually start with the fact of Christ’s death and resurrection (and the accompanying testimony). Which is why, despite Roman antagonist attacks, we are not Biblicists.

  • Ken Ranos

    There’s nothing that says you can’t. That’s the difficult part about Biblical interpretation–when it contradicts itself, what do you do? In essence, what you suggest is what happens–two competing views are in scripture, so a judgement has to be made about which one is the valid one.

    Or does it? This is why I don’t like proof-texing. If Verse A says one thing, and Verse B says another, logically, only one is correct, right? That’s the wrong approach. Verse A and B can’t be taken out of their contexts, which includes the rest of the chapter, the rest of the book and the rest of God’s Word. One has to understand why Verse A and B are different, what message they are trying to say as a whole, and then they can be understood.

    As for the canon, we go by what was passed down to us, a list that took centuries of debate to evolve. The reason that Luther excuded the deuterocanonical books was that even Judaism had rejected these books as part of their canon, and even in the Orthodox church the deuterocanonical books were second in authority to the rest of the canon.

    • Hoc Cogitat

      Why should we have any faith in this process, regardless of how long it took. It wasn’t inspired or anything. Maybe its right, but its likely terribly wrong. It was made, mostly, by people who didn’t believe in justification by faith, thought Mary was sinless, etc. Why do we have any faith they got this right if they got all that wrong? Shouldn’t we just do our own historical analysis to determine what is canonical.

      • Ken Ranos

        We could. However, I look back at 2000 years of Christian history and can’t bring myself to believe that God was not at all present. If God wasn’t present then, why should I have any faith that God will be present when I do my own historical analysis?

        It all comes down to faith. We have faith that, though the church has made a lot of mistakes, the Holy Spirit has been able to do some good.

    • prwinterstein

      Why do you say that the process wasn’t inspired? I don’t know if you believe in the Holy Spirit, but it seems to me the Holy Spirit would be with His Church, as Christ promised He would. What we will be has not yet been revealed; we are still the Church militant, still screwing things up. Nevertheless, all we can do is cling to the promise that Christ has not forsaken us.

      • Hoc Cogitat

        Because if that process was inspired who is to say that the Catholic process wasn’t inspired. I mean, after all, as Protestant church historian J. N. D. Kelly writes, “It should be observed that the Old Testament thus admitted as authoritative in the [early] Church was somewhat bulkier and more comprehensive [than the Protestant Bible]. . . . It always included, though with varying degrees of recognition, the so-called apocrypha or deuterocanonical books” (Early Christian Doctrines, 53). And Mark Shea reminds us here that “the overwhelming majority of Church Fathers and other early Christian writers regarded the deuterocanonical books as having exactly the same inspired, scriptural status as the other Old Testament books.” http://www.holyspiritinteractive.net/columns/markshea/sheavings/5myths.asp And see this source, particularly its quotations from the Councils of the late 4th Century. http://www.catholic.com/tracts/the-old-testament-canon

        So how, exactly, was it inspired to have a canon without the Deuterocanon. If the Holy Spirit was at work in protecting the canon, it seems from all this that He wanted the DC in it. Right?

      • Hoc Cogitat

        And if we got the canon from a “consensus” why doesn’t the consensus about the sinlessness of Mary and purgatory and all the other Catholic doctrines matter too? In order to reject this, you have to say that ‘consensus’ only counts for canonicity but not for the liturgical practices in which the Scriptures were used and from which the consensus you cite is extracted.

  • Jon Anthony

    Pastor Winterstein:

    I must say that I am troubled by your acceptance (like RC Sproul) of the canon merely being “a fallible list of infallible books.” And I think your attempt to rescue a certain “core” of books is misguided. You say that there were no disagreements over the gospels and Paul but this is not true. Origen excluded Paul and Justin Martyr excluded John, for example, from their respective canons. And even if they did agree, so what, how do we know that they are right outside of an infallible interpreter of this tradition? Moreover, consider the arguments of people like Bart Ehrman. He says that the original manuscripts were tampered with, particularly the Gospels, to include a more Christological focus.

    And he has a point, I mean, I guess you would not consider the end of Mark part of the “core”, right? But what about all the other disputes about editing? We know these books were handed down through many scribes and editors, how do we know if they got it right?

    And when you say there was never any dispute about certain books, I think you beg the question. Dispute among whom? Heretics regularly denounced such books. We don’t count them, but why? They are heretics because they don’t accept the books. We can’t also say, without circularity, that their rejection of the books is unimportant because they are heretics.

    So it seems to me that you have some work to do to even have the “core books” be plainly infallible.

    Best,

    Jon

    • prwinterstein

      I never said the list was “fallible.” And, for the record, I accept all 66 books as being canonical. How do you recognize the canon? By the printing between the covers of a book called “The Bible”? What’s your alternative?

      Also, I do not claim that I can prove to anyone with any sort of finality that any book is “infallible.” There is no argument-ender that can do that. How do you–personally–decide or recognize which books are canonical, and which are not?

  • prwinterstein

    Hoc cogitat: If you recognize a canon of Scripture, which books do you recognize?

    • Hoc Cogitat

      I don’t know. That’s what I’m trying to figure out! I grew up using the 66 book canon. But now it seems like either its all up for grabs. You have given me know way of disputing those who claim nothing or almost nothing is inspired or those who want to expand the scriptures to include all sorts of books and parts of books that Lutherans don’t have. It seems like we are faced with a dilemma of not really knowing anything about God or believing that there is an infallible interpreter of the tradition that can tell us what is truly part of the revelation and what isn’t. The latter seems to be a major concession to Rome that Lutherans cannot make. So I guess Lutherans are stuck with the former, they can’t really call anything heresy because they have know way of differentiating between what is and what isn’t heretical.

      You might want to say that you would never accept someone who came up with a completely novel interpretation of scripture and through out any part of scripture that disagreed with him. But this is exactly what Luther did!

      For, as Alister McGrath concedes that the “Reformation understanding of the nature of justification – as opposed to its mode – must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum.” And Luther admits that the view is contradicted by James, but just claims that James is not scripture for this reason!

      If that is ok, how is any view not ok?

      • Hoc Cogitat

        Wow… that was poorly edited! Sorry about that…

      • prwinterstein

        The problem is, there cannot be any infallible interpreter, in the sense that any interpretation puts an end, once and for all, to debates or questions. Just because Rome has a pope has not kept people from questioning and wondering. Likewise, even if we could pinpoint, without any controversy at all, which books are to be called part of the canon, how would that solve the problem? A Christian must always start with Christ, and the free Gospel of the forgiveness of sins. If so, we know that all the Law and Prophets and Psalms (i.e., the entire OT) point to Him, because He says so (Luke 24). Then, historically, those twelve men whom He chose to deliver His Gospel became the guardians of what was and what was not His actual teaching. As long as there are Apostles, you have no need to form a list or canon. Once the letters of Paul and the three Synoptic Gospels are being circulated, and none of the Apostles objects, they are the essential core of the Apostolic witness to Christ (which we call the NT). John writes at the end of the first century as the last eyewitness to the Resurrection, and as the last one to whom Christ entrusted the fullness of His message. Once the Apostles are gone, it is indeed necessary to make sure that what the churches have is the actual teaching of Jesus. Historically, again, this happens by comparing any and all books with what has been attested as the truly Apostolic books (Paul, Synoptics, John). If it matches, as in, the Gospel is the same, and it goes back to the Apostles, then it is included. After that, apocryphal books (and the whole Deuterocanon is in the OT, so it’s a completely different question from the NT) really have no chance–besides that, if you read the Gospel of Thomas et al., it is clear that they teach another gospel: namely, that Jesus didn’t come to do something to save you from your sin; he came to teach you how to save yourself. Two contradictory gospels. The first is the Gospel of the NT; the second is the gospel of the gnostics. That’s what I meant before about there being a clear line between the books we acknowledge and the books we don’t. There never was any real controversy in the shape of “well, should we include Mark or Thomas?” It did not happen (partly because the gnostic gospels came 50-100+ years after the Synoptics).

        Again, for the record, Luther never “threw out” any part of the Scriptures we have. Because of his “Justification-by-faith-alone” lens, he did criticize some books, but he did it in the same vein in which he criticized Tobit, which he still included in his German translation. Criticism is not the same as saying it’s not Scripture.

        The fear (and the claim of Rome) that the interpretation of Luther opened up a Pandora’s Box of novelty and heresy is both warranted and incorrect. On the one hand, historically, it certainly did happen that after Luther, all sorts of sects and divisions came about. Luther and others clearly lament that fact, and speak as strongly, if not more strongly, against the “fanatics” as they did against Rome. On the other hand, it cannot be proven that the Lutheran Reformation *caused* those divisions, or that they would not have happened otherwise. The Lutheran position is that Rome solidified the split at Trent when they anathematized Justification by faith alone. Further, there is a reason why those on the other side of the Lutherans constantly criticize Lutherans for being “Romish” and for not finishing the job. Whereas the Lutherans saw a needed reform and were willing to risk a split because of the Gospel itself, all the sects took it as an excuse to do whatever they wanted. We’re not talking about external rites and ceremonies; we’re talking about the essence of the Church. That has always been the division between the various traditions (which, effectively, are only three: Rome, Lutheran, Reformed), and there is no magic bullet that will settle the case for one of them. For the definitive Lutheran answer to Trent, I highly recommend the first volume of Martin Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent (on the Scriptures and Justification). If Chemnitz cannot convince someone, I suggest that Rome should be that person’s home.

        Thanks for the discussion,
        Pr. Winterstein

  • Hoc.cogitat.mail@gmail.com

    Related question: when is something a council which we must submit to and when is it a mere robber council?

  • Hoc.cogitat.mail@gmail.com

    But if the arians and the nestorians we’re supposed to subject themselves to the church’s pronouncements on their interpretation of scripture, why shouldn’t Lutherans too?

    • Jon Anthony

      If that is true, then it seems that you, effectively, submit not at all to the Councils; they have no authority over you. You just happen to think that the first 7 councils got it right. They agree with your interpretation of scripture.

      The great difficulty here is that Eutychius and Sabellius and Arius and Nestorius, etc. got their notions straight out of the Bible as well. The Bible was not pellucid on the subjects of these heresies. If it had been, no dispute would have arisen in the first place. The question is one of the interpretation of scripture. Who will arbitrate these things for us? Who will speak with authority to us faithful, all of us rushing about flapping the pages of our well-thumbed New Testaments, locked in shrill contests over the two natures of Christ, or baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, or the mystery of predestination, or the nature and mode of sanctification?

      If the ecumenical creeds have no real authority, then it cannot be of any major consequence if a person decides to reject some or all of the doctrines of these creeds – including the Trinity and the deity of Christ. If the individual judges the Trinity to be an unbiblical doctrine, then for him it is false. No other authority exists to correct him outside of his own interpretation of Scripture.

      This is precisely why your position–sola scriptura, essentially–inevitably results in radical relativism and subjectivity. Each man decides for himself what the essential doctrines of Christianity are, each man creates his own creed from scratch, and concepts such as orthodoxy and heresy become completely obsolete. The concept of Christianity itself becomes obsolete because it no longer has any meaningful objective definition. Since your position has no means by which Scripture’s propositional doctrinal content may be authoritatively defined, its propositional content can only be subjectively defined by each individual. One individual may consider the Trinity essential, another may consider it a pagan idea imported into Christianity. Without an authoritatively defined statement of Christianity’s propositional doctrinal content, neither individual can definitively and finally be declared wrong. Your position destroys this possibility, and thereby destroys the possibility of Christianity being a meaningful concept. Instead, by reducing Christianity to relativism and subjectivity, it reduces Christianity to irrationalism and ultimately nonsense.

      Moreover, the later councils were interpreting scripture as well. Catholics find support for purgatory in places like 2 Maccabees 12:43-46, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, and Revelation 21:27; for intercession of saints in places like Luke 16:23-24 and Hebrews 11-12; and auricular confession is explicitly taught in James 5:16, while the power of priests to forgive sins is found in places like John 20:22-23. And, I mean, even Luther admitted James supports the Catholic view of Sanctification and, of course, you must be aware that people like N.T. Wright have interpreted Paul to support the same view.

      You may disagree with the Church’s interpretations of these Scriptures, but how is that any different from a Hyper-Preterist saying that the Church’s interpretations of the Trinitarian Scriptures are wrong? What principled difference is there between this, and an anti-Trinitarian determined that the Trinity is nothing more than “a pagan idea imported into Christianity”?

      • prwinterstein

        The problem is clearly interpretation. But it’s no good to say that if you have a pope, you don’t have that problem. All you’ve done is limited the problem to one person, rather than a bunch of people. It’s definitely neater; it doesn’t remove the problem of interpretation. Every controversy in the history of the Church has been over interpretation, and the pope did not make the final decision on most of the major ones (e.g., Christology, the Trinity, etc.). This problem cannot be removed, and there is no way of ending it. That’s what Rome has never understood, and it’s the problem in the whole argument: one pope may make for a neat, outward illusion of unity, but it does not–it cannot–remove the problem of interpretation from the Scriptures.

        The argument always has to be made, and oneness Pentecostals and modern Sacamentarians, for example, prove it. Even the pope has to make the argument. The real problem is trying to attain certainty by removing the problem of interpretation.

    • Jon Anthony

      Also, in addition to Luther, many of your favorite authors–Godly men and women like Lewis, O’Connor, O’Brien, and Chesterton–agree with the Catholic interpretation of sanctification at Trent. Clearly, then, this is not an unreasonable position, right? If so, why do you not submit to it? I mean, my goodness, even Martin Luther said what you believe to be scripture (i.e. James) supported that view. http://www.bible-researcher.com/antilegomena.html

      How could an interpretation taken by all these Godly, intelligent people be so unreasonable that you do not have to submit to the Council’s endorsement of it? And if you can do that how can you fault the Arians and the Nestorians? It seems to me that they did exactly what you did.

    • Jon Anthony

      The Pope of course did make those decisions in the sense that if he did not approve of the decisions made at the Council, then the decision would not have become authoritative, as the Second Council of Ephesus so nicely shows.

      In the Catholic Church, there is a place where the buck stops. There is an authority. But is there any such authority for you. What if every Christian throughout the centuries agreed on one interpretation–Augustine, the Fathers, the Reformers including both Luther and Calvin (adamantly), the Pope, the great minds of the 20th century including both Lewis and Karl Barth and every single denomination that could reasonably call itself Christian? Could you just open your Bible and say, you know what I disagree with that interpretation?

      If not, then why do you take the stance you do on contraception? For every one of those entities was opposed to contraception. The Reformers perhaps most loudly of all. And until 1930 every Christian church agreed with this interpretation of the Bible. And now… well, what happened? You just opened up your Bible and disagreed with all this tradition.

      If you can do that, then can you do it on abortion, on polygamy, on the trinity, on gay marriage, etc.? What possible distinction between these two things could you make? Do you refuse to bind the conscience of your congregation on these issues since they are open to reasonable disagreement?

      In short, is the ultimate authority the individual reader’s interpretation? You seem to think so.

      But this is problematic. It inevitably results in radical relativism and subjectivity. Each man decides for himself what the essential doctrines of Christianity are, each man creates his own creed from scratch, and concepts such as orthodoxy and heresy become completely obsolete. The concept of Christianity itself becomes obsolete because it no longer has any meaningful objective definition. Since your position has no means by which Scripture’s propositional doctrinal content may be authoritatively defined, its propositional content can only be subjectively defined by each individual. One individual may consider the Trinity essential, another may consider it a pagan idea imported into Christianity. Without an authoritatively defined statement of Christianity’s propositional doctrinal content, neither individual can definitively and finally be declared wrong. Your position destroys this possibility, and thereby destroys the possibility of Christianity being a meaningful concept. Instead, by reducing Christianity to relativism and subjectivity, it reduces Christianity to irrationalism and ultimately nonsense.

      • prwinterstein

        50 comments (now 51) is probably not a bad place to stop this conversation (although, feel free to keep going; I’m not going to stop others from commenting), not because I don’t want to give an answer, but because this medium is just not that great for conversations such as this. It would take a while to untangle the disparate threads you have tried to bring together (really, contraception? Do you really not see, according to the Scriptures, the difference between contraception and homosexual intercourse?). I’d be happy to drink a beer and talk it through if you’re ever in NW Minnesota or NE North Dakota, or if I’m ever where you are. (Btw, are you and “hoc cogitat” the same person or just using the same computer?)

        Where are you among the three main ecclesiastical traditions? Are you actually looking for an answer or are you sniping from the outside? Just curious.

        Thanks,
        Pr. Timothy Winterstein

    • prwinterstein

      The Arians and Nestorians ought to subject themselves to the Church’s pronouncements, not because they’re the Church’s pronouncements, but because the Church simply repeated what the Scriptures said. That is, in fact, all the Church can ever do. If the Church commands something contrary or outside of the Scriptures, well, then she’s not acting like Christ’s Church, is she? How could Christ’s Body ever command anything contrary to her Head?

  • Jon Anthony

    That is an excellent question and I’m very interested to hear Pr. Witherstein’s response.

    After all, the non-Chalcedonian Oriental Orthodox broke away from the Catholic Church well before the Seventh Council. They split off in 431. And countless others groups also split off before the Seventh Council. So why must Lutherans follow the first 7 councils, if not the councils after that? There doesn’t seem like there could be a principled distinction.

  • Jon Anthony

    That’s fine. But I think it is a little strange that you ask your congregation to follow your lead in believing simultaneously that:

    1) That they ought to believe that the “core books” are inspired on the authority of Tradition (or, as you say, because they were not controversial, which is the same thing)

    and

    2) That tradition is not authoritative so that they do not have to believe in anything else traditionally believed in if their own, personal interpretation of the Bible is at odds with it. (Including the pre-Reformatino understanding of the nature of justification. For, as the Calvinist scholar Alister McGrath concedes that the “Reformation understanding of the nature of justification – as opposed to its mode – must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum.”)

    http://books.google.com/books?id=StoH0ievalIC&pg=PA217&lpg=PA217&dq=theological+novum&source=bl&ots=q4xYVANnY-&sig=zWi2KPJTtlu9Ith497VEuDgMXuI&hl=en&ei=WzjRTYiMOoSugQf2p-HEDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CFIQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=theological%20novum&f=false

    I would be indebted to you if you could show me how this is a reasonable position. If you don’t feel like you need to clear that up, I guess that is your prerogative. And whether that prerogative is appropriate for a pastor, you can decide. But I find it hard to believe that this forum–an exchange of letters, essentially–is worse than a barstool conversation. I mean, here you can take time to give a thoughtful answer, check your sources, give citations and so on. What advantage is lost? The ability to more easily confabulate without having to really answer?

    PS-Contraception is just an example of (2). But it is easy to imagine someone in your shoes in a hundred years saying “homosexuality, really?”, isn’t it? For Luther was as adamant about contraception as he was about homosexuality. And, if you scoff at all moral issues, what about the doctrine of the trinity, which is open to reasonable disagreement based on the Biblical texts?

    • prwinterstein

      I’m sorry, you miss my point. I did not say that the Scriptures, or the “core” books, are inspired because they were not controverted. I said they were included in the canon earliest because they were not controverted. The Scriptures are the Scriptures (and were, while the Apostles lived) whether or not there is a list of them. Second, my point with contraception was that I dare anyone to find a negative command explicitly stated; that is easy with homosexuality. So, no, I don’t think that they are at all the same thing. I also think that, generally speaking, (this is simply my opinion) when Luther and others were condemning contraception, they were essentially condemning abortion or abortion-like things. They had nothing like modern contraceptives–which I am not at all defending. Just making a distinction. Clearly, Humanae Vitae was correct in its predictions about what would happen if contraception became widely available and used. The simple, Lutheran point is this: you cannot make a law where the Scriptures do not make one, even if Luther, Augustine, or an angel from heaven says so.

      • Jon Anthony

        PPPS–But couldn’t a modern apologist for the culture of death argue that Scripture alone, apart from tradition, is as ambiguous on the issue of abortion–and therefore, abortion should be a matter of Christian liberty?

        Neither testament gives a clear understanding of the status of unborn life. Worse, the indirect ways in which Scripture addresses this issue is very oblique and open to multiple interpretations. Consider Exodus 21:22. The Hebrew word for “gives birth prematurely” means “departs” and can be read as “spontaneously aborts”. So does the caveat about “serious injury” apply to the woman or to the miscarried child? Does the Law demand wound for wound for the mother’s injury only or the unborn’s? The text does not say. Nor does the rest of Scripture help us.

        Consider Numbers 5:20-27. What was “discharged” was the child conceived in adultery. Thus, it seems that Scripture does not automatically give one the impression that it lends itself to an irrefutable case for the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death.

        Scripture makes no law–at least not more of one than it makes with contraception. Do you? I guess not, based on what you said above. And there are many Christians who will agree with you in this.

        Or maybe your stance on the sanctity of human life is informed by tradition after all–abortion is, after all, condemned in the Didache.

      • prwinterstein

        It’s not tradition that determines my position on abortion; it’s science, which has clearly shown that, from conception, a new and unique human being is formed with all the same genetic material that the person will have after birth. The Commandments say, You shall not murder. We know that what is in the womb is a human being, and nothing else; hence, abortion is murder. Still no command on contraception. As to Onan, his sin was not doing his duty to his brother’s wife, not contraception per se.

        You still haven’t said where in the fight your dog is. Why does this matter so much to you? Because you’re trying to prove the Roman position or find a reason for believing the Lutheran one?

      • Jon Anthony

        Oh, come on. When something is a human person is beyond the realm of science. For, as Augustine argues, ensoulment could occur at any point and regardless of the genetic material the fetus may not have attained rationality so that he must be protected more than an animal.

        The point on Onan is that Luther said that the sin of Onan was contraception and you can’t say that this was abortion. Luther, that is, interpreted the scriptures as saying that contraception was wrong. You disagree. The point I’m making is not that the scriptures are clear on this issue, but that you have upset 1900 years of tradition attesting to the immorality of contraception by taking this position. Of course, you don’t seem to mind doing that, so I don’t think this will upset you much.

        And what, again, is your stance on polygamy?

        And isn’t exploring the Roman position the same as trying to find a reason for believing the Lutheran one? As Peter Brunner regularly said, a Lutheran who does not daily ask himself why he is not a Roman Catholic cannot know why he is a Lutheran.

      • prwinterstein

        My position on polygamy is that “God created them male and female” and “a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall be one flesh.”

        WRT tradition, you are saying exactly the same thing I say about the Scriptures. You’ve simply moved the starting point one place back, by saying you have to decide which is the authentic stream of tradition. That’s no less difficult than trying to determine the correct interpretation of Scripture; in fact, it’s the same thing, since, if it’s Christian tradition, then it’s the tradition of interpreting the Scriptures.

        I argue from tradition all the time; the difference is, if it cannot be clearly proved from the Scripturs, it cannot be made a law. I would be willing to submit to all sorts of traditions (e.g., Mary’s perpetual virginity, even her Assumption, contraception, whatever), but as soon as the pope says I have to believe it without a direct command in the Scriptures or I’m outside the Church, then it’s no longer possible to submit to the Bishop of Rome. Frankly, if Trent had never condemned justification by faith alone, it might be easier to just say ‘ok’ to the rest of it.

      • prwinterstein

        I think the debate over personhood vs. a human creature is irrelevant. Augustine didn’t know about how a sperm and an egg are joined together, DNA, etc. That’s why it’s stupid for Planned Parenthood, et al. to use Thomas Aquinas to support their arguments.

        Also, it’s probably beneficial to define “tradition.” In a sense, Scripture itself is tradition, because it’s been handed down to us. But it’s a very specific kind of tradition, namely, the witness of the prophets and apostles to Jesus Christ.

        You wrote, “Well, you just have to define what is and what isn’t authoritative.” You make it sound so easy.

      • Jon Anthony

        Consider, e.g., that you can freeze and then thaw an embryo after fertilization. It doesn’t respond like a human normally does to stimuli. Thus, biopsychologist Michael Gazzaniga has put it in The Ethical Brain:

        “During a discussion of stem cell research that took place while I was serving on President Bush’s bioethics council, I made an analogy comparing embryos created for stem cell research to a Home Depot. You don’t walk into a Home Depot and see thirty houses. You see materials that need architects, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to create a house. An egg and a sperm are not a human. A fertilized embryo is not a human—it needs a uterus, and at least six months of gestation and development, growth and neuron formation, and cell duplication to become a human. To give an embryo created for biomedical research the same status even as one created for in vitro fertilization (IVF), let alone one created naturally, is patently absurd. When a Home Depot burns down, the headline in the paper is not “30 Houses Burn Down.” It is “Home Depot Burned Down.”

        Now, I don’t hold this position. But let’s not act like “science” just settles this.

      • prwinterstein

        That’s simply ridiculous on the face of it. And you know where it leads: to defining human beings based on something other than the fact that they belong to the human family. And that leads, in short order, to deciding how much value one human has vis-a-vis another, and then it’s not hard to kill the ones that are worth less (or worthless). Oh wait, we already do that. Science has indeed settled that a human embryo is a human embryo, and not something else. That’s all I need to know to define its value.

      • Jon Anthony

        But the point is that science cannot tell us when it is a human for the purposes of attaining the rights of personhood. I agree with you that the other position is very dangerous and wrong. My point is that the position you urge is not plainly laid out in scripture. Therefore, on your lights, it should be a matter of Christian liberty (like polygamy?).

        Let’s stipulate that “tradition” is any extra-scriptural form of revelation. Your position is that there is no authoritative “tradition” when used in this sense and the Catholic position is that the teachings passed on from the Apostles, but not recorded in scripture, are also authoritative.

        On this definition of “tradition”, you see that what is scripture must come from tradition because it is not defined by scripture. There is no table of contents in scripture. This comes from tradition. Likewise, without tradition acting as a lens to the limited or ambiguous light given by scripture on issues like abortion and polygamy and the Trinity and the nature of justification, these issues would be unclear, unsettled, and by your measure “matters of Christian liberty”.

        But of course you do not see those issues as matters of Christian liberty. You do not think one could just chuck John out of the canon because it is not claimed to be inspired in scripture. Nor could they be pro-choice, or polygamists, or non-trinitarians, etc. So what I am saying is that you are not true to your principles. Rather you are using tradition to make things “rules” where scripture is ambiguous.

      • prwinterstein

        If I agreed that those things were ambiguous, you might have a point. I’m also suggesting that Rome is doing that exact thing.

        Further, you have not given an answer for how it’s any less difficult to decide which tradition is authentic then it is to decide which interpretation is true.

        The Church acknowledged which writings were Scripture; it did not, and does not, have the authority to make them Scripture. I suggest again that you read Chemnitz’ Examination of the Council of Trent, vol. 1. And if he does not convince you, you should, as Trueman says, submit to the Bishop of Rome. And what is your reason for not doing so already?

      • prwinterstein

        As to humanity, it’s not a position that has anything to do with Scripture, since Scripture is revelation. It has to do with nature, which is plain to all.

      • Jon Anthony

        Nor am I claiming–nor does the RCC claim–that the church “made them scripture”. The were scripture because they were part of the faith handed down from the Apostles, the church just recognized this.

        But your ecclesiology gives you no ability to tell what is and what is not scripture. If you can tell because it is part of the tradition, then you should also accept other things that are as clearly part of the tradition as the canon (e.g. the nature of justification, your interpretation of which was never held prior to the reformation).

        And, again, you are getting ahead of me. I am just saying that the (essentially) Bible alone approach you take can’t be right if you are going to take the positions you do. Please show me (contra Luther by the way), e.g. where scripture forbids a non-clergy male from having many wives. And if other things are only authoritative if they say the same thing as scripture, they can’t be authoritative where scripture is silent or ambiguous, as here.

        And your bit about abortion is seems almost disingenuous. Surely it is not plain that a non-rational, non-conscious, freezable, pre-human entity is worthy of all human rights. How can science show that something is morally “human” before consciousness? We need revelation on this issue. You are skipping over the “is-ought problem” as if it had never crossed your mind. As C.S. Lewis said:

        “[you are] trying to get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of premisses in the indicative mood: and though he continues to trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible.”

      • prwinterstein

        Sola Scriptura for Lutherans does not equal nuda Scriptura.

      • prwinterstein

        “But your ecclesiology gives you no ability to tell what is and what is not scripture. If you can tell because it is part of the tradition, then you should also accept other things that are as clearly part of the tradition as the canon (e.g. the nature of justification, your interpretation of which was never held prior to the reformation).”

        Well, I think St. Paul wrote prior to the Reformation, and Rome can say that the Lutheran tradition is reading something into Paul, but I don’t know how you prove that. What, do you think, is my ecclesiology? As I was trying to make clear in the original newsletter, my ecclesiology is that at Trent, the Roman Church departed from the Catholic Church by condemning Justification by Faith Alone. I claim the tradition that delivered the canon down to us. Was that unclear before?

      • Jon Anthony

        Ok, fine. But the thing is that if things are only authoritative if they say the same thing as scripture, then the only real authority is scripture.

        And, in any event, no authority you submit to could say what is or is not inspired. Not even in theory. If you accept that there could be extra-biblical, authoritative tradition that goes beyond merely repeating what the Bible says, you could at least do it in theory (although I admit that it would pose practical difficulties, as you have reminded me). But you can’t do it even in theory on your ecclessiolgy.

        So shouldn’t you admit that even the inspiration of your “core books” is a matter of Christian liberty?

      • prwinterstein

        “Ok, fine. But the thing is that if things are only authoritative if they say the same thing as scripture, then the only real authority is scripture.”

        In a sense, yes. But, as the history of the Church proves, disagreements arose that needed to be settled. The Nicene Creed, for example, sets forth the authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures on the points of Jesus’ divinity, etc. In other words, I contend that the Nicene Creed says nothing different from the Scriptures; but there were and are other Christians who refuse(d) to accept it as orthodox. I don’t know how you settle that disagreement prior to the eschaton.

      • Jon Anthony

        But given that nobody–including none of the great saints–of the first century held your view of the nature of justification (as the great Protestant theologian Alister McGrath concedes) prior to the reformation and that many, many earnest thoughtful Christians like N.T. Wright disagree with that interpretation, shouldn’t you at least admit that St. Paul is ambiguous there? If so, shouldn’t it at least a matter of Christian liberty?

      • prwinterstein

        I admit that there are disagreements, and that no proof-text, etc. will ever settle the matter. But what is ambiguous about “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from you, it is the gift of God, not from works, so that no one will boast”? Again, St. Paul writes in the first century; further, it is anachronistic to try and discover in the first century (not a lot of writings extant other than the NT) the answer to a controversy that did not apparently, even exist. But when the controversy happens, as it did with the Arians, Donatists, etc., then the matter has to be made clear. That, I contend, is what the Reformers did.

      • Jon Anthony

        But should Nicene point on Jesus’ divinity be open to interpretation now? Or is it settled? If someone in your congregation read his Bible as an Arian would he be a heretic or just in disagreement with you on an issue of Christian liberty?

        For, of course, the Arians had their Bibles too. They came to that interpretation from honest exegesis. It took the lens of tradition to reach the Nicene formulation.

      • Jon Anthony

        That was a typo about the first century. I meant that McGrath shows that the Reformation view of the nature of justification was never held before the Reformation. As he says “it was a theological novum” disagreeing with all of the prior exegisis of Paul.

        In short, I think on this and on other issues (like polygamy) you have a naive view of when an issue is beyond reasonable disagreement. (the passage about the “wife” does not exclude, for example, other wives, as Luther argued). Have you read any of the contrary interpretations of that passage, e.g. by N.T. Wright. Its a complex argument. But , in short, that verse does not exclude the Catholic understanding of justification, which it seems like you may misunderstand: http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2010/11/catholic-view-on-justification-and.html

      • prwinterstein

        No, it’s not my view that’s naive. I fully understand that it is not “clear” to everyone, and that Roman Catholics and others disagree with the Lutheran position. I’m not saying it’s beyond reasonable disagreement; that’s the point, exactly: there is no authority that can settle these disagreements to a point where the correct interpretation is clear to all reasonable people.

        I know the Roman position, and I say that because it includes love as a constituent part of Justification, rather than the fruit of Justification, it robs consciences of comfort before God.

        And, for the record, I was quoting Ephesians 2, not Romans 3.

      • Jon Anthony

        So one’s position on the issue is a matter of Christian liberty?

        What about the other issues like polygamy and abortion and the trinity? Can there be reasonable disagreement on these? Aren’t there earnest and intelligent Jehovah’s witnesses out there?

      • prwinterstein

        It’s not a matter of Christian liberty; but it surely is a matter of liberty–in the precise sense that people can and will disagree with any particular interpretation. That has nothing to do with whether the position is correct or not, but it does mean that the argument still has to be made. And I’d be happy to make the argument from the Scriptures for the Trinity. Although I think I could make the argument from the Scriptures against both polygamy and abortion, I think it depends on the person to whom one is making the argument: I think the argument against both could be made apart from the Scriptures, and natural law will be denied as little as revealed law (since, in the end, they are one).

    • Jon Anthony

      Well, fair enough. But, of course, that is not what I accused you of at all. Rather I said that you believed that your “core books” are inspired on the authority of (or, alternatively, the inspired-ness of the “core books” was revealed to you by) tradition. And your comment has done nothing to dissuade me from this impression. For the position you outline, that the books were not rendered inspired by the tradition is consistent with everybody’s position (the Roman Catholic Church included). And it is that believing of the revelations of tradition that runs you into all sorts of problems. This is because you believe tradition is authoritative as to the “core books” but that it is not authoritative where you disagree with it. That strikes me as entirely unreasonable. You should either find tradition authoritative or not in toto, don’t you think?

      PS–This is a strange and convenient interpretation of Luther on contraception. I mean, he called it “the sin of Onan” and clearly Onan’s sin was contraception proper, not abortion, right?

      PPS–What is your stance on polygamy?

      • prwinterstein

        Why should tradition (the things handed down) have to be authoritative as a whole? Even if I said yes, that wouldn’t solve the problem, because you’re still in the same position of trying to decide which is the authentic tradition.

      • Jon Anthony

        Well, you just have to define what is and what isn’t authoritative.

        E.g. the Catholic position is that all of those things handed down as the teaching of the apostles is authoritative. This includes, e.g. what we might call “the Tradition of the Table of Contents of the Bible” and so on. But it would seem very arbitrary to isolate that tradition apart from all the other traditions that the apostles passed on to their successors–like the traditional teachings on contraception and the nature of justification.

        Now of course you’re right that some things claiming to be part of the Apostolic Tradition are frauds and we do not have to follow them. But that doesn’t mean we can just cherry pick what traditions we find pleasant and reject those we don’t want. You need a principled distinction between the true and fraudulent traditions.

        And the problem I am claiming you have is that you have no such principled distinction. You accept the, on one hand, Traditions of the Table of Contents and the sanctity of life and the immorality of polygamy and the Trinity and reject, on the other hand, the Traditions of the nature of justification and contraception and many others. But you have no reason for distinguishing between the former and the latter. Therefore, you should either accept or reject both.

      • Jon Anthony

        By imposing a rule against polygamy on your congregation how are you doing anything differently and less wrong than what the RCC is doing on contraception? Shouldn’t you tell them that it is not a “rule”?

  • Jon Anthony

    “Appraise the tendency as you will; welcome or regret its influence; but only disingenuity can deny that the tendency is there, and is apparently constant. You do not believe what your grandfathers beleived, and have no reason to hope that your grandsons will believe what you do.” (Ronald Knox ,The Belief of Catholics, p. 6).

    Contraception. Really.

  • Jon Anthony

    And don’t you find this issue important, too? I mean, after all, very important issues like the canon and the very nature of God hang in the balance. And don’t you, like Peter Brunner, feel an obligation to justify your “protest” of the RCC? Professor Carl Trueman, an Evangelical professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, poses this challenge:

    “When I finished reading the book [i.e. Is the Reformation Over by Noll], I have to confess that I agreed with the authors, in that it does indeed seem that the Reformation is over for large tracts of evangelicalism; yet the authors themselves do not draw the obvious conclusion from their own arguments. Every year I tell my Reformation history class that Roman Catholicism is, at least in the West, the default position. Rome has a better claim to historical continuity and institutional unity than any Protestant denomination, let alone the strange hybrid that is evangelicalism; in the light of these facts, therefore, we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day. It would seem, however, that if Noll and Nystrom are correct, many who call themselves evangelical really lack any good reason for such an act of will; and the obvious conclusion, therefore, should be that they do the decent thing and rejoin the Roman Catholic Church. I cannot go down that path myself, primarily because of my view of justification by faith and because of my ecclesiology; but those who reject the former and lack the latter have no real basis upon which to perpetuate what is, in effect, an act of schism on their part.”

    Don’t you agree?

    • prwinterstein

      Yes, and I agree with Trueman’s reasons for not joining the Roman Church (as it’s stated there).

    • Jon Anthony

      Well, alright then! So you can see why I am pressing you about this! It is important and I want to use your wisdom to see how the protest is justified.

      Also, I think you are getting ahead of me when you suggest that even if I have shown that Lutherans need an extra-biblical authority (i.e. “tradition”) I have not proven the entire claim of RCC ecclessiology. True enough! But one issue at a time. Don’t you admit that you need “tradition” (in the stipulated sense) to be authoritative at least on some issues?

      • prwinterstein

        There is more than one authority (which I’ve never denied, I don’t think), but they are ranking. The Scriptures are the authority, and insofar as, or when, other authorities (Church Fathers, Councils, etc.) confess (i.e., say the same thing) as the Scriptures, then they are authoritative. The Lutheran Confessions are authoritative because, where they speak, they say the same things as the Scriptures. This is true of the three Ecumenical Creeds, as well. In that sense, they are authoritative. But I still hold that they are authoritative because they say the same things as the Scriptures. And that is an issue of interpretation, which cannot be settled by appealing to one or another authority: not the Scriptures, not the pope, not the Church Fathers, not the Creeds. So, in some senses, we’re simply back where we started, and I don’t know a way out of that circle.

  • Jon Anthony

    And, for the record, could you tell me your position on polygamy?

  • Jon Anthony

    From a guy who said “A person who considers himself a “Bible only” person could believe anything. Therefore we need creeds (affirmations of faith) to see clearly how people are reading the Bible. Are they reading error into the Bible? Or are they drawing truth out of the Bible?”: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/what-did-jesus-do-on-holy-saturday/2012/04/02/gIQATLMSrS_story.html

    See what I mean?

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