Answering Lutheran Objections to Church Structure and Authority

Yesterday, I described a class lecture given by a Lutheran pastor, Mark Anderson, on the canon of Scripture and the authority of the early Church.  Pastor Anderson showed how rejecting the authority of the early episcopacy would leave you without a Bible and without any reliable way of distinguishing orthodoxy and heresy, admitted that Protestantism still hasn't found a way of solving “the question of authority, which is really the question,” yet declared himself an opponent of episcopal governance.  He responded with a link to an article by the Lutheran Joseph Burgess, to which I now respond to.

Pastor Anderson,

Behind all of the excess verbage and unnecessary use of Latin (seriously, was it necessary to say cum grano salis, instead of “with a grain of salt”?), it appears that Burgess makes (a) a number of baseless theological and ecclesiological assertions, which he never bothers to justify, and (b) a few actual arguments. If I may, let me respond to each, in turn.

Baseless Assertions

In the former category, Burgess simply dismisses, out of hand, the idea that Catholics and other non-Lutherans even know God, because we disagree with the Lutheran view on Law/Gospel. But who put Burgess (or the ELCA, or Luther) in charge of defining the content of “the Word,” “the Law,” “the Gospel,” or “the canon of Scripture”? As a wise man once said, “Where do we go finally for resolution of doctrinal problems? Where do we go finally for resolution of theological questions? Who determines what the meaning of Jesus Christ is?” Burgess just gives himself (and those he agrees with, theologically) this authority and moves on. That’s no answer.

Likewise, Burgess quotes himself for the conclusion that “there is no special gift (charism) of infallibility in the [M]agisterium.” On what basis do we know that Burgess is right and the Catholic Church is wrong on this issue? Burgess’ answer seems to be, “Because the Catholic Church is wrong.” Again, not an answer.

Bizarrely, Burgess provides no evidence that for any of his central claims. He simply asserts them and moves on, even praising the German Lutherans for refusing to “make decisions about dogma” when a Lutheran minister (Baumann) declared the pope the head of the Church or when another (Schulz) declared that there was no God.

There are a number of of other examples where Burgess makes sweeping claims as well, without supporting them (“The gospel is, of course, sola fide and sola cruce,” “Christian freedom, of course, includes the adiaphoristic principle,” and so on), but I think the above are the most important.  But more fundamentally, given that (a) Burgess never points to any authority outside of himself for his claims; and (b) neither Burgess, nor the ELCA, nor Luther himself  claim(ed) to have the charism of infallibility, and can’t define dogma, why trust them over the Church which brought us the Councils of Jerusalem, Nicea, etc., and does claim to be uniquely led by the Holy Spirit? She has a better doctrinal track record and, at the very least, a colorable claim of infallibility.

Actual Arguments

I count four actual arguments in Burgess' article (if I've missed any, let me know):
  1. Sometimes, we don't want to obey the Church.
  2. The historic episcopate has been a fallible mark of church unity.
  3. The Church actually enforces orthodoxy.
  4. The historic episcopate is not “an irreversible development in God's plan.
Burgess' first point is that a “recent study (1982) by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the former LCA, done with the help of the Alban Institute, on the functions of the bishop points up the dilemma: both pastors and congregations want their bishop to speak with authority when he agrees with them, but not when he disagrees. There's the rub.” Very true. The sheep want shepherds with actual authority to direct the sheep, but only if they're not the errant sheep themselves: then they talk about the importance of Christian liberty. But  how is this an argument against the episcopacy?  It sounds like an argument for it, to prevent us from becoming puffed up on our theological conclusions, and mistaking our reading of the Bible for the Gospel.  We need an episcopacy not to police our brother's sins, but to better see the plank in our own eyes.  Yes, it's tough medicine; yes, it's humbling. But emphatically, these are not arguments against the episcopacy. If every sheep is left to follow their own opinions, we'd have no unity (a fact which Lutheranism and all other forms of Protestantism illuminates all too clearly).

The second argument, is that there have been times when the episcopacy (which Burgess never defines, but by which he apparently means, “a majority of the Church's bishops, at any given time”) sometimes are wrong. To support this, he cites to the Catholic bishops during the Reformation not abandoning Catholicism, and to the Arian bishops of the fourth century. Interestingly, if Burgess' definition of “episcopacy” is simply “popular opinion among bishops,” we agree.

The problem here is that Burgess ignores or fails to understand the difference between “the Magisterium” and “the episcopacy.”  At times, individual bishops embrace doctrinal views which are wrong.  Sometimes, there are a lot of bishops backing the wrong horse.  For a while in the fourth century, for example, perhaps even a majority of bishops were Arian.  How did the Church solve this?  By calling the First Council of Nicea, which then condemned Arianism.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit, unpopular Truth triumphed over popular heresy.   So disputes, including ones in which bishops take opposing sides, are solved by the Magisterium, since the Magisterium is guided by the Holy Spirit in a way that individual bishops are not.  This is how things played out in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), how they played out at the Council of Nicea, and how they played out at the Council of Trent.

Burgess' third argument is that, according to the late Fr. Richard McCormick, within the Catholic Church, “Episcopal unity is revealed as enforced, not genuine.” Again, true enough.  After Nicea, the Church didn't simply say, “believe in Arianism if you want to.”  Instead, Trinitarian orthodoxy was “enforced,” Arianism died out as a movement, and the post-Nicene Church enjoyed a fuller unity as a result.  The basis for episcopal unity isn't that every bishop happens to agree with every other bishop, but that good bishops have the humility to submit to the Magisterium. Fr. McCormick, too proud to accept Catholic teachings on fundamentals like abortion and birth control, say this as oppressive.  But this is just another instance of wanting Church authority until you're on the wrong side of orthodoxy.

The Most Important Argument

Finally, Burgess raises his most important argument: “On the question of the historic episcopate our Confessional literature is very specific: ecclesiastical ranks ‘were created by human authority.’”  This question is most important of all: if the office of bishop (as something distinct from the presbytery) was established by the Apostles, we ought to obey it, rather than rejecting Apostolic Christianity.

Of course, the three ecclesiastical ranks in question, bishop (“Overseer, 1 Timothy 3:1), priest/presbyter (“Elder,” 1 Timothy 5:17), and deacon (“Server,” 1 Timothy 3:8), are each mentioned in Scripture and are of Apostolic origin.  But the stock anti-episcopal response is to claim that bishop and presbyter are the same office, based on some grammatical ambiguity in Acts 20:27-28, and a few other passages.  Now, there are plenty of good responses to this within Scripture itself.  For example, in the Old Testament, the Overseer was the sole man in charge (see Proverbs 6:7, comparing him to a commander or ruler), while the Elders were a ruling body (Exodus 3:16).  And using the ambiguity with which the New Testament writers sometimes speak of the three offices, you could just as easily prove that the Apostle Peter was really only a presbyter (1 Peter 5:1), or that the Apostle Paul was really only a deacon (Col. 1:25).  It's a much stronger hypothesis that the New Testament writers are saying that each Christian leader is called to oversee and to serve, even if their office isn't Overseer (Bishop) or Server (Deacon).

But since we have differing interpretations of what the Scriptures mean here (based on what I think it's fair to say is a genuine ambiguity), let's get back to what you rightly identify as the first question, the question of authority.  Should we simply part company, each with our own theological interpretations, or listen to the historic Church?  In your talk, you said the latter, and I agree.  So let's put two questions before the historic Church: 
  1. Did they think the Church had two or three tiers?  
  2. Did they think the Church structure was instituted by the Apostles, or a latter innovation?
The answer to both questions is surprisingly uniform.  St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing shortly before his own death (c. 107 A.D.), wrote to the Magnesians, in Greece, “I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow-servant the deacon Sotio,” so we know that they had this structure from the earliest known records.  Likewise, Ignatius tells the Ephesians, in modern-day Turkey, to obey “the bishop and the presbytery,” referring to the bishop, Onesimus, by name. And he refers to himself, in his letter to the Romans, as “the bishop of Syria,noting that they'll have no bishop but God after he's dead (h/t Called to Communion).

But not only do we unambiguously see this identical tri-fold structure (a single bishop, a body of presbyters, and deacons) throughout all of Christendom within a decade of the death of the last Apostle, we're also told  that it was the Apostles themselves who set up the episcopacy.  In 180 A.D., St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in modern-day France, wrote that every church on Earth could trace their lineage back to the bishops appointed by the Apostles:
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times...
Irenaeus then recites the chronology of bishops in the See with “preeminent authority,” Rome.  Without giving the full list, it begins, “The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy.

Both Ignatius and Irenaeus, and many others besides, are making incredibly bold claims about a Church hierarchy instituted by the Apostles, and headed by one bishop per city (each called to be loyal to Rome, as Irenaeus tells us).  If this isn't the universal belief of the early Church, where do we see opponents rejecting the episcopacy as an accretion, as you do?  Or where do they at least deny that the episcopacy is created by the Apostles?


Pastor Anderson, this is what I meant in my last post, when I suggested you identified the right problems, and even offered the right solutions, but didn't follow your own advice.  If you're serious about submitting your own opinions to the historic Church, you should do so in this matter, and on the canon of Scripture, and on justification, and the Eucharist, and so forth.  Otherwise, you seem to simply tie up the burden of following Tradition and the Church for others' shoulders, while not carrying that burden yourself (Mt. 23:3-4).

In Christ,

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  1. Joe,

    I think you have totally missed the point of Pastor Anderson's class, and of the article he suggested you read.

    We have the Bible because the Word is contained in the Bible. Those who put it together are not the point. The point is what is inside of it.

  2. Steve,

    The question is "how do we know which Books are in the Bible?" How does your view answer that question?

    Saying "the Word" is in "the Bible" just adds another layer of ambiguity: who defines what is "the Word" or what is "the Bible"? That's why Pastor Anderson said that the question of authority is the question. Read my last post, which quotes your pastor extensively, and see if maybe there are elements which you've overlooked.

    In Christ,


  3. For example:

    These quotes are great not because they came from Catholics, but because they are the Word. God's promises handed over to sinners for the comfort and promise of God's forgiveness through the work of Christ.

    Pretty good stuff. Long before Luther.

  4. Joe,

    The books that are in the Bible...ARE in the Bible.

    We accept the canon. Not because of who put it together...but because God's Word IS IN THERE.

    I have the feeling that we just aren't going to get very far with each other on this.

  5. Steve,

    I think you're still missing the point. You put together a solid list (although you cut out a lot of context, as with the quotation by Didymus the Blind), and we bith agree on what the Fathers say in those passages: you can't “earn” initial justification.

    But how can we know that what they're presenting as the Truth is the Truth? Just saying we both like the conclusion isn't responsive to that question.

    In Christ,


  6. Steve,

    Let me try again. Can you please explain:

    (1) How do we know whether a certain thing is God's Word?

    (2) How do we know which Books are in “the Bible”?

    The reason we haven't gotten very far to this point is that all of your answers are circular. We believe this is true because it's true, etc. It fails the basic 1 Peter 3:15-16 test.

    In Christ,


  7. Joe,

    Open your Bible. That's how we know what's in the Bible.

    We know it's God's Word if it speaks of God's law and His gospel.

    You guys are 'hung up' on who is doing the proclaiming, whilw we are 'hung up' on what is being proclaimed.

    Romans 1:16 says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God..."

    For us, this paramount. And even if an atheist proclaims God's Word, the power of that Word is still present and it will accomplish that for which God intends.

    I think this the clarity that we are looking for.

  8. oldadam,

    The reason I continue to respond is that this very question gripped me and kept me from Christianity for so long. I, for a long time, felt a strong call to follow the Lord and that God was there. I constantly turned to the Bible and protestant services in these moments but everytime I asked the question: Where does the Bible come from? I was inevitably confronted with the non answer that the Bible was the Bible because it was...the Bible. And so, I stayed away, not because I didn't want to serve the Lord but because these answers were simply not consistent or logical. I was just as well off defining my own Bible, morality, and living in that manner. However, this led me into great sin and only after lambasting the Catholic Church, harping at my now wife about how she was off my list of people I could marry precisely because of her "Catholicity," and continually proclaiming my Anti-Catholic stances did I finally pick up a Catechism and surprise myself with just how wrong I was. God was surely laughing as I told my wife she was "off my list," saddened by the fact that I had been TOLD so many half truths, fallacies and rumors, and happy about my openness to answer the Holy Spirit which he sent to show me the Catechism. He knew me, He knew what I needed, and fortunately for me, others who had answered His call already were ready, able, and willing to proclaim the Word to me in a personal way, proclaiming their faith and most of all His Love. This is why this is so important. Not because I am right but because it is what He established. Tomorrow we celebrate Corpus Christi, as I escort the Lord that I am not worthy to serve down the street I will pray that you and all other Christians who proclaim the Word to others find and enter into the fullness of the truth that is the RCC.

    With all the Love that only Christ can teach,

    Cary Balser

  9. Steve,

    I agree that the Message is more important than the messenger. But to know if the Message is reliable, we need to know if we can trust the messenger.

    But as you suggested on your own blog, the Bible didn't "drop out of Heaven with a bow tied around it." Nor is the Bible just a random collection of Books which were helpful in presenting the Christian Faith. The Church has always believed that these Books, in a particular way, were inspired by the Holy Spirit, even "God-Breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16), and hold a special pride of place within the life of the Church.

    If Christians are to give Scripture a special place, they need to know which Books are Scripture, and which aren't. To this problem, ultimately, your advice is simply to "Open your Bible. That's how we know what's in the Bible." But my Bible is seven Books longer than yours. How do we know which Bible is an accurate collection of God-breathed Scripture?

    In Christ,


    P.S. The distinction I've seen you draw is whether something proclaims Christ or not. But isn't it possible for something to be true, without it being God-breathed Scripture?

  10. As usual, bravo. You are the best, Joe. How you do this and hold down a job I will never know.

  11. Joe,

    Of course things can be true without being "God breathed Scripture".

    But what we are talking about here is not just "something", but the Word of the God. The gospel for the forgiveness of sins.

  12. Hi Steve,

    I think you avoided Joe's question: "How do we know which Bible is an accurate collection of God-breathed Scripture?"

    You're saying that we know what the Bible is from the Bible. However, that's not logical at all. An atheist (for example) could just as easily say, "I know Dawkins' 'God Delusion' is true because he says it's true in his book 'God Delusion.'"

    You can't use the Bible to prove that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. It's a circular argument.

  13. Steve,

    I think JoAnna does a good job summing up what I've been trying to say.

    But if I can add one thing to JoAnna's point, it would be a circular argument if you believed that the 66 Books in your Bible were the complete canon because one of the Books said so. But it's actually even worse than that: none of the Books say so. So you can't even say, "I know which Books are in the Bible, because the Bible says so," because It doesn't.


  14. JoAnna,

    ALL Bibles are accurate collections of God breathed Scripture.

    That Word of law and gospel in is ALL of them.

  15. Joe,

    You haven't hear a word that I have said about what 'the Word' is.

    The Word itself is the authority.

    The Word existed LONG before the Bible did.

    Off to church to hear the Word!

  16. Steve,

    (1) If that's true, why not accept the Catholic Deuterocanon as Sacred Scripture?

    (2) How does your argument apply to something like the Mormon "Joseph Smith Edition" of the Bible, or the Jehovah's Witnesses' "Watchtower Bible"?

    In Christ,


  17. To your second comment,

    I have heard you argument: it's that what's important isn't the Bible, but the Word to which It testifies. In response to it, I asked:

    Saying "the Word" is in "the Bible" just adds another layer of ambiguity: who defines what is "the Word" or what is "the Bible"? That's why Pastor Anderson said that the question of authority is the question.

    In Christ,


  18. Let's try another tactic here. You say The Word is in the Bible and is the authority. My observation is that if no one had bothered to collect those books, you would have even less to stand on in your beliefs than you do now. Further, you would likely not have ever heard or experienced The Word. In short, if we didn't have the Bible, belief in Chirst as we know it today, would not exist.

    The other thing you're missing is that, when the canon was defined, there were many, many, many other writings that were being considered. All of them were extensively about Jesus. If your standard of what is and isn't Scripture is that it has to "drive" Christ or whatever, then why were those books rejected? If the answer is on the authority of the Councils, then WHO gave them that authority? If the answer is that Christ, via the Holy Spirit endowed the Church with the authority to proclaim that those specific books are Scripture, then why is it so hard to accept that the very same authority exists today in the Magesterium?

    I've been reading these posts and threads for the past fee days and it's very frustrating reading your responses, as they are so very vague. And circular. The Bible is Scripture because Jesus is there. How do you know it's true? Because it's Scripture. How do you know that? Because Jesus is there. Big, nebulous circle that is.

  19. Ok, I've been thinking about this and I think this may help.


    The reason why we don't seem to be getting here is that Jos is asking very direct questions that require concrete answers. Your answer to all of this is whatever "drives" the word. Where I think we're getting tangles up is that yur answer is very subjective. Meaning that I can read a book of the Bible, say James for example, and feel that it is very Chirst centered and does much to further His cause. But you may read that same book and feel just the opposite. So, your standard by which something is to be judged is based on one's own feelings and therefore leaves the validity of Scripture open to debate.

    What Joe is looking for, and what I think the rest of us here are looking for as well, is an OBJECTIVE standard by which to base our discernment on what's truth and what is not. Something that does not rely on one's own personal feelings and ideas about what puts forth the best case for Christ.

    Let's face it. Jesus did not bring a Table of Contents with Him at his first Advent. So we are left to try to determine for ourselves what is and what is not authoritative Truth. I accept that the Cathoic canon is the authoritative canon of Scriptural Truth and my standard is the guidance of the Magesterial teaching of the Church. That authority, given by Christ Himself to Mother Church, does not leave the canon open for me to give weight to one book over another or to ignore or throw out books I don't necessarily like, or even to add things in. That is an Objective source of authority, meaning it does not rely on my personal feelings, interpretations, etc, which are all extremely unreliable.

    Does that makes sense?

  20. And I must apologize for my atrocious spelling mistakes. iPad autocorrect is not my friend and makes for very difficult editing.


  21. Open your Bible. That's how we know what's in the Bible.

    So the Magisterium is the publisher?

    I'm pretty sure you won't find that in the Bible.

    We know it's God's Word if it speaks of God's law and His gospel.

    Only if you already known what God's law and His gospel are from a different source -- because no book says that I am teaching you God's law and I got it wrong. How do you know that? The ancient Christians knew that and used, but then, they had a Sacred Tradition.

  22. Steve,

    We have touched upon historical continuity.

    Please cite for me a single Christian writer or cleric in the first 1000 years after the first apostles who is not, in your opinion, a heretic.

    It would seem you would have to cite an anticatholic who was not an Arian, a Nestorian, a Montanist, an Ebionite, a Gnostic, a Pelagian, etc.

    So who are those nonheretic Christians?

    Now *if* there aren't any, then it would make God a liar when he says in Scripture that the Church is a pillar of Truth.

  23. "Open your Bible. That's how we know what's in the Bible.

    We know it's God's Word if it speaks of God's law and His gospel.

    You guys are 'hung up' on who is doing the proclaiming, whilw we are 'hung up' on what is being proclaimed."


    I realize I'm new to the forum while everyone else seems to have been around for awhile, so I hope I am not speaking here unwelcome.

    I'd say we are not hung up on who is proclaiming. Rather I think we are focusing on who God has chosen to proclaim through. In other words, who has God inspired and how do we know this person was inspired?

    Anyone can claim God revealed a message to him, and many have. However the Church has rejected many of them. The question is without some source of authority which Jesus left for us, how can we know which is correct?

    How do we know for example that the Arians weren't right and the believers in the Trinity got it wrong?

    It does seem to me that your argument could be used by any group, including people like the Mormons, to justify their own versions of the Bible.

    Again, I hope I am not talking out of turn here or coming across as rude. If so, I apologize.

  24. Daniel,

    Try these on for size:

    I never accused anyone of being a heretic. Did I?

    I did say that many preached a false gospel (if that's a good definition of 'heretic' - then maybe they deserve it) by advocating monetary payment for sins.

  25. Arnobius of Sicca,

    No apology necessary.

    We believe that God has chosen to speak through His Word. And that anyone who proclaims that Word (the law and the gospel) speaks for God.

    We believe that the 'rock'was not Peter the man, but Peter's confession of faith, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God."

    That's the rock, right there. We feel that the Church is built upon that confession of faith.

  26. @theoldadam

    Yes, I do understand what Protestantism generally holds about "This Rock" in Peter 16:18 and following. (I disagree with it, but I understand it).

    I think the problem is (unless I have totally missed the point of your reply) there are those who God has chosen to speak and those who claim to speak for God.

    The false prophets of the Old Testament and the Judaizers/ Super Apostles which made false statements in God's name show the problem.

    So there has to be some way of settling disputes when it is the meaning of Scripture which is being disputed.

    Now I realize that you accept the Bible and that you recognize that God is the authority of the Bible. The question is, how can we explain how certain books were accepted as Inspired and others were rejected?

    How can we know the canon of scripture is correct without recognizing who had the authority to determine what was and was not Inspired?

    Again, perhaps I missed the point, but this is the issue which seems to be important.

    God Bless.

  27. AoS, (In hope you don't mind)

    We know who the false preachers are because we know what the Word is. The Word is Christ Himself. It is His law and His gospel, proclaimed to sinners to convict of sin, and then to free, with the forgiveness of sins.

    We knew this before there even was a Bible. The early Christians didn't have a Bible. They had a living encounter with the Word of God. Proclaimed out of the mouths of others who had their lives changed by Him. And they had the Sacraments of Holy Baptism (God works there), and Holy Communion (God works there, as well).

    Thei is our doctrine of the Word. I don't expect anyone here to believe it. I just feel it's my job to proclaim it.


  28. @theoldadam,

    Let me give you an example that may further illustrate the point many of us are making. I have a cousin who attends a Holiness church. He and his congregation do not believe in the Trinity. They do not believe baptism is important. They also do not believe the Eucharist ("communion") is important either. What we consider sacraments, they do not take seriously at all. They do, however, take very seriously the "charisms" from Acts.

    These folks absolutely believe they know Jesus (The Word). They read from the exact same Bible as you do. Yet they get something completely different than you do.

    So the question is, how do you OBJECTIVELY determine who is correct in their understanding? Catholics can point to the Magesterium and say that (a) we've been teaching the same thing about Jesus for 2000 years and (b) that is evidence that the Holy Spirit has guided us all this time so that we avoid heresy and embrace right teaching and beliefs about the Lord. Jesus himself promises to end the Spirit to guide us in this endeavor and that the gates of He'll will not prevail against His Church.

    The problem is that when you reject that authority, and do not have something similar to replace it with, then the sole authority for any single believer is himself and what he thinks something means. Going back to the example of my cousin, he and the members of his church absolutely believe that we Catolics have everything wrong. He feels the same about Lutherans, too. And he insists he's been guided by the Holy Spirit into his beliefs. I can say that my cousin and his Holiness congregation is not holding to correct teaching and beliefs and, as a Catholic, I have 2000 years of consistency to back me up. If I did not have that authority to fall back on, then the doctrinal differences between myself and my cousin are a matter of my opinion versus his opinion.

  29. Two points:

    Clement of Roman was the 4th pope, and in his epistle to the Corinthians he is exercising authority over a Greek church and their bishop from Rome. That letter was disseminated from Corinth, to Palestine, to Alexandria...

    So if you believe in Clement, then you must believe in the possibility of the papacy.

    My second point is that your church and mine have already settled the dispute on justification OFFICIALLY!

    Read canon 41 first. Then read the whole thing.

  30. And also the catholic position is laid out at the local council of Orange:

    Canons 18 and 20 are on point here.

  31. mrflibbleisvryx,

    These poor folks have not heard the Word. There are many who do not rightly undestand the Word of God.

    The Word is law to convict and gospel to free. Many Lutherans do not understand it. Many Catholics do not, as well. I'd say most Christians have not heard the pure gospel, but are engaged in some sort of religious (what they do) enterprise, instead.

    The Word is there. If someone hasn't heard it (really heard it) then they will be preaching holiness, or spiritual navel gazing, or...whatever. But when someone hears the Word, the Holy Spirit has the power to bring about authentic faith in the One who has done it all, on the cross, for them.

    If they are on a ladder, then they have only heard the law. If they rest in Christ's work, then they have heard the gospel and have received the gift of faith.

    This Word is not derived from man, or dependent on man, but is directed towards man.

  32. Steve,

    If a group of people hear a Luther proclaim his version of what "the Word" is, then a Catholic, then an Adventists, then a Mormon, then a Presbyterian, and so on, each with their faith tradition's own view, how can they know who's right?

  33. In the gospel of John, it is said "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Some christian religions believe the word is Jesus, some do not. Some believe this verse points to Jesus not being a created being, others do not. Who decides the correct interpretation? Just because one has read or heard this verse is not enough to decide for oneself what it means. Steve seems to be saying that if they do not agree with him what it means, they haven't really heard the word. What Catholics say is the Catholic Church alone has determined what it means because the Church has the authority to do that, authority given by Jesus Himself.

  34. @theoldadam,

    I agree with you that they are incorrect in their interpretations. However, the questions still remains as to how we tell what The Word actually is versus our own misguided opinions. Again, my cousin and his congregation believe completely that they are being guided by the Holy Spirit into correct interpretation and application. They claim they know the Truth. Without an objective standard to point to (The Word and the Bible are x) and an objective authority to make those claims (I can say they are x because of the authority of y) then what we are dealing with is subjective. It is your, or my, opinion.

    You feel like the Holy Spirit has convicted you on the things you believe so they must be true. They feel exactly the same way. The question is HOW do we know who is right and WHY? Saying knowing The Word is the proof still begs the question of how do we know your "knowledge" is the correct one without an objective standard by which to measure your ideas? My cousin says that his standard is the Bible and can quote hundreds of verses that seem to back up his position. I say that standard is the teaching office of the Church, which has held to the same positions for 2000 years and compiled the same texts my chain uses as his own proofs. My cousin's standard is obviously a matter of subjectivity, as the Bible has been interpreted in thousands of different ways (which is why there are so many Protestant denominations). My standard is not only historically accurate and consistent, it predates the Bible itself and can be traced to the Authority of Christ Himself. It is an objective standard. Do you see the difference?

  35. I think you're likely to say that The Word is your objective standard. But again, it still begs the question of how and why because there are so many competing definitions of who and what Jesus is.

  36. mrflibbleisvryx,

    We believe it is the gospel that changes hearts (Romans 1:16).

    The announcement of the forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake.

    Yes, the Bible tells us that, that the gospel was changing hearts long before there was a Bible.

  37. oldadam,

    first how do you define the Gospel, you still haven't addressed this. I say the Gospel includes the book of Mormon because it changed my heart towards God. How do you refute this?

    Secondly, the Gospel, before it was written, was promulgated by the Apostles, who were established as the leadership of THE CHURCH we call the RCC today. Even after the Gospel was written, many could not read, they heard the Word, for nearly 1000 years from one Church with authority given by Christ. THIS IS FACT!

    That same Church exists today and continues to proclaim the Word which it has defined because of the authority given by Christ.

  38. oldadam,

    Is the Trinity a necessary belief?

  39. scredsoxfan2,

    I'll say it again.

    The gospel is the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus' sake.

    The Trinity is an orthodox Christian doctrine. Good doctrine is important, but we are not saved by it.

  40. Steve,

    I'll ask again:

    (1) How do we know that "the Gospel" is "the forgiveness of our sins for Jesus' sake." You keep making these claims without supporting them. As Cary pointed out, the question of the meaning of the Gospel (or of the Word) is the very thing in dispute. Your argument appears to be, "Mormons are wrong because they're wrong." Is there more to it that we're missing, or are you comfortable just saying, "I'm right because I'm right, everyone else is wrong because they're wrong"?

    (2) How do we know that the Trinity is an orthodox Christian doctrine?

    (3) Are you suggesting that someone can deny the Trinity without risk of their salvation?

    In Christ,


  41. Did no one find the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification comment worthy?

    Lutherans and Catholics have reached a consensus on this issue.

    Also, oldadam, if a Lutheran Bible listed as Scripture, verses that are from a Catholic gloss by mistake (using Textus Receptus), would that be using tradition (not on purpose) as equal with Scripture?

  42. Daniel,

    The problem with using the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification is that not all Lutherans accept it. Additionally, there are lingering differences in how we understand the process of justification, just not ones which are significant enough to warrant dividing the Church.

    In Christ,


  43. @oldadam,

    Staying with my previous example, my cousin and his Holiness congregation are very pious people. They strive to stay free of sin and would argue that they have been convicted by the Gospel to turn away from sin and to faith in Christ. They also adhere to the belief that they are forgiven of sins for Christ's sake. So, if that is your standard then what? Does the rest not matter? You and I, I think, would both agree that the things they reject and the things they emphasize are incorrect and that they are propagating wrong teaching about Christ and his message. But your standard doesn't leave room for that. If the only standard you adhere to is that one must believe in Christ and his saving grace and be convicted to turn away from sin, as per the Gospels, then you leave a lot of other very crucial issues open to individual interpretation.

    I am not comfortable saying that it's ok that my cousin preaches that baptism and the Sacraments are irrelevant and that the only things that matter are reception of the "charisms" of the Holy Spirit. But if the only thing I have to back me up is that (a) one must believe in Jesus Christ and his saving grace, and (b) one must be convicted to turn from one's sins- and these folks fit both those descriptions- then I have no legitimate grounds to argue the point with them about what you and I would both agree are wrong teachings.

    Does that make sense?

  44. @oldadam,

    I also think that a big part of the problem we're having here is that we're working from different starting points. You seem to be beginning with the idea that Jesus Christ, who he is, what he came to do, etc, is very clearly defined and obvious. What I think myself and others are trying to get across is that yes, Jesus is very clearly defined, but it's not at all obvious to people. Further, that definition has been articulated, defended, and preserved consistently for two millennia by the Catholic Church. The Reason we have such well defined doctrine on who Christ is and why he came is because the Church has defended that doctrine against all sorts of heresies.

    If you're at all familiar with ancient Christian history, you'll very easily find all sorts of wrong doctrine being taught by some and being fought back against by the Church. So, throughout history we see many, many, many people who have disagreed with what you would consider very obvious definitions of Christ. Therefore, I would contend that defining Christ is NOT an obvious endeavor and that without an objective source of authority on the matter you can very easily end up believing wrong things about Him. Hence the tens of thousands of different Protestant denominations.

    Which is why I would contend that starting from the idea of a defined Christ without a defining authority is fallacious.

  45. I've been purposefully staying out of this because I didn't want to add more issues to the discussion. However, out of frustration, I now have to say something.

    Old Adam, *please* answer Joe's questions. As mrflibbleisvryx says, he's asking you very direct questions that require concrete answers. These concrete answers haven't been forthcoming.

    The other issue is that most what you have written has almost always used circular logic ("Open your Bible. That's how we know what's in the Bible").

    You have a conception of Jesus and the Gospel and you identify the Word/Scripture using that conception. Yet how do you reach that conception? Because it's in the Word/Scripture... Around and around we go...

    A few samples:

    "We accept the canon. Not because of who put it together...but because God's Word IS IN THERE."

    You accept *which* canon? There are several. And "God's Word"...defined by whom?

    "ALL Bibles are accurate collections of God breathed Scripture."

    Catholic Bibles too? 1 & 2 Maccabees? If not, on what objective basis?

    "We know it's God's Word if it speaks of God's law and His gospel"
    ...and "God's law and gospel" is what exactly? From where do you derive these definitions? (and you're not allowed to use Scripture here)

  46. @theoldadam

    (and by the way, I don't mind at all if you want to abbreviate my blogger name. After so many years I wish i chose a shorter one)

    You write, "We knew this before there even was a Bible. The early Christians didn't have a Bible. They had a living encounter with the Word of God."

    I think you're close here. We do need to realize it was the Apostles who had the most intimate encounter with the Word.

    We recognize that the New testament was written by those who were closest to Him on earth, or by those writing on the behalf of those who were (Luke and Mark). However, the pre-Bible teachings are not a placeholder until the New Testament was written. Rather we have the written and spoken teachings passed on as the teachings of Christ.

    Knowing Christ personally as they did, the Apostles had the knowledge of what Christ intended when he spoke to them -- especially when God sent the Holy Spirit. So while the Bible is truly inspired by God, it is also given to us through the efforts of those men God chose to write the books of the Bible.

    So really, the selection of the canon is a recognition of whom God made His messengers to proclaim His Word to the world. God chose Moses, chose the prophets, chose the Apostles and commanded them to teach His word.

    Revelation closed with the death of the last apostle, but the Church established by Christ continues on with the same mission and protection from error given the Apostles.

    So it seems that one difference between Catholics and Protestants is that Catholics point to the Word of God being present in Scripture and Sacred Tradition with the authority to interpret entrusted to the Church. Protestants seem (and I hope I am not oversimplifying) to limit to the Word of God being present in the Scriptures. (I'm leaving aside how God also touches the hearts of the individual).

    So it seems to me that Catholics have a problem with the Protestant defense of Scripture as being inadequate and not considering important questions to be important.

    God Bless

  47. AofS,

    We don't discount Tradition. But we don't let it override Scripture.

    Lutheran theology is very Pauline.

    We beleive that Christ chose Paul after all the others, because those guys just quite did not get it (yet).

    They were busy trying to make people Jews first, before they could become Christians.

    Paul straightened them out. (actually Christ straightened them out - He spoke through Paul)

  48. Do you believe Catholics let tradition override Scripture?

    And let me ask this is the text of Scripture alone your infallible rule of faith, or is the MEANING of the text of Scripture your infallible rule of faith?

  49. and you casually pass over the questions you clearly dont have answers to yet again...

  50. @theoldadam,

    So, basically we're back where we started.

    You seem to be saying in your last comment that you believe that Paul's writings carry more weight than others. By what authority, aside from your own personal opinion and feelings on the matter, can yu legitimately make that claim? If our verification of a particular doctrine or opinion is based on Scripture ALONE, then you have no valid reason to claim prominence for Paul's work. There is no place in the Scriptures that denotes Paul's work as more correct or of more import than anything else. So, again, on what are you basing that theological claim?

  51. Yes, we are back to where we started.

    You guys place more importance on who is saying the words, or who interprets the words than the words themselves (I believe).

    And we place more importance on the words themselves, because it is in those words (the gospel) "your sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake" (in whatever form that forgiveness takes). We believe as St. Paul tells us "That the gospel IS the power of God ...", and that it creates faith, when and where it will, regardless if the Pope says them, or if Larry the plumber down the street says them.

    And on that note, Mrs. Kallabash, let's call it a day.

    We are at the point of saturation.

    Anyway, I appreciate the chance to speak my piece. Many blog sites would not let that happen, so your graciousness is wonderful and refreshing. That goes for Joe, and all the rest of you.

  52. Steve,

    I agree-- we've said what can be said here for now, and I don't want frustration to seep into the dialogue. That said, you're welcome to jump in on any topic that interests you, and I hope to hear from you again. On behalf of all of your Catholic brethren, God bless!


  53. Thanks, Joe!

    You are a good guy!


  54. This is so cool. What kind of coils are those under the glass? I think something like this would be the perfect water heater in Denver because of the amount of sun and the relative coldness in the city.


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