Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Did the Acts 15 "Council" Rely on the Exegesis of Scripture?
02/18/2012 - Tur8infanJason Stewart (whose apostasy was recently discussed), has posted a fictitious (and apparently also intended as facetious) dialog under the title, "Taking a Stand on the Scriptures Against the Traditions of Men." The title is mocking, of course. Stewart posits a hypothetical dialog between two Judaizers in the mid-first century. Stewart's attempt flops for a number of significant reasons, which we will investigate under several questions (I briefly examined the general question before).
I. Did the assembly in Acts 15 act on the authority of Scripture?
Stewart's dialog is more telling than he might like to admit. He writes:
Phineas: “Well, tell me what Scripture texts they cited to prove their position.”
Malachi: “They didn’t. Not a single one. Well, not unless you count Bishop James quoting a couple of verses from Amos during his summary. But afterward I went back and looked, and that passage has nothing to do with circumcision. So I don’t know why he even referred to it.”
First, let's look at what the text of Scripture actually says:
And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, after this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:
The italicized portion is a quotation from Amos 9:11-12:
In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.
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Rome's Real Claims to Revelatory Authority Illustrated by a Recent Convert
02/17/2012 - James WhiteThis morning I read through the first contribution (aside from his conversion story) by former OPC minister Jason Stewart, who has joined the "Called to Communion" blog. For those who are not familiar with it, this blog ostensibly exists so that formerly "Reformed" converts to Rome may ply their trade in calling others into Mother Church. It is a regular source of amazing examples of how outward profession of Reformed orthodoxy is no guarantee of inner dependence upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ, let alone a true commitment to the truths that truly bring peace to the soul that rests upon the divine truths of sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and, of course, the constant center of their relentless attacks, sola scriptura.
I have often commented that one who has wholeheartedly cast oneself upon the finished and perfect work of the Messiah, hung upon Calvary's cross, once for all time, can never turn from that the treadmill of sacramentalism that is the essence of Rome. To trade the intimate and immediate access of the true believer in Christ who, by union with Him, has access to the very throne of God, for the confessionals and "priests" and penances and never ending masses--none of which ever grant full peace with God--is beyond the realm of possibility. I conclude, then, that those who engage in this act of apostasy--and I dare not show God and His gospel the disrespect my culture demands of me at this point by softening the proper and truthful description of the act--while they may have professed with soaring words these truths I hold so dear did not, in fact, ever experience them, for one who has will, in the words of Jesus, persevere in them to the end. The blog, then, is a sad spectacle of fulfillment of the scriptural axiom that those who refuse to love the truth will be caused to love a lie. It is an almost daily reminder to myself, and to all who have a great measure of God's light in His Word, to honor that light, and love His truth, for if we play games with that truth, we may well find ourselves loving a lie.
This morning's blog article was a fictional conversation meant, I gather, to bolster Rome's claims relating to divine tradition and to function as an attack on sola scriptura. My good brother TurretinFan is writing a response to that element, but I wanted to note the rather obvious conclusion one would have to draw from the analogy Mr. Stewart has utilized. Given that the events of Acts 15 involved the Apostles of the Lord, and included divine revelation, it follows inevitably, if Mr. Stewart's argument has any meaning, that he is claiming continuing divine revelation for Rome as well. Otherwise, why attempt to draw the correlation? Many have noted that in reality, though Rome denies revelation outside of the canon of Scripture formally, the reality is her Marian dogmas, and in particular the last two thusly defined (Immaculate Conception and Bodily Assumption) partake very clearly of "revelational" character. One cannot, with a straight face anyway, rationally assert that either dogma is found in any form in either Scripture or "tradition," no matter how you define that wonderfully nebulous final term. So in reality, Stewart's analogy does work, as long as you are talking about the non-official, but much more realistic, recognition of Roman authority claims. It really shows you that Rome's apologists seek to defend a minimized Roman set of authority claims, while at the same time believing dogmas based upon a much more expansive, yet undefended and ungrounded, "realistic" set of authority claims.
Do I think Stewart has even thought through the ramifications of his own example? Probably not. He is in the honey-moon stage of the conversion syndrome, and for most, Rome's claims are not really subject to critical analysis at this point. Just as he missed the devastating insights into Rome's historical blunders in Salmon's work, it is doubtful he is aware of the fact that his example proves far too much (or far too little, depending). But it is a very useful example of what Rome is really saying, even when her defenders are not aware of it!
"Your Interpretation of" - a Common Objection Debunked
02/15/2012 - Tur8infanThe Called to Communion clique is fond of replacing "Scripture" with "your interpretation of Scripture." This has the rhetorical effect of making the appeal to Scripture sound less authoritative. After all, "that's just your interpretation" is idiomatic of something that has little value. It's part of the culture of relativism, in which your interpretation is just as good as my interpretation is just as good as anyone else's interpretation.
Of course, Called to Communion uses this bait to try to plant the hook of "The Church's Interpretation" as a non-relativistic alternative to the sea of relativism. The sea of relativism, though, is not a true alternative. Not all interpretations are equally valid, and the fact that something is one's interpretation doesn't mean it has no validity or that it has equal validity with the interpretation of someone else.
In the case of a document, like Scripture, that has an intended meaning, the meaning is what the author intended, which is generally a single meaning - or in the case of certain genres a pair of meanings (the technique of double entendre is an example of the latter). And, of course, certain texts which employ figures of speech have multiple layers of meaning (depending on how one analyzes meaning - a topic really beyond this short article).
What makes an interpretation correct is it's correspondence to authorial intent. Things like majority vote of the people, or endorsement by the right number of credentialed and certified scholars, do not matter in this sphere. Instead, all that matters is alignment with what the author actually intended.
There are a variety of hypotheses about how we can determine what an author meant. If we assume that the book is incoherent or corrupted, so that it cannot convey its actual meaning itself, then we need to go to another source. This is what the Gnostics alleged, and what - in essence - each of Rome, Islam, and Mormonism have had to allege. ...
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The Implications of "an honest summary of the state of Christendom at the end of the 15th century"
02/14/2012 - James SwanI skimmed through this recent account of a swim across the Tiber: An OPC Pastor Enters the Catholic Church. I found this comment from the author deep in the comments section:
Karl Adam, in his book Roots of the Reformation, offers an honest summary of the state of Christendom at the end of the 15th century: "[A]mongst the common people, a fearful decline of true piety into religious materialism and morbid hysteria; amongst the clergy, both lower and higher, widespread worldliness and neglect of duty; and amongst the Shepherds of the Church, demonic ambition and sacrilegious perversion of holy things...."
The argument from some of Rome's defenders goes like this: certainly there were church abuses during the sixteenth century. But Luther went too far. This new Roman convert thinks that things may have turned out differently had Luther "kept his ecclesiastical cool in the midst of the desperate need for moral reform." If there was ever a statement ignorant of history, this would certainly be a perfect example. It assumes that a corrupt institution would actually politely take any sort of correction from an obscure monk. The facts of history show quite otherwise: the Luther situation was riddled with subterfuge and obfuscation, this coming from Rome herself. Luther was given a bogus hearing in which he was ultimately told to simply recant... or else. This new convert went to a Reformed seminary in which details of this trial were readily available. The details of Luther's kangaroo court hearing were no doubt presented in a class specific to Reformation Church History (CH 313). Unless the requirements are now different, in order to graduate from Mid-America Reformed Seminary this class on Reformation history was required. In other words, this new Roman convert has no excuse for such an ignorant portrayal of Reformation church history. The legalities of sixteenth century Romanism were not simply "keep your ecclesiastical cool." No, you could find yourself executed quite easily and also find that the means of getting you to the point of execution weren't always fair. That Luther was never put to death for heresy could be the miracle that qualifies him for saint status in Romanism!
This section quoted from from Roman Catholic historian Karl Adam raises an interesting issue. After describing the abuses present in the church, Adam states: "In this waste of clerical corruption it was impossible for the spirit of our Lord to penetrate into the people, take root there and bring true religion to flower." It appears that for Romanism (as explained by Adam), God promises to preserve the papacy, and "papacy" equals "Church." The Spirit, according to Karl Adam can be blocked by the papacy herself from reaching the people? Even though the papacy was severely corrupt (as described by Adam), the gates of Hell didn't prevail against her. In other words, some Roman Catholics view the possibility of the gates of Hell prevailing over the papacy as similar say, to a square circle. It's presupposed beforehand that it's an impossibility for the papacy to ever be that corrupt that the gates of Hell prevail against her. Their entire argument about the preserved-from-error-papacy is simply a faith claim in which history needs to be tweaked to fit this presupposition.
Now compare this to what the Roman convert states:
"...moral abuses (as scandalous as they are) do not equal doctrinal error. Christ promised to preserve his Church in the truth of the gospel. And so he has, does, and will. Such a profound promise is consistent with the fact that men are not always morally faithful to the graces God gives them. Despite the weakness, frailty and sinfulness found within the Church, there is the divine guarantee that God, by his Holy Spirit, working in the college of bishops in union with the pope, will preserve his Church from teaching and believing that which is false in regard to the gospel."
This convert is likewise functioning with the church = papacy paradigm. There's another presupposition here though that needs to be scrutinized: "Christ promised to preserve his Church in the truth of the gospel. And so he has, does, and will." Here's what isn't stated: previous to Trent there was not any official dogmatic statement as to what exactly the Gospel "is", certainly in regard to justification:
"Existing side by side in pre-Reformation theology were several ways of interpreting the righteousness of God and the act of justification. They ranged from strongly moralistic views that seemed to equate justification with moral renewal to ultra-forensic views, which saw justification as a 'nude imputation' that seemed possible apart from Christ, by an arbitrary decree of God. Between these extremes were many combinations; and though certain views predominated in late nominalism, it is not possible even there to speak of a single doctrine of justification." [Jaroslov Pelikan, Obedient Rebels: Catholic Substance and Protestant Principle in Luther's Reformation (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 51-52].
Pelikan says elsewhere:
"All the more tragic, therefore, was the Roman reaction on the front which was most important to the reformers, the message and teaching of the church. This had to be reformed according to the word of God; unless it was, no moral improvement would be able to alter the basic problem. Rome's reactions were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees. In these decrees, the Council of Trent selected and elevated to official status the notion of justification by faith plus works, which was only one of the doctrines of justification in the medieval theologians and ancient fathers. When the reformers attacked this notion in the name of the doctrine of justification by faith alone- a doctrine also attested to by some medieval theologians and ancient fathers- Rome reacted by canonizing one trend in preference to all the others. What had previously been permitted (justification by faith and works), now became required. What had previously been permitted also (justification by faith alone), now became forbidden. In condemning the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent condemned part of its own catholic tradition" [Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism (New York: Abingdon Press, 1959), pp. 51-52].
Once again, what's needed to be proven by Roman converts is simply assumed. It's assumed that the same "Gospel" decreed at Trent was the same "Gospel" previous to Trent. The comments over at CTC will reach into the hundreds. For those of you that think you'll actually get somewhere in some sort of dialog with these new converts, you probably won't. Presuppositions are truths the heart believes without proof. If you don't first expose the unproven presuppositions, you're probably wasting your time.