Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Blogging in NY
01/21/2004 - James White
Greetings from the frozen tundra of Long Island! I watched my little Weatherbug thingy last night and saw it down around 0 windchill. For a survivor of the last summer in Phoenix (which set four new records for heat), that's COLD. I am happy to report one of my Christmas presents, a long leather coat, handled the wind and cold just fine, however.
Yes, I know, [Pete] is right, there are better things to be doing than fighting the blog wars, and given the very close proximity of a book deadline, I truly must be brief. However, there is benefit to continuing the conversation simply because it is this very kind of exchange that, if the issue is left unresolved, leaves people believing the Word is incapable of communicating truth with clarity and force.
Part of the current problem has to do with the fact that those pontificating upon the issue either did not participate in the original conversation so as to know the topic ("Saul") or, if they did, seem to be willing to shift the grounds (pun intended). Let's refocus and in so doing see that 1) the text is clear, and 2) those who are claiming to be dealing with the text have already leapt off into the realm of tradition.
Quick refocusing: The question that prompted the discuss was, "Are Roman Catholics, by their Trinitarian baptism, properly called our brothers?" Some defended the concept. I denied it, and pointed to Galatians 2:4-5 as basis for not granting such a precious and important term as "brother" to one who does not embrace the gospel of grace. Now, if someone wishes to argue that this is an improper comparison, feel free: the fact that Rome's "gospel" makes the
Galatians heresy pale in comparison is not to my thinking even an argument. Should someone think otherwise, please take the time to read Indulgentiarum Doctrina, the Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences, and ponder how such words could be called "Christian." Further, if the argument is, "I don't mean brother as in 'brother or sister in Christ,' but I mean it as in 'fellow baptized person about whom I will not make any comment as to whether you share with me the most foundational, basic, and vital elements of Christian commitment,' then we are on different planets as well. Ironically, I'm on the same planet John Calvin was on when reading this passage:
Now we see in effect why Saint Paul blameth the Galatians for falling away like perjured persons towards God, and towards our Lord Jesus Christ, as having given him the slip, and forsaken the faith which they had plighted unto him. And by this example we be warned to hold us to the pure doctrine and simplicity of the Gospel, without wavering one way or other. For it is not enough to
have the name and title of Christians, no nor yet to bear the mark of baptism: but we must continue steadfast in the doctrine of the Gospel. Calvin’s Third Sermon on Galatians, 1:6-8.
Purity of the gospel seemed, as the two previous citations of Calvin further indicate, to be the true mark of the faith, not the mere possession of an "objective" marker, i.e., baptism. That is certainly the point of Paul in Galatians 2. Ironically, one of the TR's (truly Reformed) noted:
But why were they called "false brethren"? Dr. White would have us believe it is because they did not possess the gospel. And finally Dr. White gives us his definition of what a brother is, "A brother is a brother in the bonds of the gospel".
Yes, I believe they were false brethren because true brethren do not sneak into the church (hey, they were baptized! That's not sneaking....unless, of course, you only enter the church by God's work of regeneration, not by means of any sacramentalism) seeking to take God's children captive to themselves! False gospels have a nasty habit of creating havoc that way. But it does seem Calvin said the exact same thing, so, I wonder how it is Calvin became (momentarily) infected with Anabaptist presuppositions disconnected from the space-time continuum? Unless, just maybe, the text is really as clear as it seems? Nah, too easy.
Now let's briefly respond to the ruminations offered today. We were told today that noting the difference between a noun that indicates action (“teacher”) and one that indicates relationship (“brother”) is “of little value.” Ah, well, I feel very refuted! I wonder why so much of the best exegesis in print makes note of just such things? This explains how “Saul” can miss such an obvious fact as Paul’s never addressing the Judaizers/false teachers in Galatia directly. It is a well known fact that he refers to them in the third person, never in the second. Hence, his entire discussion about calling the Galatians his “brothers” completely misses a rather obvious point: Paul was not talking about the Galatians when referring to the false brethren who crept into the church to which he makes reference in that passage. This is basic level material, but none of Saul’s cheering section seems interested enough in sound exegesis to note it and call him on it. He likewise opined:
It is also interesting that White concedes (as he must) that the pseudadelphoi (false brothers) were in the Church.
Concede? It has been part and parcel of everything I’ve said from the start (one of the problems with coming into the conversation late, I guess). But, as I have likewise repeatedly noted (and, if you are actually interested enough in this conversation to follow the blog entries flying around out there, you will note a consistent inability to respond to the entirety of the comments I have made, including the coherence of the passage shown in the verbs Paul uses to describe the false brethren as having gained such entrance stealthily and in an illegitimate manner), they were such falsely. They “crept in.” Does that really mean they were truly a part of the church? This is why the visible/invisible distinction, coupled with the biblical teaching of the nature of the New Covenant, drives my position (not some external tradition). As to whether these men performed baptisms or not, I have never even considered the point, nor does the text. The point is that they themselves would have been baptized: obviously, you do not invite brand new proselytes to the inner circle of the Apostolic band to which Paul makes reference. They may well have been in the formal fellowship of the church for quite some time. In fact, it is plain as day they claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ, had been baptized, and gave forth a confession of faith. Which is what makes the passage all the more important: despite all of the credentials, Paul declares them false brethren. He rejects their profession, and does not own them as his brothers in the faith. They are, in fact, his enemies. (And if you are like most folks at this point
you are pulling your hair out wondering why on earth anyone would want to so read this passage as to ignore this clear element just to make sure these men are still called “brothers.” Some are simply contumacious and like to argue about such things. But for most, there is a one word answer: tradition. Saul likewise wrote:
One of the key points White was disputing to begin with was the supposed non-validity of the baptism of the Church of Rome.
Non-validity? Please, I’m not nearly as nuanced as that. My argument has been, from the start, the non-validity of Rome’s gospel. Baptism is secondary to the gospel, and if Rome does not possess the gospel, then arguing about her baptism is, obviously, secondary. Of course I deny the “validity” of Rome’s baptism: I do so because baptism separated from the truth of the gospel is an empty act, not the divinely instituted mark of the follower of Christ. Let’s hope no one will seriously argue for baptism devoid of truth, separated from the gospel.
Kevin Johnson has chimed in as well:
Given that, what is the significance of using "adelphos"/"brother" with "pseudo"/"false" if not to indicate some sort of relationship both to the Galatians and to the Church?
Possibly, in light of the use of the verbs pareiserchomai and kataskopesai and the adjective pareiskatos, all of which contain elements of secrecy and dishonesty, the relationship is one of false and deceptive profession? :-)
The influence of NPism and other such traditions is clearly seen in Kevin Johnson’s question:
Please Dr. White, tell us what the bonds of the gospel are. Do you mean that a brother is one who has legitimately professed faith in Christ?
No, a brother is one in whose life the Spirit of God has worked the miracle of regeneration, has taken out a heart of stone, giving a heart of flesh, a new nature, resulting in repentance and faith and confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As such, we serve a common master, share a common faith, and neither of us is seeking to enslave the other to a false gospel (does that seem just a tad…obvious?). The depth to which one will go to avoid these
plain truths is seen in the follow-up:
Where in Galatians is the word "brother" defined as one "in the bonds of the gospel"?
Hmm, am I seriously being asked to defend the idea that the term “brother” is consistently used by Paul in Galatians for those who are, in fact, opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are seeking to enslave believers? Would Mr. Johnson likewise defend such a viewpoint in Acts 20:29-30, where we have the very same kind of false brethren noted, men who are obviously “in” the church as well, but seek the destruction of God’s people? What would cause
anyone to desire to call such a person “brother”…outside of some external tradition, that is? But in answer to the question, do we really have to invest effort in supporting the supposition that Paul believed the purveyors of “another gospel” to be outside the realm of the faith (cf. 1:8-9)? No, Galatians does not offer us a dictionary definition of adelphos: it gives us, instead, a clear use of the term, both positively and negatively, that we can allow to have its full impact upon our thinking if we are willing to be taught thereby.
Mr. Johnson likewise falls into the same pit as Saul in ignoring the fact that Paul never addresses the false teachers directly in Galatians, but is instead writing to the church about them. The direct rebukes contained therein are to those who were in danger of abandoning the truth for their sham gospel. Again, this is basic material, but it seems to disappear in defense of “baptism makes everyone my brother---quit with all this ‘gospel’ stuff, I want objective certainty based upon human actions” stuff.
Well, much more to be said, but I have duties here on the Island to take care of. I’m sure my absence from my blog till next week (classes start Monday evening, teaching both Systematic Theology II and Development of Patristic Theology Through Augustine in a 5 hour block!) will be touted as my complete capitulation in the face of the overwhelming insights of the Truly Reformed. Alas, such is life! I personally will not sweat much over it…in fact, out here, I won’t be sweating at all!