(Once again, by the mouth of two or three witnesses: please see this excellent refutation of Armstrong’s errors on this same point).
I recently pointed out a basic, simplistic error in Dave Armstrong’s new book: he claims Protestants (he makes no distinctions) think elders, bishops, and deacons are all one office. He is, of course, wrong about this. I know Armstrong has not read it, and, to be honest, I doubt he will do so now, but he might actually benefit, just a bit, from reading Perspectives on Church Government: Five Views of Church Polity, edited by Chad Brand and R. Stanton Norman (Broadman-Holman, 2004). He won’t look at it since I wrote the article defending the plurality of elders, and he’s let us know he refuses to purchase my books except at used bookstores. That explains why he keeps repeating arguments with holes in them that have been pointed out in my debates, as they don’t appear in used bookstores! He intentionally wishes to remain ignorant of what is going on in that arena of modern Roman Catholic vs. Protestant debates. A mighty odd view of how to do apologetics.
In any case, Armstrong made a mistake on the level of my saying Catholics think Cardinals and acolytes are the same office. It’s just wrong. He can’t blame it on a typo. He really believed that we make no distinction between the two offices despite the fact that there are two lists of qualifications for the two offices in Scripture! And this from a man who is a former Protestant. This speaks to how solid his “Protestant” credentials really were, and he knows it.
Now, the proper way to respond to the error is to say, “I’m sorry, I should have been more careful. I confess I do not know nearly as much about what Protestants believe as I pretend to.” Of course, that won’t do, because Armstrong considers himself an expert in Protestant beliefs.
So how does Armstrong address the error? Here is yet another classic example of why there is no reason to address Armstrong outside of addressing his positive arguments. You see, he may have made a “poor choice of one word” but you see, really, it’s my fault anyway. Poor choice of one word? Poor choice of wording has to do with adjectives, not with completely blowing the Protestant view of the deaconate! But, read for yourself:
This is a case of a poor choice of one word (minor point) in the midst of a perfectly valid overall argument (major point); in other words, “majoring on the minors” (something White is extremely good at doing, as a first-rate sophist and obscurantist). It is true that this was an unwise use of “deacon”. If I had left out that word, the argument, coming from the hypothetical Protestant, would have been virtually identical to White’s own ecclesiology, since we see above that he equates elder and bishop…
When my point was that Armstrong’s book includes misrepresentations of Protestant belief, how can a plain example of this be a “minor” point? By saying this was an “unwise” use of “deacon,” would it follow that if I said “Catholics worship the Pope” I could excuse it later by saying “that was an unwise use of the word Pope”? It is this kind of refusal to simply admit, “OK, I was wrong,” that leaves Armstrong without a shred of credibility. But it gets worse.
If Armstrong would take the time to actually study the writings of those he critiques (rather than just proof-texting sources, often from secondary writings), he would know that Reformed Baptists have confessed the elder/bishop interchangeability since their inception; likewise, that we have always distinguished deacons from elders. And, he might actually have to deal with the reality that the Scriptures likewise use the terms interchangeably. This is not even a debatable topic, to be honest. It is a given, but, clearly, Armstrong is ignorant of the facts of the case. This is why he calls me “Bishop White,” though, of course, no one else does. He thinks it is funny, when all he is proving by using the phrase is that he is the one ignorant of the subjects he chooses to pontificate upon in his voluminous writings.
I would challenge Armstrong to prove that presbu,teroj is a distinct office from evpi,skopoj. He might wish to start in Acts 20, where the terms are used interchangeably (Paul calls for the presbute,rouj of the church in 20:17; he then calls the very same group evpisko,pouj who poimai,nw the church of God. For the fair-minded person not bound to Roman developments, the NT’s view is not even controversial. Armstrong claims:
Of course, the far greater burden lies on White, to establish his novel ecclesiology of bishops in the New Testament having no higher status than a mere elder or pastor of a local church (i.e., what he himself is). Hierarchical episcopacy is most apparent in the New Testament in the Council of Jerusalem.
First, I have done so, Armstrong’s refusal to read it notwithstanding (pp. 255-284 of the above cited work). Secondly, it isn’t “novel.” What Armstrong might try to deal with is this documentation on my part, posted years ago, demonstrating among other things that the monarchical episcopate at Rome was a second century development; i.e., that the Church at Rome did not have a single bishop until over a century after the resurrection! As to the Acts 15 Council, I would likewise refer him to my discussion of the Council in the above mentioned book (if he is actually willing to read the published works of others, anyway). If that is too much to ask, I addressed the issue on The Dividing Line as well, here. The fact that the Council is recorded in Scripture and is attended by apostles vitiates Armstrong’s argument, of course, for he seeks to make it normative for the non-apostolic period.
Next, Armstrong attempts to deal with the issue I raised regarding the fact that his citation of Matthew 16:19 does not say what he wishes it to say. Sadly, he, and his readers, do not seem to understand that saying “Jesus gave the keys only to Peter” is an invalid conclusion from the future-tense promise that Jesus would give the keys to Peter. The “alone” part falls off if you do not have the fulfillment recorded in Scripture. How do you know Peter alone received the keys? Matthew 16:19 refers to a future event. There is, in fact, an event that fulfills the language in Matthew 18, but that cannot do for the Roman Catholic, because there, no distinction is made between Peter and the other apostles. So we are left to either conclude as many in the early church did that Peter received the keys equally with others (the Roman argument being a later development), or, that the Bible does not tell us anything about when Peter received the keys. But if that is the case, then no one can possibly claim he alone received them, for there is no logical grounds upon which to say “Since Jesus promised to give the keys to Peter it follows that He did not give them to anyone else either.” Centuries later Roman pontiffs might wish to make that claim, but there is no reason at all to assume it as Armstrong does. But this fact is missed by him and his writers. One comments,
[A]t Matt. 16:18, Jesus says to Peter that He “will” give Peter the keys of the kingdom. Is he trying to say that Jesus is not a person that keeps His word because the Scriptures don’t record the actual conveyance of keys later? If one reduces Mr. White’s argument to its logical conclusion, it would suggest that Jesus is not “the Man of His Word (pun intended).
How anyone can so completely miss the point is difficult to see: Armstrong says Jesus gave the keys to Peter alone in Matthew 16:19. The text does not say this. Armstrong is in error. I have asked Armstrong to explain how he grounds his claim. Armstrong then comments in response to the above:
Yes, I thought this was rather bizarre and striking also. What does it matter what tense the statement was? Obviously Peter was singled out for an extraordinary position and we can assume from common sense that Jesus intended for this to be during his earthly lifetime.
So who cares whether it was a reference to the future? The fact remains that only Peter was promised the “keys of the kingdom.” What God says will happen inevitably does happen. Another fallacy of White is to assume that “binding and loosing” represents the sum total of the responsibilities and prerogatives of the “keyholder.” This is untrue. It involves much more than that.
Note that for Armstrong, basic exegetical facts about the texts he so glibly cites in error are “bizarre.” This is the result of Roman authority claims. If a Jehovah’s Witness replied to Armstrong, “Who cares what tense the verb is in John 1:1, that’s bizarre!” would he have to grant his argument validity? Surely not.
At this point Armstrong once again demonstrates his utter incapacity for scholarly, germane debate. He writes,
Since Bishop White was apparently unable to locate this paper on my blog: the very one that already has the answers to his current arguments, I will cite a few of the things in it, all written by Protestant Bible scholars.
First, there is nothing, absolutely positively nothing, in what he cites, addressing the meaning of dw,sw and his own claims regarding Matthew 16:19. Hence, we have paragraph after paragraph of text reposted as if it is a refutation of my statements, when, logically, it is nothing but smoke and dust. This is Dave Armstrong’s modus operandi, one that has been documented over and over again. And, since it is simply all the man has, he will only keep proving my point if he tries to reply further, or, he will do what he has done in the past, take his ball, and run home. In either case, the facts will be plain for any fair-minded person to review.
The lengthy materials posted about Matthew 16 and Isaiah 22 have been refuted over and over again in my public debates with men such as Gerry Matatics, Robert Sungenis, Scott Butler and Mitch Pacwa. I refer the reader to those debates for the arguments Armstrong ignores.
Upon finishing reposting a few pages of simplistic apologetics materials that have stood refuted for years, Armstrong beats upon his chest and writes,
I have replied to his criticism of my book, which was the purpose of this paper. All he could muster up was two objections: one on a pretty minor point that has now been clarified, and the other one virtually a non-argument, so silly and frivolous is it (as if the future tense makes any difference as to the essence of Jesus’ commission to St. Peter).
Evidently, Dave thinks I have completed my review. I haven’t. I’ve just begun. And if this kind of reply is indicative of what we can expect in the future, well, Dave is going to be very busy making up excuses for his mistakes. So let’s make sure we understand: if you completely blow your representations of what others believe on a basic level, just laugh it off as a minor point; then, when faced with the reality that you have never, ever even tried to provide a meaningful, exegetical defense of your citation of a passage of Scripture, just laugh that off too as “silly and frivolous” and a “non-argument.” Evidently, this is the path to success as a Roman Catholic apologist in the Dave Armstrong tradition. Just so we are clear on how this works.
Next, I documented Armstrong’s error concerning the term “sanctification” in my earlier article. Once again, Armstrong refuses to acknowledge his mistakes, and blames it again on “poor choice of words.” We are starting to see a pattern here: “When I make mistakes, they are not mistakes; they are poor choices of words. I get to change any words I write once someone is mean enough to point out that I am wrong, and, they are mean and unloving for pointing such things out anyway.” Armstrongianism 4:17. After posting a bunch of citations from Protestant theologians demonstrating that his current book is wrong in what it says, he writes,
“Future tense only” was a poor choice of words (no writer who ever lived has ever used only the best words at all times, that would be perfectly understood, so this is a yawner). What would more accurately convey my meaning and understanding of Protestant theology would be “present and future, as opposed to past tense, as in justification.” Speaking of sanctification in the past tense is foreign to Protestant theology, as these citations show (yet 1 Corinthians 6:11 puts it in the past tense).
Now, I wonder, when I point out yet again that Protestant theologians are fully and completely aware of the use of the term sanctification in a positional sense, and hence can be used in the past-tense, will Armstrong once again say that even here he has “poorly chosen” his words? The fact is simple: Dave Armstrong has no idea what he’s talking about. Protestant theology recognizes two senses to the term sanctification, one that is positional, one that is experiential and progressive. Yes, we distinguish it, as one must, biblically, from justification, but it does not follow that we do not refer to a past-tense idea of being “made holy” or “sanctified. Flipping open a single Protestant Systematic Theology within arm’s reach of my keyboard, we find,
Sanctification is generally thought of as a process, and there is certainly a sense in which it is. But the New Testament often represents the Christian as one who has been sanctified, and therefore as one who has been definitively constituted in some way and on some basis holy (see Acts 20:32; 26:18; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11; Eph. 5:26; note the perfect tense of a`gia,zw, hagiazo in the first three references and the aorist tense in the last two references, as well as the numerous instances where Christians are called “saints” or “holy ones”). (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, Thomas Nelson, 1998, p. 756).
So, the fact remains, Armstrong’s published book is in error on this point. Period, end of discussion. He can admit it, or not, or spin it, or climb a tree while wearing leather, or explode in a brilliant orange fireball, it matters not.
Now, he had further erred in saying sanctification is not “technically related to salvation at all.” Every single Systematic Theology will treat sanctification under soteriology. This is another simple error on his part. Will he admit it? Of course not:
Note that I stated that sanctification was “technically – not related to salvation at all”. This is standard Protestant soteriology. Anyone who knows that theology would know exactly what I mean here (it’s not a poor choice of words this time). But White, in his ongoing effort to “prove” that I am a clueless imbecile in biblical and Protestant theology (and Catholic, too, I imagine he probably thinks), uses a clever technique of sophistry by implying that by saying it is not “technically” (i.e., abstractly) related to salvation in Protestant thought is the equivalent of asserting that it has no relation (in practical terms) or “intimate connection” to justification and salvation at all.
Note how if I point out his errors, I am engaging in sophistry, and that while he is spinning his own words and hiding behind paper-thin excuses like “poor choice of words.” When Dave Armstrong says “this is standard Protestant soteriology,” he is once again demonstrating that he has no idea what “standard Protestant soteriology” actually is. The only basis upon which sanctification has taken place, and can take place experientially, is through the accomplishment of God’s purpose in the life of the elect believer, and this is part and parcel of the work of God in saving said believer. That’s soteriology, whether Dave Armstrong knows it or not.
He then posts a number of paragraphs on the topic of the distinction, in Protestant theology, between justification and sanctification, as if this is relevant. Unless Armstrong is going to admit that he errantly identifies justification as “salvation,” en toto, he is continuing to bay at the moon with this kind of argumentation. He simply cannot rescue himself from his own errors, no matter how many pages of verbiage he throws at it. Evidently, he does actually believe that at least some will be impressed enough by the sheer volume of reply that they won’t notice that he has completely failed to rehabilitate himself. But that point is not lost on any careful reader, to be sure.
Now, I began work yesterday on the next portion of my review, and in the process of so doing, decided to bring in material from Scott Hahn’s newest book as well, for it contains many parallels to Armstrong’s. I may well have to leave it to others to point out the various implosions and explosions that will surely appear under Armstrong’s name as a result of having his work examined critically. As you can see from this article, it takes far longer to correct errors (especially those designed to deflect the truth) than it does to present them in the first place, and documenting the many errors of Dave Armstrong is not the central aspect of my calling or ministry.