With Hair Ablaze

Now I know that I have some Roman Catholics readers of this blog, and I know that when I get on a jag like this you must feel like I do when I read Chesterton writing about Calvinism. That feeling being an approximation of something like epistemic anguish and head-wrenching, I can only assure you all that if I could do anything about it, I would. But here I sit, as Luther might have said, typing with my hair ablaze with the flames of truth. And there is nothing that can be done about that.

ecumenism

My friend Rich Bledsoe has written this piece about the need for Protestants to outgrow their adolescent rebelliousness, and to reconcile with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Since I am already on this jag, I thought a few additional observations need to be made. In discussions like this, we are reasoning from premises, and I don’t believe that all those premises floated down to us in a cloud of self-evidency. I think we need less outrage at some of the conclusions, and more prudential questioning of some of the premises.

First, we tend to just assume that Protestantism is shattered into a zillion pieces, unlike Rome, because look what happens when you allow private judgment and all those home Bible studies. But I don’t think this is accurate at all. I wrote in some detail about this a few years ago, and a few paragraphs are below. If you want to read the whole thing, you can do that here.

“Here I would simply issue a flat denial. No, it hasn’t. While I agree that the divisions in Christendom are greatly to be lamented, I would also say that the situation is not as bad as it is frequently portrayed by Roman Catholic apologists (e.g. “25,000 Protestant denominations”). The actual figure is much lower-and most likely comes from David Barrett’s World Christian Encyclopedia. As of 1982, he identified seven major ecclesiastical blocs, and some 22,190 denominations fall under these seven blocs. The first bloc is Roman Catholic, which contains 223 denominations. The Orthodox give us 580. Non-White Indigenous gives us 10,956. Anglicans account for 240. Marginal Protestants (Mormons, JWs, etc.) add up to 1,490 denominations. (Non-Roman) Catholics give us 504 denominations. Coming in at #2 would be the Protestants with 8,196.

But wait, we’re not done. This Protestant figure counts (necessarily) independent Baptist jurisdictions, so that if a city has seven different independent Baptist churches, this counts as seven different denominations. The same skewed effect happens with the 194 Latin-rite denominations. Countering this optical illusion, Barrett goes on to break the seven major ecclesiastical blocs into what he calls “major ecclesiastical traditions,” where I think we come up with an accurate number. So that I don’t bore you, let me just focus on the division of three of the major blocs. The Orthodox are divided up into nineteen traditions, the Roman Catholics have sixteen, and the Protestants have twenty-one. If we throw the Anglicans in, they account for another six. Far from Bedlam, this appears to be simply the cost of the gospel doing business in a fallen world. But whichever door you choose, you have lots of work for private judgment to do in following up that choice.”

So to put it in a nutshell, before we start trying to solve the problems of unique Protestant fragmentation, we should make sure that there actually is such a thing. It is actually not unique at all. This is a people problem, not a Protestant problem, and it is not a metastasizing problem (e.g. bajillions of denominations).

Second, I am concerned that Rich was using an optional sociological or historical metaphor (Rome and EO being the parents, and Protestants the children) in a way that might get tangled up with the necessary exegetical and theological metaphor. I fully agree with Calvin that we cannot count God as our Father unless the Church is our Mother. And he was agreeing with Paul. “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26). But this is true now — we don’t need to do anything to make it more true. The Jerusalem above is free, and is not subject to the machinations of all the Diotrophian schemers that we find teeming all through church history. Why on earth should I have to make my peace with Alexander VI in order to be at peace with God?

Third, even given the metaphor we still have to follow it out. There is a vast difference between a rebellious teenager running away from home because he cannot deal with the tyranny of an eleven pm curfew, and a teenager being driven from an abusive house of horrors. Any counselors who treat the latter as though it were the former are simply continuing the abuse.

You cannot just point to the fact that an entity is older historically and create obligations that way. Cain was older than Abel. Ishmael was older than Isaac. Esau was older than Jacob. Reuben was older than Judah. Eliab was older than David.

If it were just a matter of chronology, we would need to be deep into ecumenical discussions with the Jews. They were the covenant people of God, they were branches in the olive tree, and they were there ages before any of my people were grafted in. But why doesn’t this settle it? Because the olive tree has a husbandman, one who both prunes and grafts. A newer branch can be on the tree, partaking of the root and fatness of the tree, and an older branch can be on the ground, waiting to be taken off to the burn pile.

It is striking, I might mention in passing, that the apostle Paul saw the stirrings of the hubris that would get the Church of Rome into so much trouble over the centuries, and he taught them, in a letter addressed to them by name (Rom. 1:7) that they were not the root. They were branches, and if they ever forgot that true attachment to the tree was accomplished sola fide, they would be removed, just as the unbelieving Jews had been. They did not support the root, but rather it was the other way around (Rom. 11:18)

Next, when it comes to the ecumenical dialog on things like justification by faith alone, we have to do much more than simply “let the Lutherans handle it.” How much of the ecumenical dialog today is being pursued, on both sides, by theological liberals? Are they reconciling great truth claims, or are they putting all truth claims into a bucket so they can pour in the paint thinner? In his great book Christianity and Liberalism, Machen said — and I agree with him — that he had far more in common with conservative Roman Catholics than he did with liberals. Liberals represented another faith entirely, while Rome was a deficient expression of the Christian faith. So before we let the “Lutherans do it,” what kind of Lutherans are we talking about? See the cartoon above.

Fifth, it will not do to argue that we are unlettered Protestants and do not understand the subtleties of the Roman view of justification. I agree with the way Tim Challies approaches this whole question. Let us simply ask whether Rome understands our position, and can they articulate in a way that would enable us to agree with the representation? And then ask further what their response to that understanding is. Challies points out that they get it, and that they damn it.

And last, if any of my RC friends are still reading, let me say something in conclusion that my Baptist friends won’t get at all. I do believe the Roman Catholic church is a church in some sense — otherwise we wouldn’t receive RC baptisms when we bring someone into membership. We don’t require re-baptism, precisely because we are not sectarian. In a similar fashion, if a Roman Catholic visited our church and wanted to partake with us in communion, he would be violating the teaching of his own church . . . but not of ours. As far as we are concerned, he would be welcome. In addition to all this, I have received great profit by reading books by Roman Catholic thinkers, and I feel like Augustine getting edified by some of the Donatists. Life is funny, but none of this changes the issue of the foundational truth claims.

I say this because I really am a postmillennial ecumenist. Shoot, if I believe that the Jewish branches will be grafted back in, as I do, then why wouldn’t I be willing for full reconciliation with Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy? This is actually the point where I agree with Rich Bledsoe. Protestants must be open to reconciliation with Rome and with EO. But to be open to such a thing means that we must be just as open to those things which are prerequisites to any such reconciliation. I cannot be open to a harvest of apples, but closed to the planting of the orchard. If I am open to reconciliation with Rome, and I am, then I must be equally open to an insistence that we all accept, in word and deed, sola fide, that we all abandon our idols, that we cease praying to Mary, and that we ditch the funny hats. We are the Christian church, not the Moose Lodge.

Okay, okay. Last thing. Was the hat joke really necessary, Mr. Strive for Postmillennial Peace? Let me tell you a story. Years ago, I was reading along in Augustine’s City of God, and I got to that place where he starting making fun of the pagan priests with their silly mitred hats. And so, hmmm, I thought, and glanced at the cover of my book. There was Augustine, in a silly mitred hat. So, yes, the hats have to go. We can call that agenda item something more dignified if you like, such as dealing with ecclesiastical anachronisms, but there is an important point in there.

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46 thoughts on “With Hair Ablaze

  1. As soon as I read “Mr. Strive for Postmillennial Peace” I heard the voice of the old Bud Light “Great American Heroes/Men of Genius” voice in my head. Good post!

  2. Excellent post! I enjoyed it and agreed with most of it. But I have a couple of points of push back.

    First, we must note that Benedict (and Francis to a lesser degree) made comments moderating the condemnation of protestant Justification (I can provide links to anyone interested). Benedict basically said that the protestant view was ok. So, I think there may be some effort to reconcile going on the the RC side.

    Second, I think that there is something to the charge of a lack of visible structure to the Protestant church. It may be that seven baptist churches are actually one theological perspective, but they still lack the ecclesiastical unity which is not unimportant.

    And here is why it is important: Let’s say we wanted to have a church council to address a controversy (homosexual marriage for example) and we wanted to make a strong statement. So, we issue a call to all the seven groups in the church to send representatives to make a statement to the world about what Christianity teaches on this issue. Who do we contact in the baptist church? Who do the send? Who can speak for them? And the baptists are an extreme example of a broader problem in Protestantism. Presbyterians might be able to make a statement as the PCA but would the OPC be on board with our statement? Would the CREC?

    If Christians broadly speaking make up 2.3 billion humans on earth, the protestant church (depending on how you define it and whether or not you count Anglicans) is about 800 million of that. Roman Catholics are 1.2 billion and EO are 300 million.

    Who can speak to issues like abortion, communism, gay marriage and etc globally for the church? Right now, only one person: the Pope. Why him? Because the RCC has visible unity. The many sects and divisions in the RCC still claim unity under him. The RCC can have a council and speak for over half the visible church (1.2 billion people) globally. The baptists on their best day can get 16 million together. The PCA is less than half a million.

    In short, this lack of visible unity takes away from our voice. We have nothing to say the world on the level of say Nicea or Chalcedon.

    What did the church teach on slavery? Was it the Wilberforce approach or the Southern approach? Noone can say because the Protestant church said nothing (having no voice). What does the church say on gay marriage? Is it the PCUSAs embrace of all things tolerant or the PCAs strong stance?

    Our voice is muffled at best without visible unity. That is why I think discussions with the biggest voice in the room (Rome) might be a good thing. Maybe Rome could make a Protestant Rite in which those joining could keep their worship style and basic doctrines? Maybe we could strike some sort of on structure removing the Pope to be simply ‘first among equals’ and no longer the infallible leader he claims to be. I do not know the mechanics of how unity could happen. But I don’t think we can deny there is any problem on unity or claim that Rome doesn’t have some advantage on the point. And I do think visible unity is something we should all pray for and work for.

  3. Excellent post! I enjoyed it and agreed with most of it. But I have a couple of points of push back.

    First, we must note that Benedict (and Francis to a lesser degree) made comments moderating the condemnation of protestant Justification (I can provide links to anyone interested). Benedict basically said that the protestant view was ok. So, I think there may be some effort to reconcile going on the the RC side.

    Second, I think that there is something to the charge of a lack of visible structure to the Protestant church. It may be that seven baptist churches are actually one theological perspective, but they still lack the ecclesiastical unity which is not unimportant.

    And here is why it is important: Let’s say we wanted to have a church council to address a controversy (homosexual marriage for example) and we wanted to make a strong statement. So, we issue a call to all the seven groups in the church to send representatives to make a statement to the world about what Christianity teaches on this issue. Who do we contact in the baptist church? Who do the send? Who can speak for them? And the baptists are an extreme example of a broader problem in Protestantism. Presbyterians might be able to make a statement as the PCA but would the OPC be on board with our statement? Would the CREC?

    If Christians broadly speaking make up 2.3 billion humans on earth, the protestant church (depending on how you define it and whether or not you count Anglicans) is about 800 million of that. Roman Catholics are 1.2 billion and EO are 300 million.

    Who can speak to issues like abortion, communism, gay marriage and etc globally for the church? Right now, only one person: the Pope. Why him? Because the RCC has visible unity. The many sects and divisions in the RCC still claim unity under him. The RCC can have a council and speak for over half the visible church (1.2 billion people) globally. The baptists on their best day can get 16 million together. The PCA is less than half a million.

    In short, this lack of visible unity takes away from our voice. We have nothing to say the world on the level of say Nicea or Chalcedon.

    What did the church teach on slavery? Was it the Wilberforce approach or the Southern approach? Noone can say because the Protestant church said nothing (having no voice). What does the church say on gay marriage? Is it the PCUSAs embrace of all things tolerant or the PCAs strong stance?

    Our voice is muffled at best without visible unity. That is why I think discussions with the biggest voice in the room (Rome) might be a good thing. Maybe Rome could make a Protestant Rite in which those joining could keep their worship style and basic doctrines? Maybe we could strike some sort of a deal on church structure removing the Pope to be simply ‘first among equals’ and no longer the infallible leader he claims to be. Maybe bishops could be elected presbyter-representatives in the Protestant Rite. I do not know the mechanics of how unity could happen. But I don’t think we can deny there is any problem on unity or claim that Rome doesn’t have some advantage on the point. And I do think visible unity is something we should all pray for and work for.

  4. Some branches of the Christian faith (whether Roman, Reformed, Anglican, etc) seem to have locked themselves in a cage of historic traditions and are proud of that cage, but I think it’s also possible for evangelicals to lock those same Christians in that cage when they might actually be moving to get out of it. For example, I’ve known a type of evangelical who wants to dig up every little fault of Rome’s past in order to remind Catholics of how wrong and different they are, but wrapping that past around their neck is not helping them to grow out from it. We need to ask ourselves if it is our goal to see Roman Catholicism reformed, or to see it emptied because it can’t be reformed. The answer to that question says a lot about what kind of reformed tradition we belong to ourselves.

    Some say that the Protestant Reformation was about justification by faith alone, or the many abuses of the Papacy. Those may have been triggers, but I don’t think they capture the great divide at all. I say this because Protestant churches are just as capable of the same magnitude and scope of abuses as Rome, and we can still identify with other Protestant churches who are all over the map regarding justification. I believe the real barrier has to do with authority. All manner of doctrinal differences can be the topic of reform and debate when parties are all claiming submission to the same authority (Scripture). But, as we have even seen here on this blog, Rome asserts an authority that trumps Scripture. They hold us to an independent standard of authority (tradition) that we simply do not recognize, and, frankly, they do not submit to the authority of Scripture when their tradition differs.

    The problem isn’t even that Rome has traditions that they hold themselves to. If they want to call Mary a co-redemptrix and venerate icons, that will be between them and God. The problem is that they go around anathematizing those who don’t subscribe to their extrabiblical requirements. They anathematize those who refuse to venerate icons, something which Scripture never requires. They can wink at all manner of indigenous paganism and syncretism so long as the people nod to the authority of Rome’s traditions, yet they are unwilling to receive those who wish to submit narrowly to the requirements set forth in Scripture alone. This is what has caused the lasting barrier.

    If Rome could see its way to formally embrace those who submit to all of the requirements set forth in Scripture (at a minimum), without anathematizing them, then it would go a long way toward healing the rift. I think this may actually be possible if we allow Rome to reform itself without caging them to their past. As evidence that this may be possible, consider that Rome apparently now sees no need to proselytize Jews. Apparently Jews don’t need Christ to be saved. This is a significant break from Rome’s previous tradition, but it means they can reform, and perhaps some day a person who submits to the binding requirements shown in Scripture will be regarded as a brother by Roman Catholics. Perhaps they will, one day, be able to look at us and see Christ in us.

    What do you say Rome? Are we still anathema or not?

  5. While the final third of your piece significantly deflated my balloon, it was ready to burst before that. Thank you. I know my view is the minority, but still want to ask this question- working with Paul’s warning- has Rome been cut off? If so, why do you accept them at the table, and their baptisms? If not, what’s the point of calling on Paul here? Finally, if this is not a distraction from your piece, would you marry a member of your church to a member of a Roman Catholic communion? If not, can you explain why you would accept their baptisms, and even more pressing, why you would welcome them to the table? Thanks.

  6. Willis,

    Presumptuous Israel also wanted a visible leadership/unity structure through a visible king when the invisible King wasn’t good enough, also claiming pragmatic benefits (1 Sa 8:20) in originating a leadership/unity with syncretistic corporeal visibility (Judges 9:8,22,23; 1 Sa 8:5,6,7,8).

    Now that the Lord Jesus Christ’s apostles and their partners/apostles (2 Co 8:23) are in heaven, hopefully enough of the church will continue to remember that a less visible unity of pastorally authoritative leadership/spokesmen at each church under an invisible King of kings is regulatively sufficient without having to make up post-apostolic pastorally authoritative offices/councils consisting of regional/national (super-) overseers/elders/pastors to reign over the overseers/elders/pastors at each of the churches in the world.

    Beyond bowing before sacred idols/statues/images (Lv 26:1; Dt 4:15,16; Micah 5:13; Judges 17:3,4,5,12,13; Is 19:3), trying to communicate with dead people against Is 19:3; 8:19,20; Dt 18:10,11,12 (e.g. attempting to manipulate the Lord into doing something by getting His mom to agree first with the request), and foolish false Tridentine doctrine of justification (against Eph 2:8,9,10) among other arbitrary traditions of men; no worries about not also reconciling/syncretizing unto a visibly unified leadership of extrabiblical pastorally authoritative pyramidical mother-church structure as Scripture shows the Lord directing His Apostle John to send His letter of Scripture to the seven churches in Asia, directly to a “messenger” of each of them (Rv 2:1; 1:20; Mk 1:2; Lk 7:24; 9:52; James 2:25) apart from any future direction/inspiration as a contrary basis for regulatively forming a visibly unity of leadership of pastorally authoritative pyramidical offices/councils.

  7. Central to the discussion of Roman Catholicism is that, no matter what this or that Pope says, at the heart of Rome’s own belief is that they not only do not err, but that their theology does not change. When pressed, they will acknowledge Trent, and say “we’ve moved beyond that now”, but ultimately in their eyes Trent did not err, does not err and cannot err. Hence there is no need to change or vacate its anathemas.

    And it is not foolish for us to insist that with Trent still on the table there can be no reconciliation.

  8. Brian,

    Israel and the church are two separate things. Wanting a king and wanting visible unity are not the same thing nor does one being a sin prove the other is. Jesus himself prayed for unity in the church (John 17) and we know from church history that visible unity has done much good (the creeds and councils are the result of such unity). Do you reject the creeds and the councils?

    And if we can agree that visible unity is a good thing (jesus prayed for it and I think that we have to grant such) and that it has done much good (creeds and councils etc) I think we cannot draw the parallel you are trying to draw.

    Further, we see in Acts 15, that the church functioned as a unified denomination with a voice that spoke beyond their own nation/congregation. So your point is pretty clearly not a biblical one in my opinion.

    Now, regarding your critiques of the RCC. I agree on most of them. Obviously the areas of prayer to saints, use of statues in worship, and justification need reform. But many of these areas were wrong well before the Reformation and pre-Reformation saints attempted to fix from within (to varying degrees of success). Plenty of saints pre-Reformation saw unity as something important enough to avoid schism even though they disagreed on many other important things. And your last point about Revelation and the churches found there does not make Acts 15 irrelevant or the great global importance of the Councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon, Ephesus, and Constantinople or the Creeds of the Apostles, Athanasius and Nicaea. It does not take away from the good that we shared as a unified church for those early centuries after Christ’s resurrection.

    So, your argument fails in pretty much every way. But it is a good example of why unity is going to be difficult to achieve. There are a lot of people on all sides who hold such views.

  9. Hi Mark,

    In my experience, when I am trying to reconcile with someone I have had a fight with, I do not find it helpful for me to read over and recall ever statement they ever made that was hurtful or wrong and refuse any unity with them until they issue a formal apology. “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” I think if the Catholic Church in 2014 says that Luther was right, then we should rejoice (and not stubbornly refuse to hear it until we get our apology for things said 500 years ago). And guess what? Pope Benedict said something pretty close to that. I quote:

    “Luther’s phrase: “faith alone” is true, if it is not opposed to faith in charity, in love.” (Source)

    That sounds like a far cry from Trent to me. And we should be happy about that. Some day both Protestants and Catholics can go through our history and air our grievances and issue formal apologies. How about for now, we celebrate when we agree on stuff?

  10. Perhaps Messianic Judaism could end up being a key for reconciliation and reform? Its practitioners do generally agree that justification is by faith alone (most similarly to N.T. Wright), while they also have an emphasis on works Roman Catholics may find somewhat continuous with their own understanding.

  11. Having been recently reminded of this famous quote on one of my other favorite blogs today, I cannot help but paraphrase it here. (and it is not aimed at any one person in particular)

    “You keep using that word, Church. I do not think that it means what you think it means.”

  12. Hi Willis,

    Maybe it’s not charitable or loving of me, but I would want some help in parsing what follows the “if”. How exactly could “faith alone” be opposed to “faith in charity, in love”?

    In my experience observing transactions of other Reformed apologists with RC theologians (i.e. blogging ones), a pretty big truckload of necessary works can be driven through that clause.

  13. Willis,

    First of all, the way the church in Israel prior to the New Covenant behaved serves as an example (sometimes a bad one) for the church today (1 Co 10:6,7,8,9,10,11,12; Heb 4:11). Thus, these former and latter churches are not categorically “separate” or incomparable when it comes to moral evaluation of a church’s conduct in faith toward God. Israel wanted inter-congregational visible unity via presumptive new leadership beyond what was regulatively sufficient, and you are proposing a similar non-regulative inter-congregational pyramidic visible unity/leadership.

    The invisible King (and thus the visible unity He prescribed) was deemed not enough as the existing structure/means of visible unity was being unfaithfully/non-regulatively added to in Israel’s case, and in what the type of visible unity that you are proposing seems to be likewise unfaithfully additive, being beyond what is prescribed for visible unity. Hence, my original cautionary exhortation/comment.

    Now of course, I am not against all forms of visible unity. I was discussing a very specific type of visible unity, as I referred to a pyramidically authoritative pastoral visible unity of post-apostolic offices and councils. Since I am not against all forms of visible unity, then your statement that Jesus prayed for visible unity is irrelevant. But, if you can show that Jesus was necessarily praying for post-apostolic pastoral inter-church visible unity within a mother-church pyramidic structure (which you proposed) then mentioning Jesus’ prayer would be relevant and helpful to counter my claim/caution that such visible unity is not regulative/warranted.

    Also, even if I don’t “reject” the notion that the creeds and councils were 100% correct in every decision or statement that was made as a result without ever contradicting themselves, then that would also be irrelevant to the concern raised regarding if the creeds and councils had biblical warrant to be pastorally authoritative over other churches — again, that is the nature of the discussion in my previous comment. The fact that some set of good consequences came out of some means (councils) would not relevantly imply that the means of such councils themselves is biblically warranted as regulative or even good.

    Yes, according to Acts 15 when the apostles were in the church in Jerusalem, they’re writing of infallible word-of-God authoritative letters from the church in Jerusalem to other churches (e.g. Antioch) so that the church was speaking with a unified voice beyond their “denomination/congregation.” Secondarily, the men that were promoting circumcision came from the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1,24 cf. Gal 2:12), so it would be useful to know that the problematic Judiazing didn’t implicitly have the Jerusalem church’s or her apostles/elders (e.g. James’) endorsement, and that a inter-church letter from Jerusalem to Antioch showed that the problem/issue stemming from Judea/Jerusalem had been doctrinally resolved at the source.

    However, now that the apostles have died, none of the elders/churches in Jerusalem today do not have such absolute infallible authority to be added to the pages of Scripture and speak with such authority to or for some set (to include Antioch) of churches. This is why I used ‘post-apostolic’, and to leave that consideration out in your critique is another form of an irrelevant straw-man.

    The apostles of Christ necessarily had biblical warrant for such authority over elders according to the Scriptures that was unique to them as prophets of the Word of God. But such biblical warrant is not extended from anyone today.

    Likewise, whatever council the apostles are speaking their infallible message from would also have biblical warrant to have authority over the churches in Antioch and everywhere else. Yet, that overseeing/pastoral inter-church pyramidic infallible apostolic authority doesn’t so broadly extend from any council today.

    So, my point indeed does remain “Biblical” because it’s the infallibly inspired apostles that give the letter from Jerusalem essentially its inter-church and inter-Christian authority. Without this essential characteristic, it would be just one church exerting its authority over another arbitrarily (to include cases of arbitrary consent to) forming an extrabiblical inter-church pyramid structure and designating a Pope/Council over all the churches and degrees of (super-)bishops/pastors/elders down to the churches themselves.

    Therefore, in determining whether or not another’s argument holds or fails via your analysis, you ought to do a better job making sure that your analysis: (1) stays relevant/non-fallacious, (2) doesn’t overgeneralize, (3) doesn’t operate on the fallacious premise that a good consequence/result is sufficient for a mechanism/means to have Biblical warrant, (4) doesn’t employ a straw man where important/core premises of the analyzed argument are not adequately being taken into account, or (5) properly distinguishes between & accounts for temporally varying essential and non-essential characteristics between situations (especially after such characteristics have already been qualified).

  14. Brian,

    The church is not a one to one of the Israeli government OT. We do not carry swords, nor do we sit in a specific geographic area. There are clear and obvious differences. Further, it should be noted that before and after Saul became the first king, Israel had visible unity (under judges and prophets). Israel was able to speak with one voice.

    And from your comments, it sounds like (although you accept some of their conclusions) you reject the idea of councils. This seems strange to me since Acts 15 demonstrates the church doing this and I would hope that we are building our ideas of church on the bible and not human ideas of free markets. To say that this was only appropriate as the bible was being written is adding to the bible in my opinion and makes any hope of a biblical ecclesiology impossible.

  15. Hi Mark,

    I would agree that Benedict’s statement is not a strong statement against the Catholics practicing works righteousness. But would you not agree that it at least allows a Catholic holding to Luther’s idea of Justification to remain in the church without being condemned? Isn’t that major progress from Trent (where they said holding Lutheran views of justification were anathema)?

  16. I do hope that some of your Catholic readers get involved in these discussions.

    Thanks for covering this topic, Pastor Wilson; I’m really needing it.

  17. #1 Catholic fan here. I love this post and I’d even be willing to ditch the hats. But you’d have to pry my rosary beads out of my cold, dead heads!!!

    In all seriousness, I think “willis” makes a number of good points and would simply echo Pastor Wilson — we both need to do a good job of making sure we understand each other first and then figure out what that means. If I don’t understand what you mean by “justification by faith alone” that is a problem. But likewise, it is all well and good for Challies to list the anathemas of Trent — does he understand why the Church thinks the way she does? Or to put it differently, does he understand the theology behind the anathemas:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08573a.htm

    We can quote the occasional scripture verse just as well as the next guy ;-)

  18. “otherwise we wouldn’t receive RC baptisms when we bring someone into membership”.

    Thanks for another good reminder of why I abandoned the heresy of paedobaptism…

  19. Willis,

    There are still some discontinuities from what may be happening in Acts where there is apostolic/prophetic witness of Christ’s generation, and to what is happening today without such apostles/prophets. If something in Scripture relies on a living prophet officiating/serving with infallible authority, then that will be discontinued today since infallible authority doesn’t now exist incidentally in an office/council comprised of anyone presently living.

    For instance, we see the church practicing revelational gifts, but actually it is not adding to (the sufficiency of) Scripture to believe that only the subset of gifts that do rely on contemporary revelation are being distributed by the Spirit, and remain for the church to practice with biblical/regulative warrant. Consequently, to teach the knee-jerk overgeneralization of: “Well now, then ‘it’s impossible to have any hope’ of believing the Spirit is practicing any gifts whatsoever, whether revelational or the remaining non-revelational.” Such an overgeneneralization is not based on good and necessary consequence, fallaciously assumes what is true for one member of the set is true for all members, and is effectively extrabiblically additive against Sola Scriptura.

    Likewise, contrary to what you said, “any hope of biblical ecclesiology or visible unity” then is not “impossible,” but only such a non-regulative ecclesiological/visible unity “impossibility” that would carry the inter-church pyramidical pastoral/elder authority (of an apostle or prophet), to include one church with Biblical warrant communicating with one voice genuinely authoritatively prescriptions to another (and all) local churches like we see in Acts 15.

    Sorry, but just as many Pentecostals need to learn, it is not enough to soundly say/reason that because something is in Acts 15, then such a description/example serves as an implicit biblically warranted prescriptive of how the church ought to believe/function today. In learning this, our biblically regulated faith/theology/practice is recognizably more complicated (but not “impossible”), but God is King, so it’s an essential distinction we ought to make/employ, lest we non-regulatively continue to overgeneralize.

    If we don’t learn that essential distinguishing premise, then it makes sense to see that we will continue to unsoundly in the name of Sola Scriptura for regulative biblical warrant attempt to continue to believe in revelatory gifts or even intERlocal church pyramidic offices/councils of super-overseers/elders/pastors that are claimed to be pastorally authoritative (vs. non-authoritatively informative) over other churches & their intRAlocal church council of elders (rather than rely only on the remaining biblical forms of authoritative visible unity in the local churches and their elders that doesn’t rely on the contemporary office of a living prophet/apostle).

    With regard to what you wrote about the example of OT judges:

    The “one-voice” stare-decisis (Dt 17:8,9,10,11,12; Dt 17:13; Ex 19:19,21,22,24,25,26) overseeing prophetic (or even avenging sword bearing) authority of judges over all of Israel that would continue when there is continuing revelation (Dt 18:18) does not now exist inter-congregationally as did to some degree for the Apostles of Christ and their partners/delegates now that the revelatory gifts (e.g. the one-voice of prophetic Scripture writing for all the church like we see in Acts 15) are put out of gear. So, that would be a false analogy to apply today from Judges.

    As what I wrote before in a few paragraphs above about the NT and functions/operations that rely on prophetic revelation, just because something is seen for the church in the OT, is not enough/sufficient to believe it is to be applied to the church today; reliance on infallible prophetic authority still must be distinguished. Yes, in a sense the apostles and their partners (like Timothy) acted like those judges seen in Judges and 1 Samuel in an ecclesiological (yet not an the Ro 13 physical sword bearing sense). However, now that continuing revelation has ceased after Christ’s generation, without any previous revelation that teaches there are to be inter-church authorities/councils effectively as (consisting of) successors to Timothy as delegates of the apostles of Christ; then, visible unity in the form of a pyramidical interlocal-church pastoral authoritative stare decisis ‘one-voice’ officials over the local churches and their intralocal-church governing elders/overseers/pastors does not remain (which Timothy/Titus officiated after being personally appointed by Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ) with biblical warrant/regulation via Sola Scriptura.

  20. Willis,

    Meant to write:
    Sorry, but just as many Pentecostals need to learn, it is not soundly enough to say/reason that because something is in Acts 15, …

    rather than

    Sorry, but just as many Pentecostals need to learn, it is not enough to soundly say/reason that because something is in Acts 15, ….

    I guess that’s one of the disadvantages of writing/speaking in tongues of English vs. Greek, word placement is much more sensitive/restrictive.

  21. I truly do not want to sound snotty with this. But I feel the need to raise a question. When so many of one’s theological friends seem to be leaning in the same wrong direction, is it perhaps time to consider some new theological friends?

    To put it more bluntly, most Federal Vision critics pointed out long ago how Romeward most FV theology (particularly in regards to justification) seemed to be leaning. There’s been little in the last decade to mitigate those concerns. Is there a time when you might have to say, “We’re no longer saying the same thing–or perhaps never really were”?

  22. Fake Herzog wrote:

    “If I don’t understand what you mean by “justification by faith alone” that is a problem. But likewise, it is all well and good for Challies to list the anathemas of Trent — does he understand why the Church thinks the way she does? Or to put it differently, does he understand the theology behind the anathemas”

    I appreciated the link provided for a Roman Catholic understanding of justification. I wouldn’t mind going into more detail on that subject if I had the time. One thing I noticed is that the article strongly implies that the Protestant view of “justification by faith alone” somehow excludes the role of obedience. The motto is simply taken in cold isolation. While I’d be the first to admit that Reformers have a habit of overstating their case, for rhetorical effect, they are also quick to qualify when given the chance.

    Case in point, you’ll often hear the phrase “we are justified by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone”, and also many reminders that “faith without works is dead”. This may beg the question of the value of an overstated motto like “justification by faith alone” if it needs so many qualifiers, but I was disappointed to see that the Roman Catholic article on the subject did not acknowledge these historic qualifiers. Personally, I think there has been too much entrenchment around the motto because it is so closely linked to Reformed “tradition”. Frankly, I think we need to look for a more Scripturally harmonious expression, rather than one that simply sets off Roman Catholics. I believe I know what the Reformers were getting at, and I affirm their intent, but the motto has too much baggage, and I’m not interested in defending tradition for the sake of tradition, especially when I read plain Scripture saying things like:

    “You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” — James 2:24

    In a systematic sense, I hope all sides could agree that we are justified by God, and not by our faith or our works. If my justification is grounded on top of my faith or my works, I’m in trouble. I believe that James’ point is that living faith and obedient works are entailed by one another, and that God uses this as means in His acts of justification. I’m inclined to believe that living faith and obedient works are logically downstream of God’s intervening acts on our behalf, which we label under the increasingly broad heading of “justification”.

    With regard to properly understanding Church councils and anathemas, I was curious if Fake Herzog had any links or insights that could explain the current understanding of the anathemas of the Second Council of Nicea:

    “The holy Synod cried out: So we all believe, we all are so minded, we all give our consent and have signed. This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the orthodox, this is the faith which hath made firm the whole world. Believing in one God, to be celebrated in Trinity, we salute the honourable images! Those who do not so hold, let them be anathema. Those who do not thus think, let them be driven far away from the Church. For we follow the most ancient legislation of the Catholic Church. We keep the laws of the Fathers. We anathematize those who add anything to or take anything away from the Catholic Church. We anathematize the introduced novelty of the revilers of Christians. We salute the venerable images. We place under anathema those who do not do this. Anathema to them who presume to apply to the venerable images the things said in Holy Scripture about idols. Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images. Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols. Anathema to those who say that Christians resort to the sacred images as to gods. Anathema to those who say that any other delivered us from idols except Christ our God. Anathema to those who dare to say that at any time the Catholic Church received idols.”

    I might be able to understand an anathema against those who actively refer to icons as idols, etc, but to also anathematize anyone who passively and personally declines to venerate icons? By what authority does the council bind people’s consciences to such a practice that has no requirement in Scripture? How are we to understand this anathema today, and, more importantly, what does it say about the alleged infallibility of Church councils?

  23. Willis –

    Yes, what Benedict said is a long way from what Trent says. But since the Roman Catholic doctrine does not change (as I am constantly reminded by their bloggers), what Benedict said must be consistent with the anathemas of Trent.

    I have seen one Pope vacate the RC Church’s judgment against Galileo, and another say some nice things about Luther (contra what I heard about him from my Catholic neighbors 50 years ago), but none has yet revoked Exsurge Domine.

  24. Why on earth should I have to make my peace with Alexander VI in order to be at peace with God?

    You don’t; he’s dead. Your local parish priest is another matter. Why on earth should you have to make peace with your local parish priest in order to be at peace with God?

    Because Jesus prayed that you would.
    Because the Holy Spirit inspired John to record that prayer, and then preserved that record for two millennia so that you might read it, and act on it.

    Of course, the guy might decide not to give you the time of day, but why should you make that decision for him? Get off your can, walk down the street, and knock on his door. Offer to buy the man a beer, and see what happens.

  25. Mark,

    Yes, what Benedict said is a long way from what Trent says. But since the Roman Catholic doctrine does not change (as I am constantly reminded by their bloggers), what Benedict said must be consistent with the anathemas of Trent.

    They insist that their doctrine never changes, yes. But why would you pretend like you don’t know better?

    Brian,

    Your whole analogy falls apart because Israel having visible unity was never a bad thing. God always intended to give them a king, and had already provided laws to govern a monarchy (Deut. 17). The manner in which they got there was sinful, yes. But having a monarch was not sin, and is never subsequently treated as a sin. (Contrast later mention of Samuel with later mention of, say, Jeroboam.) Likewise, we could sin in our manner of achieving visible unity, but that doesn’t make visible unity a sin of itself.

    Moreover, since Jesus actually prayed for unity the world can actually see, one would be hard-pressed to make the case that visible unity is sinful of itself.

  26. They insist that their doctrine never changes, yes. But why would you pretend like you don’t know better?

    Exactly. I’ve never understood why we have to assume Rome’s doctrine of itself is correct. Or why some people want to hold them to it and lambaste them for inconsistency, rather than hoping they’ll finally get inconsistent enough to realize it’s never really been correct.

  27. Tim -

    In case you’ve lost the context of my comment, here’s the train of thought:

    - The Roman Catholic Church insists that its infallible doctrine does not change (indeed, logically, if it is infallible how could it change?)
    - The Council of Trent, in its anathemas, declared infallible doctrine.
    - This infallible doctrine condemned Martin Luther’s beliefs.
    - Pope Benedict, not speaking infallibly, seemed to affirm some of Luther’s beliefs which were specifically anathemized at Trent.

    The only thing I can conclude is that whatever Pope Benedict said cannot reflect a doctrinal change in the RCC, since their doctrine (specifically, from Trent) are infallible and does not change. Therefore, Luther’s beliefs (and mine) are still rejected, and have no place within the RCC.

    No matter who has said what since.

    Where do I go wrong here?

  28. katecho,

    You ask me how we should understand the Second Council of Nicea today, but I suggest you first understand the history of how it came about and what exactly was going on with the Iconoclasts:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07620a.htm

    And yes, in case you haven’t figured it out, my first go to source for everything Catholic is “New Advent”. Catholic Answers is also pretty good but a lot of the time they’ll wind up linking to New Advent anyway. I have an excellent canon law web source (in case you need one) and I also know of some good priest bloggers (both apologists and polemicists!). Just drop me a line in case you need something else…

  29. While I agree with my fellow Protestants and Mr. Wilson that the Protestant ecclesiastical situation is not anywhere near as bad as some of the more aggressive Catholic apologists, I will also say that there are clearly problems. Let’s just look at one of those traditions, Wilson’s own Presbyterianism. There are over a dozen conservative Presbyterian denominations, most without significant doctrinal differences. To say that this doesn’t hamper testimony when Presbyterians cannot agree on the mere theoretical issue of 2.5 vs. 3-office Presbyterianism (the wedge dividing PCA from OPC) is rather ridiculous. You will find these sorts of disagreements dividing Protestants of all varieties, all justified as some kind of impossible surrender of conscious to reconcile and incorporate each other.

    Contrast this with the New Testament writings. I am not referring to the vague appeals to unity that many of my fellow Protestants brush off, but the practical exhortations given in the epistles. Multiple times we run across incredibly flawed churches in the Bible. In all of their writings to those Churches, not once does an Apostle encourage people to leave a deeply flawed Church, like that of Corinth or some in Revelations. Rather, the implications are for the Church to reform itself from within, not to break apart as if it were mere social club that can be tossed aside when it no longer suits our fancies.

  30. Tim Nichols,

    I don’t believe that all forms of visible unity itself is sinful, my argument doesn’t depend on that.

    You should be able to see that I am discussing a specific form of visible unity that is not regulated by God’s word. I also discuss the faithlessness of Israel’s behavior in which Israel pursued visible unity through a king when God as king wasn’t good enough, which is also analogous to a faithlessness in non-regulative extrabiblical pursuits of church government when His word isn’t good enough.

    Stop modifying my arguments, and then pretending you’ve actually addressed them. Please be truthful, rather than fallacious with at best careless/negligent reading comprehension of my previous three comments.

  31. I’m certainly not condoning violent iconoclasm. I grasp that it was a very bitter, and sometimes bloody, division. I could be understanding of a desire to anathematize those who practice that kind of violence. However, that’s not what the Council did. They went well beyond this to anathematize all who simply refuse to personally venerate icons. The Council proclaimed:

    “We salute the venerable images. We place under anathema those who do not do this.”

    My question was specifically with regard to this anathema. Scripture nowhere obligates us to venerate images, and dividing the body of Christ over icons seems equivalent to dividing the body of Christ over food, or over beards, or over festivals. Attempts to bind the conscience of others to extrabiblical traditions is, itself, a violation of Scripture.

    The provision in Scripture is sufficient to equip us for every good work. This means we are not dependent on extra authorities or traditions to be adequate before God. The Second Council of Nicea effectively said that we are inadequate, insufficient (and damnable) unless we also venerate icons, which is another way of saying that Scripture is insufficient to equip us for every good work. This problem goes directly to the notion of the infallibility of Church Councils.

  32. All I have to do is not take them at their word, and everything is OK.

    Everything what is okay? I’m not claiming that “everything is okay” with Rome. I’m saying that just because THEY say their doctrine doesn’t change, doesn’t mean we have to believe it, or treat the logic of their actual words with the same “consistency” shoe horn they way want to use on it.

    Trent said one thing; Benedict said another. Why should we believe the Roman Catholic contention that they don’t say different things, since history shows that to be bunk? Since we are the ones who actually know that they’re not doctrinally consistent and pure, why should our logical approach to them be to insist that they must mean the same thing, rather than saying, “Look, you guys are saying different things”?

  33. Mark,

    I understood the chain of reasoning; my response is along the lines of Jane’s, above.

    In other words, I’d say that your conclusion that RC doctrine hasn’t changed in this particular case is not justified because your first premise isn’t sufficient to support it. They claim their doctrine doesn’t change, but that is sufficient at best to predict that they won’t admit that anything has changed.

    But it has. At minimum, Trent anathematized the same people that Vatican II declared to be separated brethren. (And sure, a sufficiently nimble wordsmith can “reconcile” it all, but face it — when they’re talking to Lutherans rather than executing them, something has changed.) The change has not yet progressed to a point that we would be content with, but considering that they’ve painted themselves into a corner with the whole infallibility thing, what can we reasonably expect? Surely a lot will change before they finally swallow hard and admit that anything has changed. Why should we pretend that no change is taking place until they admit to it?

  34. And lest I forget to mention it, the RCC is a very big tent. Even if official church doctrine hasn’t changed, the attitude of my local parish priest may have changed quite a lot. I don’t have to get along with the whole RCC; just the ones right here where I am. If their attitudes and beliefs have shifted in a more biblical direction, why shouldn’t I just be grateful and run with it?

  35. Brian,

    I’m genuinely sorry to have given offense. Upon reviewing what we both wrote, I think we’re talking past one another.

    Your central point, as I understand it (do correct me if I missed something), is that the specific form that unity took in the early and medieval Church (bishops, councils, popes) was nowhere warranted in Scripture, and it was wrong to insist upon it.
    My central point is that any obedience to John 17 will take some specific form, and since Scripture specifies no specific form, whatever form our obedience takes will be vulnerable to the same critique. The fact that the form our unity takes is not specified in Scripture is not grounds for disobedience by omission.

    The analogy to Israel, as you’re applying it (again, correct me if I’m missing something), is that Israel unrighteously sought a king like the other nations rather than accepting the invisible reign of God administered on an ad hoc basis by judges. Likewise, the early Church sought a visible governance to replace the physical presence of Jesus and the Twelve on earth.
    Against that, I’m saying that I don’t think you’ve taken sufficient account of the actual facts of Israel’s case, since God intended them to be a monarchy all along. That doesn’t map very well onto the case you’re trying to make for the church. Works great for me, though — visible unity is necessary and part of God’s design, but it matters how we get there.

    So lay it on me — have I got you right, or am I still missing something?

  36. Tim & Jane,

    I guess I wonder what our position as Protestants should be. Which part of Catholic “doctrine” do we deal with? Do we push their views to their necessary and reasonable conclusions, or do we deal with “the church of what’s happening now”, regardless of what went before?

    My experience with Reformed friends who have swum the Tiber is that during the decision-making process they no longer see in practice the contradictions between RC doctrine and Reformed belief that Trent paints in such sharp relief – after all the priests and other Catholics they deal with don’t think it’s such a big deal.

    But a couple of them, once in the RC Church, have come half-circle and now maximize rather than minimize the difference.

    [For the record, I am a ruling elder at a PCA church that has "erased" one member from the rolls who "reconverted" to Catholicism.]

  37. We deal with the church as it is now, and call them to own (and insofar as it is necessary repent of) their past. We read their pronouncements, then and now, according to the normal rules of language and logic, not by some rule that forces us to deny either progression or regression in their understanding.

    None of that requires agreeing with the obviously ridiculous premise that their doctrine doesn’t change.

  38. Jane –

    I agree that the “no change” premise is absurd, and I was adopting that more or less as a reducio – if they insist that their doctrine doesn’t change, then we may logically insist that they can’t really be saying that Martin Luther was merely a separated brother, or that “Faith alone” means to them what it means to us. They would then either be equivocating or lying to give us that impression. All to defuse our opposition and win us to the True Church.

    I would like to belive that we who cling to doctrines that Trent so roundly anathemizes are now merely “separated brethren” rather than condemned heretics, but I fear it is all a rhetorical ploy to defuse theological opposition and win converts.

    This doesn’t mean we can’t make common cause with Catholics on some things (abortion, persecution).

  39. Mark,

    I’d say that which part of RC doctrine we deal with depends on what we’re trying to accomplish. Real people aren’t perfect logicians, and they genuinely do believe contradictory things.

    I get what you’re doing with the reductio, and as a talking point with someone suffering from conversion sickness in danger of swimming the Tiber, it makes perfectly good sense. Likewise with a RC apologist who is aiding and abetting such a swimming expedition. If you’re going to break with the tradition that raised you, you need to have good and sufficient reason for leaving, and have really thought through the ramifications. We have a duty to honor our fathers (literal and metaphorical), and that makes such a break a very big deal. I believe the incipient convert has a responsibility to exhaust the resources of his own tradition before switching — and I say this as someone who has done it, carefully. (Not on this issue).

    If I’m trying to get to know my RC neighbor, and when the supper conversation turns to God and theology, he remarks approvingly on Francis’ recent comment, well, that’s a different case. Depending on his personality and how long we’ve known each other, I might float a remark about how it’s a welcome change, and see how he responds. More likely, I will encourage him to elaborate a bit on what he understands Francis to be saying, and steer the conversation in the direction of what common ground might turn out to be there — and this whether I think his exegesis of Francis is correct or not. I’m not trying to make him a good RC; I’m trying to make him a good follower of Jesus, regardless of the bishop of Rome. Where his theology is in a healthy place, I want to encourage him to live into it and apply it as much as possible. I trust that as he applies the truth he does have, the Spirit will work with him and make him thirsty for more. In my experience, when people really begin to live as disciples of Jesus, their experience frequently outstrips their ability to theologize, and they end up living truths to which they might not yet give cognitive assent. When they’re headed in the right direction, that’s all to the good, and calling their attention to the cognitive factors prematurely just slows the process down.

    I think of a friend I used to argue creation/evolution with, back in high school. He came to Christ, and we began talking about other aspects of the Bible, and kinda gave the evolution thing a rest. Meanwhile, he began praying for God to exercise sovereign control over creation — praying for rain when we needed it, that kind of thing. Then one day he gets on the school bus and says, “So I guess I’m a creationist now, huh?” Yup.

  40. Mark, I understand the value of a reductio, and agree as far as that goes. What I’ve seen, though, is some Protestants getting “trapped” if you will, in the reductio, to the point where instead of letting the reductio do its work, they just insist that the Catholic person can’t believe anything that is actually true, in a way, almost preventing the Catholic person from assenting to any true statement. It’s sort of an all-or-nothing thing — stop being Catholic and *then* we’ll discuss what you should believe. It can get rather backwards that way. Perhaps in some cases, we should be encouraging a belief that strays from historic, official Roman teaching, rather than being so busy trying to undermine the system as a whole that we don’t let the person figure the various issues out piece by piece. There is more than one road out, and more than one way of persuading a brother not to make the swim. We don’t want to be so insistent that they see the forest all at once that we discourage their interest in particular trees.

    I suppose that’s pretty much what Tim said, and he said it better.

  41. Tim Nichols,

    Sorry to have taken so long to reply, but something urgent has come up. But I have some time to write now.

    I certainly do believe it is wrong to insist upon post-apostolic pyramidical pastoral inter-church councils/popes, but I also believe that it is wrong to do it even without such an insistence (voluntarily) since it is not regulated/warranted by Scripture.

    Also, I do believe you are correct to say that any obedience to John 17 will take some specific form, but I don’t believe you are correct to say that Scripture states no specific form (if you mean that it can’t be applied to govern which specific forms are good or bad).

    For instance, Scripture states that overseers/elders/pastors govern the local church, but by putting (super-)overseers/elders/pastors over churches and their elders the Scriptural/Biblical authority of the elder is in contradiction to the Scripture essentially being superceded, limited or removed (even by voluntary agreement). So, this extrabiblicalness actually results in the form of unbiblicalness as not just contrary to Scripture, but also in contradiction to the Scripture.

    For example, the husband is the head of the wife. But if the pastor is appointed to govern the husbands within the congregation in unity which specific days husbands are to have relations with their consenting wives (or what color of purse/car will be bought for them for their birthdays) beyond what Scripture would teach on this, then this would be similarly extrabiblically and even unbiblically limiting the headship of the husband (regardless if the husband and wife voluntarily subjected themselves to this) even if done in the name of visible unity.

    A council as an optional informational non-authoritative means or “specific form” to promote interchurch unity in speaking the truth in love would not limit the authority bishops/overseers/pastors “as stated by the Scriptures” [like pastors/husbands of different local churches non-authoritatively seeking unity in discussing things on Blog & Mablog or at a (beer) summit].

    Thus, Scripture does regulatively teach about specific forms of unity on how John 17 should be obediently applied, even if by implication through necessary consequence. Therefore, I think you should re-evaluate your belief that Scripture doesn’t specify what form it should take (if you meant it as I stated above). Our (visible) unity should not come at any expense of (visible) unity with what the apostles/prophets would teach us in Scripture through the apostles even while under non-apostolic circumstances of not having infallible authority for a set of churches to write morally authoritative & infallible epistles to other churches.

    Also, in visible unity with you, I lovingly state that I also believe it was not sinful in itself for Israel to have a king (as if David was sinning every day he was continuing to serve as king), even after a king was unrighteously/unfaithfully desired by Israel because as you said (Scripture regulates how a king (as a specific form of unity) should act. Yet, in contrast, we don’t have such Scriptural regulation for pastorally authoritative pyramidic post-apostolic councils/elders, and thus it is unfaithful for us to similarly desire/pursue this as a form of visible unity to fulfill/obey John 17.

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