Are Catholics Brothers and Sisters in Christ?

Several months ago, Paul Grimmond of Matthias Media asked me the following question in an interview. Because it regularly emerges as among the most popular questions, I have chosen to include it in this second installment of our apologetics series.

QUESTION: Chris, in your book Holy Ground you clearly articulate some of the significant differences in doctrine between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics while also continuing to call Roman Catholics "brothers and sisters in Christ" (p. 163). For many of the Reformers, the doctrinal differences led to quite different conclusions about where Roman Catholics stand in their relationship with God. I’m wondering if you can explore further for us what believing basic Roman Catholic doctrine means for the average Roman Catholic’s relationship with God? How do we juggle the importance of calling on our Roman Catholic friends to turn away from Roman Catholic belief and practice with the reality that they believe in God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

ANSWER: First, thanks Paul for the privilege of this exchange.

In Holy Ground I use the word “some.” I call some Catholics “brothers and sisters in Christ.” In context, my statement on p. 163 is of my Catholic classmates from Boston College who were ardent defenders of Jesus’ literal death and resurrection, over and against our liberal classmates who appeared to be lost in the morass called postmodern relativism.

I would also say that many Catholics are not brothers and sisters in Christ (in the same way that many Protestants fail to posses genuine faith). God alone knows the condition of one’s heart, but I would go so far as to say that a Catholic who honestly believes what the Catholic Church teaches about justification—that it is based upon a mixture of faith and meritorious works—is likely not a brother or sister in Christ. I say “likely” because there are some Catholics who trust fully in Christ even though their religious confession relies upon unscriptural elements of Catholic tradition. In other words, it seems to me that the Bible teaches that one must believe with faith alone (Rom 4:4; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5), but it doesn’t require that he or she believes in faith alone as a body of doctrine. John Piper makes this point, for instance, quoting John Owen who wrote: “‘Men may be really saved by that grace which doctrinally they do deny; and they may be justified by the imputation of that righteousness which in opinion they deny to be imputed.’ …Owen’s words are not meant to make us cavalier about the content of the gospel, but to hold out hope that men’s hearts are often better than their heads.” Accordingly, some Catholics appear to fully trust in Jesus, despite the teaching of their church. (John Owen, The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, chapter VII, “Imputation, and the Nature of It,” [Banner of Truth, Works, Vol. 5], 163-164. in John Piper. The Future of Justification. [Wheaton: Crossway, 2007], 25).

If this sounds anti-Catholic, please keep in mind that the Catholic Church says essentially the same thing about Protestants. From the Catholic point of view, the evangelical’s hope in justification is found in our observance of baptism which reflects the Catholic sacrament of baptism. We Protestants may think that we’re justified by faith alone, says the Catholic, but it’s actually on account of our baptism, which finds legitimacy in the sacrament of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Am I offended by the Catholic view? Well, maybe a little. But I can deal with it because I realize it’s not personal and that Catholics are simply expressing the teaching of their church with candor. Hopefully, my comments are read in the same light.

Your reference to the Reformers is interesting. It’s undoubtedly true that many of them regarded Catholics to be without salvation, yet not all of them did. In fact, there is a significant tradition in Reformed theology of those who regard Catholicism to be an orthodox expression of Christianity, consisting of brothers and sisters in Christ, even while vehemently disagreeing with basic tenets like sola Scriptura and sola fide. Following are some notable examples.

For all of the sharp invectives that Martin Luther launched against the papacy and clergy, he wasn’t as harsh toward all Catholic people. This was so because under the barnacles of unbiblical Catholic tradition Luther recognized a scriptural core that could truly generate and nurture faith. In his words, “the Roman Church is holy, because it has God’s holy name, the gospel, baptism, etc.” (Gustaf Aulen, Reformation and Catholicity, trans. Eric H. Wahlstrom. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1962. pg 76).

Calvin expressed a similar sentiment in his letter to Sadoleto that despite serious differences of doctrine “[it doesn’t mean] that Roman Catholics are not also Christians. We indeed, Sadoleto, do not deny that those over which you preside are Churches of Christ.”

Over three hundred years later in 1869, Princeton theologian Charles Hodge wrote to Pope Pius IX declining an invitation to attend Vatican I. After citing the reasons why his attendance and that of his delegates would not happen, he offers the following conclusion:

“Nevertheless, although we cannot return to the fellowship of the Church of Rome, we desire to live in charity with all men. We love all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.

We regard as Christian brethren all who worship, love, and obey him as their God and Saviour, and we hope to be united in heaven with all who unite with us on earth in saying, ‘Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen’ (Rev. 1:6).”

Finally, after Charles Hodge we read this statement from another theologian of Princeton, J. Gresham Machen. Writing 50 years later about the relatively close proximity of Catholics to Evangelicals, compared to the chasm separating us from liberals, Machen highlights the common ground upon which we stand:

“Yet how great is the common heritage that unites the Roman Catholic Church…to devout Protestants today! [As significant as our difference is]…it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own church” (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (New York: Macmillan, 1923), p. 52).

This leads me to the final part of your question, Paul: “How do we juggle the importance of calling on our Roman Catholic friends to turn away from Roman Catholic belief and practice with the reality that they believe in God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”

In Holy Ground, I challenge readers to follow the Protestant Reformers, and, more importantly Jesus himself, by expressing honesty about where we differ and, at the same time, extending true love and grace in our areas of disagreement with Catholics. The primary biblical touchstone for this is John 1:14 where it says of Jesus that he came “full of grace and truth.” There you have it. That’s the how. As our Lord maintained these virtues with a perfectly balanced poise, we must work to do the same. We can’t justify being irritable and crotchety, certainly not from the Bible, like foaming at the mouth pit bulls who go for the jugular of every Catholic who crosses our path. On the other hand, we must not be so open-minded that our brains fall out of our heads, lacking the theological chutzpah to be honest.

When a Catholic confesses the gospel and lives for Jesus, I’m applying the love about which 1 Cor. 13 speaks, love which “bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things,” a love that extends the benefit of the doubt, puts its arm around this Catholic friend and calls him brother. I’m also going to proclaim the gospel and extend discipleship so that I and my Catholic friend together realize a greater level of sanctification. Would I like to see this friend eventually leave the Catholic Church? Yes, of course. I’m a Protestant Pastor who believes that on such issues of Christian authority and soteriology, Protestants are fundamentally right. To say otherwise would be disingenuous. And yet, I’m not going to insist that such a departure happen in my time frame. The Lord is my friend’s shepherd as much as he is mine. Indeed, I must apply my Calvinism at this precise point by faithfully and winsomely trusting in God’s sovereignly timed oversight. Thus, in the final analysis, we must approach this enterprise as Peter says in his first epistle, “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Thanks again Paul for this opportunity. Richest blessings to you and yours!

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. The second Person of the Blessed Trinity established a faith community here on earth and built His one Church on the foundation of the Apostles. The ordained Bishops of this faith community taught with authority for years before writing anything down. When they did write things down, it was for this already existing faith community who was one in teachings and Sacramental rituals, all learning the same faith even though taught by different Apostles. These Apostles passed down their authority to teach including teaching the Scriptures authored by this faith community. At first, this faith community established by Jesus was called The Way. About seventy years after Jesus ascended to Heaven, it was called Catholic. Then 1500 years later, when a Catholic man invented the printing press, Satan was able to reinstill the original sin of pride by convincing men to break apart from 1500 years of constant teaching of the truth. Satan convinced men to protest and revolt against the established Church, and rather decide for themselves what is and is not morality, what is and is nto truth, instead of listening to those Jesus sent… just as Adam and Eve were convinced to decide for themselves instead of listening to and obeying God. It is amazing to me that anyone can even claim to reconcile Protestantism with authentic Christianity. Protestantism is the rejection of full authentic Christianity, retaining only parts these people want and rejecting others. Protestantism is the means by which man decides morality instead of God, which is to say it enshrines the original sin as it’s very foundational element.

    Yet, we Catholics still call you Protestants our separated brethren. If you came back to the only Church ever created by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, we could call you full brethren. That would make me and Jesus much happier.

    May God bless you all, and lead you to His Truth.

  2. Chris,
    You say, “From the Catholic point of view, the evangelical’s hope in justification is found in our observance of baptism which reflects the Catholic sacrament of baptism. We Protestants may think that we’re justified by faith alone, says the Catholic, but it’s actually on account of our baptism, which finds legitimacy in the sacrament of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”
    Not so fast. Your argument isn’t entirely with the RCC. For example, regarding Baptism, the Augsburg Confession states, “… it is necessary to salvation, and that through Baptism is offered the grace of God (Article IX).” Here, Augsburg says Baptism is essential and efficacious, while some others in Protestantism say it’s merely symbolic. Which view is “authentically Protestant”? Which view is authoritative? Which view would Paul adopt, and which would be consistant with what he tells the Corinthians in 1 Cor 4:17, “[Timothy] will remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach them everywhere in every church”? If the Apostles were to teach the same thing, everywhere in every church, and since Protestantism obviously isn’t monolithic, then one can’t state that Protestantism teaches such and such. In Catholicism one can turn to the Catechism and definitively say the RCC teaches such and such, but one can’t make a general definitive statement about Baptism (or communion, or many other doctrinal matters) in the world of Protestantism.
    P.S. Read Luther on Baptism, and you’d swear he was Catholic.

  3. Thanks Michael. In a world of post modern relativism, your clarity of conviction is refreshing. Sincere thanks.

    Brian. Great point. You’re absolutely right. I have close Lutheran Missouri Synod friends with whom I constantly debate the merits of Luther’s sacramentalism. I tell them that dear brother Martin failed to go far enough (they are actually family on my wife’s side, so I can be blunt and they are stuck with me). If only Luther could have lived longer and spent more time with Calvin 🙂

  4. Chris. Calvin isn’t much help here either. You say above, “I would go so far as to say that a Catholic who honestly believes what the Catholic Church teaches about justification—that it is based upon a mixture of faith and meritorious works—is likely not a brother or sister in Christ.” So, the implication is that if as a Catholic my thinking supposes that I must bring something to the equation, it’s an addition contrary to the gospel. But, regarding communion, the Westminster Confession uses this language, “…partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament, do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed…”. So, what this is saying (and what Calvinists say) is that what we know is that one receives the body and blood of communion and is spiritually fed when they A) eat the elements with B) a properly disposed faith. So, if I don’t have the proper faith, I’m not actually receiving the body and blood. By Westminster’s definition, it’s only communion when I believe. The sacrament is only a sacrament based on my action. So, the Catholics are labeled (incorrectly) as those who embrace a works mentality, but here we see that in Calvinism, Christ’s sacrament is only a sacrament based on something I do. On top of that, regarding communion, Calvinists believe one thing, Baptists another, Episcopalians another, etc. As mentioned, one can’t say that Protestantism reflects such and such, because Protestantism (on the whole) has no consistancy in what it believes. So, either A) doctrine doesn’t matter, or B) conflicting and contradictory doctrine is okie dokie.

  5. Brian and Chris,

    To what Brian said in reference to Calvin not really helping, I would add that Calvin is not exactly clear in the Institutes when discussing the efficacy of Baptism. As is often the case with Calvin’s Sacramental Theology, what he gives with one hand he takes away with another.

    Your quote of Calvin interacting with Cardinal Sadoleto is something that struck me when reading it years ago. What struck me was, as you quoted, Calvin saying that “I do not deny a Church among you”. If, as has been pointed out in other places (Called to Communion website) the Roman Church was the Church established by Christ then on what basis could the Reformers leave her? It would seem the only legitimate reason for leaving the Church is to make the claim that She never was the Church, but since that would be darn near impossible to maintain (unless one embraces a Tex Marres doctrine of the Church) historically the Reformers dare not say that.

    All that being said. As Brian pointed out with Luther and Baptism it can also be said of the Lutherans and Perseverance. Lutheran’s believe that genuine Christians, born again, justified Christians can lose their salvation.

    Now we can easily dismiss this and say: “Well, while this is an error from my Calvinist perspective (which, of course, is really the teaching of the Bible) it does not strike at the vitals of the faith. For while this is a real difference, we are agreed in the essentials. You know Augustine said, ‘in essentials unity, non-essentials liberty but in all things charity.’ Thus we Reformed share much in common with Lutherans, indeed with all genuine Evangelicals. We agree on the essentials and disagree on the non-essentials.”

    The problem with the above scenario is it is only true if one claims that salvation is a non-essential. Let’s be honest, if one is born again by Baptism and you say he is not then you are severely and catastrophically wrong. If the opposite is the case and you are right and the Lutheran is wrong then the Lutheran is tragically wrong about such a grave issue, the efficacy of salvation. If one believes they can lose their salvation and it turns out they were wrong then, well in the end, they were a bit nervous about nothing. But, but, but… if one can lose their salvation and you are teaching people that they cannot, then you are guilty of assuring people of something that is not true. You would be leading people astray, giving them hope in something they have no basis for, a false hope, a false assurance. If this is the case then you would be wrong about such a grave matter. Again, as Brian pointed out, my scenario is not simply a Catholic/ Protestant matter, it is a Protestant/ Protestant matter. In fact, in fairness to the Catholic Church when it comes to ecumenical dialogue, “who speaks for Protestantism?”

  6. Unfortunately, for all his devotion, Michael undercuts the entire Judeo-Christian enterprise with his pronouncements. For example, “The ordained Bishops of this faith community taught with authority for years before writing anything down.” Well that certainly isn’t true of the Apostles who, as early as 50 A.D. committed their teachings to writing. In fact, the Apostles were simply following God’s admonition to the prophet Jeremiah: “Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you” (Jeremiah 30:2) and that is why Paul said, “Do not go beyond what is written.” (1 Cor 4:6). So Michael misunderstands the heritage of Christianity.

    Michael also misses the nature of the written word when he says, “These Apostles passed down their authority to teach including teaching the Scriptures authored by this faith community.” The Apostles never taught that the Scriptures were authored by any community, but rather were the very words of God. Paul was particularly forceful in emphasizing that no teaching comes from a “faith community” but rather from God: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12); “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:5); “because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit…” (1 Thess. 1:5). And the Apostle Peter concurring, “just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.” (2 Peter 3:15). So Michael is simply mistaken in this assertion.

    Of course, Michael’s gross misunderstanding of the nature of Scripture and the intent of the Holy Spirit casts doubt on his swipe at the Reformers “instead of listening to those Jesus sent… “ Michael doesn’t listen to those Jesus sent. He listens to those Rome sends.

    And to further assert “Protestantism is the means by which man decides morality instead of God…” is a hoot! Has he ever looked at the Catechism of the Catholic Church which begins with man?!! Has he ever read a papal bull?

    Yet we Christians pray for you Catholics. As the Apostle Paul taught, we pray that God will grant you repentance leading you to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:25) so that your faith no longer rests on the wisdom of men, but on God’s power.

  7. Constantine,

    And that same Paul says, “Stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter” (2nd Thess 2:15) so whatever he meant by not going beyond what is written, he did not mean what you think he meant by it.

  8. …and whom (God or man) do Protestants rely on when saying that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote the gospel accounts? The Bible doesn’t tell us they are the authors. Rather, we rely on first, second, and third century Catholic tradition to say that they authored those books. There are many such problems that surface in Constantine’s stance.
    Another… consider Matthew 23:1 “Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you…” Jesus then goes on to call them a brood of vipers. But his initial point is an appeal to oral tradition since there is no Biblical mention of Moses seat anywhere. Indeed, in this appeal he is admonishing them to hold to this authoritative tradition, to do anything whatsoever that the Pharisees tell them to do. It is impossible to follow Jesus by virtue of scripture alone, and attempting to do so would be… well… unscriptural.

  9. Thanks men! I’m preparing for a California book tour, which has me running frantically at the moment tying up loose ends at the church. Great questions. I will address them soon, if not in this comment string, then in future posts. cheers!

  10. I had a moment to read some comments. Brian questions evangelical integrity when he writes, “since Protestantism obviously isn’t monolithic…” Let’s not kid ourselves, modern day Catholicism, even among the clergy, much less among theologians and laypeople, is hardly an oasis of solidarity.

  11. Chris,
    You say, “Brian questions evangelical integrity when he writes, ‘since Protestantism obviously isn’t monolithic…’ Let’s not kid ourselves, modern day Catholicism, even among the clergy, much less among theologians and laypeople, is hardly an oasis of solidarity.”

    That misses the point. Yes, there’s sometimes a disconnect between what some of the faithful believe versus what the Church teaches, hence we end up with “cafeteria Catholics” and the lack of solidarity to which you refer. Yet, notwithstanding this, we can definitively point to what the Catholic Church teaches by virtue of the Catechism and Ecumenical Councils. That’s not true in Protestantism. So, while a Catholic may say, “I don’t buy the Church’s teaching on homosexuality,” the fact still remains that we know what the Church teaches on homosexuality. Protestantism has no monolithic teaching of truth that can be pointed to, thus the splintering and fracturing that we find.

    Much of the beauty of being Catholic is that we can experience what Christ meant when he said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” We don’t have to figure it out for ourselves; the Church tells us what is true. Whether we choose to accept it or not is another matter.

  12. Chris,

    I will do you a step further Chris and say that it is not even just modern Catholicism that has not been an oasis of solidarity. In fact, the Corinthian letters reveal that this was a problem back in the beginning. I am somewhat surprised that thinking Protestants will appeal to the fact that there are unfaithful Catholics who subvert or compromise the faith as a basis for their own doctrinal chaos. The fact is, rejection of the Catholic faith on the part of Catholics, in whole or in part, is sad but most definitely not surprising. And it is most certainly not, nor can it ever be, a justification for the doctrinal messiness of the various Protestantisms. The fact is, the questions I already brought up a problem for a thinking Protestant.

  13. Fair minded gentlemen,

    Surely the fact that Protestantism is splintered into many distinct entities gives reason to question the veracity of the whole. It is a worthy consideration. However, it does not necessarily, in itself, render Protestantism mute – less credible or obsolete – while Catholicism simply by having an overall more cohesive core finds itself the bastion of truth. Protestantism as well as Catholicism are terms embedded with historical nuances and comprise more than those who today associate themselves with either group. We can find ourselves making categorical mistakes by limiting ourselves to a stereo-typical view of one or both terms. Perhaps it is rather best to find the key point of solidarity we share among ourselves and of both groups throughout their storied and broken pasts as well as the key point of divergence. Though we all claim to be united in Christ, Protestantism is a broken fragment of the Holy Roman Church and indeed it was not the first splinter to be torn away. We are all share a history, a family lineage.

    Neither Protestant nor Catholic denies the authority of the Word of God. This is a unifying principle, the key point of solidarity. The matter of divergence lies with the authority of the Church. Notice that I did not use the word tradition nor did I place Roman Catholic in front of “Church”. Tradition is an unavoidable matter. Both Catholics and Protestants utilize traditions and point back to history to support a particular belief held by the Church. The Church, according to the Scripture, comprises those who by faith have been accepted into the Kingdom of God. That includes brothers and sisters from the age of the apostles until now, whether Catholic or Protestant. Did those early brothers have the authority, as the Church, to finalize what was acceptable to believe versus what was not? If so, would this then appear that the Canon developed not by the Providential Hand of God who inspired and set apart particular men to pen His words and build His Church, but rather by means of a democratic consensus of those who came to faith by those very teachings? How can we be sure of the reliability of the Bible if its authority rests upon the authority of men? It is the very thing we all treasure so deeply and use to share our faith with the rest of the world. Where does the Church find its beginning? Ephs. 2:20 relates to us that the foundation of the Church rested upon the teaching of the apostles and prophets. As mentioned before, how then could the Church deem what was to be the Canon of teaching, if its very foundation was established by such teaching? And what is that teaching? The very Word of God – Old Testament (prophets) New Testament (apostles). Just as this world came into being by the spoken word of God so too did the Church. It has no greater authority than His Scriptures. No council, creed, or tradition, whether it be Protestant, Catholic, or otherwise supersedes Holy Scripture.

    What led to the branching off from the Holy Roman Church was in large part due to what the reformers believed the established Church taught as contrary to Scripture. It was due to a commitment to the authority of God’s Word over against the authority of the established Church. Many devout Catholics at the time, like Erasmus, called for reform because the Church was in such squalor, but Luther and others believed the corruption to be a root issue of poor theology and the replacing of Scriptural truths in favor of the teachings of men.

    Perhaps he and the other reformers were wrong. But the only way we can seek to find that out is to turn to that one key point of solidarity – Scripture. What does it say regarding what we each group believes on any given issue?

  14. Barrett,

    “How can we be sure of the reliability of the Bible if its authority rests upon the authority of men?” And therein lies the difference. You see Church authority as merely man-made and the Scripture and the faith of the Church reveals that authority is Divinely given and endowed and as such, our Lord can say, “He who hears you, hears Me.” And Paul can say, “The Church, the pillar and ground of the Truth.” A Catholic trusts the Church, for the simple reason, the Church is of Christ, Christ has given the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the Church, and as such, the Church can neither deceive or be deceived because Christ is her Head and She is His Body.

  15. Barrett,

    I appreciate your mannered, respectful response. I hope that all such discussions can be held in such charitable and measured tones. These are weighty matters, and ultimately, as Tom demonstrates in his first comment above, the consequences of fidelity to what is true can be grave. In response to your comments, yes, the Church (RCC) cannot teach anything whatsoever that is contrary to scriptures. As Tom rightly points out, many look at the RCC as a man-made institutution. But, that overlooks the scriptural accounts whereby we know that it’s Christ’s Church; that he established it; that he bestowed upon it a teaching authority; that he promised to guide unto ALL truth (not some truth or partial truth). Thus, it’s clear that she is trustworthy. If he could bestow upon the NT authors a charism of infallibility as they penned scriptures, why is it unimaginable that he could bestow a charism of infallibility upon faith and morals teachings of the Church he created? Was this charism present when the early councils decided on the scriptural canon, as they debated what to include and exclude from the Bible? It appears so, thus we have evidence of his guiding his Church unto all truth. Some might say, “maybe so, but the Church went off the tracks later.” To think so is to abandon faith in Christ’s promise.

  16. Tom,

    I deeply appreciate your fidelity to the Church. My question is by what means do you know that “the Church is of Christ, Christ has given the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the Church, and as such, the Church can neither deceive or be deceived because Christ is her Head and She is His Body”. If it because of the testimony of Scripture than is not Scripture than the ultimate authority above that of the Church?


    Who is infallible? All of the Church members or the councils or just the Pope(s)? In any case, do we simply accept whatever someone teaches us or do we weigh it against prior revelation? Certainly members of the Church accepted particular books to be included within the Canon and denied the use of others (though I believe by affirmation not necessary in the sense of a finalizing verdict). But what measuring stick did they use to accept some and exclude others? Was it not in part the Old Testament and in part the patterned circulation of the writings of the apostles? Did they simply extend a gavel of affirmation or judgment without prior study or did they look to the written record of the very words of God as a tool of confirmation?

    I am firmly convicted of the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word, but I find it difficult to trust in the infallibility of myself or others within the Church, especially if what is said seems to contradict the truth of Scripture. The Spirit has given us an objective means to test the “spirits” inside of or outside of the Church. That objective means to help us nagvigate the subjective morass of competing ideas is Holy Scripture.

    Further, does not the very existence of divergant interpretations of both Scripture and Tradition evidence of the fact that the Church (all of the faithful) is not infallible but rather is subject to the gentle and faithful guidance of the Spirit through the ministry of God’s word as we humbly seek to understand those words as a community of God’s covenant people? Certainly not all Catholics agree on particular matters of doctrine. Just how are these matters resolved and by what standard? Only by the grace of God go I in the midst of a Fallen world, through my own sin, and within the skin of my own finitude as He guides me in the Light of His Word.

  17. Barrett,

    Actually your question assumes that the Church sees herself as over God’s Revelation.

    Dei Verbum #10 puts it this way, “But the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching office is not above the Word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit; it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.”

    So the Church is not in the thorny position that you think she might be in. For Scripture itself never, never testifies that doctrine comes from it alone (2nd Thess 2:15), and Scripture never, never appeals to itself as the pillar and ground of our faith but to the Church. If doctrine can only be derived from Sacred Scripture, and if we apply that consistently, then you and I would quite possibly not know the contents of any Scripture and most certainly we would not know the New Testament. It does not good to pit the Scripture against the Church, for they both have God as their Head and not man.

  18. I like that quote. And I cannot actually find anything in it that I necessarily disagree with. What is absent from it is that the Church is so how error proof or can make certain the task of interpretation. Yes, it is far better to listen to the voices of the past than to go our own individual ways, but this does not make all traditions of the past infallible.

    2nd Thess. 2:15 does not, to my understanding (which is certainly prone to error), indicate that doctrine finds an additional source outside of Scripture. The apostles were the men God called to proclaim His new revelation (the New Testament) so the “teachings passed on by word or letter) are the teachings of Scripture. Sure we can call this the traditions of the apostles but just as we could call the OT the traditions of the prophets, but the fact remains that today we know of these “teachings” of God by the written record and we check ourselves and the teachings of others in light of such revelation. Otherwise we are blind men.

    Also, what keeps us from distorting the Word in the interest of our own selfish motives? What keeps us from forming traditions that counter the traditional teachings of the prophets and apostles? How do we keep ourselves from being pharisaical and calling others to submit underneath or yoke rather than that of Christ? Surely the Spirit is our guide, but sometimes we are blinded by the idols we serve in place of Him. How can we be confident in new teachings that seem to be contrary to the old teachings? How do we as the Church “test the spirits”?

  19. Also, I understand that your meaning of doctrine includes such things that are not explicitly found in Scripture, like the Trinity or the dual nature of Christ (divine and human). These teachings are indeed doctrines that developed over the years by the Church in response to unBiblical teachings. They were nuanced developments that sought to speak the truth into a particular time for a particular audience, but they were rooted in the testimony of the Word of God. Those doctrines, like that of Inerrancy today, find their origin in Scripture and are articulated by the Church of yesterday and today as both a confirmation of Scriptural truth and a defense against false teaching. And the only way for us to know that these doctrines are true is to check them against the Scriptures.

  20. Barrett,

    “What keeps us from distorting the Word in the interest of our own selfish motives?”

    You are exactly right in posing this and it is for this reason that Christ gave us the Church, especially its Apostolic Structure to assist us as we navigate our lives. The Church is a given, that is it is a gift to the faithful. One of my favorite images of the Church is the Petrine Profile (Authority and Structure: i.e. Magisterium) is given for the Marian Profile (That is disciple of which Mary is the example). Thus, the Church’s authority is not an end but a means that our faith as followers might be nurtured and grow.

    As to your other concerns: that is where trust comes in. I trust the Church out of obedience to Christ. He will guide her and lead her. As the late Father Neuhaus once said, “It could have been that way but it was this way.” That is God could what He wants and what He wanted to do was use His Church to guide us into all truth.

  21. Barrett,

    Your comments lead me to believe you feel Tom and I DON’T hold to the inerrancy of scriptures. Not so, and we have reason to hold to it. But, before discussing our reason, I see that in making a point to me you said, “I am firmly convicted of the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word,..” I hear this statement and ask “Why?” On what basis do you believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word?

  22. I believe that the Church (as a corpus of believers throughout history and as a governing local and/or universal body) is quite necessary to help us in understanding Scripture and motivating us toward love and good deeds – living out its truth. Why? Because we so desparately need each other due to the noetic effects of sin and our desire to take the place of our God. The role of the Church is of extreme importance and the people of God do have a great measure of authority and stewardship as caretakers over Scripture. But the people of God down through the ages and up to the present time came to faith by the testimony of God’s Word – it precedes and we follow. The Church finds its birth by the voice of God as did the heavens and the earth. This does not by any means negate the authority of the Church, but rather places the Scripture as the ultimate foundation for the life and practice of the Church. We, as His covenant people, need each other precisely because we are prone to mis-interpret and declare things that are contrary to the Word. We need each other to say, “Not so fast! That does not accord with the Scriptures or how the historic Church has understood that text.”


    I apologize if my words led you that direction. It was not my intention. The basis that I believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word is God’s Word. It cannot be denied that my understanding of just about everything in life is passed on from the testimony of others (parents, friends, books, given traditions, the Church) but the ultimate basis for my knowledge of anything, whether it be such doctrines or why the sky is blue, is by the Word of God. It is the sun that sheds light upon everything else. It is the lens to which I view the world. It is the place we find Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Now, that does not mean that I have it all figured out and thus have a monopoly on it. Instead, I take it at its self-authenticating word (since it claims for itself to be the very words of God) and seek to understand it as best I can by means of my God given faculties (which still suffer the effects of sin), the ministry of the Church, and most importantly, the work of the Holy Spirit.

    I have to say in passing that this discussion is very pleasant and sharpening. There is much that I can learn from both of you. That is not a signing off from the discussion, so to speak. Just a quick note of encouragement.

  23. Barrett,

    I too am glad for this irenic discussion. I truly appreciate what you are saying about the importance of the Church in dealing with these matters. The big difficulty is how do you and I know which is the historic Church that is to help guide us in such weighty and lofty matters? If I say the Church that agrees with Scripture can that really solve anything? No Church (i.e. denomination) that I know of claims not follow Scripture. The LCMS claims Scripture, the PCA the same, the Assemblies of God etc… all claim Scripture. If one responds that the Church is the one that rightly preaches the Word of God and properly administers the Sacraments, that only backs it up to, who determines the right preaching and the proper administration of the Sacraments?

    Of course, answering the question of how we know God’s Word is by God’s Word, namely the fact that Scripture self-authenticates itself, begs the question, where in antiquity did any Father of the Church ever believe such a thing? And if the Fathers did not believe such a thing, then that by definition means by your own statement about the necessity of the historic Church we should embrace it, for no Father or no Council of antiquity ever held that.

  24. Tom,

    It is far to easy to simply assert that no Father or Council of antiquity ever held that the Scripture self-authenticates itself. Take the Nicene Creed for example. Where did each line find its source? Was it sheer inspiration or was it rather correct interpretation of the Scripture used to combact false teachers within the Church? And do we as believers need to have the Scripture first run the tests of modern textual criticism or some other outside means in order to authenticate its truth? Could that then be seen as reason seeking understanding? I would rather fall in line with Augustine who heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Pick up and read.” It was the Scripture that brought about his conversion and since that time he expressed his epistemological viewpoint, as did Anselm later, as “faith seeking understanding”.

    As far as begging the question, well to my understanding there exists transcendental truths. An example would be the Laws of Logic. These laws are transendental necessities that exist in reality and one cannot argue for their existence without appealing to their existence. Would that not be a case of begging the question? Of course those Laws can be discerned outside of Scripture and thus are available to all of mankind, so what separates them as a second order transcendental necessity under the Word of God? As Christians we believe all things derive their origin and nature from the Creator (John 1:3). This we believe in light of Scripture which was used by the Spirit to bring about our renewed minds and tender hearts (Hebs. 4:12). We then see clearly that the Laws of Logic exist as a reflection of the character of our God which is clearly made known in Scripture. As believers, we look around us and see His handiwork and believe each happening in life has a purpose as He sovereignly guides our lives and the lives of all of humanity. His character is certainly reflected in everything under the sun and above it, but our Fallen hearts cannot truly perceive this until He grants new life; until that then all is smoke and shadow because of the lust of our hearts (Roms 1:18-24; Ephs 4:17-19). The spoken Word of God brought this world we inhabit into being and brought us, as believers, into new-being. Nothing is more basic than the Word of our Father (Deut. 8:3). It is also the source we turn to in combating the schemes of Satan (Matthew 4:1-11; Psalm 119:11).

    Why is Scripture self-authenticating? Because it is the very words of God and if anything else were to somehow authenticate His words, then that very means would supersede God’s authority.

    To your question, “What Church?”. My answer is simply all of those who are geniuely saved by the blood of the Lamb. I do not place special weight upon any denomination as the Church. I surely fall in line with denominations that are of a Reformed persuasion, but I cannot be presumptuous in believeng that such a perspective has all the answers and cannot be checked by others within the community of faith – past and present. The deciding factor for me, as I seek to rightly divide the Word of truth, is what denomination (though imperfect) more closely alines with Scripture. Being a part of the Catholic faith for several years, I subsequently ended my fellowship because I believed its teachings do not, in many respects, closely aline with Scripture. This then takes us back to that key point of solidarity. Though the place of importance of Scripture differs in our schemes, it still carries great weight in each view. It is the common “Holy ground” we share. The place, as a community of believers from across denominational lines, can turn to so that we might correct, rebuke, and encourage one another.

    The question, as to which Church truly preaches and interprets the Scripture correctly, is a question that requires a person to look into Scripture and to be conscientious regarding his/her underlying assumptions (which are formed largely by a given tradition or scheme). It is a give and take method where we must continually be those of faith seeking to understand. That is one reason I am thankful for this discussion. I am aware that I am in need of the influence of other believers from different perspectives because I will never “arrive” this side of heaven.

  25. Barrett,

    You may have suspected that my last questions was a bit of loaded question. Admittedly, it was. We applaud the Bereans because they “received the word with all willingness and examined the scriptures daily to determine whether these things were so,” yet Acts 17 opens with Paul spending three weeks with the Thessalonicans “discussing with them from the scriptures, expounding and demonstrating…” So, what’s the difference? Both groups of sincere Jews earnestly examined scriptures with Paul. The difference is that the Bereans “recieved the word with all willingness…” In other words, they were open to Paul’s teaching authority. The Thessalonicans were not, and relied strictly on scriptures alone. Are Protestants Bereans or Thessalonicans?

    Similarly, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus “beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Yet, they never recognized him. Later, ” He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him.” Scriptures alone proved insufficient for them to experience Jesus. We truly gaze on Jesus in the Eucharist as Catholics believe.

    Lastly, Saul is struck from the horse, and hears a voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul had never met Jesus in the flesh. Saul was persecuting the Church, and Jesus here ascribes his personage to the Church. If so, can we say the Church is this invisible, loosely joined group of those who follow basic Christian teaching, or is it visible, with both body AND Spirit? Calvin said the former, and Catholics say the latter.

    Even if it all boils down to scripture alone, these examples seem to show that Protestantism is not fully aligned with scriptures. And, arguing otherwise in these instances, actually reinforces the point that scriptures alone is insufficient! It gets kinda messy. God bless.

  26. Barrett,

    “The question, as to which Church truly preaches and interprets the Scripture correctly, is a question that requires a person to look into Scripture and to be conscientious regarding his/her underlying assumptions (which are formed largely by a given tradition or scheme).”

    The difficulty that your answer presents is simply this, it reduces the deposit of the faith to whatever church happens to agree with my interpretation. This is why the Reformation eventually caused the shifting of authority from the Magiesterium to the academy. Thus, the Scripture, instead of being viewed as the Church’s Book, became the play thing of the university. It is not by accident that historical critical methodology, redactionary criticism etc… sprung up in the Protestant schools and not the Catholic. This is the achilles heel of Protestantism, there is no controlling paradigm in which the Scriptures are understood.

    For myself, I grew up Catholic and like you I left the Church. During my time out of the Catholic faith I went to Moody Bible and then Reformed Theological Seminary. While in school I worked in PCA churches and I then was ordained in the New York Presbytery of the PCA. It was during this time that I began to study the Church of history, and by that I mean, truly read the Fathers on their own terms and not my own. I, to my frustration at first, and then my great joy, came to the conclusion that Cardinal Newman much earlier came to, to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. Thus, if it truly is important to look to the historic Church, and it is, I could do no other than to submit my judgement to the judgement of the Church’s faith, a faith that precedes my faith, a faith that can be historically traced to the Apostles and in particular to the words, “upon this Rock I will build My Church” and in so doing join that great company that had gone before me and embrace as my own the Church not of my choosing but the Church given to me and you, the Catholic Church with the Bishop of Rome as its center of unity.

  27. Hi Tom,

    Please 2 Thessalonians 2:15 more carefully. Paul is speaking in the past tense of the teachings he had passed on. Nothing here about ongoing revelation. The church is to hold on to what Paul had taught them, whether by mouth or in writing. But Paul is now dead and so cannot preach anymore. So, how do have his teachings today? Yep – in wrting.

    If Paul didn’t mean what he wrote, how can you be sure of anything about him? You see, that sort of abject skepticism is an attribute of disbelief – not true belief.

    Hold fast, Tom. Hold fast.

  28. Constantine,

    Your condescedning tone is something that does not play well with me, but it is as much of an offense to take offense as to give offense, so I will not make much of it.

    That being said, if you think the Catholic Church teaches that revelation is on-going then you are wrong. The Church teaches very clearly that there is no new revelation to be expected until the glorious return of Christ (cf. Dei Verbum). Now as to the unpacking, explaining, understanding, applying, and development of that revelation from God the Church has given us the Magisterium as a sure norm and guide in a turbulent world that is tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.

  29. Brian,

    We rely on God, of course. For example, when He says in John 14:26 that He will send His Holy Spirit to remind His people of all things, what verification could possibly surpass that? We don’t rely on men, because God said that men are never reliable (Genesis 6:5).

    Now it’s always interesting to me that Romanists require human validation for heavenly actions. And that comes, I believe, from their church withholding God’s Word from their members. Of course its not a secret that Rome has always discouraged, if not completely disallowed, the reading of the Bible by its members. But even where Scripture was read at Mass, it was severely censored. According to Fr. Felix Just, S.J., Ph. D., the Missale Romanum (which was the official lectionary for 400 years) “used for Sundays, vigils, and major feasts included only about 22% of the NT Gospels, 11% of the NT Epistles, and only 0.8% of the OT (not counting the Psalms).” So our Catholic friends have been denied 99.2% of the Old Testament – that is simply stunning.

    So what does that mean for this discussion? It means that Catholics are detached from the tradition Jesus refers to in Matthew 23.

    The Pharisees, and even Jesus Himself as a rabbi, were required at a very early age to memorize the 39 books of the Old Testament. Those books contained very clear instructions to God’s people about where they were to find His commands. For instance, God’s instruction to the Israelites to “follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book” or suffer plagues (Deut. 28:58); to ensure prosperity if they “keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law (Deut. 30:10); or Joshua’s admonition to “”Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left.” (Joshua 23:6). Or the very words of God through the prophet Jeremiah: “Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you.” (Jer. 30:2). So the point of all this is, there is an immense corpus of Old Testament teaching directing God’s people to His written Word. Catholics have not heard this so when they read Matthew 23, they have no context. Jesus instructed His followers to listen to the Pharisees NOT because of any oral tradition they might impart, but because they (the Pharisees) had been instructed to only teach from the WRITTEN Scriptures. So when the Pharisee Paul said, “Do not go beyond what is written” he meant exactly what he wrote, in context of his training as a Pharisee. Contrary to what Brian assumes, Jesus was affirming the authoritative nature of the written Scriptures or sola scriptura. Or otherwise God the Son is contradicts God the Father. (Please read His words earlier in Matthew 5:17. Jesus came to affirm every “jot and tittle” of the Law. “Jots and tittles” are printing terms.)

    Now to the point that Catholics like to make, either that they wrote the New Testament or verified it, we must refer to God’s Word in Genesis 6:5. Therein, God Himself pronounces the impossibility of any human being, after the fall, doing what Brian thinks they can. The Psalmist writes, “for no one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2) and the Apostle Paul affirms this in Romans 3:10. So how can unrighteous people, whose only thoughts are evil, make righteous judgements about the nature and content of God’s righteous Word? The answer is, they can’t. And that is where Rome errs.

    Now certainly there is an authoritative “oral” tradition. That authority was given only to the Apostles as I mentioned in my earlier post. They had the ability, as Peter said of Paul, to speak with the “wisdom God gave” them. But no one else has that power and the Apostles are dead. We only know what they said, because the Holy Spirit committed it to writing for us through those he chose.

    One last point and that is that the Catholic Church doesn’t even believe what Brian does about oral tradition. Consider this magisterial pronouncement by a Cardinal of the Church

    To imagine that the Church, at a given moment in its history, could hold as of a faith a point which had no statable support in Scripture, would amount to thinking that an article of faith could exist without bearing any relation to the centre of revelation, and thus attributing to the Church and its magisterium a gift equivalent to the charism of revelation, unless we postulate, gratuitously, the existence of an esoteric oral apostolic tradition, for which there exists no evidence whatsoever. It is an express principle of Catholic teaching that the Church can only define what has been revealed; faith can only have to do with what is formally guaranteed by God. Yves M.-J. Congar, Tradition and Traditions An Historical and a Theological Essay (London Burns & Oates, 1966), p. 414. :

    The Catholic teaching is that “faith can only have to do with what is formally guaranteed by God” and that means His written Word.

    So how did the early church know which books belonged to the New Testament? The prophet Daniel gives us a clue: “He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” And Jesus affirms in John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

    Is Jesus able to do what He says? In the Old Testament God did His will without a church in Rome so why does He need one today?


  30. Hi Tom,

    Well, I certainly didn’t mean to be condescending and if you took me that way, I apologize.

    Please see my most recent post regarding your assertion of the “Magisterium”. My point to Brian and to you, is that given the Magisterium is composed of men and we know the nature of all men from God’s very mouth, its not possible that they have the power I assume you think they do. Even if they did, you’d have to explain the existence of faith outside those areas on earth where the Magisterium has been unknown or had no influence.

    And, if you were to rely on a Magisterium – which I assume you mean to include Bishops, Cardinals and the Pope – how do you explain the majority of church history where there was no Magisterium? Was God absent?


  31. Brian,

    Regarding Acts 17, there clearly is a fundamental difference from the Thessalonians and the Bereans and that difference is surely seen in how the Bereans “received the word with great eagerness”. Paul preached the Word to both, but only “some of [the Thessalonians] were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a great mulitude of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women” (Acts 17:4). This would then seem to lead us to why some of those Paul preaches to (v.2) accept the gospel message and why some do not. Is it due to a natural disposition apart from the work of the Spirit through the preaching of the gospel?

    You are correct, something is needed more than the bare preaching of the Scripture, for even the preaching of Christ (or rather especially His preaching) was rejected by many. In my understanding, what is needed is the regenerating work of the Spirit and His illumination. Acts 13:48 relates to us, “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” Both the foreordination of God and the work of the Spirit served to pierce their hearts and draw them into the fold by the means of the gospel message. The Bereans were not some how more apt to accept the words of Paul than the Thessalonians because of some inner proclivity separate from the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives. And what is the Spirit inclining them to do? Precisely this, to search out the OT in light of this new revelation in order to see if what Paul is saying lines up with what God has said in the past. On the road of Emmaus, Jesus is sharing how from beginning to end the OT Scripture was fulfilled in Him and the disciples later report, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32)” But you are right, they did not catch on until “He opened their minds to the Scriptures” (v.45). Left to our own resources we are as blind as they until God removes the veil. Thus the Bereans are not to be commended for the greater commitment to the apostles, but rather because of their Spirit wrought faith in the God of revelation. Even if the Catholic understanding of gazing upon Christ in the Eucharist is correct, that alone is insufficient apart from the work of the Spirit. Otherwise, ministry would be quite simple and many more would come to saving faith.

    Christ certianly connects Himself to the Church as He struck Paul from his horse, but does that imply the Church carries the same authority as that of Christ? Are they equal? Also, did a unified denominational corpus of believers exist at that time? Was not the Church at that very time in history a loose group of believers scattered around the Mediterranean region? Of course the term Church, like the term humanity, has an abstract side to it. It is a universal principle that connects the particular individuals who have believed in Christ as their Savior from the Church’s inception up to this very hour. To read back into the early Church our denominational affiliations is to project ourselves upon the past instead of learning from it.

    The work of understanding is very messy. We need God’s revelation, we need each other, and we need the work of the Spirit. It is a painstaking process where more often than not we get in the way.

  32. Fair minded gentlemen,

    (Barrett, I liked your greeting to the point of stealing it as my own.) I’m busy with family stuff this weekend, so I can’t delve into responding like I’d like. But, a couple of quick thoughts to you Constantine. You say, “Now it’s always interesting to me that Romanists require human validation for heavenly actions.” I’d say, “Duh, yeah. It’s called the Incarnation.” The Incarnation was the union of Spirit and matter which pleases the Father, and Christ connected with folks in the same way, using matter as a vehicle to impart grace. By the way, I’d suggest you drop the tell-tale “Romanist” label. It basically proves to be a disqualifier for sincere discourse. Later you quote a “magisterial pronouncement by a Cardinal of the Church.” News flash, a Cardinal cannot make a magisterial pronouncement. I won’t even get into the old, tired, characterization that the RCC prohibits (or prohibited) the reading of scriptures. Nearly everyone who interacts on respectable theological blogs knows it’s an untrue caracature, perpetuated in the interest of anti-Catholic rhetoric. (As if we didn’t already know your intention anyway as you write under the name “Constantine.”) As Forest Gump says, “and that’s all I have to say about that.” Peace gents.

  33. Tom, fellow Moody alumnus,

    Your testimony is a incredible polemic in favor of your faith. Don’t take this the wrong way for it is surely meant as a compliment, regarding this ongoing series of posts among you and Brian and myself, I have felt as if I have been between two 350 pound scholarly sumos. You both have a great wealth of understanding about these matters.

    Yes, an inherent shortcoming of that quote of mine is that it would appear to grant the individual the pride of place over both Scripture and the Church. And indeed, the history of Protestantism is rife with the uprising of schools of thought that have undermined the authority of God’s Word. Certainly if we grant the legitimacy of our own individual interpretations over that of others without a desire for reciprocity we will be doomed to look at our own faces instead of Christ. The task of understanding is one were we stand upon the shoulders of others, rely upon the work of the Spirit, and study to show ourselves approved before God as one who rightly divides the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

    In my understanding, the path of understanding Scripture is its perspicuous nature, the edification found within the community of faith, and the work of the Spirit (which is found in the lives of individual believers as his/her eyes are opened to the truth by deligent study and the input of others as well as the Spirit being the very cause to why believers live out the truth found in Scripture). The only objective mainstay in this is Scripture, for we can never be certain that our subjective individual interpretation or given denominational tradition (composed of fallen believers) is correct or even of the subjective work of the Spirit in our lives. I don’t believe it is ever possible for us to completely understand Scripture or a given text completely own its own terms. Neutrality is an impossibility. Thankfully God is greater than our finitude, environmental conditioning, and sin. And I can only be sure of this because of His revelation. A circularity exists, but it is one that is unaviodable.

  34. I did not express myself very well in the last paragraph of the last post. By the only objective means, I am defining objective as that which exists outside of the individual subject. Therefore my first use of the term “subjective” is a tautology. The second use of subjective rather means the inner witness and leading of the Spirit within the individual. I should have further added “only inerrant objective means” for surely the collective voices of the Church serve as a witness for us learn from.

    The problem with seeing the collective witness of the Church as the paradigm over the Word of God is that the Church (as a group of saved sinners) is prone to error. Let us consider the Corinthians. Paul addresses them in his first letter to cease forming allegences to particular teachers (some even were rebuked from claiming special priviledge to Christ; 1 Cor. 1:10-11)). His paradigm was the gospel as he says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). God had called them into His fold, they were part of the Body, and given spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1:2-9). However, they became arrogant and made little of the cross because it did not fly well with the wisdom of the day (the Greek philosopher and the Jewish Scribe; 1 Cor. 1:18-25). So a question arises from the text – how do we aviod factions and humbly learn from God as one Body? The answer is by turning to the gospel. A parallel verse sheds light on this, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). No greater paradigm exists than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  35. Thanks all of you for this thoughtful string of comments. While heading out of town tomorrow, I intend to finally read it through on the plane. Richest blessings to you and yours! Your brother and fellow servant, Chris

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