Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

No Infallibility for Anyone

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

So, something I’ve been doing during the long gap between my posts has been an occasional comment on other blogs, under the name Jugulum.  One of my exchanges ended up being highlighted by Carrie (a contributor to the blog), who posted excerpts in a separate entry, saying,  “Not that the general discussion points haven’t been covered here and elsewhere many times over, but I thought Jugulum provided a nice clarity to the issue in his comments”.  Thanks, Carrie. :)

The exchange has to do with infallibility in Roman Catholicism.  One of the appeals of Catholicism is the idea of certainty.  If you have to read & interpret the Bible for yourself, how do you know if you’ve got it right? You’re just a fallible private interpreter.  But if you listen to the Church, you have an infallible interpreter to tell you what you should believe.

The major problem is this: Who interprets the interpreter?

When you read the Scriptures, you have to try to figure out what they mean.  You might get it wrong.  And when you listen to the Pope or read the Catechism or read the rulings of councils, then you also have to try to figure out what they mean, and you might get it wrong.  Either you’re reading the infallible Scriptures, or you’re reading (allegedly) infallible proclamations of the Church–and you have to interpret both.  Because you’re fallible, your theology will always be fallible–even if you were sitting at the feet of Christ during his ministry on earth, you could still misunderstand.

  • Note: This argument doesn’t tell us whether or not God actually did give us the Catholic teaching Magisterium to be our guide.  It just means that your theology will always be fallible, regardless of who’s right about sola Scriptura.  This common Catholic argument ends up being an (unintentional) shell game.
  • However, the Catholic system does offer something that would be nice, if it were really from God.  Even though we can’t become infallible, it would be nice to have an infallible interpreter.  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to ask Paul what he meant sometimes?  To interact with him in person? If the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox Church) could actually give us authoritative interpretations from God, it would be nice.  (And we would be obliged to submit.)  But, we can be assured that if God didn’t give us such a thing, then we don’t need it.  If we Protestants are right that the only infallible authority is Scripture, then we can be confident that we have all the guidance we require–everything God wanted us to have.  (Other authorities–like tradition, philosophy, etc.–might be helpful, but they’re under Scripture, and they’re not infallible.)  If so, then Catholics are (sadly) seeing deficiency in what God has graciously lavished on us.  We need to get this right.

So, now that I’ve summarized it, on to the exchange.  It started when I replied to this comment from Alexander Greco:

Within Catholicism, granting that its teachings are true, a person has the possibility to know that he or she is holding beliefs at variance with sound doctrine, and can avoid this.

My reply starts here, and the exchange continues through the combox.  Or, if you don’t want to read everything, you can check out the excerpts pulled out by Carrie.

A New Series on Eastern Orthodoxy

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

I want to point you all to a new series on Eastern Orthodoxy over at Parchment and Pen. (I’ve posted some comments, asking questions about his statements on the canon of Scripture.)  Dr. Bradley Nassif, who contributed to the book Three Views on Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, describes the content of the first three posts:

it is my conviction that there was and is a continuous and consistent tradition of apostolic faith passed down through the centuries, and that the Orthodox Church most faithfully embodies it – at least on a formal level. I’d like to share just two examples that illustrate how the Orthodox Church has maintained its unbroken succession with Christian antiquity, and reveal why it is particular attractive to an increasing number of Christians. Today I’ll speak of Scripture; next blog, I focus on the role of history. The third blog to come, however, will put the Orthodox Church under the microscope of an evangelical critique.

I’m looking forward to the third blog. I’ll be quite interested to see how he articulates the issues, and responds to them.

The posts so far are:
Upcoming Posts on Eastern Orthodoxy [note: this link is expired; the post disappeared] (by Michael Patton)
Why Eastern Orthodoxy? Part 1: Introduction (by Dr. Nassif)

The comment section of Dr. Nassif’s first post has the questions I asked him about the canon. (As before, I used the name Jugulum.) It’s an interesting subject–I think it’s one of the hardest for Christians to wrestle with, and it may be the most neglected subject in evangelical teaching in general. (Update: To clarify, I actually asked him some probing questions, rather than simply questions for information.  I asked him a bit about his view, how he handles the OT canon, and whether he’s be consistent in the claims he makes about the Orthodox Church and the NT canon.)

Update: Here are the rest of the posts from the series, now that it’s complete.

Why Eastern Orthodoxy? Part 2: History
Why Eastern Orthodoxy? Part 3: A Gospel Critique of Eastern Orthodoxy

Investing in a Local Church: Something Revealed By Pain

Sunday, November 11th, 2007

I guess this is part three, following my first and second entries on the topic.

I just returned from a congregational meeting. Among the issues they discussed was the fact that several families who have been with the church for a long time have left over the last year or so. They brought it up to discuss some of the reasons this has been happening. It was difficult, because of what a wrenching experience it has been to lose those families.

And that made me think–It is as painful as it is because of the depth and value of the relationships that had been formed. I’m a newcomer, and so I was not directly affected by their loss, not really knowing them. But the visible pain spoke clearly to the richness of the connections in this church family. How much poorer would we be if we held ourselves aloof, or did not stay in one place long enough to put down the roots that are so painful when torn?

I want those roots. And I am glad beyond my ability to describe that God has brought me to this family. It is my duty, my calling, and it will be my joy to discover how I can use what God has given me to bless these people, and to be blessed in return. I pray that God will use me well, and will continue to bring into my life people whose gifts God will use to grow me up in Him, so that at the end of my life here in this world I will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Investing in a Local Church: Follow-Up Thoughts

Friday, November 9th, 2007

I have a few follow-up thoughts about my last entry on investing in a particular local church, as opposed to habitual church-hopping. The first have to do with some additional Biblical reasons, and then I have a thought about the way I wrote my last entry.

1.) Submission to elders, and examples to, um, youngers.

There are two similar passages, in 1 Peter 5 and Titus 2.


Investing in a Local Church

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

I was talking on the phone earlier tonight with a friend. She’s been involved with a local Baptist church for a while, but said that she’ll have to find a new one soon–she’ll be moving to another town for a couple semesters for some med school requirements. She knows of at least one good church there, but will naturally want to look around to see what else is there. And she said that she may end up church hopping for a while. She has mixed feelings about it, but is more OK with it than most people. After thinking for a minute, she explained why:

She sees the church in terms of the global Church. There isn’t one particular organization, one building, one group. There’s the global Body of Christ, and she can be part of that whatever church she goes to on Sunday.

I affirmed what she said, but went on to explain why I still see importance in investing yourself in a particular congregation, and not switching churches lightly, but only as something of a “last resort”. (more…)

On Jesus, Mission, and Church – Pt. 2

Tuesday, July 17th, 2007

Another excerpts from Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons From An Emerging Missional Church, by Mark Driscoll:

“[A couple leaving the church] complained that since the church had grown a bit bigger and things a bit busier, my wife and I had become less available to them… We were stunned. We needed couples like this to help the church survive… I simply gave up and sent them on their way because they were not on our mission to bring the gospel to Seattle.”

This touches on the way that people choose churches–our expectations, our criteria, our view of the proper relationship between us and a church. Are we looking for something to meet our needs, or are we looking for ways to serve?


On Jesus, Mission, and Church

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

Excerpts from Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons From An Emerging Missional Church, by Mark Driscoll

“No matter what the tradition or theological perspective, the one common thread that wove all of the churches together was that they were each on their on mission instead of on Jesus’ mission to transform people and cultures by the power of the Holy Spirit through the work of the gospel. And each church conveniently grabbed the snapshot of Jesus that best suited their mission and used it to legitimize and bless their mission in his name. Theologically, this was profoundly troubling, because I was certain that Jesus was his own mission and that any church not on that mission had what Paul called another gospel and another Jesus, concocted by a cunning serpent.”

“For me, our church was not the people we had but primarily the people we did not yet have, and I needed to go get those people… I kept scheduling meetings in an effort to convert the lost to Jesus and convert the found to our mission with Jesus so that the church could move forward.”

To Know God Better

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

The name of this blog, of course, is a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

The context is 1 Cor. 12-13, on the primacy of love and community in the church. Paul discusses spiritual gifts in chapter 12, how there are many gifts and types of service empowered by God for the common good. (The importance of community was on is mind; he had just chastised the Corinthian church in chapter 11 for the way they profaned the Lord’s Supper with divisions. Instead of being an expression of each believer with Christ and with each other, they ate for their own bellies and they got drunk; those with food ate their own meals while others went hungry.) The whole body is to be joined together so that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Each type of service is needed, whether “humble” or “great”. Some are gifted to help others, or to administration, while others are gifted to teach, to heal, to work miracles.

And yet, he says in chapter 13, each gift is a vain and worthless thing if divorced from love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (v. 1) And even great acts of charity are made meaningless if done without love: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing.” (v. 3) Love holds a unique in the world; it will never cease, through all eternity. It has the ultimate staying power; it will last to the end, when Christ comes and this fallen world passes away, when every partial, passing, and imperfect good we now know will be consummated and fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth.

Love and community is a taste of heaven. The sacrifice of Christ was not to give people their ticket out of hell; his sacrifice was to create a unified body of serving believers, of disciples and followers. We are made in the image of God, but fallen and twisted; He transforms us to fulfill the image of Christ, showing mercy and love to those who have rejected Him and lived in rebellious selfishness; He saves us by grace through faith, not based on our own efforts to be good. Salvation is freely given to sinners, but we are His workmanship, created for the very purpose of walking in good works, in service and generosity and love. We cannot earn forgiveness, but we can live transformed lives, working out our salvation through His power. We can be one, even as the Son and the Father are one, as Jesus prayed for the disciples in John 17.

The unity and community that we can know is a taste of the nature of God; community is so fundamental that it is part of His eternal being; He is three Persons, eternally knowing and loving one another. The more we understand love, the better we know God.

And so it is that Paul says in 1 Cor 13:12–after saying that love never ends, as some things will–that, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” The promise of the gospel is not fundamentally about punishment and reward; eternal life is not a matter of never-ending physical pleasures; it is not about the feasts and 70 virgins that some men die to acquire; it is not about the self-centered bliss that some Christians seek. God so loved the world that those who believe in Him should have eternal life–and Jesus defined eternal life in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Eternal life is knowing God. The ultimate death is not to know Him. The heinousness of idolatry–in all its forms, such as greed & materialism–is that we expend our focus and energy on things that do not matter. It is a tragedy to waste a life created in the image of God for service. We can fritter our lives away, devoted to money, to watching television, to sex, to reading fiction, to science, to alcohol, to drugs, to a romantic relationship, to the next exciting thrill, to food, to fame, to fortune. These things may have good in them, but it is a waste of a life to devote to them all our focus, our time, and our energy. They may be part of a life worth living, but they must not be the whole. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And so, I come to the purpose of this blog: To know and to show God better, in whatever ways I can. It is to share what I learn, to organize my thoughts, to provide resources, to summarize what I study, and to offer up my own best efforts at understanding God and the world. We are called to service, to fruitful labor, to live for the community; I can point to very little in my past or present life where I have answered this call.

This is one thing I can do. I want this blog to be an expression of my own longing to live out whatever grace God has given me. I’ll post a variety of things–anything I’m thinking about, reading, learning. I’ll post simple quotes from books I’m reading, and sometimes I’ll add my own thoughts. I’ll summarize some nugget of information from a subject I’m studying. I’ll present my own observations, whatever they’re worth. And I’ll link to meaningful, interesting, and helpful entries on other blogs.

I want to do what I can to wipe away grime from the glass through which we see God, to wrestle with confusions and uncertainties, to see more clearly the light of who He is, and to be transformed to reflect that light more brightly. I want to reach the end, and to hear the Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Bear with me. We’ll see how it goes.