A Reply to Protestant Apologist Jason Engwer
|A Response to Jason Engwer's Challenge to opponents of
What is your rule of faith?
I will start out answering this question with a question: why is your rule of faith the Bible? Since the Bible does not name its own canon then by what authority do you accept 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament as inspired? Why do you accept the books of Jude, 3rd John, James, and Hebrews as inspired? And why do you reject the Epistles of Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Shepherd of Hermas, and the Didache as inspired?
How do you know that 2 Timothy 3:16 includes the former but excludes the latter? And by what authority do you reject the books of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Wisdom as inspired and yet accept the books of Esther and Ecclesiastes as inspired? As a former Assembly of God Evangelist for 12 years who worked also in an Interdenominational Environment I could not get solid answers to these questions because in order to do so, we (evangelicals) would have to violate the very pillar of our belief system, Sola Scriptura (I'm speaking in the past tense with respect to my former theological position). The truth is Evangelicals accept their 66-book canon as the inspired word of God by tradition, the very same thing they condemn.
Although I passionately believe the Bible (all 73 books) is the inspired word of God and I read and meditate on the Scriptures daily, it is no longer my final authority. The Bible cannot say to the Jehovah Witness, the Free Evangelical, the non-denominational church, and The United Pentecostal, "I rebuke you for interpreting me wrong, this is the correct interpretation..." My final authority for faith and Christian doctrine is the Catholic Church, which can say with infallibility, "you're interpreting the Scriptures wrong." Why do I believe this and how do I verify this? By the testimony of the Scriptures and the apostolic succession of the Catholic bishops and Fathers, the same bishops who tell us what the Scriptures are.
In your challenge to my faith you asserted that the early Fathers defined the word "church" in many different ways. That is blatantly false! One of the major components in my conversion was the testimony of the Fathers and how they saw the Scriptures. Every one of them were in harmony in their understanding of what the Catholic Church was and all of them recognized the Church's authority. In fact, its authority was a visible, recognizable, identifiable Church authority. Everyone knew what and where the Catholic Church was: Rome was at the center of that Church. Had the Church been understood or interpreted differently people would have joined some "other Church." But there were no other Christian Churches. The concept of "denominations" only arose after the 16th century when the "Reformers" broke from the visible Church.
The Scriptures by themselves -- apart from any ecclesiastical body to infallibly interpret them -- are insufficient as a rule of faith. This fact is self evident by the multiple interpretations that come from the Scriptures by Sola Scriptura advocates. The very Pillars of the Reformation itself, Martin Luther and John Calvin drew from Sola Scriptura, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, infant baptism, and a prohibition of birth control to name just a few; however today, using the same Sola Scriptura principle nearly 500 years after the Reformation "evangelicals" reject infant baptism and the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and birth control is perfectly acceptable.
In your challenge to my faith you stated that advocates of Sola Scriptura point out that multiple misinterpretations of the Scriptures is not a problem with the Scriptures themselves but with fallible teachers. This is the very heart of your theological system; to revert back to the Scriptures alone as a sole authority and rule of faith. To reason that there are "no infallible teachers" is to deny there indeed are infallible teachers. In a sense this is a type of circular reasoning as you are in effect saying, "because humanity is incapable of interpreting the Scriptures with infallibility, Sola Scriptura must prove Sola Scriptura." However, none of the Fathers of the Church ever believed that the Scriptures by themselves left in the hands of just anyone to interpret are the sole rule of faith. When the Scriptures say that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15), then the Church upholds the Word of God with infallibility; the Bible rests on those very pillars of the Church and it is the Bible itself, which testifies to this!
Neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever mentioned writing a canon that would become the sole rule of faith. The Scriptures do not say; "Upon this rock I will build my Bible." The Scriptures say, "Upon this rock I will build my Church" (St Matthew 16:16-19). The Scriptures do not say, "His intent was that now, through the Bible, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." On the contrary, the Scriptures say, "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephes 3:10-11). Neither does the Scriptures say, "if I am delayed, you will have the Bible to read in God's household, which is the book of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Saint Paul the Apostle clearly records, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15 NIV).
In your challenge to my faith you asserted that certain Sola Scriptura advocates point out that those who oppose Sola Scriptura have disagreements among themselves within such groups as Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, "Roman Catholics" and liberals within their organization.
This is a misleading argument; first of all, I believe the Catholic Church is the Church of the Bible and by Catholic I refer to both the Eastern and Western Fathers (and all believers) who then made up the Catholic Church. Normally in my apologetics I defend also the Orthodox Church because the Catholic Church recognizes their apostolicity and they are indeed organically Catholic. However, for reasons I will not explain in this essay, the Eastern Orthodox are in Schism from the West since doctrinal authority goes to those Bishops in union with the Bishop of Rome.
The Anglican Church, though it calls itself "catholic" does not have apostolic origins but indeed was born because the King of England wanted to marry his mistress and divorce his wife and the Pope would not allow it, so King Henry VIII rebelled and appointed his own Bishops. Therefore, the Anglicans do not trace or uphold in entirety the original deposit of faith handed down from the Apostles.
The original deposit of faith handed down from the Apostles cannot change and therefore liberal theologians within the Catholic Church cannot be used as an argument for a rule of faith since the very term "liberal" refers to changes in what is considered "conservative" and what is conservative is the original deposit of faith handed down by the Apostles and upheld by the Church which can never change that deposit. This is why the Church is the manifold wisdom of God (Ephes 3:10) and the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15) because it upholds the Word of God with 100% truth and accuracy by Divine Ordination from the Father who sent Jesus, to Jesus who ordained the Church upon the Apostles and which the Holy Spirit protects from doctrinal error and guides into all truth (John 14:16-17; 16:13).
Today the Church is God's Holy Prophet and it is the Church that gives us with infallibility God's Holy Word which like the nature of God is revealed in a triune way: The Holy Scriptures, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium of the Church.
Next, you make the argument in response to our position against Sola Scriptura that if disagreements in interpreting a rule of faith proves that the rule of faith is insufficient then there is no rule of faith. As I pointed out in the previous paragraphs, your citations for what are allegedly disagreements among Catholics is misleading and deceptive. Any objective examination of the Scriptures in conjunction with the ancient Fathers of the Church clearly demonstrates an incredible systematic consistency of Christian doctrine that cannot be reasonably interpreted as anything but a Catholic view of Divine Revelation. The Scriptures and the Faith of the ancient Fathers such as Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Eusebius, Adeus, Alexander, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, Athanasius, Cyprian, Cyril, Hippolytus and a host of others all testify either explicitly or implicitly with incredible harmony, that the Church Christ started was the Catholic Church, that Peter was the Rock and the linear succession of the Bishops of Rome starting with the Apostle Peter had primacy in the Church.
They clearly believed in Apostolic Succession, the Sacraments of the Church, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, being Born Again and saved through baptism, infant baptism, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the sinless state of Mary, the Communion of Saints, a final purging for the righteous in death before entering heaven (Purgatory), prayers for the dead, Sacred Tradition, and the supreme authority of the Church which is the foundation upon which the Bible's authority rests. Let us just sample some of their writings which are indicative of all:
They drew all these beliefs from the Scriptures themselves. When there were doctrinal disputes such as the canon of the Scriptures or the Immaculate Conception or Assumption of Mary it was the Church itself which infallibly settled the matter through Church Councils or the Bishop of Rome's infallible declaration on the matter when speaking "ex cathedra" (from the seat of Peter). This is exactly how God designed His Church and he promised through the Apostles that he would guide the Church by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Therefore the rule of faith and the final authority for Christian doctrine is the Church which upholds Divine Revelation with infallibility. No other method can or has worked until Jesus himself comes back to rule. In the meantime he gave us the Church with Peter at the helm to guide us on our earthly journey (John 21:15-19) and the Church gave us the Bible to draw our inspiration from and to help us grow spiritually along with the sacraments of the Church.
There were disagreements historically among a few Church Fathers; those disagreements were solved by Church Councils to which the Bishops of the Church submitted, accepted and upheld those rulings because they believed the answer came directly from the Holy Spirit which guides the Church into all truth. Even the disagreements during the first sixteen centuries of the Church were incredibly minor compared to the massive disagreement among today's Sola Scripturists. For instance, although Saint Jerome argued in favor of 39 books of the Old Testament, he submitted to Pope Damasus and the Councils of Carthage and Hippo that ruled on what was Scripture and recorded his retraction in writing, the matter was settled and the Church was the final authority. Here is what St Jerome wrote:
The reason why the Catholic Church has organizational unity is because that is what Jesus and His Apostles intended! St Paul called us to organizational unity (Eph 4:1-6) and Jesus himself commissioned Peter to take care of the sheep and to feed them (Matt 16:16-19; John 21:15-19) which clearly implies organizational unity (but not denominations). Even protestant denominations have organizational unity within their own sect; that is why they are denominations because they view the Scriptures in a traditional way (a new tradition) a way unique to that organization!
So to argue that the Bible is not an organization is really a moot point and brings us right back to the question of final authority. The very fact that you would challenge me on this issue demonstrates you claim your interpretation of the Scriptures more correct than the Catholic Church. Thus your final authority is not the Bible but your own denomination's interpretation of the Bible.
We can compare and contrast this with our own government. Our Supreme Law is the U.S. Constitution but can just anyone interpret it to grant justice? Can the accused interpret the constitution for himself to gain an aquittal? Absolutely not because the results would be no justice! Is the entire U.S. court system in such a disunity that they will not have a succession of higher courts to appeal to with respect to Law? We need a court system under the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court to make our final appeal and to correctly interpret and apply law to have Justice for all.
The very same is true for Divine Revelation; we have the Holy Scriptures and Sacred Tradition as Divine Revelation and the Magisterium of the Church to correctly interpret it. If we don't have these things a vacuum is created that must be filled and the results are thousands of Protestant denominations and sects that continue to splinter. Therefore, our point in contrasting the Catholic Church's unity with Protestant disunity is a very valid comparison and the incredible disunity Protestants have and the incredible Unity we Catholics have is simply self evident.
If you want more evidence for this then I will refer you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and ask you to produce a Protestant Catechism demonstrating Protestant Unity on the Scriptures. If your answer is the Bible is your Catechism then I submit that is circular reasoning which says "Sola Scriptura proves Sola Scriptura."
Neither the Catholic Church nor the Orthodox churches are denominations, they are Catholic! Denominations and sects are the result of the Protestant "Reformation" and the Catholic Church predates any "Protestant church" by 1500 years. Denominations are in direct conflict with the Scriptures so to argue everyone has "organizational unity" simply by belonging to a new Protestant denomination or sect is not a valid comparison.
Finally, in your challenge to my theological position and faith, you concluded that Catholics have to rely on their own "fallible interpretation" of the Scriptures to conclude that the Catholic Church interprets the Bible infallibly. Once again, this is a misleading and deceptive argument: we believe in the Gospel and the authority of the Catholic Church because of two thousand years of ecclesiastical history and deeply embedded traditions and liturgy, the linear succession of the Catholic bishops and Church Fathers, their testimony, their unity of faith, the Holy Scriptures which they wrote about, canonized and gave us, and especially the linear succession of the Bishop of Rome.
All of these things trace back to the Apostles and to St. Peter himself who received his commission from the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent by God the Father, who also sent the Holy Spirit to guide and direct the Church into all truth (St John 16:13). And Finally, I believe the Church is the final authority because she has endured the test of time and stands strong 2000 years later and continues to prosper despite the great persecution she receives from Protestants and heretics. God would never allow such an alleged evil organization to stand and prosper for so long unless that organization is Holy and Apostolic and protected and preserved from every unrighteous indignation in the history of humanity.
The Book of Acts records that the Pharisees brought Peter and the Apostles before the Sanhedrin to question and order them not to speak or preach in the name of Jesus. The Chief Apostle Saint Peter (Who would later become the Bishop of Rome and set up the Holy See) spoke boldly before the Sanhedrin and said: "We must obey God rather then men." The Pharisees became furious and wanted to put to death Peter and the Apostles but a man named Gamaliel, who was a teacher of the Law and well respected in the community, pointed out to the Sanhedrin that if what the Apostles had was of man then it would fail and die out but if it was truly of God then they would only be fighting against God.
That record in the book of Acts marks the first of many persecutions, trials, and attempts to destroy God's One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. However, Judaism, the Pharisees, and the Sanhedrin could not destroy the Catholic Church; the Gnostics and other Heretics could not destroy the Catholic Church; the Roman Empire not only could not destroy the Catholic Church but it fell to the Catholic Church! The Great Schism of 1054 could not destroy the Catholic Church; the Protestant Reformation could not destroy the Catholic Church; the mighty Soviet Union could not destroy the Catholic Church; "Born Again Christianity" and Protestants cannot destroy the Catholic Church. Pedophile and gay priests cannot destroy the Catholic Church; the United States and its court system cannot destroy the Catholic Church.
Why cannot the Catholic Church be destroyed and why has it not died out? Because the Catholic Church is of God and not man!
As we go backwards in Ecclesiastical history the Christian religion becomes more and more Catholic until we reach the turn of the 16th century just before the Reformation, the Church is purely Catholic for 1500 years! Let us look at it another way: The Church was in perfect harmony for 1500 years and then came the Protestant Reformation. In the book of Genesis it is recorded that there was One common language. The Tower of Babel was being built by men who wanted to be exalted above God and do things their way. But God confused their language so they could no longer work together. The same thing happened as a result of the Reformation: man wanted to come to God on his own terms, he no longer wanted to submit to the authority of the Bishops and the Church which God ordained for us as spiritual overseers (Heb 13:17). So God confused the Protestant religion so it continues to divide and compete against each other all in the name of Sola Scriptura.
To quote Evangelical apologist Josh McDowell, "the evidence demands a verdict" that the Church which Christ gave us is the final authority on faith, Christian doctrine, and morals.
Therefore, by faith and reason I defected from my previous erroneous Protestant position and returned Home from where I started (after 18 years of Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism) to God's One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church for my own spiritual growth and hope of eternal life. With God's grace I will continue in faith and do the works the Lord has given me to do during my earthly journey.
To Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
David Lamb (Super Saved Catholic Dave)
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