J (Protestant Evangelical): First Rebuttal


P began his opening remarks with a quote about development of doctrine. He concluded with some comments about including Eastern Orthodoxy within his definition of Catholicism. He needs to be more specific. This isn't a debate about acorns growing into oak trees, nor is it a debate about Eastern Orthodoxy. The Catholic Church claims that doctrines like the papacy and the Immaculate Conception have always been held by the Christian church. It uses terms like "clear" and "highest authority" to describe how those doctrines were perceived and taught during the earliest years of Christianity. Some of the branches may have grown, and there might be a new leaf here or there. But if the difference between early Christianity and modern Catholicism is as significant as the difference between an acorn and an oak tree, then the claims of the Catholic Church are false.

This is a debate about the Biblical evidence for Catholicism. But P made a lot of claims about post-Biblical history in his opening remarks. For example:

"The TC is the same Church of the early Fathers, the Creeds and Ecumenical Councils said to have the Four Marks of the True Church being One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic."

The Catholic Church disagrees with some of what the church fathers, creeds, and ecumenical councils taught. Catholics have no verifiable, consistent standard for determining what is and isn't infallible teaching. They disagree among themselves about how to define papal infallibility and how often it's been exercised. They inconsistently accept some Roman bishops as Popes while dismissing others as antipopes. They reject canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon. The Second Council of Constantinople claimed authority over the bishop of Rome and excommunicated him. What modern Catholic would want to defend the teachings of the Fourth Lateran Council, which ordered Jews to wear distinguishing clothing and offered indulgences for contributing to the Crusades?

Catholics say that the ecumenical councils were authoritative only in some of what they taught, that only some Roman bishops are Popes, that Popes are infallible only when speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, etc. There's no way to justify these standards with anything Jesus and the apostles taught. Catholics just make up and change the rules as they go along. It sounds good for a Catholic apologist like P to claim that Catholicism is consistent with the church fathers, creeds, and ecumenical councils. But when you look at the details of church history, and compare them with the details of what Roman Catholicism teaches, such a claim is seen to be false. All that Catholics are doing is looking backward at church history, making up rules about what the Christian church should look like, then changing those rules whenever they fail to meet their own standards. The standards by which a Roman bishop will be defined as an antipope in one century are different than the standards applied to another Roman bishop in another century. Popes making the highest of authority claims for themselves are said to have somehow not been speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals when they taught something Catholics don't want to defend. Councils that never perceived themselves as being under papal authority, and even denied that they were under any such authority, are redefined as speaking authoritatively only when they agreed with the Pope. There is no verifiable, consistent standard by which Catholics make these judgments. They just make up and change the rules as they go along. They want an infallible institution with an unbroken succession from the apostles, and history will have to be cut, pounded, and redefined to fit that shape.

Personal Interpretation

P said:

"The NT Gospels and epistles once written were never handed to the saints individually so they could interpret them for themselves; rather, they were required to obey their bishops, elders and leaders over them who mediated God's Word and teaching to God's saints...

"The apostles teaching and tradition was inspired and infallible, whether or not it was ever written down. And that message was never privately interpreted (cf. Acts 15)."

In other words, P's personal interpretation of the historical evidence is that Jesus and the apostles didn't want us to rely on personal interpretation. Isn't it ridiculous for P to condemn personal interpretation in a debate in which he's personally interpreting dozens of passages of scripture? Where has the Catholic Church infallibly interpreted Acts 15 or 2 Timothy 3? Where has the Catholic Church infallibly interpreted the other passages P discussed in his opening remarks? Even if the Catholic Church had infallibly interpreted all of those passages, how would P know that his denomination's authority claims are true in the first place? He would have to rely on personal interpretation of evidence.

The Psalmist said that he could know more than his teachers knew by meditating on the word of God (Psalm 119:99). Are teachers helpful? Yes. Does being helpful make them necessary or infallible? No. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he told them that he expected them to understand what he wrote (2 Corinthians 1:13). There's no evidence that when Paul wrote his letter to Philemon, for example, Philemon had to wait for the bishop of Rome to give him an ex cathedra interpretation of Paul's letter. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 are commended for searching the scriptures themselves. Paul wanted scripture read to congregations, and he says nothing about some second person interpreting it for everybody (1 Thessalonians 5:27). The books of the New Testament often tell us whom they're written to. They're not written to a Pope or only to a group of authoritative interpreters.

Development of Doctrine

The claim is often made by Catholic apologists, and was made by P, that Catholic doctrine developed over time in the same way that Trinitarian doctrine and the canon of scripture developed. Such comparisons are false, however, for a number of reasons.

As I documented in my opening remarks, the Catholic Church claims that doctrines like the papacy and the Immaculate Conception were always held by the Christian church. Supposedly, these doctrines were clearly understood throughout the Christian world, and were taught with the highest of authority. Such claims don't leave much room for development. I, as an evangelical, don't make those claims about the Trinity or the canon of scripture. Since Catholic claims about a doctrine like the Immaculate Conception are different from my claims about a doctrine like the Trinity, an unqualified comparison between the two is invalid.

Did the Immaculate Conception doctrine develop the same way Trinitarian doctrine developed? Neither the term "Immaculate Conception" nor the term "Trinity" is in the Bible. The terminology developed for both. The difference is that the concept of the Immaculate Conception is absent from the Bible, whereas the concept of the Trinity is not. There are hundreds of passages throughout the Bible that refer to monotheism, the deity of the three Persons of the Trinity, and their co-existence. The doctrine of the Trinity is a logically necessary conclusion to Biblical teaching. Concepts such as Christ having two natures, the deity of the Holy Spirit, and the three Persons being of one essence are unavoidable conclusions to Biblical teaching. The same cannot be said for the Immaculate Conception. Catholics can speculate about what a Greek word in Luke 1:28 might imply about Mary, but the passage doesn't lead to a probable or necessary conclusion that Mary was immaculately conceived. We have to distinguish between possibilities on the one hand and probabilities and necessities on the other hand. The Catholic interpretation of Luke 1:28 fits into the former category, and Trinitarian doctrine fits into the latter.

What about the canon of scripture? The nearly universal recognition of the 27-book New Testament canon arose in the fourth century. Previously, the books had been accepted by a majority, but not as large a majority. But nobody denies that the books existed prior to the fourth century. Even liberal scholarship dates at least the large majority of the New Testament documents to the first century. The canon consists of written documents that we can date according to the arguments the writers of the documents used, the language that was used, the manuscripts we have, etc. The fact that the acceptance of the canon developed over time doesn't make the canon comparable to something like the Assumption of Mary doctrine, which appeared out of nowhere in an apocryphal, heretical document that postdates the apostles by hundreds of years. To compare the canon being accepted late to a Catholic doctrine arising late is a false comparison.

If Trinitarian doctrine developed no differently than the Immaculate Conception, should we accept both? No, we should reject both. But Trinitarian doctrine didn't develop the same way. It tells us something about the poverty of Catholic apologetics when the defenders of Catholicism make these false comparisons. What are we to think when they appeal so frequently to development of doctrine, even when the Catholic Church has denied development? What would lead a Catholic apologist to begin a debate with an admission that his denomination is as different from the church of the Bible as an oak tree is from an acorn? Why don't we see evangelicals talking so much about acorns and oak trees? Why don't we see them making such frequent, widespread references to development of doctrine? Why are evangelicals willing to compare themselves to the Bible without making so many appeals to post-Biblical development? Doesn't such a contrast tell us something about which group is more Biblical? Isn't it significant that evangelicals don't have to begin a debate by saying, "We're like a tree compared to the Biblical seed, but you should conclude that we're Biblical anyway"?

Oneness

P fell into one logical error after another in his comments on church unity:

"...according to the Bible, there is only one Church and one Faith (Matt 16:18f; Eph 4:4f), not multiple churches teaching different doctrines and contradictory faiths....

"Evangelicals view the church as the body of Christ but irrespective of the beliefs of those "believers" as well (i.e. their "denominational affiliation"), which is clearly contradicted by the Scriptures that there is only one true Faith, one teaching of Christ proclaimed in the one body of Christ (Matt 28:20; Eph 4:4f; Jude 3)."

Nobody denies that there's one church and one faith. Neither Ephesians 4 nor Jude 3 mentions one denomination. They mention one faith. Do people disagree in their interpretation of the Bible? Yes. People also disagree in their interpretation of Catholicism.

P refers to differing beliefs among evangelicals, as though such a thing is unacceptable. But read Romans 14. Read Revelation 2-3. Christians can agree on many issues without agreeing on every issue. Does that mean that the issues where there's disagreement are insignificant? No. Does it mean that every viewpoint is correct? No. But a person doesn't have to be correct on every issue in order to be a Christian, and there are some issues God hasn't defined for us.

Catholics disagree with each other. Some Catholics are atheists. Some interpret the Bible more allegorically, some more literally. Some are young earth creationists. Others are old earth evolutionists. Some believe that papal infallibility has been exercised twice in church history. Others believe it's been exercised more often. Catholics disagree with each other about predestination, the salvation of non-Catholics, which sins are mortal, eschatology, spiritual gifts, and a lot of other issues.

What sort of unity were Jesus and the apostles concerned about? Since Ted Kennedy, John Dominic Crossan, and P belong to the same denomination, do they have the unity Jesus was speaking of in John 17? How about the unity Paul discussed with the Corinthians? Paul defined his unity as a unity of love (1 Corinthians 12:25). Even though the Corinthians belonged to the same physical church structure, they didn't have this unity (1 Corinthians 11:18). In Luke 9:49-50, we read of a man who wasn't part of the apostles' organizational structure, yet he had spiritual unity with them. By the standards of Luke 9 and 1 Corinthians 12, there are many Protestants who have more unity with each other than a liberal Catholic has with a conservative Catholic. What sort of unity is P referring to?

Is he saying that there must be only one set of correct doctrines? Who denies that? P can point to evangelicals disagreeing about how to interpret the Bible, and I can point to Catholics disagreeing about how to interpret their rule of faith. In fact, in a sense, evangelicals have more unity. While evangelicals disagree with each other in their interpretations of the Bible, at least they agree on a 66-book canon of scripture. Catholics, on the other hand, don't even agree about which papal decrees, council rulings, etc. are infallible and which aren't. Catholics not only disagree with each other in interpreting their rule of faith, but they also disagree about the canon of that rule of faith.

Is P referring to a unity of love? I don't think he can prove that Catholics are fulfilling 1 Corinthians 12:25 better than evangelicals.

Is P referring to a unity of denominational affiliation? The Corinthians were part of the same physical church, but they didn't have the unity Paul wanted them to have (1 Corinthians 11:18). Belonging to the same physical church or denomination isn't enough to meet the Biblical standard of unity. The church in Philadelphia kept itself separate from the errors and corruptions of the other churches mentioned in Revelation 2-3, and Jesus only commended the Philadelphians. He didn't condemn them for not having enough unity with the Laodiceans. If an evangelical is avoiding the errors of Roman Catholicism, and is obeying God's commandments, it makes no sense to condemn him for not being part of the Roman Catholic denomination. Jesus and the apostles never defined unity as everybody belonging to a worldwide denomination centered in Rome.

Throughout his opening remarks, P made a logical error that's made by a lot of Catholics. He placed the Catholic Church in one category, everybody else (or many other organizations) in a second category, then asked us to choose between the unity of the first category and the disunity of the second. That's called framing the argument. Why should we assume from the outset that the Catholic Church belongs in its own category? To compare one organization (the Roman Catholic Church) to a group of organizations (United Methodists, Southern Baptists, Mormons, etc.) is a false comparison. P should compare one organization to one other organization, such as comparing Catholics to Southern Baptists. Or he could compare those who adhere to scripture and non-scriptural tradition as their rule of faith (Catholics, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox, The Way International, etc.) to those who adhere to scripture alone (Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, etc.). Catholics can't just assume that Catholicism is the standard for unity, then tell us that if we want unity we must join the Catholic denomination. Could we have some form of unity if everybody was to become a Catholic? Yes, and we could have some form of unity if everybody became a Mormon. Catholics can't object by saying that Mormonism isn't apostolic, since they would then be changing the subject from unity to truth. Besides, Mormons would say that Roman Catholicism isn't apostolic. And if we're to avoid personal interpretation, as P and other Catholic apologists claim, how can we know who's telling us the truth?

Visibility

Evangelicals refer to the church being invisible in the sense that we don't know who is saved and who isn't. There may be 100 people who attend a church down the street, and we don't know which ones are Christians and which aren't. The church is invisible in that sense. But P said:

"She [the church] has spiritual elements (since the Holy Spirit Himself is invisible) but the Catholic Church herself is not (and never has been in the history of the Church) purely "spiritual" or invisible, or unidentifiable, or non-locatable."

Paul referred to the Corinthians as spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:15-16), but he didn't mean that they were disembodied spirits. They had physical bodies. People could see their behavior, such as their meeting together for church services. I don't know of many evangelicals who deny that the Christian church has always been visible in that sense.

If you want to argue that the church must always be visible in the same way, then what's your standard? Do you arbitrarily say that the church needs to be as visible as the Roman Catholic Church has been? Why couldn't I arbitrarily set a different standard? Was the Catholic Church visible during the Arian lapse of the fourth century in the same way that it's visible today? Was it just as visible during the Great Schism, when multiple people claimed to be the Pope for nearly 40 years? If the Catholic Church can be visible in different ways and in differing degrees, why can't the same be true of the evangelical view of the church?

Authority

Nobody denies that there are authorities in the Christian's life. The Bible is an infallible authority (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Governments have authority (Romans 13:1-7), but are fallible. Parents have authority (Ephesians 6:1-3), but are fallible. Churches and church leaders have authority (Hebrews 13:17), but are fallible. The church of Laodicea, which had the oversight of at least one apostle, was in danger of being spewed out of Christ's mouth after only a few decades of corruption, if even that (Revelation 3:16). The apostles warned about false teachers, who were not to be obeyed, even within church leadership (Acts 20:29-30, 2 Peter 2, 3 John 9-11).

Passages like John 16:13, Acts 1:21-22, and 1 Corinthians 9:1 refer to the apostles having authority that nobody living since their time has had. P wants us to expand that authority to post-apostolic men of his choosing, however, and he uses a number of arguments in trying to achieve that expansion. Let's consider some examples.

P tells us:

"If God and Christ have all authority in heaven and earth (Matt 28:18) and cannot err (Hebrews 6:13-18), neither can God's Church, being Christ's Body on earth imbued with the Holy Spirit of truth (John 16:13; 14:16f)."

The inerrancy of God doesn't require the inerrancy of the church. Individual Christians are referred to as members of Christ's body (1 Corinthians 12:27), and are referred to as having the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), but that doesn't make them infallible. I've already addressed the Catholic misuse of John 16 in my opening remarks.

P claims:

"Jesus promised as He was leaving this earth to be with His Church to the end of time thus ensuring faithfulness to His teaching (Matt 28:18-20)."

God promised to be with Israel (Isaiah 43:1-7), and that didn't assure infallibility. Israel was frequently in doctrinal and moral error, was taken out of the promised land, and was split into two kingdoms. By the time of Jesus, there was so much error in the teachings of the religious leaders that they failed to recognize Him as the Messiah, and they taught many things that were false (Matthew 15:1-14, 16:12).

God promised to be with individual believers (Hebrews 13:5). Does that make the individual believer inerrant? Using P's reasoning, should we see passages like Romans 8:28 and 2 Corinthians 2:14 as references to the infallibility of every Christian? God can promise to be with, to help, or to protect a person or thing without that entity having the attributes the Catholic Church claims to have.

P said:

"To hear Christ's Church is to hear Christ (cf. Luke 10:16; Matt 18:17)."

I've already discussed Matthew 18:17, which was spoken at a time when no Christian church existed. Jesus is referring to an assembly of believers, a concept that could have been applied to people meeting in synagogues, people who would later meet in house churches, etc. Nothing in the passage requires that we see it as a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. We don't even have to see the entity as infallible. Governments and parents have authority, but they sometimes err. Jesus is giving a general principle that can apply to a number of organizations. He's not referring to some worldwide denomination centered in Rome, which is infallible, with popes, cardinals, archbishops, priests, etc.

What about Luke 10:16? It was spoken to 70 people who were sent out on a mission by Jesus (Luke 10:1). If you read the whole passage, not just verse 16, you see that these people were sent out to prepare the way before Jesus for His earthly ministry. There's no logical way to interpret the passage as a reference to the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.

P claims:

"Paul refers to both Timothy and Titus as his "true sons in the faith" (1 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4) indicating dynastic succession based on filial inheritance. Paul passed on his apostolic teaching authority...This succession was transacted in an official ceremony (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6)."

But when we read passages like 1 Timothy 1:2 and Titus 1:4, do we see what P has described? No. Paul doesn't say anything about "dynastic succession based on filial inheritance". Paul refers to the Corinthians as his spiritual children (1 Corinthians 4:15). He does the same with the Galatians (Galatians 4:19). Should we conclude that all of these Christians had just as much authority as Paul?

What about 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6? Timothy is referred to as receiving a spiritual gift. Does that prove that he has as much authority as Paul? No.

Laying on of hands was something that was done in a number of contexts. To claim that it involved giving your authority to somebody else is erroneous. Ananias laid hands on Paul (Acts 9:17). Paul laid hands on other Christians (Acts 19:6). Should we conclude from Acts 8:17 that all the Christians in Samaria had apostolic authority? Did the father of Publius have Paul's authority (Acts 28:8)? Timothy received a laying on of hands from numerous people, not just Paul (1 Timothy 4:14). What these passages mention is healing, spiritual gifts, and such. Nothing is said about apostolic authority being passed on. Nothing is said about the laying on of hands assuring that some unbroken succession would exist throughout church history.

Paul told people like Timothy and Titus to maintain what they had received from him (2 Timothy 1:13-14, 2:2). Unlike Paul, who could teach new revelations he had received from God, people like Timothy and Titus could only pass on what they had received. Some people, like Timothy and Titus, were faithful. Others weren't (Acts 20:29-30, 2 Peter 2, 3 John 9-10, Revelation 3:16). The leaders of modern Roman Catholicism are examples of the unfaithful men we were warned to beware of (Acts 20:29-31) and to not imitate (3 John 11).

P makes much of the term "man of God", suggesting that it refers to people with authority, and that only these people of authority could interpret scripture. The phrase is too vague to define it so specifically. David was called a man of God (Nehemiah 12:24), but where do we see him interpreting scripture for Israel? Some passages refer to all believers as the people of God (Hebrews 4:9, 11:25). In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul refers to Timothy knowing the scriptures from childhood. There's no indication that Timothy became an authoritative interpreter of scripture as an adult, at which point his relationship with scripture changed. Scripture itself tells us that it's addressed to everybody, not just a group of interpreters.

P argues:

"The typical Evangelical response is that verse 21-22 [of Acts 1] rules out anyone who is not a direct eyewitness of Christ's resurrection. However, this was not meant to be a perpetual requirement. The word used in Acts 1:20 for "office" is episkopen which is the word for "bishop" -- not apostolos, the word for "apostle." And Paul who is called an "apostle" (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 9:1f; 15:9; 1 Tim 2:7) was certainly not one who "accompanied us all the time" (Acts 1:21f) with Christ."

What happens in Acts 1 with the replacing of Judas? Is the passage about something positive that's to be a normative practice throughout church history? No, let's read the whole passage rather than just the portions Catholics point to. Verse 16 tells us that Judas' replacement is a unique fulfillment of prophecy. Verse 20 refers to Judas being replaced as a curse. In other words, it's a bad thing to have another man take your office in this context. Verses 22 and 24 refer to one man replacing Judas. So, then, we have one man replacing one other man as a unique fulfillment of prophecy and as a curse to the man being replaced. Catholics, however, tell us that this is a positive thing, is to be a normative church practice, and is to involve multiple people taking the place of one apostle. Is it any wonder Catholics arrive at such unhistorical, absurd conclusions when they interpret scripture like that?

Why was Judas replaced? Probably to keep the number of apostles at 12, to correspond with the 12 tribes of Israel. The number 12 is valued before Judas' death (Matthew 19:28) and after it (Revelation 21:14). There's no reason to ignore the requirements for Judas' replacement in Acts 1:21-22. Does that exclude Paul? Yes, it does. But Paul had authority on other grounds (1 Corinthians 9:1, Galatians 1:1), as evidenced by his being accepted by the 12 (Galatians 2:9, 2 Peter 3:15-16).

The term "apostle", like other words, is defined in different ways in different contexts. Does Paul sometimes speak of "us" having authority when he's with somebody like Timothy? Yes, but we know from other passages that Timothy was in submission to Paul, as I explained earlier. The requirements for apostles mentioned in passages like Acts 1:21-22 and 1 Corinthians 9:1 can't be disregarded. No man alive today could possibly meet those requirements.

When Paul was leaving the Ephesians, he told them to remember what they had received from him and from Jesus (Acts 20:28-35). When Peter was nearing death, he told his readers to remember what he had taught, which was being preserved in his letters (2 Peter 1:13-15, 3:1-2). Paul and Peter appealed to the past, to what had already been given. They didn't refer to any future successor who would be an infallible standard of orthodoxy.

Though this debate is about the Biblical evidence, P said that the earliest church fathers agreed with his view of apostolic succession. Actually, the church fathers defined the concept in numerous ways, including ways that are contrary to the Catholic view. Clement of Rome refers to the apostles appointing church leaders who would later be replaced by other leaders. Evangelicals don't object to that concept. Nobody denies that the apostles appointed church leaders. But those church leaders weren't as authoritative as the apostles, and they were fallible. When Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians, he was addressing a dispute over church government. Clement thought that some leaders in the Corinthian church had been taken from their position of leadership unjustly. His argument assumes that there could be situations in which leaders are removed justly. In fact, the church father Polycarp would later write a letter to the Philippians in which he would commend them for removing a leader who had been unfaithful. Ignatius says that the bishop should be obeyed as Christ is obeyed, but the same sort of language is used concerning governments, parents, and other fallible authorities (Romans 13:1-7, Ephesians 6:1-3). Ignatius makes a distinction between his authority as a bishop and the higher authority of the apostles. If we examine the way the church fathers defined the concept of apostolic succession, we find that they held a variety of views, including views that are contrary to the Catholic concept.

P argues:

"While there was some fluidity in terminology, the bishops, the presbyters/elders/priests, and deacons are the permanent and continuing offices in the Church. They perform all the duties of modern Catholic bishops, priests, and deacons today."

Many Catholic offices, including the papacy, were absent and even contradicted during the time of the apostles. There was no church officer who was required to be celibate, who received private confession of all sins, who led people in worshiping the bread of the eucharist, etc. But won't P tell us that such differences aren't of much significance? The puzzle must form the shape of Catholicism, even if the pieces have to be cut and hammered into place.

I could discuss many other errors in P's opening remarks. He cites 1 Corinthians 10:16 and the "sharing in the body and blood of Christ". But when verse 20 refers to sharing in demons, P doesn't conclude that people were eating demons. P cites John 6 as evidence of the Catholic view of the eucharist, even though the eucharist didn't exist when Jesus spoke those words. Verse 35 tells us what the eating and drinking are, and they're not participation in a transubstantiated eucharist. When Jesus finished His discourse, did Andrew cut off Jesus' ear and eat it? Did Thomas take a bite out of Jesus' arm? Apparently, they didn't think Jesus was requiring them to consume His body. What are we to make of John 6:53? If Jesus is referring to participation in a transubstantiated eucharist, how can a Protestant who never does such a thing be saved? P cites a number of passages in favor of salvation through works, but he never explains how he can reconcile his interpretation of those passages with passages like Luke 18:10-14 and Acts 10:44-48, where people are saved before working. Instead of reconciling all of scripture, P just lifts out a passage here and a passage there that sounds Roman Catholic in some way. What do you expect when somebody is trying to fit an oak tree into an apple seed?

J

5000 words approx

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