J (Protestant Evangelical) Answers P's Questions


See P's Questions HERE

J's Answer to P's Question (1)

I reject P's claim that he's proven that the Christian church is all that he describes it as in his question. He's had two opportunities, in his first and second rebuttals, to interact with what I wrote about passages like Matthew 18:17 and John 16:13 in my opening remarks. He's chosen to repeatedly ignore what I said.

Where was the Christian church before the Reformation? Where it's been since the first century. It's scattered throughout the world, sometimes visible through church buildings, sometimes through individuals, sometimes through hospitals, orphanages, etc. It's visible in the sense that we can see physical evidence of its existence, but it's invisible in the sense that nobody knows who is a Christian and who isn't.

Would some of the Christians before the Reformation have been members of the Roman Catholic denomination? I think so, even though the denomination itself had departed from apostolic teaching. I would think there were Christians in Eastern Orthodox churches, Waldensian churches, Donatist churches, and other organizations that predated the Reformation. Do I have to have a list of who was a Christian and who wasn't in order to believe that there were Christians prior to the Reformation? No, just as there are periods of Old Testament history for which we have no record of who was saved and living in obedience to God and who wasn't.

One wonders what a Catholic apologist like P thinks when he reads the Old Testament. What must he think when he sees God working in the life of somebody like Abel or Abraham without any mediating hierarchy? What does he think when he reads about generations of time passing without any record of people knowing and obeying God? What does he think when he gets to a passage like 2 Kings 22:8-13? Not only was there no infallible interpretation of scripture passed down from generation to generation, but scripture itself had even been lost. Since God made promises to Israel similar to His promises to the Christian church, something like what we read about in 2 Kings 22 should never have happened, if Catholic apologists were correct in their interpretations of God's promises. What about 1 Kings 11:31-33? Not only is Israel divided into two kingdoms, but it's even divided by the commandment of God. Yet, P erroneously told us in the first rebuttal section of this debate:

<< Official or "formal" schism cannot be true of the TC (Matt 12:25; John 17:20-23; Acts 4:32; Rom 16:17ff; 1 Cor 1:10ff; 3:3f; 14:33; Gal 5:19ff; Philip 1:27; Titus 3:9f; etc). >>

P has cited New Testament passages that refer to unity, the bad effects of disunity, opposing false teachers, etc. There are many Old Testament passages that say similar things (2 Chronicles 18:16, Psalm 133:1, Proverbs 6:19, Jeremiah 10:21, 23:2). It therefore follows, from P's reasoning, that what we read about in 1 Kings 11 couldn't have happened. But it did. Is there something wrong with how God is fulfilling His promises? Or is there something wrong with P's interpretation of those promises?

When I look at church history, I don't see the Christian church in one denomination led by a Pope. (There was no Pope during the earliest generations of Christianity.) I see the church more in individuals like Athanasius, John Wycliffe, and John Huss, who opposed many bishops and councils in order to defend the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. I think Ephesians 3:21 is fulfilled more in John Huss than in the corrupt council that condemned him to be burned at the stake. Athanasius was correct when he wrote the following to Christians who had been cast out of churches by the Arian heretics of the fourth century:

"....while others have obtained the churches by violence, you are meanwhile cast out from your places. For they hold the places, but you the Apostolic Faith. They are, it is true, in the places, but outside of the true Faith; while you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you. Let us consider whether is the greater, the place or the Faith. Clearly the true Faith. Who then has lost more, or who possesses more? He who holds the place, or he who holds the Faith? Good indeed is the place, when the Apostolic Faith is preached there, holy is it if the Holy One dwell there....For if ever God shall give back the churches (for we think He will) yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us. And lest, speaking without the Scriptures, I should seem to speak too strongly, it is well to bring you to the testimony of Scriptures, for recollect that the Temple indeed was at Jerusalem; the Temple was not deserted, aliens had invaded it, whence also the Temple being at Jerusalem, those exiles went down to Babylon by the judgment of God, who was proving, or rather correcting them; while manifesting to them in their ignorance punishment by means of blood-thirsty enemies. And aliens indeed had held the Place, but knew not the Lord of the Place, while in that He neither gave answer nor spoke, they were deserted by the truth. What profit then is the Place to them? For behold they that hold the Place are charged by them that love God with making it a den of thieves, and with madly making the Holy Place a house of merchandise, and a house of judicial business for themselves to whom it was unlawful to enter there. For this and worse than this is what we have heard, most beloved, from those who are come from thence. However really, then, they seem to hold the church, so much the more truly are they cast out. And they think themselves to be within the truth, but are exiled, and in captivity, and gain no advantage by the church alone. For the truth of things is judged...." (Letter 29)

J's Answer to P's Question (2)

The term "man of God" is far too broad to read such a narrow meaning into it. 2 Timothy 3:15 refers to Timothy knowing scripture from childhood, and I don't think P would have us believe that the child Timothy was a religious leader who interpreted scripture for other people. We know that the "men of God" in 2 Timothy 3 weren't just religious leaders, since Paul refers to a lot of non-leaders benefiting from the study of scripture (2 Corinthians 1:13, Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27).

The phrase "man of God" appears in Deuteronomy 33:1, referring to Moses. Using P's reasoning, we should conclude that Moses' authority claims were invalid. After all, he didn't have an unbroken succession of men of God before him who passed the authority on to him.

And what about the use of the term in other passages of scripture? Judges 13:6 uses the term to refer to an angel who appears to Samson's mother. Did the people of Israel during that time visit this angel for infallible scripture interpretations? Nehemiah 12:24 refers to David as a man of God. How did this authority get passed from a prophet (Moses) to an angel to a king (David) to a child (Timothy)? If this authority is passed along so unpredictably and inconsistently, then why couldn't it have passed from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy? Or to a religious leader like John Huss or Martin Luther? Why couldn't the Mormons or the Southern Baptists have it today? If the phrase "man of God" involves concepts of unbroken succession, infallibility, etc., then why can't we just as arbitrarily read such concepts into a phrase like "people of God" (Hebrews 4:9, 11:25)?

P cites Hebrews 13:7 in support of his argument. As though evangelicals don't have church leaders? Has P ever attended a Protestant church service? Has he never heard of Protestants having pastors and deacons? As I explained earlier in this debate, the issue isn't whether we're to have church leaders. The issue is whether they're subordinate authorities, like governments and parents, or infallible authorities who are just as authoritative as scripture. If P is going to see concepts like an unbroken succession and infallibility in a passage like Hebrews 13:7, then he should also see such concepts in passages like Romans 13:1-7 and Ephesians 6:1-3.

Church leaders can be dangerous wolves who teach error (Acts 20:29-30). A church overseen by an apostle can be rejected by Christ after only a few decades of corruption, if even that (Revelation 3:16). Therefore, we should submit to and imitate church leaders only so far as they're in submission to God (3 John 9-11). The same is true of governments, parents, and other authority figures.

The church father John Chrysostom, when discussing 2 Timothy 3:16-17, not only denied P's interpretation of the phrase "man of God", but also interpreted the passage as a reference to sola scriptura:

"Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us!" (Homilies on Second Timothy, 9)

Notice that Chrysostom refers to scripture teaching us, which would include the laymen to whom Chrysostom was speaking. P's interpretation of 2 Timothy 3 is illogical and inconsistent with other passages of scripture, and it was rejected even by church leaders like John Chrysostom long before the Reformation. Basil, Cyril of Alexandria, and other church leaders living long before the Reformation also rejected P's interpretation of the phrase "man of God".

I would ask again what I asked earlier. Can P document for us where the Roman Catholic Church has infallibly defined the phrase "man of God" for us, as it's used in scripture? If the Catholic Church hasn't infallibly interpreted the phrase, then is P relying on personal interpretation of scripture, which he criticizes other people for doing?

Do P and other Catholic apologists really not understand the concept of subordinate authority? Do they not understand the difference between obeying your mother when she tells you to go to bed at 9 P.M. and obeying your mother when she tells you to steal bread from a store? Do they not understand the difference between a government telling you to pay taxes and a government telling a pregnant woman to abort her child? We know that Catholic apologists do understand the concept of subordinate authority. Not only do they understand it with regard to parents and governments, but they also understand it with regard to the church. When liberal clergymen within the Roman Catholic Church teach something that Catholic laymen like P, Robert Sungenis, and Gerry Matatics disagree with, these Catholic apologists will disobey those liberal clergymen. They'll reject the clergymen's interpretation of what scripture teaches and their interpretation of what their denomination teaches. Even when a Pope speaks, each Catholic will judge for himself whether the Pope was speaking infallibly, and will interpret the Pope's words for himself. Why is such behavior unacceptable for evangelicals, but acceptable for Catholics?

J's Answer to P's Question (3)

Sola scriptura is an assertion that scripture is the extent of the special, public revelation of God we have today. ("Special" is in contrast to the more general revelation of nature, for example, and "public" is in contrast to something like a private revelation received in a dream.) In other words, scripture is to the evangelical what the Roman Catholic rule of faith is to the Catholic.

However, evangelicals have the advantage of agreeing with each other about a 66-book canon of scripture, whereas Catholics disagree with each other about the extent of their rule of faith. Catholics disagree with each other about which papal documents are infallible and which aren't, which council rulings are infallible and which aren't, etc.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 can be interpreted as a reference to sola scriptura, but it doesn't have to be. Verse 15 does teach the sufficiency of scripture on the subject of salvation, however, which contradicts the Catholic claim that many elements of the gospel are attained through sources never mentioned by scripture (not eating meat on Fridays, attending mass on particular days, etc.).

The best argument for sola scriptura is process of elimination. The scriptures are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Try proving that the same is true of the tradition of the Assumption of Mary. Or the papacy. Or numbering the sacraments at seven. Or the concept that all people must go through Mary in order to be saved. What Roman Catholicism asks us to add to scripture isn't as credible as scripture.

When we look at the earliest references to tradition among the church fathers, what do we find? We find some things that are insignificant and unverifiable, such as Papias' reference to how vegetation will grow during the millennial kingdom (Fragments, 4). Other traditions are false, such as Irenaeus' claim that Jesus lived to be over 50 years old (Against Heresies, 2:22:4-5). Some early references to tradition just refer to the oral teaching of what's written in scripture. Irenaeus, for example, refers to doctrines such as monotheism and the virgin birth as traditions of the church. The earliest references to tradition not only weren't the same as Roman Catholic tradition, but sometimes even contradicted Catholicism.

Written documents are generally a more reliable way of passing on information than oral tradition. Thus, Peter wrote down his teachings before his death, so that people would later be able to remember them (2 Peter 1:13-15, 3:1-2). Scripture equates all that the prophets spoke with all of scripture (Luke 24:25-27). However reliable oral traditions of apostolic teaching may have been during the time of Papias or Polycarp, it would be absurd to argue that they're just as reliable today.

When evangelicals and Catholics discuss what a church father like Irenaeus or Augustine believed, what sources do we consult? What if I was to tell Catholics that I know of an oral tradition of Irenaeus in which he contradicts Roman Catholic teaching? Would Catholics accept my claim of having an oral tradition from Irenaeus? No. When we want to know what a church father believed, we go to written documents.

There are no video tapes of Jesus teaching or audio tapes of Paul's instructions to church leaders. The Catholic complaint that evangelicals are being too narrow when they limit themselves to written documents is seen to be ridiculous when we consider the historical circumstances in question. By the time Roman Catholicism's unbiblical traditions arise in the historical record (the papacy, the Assumption of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, etc.), it's too late for such traditions to be anywhere near as credible as the written documents of the apostolic era.

The suggestion might be made that evangelicals are erring on the side of carefulness. They're being too careful. There might be some words of Jesus, some church practices, or something else in post-Biblical documents that were received from the apostles. While that possibility does exist, it would exist with any rule of faith. You could ask Catholics why they don't accept the oral traditions of Papias, for example. All of us have to make judgments about just where to draw the line. I don't think any non-Biblical tradition is so credible that it ought to be added to scripture as part of the Christian rule of faith.

If evangelicals go an inch too far into carefulness in one direction, then Catholics go a mile too far into carelessness in the other direction. There are many teachings of Catholicism that can't in any logical way be traced back to the apostles. Even many Roman Catholic theologians and apologists will refer to a doctrine like the papacy or the Assumption of Mary as just one possible interpretation of the evidence among others, something that didn't develop until hundreds of years after the time of Christ. I'd prefer not to err at all, but in this case erring on the side of carefulness is better than erring on the side of carelessness.

J's Answer to P's Question (4)

Let me quote Jerome, who answered your question over 1500 years ago:

"What is the function of a Commentary? It is to interpret another man's words, to put into plain language what he has expressed obscurely. Consequently, it enumerates the opinions of many persons, and says, Some interpret the passage in this sense, some in that; the one try to support their opinion and understanding of it by such and such evidence or reasons: so that the wise reader, after reading these different explanations, and having many brought before his mind for acceptance or rejection, may judge which is the truest , and, like a good banker, may reject the money of spurious mintage. Is the commentator to be held responsible for all these different interpretations, and all these mutually contradicting opinions because he puts down the expositions given by many in the single work on which he is commenting?" (Jerome's Apology for Himself Against Rufinus, 1:16)

How do we know which of the many contradictory interpretations of scripture are correct and which aren't? We, to quote Jerome, "try to support [our] opinion and understanding of it by such and such evidence or reasons: so that the wise reader, after reading these different explanations, and having many brought before his mind for acceptance or rejection, may judge which is the truest , and, like a good banker, may reject the money of spurious mintage". Like the psalmist, I can "have more insight than all my teachers, for Thy testimonies are my meditation" (Psalm 119:99). Like the Bereans, we should "examine the scriptures daily, to see whether these things are so" (Acts 17:11).

If a Mormon tells me that Isaiah 29:4 is referring to the Book of Mormon, how do I decide whether to believe him? I read the text and context to see if the Mormon interpretation is certain, probable, possible, or impossible. If a Jehovah's Witness tells me that John 1:1 isn't referring to Christ as God, what do I do? I might examine the Greek text of the passage, to see if the Jehovah's Witnesses are correct in how they translate it. Or I might consult numerous English translations, to see how much scholarly acceptance there is for the translation of the Jehovah's Witnesses. I can read past verse 1 to see if their interpretation of that verse is consistent with what follows. If a Lutheran tells me that Acts 2:38 is teaching baptismal regeneration, how do I respond? I examine the possible meanings of the word translated as "for". I examine how "for" is used in similar contexts, such as Matthew 3:11. I also look at whether people are saved before or without being baptized anywhere in scripture (Mark 2:5, Luke 7:50, 18:10-14, 23:39-43, Acts 10:44-48, 19:2, etc.).

What I'm describing is personal examination of evidence. That's how all of us arrive at our beliefs.

P asks how doing these things "unites Christians in the truth". Since you have to know the truth in order to be united in the truth, a search for what's true is always helpful in uniting people in the truth.

I think what P is suggesting, however, is that sola scriptura must be wrong if it doesn't result in unanimity or something close to it. By the same logic, we could conclude that Christianity itself must be wrong, since Christianity hasn't produced unanimity or near unanimity. In fact, some critics of Christianity do use such reasoning (http://www.tektonics.org/doubt.html). This reasoning would lead to the conclusion that Roman Catholicism is wrong as well, since there are many disagreements about how to interpret Catholicism.

P asks if anybody before the sixteenth century agreed with me about personally interpreting scripture. The psalmist agreed with me (Psalm 119:99). The Bereans agreed with me (Acts 17:11). Many church fathers, Waldensians, Lollards, and other people agreed with me long before the Reformation.

Regarding a dispute over an interpretation of a passage in Philippians, the third century bishop Firmilian wrote:

"...it is sufficient to read the epistle itself, and to gather from the apostle himself what the apostle said..." (in Cyprian's Epistle 74:20)

Cyril of Jerusalem, a bishop of the fourth century, wrote:

"For concerning the divine and sacred Mysteries of the Faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures: nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument. Do not then believe me because I tell thee these things, unless thou receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of what is set forth: for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures." (Lecture 4:17)

Another bishop living around the same time, John Chrysostom, wrote:

"Let us not therefore carry about the notions of the many, but examine into the facts. For how is it not absurd that in respect to money, indeed, we do not trust to others, but refer this to figures and calculation; but in calculating upon facts we are lightly drawn aside by the notions of others; and that too, though we possess an exact balance, and square and rules for all things, the declaration of the divine laws? Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things." (Homilies on Second Corinthians, 13)

Many other examples could be cited. Why would anybody look to a denomination to interpret scripture for him, especially one as corrupt as the Roman Catholic Church, when he can read scripture himself? When the Fourth Lateran Council interpreted scripture in support of making Jews wear distinguishing clothing, and in favor of requiring people to get permission from the Roman Catholic hierarchy before preaching the gospel, wouldn't it have been wiser for people to have studied scripture themselves instead of letting that council interpret it for them?

J's Answer to P's Question (5)

I don't claim that the church fathers were members of my denomination. I don't claim that doctrines like salvation through faith alone and the pre-tribulation rapture were always held by the Christian church. And I don't claim that people's salvation depends on their acceptance of a pre-tribulation rapture.

In response to P's citation of pages 95-96 in William Webster's book, I would cite page 205. I think Webster's words in the section P quoted were poorly chosen. On page 205, he quotes some of the earliest church fathers discussing salvation. Some of the later church fathers he cites on the following pages advocated baptismal regeneration, but the earliest church fathers didn't. Clement of Rome not only doesn't mention baptism in the numerous passages in which he discusses salvation, but he even refers to people always having been saved in the same way (First Clement, 32). That necessarily excludes baptismal regeneration, since we know that Abraham, David, and many other people throughout history weren't regenerated through baptism. When somebody like Clement of Rome or Mathetes discusses salvation without mentioning baptism, Catholic apologists frequently just assume that the church father meant to include baptism, even though he didn't mention it. Such reasoning can lead to all sorts of conclusions. It's true that baptismal regeneration was a widely held belief from the middle of the second century onward. It's not true that every church father accepted it.

Among the church fathers who did advocate the doctrine, we find a lot of bad arguments and inconsistency. Tertullian, when arguing against people who advocated salvation through faith alone, wrote:

"And so they say, 'Baptism is not necessary for them to whom faith is sufficient; for withal, Abraham pleased God by a sacrament of no water, but of faith.' But in all cases it is the later things which have a conclusive force, and the subsequent which prevail over the antecedent. Grant that, in days gone by, there was salvation by means of bare faith, before the passion and resurrection of the Lord. But now that faith has been enlarged, and is become a faith which believes in His nativity, passion, and resurrection, there has been an amplification added...For the law of baptizing has been imposed." (On Baptism, 13)

Tertullian acknowledges that Abraham was saved through faith alone (something modern Catholic apologists are too ignorant or dishonest to acknowledge), but he dismisses Abraham as an exception to the rule. The apostle Paul, however, says that Abraham is the rule (Romans 4:13-16). Paul also denies that Christians are under a "law of baptizing" or any law of works (Romans 3:27, Galatians 3:21-25). As we might expect, Tertullian goes on, later in his treatise, to add other works to the gospel. He says that people preparing for baptism should "pray with repeated prayers, fasts, and bendings of the knee, and vigils all the night through, and with the confession of all by gone sins" (20). As we would expect, adding works to the gospel becomes a slippery slope. Those who add baptism often add other works as well. We can't believe Tertullian and Paul, since they contradict each other. Other church fathers were inconsistent, to less or more of a degree than Tertullian and in different ways. John Chrysostom wrote that, "by faith alone He saved us" (Homilies on Ephesians, 5), and he repeatedly affirmed salvation through faith alone elsewhere (Commentary on Galatians, 3; Homilies on Second Corinthians, 2). But he was inconsistent, referring to the "water" of John 3:5 as baptism, for example (Homilies on the Gospel of John, 25).

We see that sort of inconsistency with other church fathers as well. I address the doctrine of baptismal regeneration in an article at my web site, which includes a response to passages like John 3:5 and 1 Peter 3:21 (defunct URL). I also recommend J.P. Holding's article on this subject (defunct URL), which mentions some grammatical and historical issues that most Catholic apologists probably have never heard of, much less would be able to refute. It's a fact of history that people advocated salvation through faith alone, and rejected baptismal regeneration, long before the Reformation. Baptismal regeneration was popular among the church fathers, but was contradicted by Jesus and the apostles. Christians are saved through faith, like Abraham (Romans 4:16), meaning that they're saved when they believe, not when works are later added to that faith (Mark 2:5, Luke 7:50, 18:10-14, John 6:29, Acts 10:44-48, 19:2, Galatians 3:2, Ephesians 1:13-14). To look to people living after the apostles died to determine whether baptism is a means of salvation is unreasonable and unnecessary (2 Timothy 3:15). Scripture is not unclear on the issue of how salvation is attained. Passages like Luke 18:10-14 and Acts 10:44-48 can't be dismissed as exceptions to a rule, nor can they be outweighed by the opinions of people who lived after the apostles. A passage like John 3:5 or 1 Peter 3:21 can be reconciled with salvation through faith alone. (1 Peter 3:21 may actually deny baptismal regeneration by saying that baptism does not remove the corruption of the flesh.) But a passage like Mark 2:5 or Acts 10:44-48 can't be reconciled with baptismal regeneration. Only sola fide is consistent with all of scripture.

Concerning the rapture, I haven't studied eschatology much, but I prefer the pre-tribulation view of the rapture for a number of reasons. It best explains the imminency of Christ's return (James 5:7-9). It best explains how the promises of 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 and Revelation 3:10 will be fulfilled. It also explains John 14:2-3, which suggests that Christians will be taken to Heaven to be with Christ, not that they'll welcome Christ to earth. It explains how Christ's bride, the church, will already be prepared for the wedding before Christ returns to earth (Revelation 19:7-11). It explains some other things as well.

The church fathers repeatedly contradicted Roman Catholicism on issues of soteriology and eschatology. Unlike me, Catholics do claim that the church fathers were members of their denomination.

J

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