J (Protestant Evangelical) Replies to P's Rebut
See P's Rebuttal HERE
J's Reply to P's Rebut (1)
In my opening remarks, I discussed passages in 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and elsewhere that define the church as a spiritual entity consisting of all believers. I explained that the New Testament also defines the church as a local assembly, which can consist of believers and unbelievers. I explained that the church, under either of these definitions, as well as under other definitions, is visible, historical, etc. I gave some examples of how these definitions of the church can be seen in church history.
P has had five sections of this debate so far, spanning about two months of time, to interact with what I've said. The passages I cited that define the church as a spiritual entity consisting of believers have been ignored by P. Not only does he keep ignoring much of what I've documented, but he also keeps repeating arguments that were refuted earlier in the debate. He's still citing passages like Luke 10:16 and John 16:13. Luke 10 is about seventy people Jesus sent out during His earthly ministry. John 16 is about the disciples. Passages like John 14:26 and 16:27 tell us who Jesus was addressing in John 16, and those verses cannot possibly apply to anybody living hundreds of years after the apostles. To apply a passage like Luke 10:16 or John 16:13 to any church is unreasonable, and it's even worse to claim that the passages apply exclusively to the Roman Catholic denomination.
<< By the later 1st and early 2nd century the Church that Jesus predicted to be built on Peter (Matt 16:18; 18:17) clearly was a universal visible Church led by bishops just as it was led by apostles earlier. >>
Who would deny that there were visible churches led by bishops? And who would deny that the church was built on Peter? The church was also built on the other apostles (Ephesians 2:20). What P needs to prove is that there was one worldwide denomination led by a Pope. I've said all along, from my opening remarks onward, that local assemblies led by bishops are a valid definition of the term "church". I haven't denied that there are multiple definitions of the term. I haven't denied that those definitions involve a visible, historical entity. What I've denied is that Jesus and the apostles ever defined the term "church" as a worldwide denomination led by a Pope.
Earlier in this question and answer segment of the debate, I cited Athanasius referring to "the faith" being sufficient apart from "the place". He was defining "the place" as the local assemblies led by bishops. The churches had been taken over by Arian heretics. The Arians were a majority, they held positions of leadership, including the bishoprics, and they held church councils. The council of Ariminum, for example, was attended by more bishops than had attended Nicaea. Why, then, would Nicaea be more authoritative? Athanasius explains:
"Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrines so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture." (De Synodis, 6)
"And let them [the Arians] blame themselves in this matter, for they set the example, beginning their war against God with words not in Scripture. However, if a person is interested in the question, let him know, that, even if the expressions [used by those who oppose Arianism] are not in so many words in the Scriptures, yet, as was said before, they contain the sense of the Scriptures, and expressing it, they convey it to those who have their hearing unimpaired for religious doctrine." (Defense of the Nicene Definition, 5:21)
A council such as Nicaea is authoritative, whereas a council like Ariminum is not, because one is supported by scripture and the other one isn't. Protestant churches cite as authoritative the Apostles' Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Westminster Confession, and other sources that postdate the apostles. But why do they cite those post-apostolic sources? Because they're just as authoritative as scripture? No, but because they're authoritative as accurate representations of scriptural teaching. Scripture is our highest authority, as it was for Athanasius, Augustine, and others who came before us. As Augustine explained, individual bishops and ecumenical councils can err, but scripture cannot (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 2:1-4). As Athanasius said, the faith is sufficient, whereas the church is not (Festal Letter 29).
There are many references in the church fathers to the authority of bishops, councils, creeds, etc. Likewise, scripture and the church fathers refer to the authority of parents, government officials, etc., but we would never conclude that parents and government officials are infallible and just as authoritative as scripture. P and other Catholic apologists either don't understand or dishonestly ignore the concept of subordinate authority. P's quotes from Athanasius do refer to sources of authority outside of scripture, but Athanasius explains elsewhere, such as in the quotes above, that those other sources of authority are subordinate to scripture. Not only did Athanasius consider bishops and ecumenical councils to be subordinate authorities under the authority of scripture, but the traditions he received from those subordinate authorities were sometimes contradictory to the teachings of Roman Catholicism.
P can cite people like Athanasius saying that we must obey the council of Nicaea, the traditions of the church, etc. Likewise, evangelicals would say that we must obey bishops, the Apostles' Creed, the commands of our parents, the laws of the government, etc. But Athanasius explained, and evangelicals agree, that these authorities are subordinate to scripture. We can refer to following the church in general or following parents in general without thinking that such an entity is just as authoritative as scripture.
J's Reply to P's Rebut (2)
P says that the men of God can err, since Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops, who contradict each other on some issues, are men of God. P also says that the men of God don't need a succession, since somebody like Moses or an angel can be a man of God without a succession of men of God leading up to their time. And P acknowledges that the men of God can have multiple types of authority, since the authority of Moses, an angel, a king, a bishop, etc. aren't the same. It follows, then, that P is telling us that we should follow the authority of a man who could err in his teachings, who may or may not exist at this period of history, whose authority could be defined in a number of different ways. What is such an argument supposed to prove?
Were there people who were called "men of God" in the past? Yes. Does it follow, then, that there must be men of God, defined in that same way, today? No. Was Timothy a man of God? Yes. Does it follow, then, that all bishops must be men of God? No. I doubt that the wolves mentioned in Acts 20:29-30 would be called "men of God" by Paul. I doubt that Paul would call the hundreds of Arian bishops gathered at the council of Ariminum "men of God". We know that Timothy had the approval of Paul. We don't know that about a bishop in Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople, or any other city hundreds or thousands of years later.
P tells us at one point that a man of God doesn't need a succession in order to have authority. But he tells us elsewhere that succession proves that later bishops are men of God. If succession isn't necessary, then the thousands of deacons, priests, laymen, etc. who have disagreed with Roman Catholicism over the centuries could be men of God. To say that somebody like Martin Luther needs a succession in order to be a man of God, or needs to have a higher church office in order to be a man of God, is just another example of P arbitrarily making up and changing the rules as he goes along. If P rejects Martin Luther because he wasn't a bishop, then will P accept any bishops who supported the Protestant Reformation? Does the approval of such bishops mean that the Reformation had the approval of men of God?
P defines angels as "prophets", so that he can explain why they're called "men of God" in scripture. He says that they don't need a succession. But he tells us that kings, for example, are men of God through succession. Then where was the succession of kings during the time of Noah, Abraham, Samson, etc.? Can the succession just start and stop at various times in history, without any predecessors or successors for a while? Scripture calls it a sin to follow a leader like King Jeroboam when he contradicts the revelation of God (1 Kings 12:28-30). It was a sin before a man of God came to correct the king in chapter 13. If the kings were men of God, as P claimed in the opening remarks of this debate, then this is another example of one man of God contradicting another one. They're not as authoritative as scripture.
If the authors of scripture were men of God, then evangelicals are following men of God when they obey scripture. If it was acceptable for the people of Nehemiah's day to follow the authority of past men of God (Nehemiah 12:24, 12:36), then evangelicals can do the same today by following scripture.
What if we were to apply P's reasoning about the phrase "man of God" to other phrases in scripture? Should we look up every reference to "people of God", "house of God", "servant of God", "oracles of God", "minister of God", or any of hundreds of other phrases? Should we look for even the vaguest of similarities among the passages that use these phrases, then assume that the phrases must therefore be referring to one entity existing throughout history, which we must locate today?
I quoted John Chrysostom commenting on 2 Timothy 3:16-17. In the quote, Chrysostom says that the passage not only applies to Timothy, but to all Christians. P responded by saying that he sees no contradiction between his argument and what Chrysostom said. But if Chrysostom says that 2 Timothy 3 applies to all Christians, not just some church leaders, that's a contradiction of P's argument.
P gave us some other quotes from John Chrysostom, but none of them are relevant. My quote from Chrysostom was taken from his Homilies on Second Timothy. Chrysostom was commenting on the passage of scripture in dispute. In the quotes P gave us, Chrysostom says nothing about the phrase "man of God". P's quotes are about the responsibilities of church leaders. Who denies that John Chrysostom believed in having church leaders, and that those church leaders had authority and various responsibilities? The issue in dispute is whether Chrysostom agreed with P's definition of the phrase "man of God" in 2 Timothy 3. I quoted Chrysostom's comments on 2 Timothy 3, in which he contradicts what P has argued. P, on the other hand, gave us four quotes that aren't even relevant.
P ended his response to me on this subject with the following question:
<< I ask J: where are his evangelical church's bishops and ordained priests that offer the Eucharist and forgive the sins of believers? >>
P has changed the subject from John Chrysostom's definition of the phrase "man of God" to whether my church has leaders who offer the eucharist and forgive sins. I'll take P's changing of the subject as a concession that he's lost the dispute over the original subject.
J's Reply to P's Rebut (3)
<< James White has admitted in print and debate that Sola Scriptura was not a valid concept during times of enscripturation. In answer to the question: Did the apostles practice Sola Scriptura? White's answer was emphatic: "NO."... It is irrelevant whether I can "trace back the Marian doctrines to the apostles" if J cannot likewise trace back the canon of Scripture or Sola Scriptura to the apostles. >>
Let's apply P's reasoning to his own beliefs.
If sola scriptura must have been the rule of faith in the past in order to be the rule of faith today, then the same is true of the Roman Catholic rule of faith. Did Adam and Eve follow a Pope? Did David look to a magisterium centered in Rome for infallible scripture interpretations? Did the Galatian Christians have the Catechism of the Catholic Church? If not, then the Catholic rule of faith must be invalid.
If I can't arrive at sola scriptura by means of process of elimination, then P can't arrive at his rule of faith that way. It's not enough, then, for 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to refer to scripture and tradition. P must have a statement from Jesus or the apostles in which tradition is defined the same way P defines it. P must document Jesus or the apostles referring to the bishop of Rome as the exclusive successor of Peter. He must document them referring to the bishop of Rome speaking ex cathedra on matters of faith and morals, a magisterium, etc. It's not enough to quote a reference to tradition. After all, if process of elimination is invalid for evangelicals, then it's invalid for Catholics also.
If we apply P's reasoning to his own arguments, those arguments fail by his own standards. But he doesn't apply his own reasoning to his own arguments.
Do I go outside of scripture to arrive at sola scriptura and my canon of scripture? Yes. Similarly, Catholics like P go outside of their rule of faith in order to arrive at that rule of faith and its canon. P claims to rely on the church, which he defines as the Roman Catholic denomination, in order to arrive at his canon of scripture. But all he's doing is pushing the question back one step. The question still remains. How does P know that the church has the authority it claims to have, and how does he know what the canon of the church is (what does and doesn't constitute the teachings of the church)?
P goes outside of the church in order to perceive it and validate its claims, and he goes outside it in order to perceive its canon. If P believes in the claims of the Catholic Church because of documents like Matthew's gospel, the letters of Ignatius, Augustine's writings, etc., how does P know who wrote those documents, when they were written, etc.? He relies on various types of evidence, within the documents and outside of them. He relies on archeologists, historians, etc. to give him information to go by. Similarly, when a publisher gives P a copy of the proceedings of the council of Trent, P is relying on that publisher to give him accurate information. He relies on the translators, the editors, etc. When P decides which papal decrees and council rulings are part of the canon of the Catholic rule of faith and which ones aren't, he relies on evidence inside and outside of those documents. Nobody arrives at a rule of faith or its canon without going outside of that rule of faith and its canon. Even if one was to claim that the Holy Spirit led him to his rule of faith, that conviction of the Holy Spirit would still be something outside the rule of faith. There is no such thing as a rule of faith that exists in a vacuum. That's not what the "sola" in sola scriptura has ever meant.
P tells us that there's much reliance on "the Catholic Church" in evangelical arguments for the authority and uniqueness of the Bible. I reject the idea that the writings of the church fathers represent "the Catholic Church". The church fathers weren't Roman Catholics. Much of what the Catholic Church teaches was absent from or contradicted by their writings. If Justin Martyr refers to a document as having been written by an apostle, that historical evidence is not equivalent to relying on "the Catholic Church". Even if we were to accept the absurd claim that Justin Martyr was a Roman Catholic, we could still accept his testimony as historical evidence without thereby agreeing with all of the teachings of Roman Catholicism. If Justin Martyr represents "the Catholic Church" when he says something relevant to the canon of scripture, is the same true when he contradicts Catholicism, such as when he advocates premillennialism? If Athanasius represents "the Catholic Church" when he refers to the 27-book New Testament canon in his Festal Letter 39, then does he also represent "the Catholic Church" when he contradicts the Roman Catholic Old Testament canon in that same document? If the church fathers' writings aren't equivalent to "the Catholic Church", then you can't claim that evangelicals are relying on "the Catholic Church" by deriving some of their conclusions from those documents.
The historical evidence leads to the conclusion that the 66-book canon of scripture is the only apostolic material we have today. Sola scriptura, with that 66-book canon, logically follows. P's response does nothing to refute what I said about the unique authority of scripture. Instead, P just criticizes me for arriving at sola scriptura in one way (process of elimination) rather than another way (a passage of scripture explaining sola scriptura and the contents of the canon). If P can't refute one way of arriving at sola scriptura, then criticizing me for not arriving at it another way is unreasonable. He ought to refute my first argument for sola scriptura before asking me to produce a second one.
J's Reply to P's Rebut (4)
P summarized my argument as follows:
<< He basically said Sola Scriptura via private interpretation (J: "What I'm describing is personal examination of evidence. That's how all of us arrive at our beliefs."). >>
I didn't say anything about sola scriptura, but the large majority of P's response is an attempt to refute the idea that the church fathers advocated sola scriptura. Since P referred to "arriving at truth", I quoted some church fathers explaining how a person arrives at truth. I quoted Jerome, Firmilian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and John Chrysostom telling people to interpret documents themselves rather than relying on other people to do it for them. Some of my quotes mentioned scripture, but not all of them did. P responded to me by trying to prove that three of those four church fathers (Jerome, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Chrysostom) didn't believe in sola scriptura. Since he didn't respond to my citation of Firmilian, and he didn't interact with any of my citations from the other three church fathers, he failed to refute what I was arguing. Whether those church fathers advocated sola scriptura is another issue. Whether they believed in relying on personal judgment is what I was addressing, and P didn't refute anything I documented.
If P's fourth question was addressing sola scriptura, then why did he ask that question just after addressing sola scriptura in question three? Why would P use two questions to ask the same thing? If you read his third and fourth questions together, I think the implication is that he was asking about sola scriptura, then asked about personal judgment. But maybe that isn't what he intended. Or maybe he wants to change the subject from personal judgment to sola scriptura, since he can't refute what I documented from the church fathers regarding personal judgment.
Whatever the case, I'll repeat what I said earlier regarding sola scriptura. A church father advocating a subordinate authority (parents, government officials, bishops, councils, etc.) is not equivalent to a denial of sola scriptura. This is why Catholics must interact with the passages evangelicals cite from the church fathers rather than just citing other passages. If an evangelical cites a church father advocating sola scriptura, it doesn't make sense for a Catholic to just quote that church father referring elsewhere to the authority of a non-scriptural source. What the Catholic ought to do is cite that other passage and explain how the passage cited by the evangelical can be interpreted in a way consistent with Catholicism. If somebody like Athanasius or John Chrysostom refers to scripture having ultimate authority in passage A, and he says that everybody must agree with the council of Nicaea in passage B, just citing passage B isn't enough to prove that the church father rejected sola scriptura. As I explained before, evangelicals often refer to the authority of the council of Nicaea, the Apostles' Creed, the Westminster Confession, parents, government officials, etc. But they also explain elsewhere that those authorities are subordinate authorities below the authority of scripture.
There are passages in Athanasius, John Chrysostom, and other church fathers, some of which I've already cited, that cannot possibly be interpreted in any way other than sola scriptura. To respond to such passages by just quoting what those church fathers said elsewhere about something else having some type of authority is fallacious. Is it possible to interpret the passages P is citing as denials of sola scriptura? Yes. It's also possible to interpret them as references to subordinate authorities or non-doctrinal issues. If P can't give a reasonable alternate interpretation of the passages I've cited, then the subordinate authority or non-doctrinal interpretation of the passages he's cited is more likely. It's also possible that the church father in question was inconsistent. We know that the church fathers were sometimes inconsistent on other subjects.
When a church father refers to a non-scriptural tradition coming from the apostles, we have to ask what type of tradition is being referred to. Some church fathers defined "tradition" as non-doctrinal practices such as facing the East in prayer and triple immersion in baptism. If a church father says that all doctrine is derived from scripture, but also advocates non-doctrinal practices outside of scripture, should that be considered a denial of sola scriptura? Some of the non-doctrinal practices in question are rejected by evangelicals and Catholics. At the least, these church fathers were closer to sola scriptura than they were to the Roman Catholic rule of faith.
This is why P will say things like the following:
<< He [John Chrysostom] even says that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 is quite clear (perspicuous) that we should hold to the tradition of the Church. Precisely what is that tradition, is another question. >>
P knows that the church fathers contradicted Roman Catholic tradition. There are dozens of Roman Catholic beliefs and practices that are absent from or contradicted by the tradition the church fathers advocated. The Bible, church fathers, and Roman bishops for hundreds of years contradicted doctrines like the papacy (defunct URL) and the sinlessness of Mary (defunct URL). People like Papias, Irenaeus, and John Chrysostom defined their tradition for us, and that tradition often contradicted Roman Catholicism. Whether the church fathers advocated sola scriptura consistently, advocated it inconsistently, or advocated adding a non-Roman-Catholic tradition to scripture, all three of those possibilities contradict Roman Catholic claims about church history.
J's Reply to P's Rebut (5)
<< J rejects Baptismal Regeneration which has unanimous support from the Fathers; and accepts the pretrib Rapture which does not appear until the 1830s (Darby in England). This is inconsistent with his own standard of "evidence" and "probability" for what we should believe on doctrine. >>
P is wrong in all three of his claims. As I documented earlier, not all of the church fathers advocated baptismal regeneration. I've cited Biblical evidence for a pre-tribulation rapture, which would make the doctrine over 1700 years older than P claims. The dating of the earliest post-apostolic reference to a pre-tribulation rapture is disputed. Some argue that it appears as early as the fourth century, with later references also predating J.N. Darby. But even if we ignore those post-apostolic sources, P would still have to refute my arguments from the Bible.
As I said in the opening remarks of this debate, the Bible is church history. The Bible represents the earliest and best historical documents we have. To say that we can derive our doctrines from a document like First Clement or Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, but we can't derive our doctrines from a document like Romans or the gospel of John, doesn't make sense. I reject P's suggestion that we need a post-apostolic source to interpret the apostolic documents for us. If we can understand First Clement without somebody interpreting it for us, then we can understand the gospel of John without somebody interpreting it for us. To say that one document written in the first century can be understood without an interpreter, whereas another document from about the same time needs an interpreter, is just an obfuscation on the part of Catholic apologists who are losing a dispute over what the Bible teaches. P can't refute my Biblical arguments, so he claims that I need to document post-Biblical people agreeing with me.
Then, when I do cite post-Biblical people agreeing with me, P dismisses it. For example:
<< Will J admit that every Church Father from the middle of the second century onward explicitly believed Baptismal Regeneration? >>
No, I won't admit it, since it isn't true. But notice how P just ignores most of my documentation of people rejecting baptismal regeneration. He ignores my Biblical evidence. He ignores my evidence from the earliest church fathers. He ignores my documentation of other people, who weren't church fathers, rejecting baptismal regeneration. He just arbitrarily changes his standard to "church fathers from the middle of the second century onward", as though what I documented prior to the middle of the second century becomes insignificant once P changes his standard to a later period of church history. Elsewhere, P tells us that the church fathers I cite must have discussed baptism. If a church father repeatedly refers to people being saved through faith, and he never advocates baptismal regeneration, P wants us to assume that the church father believed in baptismal regeneration anyway.
I don't claim that the church fathers were members of my denomination. P does claim that they were members of his denomination. So why would I have to agree with a second century consensus on baptismal regeneration, whereas P would not have to agree with a second century consensus on premillennialism, for example? If either of us has more of a need to agree with a second century consensus, it's P, not me. I make different claims about church history, so I have a different standard to meet. If P doesn't want to carry the heavier burden of evidence, then he shouldn't support a denomination that makes heavier claims.
The church fathers advocated many different views of salvation, including views rejected by Roman Catholicism. There is no one view of salvation that was advocated by all of the church fathers. We can refer to most church fathers advocating some form of salvation through works, but a statement so vague should be qualified. There were church fathers and theologians who referred to salvation being through faith alone centuries before the Reformation. As I documented with John Chrysostom, however, some of these people weren't consistent. But they did at least understand the concept of salvation through faith alone and advocated it at times, even if some didn't do so consistently.
What we have, then, is the following. The Bible refers to people being saved through faith alone, before or without any works, including baptism. Some of the earliest church fathers, such as Clement of Rome and Mathetes, discuss salvation repeatedly without even mentioning baptism, and some of their comments exclude the possibility of baptismal regeneration. Tertullian acknowledges that people were saved through faith alone prior to the resurrection of Christ, though he believes that baptismal regeneration came into effect thereafter. He refers to people of his day disagreeing with him and advocating salvation through faith alone in opposition to baptismal regeneration. Other sources also refer to people rejecting baptismal regeneration before the Reformation. Some of the later church fathers, such as Basil and John Chrysostom, referred to salvation through faith alone at times, but were inconsistent. What we have, then, is scriptural support for sola fide, gradual departure from that teaching after the time of the apostles, some occasional acceptance of the doctrine in the following centuries, then a popularizing of it at the time of the Reformation.
Is there more post-apostolic support for some form of salvation through works than there is for salvation through faith alone? Yes. Is salvation through works therefore supported by more evidence than salvation through faith alone? Only if you give post-apostolic sources more evidential weight than they deserve. The Bible is Divinely inspired, unlike the documents P is citing. And the Bible repeatedly and explicitly refers to salvation occurring apart from all works, including baptism. That carries a lot more evidential weight than a consensus of later sources
go to prevBack to Church Debatego to next
Back to Apologetics Articles
Back to Home Page
About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links