The Wizard of Straw

September 20, 2017

Sometime ago I wrote a short presentation on an objection to Sola Scriptura and the response given to it. I constructed that presentation to deliberately leave out specific questions and counter objections. And this was because it was meant for a discussion group. I left material out to create space for those questions and counter objections to come out in the course of discussion.  I posted it because I thought the central insight would prove Image result for wizard of oz scarecrowprofitable for those thinking about the formal principle of the Reformation.

Posting such things is also a way to throw them out and see how they play. I’ve been hearing whispers here and there that various Reformed folks have been asked to address it. Recently Patrick Hines has chosen to engage it. Mr. Hines is apparently a Reformed pastor of sorts.  In the interests of full disclosure, I had contacted privately because of his efforts to critique Hanagraaff. I inquired whether we might collaborate. After being met with denunciations of apostasy and calls for my immediate repentance to “believe the true Gospel” it became apparent that that was a no go.  Having looked over Mr. Hines’ other material I didn’t think there was anything there worthwhile to engage. Too many egregious mistakes and not enough pay off to make a response worthwhile. Mr. Hines is so adept at creating strawmen that he should be rightly donned a wizard of said fallacy.

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Sola Scriptura and Pope Gregory the Great

August 3, 2012

On occasion Protestant writers and apologists make claim for their theological distinctives as being found in the fathers. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is one such case where a good many citations are brought forward to establish that this doctrine is nothing novel. And so Protestantism is introducing nothing new in advocating for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.  The two major works from which practically all contemporary Protestant cases directly or indirectly depend on are by Whitaker and Goode. If you have read them (I have) there really isn’t much else to read.

One father who is advanced for the case of Sola Scriptura is Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) Gregory is usually enlisted to support a few parts of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, scripture as the ultimate authority, its material sufficiency and perspicuity. The following citations are some of the usual suspects.

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Gospel of righteousness means justification by works?

January 12, 2012

It is a pressing issue for some studying the Scriptures that on one hand we are given the message that we are not justified by our works and on the other hand that we must obey the commandments of God and do good works for which we will be judged. How are the two compatible?

The solution to this issue is found in the teaching of deification, which is the key to the gospel message. Deification means union with God which means not only connection with Him but also participating ourselves in the fullness of His life and existence. That is participating in His infinite and eternal life beyond our limited time/space existence. Once this is understood as the promise of God to man we can see why we are called to be perfect as He is perfect and holy as He is holy. That is we are called to live His righteousness which we know and do through obedience to His commandments. However, we also realise that we are unable of our own strength to achieve perfection because we are imperfect, which is why we confess ourselves as sinners. It is impossible for time/space creatures to transcend their condition with its limits and weaknesses by their own strength/energies. Thus, it is impossible to be justified by our works. Obedience to the Law in itself is incapable of saving us. Rather to transcend our condition we must be helped by God, He must give us to share in His energies that we may live as He does. That is we are saved by the grace of God, which sets us free from our limits to participate in His free eternal life. We are not saved by grace to escape from works but to participate in eternal works that transcend our own works. Why does not God just do this for us all and why must we still obey? Because to participate in the life of God means that we must both be unique persons and free. God cannot make us good only of Himself else it would deny our freedom and unique personhood and we would no longer be the ones participating nor would we be living as He lives freely. This is why we must have faith because in this we express our free will to live as God lives. Through faith we own God’s life as our life by obedience and doing His will. This means that we truly share in His life freely of our own will and living His life with Him. He is the only one who is truly free and only by sharing in His freedom, by uniting to His will through obedience, do we also become truly free.

So, deification means that we must live the righteousness of God as our own but our own good works of themselves cannot save us because we cannot transcend our state of life without the grace of God.

Gospel of righteousness

January 9, 2012

“May reveal to them the gospel of righteousness.” This is a petition for the catechumens during the liturgy.

Also from the first Canon of the Seventh Ecumenical Council:

And if forever the prophetic voice commands us to keep the testimonies of God, and to live in them, it is plain that they remain unwavering and rigid. For Moses, too, the beholder of God, says so in the following words: “To them there is nothing to add, and from them there is nothing to remove”. And the divine Apostle Peter, exulting in them, cries: “which things the angels would like to peep into”. And Paul says: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any gospel besides that which ye have received, let him be anathema”.

The link in both of these quotes is the gospel with righteousness, with keeping the testimonies of God and the way of life, that is living by them.

I understand that this means that the gospel is not merely a message that Christ died for our sins and that we must believe in Him nor is it merely that we must have a particular faith but it is that we must also live a particular life maintaining particular commandments. That is the gospel is Christ and union with Him, deification. This encompasses faith and actions that we may be united to Him in all our life and thoughts. That He can become all in all. That we may conform to His likeness to become what He is Himself. It is a gospel of righteousness, although this does not mean justification by works.

Also, what I see is important from this that St Paul’s comment that one is an anathema for preaching another gospel. From this it seems that teaching heresy is primarily: the preaching of another gospel. This does not mean merely preaching a different Creed as a statement of faith but also about preaching a different way of life because the way of life is also Christ and God. That is if one is to teach contrary to the commandments of God and Tradition of the Church in faith and practice then one is a heretic because one is teaching another Gospel. This is why the Fathers also maintain and teach the sacred Canons as “unwavering and rigid”. This is not to deny the economy of applying them but that one is a heretic to teach contrary to them because such teaching is a false gospel. Those that taught that we must be circumcised were condemned as preaching a false gospel by St Paul that is as heretics. Teaching a false commandment and action is teaching a false gospel as much as teaching falsely about the doctrine of the Trinity.


The Priest between the believer and God?

July 4, 2011

Some tend to attack the priesthood (hierarchy) as found in catholic churches (Orthodox, Oriental, Roman) as being something between the believer and Christ or God that somehow brings a separation of the believer from Christ. The claim is that every believer should have a direct relationship with Christ and not one through a mediator, other than Christ Himself. Because Christ has ascended then for them such a direct relationship is conceived in terms of only a “spiritual” relationship in the heart and/or mind. The thought of knowing Christ in the flesh is not seen as possible until the second coming. Christ is present only in spirit/thought.

In response, the hierarchy is not about putting something between the believer and Christ but something that enables the believer to have a direct concrete, in the flesh, relationship with Christ. It makes Christ present in fullness to the believer. The hierarchy in its wider sense, and in particular the Bishop, is an icon that enables the person of Christ to become present in a tangible manner. Meeting the Bishop or Presbyter and even other orders of the hierarchy, is having a direct encounter with Christ. The Bishop is the complete icon of this presence in a local church, the presbyter in a parish, an Abbot in a monastery, a husband in a family, and hence why he is shown particular honour and said to be “Master or Lord”. This is not to honour the Bishop (or others) as the man who is serving in the role but to honour Christ, who is present in the man serving this role. (A Patriarch is given the grandest titles because he is an icon of Christ among the Metropolitans, who in turn have grander titles than the Bishops in their regions.)

A direct relation with these various offices is a direct relation with Christ. A blessing from one is the blessing from Christ, sins forgiven by the Bishop or Presbyter are sins forgiven by Christ, the offerings given by them are the offerings of Christ. Joining with them is joining with Christ. Separating from them is separating from Christ and those who decry them as separating the believer from Christ are in reality separating themselves from Christ. Those setting up congregations apart from the Bishops are setting up congregations apart from Christ. One may claim to love Christ and be devoted to Him, even going to great lengths of self-sacrifice for this love, but if done so in rejection or apart from the hierarchy then it cannot bring one to union with Christ because one remains with his rejection apart from Christ, who has made Himself present to him but he does not believe and turns his back on Him, in effect seeking an image of Christ made in his own likeness.

The iconic nature of the hierarchy is such that should a member of the hierarchy fail to conform to the likeness of the icon then he is no longer able to continue his place in the hierarchy; he is deposed. The grace that enables him to make Christ present in his place in the hierarchy is removed and he no longer maintains the place. He does not receive some permanent power from God to exercise it on God’s behalf but acts as an icon in the likeness of Christ so that Christ acts in, through and with him in synergy. Once the icon loses its likeness then the grace is removed because Christ can no-longer be present in him. Thus, a priest who is in schism, or heresy, and so separated from the united hierarchy, which is only One because God is One, is no longer a priest.

So, the hierarchy (priesthood) is not something between the believer and God but is something that enables the believer to meet God. The priest makes Christ present as mediator. He is not a mediator to Christ but enables Christ, Himself, to mediate in concrete terms between the believer and God. Apart from the hierarchy we cannot come to have a complete personal relationship with Christ.

Athanasius contra Ecclesiam Anglicanae

January 8, 2011

When still an earnest Calvinist I saw the Anglican church as the proper heir of Swiss Reformed thought, or even Calvinism, for that matter. It was largely the accident of Knox having published in Geneva his First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women without Calvin’s consent or knowledge  – – or so Calvin claimed in a letter to Elizabeth’s secretary, William Cecil – -that had put Geneva on the outs with Elizabeth. Consequently, not Geneva, but Zurich became the primary court of appeal for the English Protestants in the first decades of Elizabeth’s reign, and the Zurichers were certainly not the Genevan junior varsity (though some Presbyterians still think so). But despite Knox’s indiscretion, Geneva never was destined to play much of an official role in English affairs, though unofficially its influence was vast. Zurich on the other hand, whose sensibilities were far more in keeping with the English affections to begin with (state run churches), assumed a near normative role. While vestments remained a thorn of contention among the English, Zurich considered such matters adiaphora, and saw the English church as possessed with the prerogative to impose them. One of Zurich’s leading theologians in the first years of Elizabeth’s reign, Peter Martyr Vermigli- – a Florentine by birth – – had actually argued, during Edward’s reign (he had been at Oxford then), with the precise Richard Hooper, bishop of Gloucester, for the decorous nature of vestments. Read the rest of this entry »

The Heresy of Calvinism. I

July 10, 2010

About a year ago, his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah addressed the meeting of the ACNA at which he delineated a number of things that must be jettisoned were real ecumenical dialogue to occur between the Orthodox and this newest iteration of Anglicanism. Among the eschewed was what his Beatitude called “the heresy of Calvinism.” That very weekend, while attending a reception for my nephew John and his new bride Becca, her father, a minster of the Reformed Episcopal Church, and a friend of mine from some years back (more than twenty: we had attended seminary together, we both served as clergy in the PCA parish in Allentown, PA), accosted me wanting to know what was heretical about Calvinism. The following post(s) is my reply.

This, like any essay on some historical ism, immediately demands an explanation of what exactly that ism entails. The matter becomes more urgent when certain people wish to rearrange categories at one time more-or-less settled, and with these disputes I shall have little to say. By “these” I mean the suppliants of the erstwhile Bishop Thomas Durham (aka N. T. Wright) and his putative new readings of Paul, and the tentacles of such readings that have ensnared contemporary Reformed circles under the sobriquet of Federal Vision. To be just, federal vision predates N. T. Durham’s musings by decades, many tracing it back to the disquiet surrounding Norm Shepherd at Westminster Seminary in the early 80s. I remember at the time thinking Shepherd’s stance odd, and later in the decade, having fallen in with a circle sympathetic to Shepherd (the aforementioned PCA parish in Allentown) due to some sacramental and ecclesiological affectations on my part, I found Shepherd more to my newly acquired taste. It is all now too easy to see such readings’ incoherence and inconsistency, both with the Westminster Standards, and with Calvin (though I do not equate the two), and like the Finns with Luther, all seemingly suffering from a case of ‘deification envy’. Thus for them, claims to be “Calvinist” at best must come with the obscene caveat “Calvinism better-informed.” All the arguments about Federal Vision and its accouterments I shall leave to one side, for they do not concern the basic Orthodox critiques: perhaps they are of great weight, but not to the basic problems as the Orthodox see them, for they concern matters “after the fact”. That is, they don’t address the questions of predestination, satisfaction theories of the atonement, and human union with Christ based upon human nature’s redemption through union with the Incarnate Logos. Thus, whether one wishes to sail on R. C. Sproul’s end of the Reformed boat, or on Jim Jordan’s, it is all of apiece for the Orthodox.

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