Monday, April 13, 2015

FROM CONFLICT TO COMMUNION - Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017


A few days ago, while engaged in some online research, I came upon a document that was published back in 2013 which I had been unaware of: FROM CONFLICT TO COMMUNION - Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017.

The document/report was a collaborative effort of The Lutheran–Roman Catholic Commission on Unity (formerly known as "The Joint Lutheran - Roman Catholic Study Commission on the Gospel and the Church"), and the following is an introduction to the report, published on The Lutheran World Federation website (LINK):

The Luther-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity invites all Christians to study its report open-mindedly and critically, and to walk along the path towards the full, visible unity of the Church.

In 2017, Catholics and Lutherans will jointly look back on the event of the Reformation and reflect on 50 years of official worldwide ecumenical dialogue during which time the communion they share anew has continued to grow.

This encourages Lutherans and Catholics to celebrate together the common witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, amidst this celebration, they will also have reason to experience the suffering caused by the division of the Church, and to look self-critically at themselves, not only throughout history, but also through today’s realities.

And from the Forward of the document/report, we read:

The true unity of the church can only exist as unity in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that the struggle for this truth in the sixteenth century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history. In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church. This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:4–6).

I read this interesting document/report last week before spring-break guests arrived on Thursday. I plan on rereading it again in greater depth, with an emphasis on the 91 footnotes, and may publish some reflections in a new thread once I have finished the task.

I hope a few readers will take the time to read through the document, and share their assessment/s in the combox.

[Links to document: HTML; PDF.]

Grace and peace,

David

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Beggars All and James Swan: from bad to worse...


James Swan of the Beggars All blog, on 04-05-15, added "Addendum #2" to his recent thread (link), that I commented on in my last post here at AF (link).

He begins "Addendum #2" with the following highly subjective opinion:

The response was written by an ex-defender of Rome (if I recall correctly) with whom this blog has interacted with over the years. Of my interactions with this blogger, I've noticed the imprecise defining of theological positions (the very thing I'm being accused of with his latest response).

James certainly has the right to share his opinion(s) with us, but I hope he realizes that such subjective opinions will not carry much weight with informed readers. Before moving on to his ONE example of my supposed "imprecise defining of theological positions", I would like to point out his statement that I was "an ex-defender of Rome" is "imprecise". What precisely does he mean by "Rome" ??? Does he mean the Rome of the historic Roman empire ? Does he mean the "Roman Church" as understood by Martin Luther, in distinction from the Papacy ? Does he mean the Bishops of Rome, in distinction from the official documents of the historic "Catholic Tradition" ? Does he mean the Roman Catholic Church as a separate denomination from the hundreds of other Christian sects ? (Hope everyone realizes that I am using the above questioning as a hyperbolic function.)

James then wrote:

For instance, in our previous interaction, the blogger thinks Luther held the "Roman church" is a true church, but failed to account for Luther's important distinction between the Roman church and the papal church. He used a quote without a context (that when read in context, demonstrates the distinction).

In our earlier "interactions", James had the decency to refer to me by name, but now, I am just "the blogger" (condescension ?). Be that as it may, I find the phrase, "the blogger thinks Luther held the "Roman Church" is a true church, to be "imprecise", and this because it gives one the initial impression that Luther himself did not believe that the Roman Catholic Church of his day retained enough truth to still be considered a Christian church; that this is something I just 'think' he held to. Thankfully, James does clear this matter up in an older post of his; note the following:

Mr. Waltz is accurate: the particular quote he utilized does point out that Luther did not deny the Roman church was a Christian church: "I honor the Roman Church. She is pious, has God’s Word and Baptism, and is holy."

It seems that James' charge of imprecision has nothing to do with whether or not the quote I provided was accurate, for he agrees with me that, "Luther did not deny the Roman church was a Christian church"; which, for the record, was EXACTLY what I was attempting to convey in my original post (link). With this in mind, I think it is important ask why James believes that my quote is "out of context" if the distinction (the fact the Luther separated the Papacy from the "Roman Church") he obsesses on is not included ? (I suspect that I am not the only one who believes that no less than five specific threads on this issue, plus the "Addendum #2", lies within the realm of obsession).

In my 'book', for a quote to be construed as "out of context", the quote would have to convey a meaning that is in some sense untrue. Since James has clearly stated that the quote I provided "is accurate" and conveys the fact that, "Luther did not deny the Roman church was a Christian church", I find little value in his charge.

Further, I would argue that if one obsesses on the distinction that Luther believed the Pope/Papacy to be the "Antichrist" (something pretty much everyone who has knows anything about Luther's beliefs is quite aware of), while leaving out his belief concerning the "Roman church", the odds of misconstruing Luther is much greater. [Ask yourselves this: how many times have you come upon the quote that I provided in my post, in treatments on Luther from authors who write from an anti-Catholic position ? Compare those rare instances with the number of times one finds reference(s) to his position on the Pope/Papacy.]

Before moving on to rest of James' "Addendum #2", I would like to provide a quote from the first of James' five threads on this issue:

Since Rome officially anathematized the Gospel at Trent, I don't consider her part of the Catholic Church. The debate on this amongst the reformed still goes on. In fact, it was debated by James White and Douglas Wilson: ARE ROMAN CATHOLICS ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST? . Here would be a good example of something I part company with Luther on, and even many of my Reformed friends. I don't think the papacy can be extracted from the Church of Rome and still have the term "Church of Rome" make sense. (link)

Am I the only person who finds it a bit strange that James has "part[ed] company with Luther on, and even many of my Reformed friends", on an issue he has spent so much time documenting ???

[BTW, the debate referenced by James is now available on YouTube: LINK.]

James then wrote:

I would argue that the Watchtower's view of faith in relation to works, and faith and its relationship to the righteousness of Christ (Luther's "great exchange") are fundamentally different than what Luther held to. So in his present criticism, the blogger equates Luther's view of sola fide and the Watchtower's alleged view of sola fide, without actually presenting Luther's view of sola fide and comparing it to what he purports the Watchtower believes. Nor have I come across anything from the Watchtower in which they actually attempt to explain Luther's view in comparison to their own view.

I am anything but an 'expert' on "Luther's view of sola fide"; but, I am somewhat of an 'expert' on the Jehovah's Witnesses current (and past) take on this matter. With that said, I do not recall EVER stating that the JWs current understanding of sola fide is identical (the same) to that of Luther. (Though not an expert on Luther, I aware of at least three very important distinctions: the relationship between baptism/baptismal regeneration and faith; the issue of whether or not one who has been justified by faith [alone] can fall into unbelief; the unique JW 'two class' distinction.) With that said, I would argue that James has completely missed the point I was attempting convey: JWs currently believe that one is justified by faith [alone], not by some faith and works construct—works/obedience, "simply demonstrates that their faith is genuine".

James then focuses on only one the three selections I provided in my post; the one, which of course, can be most easily distorted. Interestingly enough, he even gets the document I quoted from wrong, attributing it to the 1988 2 volume document, Insight on the Scriptures, not the 1971 document I actually quoted from, Aid to Bible Understanding. Though the document Insight on the Scriptures, borrows without any change a considerable portion of the material found in Aid to Bible Understanding, the two are separate, distinct works. For instance, the last selection he provides from "This document", is not to be found at all in Aid to Bible Understanding. Since the content of the two documents does not represent any change in the JWs position on faith [alone], I will relegate his error to sloppy referencing.

James also posted:

"Missing is any discussion of Christ taking upon himself the sin of the world..."

If James thinks that JWs reject the clear Biblical teaching found in John 1:29 and 1 John 2:2, et al. ("Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world"; "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" - KJV), he is grossly mistaken. The affirmation of this teaching is found is dozens of JW documents, including both the Aid to Bible Understanding and Insight on the Scriptures (see the contributions in both documents under the "ATONEMENT" section).

[BTW, I sincerely wonder if James, an avowed Calvinist, believes that Jesus, the Lamb of God, has taking upon Himself the sin/s of the "unregenerate" ???]

James ends his opinionated piece with:

I'm not entirely sure of the motivations of this blogger, but the application of equivocation to distinct theologies leads me to wonder if this particular person has embraced some form of a universal Fatherhood of God and theBrotherhood of Man approach to Christian theism (or perhaps theism in general).

Since I do not believe that the JWs current understanding of sola fide is identical (the same) to that of Luther, the charge of "equivocation" is baseless. As for "the motivations of this blogger", I wanted to clear up some misconceptions concerning the theology of the sect I was born into, and have kept a keen eye on throughout my life. [BTW James, what are your "motivations" ???]

Though much more could be related, I shall end my reflections on James' charges for now. I sincerely hope that others than James and myself have some shared interest in the issues that have been touched on...


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, April 3, 2015

Beggars All and the Jehovah's Witnesses position concerning justification—yet another misrepresentation of a non-Reformed soteriology


Back on 07-03-14, I published a post (link) that brought into question a thread at the Beggars All blog (link) which adopted the assertion that the Council of Trent "reaffirmed" semi-Pelaganism that was "condemned at Orange in 529 AD".

There were also those infamous threads at BA which attempted to defend the charge that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI "is pretty much a full-blown Pantheist" (see this post for links to those threads). But, it seems that misrepresentation at BA is not limited to the Catholic Church... 

In a thread published on 03/31/15 at Beggars All (link), James Swan relates to his readers, "what the Jehovah's Witnesses have to say about Luther".

He provides selections from a The Watchtower, 09-15-03, article, with the title, "Martin Luther—The Man and His Legacy" (available online here).

The first two quotes pertain directly to Martin Luther, but the third quote, moves beyond the historical Luther into the realm of theology, specifically, what James believes JWs believe/teach concerning justification. He prefaces the third quote he provided from the JW article with:

What I looked for as I read the article was how it gave testimony to the distinctives of the Watchtower. For instance, the Watchtower article mentions justification.

The quote itself is immediately followed by the following:

Someone reading these statements quickly might find them within the realm of orthodoxy. Certainly it's true that Luther thought himself not worthy of God's favor. Certainly it's true that Luther had his evangelical breakthrough by "Bible study, prayer, and meditation." It is true that "Luther recognized that God’s favor cannot be earned." It is true that salvation is "by faith and not by works, or penance." What's missing from these statements is Luther's emphasis on the righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners (alien righteousness), and the word "alone," as in "faith alone." The majority of the article focuses on what Luther did: his works. Without stating it explicitly, the Watchtower has presented its soteriology: having faith in God and doing works.

The last portion, "having faith in God and doing works", is a hyperlink that leads one to an online article, published on John Ankerberg's apologetic website (LINK).

I have some difficulties with James assessment(s). First, it is an error to extrapolate that if, "Luther's emphasis on the righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners (alien righteousness), and the word 'alone,' as in 'faith alone'", are "missing" in an article on Luther, then one should conclude the soteriology of the author writing the article denies those concepts. If one adopts such methodology, consistency would lead one to also conclude that the Bible denies those concepts, for one will not find therein an explicit statement of, "the righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners (alien righteousness)", nor will one find the phrase "faith alone" used in the sense that one is "justified by faith alone"; in fact, "faith alone" is found only once in the entire Bible, and it is used in a negative sense: one is NOT justified by "faith alone" (James 2:24).

Second, one should not rely on a professional apologist to discern what someone else (and/or group) believes. One should always let that person, or group, speak for themselves. It is a rare instance to find a professional apologist giving a totally accurate picture of a person, or group, he disagrees with. The article linked to by James is unreliable, for it omits a good deal of germane evidence that contradicts the two authors (Ankerberg and Weldon) conclusion: Jehovah's Witnesses teach a "works salvation". The following explicit JW texts are not to be found in their article:

Is anything more than faith needed in order to gain salvation?

Eph. 2:8, 9, RS: By grace ["undeserved kindness," NW] is not your own doing, it is the gift of God—not because of works, lest any man should boast.” (The entire provision for salvation is an expression of God’s undeserved kindness. There is no way that a descendant of Adam can gain salvation on his own, no matter how noble his works are. Salvation is a gift from God given to those who put faith in the sin-atoning value of the sacrifice of his Son.)

Heb. 5:9, RS: “He [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Italics added.) (Does this conflict with the statement that Christians are “saved through faith”? Not at all. Obedience simply demonstrates that their faith is genuine.)

James 2:14, 26, RS: “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” (A person does not earn salvation by his works. But anyone who has genuine faith will have works to go with it—works of obedience to the commands of God and Christ, works that demonstrate his faith and love. Without such works, his faith is dead.)

Acts 16:30, 31 RS: “‘Men, what must I do to be saved?’ And they [Paul and Silas] said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’” (If that man and his household truly believed, would they not act in harmony with their belief? Certainly.) [Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1985, 1989, p. 359.]

These sheeplike ones are not justified or declared righteous on the basis of their own works any more than the 144,000 heirs of Christ are. The prime thing that counted was the thing that was evidenced by their trying to do what they could in behalf of Christ just as the situation afforded, namely, their faith in him as the Messiah or Christ of God. They recognized that they had no righeousness wholly pleasing to God in themselves. In harmony with this they availed themselves of the propitiatory blood of the sacrificial Lamb of god, Jesus Christ. (John 1:29, 36) To gain a righteous apperance before Jehovah God, they did a washing, as it were, of their symbolic robes. [God's Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached, 1973.]

Finishing his earthly course free from flaw in any sense of the word, Jesus was acknowledged by God as justified. He was thus the only man, who through test, stood firmly and positively just, or righeous before God on his own merit. By this "one act of justification [form of di•kai'o•ma],"that is, by Jesus' proving himself perfectly righteous his entire flawless course, including his sacrifice, he provided the basis for declaring righteous those persons having faith in Christ.—Rom. 5:17-19; 3:25, 26; 4:25. [Aid to Bible Understanding, 1971, p. 437.]

[Note: emphasis in the above selections are in the original.]

The above quotes present the offical view of Jehovah's Witnesses concerning justification by faith [alone]. No amount of sophistry will change this teaching into a "works salvation" soteriology, as Ankerberg and Weldon have attempted to accomplish in their misleading article.

As for the Jehovah's Witnesses view of Martin Luther, the fullest treatment that I am aware of is in the book, Mankind's Search for God (1990). Chapter 13, "The Reformation—The Search Took a New Turn", is 29 pages long, with pages 314-319 being devoted to Luther. The treatment is certainly a brief one, but, I find nothing in it that is historically inaccurate.

Shall end this post here, sincerely hoping that I have brought some clarity and accuracy to the Jehovah's Witnesses view on justification.



Grace and peace,

David

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Reformed tradition and baptismal efficacy/regeneration


Yesterday, I received an email from one follower of AF asking for examples of "Reformed folk" who hold to some form of baptismal regeneration (i.e. that baptism is an efficacious means of grace). His question was prompted by the following that I wrote back on 09-11-14:

It is important to keep in mind that those who embrace baptismal regeneration (in one form or another—e.g. Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox churches, Lutherans, many Anglicans, and some Reformed folk), adamantly maintain that it is means of grace...(link to thread)

In my reply, I suggested that he read the following online essays by Rich Lusk:




This morning, I realized that I forgot to mention William B. Evans excellent article:

“Déjà Vu All Over Again?: The Contemporary Reformed Soteriological Controversy in Historical Perspective,” Westminster Theological Journal 72.1 (2010): 135-151.

The essay is not available online, but back on 05-31-10, I provided some lengthy selections from it in THIS THREAD.

In ending, I cannot help but believe that anyone who takes the time to read the above four essays will come to the conclusion that there are (and have been) "some Reformed folk" who embrace baptismal regeneration in "one form or another".


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, February 13, 2015

James (the Just): leader of the Church at Jerusalem


In the combox of the previous thread here at AF, Ken Temple called into question the view held by numerous scholars (and yours truly) that James (the Just) became the leader of the Church at Jerusalem shortly after Peter was imprisoned. Ken wrote:

Off the top of my head, on the main issue - it seems your main argument is that James was the mono-episcopate (one bishop over a college of elders) at Jerusalem. And the later church records seem to read mono-episcopasy back into the earliest decades. (Eusebius, Irenaeus, etc.) Acts, Titus, 1 Timothy, I Peter 5, I Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, and the Didache are all earlier (60s-125 AD) and don't jive with the bishop's lists of 200-325 AD.

Actually "the main issue" is whether or not Ken's original assertion is accurate. Once again, here is what Ken wrote back on 01/28/15:

Moreover, NONE of the earliest churches had a mono-episcopate. They all had a plurality of elders at first.

The "earliest" church, Jerusalem, most certainly did not have "a plurality of elders at first". The first leaders of the Church at Jerusalem were 'the Twelve' (apostles). When 'the Twelve' began to spend less time at Jerusalem and more time in missionary activity, James (the Just) became the permanent, resident leader of the Church at Jerusalem; holding a position of authority above the elders/overseers at Jerusalem, but below 'the Twelve'.

Ken also wrote:

Why doesn't Acts 15 say that? Acts 15 does not call James a "bishop/overseer, who is one over the college of elders" in authority. Both he and Peter stand up and give their opinions/judgments and quote Scripture. 

It says that Paul and Barnabas came there and reported to "the apostles and elders" (Acts 15:4; and 15:6; 15:22 and "with the whole church").

James, the brother of Jesus is called an apostle in Galatians 1:19 and 1 Cor. 15:7. 


Ken is being evasive here, for he knows that none of the governmental systems held by various Christian denominations (congregational, episcopal, presbyterian) have explicit support in the NT. The view that James (the Just) held a position of leadership in the Church of Jerusalem is built upon implicit information in the NT and explicit information from post-apostolic writers. When all the evidence is brought together, an extremely strong case for this view emerges; a case so strong that even a number of scholars who do not adhere to a espiscopal form of polity support it. Note the following from a respected Presbyterian scholar:

When Peter, Paul, and Barnabas have spoken, the leader of the Jerusalem church assume the task of addressing the assembly and formulating a decision that meets the approval of the entire council. This person is James, the half-brother of Jesus, who succeeded Peter as the head of the church (12:17) and who was highly respected for his authority (compare 21:17-19). When he speaks, he literally has the last word.

A paragraph later, we read:

James functions as the chairman of the assembly. Everyone present is eager to listen to what James has to say on the subject of adherence to the law, namely, circumcision. His opening remarks are, "Men and brothers, listen to me." The similarity between these words and those of the Epistle of James is remarkable. In his epistle James writes, "Listen, my beloved brothers" (2:5). The command listen to me occurs nowhere else in the entire New Testament. It reveals that James has respect and authority in the church and that apostles, elders, and delegates to the council value his leadership. (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary - Acts, p. 550; note: Dr. Kistmaker was the scholar chosen to complete the NTC series started by the esteemed Reformed theologian, William Hendriksen.)

From the pen of the F. F. Bruce we read:

Then the eyes  of the company turned to James the brother of the Lord, a man who enjoyed the respect and confidence of all. By this time James appears to have occupied a position of leadership among the elders of the Jerusalem church; if the elders were organized as a kind of Nazarene Sanhedrin, James was their president, primus inter pares. (F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament - The Book of the Acts, p. 309.)

A Baptist scholar wrote:

The rise of both the monepiscopacy and the succession concept occurs in internal crises in the earliest periods of the Church. An "overseer"—a term preferred for its connotation of function, in contrast to "bishop," with its connotation of office—emerged naturally in house churches. From such overseers, or "elders" as they were often called, there was at least in some cases an overseer for a city, whom we shall term a monepiskopos (to distinguish this person from the single leader in the house churches), appointed by apostolic design at the departure of the apostles. Such a city overseer also arose apart from apostolic design, not necessarily against it, in various connections with the death of James, the monepiscopal leader of the Jerusalem church. A succession of bishops was perhaps first suggested in Jerusalem at the time of the Jerusalem Council, among Jewish Christians with nationalistic hopes, by James's kinship to Jesus in the Davidic line. The succession of bishops arose in Rome from Jewish Christian interpretation of apostolic plans in reaction to erosion of established presbyteral authority. These developments set the stage for the initial use of succession lists in internal crises rather than in dialogue with Greco-Roman society. (Robert Lee Williams, Bishops Lists, p. 45.)

From the same book, a bit later, we read:

Evidence suggests that the churches in Antioch and the five cities addressed by Ignatius in Asia Minor began monepiscopates at the death of two first century leaders, James in Jerusalem and the "elder" of the Johannine letters in who exercised authoritv beyond their own cities. Telfer was correct in thinking that "an emergency or crisis ... in view of their loss of the guiding and supporting mother-church" led churches to adopt monepiscopacy in Antioch and Asia. (Ibid. pp. 67, 68.)

In the previous thread I provided selections from four more authors that are in agreement with the above scholars. Once again for emphasis:

In the traditions recorded by Eusebius (Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen), James was the first bishop of the Jerusalem church. His election to this position is located at the beginning of the life of the Jerusalem church. He was thus the first bishop of the leading (mother) church of the growing Christian movement. The account in Acts portrays the key role of the Jerusalem church, and even the letters of Paul confirm the importance because they show Paul contested and struggled against that leadership. But according to popular understanding, in Acts Peter is at first portrayed as the prominent leader among the twelve, giving way to James only when he is forced to leave Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). The account of the Jerusalem assembly (Acts 15) portrays James "presiding." and this position of leadership is consistent with the remaining narrative of Acts. (John Painter, Just James - The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1997, p. 4.)

The earliest leaders of the church [Jerusalem] were the Twelve, whom Luke calls 'the apostles'. At some point in the first ten or fifteen years of the church's existence an office of elder was created similar to that of the Jewish synagogue, either to succeed the Twelve, whose members began to leave Jerusalem in order to preach the gospel, or as assistants to the apostles in the administration of the church. James replaced Peter as the leader of the church and the elders took the place of the apostles. (R. Alistair Campbell, The Elders, T & T Clark International, 1994, p. 160.)

In the 2001 book, The Brother of Jesus - James the Just and His Mission, co-authors, Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner, present solid evidences that James was clearly the leader of the Jerusalem church by the time of Acts 15. Less convincing is their view that he was already the leader of the Jerusalem church when Peter was arrested by Herod. Note the following:

Against this background [Gal. 2:1-10] we may read Acts 12:17. It is normally taken to mean that, after Peter's arrest by Herod (12:1-3), he was miraculously released from prison but forced to flee from Jerusalem. Before leaving he came to the house of the mother of John Mark, where the church used to gather. There he passed on a message, "Tell this [news of his release and forced departure] to James and the brethren." How is this message to be understood? It is commonly understood as a cryptic message from Peter, the leader, to James, indicating that James must take over the leadership in absence of Peter. This is less than clearly the intended meaning. More likely we should understand Peter's message in the context of his report back to James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. Nothing is more natural than that Peter should report to the leader. (Page 31.)

In pages 32-35, the authors present numerous quotes from post-apostolic sources (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Hegesippus) which clearly affirm that James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. They begin with the following:

The role of James as leader of the Jerusalem church is uniformly found in early tradition. (Page 32.)

And then conclude the section with:

Nevertheless this tradition is unanimous that James was the first leader of the Jerusalem church, and this emphasized by the numerous references to the throne of Jesus. (Page 35.)

Before leaving Chilton and Neusner, I would like to provide one more informative selection:

James died in the year 62 C.E., so that his example had been there to influence the emerging model of episcopal hierarchy within the church attested within the Pastoral Epistles for some three decades before the Pastoral Epistles themselves were written. James was clearly a local leader, who made decisions on the basis of Scripture, and the exercise of his authority—owing to his familial relationship—brought with it a personal link to Jesus himself which was reinforced by his own martyrdom. The personal model of James as bishop was evidently sufficient to elevate that office above other possible contenders for what was to be the predominately authority within the church by the end of the first century. (Page 157 - bold emphasis mine.)

In ending, it sure seems to me that Ken is reading his congregational polity back into his interpretation of the NT and early post-apostolic data, rather than reading the data in an objective, systematic manner.


Grace and peace,

David

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Monepiscopacy and the early Church


Back on January 28, 2015, Ken Temple published a thread at the Beggars All blog (link), wherein he made some pretty bold assertions concerning the government/ministry of the Christian Church during the apostolic (i.e. NT) and early post-apostolic (i.e. late 1st century-early 2nd century) periods. Ken wrote:

...the earliest writings affirm that a college/plurality of elders and the office of bishop is the same office. The names of elder and bishop is interchangable[sic] in the NT and earliest writings of the early fathers.

After citing 5 passages from the NT and Apostolic Fathers, Ken then posted:

Also, James Swan pointed out that the evidence for Rome is that it did not have a mono-episcopate until much later. ( I Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, Peter Lampe's book and work; John Bugay wrote a lot in this area also, both here and over at Triablogue. see at the Addendum below)

Moreover, NONE of the earliest churches had a mono-episcopate. They all had a plurality of elders at first.

Ignatius (writing around 107-117 AD, ?) is the first evidence of the mono-episcopate, and seems to be where that custom/practice started.

Pretty much every assertion made by Ken in the above quotes is either irrelevant, problematic, or an error.

First, though the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) are certainly both used for individuals who filled the 'office' of what later came to known exclusively as that of the elder/presbyter; this fact does not address whether or not three distinct 'offices' existed in the Apostolic period which later came to be known as bishop/overseer, elder/presbyter, and deacon; as such, it is irrelevant. [FYI: I believe that four distinct 'offices' existed in the Apostolic period, and that the highest of the four—represented by the Apostles appointed by Jesus (plus Matthias)—became non-existent after the death of the Apostle John.]

It must be kept in mind that a number terms which later developed into limited and exclusive usage, had much broader application in the NT and early CFs.  Not only were the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) at times used for the same individual/s, but also the terms apostle (ἀπόστολος, apostolos) and deacon (διάκονος, diakonos). Peter is called an apostle and elder/presbyter; John an apostle and elder/presbyter; Paul an apostle and deacon; Timothy is designated as an apostle and a deacon. All four terms may be used of an 'office', but also have much broader usages.

Second, the purported "evidence" that Rome "did not have a mono-episcopate until much later", is based on presuppositions and theories from liberal scholars of the higher-critical paradigm—those presuppositions and theories have been fully addressed by more conservative scholars.

Third, the assertion that, "NONE of the earliest churches had a mono-episcopate", is just wrong. Fact is, the earliest 'church', Jerusalem, had one individual designated as it's leader: James. (The terms church and churches need to be qualified for THE Church at Jerusalem was comprised of numerous 'house-churches', with each individual 'house-church' having an elder/bishop in charge.)

And fourth, "Ignatius of Antioch is most certainly NOT "the first evidence of the mono-episcopate". As noted above, "the first evidence of the mono-episcopate" was the Jerusalem Church under the leadership of James.

So much for my counter-assertions. Now, before I offer support each of them, I would first like to provide a working definition for the term, monepiscopacy (or monarchical episcopate):

The view that in addition to the elder/bishop who presides over a single, local church (originally a 'house-church')—who is supported by deacons—there exists a third office held by one who has authority/jurisdiction over a plurality of local churches and their elders/bishops. Example: the early Church at Jerusalem, led by James.

First assertion -

The fact that the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) are certainly both used for some of the same individuals who filled the 'office' of what later can to known exclusively as elder/presbyter has virtually no bearing on whether or not there was a third office which was above it/them. I can think of no better representative of this view than the man who established beyond any reasonable doubt that those two terms were used interchangeably in the NT and early CFs: J. B. Lightfoot. His Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (1868), The Christian Ministry (1868) and massive 5 volume work, Apostolic Fathers (1885-1890) established him as one of the top scholars who has written on this topic. And to my knowledge, there is not one scholar who has successfully questioned Lightfoot's monumental contributions on this issue.

Interestingly enough, though countless authors have cited Lightfoot concerning the use of the terms elder/presbyter (πρεσβύτερος, presbuteros) and bishop (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) in the NT and Apostolic Fathers, it is quite rare to find an author who also points out that he believed the monepiscopacy (and the three-fold Christian ministry) had an Apostolic origin. Please note the following from his The Christian Ministry, one of three disertations which were printed with his commentary on Philippians:

If bishop was at first used as a synonyme for the presbyter and afterwards came to designate the higher officer under whom the presbyters served, the episcopate properly so called would seem to have been developed from the subordinate office. In other words, the episcopate was formed not out of the apostolic order by localisation but out of the presbyteral by elevation : and the title, which originally was common to all, came at length to be appropriated to the chief among them.

If this account be true, we might expect to find in the mother Church of Jerusalem, which as the earliest founded would soonest ripen into maturity, the first traces of this developed form of the ministry. Nor is this expectation disappointed. James the Lord's brother alone, within the period compassed by the apostolic writings, can claim to be regarded as a bishop in the later and more special sense of the term. (Pages 196-197.)

The evidence for the early and wide extension of episcopacy throughout proconsular Asia, the scene of St John's latest labours, may be considered irrefragable. (Page 214.)

It has been seen that the institution of an episcopate must be placed as far back as the closing years of the first century, and that it cannot, without violence to historical testimony, be dissevered from the name of St John. (Page 234.)

If the preceding investigation be substantially correct, the threefold ministry can be traced to Apostolic direction ; and short of an express statement we can possess no better assurance of a Divine appointment or at least a Divine sanction. (Page 267.)

Interestingly enough, even during the lifetime of Lightfoot himself, some folk were evidently attempting to twist Lightfoot's own words, for in the preface of the sixth edition of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Philippians he penned:

The present edition is an exact reprint of the preceding one. This statement applies as well to the Essay on the Threefold Ministry, as to the rest of the work. I should not have thought it necessary to be thus explicit, had I not been informed of a rumour that I had found reason to abandon the main opinions expressed in that Essay. There is no foundation for any such report. The only point of importance on which I have modified my views, since the Essay was first written, is the authentic form of the letters of St Ignatius. Whereas in the earlier editions of this work I had accepted the three Curetonian letters, I have since been convinced (as stated in later editions) that the seven letters of the Short Greek are genuine. This divergence however does not materially affect the main point at issue, since even the Curetonian letters afford abundant evidence of the spread of episcopacy in the earliest years of the second century.

But on the other hand, while disclaiming any change in my opinions, I desire equally to disclaim the representations of those opinions which have been put forward in some quarters. The object of the Essay was an investigation into the origin of the Christian Ministry. The result has been a confirmation of the statement in the English Ordinal, 'It is evident unto all men diligently reading the Holy Scripture and ancient authors that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church, Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.' But I was scrupulously anxious not to overstate the evidence in any case; and it would seem that partial and qualifying statements, prompted by this anxiety, have assumed undue proportions in the minds of some readers, who have emphasized them to the neglect of the general drift of the Essay.

September 9, 1881.

Second assertion -

The position that monepiscopacy was a very late development in Rome (many liberal scholars have speculated that it did not appear before the middle of the 2nd century), is based on highly questionable presuppositions, theories, and a subjective interpretation of archeological data. The beginnings of this position are found in the late 19th century higher critical works of Harnack, Hatch and Sohm. The higher critical presuppositions, methods and theories that were being applied to the NT for decades in Germany, were now also being unleashed on post-NT period. I have touched on the infiltration of higher criticism into 20th century scholarship in a number of threads under the "Peter Lampe" label - LINK

Some of the most troubling issues of the higher critical paradigm for me are: 1.) treatment of the NT as any other literature of the same period; 2.) the assumption that many of the NT writings were not written by apostles and/or immediate associates of the apostles (e.g. Paul did not write the Pastorals, nor some of the other epistles attributed to him; John did not write the Gospel attributed to him, nor the 3 epistles, nor Revelation; Peter did not write either of the epistles attributed to him; et al.), which means that those who did write a number of the NT contributions were liars; 3.) the men who wrote the early bishops lists were either liars or ignoramuses (or both); 4.) the unwillingness to seriously interact with conservative scholars who have addressed many of the issues raised by the higher critical paradigm.

Third assertion -

The view James was the first Bishop of the Church at Jerusalem has such a broad spectrum of supporters (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, conservative, moderate, liberal), those who reject this position need to present overwhelming evidence to the contrary (this to date has not been done).

Bishop Lightfoot himself was a supporter (see above), and the following are a few selections from modern scholars who also affirm that James was the first Bishop of the Church at Jerusalem:

In the traditions recorded by Eusebius (Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen), James was the first bishop of the Jerusalem church. His election to this position is located at the beginning of the life of the Jerusalem church. He was thus the first bishop of the leading (mother) church of the growing Christian movement. The account in Acts portrays the key role of the Jerusalem church, and even the letters of Paul confirm the importance because they show Paul contested and struggled against that leadership. But according to popular understanding, in Acts Peter is at first portrayed as the prominent leader among the twelve, giving way to James only when he is forced to leave Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). The account of the Jerusalem assembly (Acts 15) portrays James "presiding." and this position of leadership is consistent with the remaining narrative of Acts. (John Painter, Just James - The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition, Univ. of South Carolina Press, 1997, p. 4.)

The earliest leaders of the church [Jerusalem] were the Twelve, whom Luke calls 'the apostles'. At some point in the first ten or fifteen years of the church's existence an office of elder was created similar to that of the Jewish synagogue, either to succeed the Twelve, whose members began to leave Jerusalem in order to preach the gospel, or as assistants to the apostles in the administration of the church. James replaced Peter as the leader of the church and the elders took the place of the apostles. (R. Alistair Campbell, The Elders, T & T Clark International, 1994, p. 160.)

In 2001 book, The Brother of Jesus - James the Just and His Mission, co-authors, Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner, present solid evidences that James was clearly the leader of the Jerusalem church by the time of Acts 15. Less convincing is their view that he was already the leader of the Jerusalem church when Peter was arrested by Herod. Note the following:

Against this background [Gal. 2:1-10] we may read Acts 12:17. It is normally taken to mean that, after Peter's arrest by Herod (12:1-3), he was miraculously released from prison but forced to flee from Jerusalem. Before leaving he came to the house of the mother of John Mark, where the church used to gather. There he passed on a message, "Tell this [news of his release and forced departure] to James and the brethren." How is this message to be understood? It is commonly understood as a cryptic message from Peter, the leader, to James, indicating that James must take over the leadership in absence of Peter. This is less than clearly the intended meaning. More likely we should understand Peter's message in the context of his report back to James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. Nothing is more natural than that Peter should report to the leader. (Page 31.)

In pages 32-35, the authors present numerous quotes from post-apostolic sources (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, Hegesippus) which clearly affirm that James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. They begin with the following:

The role of James as leader of the Jerusalem church is uniformly found in early tradition. (Page 32.)

And then conclude the section with:

Nevertheless this tradition is unanimous that James was the first leader of the Jerusalem church, and this emphasized by the numerous references to the throne of Jesus. (Page 35.)

Before leaving Chilton and Neusner, I would like to provide one more informative selection:

James died in the year 62 C.E., so that his example had been there to influence the emerging model of episcopal hierarchy within the church attested within the Pastoral Epistles for some three decades before the Pastoral Epistles themselves were written. James was clearly a local leader, who made decisions on the basis of Scripture, and the exercise of his authority—owing to his familial relationship—brought with it a personal link to Jesus himself which was reinforced by his own martyrdom. The personal model of James as bishop was evidently sufficient to elevate that office above other possible contenders for what was to be the predominately authority within the church by the end of the first century. (Page 157 - bold emphasis mine.)

I could add many more examples, but the above is sufficient to demonstrate that Ken's assertion is in error.

Fourth assertion -

Ken's fourth assertion is directly related to his third; as such, I see no need to provide further documentation to show that it too is in error.


I shall end here with a couple of important notes: first, this thread is by no means intended to be an attack on the person of Ken. I like Ken, and consider him a brother in Christ. Yet with that said, I at times feel compelled to address some of the views that defends in his internet publishing. And second, this post is neither a defense, nor attack, of the Papacy. Though monepiscopacy is certainly an important component in any debate on the Papacy, monepiscopacy itself can be, and is, a 'stand-alone' issue, and has been treated as such in this thread.


Grace and peace,

David

P.S. In "Addendum 2", Ken provided a link to an apologetic contribution by Brandon Addison. I have already published two thread on this, and urge those readers who have read Brandon's treatment to check out the resource I mentioned in this thread, and my own reflections here.