Thursday, July 23, 2009

If the mighty works…

The debate between predestination and “free” will has raged on for thousands of years now, and a recent post at Triablogue has raised anew an interest in this seemingly timeless conundrum for this beachbum. A verse in Sacred Scripture that always comes to the fore in such reflections is from the lips of our Lord:

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. (Matthew 11:21 – KJV)

I discern two important issues concerning predestination and “free” will in this verse: first, contra Reformed doctrine, unregenerate folk (in the classic Reformed sense) sure seem to be capable of repentance under certain circumstances; and second, on the flip side, for a reason(s) unknown to us, the “certain circumstances” that would have produced repentance in the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida was withheld.

Personally, I think this very interesting verse can be harmonized with Augustinian and Thomistic thought; however, I also believe that it poses certain difficulties for Calvinism.

I sincerely wonder what others think about this verse…



Grace and peace,

David

Monday, July 20, 2009

A beachbum’s observations concerning a recent thread from the “Black Hole of Christian Blogs”

I may regret taking up my pen to respond to the musings from one of the members of the notorious “Black Hole of Christian Blogs”; but, my conscience would not allow me to stand back and say nothing—so, here goes…

Recent attacks leveled against Dave Armstrong in this recent Beggar’s All thread, prompted a few responses from this beachbum. Generally, the conversations at BA remain somewhat charitable, but the entrance of certain members from the BHCB contaminated the general tone of the blog, and brought in many elements of the “black hole” apologetics they have become famous (infamous) for.

Wanting, what seems to be, further escalation of the BHCB method (I can think of no other reason for doing so), Steve chose to copy and paste a selection of elements from the discourse at BA to his BHCB blog. Steve opens this NEW THREAD with:

I’m reposting some comments here which I originally make over at the blog of the upstanding and long-suffering James Swan:

Before proceeding, I want to concur with Steve concerning his comments about James Swan; though I believe that James is anti-Catholic (i.e. espouses the view that the Catholic Church is not a Christian Church), James propagates his view with a certain degree of civility, and with what I would term, a Christian demeanor.

Steve then posted:

Dave Armstrong said...“Steve Hays has called me ‘evil’ through and through.”For making defamatory comments about James White and his dad when Armstrong is in no position to confirm who’s telling the truth. Yes, that’s evil.

Aside from the fact that Steve embraces in the usage of “defamatory comments” (e.g. he once called me a “Catholic serial killer”), what did Dave Armstrong actually say? Here is THE LINK TO DAVE’S “EVIL” COMMENTS.

Reading through the post I do not see ANY semblance of the charge that Steve levels against Dave—as such, I must ask two questions: first, is Steve himself engaging in the “evil” he convicts Dave of; and second, is Steve’s underlying motavation rooted in his virulent anti-Catholicism?

Here is the link to Steve’s original post , wherein he states that, “He’s [Dave Armstrong] actually evil.”

I do not think is necessary to present any conclusions on the content of the two threads linked to above; IMHO, the two threads speak for themselves…


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Setting the Record Straight" - A Public statement by Ken Guindon

[At the request of a dear friend, fellow sojourner, and brother in Christ, I am posting the following “public statement” in full, with no changes, or comments on the material presented.]


Setting the Record Straight
Public statement by Ken Guindon author of:
History Is Not Enough! Why Do Ancient Churches Attract Evangelicals?


Although Ken is not Roman Catholic but a member of the Orthodox Church, he is giving this article to a Catholic friend who maintains a well-known blog on the internet. By his public statement, Ken renounces the theological opinions he espoused in the book “History Is Not Enough!”. Ken has concluded that his published opinions really amounted to a denial of historical Christian beliefs that he was refusing to accept as factual. Now reconciled to the Orthodox Church, he wishes to make public that he categorically rejects all statements in the book “History Is Not Enough!” that are not in harmony with the teachings of the Holy Catholic Orthodox Church.

After he left the Orthodox Church which he loved, Ken never came to feel at home in evangelical churches nor did he enjoy a peace of mind and of heart in Protestantism. He remained uncomfortable with various opinions held by the groups where he sought fellowship. Rather than hide in a corner, he prefers to confess his faith knowing full well the personal attacks and scorn he is bound to experience. He does not compare himself with any of the apostles or martyrs, but wants to confess that he trusts the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour and that he believes his church descends directly from the apostolic faith.

The following paragraphs describe what he believes is wrong with Protestantism and they will explain why he decided to return to the Orthodox Church. This statement is offered in spite of Ken’s desire to avoid disappointing and hurting the many friends he made when he attended Evangelical Protestant churches. He respects their sincerity and love of God. Simply put, this declaration is required because of his book.

This series of questions and statements will enumerate the ideas which led Ken and his wife back to the Orthodox Church:

1) Was not 1400 years from the first century rather late to try to purify and to remold the Church according to new doctrinal views?

2) If the Reformers considered the Roman Catholic Church to be the true visible church during the preceding centuries, why would they provoke a schism? (Yes, we know they sought to restore true doctrine.) The results for Protestantism have been, first, a schism from the mother Church, second divisions within their own denomin­ations over the sacraments and other matters, third, a massive adoption of liberalism in Europe and America, and finally, endless splits (schisms), new sects and cults giving birth to endless discussions over how to maintain biblical truths and to just live as churches. Matters settled ages ago are continually brought up for renewed discussion in their national assemblies.

3) Other serious consequences: principal doctrines such as salvation, Scripture, Sacraments, ministry were modified. Such changes refute the pretention that the Reformation Churches were a continuation of the true Church (the Catholic Church, only reformed). If such major doctrines are changed, how could there be continuation or succession?

4) Is the ecclesiastical situation better today than during the 1500s? Protestant evangelists are often met with the following excuses: “every church says it is right” or “there are so many churches one might as well stay home and profess his own beliefs.” Does this not demonstrate the scriptural axiom: ‘a bad tree produces bad fruit’? All sects claim they “follow the Bible alone (Sola Scriptura).” It is sad to note that often within a single denomination, they can’t agree on their two “ordinances” (Sacraments): baptism and the Lord’s Supper. (For ex. the Federal Vision folks are rejected within the Reformed tradition in the USA.) One might also examine the history of various theological schools to see how the winds of liberalism influenced them.

5) Reformed Practice - In considering Reformed practice, I noted the following incongruity: Reformed theologians hold that Christ is the Baptizer in Baptism (also Roman Catholic teaching). Then a question arises: If Christ is the Baptizer, how is it possible for a child to be baptized and remain unregenerate and yet be considered a child of the covenant and a member of the local church? This idea derives from the Reformed teaching that the local congregation is a mixed assembly (like OT Israel) and not the visible body of Christ. They state that the Body of Christ is known only to God and that members of a particular local church may or may not be members of Christ’s Body; therefore, following the idea of the continuity of the Covenants, baptism, like circumcision, should be administered to all children of professing parents. I could not subscribe to the idea that a child was non-regenerate and a member of the Church. My beliefs concerning the differences between the Old Covenant people of God and the New Covenant people of God prevented me from becoming a member of a Reformed congregation. I hold to continuity and discontinuity at the same time; to me “new” means new, different, better (cf. Book of Jeremiah and the Epistle to the Hebrews).

6) Protestant Worship Services - Protestant worship services did not fill me with a sense of God’s Presence, of mystery and awe. I did not feel that I was really in His presence, in His Kingdom, in union with all the saints who have preceded us. A low view of the Eucharist struck me as a serious problem, i.e., it could be celebrated once a week or once a month, or worse, once a quarter or once a year. That depended on the denomination or the local parish or the pastor or just plain convenience. In the OPC, some have the Communion service once a week but others once a month. Some Reformed congregations celebrate with grape juice, others with wine and still others offer both on the same plate in little plastic sterile cups.

7) Evidence from the Early Church writers (2nd to 6th centuries) - The apostolic tradition, whether in the West and held by Justin Martyr, (the Latin writer Tertullian, who is not regarded as a saint or a Church Father), Irenaeus, or in the East, John Chrysostom and others, gives evidence of a high view of Baptism and the Eucharist. This means that they believed in baptismal regeneration and that the Flesh and Blood of Christ were consumed in the Holy Eucharist. There was no debate concerning these matters; it was accepted practice and teaching; only Evangelicals and Reformed Christians deny it.

8) Church Services - The Protestant rejection of the “Mysteries” has given rise to church services that are intellectual and/or entertaining. Protestant worship has lost all sense of continuity with the Church of the first millennium. Their sermons are intellectual, stressing the exegesis of Scripture and biblical languages, and they are packed with anecdotes to maintain the audience’s attention. Popular pastors are often charismatic masters of homiletics.

9) The Worship Space - The removal of the lamps and icons (and in some denominations, crosses and stained glass) has diminished a sense of reverence and worship, the sanctuary becomes a place for conversation and socializing. The worship space often resembles a classroom where the laity is expected to sit still and listen while the “anointed” one preaches and prays for all in attendance. The rejection of icons has caused a loss of familiarity with the lives of the Christian heroes of the faith (Hebrews Chapters 11 & 12). Such churches have become disincarnated, like the Gnostic movement which disparaged the flesh, but esteemed knowledge, i.e. gnosis.

10) What would they do without the Book?- In the end, Protestantism gave me the impression of being a religion of the book. (And I am in no way denigrating Holy Scripture which I read every day.) Protestant churches have great appeal for intellectuals and folks who are in love with knowledge for its’ own sake. Attending their services one notes the endless stress placed upon the “Bible”; as evidence of this, watch a Billy Graham Crusade or a similar event on television. After my previous experience with the lives of the saints, the many good and spiritual friends I knew either in the Catholic Church or in the Orthodox Church, I could not justify my remaining in Protestantism. Consequently, this statement has become necessary and serves to explain why my wife and I were happy to return to the Orthodox Church on June 13, 2009.

Monday, July 13, 2009

When Sola Scriptura paradigms collide.

In the combox of our last thread, Tom (Mormon) posted (HERE) a well-written response to Ken (Reformed), on some important issues pertaining to doctrinal development and Scriptural exegesis. That response brought to memory an insightful essay in the Spring 2008 issue of the prestigious Reformed periodical, The Westminster Theological Journal, with the title, “Some Observations On The Theological Method of Faustus Socinus”, written by Alan W. Gomes (a professor at the Talbot School of Theology). The following are some selections from that essay:


There is hardly any insight of the magisterial Protestant Reformation stated with more vigor than Scripture as the sole principium for dogmatics; it is Scripture and Scripture alone that furnishes the material for theological system. However, when one examines the Socinian doctrine as articulated by Faustus himself, one finds little to distinguish it from the classic Protestant position.

In one of his letters Socinus repels the charge of being a vicious heresiarch who teaches doctrines contrary to Scripture, claiming that he “advances nothing” apart from an accurate and careful examination of the Scriptures, “with which [his] writings are filled.”
(Page 52)

Commenting, albeit adversely, on the primacy of Scripture in Socinianism, Harnack states, “The New Testament as the sole regulative authority, source, and norm of religion cannot be declared more positively and dryly than by Socinianism.” McGiffert makes the same point with comparable derision, stating, “Christianity became in their hands more completely than ever before a book religion.”

Now, perhaps one may attempt to argue that that glowing Socinian statements about the efficacy and authority of Scripture are insincere, and offered for rhetorical effect. To state the matter bluntly, talk is cheap. Yet, when one actually examines the use that is made of Scripture in the early Socinian system, the claims of Faustus and of the Socinian generations in close proximity to him fundamentally ring true. For one thing, the Socinians produced voluminous commentaries on Scripture…and perhaps most importantly, the Socinians do not merely comment on the Bible, but use the fruits of their exegesis in their doctrinal formulations.
(Page 53)


Certainly some thought provoking reflections from an Evangelical scholar who is willing to present the facts in an objective, non-polemical, manner.


Grace and peace,

David

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Was Irenaeus’ view of Scripture and Tradition the same as the magisterial Reformers?


In the Scripture and Tradition in the early Church Fathers and Ken Temple, Mike Liccione and Randy on Scripture and Tradition threads we have been exploring the relationship between Scripture and Tradition in the early Church Fathers. In this thread, I am going to focus specifically on Irenaeus’ view. I will start with a quote from a 19th century Anglican scholar:


There was, however, another aid which he looked upon as of the most certain and most important utility, so far as it extended, and that was the baptismal creed, which he regarded as infallible for leading to the right sense of Scripture upon fundamental points, and according to which he thought all Scripture ought to be interpreted. [I.ix.4] It is evident, therefore, that he regarded the tradition of the Church, to that extent, as divine and infallible. (James Beaven, An Account of the Life and Writings of S. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and Martyr, 1841, p. 139.)


I think all will agree that the magisterial Reformers (as well as modern day Evangelicals who embrace their view) never argued that “the tradition of the Church” could be termed “divine and infallible”.

Now, what was in Irenaeus’ “baptismal creed”, his “rule of faith”, his accepted “tradition of the apostles”?

Beaven in the quote above referenced a selection from Against Heresies (I.ix.4). Below is a recent (1992) translation of the passage, and the translator’s note:


In the same way, anyone who keeps unchangeable in himself the Rule of the Truth[23] received through baptism will recognize the names and sayings and parables from the Scriptures, but this blasphemous theme of theirs he will not recognize. For even if he recognizes the jewels, he will not accept the fox for the image of the king. He will restore each one of the passages to its proper order and, having fit it into the body of the Truth, he will lay bare their fabrication and show it is without support.

[23] In A.H. Irenaeus speaks of Tradition as “the Rule of the Truth,” but in Proof 3 he calls it “the Rule of the Faith.” So these terms are used as synonyms for Christian Tradition. In the concrete, Irenaeus applies “Rule of the Truth” to the Sacred Scriptures (2.25.1; 2.28.1; 4.35.4) and to the preaching of the Church (Proof 3), which is also known as the body of the Truth (2.27.1; Proof 1). This Rule of the Truth forms a harmonious picture (1.8.1). It also serves as a criterion of Truth (1.9.4; 1.10.1). N. Brox…also holds that the Rule of the Truth is in Irenaeus not a Creed, but is the entire faith believed and preached by the Church. It is ipsa veritas.
(Irenaeus, Against Heresies – Book 1, trans. by John J.Dillon, Newman Press, p. 48 – endnote p. 182.)


We now turn to Irenaeus’ The Proof of Apostolic Preaching, for his most comprehensive presentation of “the rule of faith:


THE RULE OF FAITH

3. So, lest the like befall us, we must keep strictly, without deviation, the rule of faith, and carry out the commands of God, believing in God, and fearing Him, because He is Lord, and loving Him, because He is Father. Action, then, is preserved by faith, because unless you believe, says Isaias, you shall not continue; and faith is given by truth, since faith rests upon reality: for we shall believe what really is, as it is, and, believing what really is, as it is for ever, keep a firm hold on our assent to it. Since, then, it is faith that maintains our salvation, one must take great care of this sustenance, to have a true perception of reality. Now, this is what faith does for us, as the elders, the disciples of the apostles, have handed down to us. First of all, it admonishes us to remember that we have received baptism for the remission of sins in the name of God the Father, and in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became incarnate and died and raised, and in the Holy Spirit of God; and that this baptism is the seal of eternal life and is rebirth unto God, that we be no more children of mortal men, but of the eternal everlasting God; and that the eternal and everlasting One is God, and is above all creatures, and that all things whatsoever are subject to Him; and that what is subject to Him was all made by Him; so that God is not ruler and Lord of what is another’s, but of His own, and all things are God’s; that God, therefore, is the Almighty, and all things whatsoever are from God.
(Irenaeus, The Proof of Apostolic Preaching, trans. by Joseph P. Smith, S.J., Newman Press, pp. 49, 50.)


Is further commentary on Irenaeus’ position really needed?


Grace and peace,

David

Friday, July 3, 2009

The current Catholic position on Mormon baptism


I recently received an email from one of the readers of this blog who wrote:

I was wondering if you had seen this Mormon scholar's article concerning the CDF declaration of Mormon baptism's invalidity:http://mi.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=13&num=2&id=394

There are many points he desires to make about subordinationism, basically along the lines that if Mormon baptism is invalid because Mormons are not Trinitarian, then the early Christian's would too be invalid because they also were not Trinitarians but rather subordinationists.

I was wondering what your thoughts were on this subject, knowing that you are knowledgeable about both Mormonism and subordinationism.


I remember discussing this issue at the now defunct message board ZLMB back in 2001. I have tried to access the pages from that period, but alas, no success. As such, I will comment anew on Father Ladaria’s document, THE QUESTION OF THE VALIDITY OF BAPTISM CONFERRED IN THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS , and Gaskill’s review.

It was back on June 5, 2001 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that baptisms by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were not valid. Ladaria, a spokesman for the CDF, stated that his document was written to “explain the reasons that have led to this decision and to the resulting change of practice.” The following excerpts (in red) are from Ladaria’s document (bold emphasis is mine):

This explanation becomes even more necessary if one considers that errors of a doctrinal nature have never been considered sufficient to question the validity of the sacrament of Baptism. In fact, already in the middle of the third century Pope Stephen I, opposing the decisions of an African synod in 256 A.D., reaffirmed that the ancient practice of the imposition of hands as a sign of repentance should be maintained, but not the rebaptism of a heretic who enters the Catholic Church

Precisely because of the necessity of Baptism for salvation the Catholic Church has had the tendency of broadly recognizing this right intention in the conferring of this sacrament, even in the case of a false understanding of Trinitarian faith, as for example in the case of the Arians

What are the reasons which now led to this negative position regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which seems different from the position of the Catholic Church throughout the centuries?


We have seen that in the texts of the Magisterium on Baptism there is a reference to the invocation of the Trinity (to the sources already mentioned, the Fourth Lateran Council could be added here [DH 8021). The formula used by the Mormons might seem at first sight to be a Trinitarian formula. The text states: "Being commissioned by Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (cf. D&C 20:73). The similarities with the formula used by the Catholic Church are at first sight obvious, but in reality they are only apparent. There is not in fact a fundamental doctrinal agreement. There is not a true invocation of the Trinity because the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, according to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are not the three persons in which subsists the one Godhead, but three gods who form one divinity. One is different from the other, even though they exist in perfect harmony (Joseph F. Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [TPJSI, Salt Lake City: Desert Book, 1976, p. 372). The very word divinity has only a functional, not a substantial content, because the divinity originates when the three gods decided to unite and form the divinity to bring about human salvation (Encyclopaedia of Mormonism [EM], New York: Macmillan, 1992, cf. Vol. 2, p. 552). This divinity and man share the same nature and they are substantially equal. God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings, the necessary way to divinization (cf. TPJS, pp. 345-346). God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal (cf. TPJS, p. 373). God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation. They procreate sons in the spiritual world. Their firstborn is Jesus Christ, equal to all men, who has acquired his divinity in a pre-mortal existence. Even the Holy Spirit is the son of heavenly parents. The Son and the Holy Spirit were procreated after the beginning of the creation of the world known to us (cf. EM, Vol. 2, p. 961). Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity.

As is easily seen, to the similarity of titles there does not correspond in any way a doctrinal content which can lead to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. The words Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have for the Mormons a meaning totally different from the Christian meaning. The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix. We do not find ourselves, therefore, before the case of the validity of Baptism administered by heretics, affirmed already from the first Christian centuries, nor of Baptism conferred in non-Catholic ecclesial communities, as noted in Canon 869 §2.

The last two paragraphs above constitute what I believe to be the most significant reasons why the CDF declared LDS baptisms to be invalid. Even more precisely, the perceived teachings that “God the Father is an exalted man, native of another planet, who has acquired his divine status through a death similar to that of human beings”; that “God the Father has relatives and this is explained by the doctrine of infinite regression of the gods who initially were mortal”; that “God the Father has a wife, the Heavenly Mother, with whom he shares the responsibility of creation”; and that “Four gods are directly responsible for the universe, three of whom have established a covenant and thus form the divinity”, were probably the most influential.


Ladaria then went on to state:

The differences are so great that one cannot even consider that this doctrine is a heresy [e.g. Arianism] which emerged out of a false understanding of the Christian doctrine. The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix.

Before moving on to Gaskill’s review, I would like to point out that all of the above LDS teachings are from non-official sources (i.e. they are not contained in the recognized LDS canon of Scriptures). As to whether or not they are ‘official’ teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I do not believe that they are—even though they have been, and are, widely held (the evidence I have complied to support this view is quite extensive—but, it lies beyond the scope of this thread to present it at this time).

Now, moving on to Gaskill, I was a bit disappointed with his contribution. The review is well written (though there are a couple of minor mistakes), however, he completely avoided discussing the above LDS teachings that Ladaria referenced. Rather than deal with those teachings, he instead focuses on the subordinationism of the pre-Nicene Church Fathers, pointing out that they were not Trinitarian in the same sense as the Nicene and post-Nicene definitions. Gaskill completely misses the point made by Ladaria—the problem is not with subordinationism, the problem is that Ladaria and the CDF concluded (right or wrong) that: “The teaching of the Mormons has a completely different matrix.”


More, of course, could be said, but I think I have outlined the most significant points of this issue.


Grace and peace,

David

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Prima Scriptura

The providence of God as displayed via the timing of temporal events in the life of this insignificant beachbum never ceases to amaze me. My Mormon friend, Tom, shows up out of nowhere 3 days after I receive a letter and book from one of the apostles of his church (he had no knowledge of this event); on a beautiful, sunny, summer day here at the beach that would normally keep me outdoors, I am stuck inside of my house because it is being painted, and the exterior doors have been taped over, given me time to ‘surf the internet’; while clicking on some of my old haunts, I came across THIS NEW THREAD BY JAMES SWAN, which ties into my June 8, 2009 thread, James Swan ignores the “log” in his “own eye”—a thread which has spawned two more related threads, with the three threads producing some 144 comments (to date); and James’ new thread in turn has led me to a “Catholic Answers Forums” thread, Scott Hahn and “Prima Scriptura”, that I was unaware of (thanks James). Off to read the 10 plus pages of posts—if I come across anything I deem significant to the on going dialogue on Scripture and Tradition, I shall make note of it.


Grace and peace,

David

The Arrival: a letter and book from an apostle

The entrance of my Mormon friend, Tom, in the combox of the previous thread, has prompted me to type up and share this current post.

On June 29, 2009, I received in the mail, quite unexpectedly, a letter and book from one of the apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The letter speaks for itself, so I shall reproduce the correspondence in its entirety.

Dear David

Your missionary friends, Elder and Sister Petersen, recently wrote to me about your search for truth.

Some years ago, I wrote a book titled Our Search for Happiness. I am happy to enclose a copy for your personal study and would encourage you to read it thoughtfully and prayerfully, paying particular attention to the conclusion which begins on page 117.

We can learn nothing that even approaches in importance the message of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For, you see if that message is true, as I testify that it is, it can have a greater impact on your happiness and peace of mind than you can imagine. If Joseph Smith’s declaration is true, that in 1820 he stood in the presence of God, our Eternal Heavenly Father and His son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, then nothing could be more important in your life than to know this for yourself.

David, as you seek to know for yourself, you might invite the missionaries to fast with you for a 24-hour period and then join you in prayer at the conclusion of your fast. This coupled with your personal study will eventually enable you to gain a firm testimony of truth.

Sincerely,

M. Russell Ballard


This beachbum is at a loss for words…


Grace and peace,

David