Friday, September 28, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 3b - the Catholic Tradition

In the combox of the previous thread here at AF, the Reformed Baptist, Ken Temple, raised some concerns about Irenaeus', Proof/Demostration of the Apostolic Preaching. Ken wrote:

the parts about baptism that you brought out from "the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching" (found in recent years from an Armenian copy, right? - not found in the Philip Schaff collection of EFC) - could they not be interpreted in the way that we usually handle Acts 2:38 and Titus 3:5 ? (link)

Ken is correct that the Proof/Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching is not found in the Ante-Nicene Fathers series edited by Philip Schaff, and that the four English translations I am aware of are based on an Armenian manuscript discovered in 1904. Note the following from CCEL Staff Writer, Emmalon Davis:

Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching is a second century guide for Christian converts. After disappearing for nearly two millennia, an Armenian copy of St. Irenaeus' guidebook was discovered in 1904. Current versions of this ancient text have been translated from the Armenian, a language which greatly resembles the Greek in which it was originally transcribed. St. Irenaeus wanted to set out the main points of the Apostolic message, which was handed down to the Church from Old Testament Scriptures. St. Irenaeus explains the doctrine of Christianity as it was understood by the educated believers of his day. He defends the grounds of belief and aims to demonstrate the truth of the ancient Biblical prophecy. As a result, his project is both theological and historical. Even today, St. Irenaeus' book of guidelines serves to help Christians find salvation and refute heretics. (LINK)

I am not aware of any published Patristic scholar—e.g. John Behr, Everett Ferguson, J. N.D. Kelly, John Lawson, Iain M. MacKenzie, J. Armitage Robinson, Joseph P. Smith—who references the Proof/Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, that has questioned the authenticity and/or reliability of the Armenian manuscript. I concur with Dr. Joseph P. Smith, who wrote:

AUTHENTICITY. That the work here presented to us is really, as the manuscript describes it, the "Proof of the Apostolic Preaching" of Irenaeus, is certain on internal grounds. The title and the name (chapter 1) of the addressee agree with the information given us by Eusebius; the work reflects the conditions of the end of the second century, and its manner and many of its turns of expression agree with Irenaeus's known writings, and with his views and preoccupations; the parallels with Adversus haereses are many and striking... (Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, trans. by Joseph P. Smith, S.J., Newman Press, pp. 5, 6.)

Now, Ken seems to question the authenticity of the Proof/Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching because of its description concerning the nature of Christian baptism (Ken, please correct me on this if I have misunderstood you). Note the following:


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, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, trans. by Joseph P. Smith, S.J., Newman Press, pp. 49, 50 - bold emphasis mine.)

Keeping in mind Dr. Smith's assessment that, "the parallels with Adversus haereses are many and striking", one should expect to find "baptism for the remission of sins" and baptism as, "rebirth unto God" (i.e. regeneration). One clearly finds such parallels in Irenaeus' Against Heresies (bold emphasis in the following quotes is mine):

1. It happens that their tradition respecting redemption is invisible and incomprehensible, as being the mother of things which are incomprehensible and invisible; and on this account, since it is fluctuating, it is impossible simply and all at once to make known its nature, for every one of them hands it down just as his own inclination prompts. Thus there are as many schemes of “redemption” as there are teachers of these mystical opinions. And when we come to refute them, we shall show in its fitting-place, that this class of men have been instigated by Satan to a denial of that baptism which is regeneration to God, and thus to a renunciation of the whole [Christian] faith.

2. They maintain that those who have attained to perfect knowledge must of necessity be regenerated into that power which is above all. For it is otherwise impossible to find admittance within the Pleroma, since this [regeneration] it is which leads them down into the depths of Bythus. For the baptism instituted by the visible Jesus was for the remission of sins... (Against Heresies, 1.21.1, 2a - ANF 1.345)

But it is evident from Peter's words that he did indeed still retain the God who was already known to them ; but he also bare witness to them that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the Judge of quick and dead, into whom he did also command them to be baptized for the remission of sins; and not this alone, but he witnessed that Jesus was Himself the Son of God, who also, having been anointed with the Holy Spirit, is called Jesus Christ. (Against Heresies, 3.12.7 - ANF 1.443)

And inasmuch as man, with respect to that formation which was after Adam, having fallen into transgression, needed the laver of regeneration, [the Lord] said to him [upon whom He had conferred sight], after He had smeared his eyes with the clay, "Go to Siloam, and wash ;"  thus restoring to him both [his perfect] confirmation, and that regeneration which takes place by means of the laver. And for this reason when he was washed he came seeing, that he might both know Him who had fashioned him, and that man might learn [to know] Him who has conferred upon him life. (Against Heresies, 5.15.3 - ANF 1.543)

Before ending, I would like to provide a selection from the esteemed Lutheran scholar, R. C. H. Lenski, who I believe does an excellent job in addressing how one is to interpret Acts 2:38, which is directly germane to Irenaeus' understanding of "baptism for the remission of sins":

Baptism is pure that conveys grace and salvation from God through Christ: it dare not be changed into a legal or legalistic requirement that is akin to the ceremonial requirement of Moses such as circumcision. God does something for us in baptism, we do we do nothing for him. Our acceptance of baptism is only acceptance of God's gift.

This is emphasized strongly in the addition: "for or unto remission of your sins." It amounts to nothing more than a formal grammatical difference whether εἰς is again regarded as denoting sphere (equal to ἐν), R. 592, or, as is commonly supposed, as indicating aim and purpose, R. 592, as better still as denoting effect. Sphere would mean that baptism is inside the same circle as remission; he who steps into this circle has both. Aim and purpose would mean that baptism intends to give remission; in him, then, who receives baptism aright this intention, aim, and purpose would be attained. The same is true regarding the idea of effect in εἰς this preposition connects remission so closely with baptism that nobody has as yet been able to separate the two. It is this gift of remission that makes baptism a true sacrament; otherwise it would be only a sign or a symbol that conveys nothing real. (R. C. H. Lenski,  The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, pp. 107, 108.)

A few sentences later, Dr. Lenski then asked the following question:

And how can Ananias in 22:16 say, "Be baptized and wash away thy sins!" as though the water of baptism washed them away by their connection with the Name? (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles, pp. 107, 108.)

Shall end here for now. Hope to have part 4 of this series ready for posting early next week.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 3a - the Catholic Tradition

The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed was forged by the first Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. Towards the end of the creed, a declaration is made, consisting of four 'marks' or 'notes' by which the Christian Church  can be identified : μίαν ἁγίαν καθολικὴν καὶ ἀποστολικὴν—one, holy, catholic [i.e. universal] and apostolic. The unity of the Christian Church is inextricably linked with all four, not just the first mark. The essence of all four marks can be found in the New Testament; and beginning in the second century, one can find descriptions of those marks in the writings of the Church Fathers. One of those Church Fathers is Irenaeus of Lyons—the following selections contain examples of those marks that would later be enshrined in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed [note: the 'marks' in bold in brackets are mine]:

 1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world [Catholic], even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles [Apostolic] and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,”and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess” to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,” and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy [Holy], and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

2. As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart [One], and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth [One]. (Against Heresies, I.10.1, 2a - ANF pp. 330, 331.)

At the end of the same chapter, we read:

...the Catholic Church [Catholic] possesses one [One] and the same faith throughout the whole world [Catholic], as we have already said. (Against Heresies, I.10.3 - ANF pp. 331, 332.)

In book three of Against Heresies, Irenaeus mentions a number of heretics by name—Simon, Valentinus, Marcion, Cerinthus, Basilides—who have rejected "the only true life-giving faith", replacing it with a "diversity" of "doctrines and successions" which are "perverse teachings". He then adds:

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth. (Against Heresies, III.1.1.2a - ANF p. 415.)

Irenaeus then delineates how one can identify "the tradition of the apostles"; note the following:

1. It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles [Apostolic] manifested throughout the whole world [Catholic]; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to “the perfect” apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things [Holy], whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.

2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition [Apostolic] has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere [Catholic]. (Against Heresies, III.3.1.2 - ANF pp. 415, 416.)

Irenaeus then provides the complete list of bishops who held the episcopate of Rome from the time of Peter to the present—a total of twelve—following this succession of bishops with:

In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles [Apostolic], and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith [One], which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth. (Against Heresies, III.3.1.3 - ANF p. 416.)

This identification of the unity of the Christian Church with the four 'marks' continues within the Catholic Tradition from the second century until our present day. I shall now provide two examples; first, from the pen of Cardinal Gibbons (19th century):

By unity is meant that the members of the true Church must be united in the belief of the same doctrines of revelation, and in the acknowledgment of the authority of the same pastors. Heresy and schism are opposed to Christian unity. By heresy, a man rejects one or more articles of the Christian faith. By schism, he spurns the authority of his spiritual superiors. That our Saviour requires this unity of faith and government in His members, is evident from various passages of Holy Writ. In His admirable prayer immediately before His passion. He says : " I pray for them also who through their word shall believe in Me ; that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us ; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me." Here Jesus prayed that His followers may be united in the bond of a common faith, as He and His Father are united in essence, and certainly the prayer of Jesus is always heard. (The Faith of Our Fathers, 10th revised edition - 1879, pp. 21, 22 - PDF copy available online HERE)

And second, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:


811 "This is the sole Church of Christ, which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic." These four characteristics, inseparably linked with each other, indicate essential features of the Church and her mission. the Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities.

812 Only faith can recognize that the Church possesses these properties from her divine source. But their historical manifestations are signs that also speak clearly to human reason. As the First Vatican Council noted, the "Church herself, with her marvellous propagation, eminent holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in everything good, her catholic unity and invincible stability, is a great and perpetual motive of credibility and an irrefutable witness of her divine mission." (LINK)

Shall end here for now; hope to have part 4 up in a few days, the Lord willing.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 2 - the New Testament

In part 1 of this series on, "unity and the Christian Church" (link), the speaker opened his discourse by reading 1 Cor. 1:10-2:5. Clearly, the unity of Christ's Church is emphasized in this extended passage. Though Paul's epistle was written to the Christian Church at Corinth, the principle of unity applies to the entire Christian Church—to, "all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Cor. 1:2).

Now, beyond calling, "upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord", Paul stresses other aspects of the unity that is to exist among the members of Christ's Church. First, "that ye all speak the same thing"; second, "that here be no divisions among you"; third, "that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."

Some claimed to be "of Paul", some "of Apollos", and some of "Cephas"; to which Paul responded with: "Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?"

A bit later, Paul warns his readers that, "your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men". And towards the end of the epistle we read:

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. (1 Cor. 12:25)


Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (1 Cor. 13:11)

Certainly, Paul has given us much to ponder in his first epistle to the Corinthians. But there is more from Paul; note the following:

From the 4th chapter of Paul's epistle to the Ephesians we learn that Christians are to endeavor "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (4:3); that there is only "one body" (Eph. 4:4); and "one faith" (Eph. 4:5). Paul then writes:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ... (Eph. 4:11-13)

Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel... (Phil. 1:27)

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (Phil. 2:2)

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (Rom. 16:17)

As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine... (1 Tim. 1:3)

Paul's emphasis on unity was certainly not unique to his writings. Note the following from our Lord's lengthy prayer to the Father before his arrest and crucifixion:

And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. (John 17:11)

Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 17:20, 21)

Clearly, the unity between the Father and the Son is a perfect one, with no division. And though this unity prayed for has a spiritual sense, one cannot exclude a visible sense which will give cause even to "the world [that] may believe that thou hast sent me."

Shall end here for now. Hope to have part 3 up in a couple days, the Lord willing.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Unity and the Christian Church: Part 1 - an excerpt from a thought provoking discourse

During the course of my current research into the issue of "unity and the Christian Church", I came across a discourse I had yet to read. It is my belief that this particular discourse will serve as an excellent introduction to this planned multi-post series on "unity and the Christian Church." For now, I am going to keep the speaker of this discourse anonymous—in a later post, I will reveal his identity. From the discourse we read:

I will read to you a portion of the first chapter of Paul's epistle to the Corinthians. After his salutation to the Church in Corinth, the Apostle said:

  Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
  For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house  of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
  Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
  Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
  I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
  Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
  And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.
  For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
  For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
  For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
  Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
  For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
  For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:
  But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
  But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
  Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
  For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
  And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
  That no flesh should glory in his presence.
  But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
  That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

Unfortunately some clumsy hand has here closed the chapter. The opening verses of the second chapter properly belong to the words I have just read, hence I continue:

  And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
  For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
  And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
  And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
  That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

It is not always that we preface are remarks by reading a chapter from the Scriptures; it is not always that we take a text which we desire to expound; but I thought it proper on this occasion to read this Scripture to you, and I think it proper now to call your attention to one or two verses that perhaps may be regarded as a text for that which I desire in my heart to say:

    Every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
  Is Christ divided?

This was the great question which the Apostle of the Gentiles propounded to those Saints in Corinth, among whom divisions began to appear. These divisions, however, were incipient as compared with those which exist in Christendom today; and if those divisions existing in the primitive Church at Corinth called forth this stern reproof from the great Apostle of the Gentiles, I sometimes wonder what he would say to torn, distracted Christendom of today! Would he not with increased emphasis demand of this Babel that exists now in Christendom, an answer to the question, Is Christ divided?

The plain inference of this Scripture, of course, is that Christ is not to be divided; that men are under condemnation who say that they are of Paul, or of Cephas, or of Apollos. It plainly declares that the Church of Christ is to be one.

Part 2 of this series will be posted shortly, the Lord willing.

Grace and peace,