Monday, April 15, 2013

Another Problem of Ecclesiology

Last year I wrote a reply to Daniel Wallace's post on The Problem of Protestant Ecclesiology. I subscribed to notification of replies on that thread. Over a year later Wallace is still facilitating much tooting of the long horn of those in support of the apostolic succession of either the Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican churches. This subject is approached with a great deal of pride, based on antiquity, universality, and consensus. History proves they're not as old as they think, at least not in the sense of a proven apostolic succession or resemblance to the New Testament church. The fact that there are three of them (and many more) demonstrates that talk of universality and consensus is also cheap.

Many appeals are made to the church fathers. Each seems to see this as an almost unassailable position. In reality church fathers are embraced and discarded according to their affinity to a particular tradition. Augustine for Catholics, Anselm for Anglicans, Peter of Sebaste for Orthodox, none of which would likely embrace Coptic Saint Samuel the Confessor. And Arius is a church father as well, regardless of who doesn't want to claim him! Alternately some are revered as church fathers and then anathemized, or vice versa.

The appeal to traditional interpretations of "the church" should be compared to traditional interpretations of the elders of Israel, and then compared to the example of Jesus and his Apostles. They accepted and believed the Old Testament canon while rejecting the traditions and interpretations that had grown up from the "Israel fathers".

These churches may claim that their doctrine (in exclusion of the others) is semper eadem (always the same) or quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus (what has been held always, everywhere, by everybody). Once you exclude as churches everybody who does not always agree with you, I suppose it is easy to claim this is true. One among the Orthodox wrote that "Every church believes the same thing while leaving room for regional differences in praxis." But this reveals they in fact don't believe the same thing, unless they don't believe what they practice. Friendship and acquaintances with Roman Catholics exposes one to wide diversity of theology and practice, regardless of what "the church" says they believe.

The ecumenical councils are accepted as examples of an exercise of church consensus, continuity and infallibility. Yet, there were disagreements in the councils, on which councils are ecumenical and on which portions of the councils are to be accepted. Of the early ecumenical councils, Oriental Orthodoxy recognizes only the first three, Eastern Orthodoxy seven and Roman Catholicism eight. Consensus is not achieved by achieving consensus, but by excommunicating those who deny the consensus. Might makes right and vae victis (woe to the vanquished ones)!

Comparison of the growth of the acorn of the New Testament church into an oak tree reveals some things that have grown into a giraffe. Praying to the dead, the veneration of images, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the monarchical papacy and such like expose a different creature to our sight. But "none of this moves them" who are reinforced by their church's infallibility. But hold on, in the next post we will investigate a stain attached to all these churches which they cannot wash away, try as though they might. Even babes recognize, despite all rhetoric to the contrary, that something doesn't add up to New Testament Christianity here!

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