Christian History News In Focus: Has Evangelicalism Been Disproven by an Evangelical?

A blog called "Shameless Popery," which makes its way into my Google Alerts on a regular basis, posted an article called "An Evangelical Disproves Evangelicalism".

The evangelical in question is Scot McKnight. I am only slightly familiar with him. I already thought he was a good historian, but the citations in the Shameless Popery article make it clear he’s far more. He’s to be commended for the well-spoken insights quoted there.

To be sure, Protestant denominations have a functional, if somewhat fuzzy, “teaching magisterium” within their ranks, but that magisterium can be denied at any time by most pastors and certainly by all individuals with no more powerful punishment than banishment from the local church so the person can join a church of his own choosing.

Ouch!

McKnight is a Protestant. He is not Catholic, but his quotes were ample fodder—and justifiably so—for Shameless Popery’s arguments. Mr. Heschmeyer concludes there:

  • If the Church has binding authority over the individual, then Catholicism is true. She’s the Church that the Reformers disobeyed.
  • If the Church doesn’t have binding authority over the individual, then it’s theological anarchy.

I have made it clear on this blog that I believe in the authority of the church. Paul called it the pillar and support of the truth and said that in it all fullness dwells (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 1:23).

But it is an immense leap of logic to say that if the church has binding authority over the individual, then Catholicism is true.

Why Catholicism? Why not Eastern Orthodoxy, which is the organizational, earthly leftover of the ancient apostolic churches in the east, just as the Roman Catholic organization is in the west. Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the claims of the pope.

Since one of the most foundational teachings of the New Testament is that carnal lineage does not necessarily impart spiritual lineage, Shameless Popery’s leap of logic is invalid. (As a interesting grammar side note, this leap of logic is called "begging the question," a phrase which is losing its true meaning today.)

Scot McKnight’s statements are Scriptural and accurate; it is only Shameless Popery’s conclusions that do not follow. The statement that "the church" is important and has authority in the individual Christian’s life (though not the carnal, unsubmitted authority wielded by organizations, which can never themselves be churches) does not identify that church.

Identification of "the church" in the eyes of the God can be made on a Scriptural and historical basis.

Shameless Popery would have us identify the Roman Catholic Church as the church simply because it was the organization that happened to be mistreating the Reformers and enslaving Europe at the time (see their statement above), one of the most inept, uncaring, and cruel governing bodies in the history of mankind. I’m not sure what sort of logic would conclude that because a religious organization wielded great political power, it must be the church of God, but I can’t go there.

Even if the RCC had been the church, the Reformers would have been left without choice. None of the Reformers left the RCC by their own volition. All were driven out after standing up against either awful violations of human decency (Luther) or complete loss of the Christian Gospel (Calvin, Zwingli). Listen to the reasons John Calvin gave for taking a stand against corruption while he was a Catholic priest:

We deny not that those over whom you preside are churches of Christ, but we maintain that the Roman pontiff, with his whole herd of pseudo-bishops, who have seized upon the pastor’s office, are ravening wolves, whose only study has hitherto been to scatter and trample upon the kingdom of Christ, filling it with ruin and devastation. …
     They charged me with two of the worst of crimes—heresy and schism. And the heresy was, that I dared to protest against dogmas which they received. But what could I have done? …
     Those who were regarded as the leaders of faith, neither understood Thy Word, nor greatly cared for it. They only drove unhappy people to and fro with strange doctrines, and deluded them with I know not what follies. Among the people themselves, the highest veneration paid to Thy Word was to revere it at a distance, as a thing inaccessible, and abstain from all investigation of it.
     Owing to this supine state of the pastors, and this stupidity of the people, every place was filled with pernicious errors, falsehoods, and superstition. … They figured and had for themselves as many gods as they had saints, whom they chose to worship.Thy Christ was indeed worshipped as God, and retained the name of Saviour; but where He ought to have been honored, He was left almost without honor. For, spoiled of His own virtue, He passed unnoticed among the crowd of saints, like one of the meanest of them.
     There was none who duly considered that one sacrifice which He offered on the cross, and by which He reconciled us to Thyself—none who ever dreamed of thinking of His eternal priesthood, and the intercession depending upon it—none who trusted in His righteousness only. That confident hope of salvation which is both enjoined by Thy Word, and founded upon it, had almost vanished. (Ref: my page on John Calvin and Cardinal Sadolet)

Does Calvin exaggerate?

"The church," as Shameless Popery claims it to be, was regularly executing people for attempting to put the Scriptures into the language and the hands of common people. They burned John Huss alive, burned William Tyndale after they strangled him, and when they could not get their hands on John Wycliffe, the RCC had his remains dug up and his bones burned 12 years after his death!

The RCC’s efforts to prevent the preaching of the Gospel were so extreme as to include the murder of those who did preach it by means of government officials which they controlled.

Perhaps Calvin put it too mildly.

The fact that the Reformers were driven out by this organization proves that it is "the church"???

As I said, I cannot conceive of any logic that would justify such a conclusion.

So What and Where Is the Church?

Spiritual descent has always triumphed physical descent:

Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. (John the Baptist, Matt. 3:9, NASB)

If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the deeds of Abraham. … You are of your father the devil. (Jesus, John 8:39,44)

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. (Apostle Paul, Rom. 2:28-29, NASB)

This post is long enough, and I have written on this subject on this blog extensively, so I will simply say that to the apostles and among their churches for over a century, "the church" was the local church. Across the world, it was the churches that constituted "the church."

And the local church is headed up by Jesus Christ, consisting of disciples who have committed themselves to Christ and to one another. It has and needs leaders; its members have formed and used various levels of organizations; but the church can never be and organization. There is a huge difference between committing yourself to a family that you have been born into through the Spirit and signing up as a member of an organization and agreeing to its bylaws.

Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:22)
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4 Responses to Christian History News In Focus: Has Evangelicalism Been Disproven by an Evangelical?

  1. Shammah says:

    It’s amazing the effect that perspective can have.

    I would agree that the council is speaking on behalf of the Holy Spirit and that they felt free to create rules governing Christians outside of Jerusalem–in fact, “all the Gentiles who have turned to God” is the terminology they used.

    The reference to “the whole church,” though seems to me to be the local church at Jerusalem (a particularly authoritative church because of the apostles) agreeing to send Christians from Jerusalem back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.

    On the matter of authority, you would (I’m assuming; feel free to correct me on this) see Jerusalem, the council, or the apostles exercising an authority that was their right to exercise in ‘creating rules that govern Christians.’

    Not me. I see that Paul and Barnabas came on behalf of the church at Antioch to the apostles, trying to find the Word of the Lord, and thus the authority of the Lord. They came to agreement there, and they were quite convinced that they had come to agreement on God’s will. So they wrote a letter stating God’s will to people who wanted God’s will, and of course it carried authority.

    To me, the Council of Nicea was the same way. There was a controversy in the church. They got as many bishops as possible, and they came to agreement on the issue at hand. Any Christian who could not submit to a decision made at a council like that is a heretic (an opinionated, self-directed, and divisive man).

    Unfortunately, at that point, the churches were so diluted and so attached to the government that the council’s decision could not be carried out.

    Sad.

    That’s my view of councils. Of course, by the 5th century councils, Ephesus and Chalcedon, things were such a mess that they were no longer dealing with problems that churches or leaders ought to be dealing with.

    Even sadder.

    I need to make it clear that I’m not a typical Protestant. I just gave you my opinion on the councils. I’m pretty sure my entire church in Selmer, TN would agree with me on that because problem-solving is a central issue we have to deal with as a church.

    One question. To me, this is irrelevant to what I posted on my blog. My disagreement was with your statement that if the church has authority in the individual’s life, then the Roman Catholic Church is that church. Can you establish the relevancy about your argument about the councils?

    Hmm. That question sounds rude to me when I read it. It wouldn’t in person. I’m trying to be as polite as you were, and you were very polite.

  2. Shammah,

    But even in the cases that you cited, didn’t both the Apostles and the Council of Jerusalem have global authority? After all, the Council of Jerusalem claims to speak on behalf of “the whole Church,” (Acts 15:22), and notes that the rabble-rousing Judaizers “went out from us without our authorization” (Acts 15:24). This is striking, since the Judaizers are in “Antioch, Syria and Cilicia,” not Jerusalem (Acts 15:23).

    Then the Council instructs the believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia as to what they can and cannot do (Acts 15:28-29). And note the language: It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements…”

    In other words, it’s setting requirements that these other Christians will have to follow, even though they’re not present at the Council, and might totally disagree with the Council’s conclusions.

    So it doesn’t appear to me that the Council was merely advisory – it wasn’t just local churches meeting up and hashing things over. The Council speaks as if It has the ability to (a) speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit, (b) speak on behalf of “the whole Church,” and (c) create rules governing Christians well outside of Jerusalem.

    That doesn’t sound like any Protestant council that I know of, but it sounds exactly like the view the Catholic Church has of Church Councils.

    If the Catholic Church’s Councils operate in a manner consistent with the Council of Jerusalem, would you still feel that they are “pretty much always bad”? And if they’re not consistent, what are the major differences that I’m missing?

    In Christ,

    Joe

    P.S. By the way, it looks like you have the comment subscription problem fixed already — thanks!

  3. Shammah,

    I’m not positive I understand your argument. Are you saying that the local churches are the highest visible authority Christ left us? Or are you saying something different? I’d like to respond, but I need to make sure I’m not misunderstanding you. What’s your argument, in a nutshell?

    God bless,

    Joe

    P.S. Is there any way to subscribe to the comments?

    • Shammah says:

      Yes, basically I’m saying that the local churches are the highest visible authority Christ left us, and that this authority is reliable.

      That’s the best “in an nutshell” I can do. Unfortunately, I haven’t found spiritual truths very amenable to confinement in a nutshell :-D. There are a lot of caveats to that. The apostles carried authority wherever they went. There was a council in Jerusalem of the elders and apostles that discussed the Gentiles. Churches have come together over issues other times since, and it seemed to be a mindset of the earliest churches that when they had questions it was good to go ask the churches that were directly started by apostles because they were more likely to have firsthand answers.

      But I am saying that the forming of boards, like what the Assembly of God has, that issues doctrinal statements and exercises authority over churches is pretty much always bad.

      As far as the comments, I guess I have to check. I thought the blog asked about that when a person commented, but it looks like that isn’t true. I’ll check.

Comments are closed.