Magisterium or Holy Spirit?

Mark Galli, at CT, has a post on the tug of authority many find in the Roman Catholic Church, leading some to convert to Catholicism.

Do you have the tug of the magisterium? Do you think the center will hold? What do you think of his proposal?

What I can comment on is the tug of Catholicism on the evangelical heart. Because it is a tug that I must admit has pulled at me and many close friends. But there are tugs and there are tugs. Some tugs come from the Holy Spirit, and these naturally are not to be criticized! But other tugs deserve a little scrutiny.

Like the longing for authority. One of the most frustrating things about being Protestant, and especially evangelical, is that there is really no place to turn when you are ready to end a conversation on a controversial point. There is no authority figure or institution that can silence heterodoxy. No one has your back—well, except the Holy Spirit (we’ll come back to this in a moment). The more Protestants there are, the more churches and theologies are birthed. As soon as we say, “The Christian church believes …” we hear someone say, “Well, I’m a Christian, and I don’t believe that!” To be an evangelical used to mean one stood for certain theological convictions—penal substitution, inerrancy, and so forth—but now many evangelicals take delight in defining themselves over and against one of these formerly cardinal doctrines, while insisting on the right to be called evangelicals.

So, we understand the pull of the Catholic magisterium. We’d love to be able to say, “The church believes X,” and then back it up with a papal encyclical. We want “evangelical” to have clear and firm boundaries, so that when someone says they believe something outside of those boundaries, we can tell them definitively and assuredly that they are no longer evangelicals. We’re tired of arguing, of having to prove our point through the careful examination of Scripture and patient deliberation. Frankly, we’ve given up depending on prayer to change hearts and minds. We want to be able to say, “The church teaches …” or “The Holy Father says …” or “All biblical scholars believe …” in a way that separates the sheep from the goats…

Many matters took decades, if not generations, to settle out—including the matter of which writings were to be included in the canon to help settle these matters! In other words, there was no magisterium in the early church, but only Christians who lived and argued together at the prodding of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there were bishops and councils who attempted to settle disputes that arose, but many of those bishops were simply wrong on key points, and many of the councils had to be reversed by another council. The full sweep of church history suggests that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, led us into all truth through no other way than men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile wrestling with one another about whatever issue is at hand until, in the Spirit’s good time, a consensus emerges.

We mustn’t forget that for a couple of hundred years, most Christians were not Trinitarians in the way we understand the Trinity today, but the Holy Spirit slowly led the church into a fully Trinitarian faith. At one time, Arianism was the majority option in the church, and yet the Holy Spirit led the church to reject that heresy and reaffirm the full divinity of Christ. At another time, huge segments of the church were bound to the chains of works righteousness before the Holy Spirit ignited the Reformation. And on it goes.

Today we are wrestling over homosexuality, the nature of the atonement, the prosperity gospel, the place of women in church leadership, the historicity of Adam, and new perspectives on this, that, and the other thing. We live in interesting times, to say the least. But no more or less interesting than many other moments in church history—when so much is on the line, when the future health of the church seems to hang in the balance, when there is so much to be said and so few who seem to be listening to us!

This is the church the Holy Spirit birthed at Pentecost, and this is the church in which the Holy Spirit raises up all manner of people to say one thing or another we all need to hear. One way we adjudicate these issues is by listening to one another today. Just as important is to listen to the church historic, our great tradition of creeds and confessions and great theologians of the past. And yes, more than anything, we continue to mine the Scriptures to discover the truth the Holy Spirit is leading us into, which is always an old truth we’ve not been able to hear until today.

When we’re in the middle of one of these intractable issues, the church will seem like it is going to collapse under the weight of confusion and disagreement. But it hasn’t so far, and we’re assured it never will. The common critique of evangelicalism is that “the center will not hold.” Bah. Humbug. Of course the center will hold, because at the center is not a doctrine, nor some human authority figure, nor a complete and inerrant statement of faith. There is only the Center, Jesus Christ. We don’t need a magisterium. We already have a Lord, who told us that not even the gates of Hades (whose landlord loves to sows confusion in the church!) will prevail against the church.

In short, we don’t need premature closure as much as we need persevering confidence that the Spirit will lead us into all the truth we need, when we need it.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Justin B.

    “Yes, there were bishops and councils who attempted to settle disputes that arose, but many of those bishops were simply wrong on key points, and many of the councils had to be reversed by another council.”

    I wish Galli would have provided some examples here.

  • Dan

    Speaking as a former Evangelical who has felt the tug of Catholicism, and am now joining the Catholic Church, I find the dichotomy between the Spirit and authority/hierarchy (the magisterium) as a bit of an artificial one. I believe the Holy Spirit can and does work through structures of authority, not instead of them. I believe the Spirit has guided the Church into truth throughout its history, but a glance at the splintered, schismed reality of Protestantism shows the need for a unifying authority. So I guess what I’m really disagreeing with Galli on is his comparison of the early pre-Magisterial Church to modern Evangelicalism and Protestantism. While the early Church may not have had a magisterium as we know it today, it certainly was not in the splintered, hyper-individualistic, doctrinal free-for-all state that we have today in Evangelicalism.

  • Andy Barefoot

    Wow! Well spoken.

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    “Many matters took decades, if not generations, to settle out…”

    Leaving aside the specific example of the canon that Galli cites (it’s just impossible for me to imagine that ever changing in the future), this is a significant statement. A lot of people want to suggest that (by the Holy Spirit, or tradition, or whatever, if not the magisterium) that “what Christians believe” on any given matter has been settled.

    I think that’s a significant problem. Especially granting that it did take hundreds of years, it seems arrogant to suggest that we’ve already arrived at the “once, for all time” answers to these deeply difficult questions. I appreciate Galli’s post.

  • http://www.dysmas.org Dysmas

    The pull of authority is given us by our Heavenly Father. And our rejection of authority would seem to be a “gift” from our Garden rebellion. Galli misses much of what pulls people to Rome or (for a great many) to Antioch/Byzantium/Moscow/etc. It is not some sort of human longing. Rather it is the recognition that we are fallible sinners absent any reliable moorings on our own. In the East, they speak of Holy Tradition of which Scripture is a part. Their authority is that TRadition, what (as they say) all Christians everywhere have always believed.” Without that authority, we all become the sole authority, the final arbiter. Who’s to say, after all, whether I have heard form the Holy Spirit or not in the “tug” over me?

  • dopderbeck

    Dan (#2) echoes a critique I would also have here. I’m not Catholic, but I’ve studied lots of Catholic theology. It just isn’t the case that the “Magesterium” functions or is understood to function as Galli seems to describe it here. In Catholicism, the Church’s teaching authority is understood as a function of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through the Church as the Church contemplates and lives out the truths of the scriptures. That is really not much different than what Galli imagines the Spirit’s role to be in evangelicalism.

    Perhaps no better confirmation of this is Paragraph 11 of Guadiam et Spes, a document of the Second Vatican Council (which is a wonderful statement of ecclesiology and human dignity that is well worth reading in full):

    The People of God believes that it is led by the Lord’s Spirit, Who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God’s presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other men of our age.

    While Galli is certainly correct that the “center” — Christ — will “hold,” it seems to me this says almost nothing in itself about the form of ecclesiology or about the possibility of an authoritative Magesterium. Of course, eschatologically, the center of Christ will “hold” and God will be all in all, but what happens now before the parousia? We can at least be thankful that modern democratic states help avoid the prospect of the sorts of wars of religion among Christians that followed on the heels of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation.

  • http://www.authenticlight.org/ J A Carter

    Then again, perhaps Peter, James, the other Apostles, and prominent elders of the church in Acts 15 wasn’t actually the first instance of the Magisterium…

  • http://www.authenticlight.org/ J A Carter

    Then again, perhaps Peter, James, the other Apostles, and prominent elders of the church in Acts 15 was actually the first instance of the Magisterium…

  • Rick

    Dopderbeck #5-

    Interesting that you mention Vat. II, since many RC’s are certainly not happy with it. Even under a Magesterium, there is division.

  • http://twocoppercoins.blogspot.com Jake Ulasich

    For me, the issue of authority has always been the factor of the Roman Catholic church, which I found untenable, and yet, Galli’s interpretations of the Holy Spirit’s work seems inadequate.

    On the one hand, in response to #2, you may say what you want about the fractured protestant denominations, but the temporal authority of one man (Pope) or group of men (Councils) has historically failed to lead the church into true unity, and even worse, has been a major vehicle for the church to be drawn into worldly and evil pursuits, from simple greed and land gobbling, to the crusades and the inquisition. I’m sure that some Roman Catholics would prefer not to be reminded *yet again* of these horrid moments in its history, but I do not apologize for bringing them up. Under the “unity” and central authority of the church, there were heinous acts committed. I cannot believe that escaping from the insidious appeal of Arianism was worth the power struggles and backstabbing hatefullness that riddled the church’s history afterward. I am not arguing here that there were not some really good moments in the Roman Catholic church, but most of these were perpetrated by those who had relatively no authority, except that of the spirit which moved in them.

    The point here is that true Authority is always found in the movement of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not gain his Authority from some institution or tradition, he had it because of who he was, and his followers had it because of who they were and because of who lived and moved inside of them.

    On the other hand, it is true that our fractured denominations have done less than could be hoped both to bring unity and to fix the injustices among God’s people. It is deplorable, the kind of infighting and hatred that evolved out of the Reformation, both between catholics and protestants and and between different protestant traditions. It has all had its ups and downs.

    I believe Galli focuses here too much on doctrinal issues (as does most of the church). The evangelical movement was originally not a movement based on inerrancy or penal subsitution. To be evangelical used to mean that you wanted to reach out to the culture and connect with the people of the world in a way that would lead them to Christ instead of sitting back in our comfortable churches and expecting errant sould to come plodding in with contrite hearts. To be evangelical was meant to be that you believed in spreading good news. It was only later, after the movement gained a foothold that these doctrrinal issues became prevalent, but it was never a cut and dry formation or institution with clear and solid doctrinal expectations.

    His historical explanation of the Holy Spirit’s work is likewise disjointed. If it takes a thousand years for the Holy Spirit to guide the church one way or another on issues, and if some councils can make mistakes that later council’s fix and some ages have a majority of one view that later ages’ majorities fix, then how do we know that the Holy Spirit wonh’t lead us back to Arianism, or other such heresies. What if previous councils got it wrong. Was the Reformation an act of the Holy Spirit to guide Christ’s followers into a better perspective of truth, or is the Holy Spirit at some point going to guide his people back to the true perspective? It’s all very theoretical and subjective in and of itself.

    That said, I believe in the central point that he’s talking about. The Holy Spirit is our guide and Christ is our Authority. It was always meant to be that way, that we shoudl not call any other man Father or Teacher or Master. Christ is all these things for us, and the Holy Spirit is our Counselor and guide and our access to God through Christ.

  • dopderbeck

    Rick (#9) — yes, absolutely. And many Magesterial documents also need to be interpreted, and so for the individual believer some uncertainty will remain. My point isn’t really to defend the Catholic Magesterium per se, but just to suggest that Galli’s critique of it is a caricature, and that sort of caricature just isn’t helpful at all.

  • Kenton

    I believe Galli focuses here too much on doctrinal issues (as does most of the church).

    Right on, Jake! (#10) That’s evident to me when Mark said: We want to be able to say, “The church teaches …” or “The Holy Father says …” or “All biblical scholars believe …” in a way that separates the sheep from the goats…

    Uh, you might want to re-read Matt 25, Mark. In my bible the sheep and the goats aren’t separated on which group agrees with what the church teaches. It seems to me like their separated on how they treated the poor. Indeed Jesus seems to indicate that agreeing with what the church teaches seems irrelevant.

  • Brian

    Kenton (#12)

    This is YOUR interpretation of Matt 25. So your doctrine says that agreeing with what the church teaches is irrelevant. It always comes back to doctrine, even when we say it’s not about doctrine, because that itself is a doctrine (“what is believed”).

    I was raised Roman Catholic (all-boys Jesuit high school)and most of my family are still Roman Catholic. I find this type of discussion far removed from the every day life of the average Roman Catholic. There are many points of belief that many in the Catholic Church do not agree with; they don’t leave and join some other denomination — they just stay a part of the Roman Catholic church and hold to their own beliefs. I’m not sure I would call that real unity.

  • http://theologica.ning.com/profile/ShermanNobles Sherman Nobles

    “In short, we don’t need premature closure as much as we need persevering confidence that the Spirit will lead us into all the truth we need, when we need it.”

    Frankly, I don’t see that we even need “closure” on doctrinal debates; rather, I believe we need a greater humility, a greater love for God and one another, a greater faith in the Lord. If our attitudes are right, then our doctrinal differences will matter little!

    Concerning authority, I look for it not in position, title, or the recommendation of other people but in the authority that comes from character molded by God, character developed by a life following the Lord. How a person lives is much more important than what he professes to believe.

    The badges of authority in the kingdom of God are love, joy, wholeness, self-control, patience, perseverance, humility, gentleness, faithfulness, integrity, authenticity, openness, etc. And the place these things are tested and developed most are in relationships, especially challenging long-term relationships like family!

  • Randall

    I’m going to have to say ‘amen’ to Sherman’s post at #14, my wife and I don’t always agree and sometimes she think I’m in error when I’m sure they can’t be the case, our love for each other and seeking the increase and wholeness of the other has nothing to do with either one of us signing off or accepting the other’s ideas and beliefs in toto. She’s a woman and therefore experiences some things that are beyond my ken, we accept the other in their otherness.

    Doctrine is important, to be sure, but much skirts the edge of what I think is revealed and, at times, ventures beyond. If we remember that we could be wrong in surprising places and still be accepted, we will accept others on that basis. These debates were going when I got here and will remain long after I’m forgotten. People will remember how I dealt with them when we were together regardless of whether they agree with my particular belief or not. That builds community that will outlast the doctrinal disputes of the day.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

  • DuWayne Lee

    As a former Roman Catholic I am convinced that the notion that one can find any kind of absolute certainty in the Chrch of Rome is a myth. No Roman Catholic can be any more sure that what his/her church teaches is true than they can be certain that the Petrine texts mean what the Magesterium says they teach. An of course to rely on the the Roman Catholic Church as a teacher of those text is to get in a circular argument. Then too there is the weakness of the historical argument that Peter was the firs bishop of Rome.

    DuWayne

  • Kenton

    Brian (#13)-

    Close, but not quite. “Doctrine” isn’t defined as “what is believed” but rather “what is taught.” It relates to what those higher up in the hierarchy dictate to those further down. I’m not up in the hierarchy, ergo my interpretation of Matt 25 is not my “doctrine” – strictly speaking.

    But you’re absolutely right in that this type of discussion is usually far removed from everyday life. My beliefs may be at odds with my church’s doctrine (indeed it is on some pretty big issues), but it does not keep me from belonging to the church I’m a part of. The church is much more than the sum of its doctrine.

    The problem is that there really is a tension, and it would be nice to have resolution. That’s part of Mark’s thesis and I agree with it. And that resolution would be straightforward were there an authority like the Magisterium in my church. I just think that maybe resolution isn’t the point. Maybe we’re called to live in the tension. That maybe the church can still go about the business of doing the things the sheep did in Matt 25 with that tension.

    But I disagree with the implication that aligning with doctrine is what separated the sheep and goats. You can say I have MY interpretation and Mark has his (if that really is his implication), but there is no way a fair reading of Matt 25 can be twisted to mean that.

  • Robert

    Do evangelicals, or any traditional Protestants, have any real doctrine of the church? That may be part of the problem. Church leaders traditionally claim the Holy Spirit is behind what they’re doing, but that’s often been nothing more than a way of ‘borrowing’ God’s authority. The magisterium seems extremely human and fallible to me, along with most ecclesiastical structures.

    I think you’re quite close to the RC’s in a way. They explicitly claim tradition as authoritative; you assume that if a doctrine’s been around for a very long time, it must come from the Holy Spirit. I think that’s a bit questionable!

  • TJJ

    Yes, in an age of significant fragmentation within the protestant church, I can also feel the pull, or at least the longing for, a greater unity, a more authoritive center of gravity regarding theology and issues of the day. And I do respect the voice and position of ancient tradition and history that inhabits the Catholic Church.

    But then again, there remain teachings and practices of the Catholic Church which trouble and/or disturb the mind , soul, and/or conscience (well, mine at least).

    Thus I find it better to appreciate the many strengths and positives of the Catholic Church from afar, as it were, and hope and work for a greater unity and positive voice (if not voice of authority) among the Protestant/Evangelical Church. It is not a perfect compromise, surely not wholly satisfying, but it will have to do.

  • http://www.churchgungahlin.com Josh

    Hmmm… some really astute observations. I do think that in some regards Evangelicals and Pentecostals (as I am) are looking for some level of authority in matters. The confusion caused by everyone having an opinion that many do not wish to be corrected on causes some level of chaos. Evangelicals are often not only looking to Catholicism but Papal style figures, Piper, Driscoll, Mohler, Carson. Pentecostal/Charismatics are doing similar (with crossover figures) but towards understandings of ‘Apostolic’ style leaders. I do think that the longing is in some regard correct, whether the outworking will be correct is another thing altogether.

    Josh
    Canberra

  • dopderbeck

    “Truth is not a thing, nor is it a system. It is One, or rather, The One, possessing and determining itself in its infinite freedom.” — Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Very interesting comments.

    As an older guy who left the catholic church long ago and has been wandering around in protestant circles for the quite awhile I can tell you that the RCC puts up with much more diversity of opinion and inclusion of all than any protestant ministry i have seen. Sure the RCC has a center for what is currently accepted, but there is a big fuzzy cloud all around that.

    I can’t believe that I am saying this, but the RCC seems to me to be more accepting than almost any protestant sect that I have witnessed.

    I am tempted to go back to the dark side……

  • Georges Boujakly

    The tug of individualism characteristic of American society seems to deter from accepting a magisterium’s decisions on faith and life, even within Catholicism. Protestantism also values individualism over collectivism (for example, you determine your spiritual gift by taking a private survey).

    I do long for a collective voice on matters of doctrine and spirituality as an evangelical. I do believe the Holy Spirit desires unity. I also believe that he desires more integrity of belief and practice, rather than unity of belief.

    Biblical examples of unity of faith and practice are not the norm among the people of God, old or new. When they are they seem to be short lived, even when birthed by the Holy Spirit.

  • GerardoR

    A good evangelical friend of mine forward me this article because he knew it would annoy the heck out of me. He was right. I thought I would post the reply I sent him on here.
    **See Below

    The article said: “The full sweep of church history suggests that the Holy Spirit has, in fact, led us into all truth through no other way than men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile wrestling with one another about whatever issue is at hand until, in the Spirit’s good time, a consensus emerges.”

    I have said this before and I will say it again. This new wave of orthodox ecumenism is dangerous and irresponsible. I am reffering to this tendency among otherwise orthodox ecumenicist to rightly acknowledge that the Catholic Church isnt this terrible Church that fundamentalist would like protestants to believe. They also rightly and honestly acknowledge the bankruptcy of protestantnism in being able to settle any matter authoritatively. They rightly acknowledge that we live in strange times when we need authoritative answers more than ever. And they rightly acknowldge still that protestants cant even agree with each other on what is to believed on important issues. AND YET…….despite ALL of these admissions, their response to the lure of Catholicism is…. “well.. things arent so bad being protestant. And besides, with enough time the Holy Spirit will lead most protestants and other Christians to a consensus on important matters of doctrine and faith.” My response to this is: WHAT UNIVERSE ARE YOU LIVING IN?! Have you seen the modern landscape of protestanism. We have tried the protestant experiment for over 500 years now. You might think that the early disagreements between calvinism and lutherans would have settled by and we would have arrived at this “Consensus.” But has it?! NO! We see more and more denominations spring up every year. ALl of which deny the authority of the Catholic Church to interpret scripture for them but who then ascribe that same authority to themselves -with the help of the Holy Spirit of course. Ridicules.

    Whatsmore, as our age progress, we have had to deal with more and more authoritative answers on various ethical questions. You would think that protestants would ban together on something like Abortion, contraception, end of life issues right? NO! This is precisely what divides many of them. And yet, despite all of this, we are suppose to think that with time, we are going to get more clarity on dogma? I cannot wrap my mind around this kind of reasoning. It is in my mind, very irresponsible to identify all the faults protestanism and all of the riches of Catholicism, and yet, deny all of that for some future time when the Holy Spirit would bring clarrity where there is division. It comes off as an excuse to not follow the truth to where it leads. An excuse not to forsake the conforts of one’s home church for THE Church.

    I mean, if a person admires certain things about the Catholic church but wont convert because it disagree’s with other things.. okay.. that makes sense. But I cant stand it when people make this whole, “truth will come out of all of this chaos” argument. How can it? It would require protestants to deny one of their most valued pillars of interpreting the bible for themselves – with the help of the Holy Spirit of course. In short, what happened during the early Church is different from what is happening now. The early Church did not instantly define certain dogmas but it atleast knew that when it did, it would do so authoritatively through a specific vehicle (i.e., the magistarium). Whereas, protestants have no place to turn to since they always turn to their own interpretation of the bible – with the help of the Holy Spirit of course. For this clarity amongst chaos interperetation to work, the Holy Spirit would have to convince all protestants that NO your own interpretation is NOT always correct. NO, the full truth is not found sole in the bible. So in otherwords, it would require the Holy Spirit to move protestants away from some of their most cherished dogmas.

    The article states:Many matters took decades, if not generations, to settle out—including the matter of which writings were to be included in the canon to help settle these matters!In other words, there was no magisterium in the early church, but only Christians who lived and argued together at the prodding of the Holy Spirit.

    WHAT?! Did you catch this line of reasoning. 1) It took many decades to settle important matters… 2) Hence, there was no magistarium. What a huge leap. If there was no magistarium, then why not change the bible? If we cannot authoritatively affirm the current cannon, then why not add books? Why should Church tradition or a bunch of old guys from the 4th century have any authority. It does in Catholic circles, but not in protestant circles so why should we consider the Cannon closed? By what authority can we say the gospel of Mark was written by Mark if we don’t even have an authority figure who says so. I mean, there are some Mormons today who would say they expanded their Cannon because Joseph Smith “prodded” the Holy Spirit. I mean, has this guy read the Church councils?! I cant believe he would make such a sweeping statement without atleast adressing the Catholic side of this.

    The article states: “We mustn’t forget that for a couple of hundred years, most Christians were not Trinitarians in the way we understand the Trinity today, but the Holy Spirit slowly led the church into a fully Trinitarian faith. At one time, Arianism was the majority option in the church, and yet the Holy Spirit led the church to reject that heresy and reaffirm the full divinity of Christ.

    Again, he rightly identifies that for many years, Christians debated certain fundamental dogma’s like the nature of God. Hence, the importance of authoritatively establishing an answer. After all, there are people like Jehovas witnesses who dont believe int he Trinity even today. However, he totally ignores the fact that these heresies arose precisely because of people who wanted to believe whatever they wanted outside of the authory of the early Church. He totally ignores the VAST writtings of the Church Fathers that affirm the authority of the Church. But for this guy, things “just happen.” He ignores how the Church at that time dealt with these matters. Because if you asked that early Church, they would say they affirm this dogma authoritatively through the Holy Spirit working in the Magistarium. THey would not say, “well.. after many years of various dogmas flying around.. we all were finally opened to the truth.” Because it was actually a popular dogma to believe in arianism. So the only way to supress arianism is to appeal to a visible source of authority and not some loose, undefined, vague sense of common belief. If orthodoxy was so common, they would not have to been threaten by arianism.

    He says: Yes, there were bishops and councils who attempted to settle disputes that arose, but many of those bishops were simply wrong on key points, and many of the councils had to be reversed by another council.

    Really? Like that? Notice he gave no examples because if he did, he would realize that ecumenical councils have NEVER disagreed with each other. I challenged Charles to find such an example and he conceded the point.

    He said: At another time, huge segments of the church were bound to the chains of works righteousness before the Holy Spirit ignited the Reformation. And on it goes.”

    This is my favorite part. First he uses the word “Bound” this suggests a binding force like a Church dogma or ecuminical council that declares works of righteousness. But there is no such thing! What a dishonest man. Did he even bother looking up this supposed “binding” proclamation? This kind of things boils my blood! This is what I mean by anti-catholocism. Clearly this man is learned enough to know what Arianism is, to read a little Church history and to have access to the internet. And yet, in this day and age, this poor fool did not bother to read official Church documents to see if in fact there was ever a “binding” proclamation? But the real fun part of this statement is when he says, “Before the Holy Spirit ignited the reformation.” Notice how he just assumes that the reformation was a good thing and that the reformation was a work of the Holy Spirit. How am I to take this man seriously when he proclaims such a thing if he can’t even properly attack the Catholic Church but instead relies on tired old anti-catholic arguments.

    Lastly, he concludes with: The common critique of evangelicalism is that “the center will not hold.” Bah. Humbug. Of course the center will hold, because at the center is not a doctrine, nor some human authority figure, nor a complete and inerrant statement of faith.

    The center is not a doctrine. Genius! The ol classic “doctrines and dogmas don’t matter as long as we have faith in Jesus Christ” argument. This is new age orthodox ecumenicism at it’s best! I am going to write a book on this one day and I will devout an entire chapter to this gem. Here is the problem: He says in so many words that the center is not a doctrine/dogma but Jesus Christ who is Lord. Okay… but isnt “Jesus Christ is Lord” a *drum roll* dogma?! Isnt the idea that the Holy Spirit leads the Church into truth dogma? Am I missing something? This is like saying, the only thing that is true is that there are no things that are true.

    The center of protastanism will continue to tumble precisely because they have no form of visible authority on which to base their belief that God is three persons in one. The bible mentions the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but no where does it say that they are all equal and yet distinct persons. This is but one example of a matter that wont be decided by protestants. because the more time you give protestanism the uglier and more distorted its view get. By what authority can an evangelical protestant dispute the claims of a Mormon? Will he turn to Church tradition as an authoritative source? He can’t since he denies Church tradition as authoritative. Can he turn to a magistarium? He cant since he has to wait until that good ol day in the future when the Holy Spirit brings clarity from chaos. Can he turn to the bible? He cant since the mormon will say that he interprets the bible differently-with the help of the Holy Spirit of course.

  • Richard

    While I agree that we’re always tending toward identifying a “new law,” Galli demonstrates a very inaccurate understanding of the Magisterium and its role within the Church.

    Not to mention how few evangelicals would still claim “inerrancy” as the chief descriptor of their view of Scripture.

  • http://missional.ca Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    Interestingly, all the various Protestant churches he mentions could all promise you that they have the final answer to X or Y. I think the historicity and continuity (both real and perceived) makes Roman Catholic authority especially appealing. So it is not simply a matter of having issues settled once and for all, but why we believe that THEIR answers are more convincing than others.

  • http://twocoppercoins.blogspot.com Jake Ulasich

    #24

    I agree with much of your analysis of Galli’s points. I have already stated that they seem very inadequate and do not describe the true state of history or of present affairs.

    While I condemn no man for being a member of the RCC, I cannot see how you can on the one hand rebuke Galli for his lack of accurate history telling and yet speak of the “Reformation experiment” as if it had ruined everything. You cannot refer to 500 years of this so-called experiment without including also over a millenium of the “Roman Catholic experiment.” I would not personally posit either one in those terms normally, but to suggest that the Reformation was somehow historically worse than the thousand years before it shows a blindness to a history that is rife with oppression, greed, corruption, violence, and hatred. Were there true men of God, real followers of Christ walking the earth in those days? Of course! But the very idea of central authority paved the way for greedy and power-hungry men to guide the church into a worldly kingdom that looked nothing like the one Jesus spoke of, where the greatest among us is the servant of all.

    These arguments, of course, do not solve the problem of authority. Certainly, you are right: we are left with wondering which version of the Holy Spirit’s help we’re going to trust and having no solid basis for that trust. It makes it very hard to reject the most heretical and ridiculous teachers and teachings out of hand. And yet… and yet…

    I point back to my earlier comments (#10): Jesus was always supposed to be the authority. And he did send us the Holy Spirit. I find your scornful use of the phrase “with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course,” disturbing. Yes, relying on the Holy Spirit can be a tricky business and has brought about some pretty disparate elements in the church at large. And yet, it is a humbling and sometimes consternating element of the story of Jesus’ disciples and the beginnings of the church, that the Spirit guided God’s people in everything. At that point in the history of the church, the Spirit truly was the Authority. They devoted themselves to God, they sought him in community together and then they came to a consensus based on what the Spirit… seemed to be doing. The story that the new Testament paints strikes me as problematic in general to the issue of authority.

    Essentially, I think this desire for authority is mainly a human element. We like things to be cut and dry. Clean. We like to have a leader that we can trust to bring us through everything, just like the way that Israel wanted a King. We want clarity and order. I think it is an essential paradox of the story of God that he is both a God of order and a God who cannot and will not be ordered, contained, defined, or boxed in. God, in this story, always wanted to be the sole authority. For this reason he sent the Holy Spirit, that his law might be written on our hearts. Therefore, be careful of deriding the “help of the Holy Spirit.” The help of the Holy Spirit was ever God’s design. He wants to live in us directly, regardless of denomination.

  • Travis Greene

    The real issue is not authority but whose authority.

    The options are not limited to “authoritative hierarchical magisterium” and “every individual for him/herself”. You can certainly believe, as I do, in the absolute hermeneutical necessity of the community of faith for right belief and practice. Of course the church has authority. But why limit “the church” to a certain authoritative few who wear big hats, in unbalanced relationship to the rest of the people who are all filled with the Holy Spirit?

    This isn’t atomized individualism. The priesthood of all believers doesn’t mean each believer is his or her own priest, it means we are all each others’ priests, in reciprocal conversation with each other in communities that are also in conversation with each other. Does that mean there’s no voice of authority to bring down the hammer and settle things by fiat? I’m afraid it does. But we believe the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.

    This seems to be what Galli is getting at. The consensus of the people over time in conversation with each other and the tradition and shepherded all along by the Scriptures is the voice through which the Holy Spirit speaks.

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com John Thomson

    The problem with authority and unity around a magisterium is that it is a theory that runs counter to the biblical direction for an apostasizing church.

    The apostles anticipated the chaos and apostasy of the post-apostolic church. They gave instruction for life then. Read, for example, 2 Timothy.

    The advice, to summarise, includes basing our gospel on the apostolic teaching interpreted through the Holy Spirit by each individual believer. Believers keeping their distance from those who are false and what is false and meeting together with other believers who call upon the name of the Lord from a pure heart.

    There is no instruction to create structural or institutional unity. This is a chimera and a false goal. Organic unity already exists among true believers and should be acknowledged and maintained.


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