Dialogue with a Lutheran: Rule of Faith / Fathers / Ecclesiology

Dialogue with a Lutheran: Rule of Faith / Fathers / Ecclesiology October 17, 2011
(vs. Nathan Rinne)
Lutheran church in Wittenberg, Germany where the Protestant Revolt began, with Martin Luther [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]
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Nathan’s words will be in blue.

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I concede that just because an early church father argues from Scripture this does not necessarily mean “that only Scripture has authority to rebuke error and bind people…”.  Not necessarily.  But – do we find the church fathers consistently rebuking error and binding people for not believing non-Lutheran things in the Church without using evidence from Scripture (whether this is implicit or explicit evidence)?


No. They usually argue from Scripture; then if that fails, they appeal to the Church, apostolic succession, unbroken historical tradition of doctrine, and the authority of the Church (St. Irenaeus probably being the prime exemplar of this method). The whole process of appeal to the pope to settle doctrinal controversies is an obvious example of “pure” Church authority.

(Or: do the early church fathers explicitly [and consistently] say that [non-Lutheran] doctrines are inseparable from the Rule of Faith?)


Church fathers (like the Bible and the Catholic Church) generally think all doctrines and practices are important, and don’t as readily draw fine-point distinctions along these lines that Protestants are prone to make.

In other words, we are not just talking about this or that father, for instance, simply sharing how churches in their region, for example, use this or that custom [perhaps from this or that Apostle]  – after all, while essential doctrines are not adiaphora, or “indifferent things”, how they are taught and encouraged though rites and ceremonies can be.  Further, if you can come up with examples of them rebuking error and correcting and binding people in this way (i.e. without Scriptural demonstration), what are the reasons that they give for saying that people should believe/do  these things – and what are or should be the consequences if they don’t?


Because the Church says so, in turn because it had always been believed in some fashion. If we want to move forward, we’ll have to get specific and discuss one doctrine or one father at a time.

Just because these Fathers also clearly uphold the authority of the Church as the ground of truth in addition to Scripture – admittedly, talking in ways that most Lutherans generally don’t talk today – does not mean that they, in actual practice, do not utilize the Rule of Faith the way Chemnitz says the Church does/should (i.e. they do not do the wrong tradition of #8)


They believe in an infallible Church. Ecumenical councils presuppose this. Lutherans do not. It’s as simple as that. You guys have departed from the precedent set by 1500 years of Church history. Pelikan, Schaff, Oberman, and Kelly all confirm that the Church fathers en masse viewed the rule of faith in this way. They did not hold to sola Scriptura.

After all, in their own words do they not  talk about how it is true that the Apostolic Faith and its Rule that was received were “in agreement with the Scriptures”?


Yes. All doctrines agree with the Scripture. Ho-hum. Truth is truth. It’s all of one piece.

As best I can tell, in the earliest church writings (like Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, the Didache, Justin Martyr, and Athenagoras, for example), heresy is fought via appeals to the Scriptures (yes, Ignatius does talk about being in fellowship with bishops quite a bit : )).  With Irenaeus and Tertullian, it seems they assert that all the essential, Rule-of-Faith, teachings that are given orally are rooted in the Scriptures and can be proven from them.  Irenaeus’ “ace-card” vs. the Scripture-mangling (claiming it both supported them and that parts of these were in error, that they had the true tradition of its interpretation, etc.) gnostics may have been the argument from Apostolic succession (i.e. this was the most effective argument to make against them), but as Chemnitz reminds us, he afterward spent the lion’s share of his treatise proving from the Scripture “the same thing that he had first shown from tradition” (237).  Another way of saying this is that Scripture simply must be interpreted by its guardians according to its own rule and hypothesis (and though Church may disagree on what constitutes the canon en toto, the books that all agree are Scripture – some are more clearly inspired than others – certainly contain the Rule of Faith [what essential doctrines do Esther, Nehemiah, Ezra, the deutoerocanonical books, James, Hebrews, II Peter, and Revelation have anyway that cannot be found elsewhere?]).  Tertullian says “I adore the fullness of the Scripture… If it is not written, let [Hermogenes] fear that woe which is destined for those who add or take away” (156).  Chemnitz also quotes Jerome saying “Whatever does not have authority in Holy Scripture can be rejected as easily as it can be approved.” (i.e. it is not binding, and therefore, not a part of the authentic Apostolic tradition and Rule of Faith) and then says himself “it was not a contrary, nor a different, nor another, but one and the same doctrine which Paul delivered either by word of mouth or by epistle”. (p. 109).  To this, you [and evidently the Roman Catholic Magisterium] say: “”of course!” and “Amen!” — “twin fonts of the same divine wellspring” . . .” (quoting the late 16th century Saint Francis de Sales, I believe)


Yep, amen. Nothing new here that I haven’t dealt with 20, 25 times in various papers and books.

It seems to me, that if this is true, it is important that all the essential doctrines of the faith ought to be able to be clearly established, demonstrated, and proved from the Scriptures – not just for the Lutheran but for the Roman Catholic.  I guess this is your calling card Dave… after all, you are the guy who literally writes the books about how, after being correctly informed about Roman Catholic teachings, one can then go back to the Scriptures and find Scriptural support for those teachings (e.g. the “Catholic verses”, etc.: “all Christian, Catholic doctrines can be found in Scripture, explicitly, implicitly, or deduced from same. And all Catholic doctrines are certainly harmonious with Scripture” you have said).


Indeed. We can provide such corroboration. Protestants cannot when it comes to key distinctives that they invented in the 16th century.

In any case, I think even you will admit that one can demonstrate infant baptism from the early Church Fathers and the Scriptures in ways that other non-Lutheran doctrines cannot.


There is a decent biblical case to be made, by deduction of whole families being baptized, and the analogy to circumcision.

Without any reasonable doubt, the evidence is definitely stronger any way you slice it (what would you say are your “strongest cases” from the “Catholic verses” you find in the Scriptures?).  It seems to me that even non-believers would be able to agree with this (external clarity), even if they do not see the Fathers and Scriptures with the eyes of faith (internal clarity).


The Catholic rule of faith (falsity of sola Scriptura), the Catholic view of justification, purgatory, and the papacy.

In any case, let’s not get too far away from the point I am making here.


You said it; not me! :-)

I just conceded that simply because an early church father argues from Scripture this does not necessarily mean “that only Scripture has authority to rebuke error and bind people…”.  But again – if it really is the case that the church father’s ability to rebuke goes beyond Scripture, my question is whether we find the church fathers consistently rebuking error and binding people for not believing distinctly non-Lutheran things in the Church without using evidence from Scripture (whether this is implicit or explicit evidence)?


Sometimes we do find that. I’ve already provided several examples, when we got into individual fathers.

And again, if this is the case, what are the reasons for why they are doing so – and the consequences if people do not obey? (does a refusal to acknowledge them as binding doctrines result in separating one’s self from the Church, and therefore Christ?)


It could eventually, if someone is obstinate in a heresy.  Church authority is sufficient. When the Jerusalem Council made its ruling, as far as we know from the account in Acts 15, Bible passages about circumcision weren’t even discussed. Yet it was a binding decree that Paul even proclaimed in his missionary journeys (Acts 16:4).

Lutherans accept that there are non-essential teachings or practices (i.e. those that cannot be clearly demonstrated from the Scriptures) that can, in principle, be present, and practiced, and even upheld in the Church (how is it upheld though?).


Well, then it is the game of “essential” vs. “non-essential” that is another arbitrary Protestant tradition of men, and very difficult (if not impossible) to prove from the Bible itself. 

Remember the argument of Paul Strawn: the fact that these traditions existed was not necessarily the problem.  The problem was that these traditions regarding faith and morals which were not provable from Scripture were to be regarded as equal to those clearly demonstrable from Scripture.


Then the argument comes down to what is “provable” and complicated aspects of development and material sufficiency. 

Now, could we have had fellowship with Augustine?: Lutherans themselves do not decry penance, venial sins, prayers for the dead, and free will it they are understood correctly – I know that the Lutheran confessions actually say we believe in the last 3 for sure.  Nor do we believe in double predestination.  Regarding things like merit, infused justification, purgatory, the sacrifice of the mass, and faith alone, I’m sure we could have had a very fruitful discussion with Augustine (or his faction at Trent) – more so than the folks at Trent, at least!  In any case, I can actually conceive of Lutherans content to be a part of a church with people who believe in purgatory, do the Corpus Christi festival, think bishops are a good practice by human rite, do the sacrifice of the mass (yes, really), do prayers for the dead (we do this by the way, in our own way), pray to the saints and Mary, do pilgrimages, think there is holy water, think of the Apocrypha as Scripture, don’t eat meat on Friday, etc.


Luther felt himself to be closer in spirit to Catholics than to the Sacramentarians, who denied the real presence in the Eucharist. He thought they were damned.

So long as they do not contradict the doctrine of justification in the way they do these things – and do not tell us we are cutting ourselves off from the Church if we think that such opinions either ought not be held at all or not be held with the same reverence as those essential things clearly revealed in the accepted Scripture.  In other words, these could perhaps be held as “pious opinion” or “pious practices” – concepts I know are not foreign to Roman Catholics.  As early 17th c. theologian John Gerhard said, “If the confession of true doctrine and the legitimate use of the Sacraments had been left free for us, perhaps we would not have departed from the external fellowship of the Roman church”. (On the Church, p. 139)


The problem is that all this is merely abstract and a mind game. It’s like Anglo-Catholicism. In principle, there could be all sorts of Lutheran approaches to Catholicism and affinities and warm touchy-feeling unity on many fronts. But in practice, it can scarcely be found in actual existing Church bodies. It exists only on paper and in a few individual heads (like yours) who care about Church unity. Cardinal Newman observed this about his friend Edward Pusey’s religious views. The Catholic Church is the only Christian body that can demonstrate historical continuity and institutional unity all the way back to Christ. We still have a pope and councils, and bishops and all the rest, as they had existed in the Church from the beginning. 

Again, serious Lutherans like Chemnitz believe the same thing.  Note that insofar as any tradition not specifically sanctioned in Scripture does not mitigate the Gospel, it can be accepted (i.e. we are “conservative” when it comes to traditions: with Chrysostom we think that even unwritten traditions of the Church are “also worthy of credit”) – but again: only insofar as it is not insisted that these traditions be held with the same reverence as those which are clearly put forth there (i.e. stuff that was so important it found its way into the Scriptures in a way that cannot be denied: even baptism is like this: “the Promise if for you and your children”) in the Scriptures.  And of course, in the background here is the idea that our very salvation depends on our keeping these traditions that Rome insisted on.  Saying all this is not to say that Lutherans will never have a good, knock-down debate about what we believe among ourselves, but this is indeed our faith – which we would contend is synonymous with the Rule of Faith.


Again, I would contend that the Bible itself doesn’t seem to make these distinctions of primary or essential and secondary (or optional) doctrines. About all that can be found along these lines is Romans 14; but note what Paul is discussing there: what to eat and drink and what holy days to observe. That is not even doctrine; it is practice. As to this question of so-called essential and secondary doctrines, the Bible doesn’t seem to differentiate; it merely assumes a “truth” that is known and binding upon all believers:

John 8:31-32 (RSV) Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

1 Corinthians 2:13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.

Galatians 5:7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

1 Timothy 4:3 . . . those who believe and know the truth.

2 Timothy 1:14 guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

2 Timothy 3:7-8 who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;

2 Timothy 4:4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness,

Titus 1:14 instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth.

Hebrews 10:26 . . . the knowledge of the truth, . . .

James 5:19 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back,

1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth. . .

1 John 2:21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth.

2 John 1:1-2 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us for ever:

3 John 1:3-4 For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth.

Jude 3 . . . contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

An example of a non-biblical matter being made binding and obligatory was the Quartodeciman controversy, regarding setting the date of Easter. The Council of Nicaea in 325 settled it once and for all: Easter was to always be observed on a certain Sunday of the year. There is nothing about that in Scripture. Lutherans agree with Catholics on the date of Easter.

I think one can make differentiations of importance, at least in a sense (of course): things like the Trinity, belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, His work on the cross on our behalf, His resurrection, etc. that all Christians hold in common. My exact point in this isn’t to deny that, but to say that Catholics don’t believe that anything deemed to be part of the apostolic deposit is up for grabs or merely optional (as you guys think) because it is regarded as of less importance.

We do have some things that are optional, such as the Molinism vs. Thomist debate on predestination, where both sides can be held (I am a Molinist). But that is an extremely fine, abstract point of theology, and one of the deepest mysteries for anyone to figure out.

When I was a Baptist-like evangelical, I would have thought Lutherans were too strict in their dogmas of the Eucharist and baptism. So it is relative to the viewpoint of the observer to some extent. I had less dogmas than you then; now I have more, and you think ours are too many and too legalistic. So there has to be some method to determine how many dogmas ought to be binding. We go by the judgment of the historic Church, which has decided things, just as the Jerusalem Council did, with Peter, Paul, and James present.

Scripture is not over the oral, unwritten tradition, the Rule of Faith – insofar as the Rule of Faith really is the rule of faith.  As Irenaeus and other Fathers pointed out, these must always go hand and hand and say the same thing (more on how this plays out on the ground with Lutherans and Irenaeus directly below).  Further, the continuance of the Apostolic ministry is critical: necessary, but not sufficient.  We simply see this as unfolding and playing out in a different way.


Lutherans deny an infallible Church. It always comes down to that. It is the essential difference: the nature and role of the Church.

Irenaeus may not be consistently applying his method to everything that he assumes is true about the church (and indeed, there really was no need to, as there was no challenge).  For us the question would be whether Irenaeus, if he had been explicitly asked about it, would have believed that all of these things were clearly given in the Scriptures.  If he answers this question in the positive, we’d have a lot of questions for him, based on the Scriptures, that would no doubt get him thinking (For example: Why are there multiple bishops in one city? [Phil. 1:1] ; Why not only this, but why are they also called presbyters? [Acts 20:17-28, Titus: 1:5-7] ; Why do presbyters ordain? [I Tim. 4:14], Etc., etc.  What do the Scriptures seem to imply is the genuine Apostolic tradition here?)  If he answered this question in the negative, the question would then be how he would treat persons who respected these traditions (i.e. the place of bishops over and against pastors) but did not revere them the same way which they revered other doctrines that were essential (i.e. the creeds, the Rule of Faith).  In any case, I would guess that it would be unlikely that Irenaeus would have felt any compulsion to search the Scriptures for verification on this issue unless circumstances had arisen in which he would have felt he needed to.  Since having bishops was a useful arrangement at this time, there was no reason for anyone to question it. In other words, we can agree that these things, in particular situations and times may have been useful and important –


Bishops are casually assumed in the Bible to be a permanent Church office. Why is it, then, that Luther got rid of them and placed power in the secular princes? Why do most Lutherans no longer have bishops today? Some things (like this) are absolutely obvious in Scripture, yet various Protestants dissent against them. It is an unbiblical, non-apostolic tradition of men to ditch things that Holy Scripture presents as necessary and permanent.

but here is the ultimate question: is Irenaeus’ case here ultimately a practical argument (whether he would have put it in these terms or not) or is it one that actually hinges on the infallibility of the church which is delivered in Apostolic Succession (after all, note that for Ireneaus, it is not only the bishops and the bishop of Rome who have received “the infallible charism of the truth”, but presbyters [“order of the priesthood”] as well [of whom Luther was one of those validly ordained] – note how Jerome, for example,  also speaks about how these distinctions were by human rite)?  Lutherans argue the first, RCs the latter.  In short, if he had been pressed, would he have said that the office of bishop was something that was by divine rite or human rite? Again, if the latter is a possibility (and I think it clearly is, given other things that Irenaeus says about the importance of proving things from the Scriptures, where in the Scriptures it is clear that presbyters and bishops are sometimes used synonymously, and there is no explicit command that an office of bishop be put in place which is over that of presbyter) how would Ireneaus respond to someone who insisted that these things were by divine rite – and that this must be held to with the same level of conviction as the essential Christian doctrines (found in things like the Rule of Faith for example)?  That is the question.


Now we’re off into fine points of ecclesiology. My most basic treatment of this question is in my paper, “The Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church.” I have many other papers on my Church (Ecclesiology) web page.

After this you do a lengthy commentary on what Irenaeus supposedly might believe (if asked certain things). I think the methodology is fruitless, where people have generally different interpretations. Instead of speculations upon speculations and summary statements (which mean little, as neither you nor I are patristic scholars), your burden is to try to establish and document by the actual words of Irenaeus that he believed such-and-such and denied so-and-so. I’ve done that in several of my papers and books, and in links that I have provided.  I have provided concrete facts; by and large you have not. So it makes it awful difficult to interact with. If you give me some quotes to examine, I can look them over and make some kind of cogent reply.

The wider in scope and more abstract and “summary” our discussion becomes, to that extent it is fruitless and inconclusive for readers, of whatever persuasion. It’s simply an exercise of one party saying, “I think X believed a” and the other saying, “no; X actually believed b” — with no documentation, or saying, “X woulda done y if c were the case”. That helps no one. We have to either document words of the person being discussed, or at least cite a scholar who is familiar with all the relevant data.

Now, Irenaeus says: “Inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously…”  And he can speak from experience.  He knows that this has worked – that the faithful men really have held to the Apostolic teaching, and this is clearly what the Scriptures put forth, even if the heretics deny it.  There is no good reason for him to be speaking and thinking any differently at this point.  But now: what if historical circumstances, when compared vis a vis Scripture, seem to clearly imply that “the apostolic tradition has not been preserved continuously” – at least, among the majority of the top leaders of the church?


This is where Lutherans and Protestants at large lack faith in God’s preservation of His Church, which is discussed in Scripture, with promises of indefectibility. We have the faith that God can preserve truth in an institution comprised of a bunch of sinners, just as He preserved inspired words in a Scripture written by a bunch of sinners. Infallibility is not as extraordinary of a thing as inspiration is. Therefore, if one can believe in an inspired Scripture (the more difficult proposition), one can certainly believe in faith the lesser proposition of an infallible, indefectible Church. But Protestants reject the latter. In short, it is most unbiblical to believe that the Church could fall away, institutionally, and depart from the apostolic deposit of faith. To believe that is not simply not being (distinctively) Catholic. It is also a most “unbiblical” notion.

The question also becomes: who is competent and has the authority to judge, by scriptural criteria, if and when the Church has not faithfully preserved the apostolic tradition? Certainly one monk had no such authority. It is ridiculous to think that he did.

Irenaeus himself indicates that even those who have received the “infallible charism” can fall, for he says, “if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity “ (Book 3, chapter 3).


Yes, any individual could fall away, but it doesn’t follow that they were not infallible, when they exercised their office. St. Irenaeus (in context of Book 3, chapter 3), never says that apostolic succession is or ever would be in any peril. One bishop falling away no more endangers that than one disciple out of twelve falling away, upset the initial apostolic succession. It didn’t at all. They simply chose another (Matthias) to take the place of the traitor.

Yes, what if under the temptations of the world, the Church has gone astray, with the pastors, though rightly holding their blessed offices, have ceased to shepherd appropriately?  What happens when persons who were at one point given the infallible charism faces off against others?  Then what? The highest authority is always right?  The “consensus” is always right?  Does the consensus mean “majority” (one thinks of the sizable faction of more “radical” Augustinians voted down at Trent)?  How does the concept of remnant fit it to all of this?


The Church can, and often has become very corrupt, yet true doctrine was preserved, because God saw to that. Consensus means what has always been believed; what has been passed down.

What happens when presumably faithful believers in the Church can no longer convince themselves that the Scriptures and the supposed “Apostolic tradition” – which one knows really must not (can’t ever?) contradict each other – are saying the same thing?


Then obviously they reject the Catholic Church, having lost faith in God’s guidance of her, and in the infallibility and indefectibility of the Church. They do so by adopting new arbitrary traditions that are not Bible-based (things like sola Scriptura, an invisible church, denominations, etc.).

Then, it seems to me that one must use their Spirit-inspired wisdom to choose…


Yep, it is radical individualism and private judgment vs. an unbroken theological doctrine and tradition, preserved by the Holy Spirit in the Church.

(note we are talking about consciences captive to the Word of God, not UCC consciences….) even if Ireneaus would have never been able to conceive of such a tragic and painful situation…


No, he wouldn’t, because it is so far from the biblical picture of one faith, one Church, total unity of doctrine.

Let us remember that something similar happened in Jesus’ day.  The Assembly, or Ekklesia (Church), or that day – those who sat in Moses’ very seat – rejected the One who told the people to listen to them (obviously, insofar as they, the legitimate rulers of the Assembly [at this time], spoke the truth – elsewhere he counters them as false teachers nonetheless).


And he told his followers to do what they teach, even though they were hypocrites, and Paul acknowledged the authority of the high priest  and kept calling himself a Pharisee, and Jesus and Paul and early Christians still observed temple rituals, even though they were not “Christian” rituals, and observed feast days, etc. Therefore, none of that can be applied to any analogy of Lutherans and other Protestants deciding to split from the Catholic Church.

Likewise, similar things happened in the days of the prophets, when those who were supposed to be the leaders (priests and prophets) failed to speak the oracles of God, running where God had not told them to run.  The Assembly has always been unfaithful in their teachings and their practices, but God has always been faithful in spite of this, bringing the Church through via faithful remnants in this or that quarter.


The Old Testament proto-Church did not have the Holy Spirit and express promises from God that it would be protected and never defect. So that analogy won’t fly, either. We’ve advanced and developed far beyond the Old Covenant. God is indwelling each individual believer.

Roman Catholics may think that this indicates that we do not believe that God preserves the visible Church, but in the case of Lutherans at least, nothing could be further from the truth.  Using our both our eyes and our ears, we can know with certainty where Church is being created and growing – and also where the opposite, due to Christ-denying doctrine, is happening (this place we can reserve for all non-Christian religions as well as the folks like the modern day Arians among us, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, for example).


“Christianity” and “the Church” are different things. This gets into visible vs. invisible church categories. Whatever the Church is, (biblically speaking) it has one unified doctrine. This notion can’t be sustained within an invisible church (Protestant) paradigm.

Of course, there may be a lot that we may not know as well (in other words, a lot in between those two poles), but we are happy to be a part of the remnant that holds to the Rule of Faith in its truth and purity.


You can’t establish that you hold it “in its truth and purity”: neither historically nor from the Bible.

. . . whether he [St. Irenaeus] would have thought this way in different circumstances. – circumstances that might drive him back to the Scriptures for answers.


By this method of speculation about “woulda coulda shoulda”, debate about it becomes impossible: it is subjective mush. All we can go by is what  father did write and believe. If we start rationalizing and saying, “well, if Church father X were alive in the 16th century, he would have changed his mind and become a good Lutheran . . .” based on sheer speculation, that proves nothing. It’s just special pleading, trying to transform a person who believed a certain thing at a certain point of time, into what we want then to be.

On the contrary, we would see Apostolic Succession as a sign which is a good indicator that something is genuine… but stops short of offering a “guarantee”.


Then you depart from the fathers in so believing. People can believe whatever they like. It’s when they wrongly appeal to the facts of what the fathers believed, that it is objectionable.

Irenaeus: “the faith of all is one and the same, since all receive one and the same God the Father… and preserve the same form of ecclesiastical constitution”… Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters, not taking into consideration of how much greater consequence is a religious man”.

Note here again the focus on presbyters, as opposed to bishops and Popes.


Against Heresies, Book III, Ch. 3:

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 manifested throughout the whole world; 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. (1)

. . .the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. (2)

St. Irenaeus was a bishop himself.

But the faithful will also recognize them by the words they speak, for even faithful laypeople recognize the voice of their Shepherd, and even if their understanding of the Rule of Faith is not terribly firm and strong, they still know enough to be driven back to the Scriptures, which were firmly established by the fulfillment of prophecy, the workings of signs (“miracles”) and of course their continuity with the faith received by Adam and Eve from the beginning (Gen. 3:15) up until their present time…  Again, the sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd …and they are always going back the sacred writings of those prophets and Apostles whom their Shepherd chose.  . . . Of course, the sheep do not go looking for gross falsehood among the pastors who have been validly ordained, but when they encounter it, they know something is wrong….


Show me in the Bible where there is ever such a thing as a mere layperson disagreeing doctrinally with a leader in the Church based on Bible reading and thereby being justified in his dissent and schism by that method? I say it isn’t there. And if that is true (if you can’t produce it), the question becomes: why do you believe this in the first place, since it isn’t biblically grounded at all? St. Paul warns against division, contentiousness and schism again and again and again. It’s believed because this was Luther’s initial methodology, and to deny it would be to go against the entire spirit of his revolt from the Church. One can’t start denying foundational things that typified the founder of the belief-system one is part of.

And when a shepherd arises among them (Luther) who gives voice to what they have been knowing deep down was wrong – they still are hearing the True Shepherd’s voice. God preserves His remnant, in the visible Church at large (as the south [Judah] falls out of fellowship with the north [Israel], within the visible Church [the wheat, not the tares], and even outside of the visible church [“I have preserved 7,000 in Israel”]).


Now the burden of proof (besides the unbiblical ecclesiology) is to prove one’s beliefs from Scripture (having claimed to be based on Scripture alone). And you have to disprove the import of the biblical evidence for the indefectibility of the Church, in order to bolster the scenario of Luther and Protestants who followed him “dissing” the historical Catholic Church.

. . . as time rolls on, and Satan steps up his efforts more and more as the Last Day nears…  To the tragic chaos created by the Reformation, I simply say this: “Is Christ divided?” In Gods’ eyes, of course not (intrinsic, see Eph 4:4-5). In our eyes, yes. We are hid in Christ; the Church is hidden under the cross (extrinsic).  In spite of the fact that in this fallen world “there must be divisions among us”, let us always work towards agreeing with one another (I Cor 1:10).


We don’t do that by creating or winking at hundreds of denominations, whose doctrines contradict, so that falsehood is necessarily massive present.

Of course the “Church’s peculiar and traditionally handed down grasp of the purport of revelation” can also be found in the Scripture as well, although this does not thereby mean that an authoritative and interpreting church is not necessary!


How is a Church”authoritative” if any individual can judge it and decide it’s wrong and split? Of what use is it? Even civil laws are more binding than that! This is what Luther did. He thumbed his nose at the authority of the Catholic Church of history, and now he expects his followers to respect the merely arbitrary authority in Lutheran circles? Hence Protestant tradition and history has at least been consistent: men can decide to start new denominations at whim. Luther detested that, but he never showed how it wasn’t consistent with his own actions and beliefs.

Dave: The always partisan yet thoroughly fair-minded Schaff takes the position himself that Athanasius ‘ position is neither the present-day Catholic or Protestant one.”

Right.  It’s the Lutheran one, as expounded by Chemnitz.


Not at all. St. Athanasius was a Catholic, not any kind of proto-Protestant.

But Lutheranism does not reject this [an infallible Church].  We believe that this is indeed the case, but that we need to take more seriously than ever before the concept of remnant, and the actual histories of God’s people in the Old and New Testament.  As regards infallibility, here it is like what C.S. Lewis said about not getting the “second things” unless the “first things” are focused on.


It does indeed reject it in effect, by changing the definition of the Church. If I have to change the rules of arithmetic so that 2+2 no longer equals 4, then it is a rejection of arithmetic as it has always been known. That being the case it would be foolish to call “arithmetic” by the same name, because it had always meant something — always had certain characteristics — and now no longer does.


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