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A High View of Scripture?

posted by xscot mcknight

In doing some work on the doctrine of Scripture I have now read through Craig Allert, A High View of Scripture? and wish to commend it to you for your reading. Here’s why:
Allert
Tied into our view of the Bible is our view of the Church. No matter how much we’d like to say “The Bible is my only creed” the facts are against such a view. Why? The Bible we believe in did not drop from the sky, nor was it discovered in a bundle all at once — Presto! there it is on the day the last book was written. There’s no signs that God’s big business was getting the whole Bible put together so we’d have something for our sermons. It’s all messier than this.
Instead of a clean single act of arrival, as Craig Allert has made abundantly clear, we need to recognize three phases in the “arrival” of our Bible:
Phase 1: the central core of what we now call the New Testament — Gospels and major letters of Paul — rose to prominence in the 1st Century. These books were probably called “Scripture,” they were authoritative, but they could not yet conceivably be called “canon.”
Phase 2: in the second and third centuries Acts and the Catholic epistles etc rose to the level of the Gospels and major Pauline letters, these “New Testament” books were called “Scripture” alongside the Old Testament, but the word “Scripture” was used for more books than those we now find in the New Testament. [This is a big point for all of us.] Some of the books called “Scripture” are now found in what we call the OT Apocrypha. There is not yet something we can really call the “canon.” What was called “Scriptures” was more open than many of us think.
[I think Allert’s view of the word “canon” is tightly defined, perhaps too tightly. Once we have a collection of Four Gospels with Irenaeus we have the rudiments of a “canon consciousness”.]
Phase 3: in the 4th and 5th centuries there developed a clear sense of “canon” and the 27 books we now read were in that canon. But, there was some dispute over which books and there was some openness to other books.
The major thrust — in fact, it dominates the book — of Allert’s intelligent and important book is that one is hard-pressed to believe in the Bible without believing in the process the Church used to discern those books. In other words, the notion that we can believe in the Bible alone wrecks against the reality that Bible was never alone and is never alone. There is always a Church with it. To believe in the Bible is a tacit belief in the Church that discerned which books were in the “canon.” The Bible emerged out of the Church as its primary authority for doctrine and practice, but it was not alone — the Bible and the Church are together. Which also means that belief in the Bible is also belief in the creedal understanding of the gospel that was at work in the Church as that Bible rose to the top of its sources of truth.



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Patrick

posted August 22, 2007 at 1:30 am


Scot,
In connection with this, could you spell out your view on the “rule of faith” as a criterion for deciding the canon?
And do you think evangelicals are prepared to be more flexible in accepting (at least some) OT Apocrypha as “scriptural” in some sense? As an Episcopalian, I like the distinction made in the 39 articles that they are useful for instruction and edification, if not decisive for the understanding of salvation.



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Diane

posted August 22, 2007 at 4:26 am


There was a fascinating exhibit on the Bible last year in Washington, D.C., that made many of the same points. It showed the N.T. Bible as being assembled over several centuries. When the earliest Christians referred to scripture, they meant the OT, because there was no concept of an NT scripture, simply a collection of letters andgospels that floated around, usually iin discrete pieces, not assembled as a whole. There’s nothing like seeing that in terms of an early codex on sheepskin rather than an entire Bible or even section of a Bible. The exhibit also showed the early church being thoughtful about what to include and exclude. So, yes, it’s an excellent point that you can’t split the early church from the scriptures. But, and this may be stating the obvious, when people or groups say they believe in the Bible alone, aren’t they really saying they are rejecting the new ideas or interpretations, additions or subtractions, that their contemporary church is adding? That they’re trying to get back to basics so they can think clearly? That they’re trying to get some perspective on how their particular moment in history is skewing the intent of God’s word in either self-serving or clueless ways? And don’t most groups that base themselves on going back to “just” the Bible also see themselves as rediscovering and rejoining the early church? The “pre-fall” church as it were? The current house church movement comes to mind not to mention … you know, the Reformation …Anyway, still a good idea to see the Bible in the context of the early, as you say creedal, church that developed it … interesting that the creeds have come through time along with the biblical texts.



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Ted Gossard

posted August 22, 2007 at 4:53 am


Great post and commments.
Once at Eerdman’s bookstore (“The Bookstore”) I asked the younger fellow (I don’t have his name down in my head) about the apocrypha and books about it. He said it is good to consider that from the perspective of not just those books, but an entire process and occurence of the church wrestling through a good number of books in which there was disagreement, including NT books.
We’ve talked about the apocryphal question before on this blog- a little over a year ago. I’m still very interested but slow in getting read the NRSV note version of the apocrypha as well as David deSilva’s book on it.
I do think this is an excellent point worth pondering, and that somehow this most certainly is ongoing as God continues to give the church discernment in this. After all, what does it mean when scripture says, The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth?



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Miguel

posted August 22, 2007 at 6:06 am


Your last paragraph reminds me of John Franke’s “pnuematological-ecclesiological” view of authority and how the Scriptures are also tied to this.
You cannot have one without the other. The context of the scriptures is the community in which it (the scriptures) were developed. This ecclesial community was formed by the Spirit of God and the scriptures are one of the chief components of God’s communicative-acts in the formation of the community and the text.
An irrevocable dialogical relationship.



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Bob Postiff

posted August 22, 2007 at 6:16 am


Questions for thought
If the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth, is it also its source?Does the church discern the canon or determine it? RC apologists would say that doctrine is like an oak tree. Over time it starts as a seed (NT) then develops into a mature tree. Can an fallable church produce an infallable canon? Is the canon still open?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 22, 2007 at 6:23 am


Patrick,
My understanding: the “rule of faith,” or regula fidei, or various rules of faith, were used by the churches for catechesis to express the essence of the Christian faith. Scriptures both fed into that rule of faith as the rule of faith was used to evaluate Scriptures.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 6:46 am


In other words, how is it possible to have a high view of Scripture without also having a high view of Church? It’s a question worth pondering.



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Matthew

posted August 22, 2007 at 7:17 am


Scot,
Is it fair to say that what is now accepted by protestants as the canon are works that were written as identity-giving works for the church and were accepted as such from the start? (In other words, accepted as Scripture from the start)
It is my impression that the debate of the canon (focusing on the NT here) was more about what was out, rather than what was in. IOW, no book in the NT just barely scraped by, or was rejected by a significant contingent. Rather, other books that are now considered apocryphal by protestants had supporters that wanted to see them included. So some books were left out that some people would have liked to include, but no books were included that carried significant debate about whether they were Scripture or not. All the included books were broadly accepted. Is this a fair perception? Thanks, and sorry for the messy wording.



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Julie

posted August 22, 2007 at 7:19 am


So perhaps we need a lower view of both? :)
Both the formation of the “church” and the “Bible” are rife with politics, differences of opinion and a history of silencing competing views (or schism and splitting). How do we assume that the Spirit was more active in the past than today, or more active in some quarters of the church than others, or more “protestant” than “Catholic” in determining the canon? On what basis do we consider the conclusions drawn by councils or the Catholic church or Luther authoritative (as opposed to merely descriptive of a time and place and the resulting opinion)? (I do mean this as a sincere question.)
I guess I wonder why we need a high view of either. What about a realistic view?



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Don Heatley

posted August 22, 2007 at 7:26 am


Scott,
This article reminds of an incident in my life from amost 20 years ago. My wife was a Roman Catholic and as such we went through Pre-Cana premarital counseling. In our discussions with the priest, we often got around to discussing the Bible and its origins. At the time I was an inerrantist, if for no other reason than I thought any other belief would start me down the slippery slope to atheism. However, at one session the priest said something similar to what is outlined above and it opened up a new world for me. He said, “You must realize the church didn’t come out of the Bible, the Bible came out of the church.”
Knowing the Bible well, it immediately rang true for me and nothing has been the same since. Granted, he had a very specific idea in mind when he said “church.” Still this resonated with me. It wasn’t a slippery slope to atheism (as myself and many other inerrantists feared) but a widening path to a much broader and richer understanding of Scripture. Is it higher? I would prefer the word deeper. As Tillich said about our God language, perhaps depth language is more useful.



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Keith Schooley

posted August 22, 2007 at 7:54 am


Good post, and good stuff to think about. I suppose this may be taken as counterpoint to Tony Jones’s Wheaton theology conference paper, in which he clearly questions “the process the Church used.” Though Jones considers a “robust pneumatology” (the idea that despite the fallabilities of the participants, the Holy Spirit got accomplished what He wanted) a “cop-out,” maybe it is the best explanation after all.
I would quibble a bit with Allert’s saying that only some writings (at first fewer than those that compose our New Testament, and then more) were called “Scripture.” Isn’t that anachronistic (or perhaps, an Anglicization)? I don’t know Latin; in Greek, I’m pretty sure that “graphe” meant “writings” as well as “Scripture” in the sense we’re discussing. Perhaps Allert simply meant that these books were taken to be a set of special writings, without being a closed set (a “canon”). Essentially, I agree with the substance of his points, but don’t much like applying a modern English language game to a time period and language in which it wouldn’t apply.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 7:54 am


Julie, if you reduce both to power games, then you deny the Holy Spirit and reduce Christianity to simply another human institution. Yes, God has chosen to form his Church from demonstrably fallen people who certainly have a mixed track record. However, he also inhabits those people himself. That is the mystery of the Incarnation and the Spirit. God became like us so we could become like him and he continually provides himself to give his Church to ability to accomplish that transformation. If you subtract that, then what is Christianity but a collection of not particularly good advice on how to live?
Matthew, that is an oversimplification of the development of the NT canon. There was early and general agreement on the four gospels. That’s true. However, a number of the letters and Revelation were quite controversial. It actually took a lot of work to reach consensus on a canon of scripture.
Oddly, the reverse was true for the OT canon. As far as we can tell from history, the Church used the septuagint (LXX) for its OT until the time of Jerome. In no small part, that’s because the dispersed Jews by the time of Jesus largely used the LXX. As the Christian church grew, the LXX lost favor within Judaism. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the rabbis gathered together surviving Hebrew texts (the Dead Sea scrolls suggest there were more than one variation of at least some of the Hebrew texts from which they could have selected) in Jamnia and the results of that effort were the roots of what led eventually to the Masoretic Jewish text that most Protestant bibles use today. (The Masoretic text is generally dated to about the 8th or 9th century. The first full surviving copy is from sometime in the 11th century.)
There is a perspective that the rabbis deliberately either selected texts or modified them to reduce the connection to the messianic LXX passages that Christians were using to successfully convert Jews. That’s an interesting possible dynamic, though I can’t really say I’ve read enough to really form an opinion. Jerome then used some of the Hebrew texts selected in Jamnia along with Greek texts as the basis for his Latin translation. However, in an apparent conflict with Augustine, Jerome’s work was rejected by two 4th century synods. It did eventually become the basis for the Western OT, but the East never stopped using the LXX for their OT.
The process of canonizing scripture is a dynamic and intriguing study. In Christianity, we came eventually to a single and universal NT canon. We started with one accepted if not formally canonized OT and have since ended up with three OT canons. Each of the three major traditions has a different OT canon, though the Roman Catholic and Orthodox canons are more similar to each other than either are to the Protestant OT canon.



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Rick

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:01 am


Julie #9-
N.T. Wright’s paper, “How Can the Bible be Authoritative”, answers your question well. In short, Wright states that the high authority of Scripture comes because of the authority of the One who inspired it. Wright goes on to say,
“The phrase ‘authority of Scripture’, therefore, is a sort of shorthand for the fact that the creator and covenant God uses this book as his means for equipping and calling the church for these tasks.”
Since I can not do the full article justice, I highly recommend you read the article at Wright’s page, which can be found on Scot’s sidebar.



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Jason

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:05 am


Matthew – according to Eusebius in the 4th century, Revelation, James, Jude, 2 Peter, and 3 John were still “disputed”, so I’m not sure that your statement (“no books were included that carried significant debate”) is accurate. When you think about a text like 3 John, a personal letter that *seemingly* contains very little of substantive value, one can easily imagine that this text was, so to speak, riding the coattails of the other John epistles into the canon.



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Julie

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:12 am


Scott M: then you deny the Holy Spirit and reduce Christianity to simply another human institution.
Actually, I just don’t believe the Holy Spirit was more available to others than to us, me, you. I don’t see the HS as more active in the past than the present, more reliable then than now, more invested in one process than another.
Christianity is deeply human. To me, that is what sets it apart from the religions that claim God’s stamp of infallible utterance and guidance. I don’t know why or how we can privilege one era over another as “more divine” when the teachings of the NT are that all of us have the Holy Spirit at work within us, leading us into all truth (even calling us to grapple with it, not just adopt and repeat it).
Once you state that the Holy Spirit did something in spite of our fallibility, God moves into this puppet master role and our responsibility to be responsive to God is diminished (significantly). Yet Jesus modeled responsiveness to the promptings of God in a particular social location. He did not model acquiescence to a particular creed or set of beliefs about the Torah.
Theologically, if God can protect the Bible from human error through the Church, then a whole host of theological questions is raised – why protect writings above human lives? Why guide church leaders in the selection of the canon but not in the leadership of the Church (where many were corrupt and violent leaders who took advantage of their parishioners)? Why protect certain interpretations from corruption while others need revision (the Protestant Reformation ought to have been the exclamation point in bold about how the HS had not managed to guide the Church in keeping one view, even if you disagree with its conclusions).
These are some of the thoughts I’ve had related to the canon and the process by which it was selected.



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Jason

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:17 am


Oh, and speaking of Jude, we should add that Jude cites explicitly a Hellenistic period Jewish pseudepigraphon (1 Enoch) as scripture, or at least, as an authoritative text that points to Jesus. Jude even seems to assume that the text was written by Enoch. At the very least, it seems clear that a broader range of Jewish lit (than the OT) was important for the early church.



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Rick

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:20 am


Jason #13:
Not that it was the core of your comments, but 3 John has great value as it emphasizes the importance of truth.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:32 am


Julie, you’re delving into a discussion that holds no interest for me at any level. The question about whether or not the Bible contains “error” (however you qualify that statement) simply has no traction within my experience. It’s not that I would say that it does. And it’s not that I would say that it doesn’t. Rather, it’s that I find the whole question meaningless and typically a projection onto the question of a particular cultural experience I don’t share.
I want to know if I can trust this particular god (out of many) revealed in the person of Jesus described within the pages of Christian scripture and the life of the Church. It seems to me that might be the same question those who talk about “inerrancy” and “infallibility” have, though I can’t see why either of those address that question. Something can have no errors and still not be trustworthy. And I’m not even sure what “infallible” might mean in that context.
Nor does it have anything to do with a puppet master. If the god of Christianity is trustworthy, then we can trust his promise to be with, guide, inhabit, and transform his Church. And if that is true, then we can trust the Scripture that church has provided us. The end game of the path I heard in your comment is Nietzsche, where all that ultimately matters is the will to power. Thanks, but no thanks. ;)



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Julie

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:38 am


The end game of the path I heard in your comment is Nietzsche, where all that ultimately matters is the will to power. Thanks, but no thanks. ;)
Since the topic holds no interest for you, I’d prefer it if you didn’t equate Nietzsche with my postings. Not relevant.
Maybe someone else will be interested. Or not. We’ll see. :)
Julie



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RJS

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:39 am


Julie,
My views of inspiration and the development of the canon are not exactly in line with traditional protestant and evangelical teaching. But I do think the HS played a role in guiding the acceptance of the canon and the outlines of the church throughout history.
However, even a reading of scripture itself demonstrates that God has never acted consistently to protect his people in the perfection of the body. From the beginning (Genesis through Revelation, into the early church, the reformation, and the present) we have a history of fallen leaders, imperfect people, doubts, corruption, conflict and exploitation. However the Holy Spirit guides, it is not with a guarantee that outward profession expresses the interior guiding light or that real commitment will invariably be expressed in outward perfection.
One can take a so-called “realist” approach and embrace skepticism and unbelief grounded in part by the apparent inefficacy of the HS. But I think that our surprise and disenchantment with this reality springs in large part from a poor understanding of scripture and faulty doctrine and expectations proclaimed by the evangelical church (and other branches of the church as well).



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cas

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:40 am


Wonderfully put, Scot. Thanks for the summary.



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Anonymous

posted August 22, 2007 at 9:16 am


The Evolutionary Trajectory of the Story of God: Interlude | iamjoshbrown.com

[…] This is going to be a book by the time I’m done formulating my thoughts. Anyway . . . as they continue to simmer and build . . . I thought I’d share this with you in the interlude. It’s from Scot McKnight’s review of Craig Allert’s A High View of Scripture? which I’ve not had the opportunity to read. […]



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 9:18 am


Sorry Julie, I was reacting more to the infallible/fallible buzzwords than anything else. It’s been my experience that as soon as those start being introduced into a conversation like this one, it quickly becomes this strange exchange between people “discussing” the presence or absence of errors in the Scripture they both claim to trust. After more than a decade, that still looks very strange to me. That was meant to be a separate up front disclaimer to my participation in the discussion.
The topic of the development and canonization of the Christian Scripture is one of a great deal of interest to me. I do think that the vast majority of people today take that book they hold in their hand and call the “Bible” for granted. Yes, real people — with all their faults and foibles — were an integral part of the process. However, I’m unclear how you move from that to a “realistic” view focused on politics and human infighting to a view that this “deeply human” (non-transcendent?) aspect sets it apart from other religions? What religions do you have in mind? I mean, Islam has the Qu’ran, though it’s still hardly all of one cloth. Beyond that, I’m hard-pressed to think of a human religion which matches your description (having some god’s stamp of “infallible utterance and guidance”). I certainly don’t know them all or even more than a relative handful, but I don’t grasp what you had in mind. Perhaps if you could describe the religions you had in mind, it would help me.
What sets Christianity apart for me is that it is simultaneously deeply human and transcendent. Take either of those away and it becomes something less. To me, if you reduce everything to the human element, then you end up with nothing but power games. More is required to elevate us beyond that level. And in Christianity, that more is the God who inhabits his people. I’m also not sure I’m comfortable with the individualistic assertion that I have the right to my own interpretation through my own bit of the Spirit.



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JACK

posted August 22, 2007 at 10:19 am


Julie:
The challenge I see in your comments is them in practice versus theory. I’ve said before, agnosticism is something that works in theory but not in practice. You must make a choice of how to live and you can either live as though there is a God or there is not a God. You can’t live life with a big “To be decided” to that question. Because life requires acting and the God question is one that cannot be compartmentalized from any part of life.
I see a similar dilemma for your notion that the HS is no more available to the early Church than it is to you today. Sounds fine on paper. But I’ve read your comments for a long time and what in practice you think that permits seems to me is to in reality either deny the HS work in the early Church or to posit that the HS is schizoid or that there just really isn’t much truth out there at all and so we are free to a wide variety of speculations based on our preference.
This is a great struggle and I am glad for Scot’s post. Christianity becomes warped when it is just about my own thoughts. Because it is so easy to view what I am thinking as what the HS is revealing. I mean that both on the level of dogma and the concreteness of living it out in our unique, individual circumstances. But ours is a personal and communital faith at the same very time.
My only concern is that this post will be a passing fancy for some and not one of deep reflection. Because it sets forth a fundamental question that can be consciously denied, but must ultimately be answered. What is the Church?
I don’t mean to pick on Julie, but your post is representative of a difficulty many have: distinguishing between the Church and its individual members. There is no conflict to the idea that God might preserve His Church without removing the free will of his individual members.



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Phil

posted August 22, 2007 at 10:33 am


Scott M (#12):
Your post seems to imply that Jerome was the first Christian to reject the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical OT books. So, I decided to post this detailed history of this confusing issue.
Jerome’s views are expressed in Preface to the Books of Samuel and Kings (AD 391), where he explicitly rejects Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Judith, Tobit, and Maccabees as “apocryphal writings”, and Preface to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (AD 393), where he states: “As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes [Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach] for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church.”
One should note that it’s not exactly clear which books were part of the LXX canon at the time of Jesus and the Apostles. First, the oldest extant manuscripts of the LXX are Codex Vaticanus (fourth century AD), Codex Sinaiticus (fourth century AD), and Codex Alexandrinus (fifth century AD). Second, these three codices differ as to which books they include in the OT. For example, Vaticanus contains no book of the Maccabees, Sinaiticus contains 1 and 4 Maccabees, and Alexandrinus contains 1-4 Maccabees. Further, Vaticanus and Alexandrinus contain 1 Esdras, which Roman Catholics view as apocryphal. Also, Sinaiticus omits Baruch. (Sinaiticus includes Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas in the NT. Alexandrinus includes 1-2 Clement in the NT.)
Before Jerome, others who rejected these books include:
Melito of Sardis (AD 170) [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.26.13-14]: Also omits Esther. (Esther was the only “Protocanonical” OT book that was disputed by any Church Father. See also Athanasius and Gregory of Nazianzus, below.)
Origen (AD 230) [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.25.1-2]
Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 348) [Lectures 4.35]: Adds Baruch, which was often considered a part of Jeremiah.
Hilary of Poitiers (AD 360) [Tractate on Psalms Prologue.15]: Adds Baruch, and mentions that “some add Tobit and Judith.” (He quotes Baruch 3:35-37 as part of Jeremiah [On the Trinity 4.42].)
Athanasius (AD 367) [Letters 39.4]: Adds Baruch; omits Esther. He explicitly rejects Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Esther, Judith, and Tobit, which are “not received as canonical but having been appointed by our fathers to be read to those just approaching and wishing to be instructed in the word of godliness.”
Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 380) [ Carmina Dogmatica 1.1.12]: Omits Esther.
Rufinus (AD 380) [Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed 37]: He explicitly rejects Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, Tobit, Judith, and Maccabees, which “our fathers call not ‘canonical’ but ‘ecclesiastical’.”
Epiphanius of Salamis (AD 380) [Panarion 8.6]: He mentions that “There are also two other books near to them [the Protocanonical OT books] in substance, the Wisdom of Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, besides some other apocryphal books.”
After Jerome, others who rejected the Apocrypha include:
Pope Gregory the Great (AD 590) [ Moral Teachings from the Book of Job 19.34]: He cites 1 Maccabees (6:46) as a book that is among the “books, though not canonical, yet published for the edification of the Church.” (He does not provide a list of canonical books.)
John of Damascus (AD 730) [An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 4.17]: He explicitly rejects Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach, which are “virtuous and noble, but are not counted nor were they placed in the ark.”
Others: Walafrid Strabo (ninth century), Hugh of St. Victor (early twelfth century), Nicholas of Lyra (c. 1300), Alonso Tostado (early fifteenth century), Cardinal Ximenes (early sixteenth century), and Cardinal Cajetan (early sixteenth century).
Raymond E. Brown writes: “Those who prefer the shorter canon or express some doubt about the full canonical status of the deuterocanonicals include Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Epiphanius, Rufinus, Gregory the Great, John Damascene, Hugh of St. Victor, Nicholas of Lyra, and Cardinal Cajetan.” [Raymond E. Brown, “Canonicity” in Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer & Roland E. Murphy (eds.), (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 1042.]
Similarly, J. C. Turro writes: “… some, e.g., John Damascene, Gregory the Great, Walafrid, Nicholas of Lyra and Tostado, continued to doubt the canonicity of the deuterocanonical books.” [J. C. Turro, “Canon, Biblical: History of Old Testament Canon” in
New Catholic Encyclopedia (2nd ed.; Detroit, MI: Gale, 2003), 3:26.]
Raymond E. Brown writes: “Catholic editions of the Bible published in Germany and in France in 1527 and 1530 contained only the protocanonical books.” [Raymond E. Brown, “Canonicity” in Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer & Roland E. Murphy (eds.), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), 1042.]
On the Roman Catholic side of the debate, Epistle of Barnabas 6 (early second century AD) quotes Wisdom of Solomon 2:12 as Scripture. Irenaeus of Lyons (Against Heresies 4.26.3; 5.35.1; AD 180) quotes an addition to Daniel and the book of Baruch as Scripture, considering the latter to be a part of Jeremiah. Others who often quote from the Deuterocanonical writings as Scripture include Clement of Alexandria (AD 190), Tertullian (AD 200), Hippolytus of Rome (AD 215), and Cyprian of Carthage (AD 255). (Tertullian [Apparel of Women 1.3] and the author of Epistle of Barnabas [16] also accepted 1 Enoch as “Scripture.” Clement of Alexandria’s canon was so large that he quoted as Scripture: Gospel of the Hebrews, Gospel of the Egyptians, Preaching of Peter, and others.)
St. Augustine (On Christian Doctrine 2.8.13; AD 397) was the earliest Church Father to include the Deuterocanonical books in his list of books in the OT canon. He had great influence at the synods of Hippo (AD 393) and Carthage (AD 397), which included the Deuterocanonical writings as part of the OT. In AD 405, Pope Innocent I endorsed Augustine’s OT canon in a letter to the bishop of Toulouse.
Contradicting their own lists of OT books (see above), the following Church Fathers sometimes viewed the Deuterocanonicals as Scripture:
Origen (De Principiis 2.1.5) quotes 2 Maccabees 7:28 (and Shepherd of Hermas) as “holy Scripture.”
Hilary of Poitiers (On the Trinity 1.7; 4.16) refers to the author of Wisdom of Solomon 13:5 as a “prophet.” He does likewise for the author of 2 Maccabees 7:28, quoting the book as “Scripture.”
Athanasius (Defence Against the Arians 3; 66) quotes Wisdom of Solomon 1:11 and Sirach 30:4 as “holy Scripture.” He (Arian History 52) also uses the authoritative formula “as it is written” before a quote of Sirach 7:5.
Gregory of Nazianzus (Orations 28.8) uses the authoritative formula “as it is written” before a quote of Wisdom of Solomon 1:7.
Epiphanius of Salamis (Panarion 76.5) includes Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach in the NT (!) canon.
On the Orthodox position, Timothy (Bishop [now Metropolitan] Kallistos) Ware writes: “These [1 Esdras; Tobit; Judith; 1-3 Maccabees; Wisdom of Solomon; Sirach; Baruch] were declared by the Councils of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) to be ‘genuine parts of Scripture’; most Orthodox scholars at the present day, however, following the opinion of Athanasius and Jerome, consider that the Deutero-Canonical Books, although part of the Bible, stand on a lower footing than the rest of the Old Testament.” [Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (2nd ed.; Toronto, ON: Penguin, 1993), 200.]
In sum, no one on any side of this issue should pretend that there are easy answers.



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Dave

posted August 22, 2007 at 11:07 am


how do we then address the argument that since the Bible came out of the church… there is only one true church and that is the RCC (and it’s eastern sibling still in communion with Rome). this is a huge point of debate that RCC apologists use (and has caused many to “cross the tiber”) to “prove” that the RCC is the church founded by Christ, promised that the “gates of hell would not prevail, was given the power of binding and loosing, and was built upon Peter (the rock) as the vicar of Christ, and has an unbroken succession from there. just curious as to what you all think.



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Julie Clawson

posted August 22, 2007 at 11:17 am


I know I’m oversimplifying here, but why is it that once someone brings up the human process in the selection and transmission of scripture she is told her thoughts aren’t worth discussing and her faith is questioned? Why does it have to be this either/or? I’m having a hard time having an intelligent conversation on this topic because most evangelicals refuse to engage. It become rather frustrating.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 11:24 am


Dave, it’s not that simple. Since the great schism of 1054, the Orthodox view themselves as the continuing Church of the first thousand years rather than the West. If anything, the fragmentation of the West against the unity of the East is perceived as the fruit of that schism. But the East operates more on a centered rather than a bounded set perception of faith. While it is only within the Church that fullness of life in Christ can be experienced (even if it often isn’t even within the Church), that does not exclude those who have some mix of right and wrong worship. Nor do they limit the work of the Spirit. As they do with everything though, they stick doggedly to that which the Church has always proclaimed in all things and take seriously the charge to neither add to nor subtract from the faith delivered to the Church by the apostles. (Once again, I’m not Orthodox, so take anything I say carefully. I’m expressing their perspective in this discussion as best as I am able for one who is not a part of that tradition.)
I think the Western debate between Rome and Protestants is tired and in the process of expiring. The future of the conversation is more likely to deeply engage once again the Eastern and Western strands of Christianity. I can’t really say where that might lead over the next few hundred years. But the East brings questions the West has forgotten how to ask.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 11:42 am


Hmmm. Julie C, if that’s what it looked like I was saying, then I clearly didn’t even come close to saying what I intended to say. Maybe I had too many thoughts tied together and didn’t communicate any of them well? Maybe I can pry them apart into something that makes more sense?
1. Discussions about fallibility or errancy of scripture, which tend to erupt when either of those is mentioned, tend to perplex me. I rarely understand the motivation or desired goal of either party. Nor can I usually grasp why the question is important to either of them. That was more or less the disclaimer I was trying to make and explain at the same time.
2. The Church is composed of fallible human beings. Always has been. That’s a given. However, when we over-emphasize or focus exclusively on the political motivations of the human element, it reduces church and scripture to that which those with power were able to impose. If that is true, then those who can achieve power are then free to change either or both. Is that a statement that we really want to make? Perhaps I’m overly sensitive when it comes to manipulation and the exertion of power. Nevertheless it seems a valid concern. If they Church through the Spirit is not able to transcend its individual human element, then what use is it? And why does the quality of its scripture matter at all?
3. Thus, I don’t think it’s as much a matter of how much the Spirit is with me (which almost sounds like another sort of power game) as an individual, though I certainly pray for the guidance and knowledge of the Spirit, as it is a matter of how the Spirit is present in the life of the Church. It is not a matter of me, but a matter of us. And that ‘us’ extends back two thousand years, continually guided and corrected by the Spirit.
Perhaps that better explains my jumbled and obviously unclear comments.



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ChrisB

posted August 22, 2007 at 11:56 am


It seems like he’s arguing against the modern, evangelical notion of sola scriptura rather than the classic reformation version. Protestants shouldn’t believe that all the wisdom in the world is contained in the Bible.
But “believing in the church?” Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but this sounds like he’s arguing in the direction of an authoritative tradition.
We can and should look at the works left to us by the early church. We should evaluate them critically using both reason and scripture.
For example, the early church did wonderful things in synthesizing scripture to develop the doctrine of the trinity. The early church did horrible things in combining scripture with Greek thought and developing the notion that sex was innately sinful.
So we can respect our spiritual ancestors and learn from their successes and mistakes. We can agree with them about the canon without necessarily agreeing with their interpretation of it.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 12:01 pm


And I do find it intriguing that, despite all the machinations, the whole Christian Church shares a single NT canon today even while each major tradition has its own OT canon. I’m not sure quite what to make of that reality, but I do find it fascinating.



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Phil

posted August 22, 2007 at 12:24 pm


Dave,
I would say that neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the Eastern Orthodox Church determined the NT Canon. Although both churches have continuity with the ancient, undivided Church, neither can rightly be considered identical to it.
I would hesitate to oversimplify by saying that the schism occurred in 1054. It was a long process of drifting apart. It started long before the Photian schism of the 9th century (or the “schism of Nicholas”, as the Orthodox call it). And it wasn’t finalized until the 4th crusade (1204).
It is impossible to specify a date when either church began. Likewise, one cannot say that the Roman Catholic Church broke from the Eastern Orthodox Church, or vice versa. They broke from each other.
Please note that the canon was not determined by a Pope (as a Roman Catholic may have preferred) or by an Ecumenical Council (as an Orthodox may have preferred). It was a gradual process, whereby Christians in many different countries, speaking many different languages, came to recognize essentially the same books as inspired. They were guided by the rule of faith (the central teachings of Christianity, common to all of today’s denominations) and the Holy Spirit.



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Mike Mercer

posted August 22, 2007 at 12:40 pm


Scot, to paraphrase King Agrippa, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Roman Catholic!”



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Peggy

posted August 22, 2007 at 12:48 pm


Diane (#2)
Not surprisingly, that’s exactly where I find myself, among those who are: “going back to “just” the Bible also see themselves as rediscovering and rejoining the early church”
And I agree that it is another case of both/and–both the power of the Holy Spirit to guard and guide as well as the presence of the Holy Spirit in each member of Christ’s body. Sometimes the Holy Spirit must come in power in the life of an isolated individual–but the result of that will not necessarily be inconsistent with the scriptures, as we have come to know them, and the practice of “essential” church, as opposed to any “demoninational” or “organizational” manifestation of the church.
I still hold to “all truth is God’s truth” and believe that it can be found in many unexpected places–like the Orthorox or Catholic or house church….but, as JACK said, it must be practiced authentically, not just be a kind of mental/theological gymnastics.



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Peggy

posted August 22, 2007 at 12:52 pm


Phil (#32),
I’m with you. Thanks for bringing good stuff to this discussion.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 12:55 pm


Peggy, so the “Church” in your mind is a spiritual collection of all believers which will one day exist as a visible body, but is not presently physically and visibly represented on earth? I’m not sure I grasp your contrast of “church” as practice vs “church” as a manifestation.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 12:57 pm


I realized that was really only half a thought. I’m wondering how a church like that was then able to provide us a single canon of scripture.



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Peggy

posted August 22, 2007 at 1:20 pm


Scott, I’m not sure how you concluded #36 from what I said!
I heard Phil saying that the process of agreeing on the canon was not simple and that there was not one “church” (local body/tradition/manifestation) that produced it. It was a process of “the church”–made up of many local manifestations of the Body of Christ–in which the Holy Spirit brought to focus those “rules of faith” which are consistent throughout Christian traditions/communities.
I don’t know if that helps…



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MarkE

posted August 22, 2007 at 1:25 pm


Hey Julie:
I will converse with you. I think I understand what you are saying and tend to agree with your arguments. So we take a realistic view of the bible and the church, then what? How do you see this playing out in the individual and the church today?
I have difficulty with talking about the church, probably because, rightly or wrongly, I tend to distinguish between the two churches. The weeds grow along with the wheat; the birds nest in the tree; the goats mingle with the sheep. In most conversations about the church, they get equated.
Some of my thoughts: I see the HS as active in his church which may or may not be connected with the institutions we call churches (I never seem to remember which one is supposed to be capitalized!). It is nice when the two overlap but it is not guaranteed. I see the HS as moving like the wind doing what it does, undeterred, with or without the institution. That is, if the people of a given institutional church do not respond to the promptings of the HS to love, then the HS “moves on,” so to speak, to prompt someone with a more sensitive and willing heart.
My questions are more related to how I can learn to be more sensitive to the HS’s guidance and participate in what it wills. Spiritually reading the canonical bible is one way, but, as you suggest, I would think there are others, many others.



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 1:54 pm


Peggy, I can’t really say how I got to #36 either, but somehow I did. Let me backtrack and maybe some of the thought processes that took me to that point will become clear.
There are essentially three perspectives on the nature of the “Church” which provided us our scripture — or at least three that I’ve been able to discern.
The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches both hold that they are the true continuation in the present of the one Church of the first millenium. Yes, the East and the West often had issues and there were many smaller schisms and problems. But they were the two parties to the dispute and both agree that the Great Schism between the two occurred in 1054. When it’s well-documented and both the actual participants agree on the date, I’m not sure what we gain from disputing it. And they both hold that the other has deviated from the one faith. Rome holds that the East errs primarily in rejecting the authority of the Pope. The East has issues it considers to be more significant with Rome. Nevertheless, each holds that the other has strayed while they have remained faithful and are thus the Church which has provided us the Scripture.
Phil actually errs when he equates an ecumenical council in the East with the Pope in the West. In the East, a council was only considered necessary to decide a disputed issue of central and significant import. The Church Catholic is the “whole” church, not the universal Church (ecumenical). Anywhere you find the Bishop surrounded by the priests and deacons and priestly believers you have the fullness of the Church. At the same time, though, those are not disconnected. And can only be considered a Church if they participate in the life of the Church believing as the Church everywhere and always believes. (It’s more complicated than that, but that’s a taste.)
Although there have been a few strands in Protestantism like Landmark Baptists, who have attempted to assert some direct connection back to the early church, that has not been the common view. In contrast to the other two traditions, Protestants often assert as Phil did that no Church today is the continuation of the early church. Both the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox are wrong. It’s mostly a way of elevating yourself by pulling down others. But if that’s the case, there can be no continuing, visible expression of the Church on earth today. Thus Protestants tend to spiritualize the “Church”. But in that view, Scripture just sorta happened. At least as far I can tell. I don’t think it does much to explain how we universally settled on exactly the same books in the NT.



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John W Frye

posted August 22, 2007 at 3:14 pm


Scot,
You wrote, “The Bible we believe in did not drop from the sky, nor was it discovered in a bundle all at once — Presto! there it is on the day the last book was written.”
However, I think that many, many evangelicals think the Bible is magic book from the sky and does not carry any of the messiness and argument of human confusion about canonicity.
It might as well have come just like the writings of Joseph Smith and his golden glasses.



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RJS

posted August 22, 2007 at 3:33 pm


Scott M,
I don’t think that scripture just happened – although the process was somewhat messy. However – the connection back to the “original” church through any institutional church, present or past, RCC, Eastern Orthodox, or anything else, is complicated by the corruption that has invaded each and every one of them, and the humanity of the people involved.
There is a continuing, visible expression of the Church on earth today – but it is not now and never has been uniquely associated with any institution.



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Diane

posted August 22, 2007 at 3:40 pm


Dear Julie Clawson,
I agree: The either/or choice between the Bible as wholly humanly constructed and inspired with an agenda or shot done from heaven bothers me too. You see it in places like beliefnet or adherents.com: Either God gave Moses the ten commandments on golden tablets that God himself inscribed OR Moses stole it all from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. How about the Bible as both wholly human and wholly divine? How about written by humans under the inspiration of the HS? How about a place of truth that doesn’t force people to make a choice between inerrant fundamentalism and atheism?
Other Julie: I agree, I think, with most of what you are saying, but I do think the historic element is important. Not because the HS was more active in most other times (though I would argue that there are times when it is more active or more manifest, such as in the 1st century church or around the time of the parting of the Red Sea) but because the perspectives of people of great spiritual depth from other times can be a corrective to the distortions of our own times, to which we may be utterly blind. So that when the beliefs of our time conflict with traditional beliefs, we can stop and say, OK, have we made a mistake?



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 3:44 pm


RJS, so there is a continuing, visible expression of the Church on earth today that cannot be tied to any particular group or connected to the historic Church? What then is this continuing, visible expression?



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Scot McKnight

posted August 22, 2007 at 4:02 pm


This humanity “thing” pertains both to “inspiration” and “canonization.” Oddly enough, while in college and reading EJ Young’s famous conservative book on inspiration and inerrancy, I came to the conclusion that the human authors would not have felt some sensation when they were being “inspired” to write what we now read as Bible. That they were thinking and writing as any normal human being — so it never bothered me that the canon itself took shape in very human ways. Some bickering and some disagreement and some lengthy discussions about who wrote what.
I agree with Allert, as well, on the so-called “criteria”. Most appeal to apostolicity, catholicity, etc — but he shows I think that these were categories used to explain later why it was that specific texts were “included” in the canon.



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Phil

posted August 22, 2007 at 4:12 pm


Scott M wrote: “But they were the two parties to the dispute and both agree that the Great Schism between the two occurred in 1054. When it’s well-documented and both the actual participants agree on the date, I’m not sure what we gain from disputing it.”
On the contrary, it’s not “well-documented” and both participants agree that 1054 is not the date.
I did not deny that 1054 was an important year in the development of the rift between East and West. It’s a perfectly fine year to cite in media sound bites. But it paints a rather simplistic picture. As you may have been able to tell from my post on the OT canon, I don’t like simplistic answers. [See Henry Chadwick, East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church (Oxford University Press, 2003), where the events of 1054 are recounted in chapter 33 out of 41 chapters.]
In 1089, neither Pope Urban II nor Patriarch Nicholas III of Constantinople were aware of any schism between their churches (see Chadwick, 222-223). Therefore, 1054 could not have been the year of the final schism.
John Meyendorff writes: “Certainly, neither the quarrel between Patriarch Photius and Pope Nicholas I—which was healed at the Union Council of 879-880—nor the incident of 1054 can be considered as the dates of the schism.” [The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 79]
[See also Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (University of Chicago Press, 1974), 147; George Herring, Introduction to the History of Christianity (New York University Press, 2006), 167; Mary Cunningham, “The Orthodox Church in Byzantium” in Adrian Hastings (ed.), A World History of Christianity (Eerdmans, 1999), 91; Kallistos Ware, “Eastern Christendom” in John McManners (ed.), The Oxford History of Christianity (Oxford University Press, 1993), 151-152]
Scott M wrote: “Phil actually errs when he equates an ecumenical council in the East with the Pope in the West.”
In fact, I made no such error. The rest of your paragraph was irrelevant to anything that I said. My point was about what each church considers “infallible”: in the Roman Catholic Church, the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) is considered infallible in certain situations, and Councils can only be infallible insofar as the Pope approves of them; in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Councils are considered infallible, due to the agreement of the Bishops.
Scott M wrote: “ In contrast to the other two traditions, Protestants often assert as Phil did that no Church today is the continuation of the early church. Both the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox are wrong. It’s mostly a way of elevating yourself by pulling down others. But if that’s the case, there can be no continuing, visible expression of the Church on earth today.”
You claim that I assert “that no Church today is the continuation of the early church.” In fact, I explicitly claimed the opposite: “Although both churches have continuity with the ancient, undivided Church, neither can rightly be considered identical to it.” You might find some of my posts informative, if you actually bothered to read them.
You wrote: “Both the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox are wrong. It’s mostly a way of elevating yourself by pulling down others.” No, it’s a way (probably the only way) of being faithful to the data of history. Do you have some other solution? One that is faithful to history?
You claim: “But if that’s the case, there can be no continuing, visible expression of the Church on earth today.” Why? I can count at least two: the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. To these I would add a third (group): the Evangelical Churches. All of these churches are “continuing, visible expression[s] of the Church on earth today.”



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JACK

posted August 22, 2007 at 4:30 pm


Phil:
I think your read has some problems.
First, I’d like to understand why you think “identical” is the standard for judging the continuity. Because I think it (and your likely definition of that word) colors your conclusion tremendously.
Similarly, I think your last paragraph undersells the difference. I certainly don’t intend to deny the action of the Holy Spirit in Evangelical Churches are the holiness of evangelicals or their love of Christ, but to say that they are a “continuing, visible expression of the Church on earth today” in the same way as Catholicism and Orthodoxy is to sweep a lot of “data of history” out of the picture.



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RJS

posted August 22, 2007 at 4:32 pm


Scott M,
Thinking about it I would say that the continuing visible presence is tied to the historic church – but not to the/any institutional church (which carry and have always carried seeds of corruption).



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JACK

posted August 22, 2007 at 4:42 pm


RJS,
I recognize the struggle, but I have to admit to being as confused as Scott M. What “historic church” do you identify as “a continuing visible presence” if it is not any specific institutional church? That seems either inconsistent or a fairly stretched concept of what it means to be “continuing” or “visible”.



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RJS

posted August 22, 2007 at 5:03 pm


Jack,
We will likely never agree here – but this is where I am coming from.
Historic church: The continuing, continuous, and visible presence of those who, individually and in community, believe in the creator God and profess allegiance to Jesus Christ, who honor him as Lord and savior and attempt to live according to the great commands – to Love God with heart, mind, body, and soul, and to love their neighbors as themselves, who realize that we are called to service – not to honor, position and power. This is to be found within the RCC, the EO and the reformation but is synonymous with none.
The most visible presence (again in all traditions) of the institutional church is often so tied to honor, position, power, etc. that it far too frequently represents a perversion (great and/or small) of the church.



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Phil

posted August 22, 2007 at 5:08 pm


JACK wrote: “I’d like to understand why you think “identical” is the standard for judging the continuity. Because I think it (and your likely definition of that word) colors your conclusion tremendously.”
I don’t really know what you’re getting at. But I’m guessing that you are asking about my statement: “Although both churches have continuity with the ancient, undivided Church, neither can rightly be considered identical to it.” I’ll try to flesh out this statement a little:
When a Roman Catholic says to an Orthodox or Evangelical Christian, “My Church is the One True Church [and yours isn’t]”, he is mistaken.
When an Orthodox Christian says to a Roman Catholic or Evangelical Christian, “My Church is the One True Church [and yours isn’t]”, he is mistaken.
When an Evangelical Christian … actually, I doubt that many would make such a claim.
The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that I believe in cannot be identified with any denomination. It is one of the many paradoxes in Christianity: the Church is one, but many; holy, but sinful; catholic, but sectarian. In terms of apostolicity, I think that continuity of doctrine is more important than apostolic succession (which, logically, cannot guarantee true doctrine).
When a Roman Catholic, an Orthodox, and an Evangelical say together, “Our Church is the One True Church,” they’re on the right track.
JACK wrote: “Similarly, I think your last paragraph undersells the difference. I certainly don’t intend to deny the action of the Holy Spirit in Evangelical Churches are the holiness of evangelicals or their love of Christ, but to say that they are a “continuing, visible expression of the Church on earth today” in the same way as Catholicism and Orthodoxy is to sweep a lot of “data of history” out of the picture.
What data do you have in mind? You’ll have to be more explicit. I haven’t swept any data out of the picture, as far as I know.



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Anonymous

posted August 22, 2007 at 5:34 pm


Craig Allert on Scripture « Mere Humanity

[…] August 22, 2007 Posted by PB and J in scot mcknight, bible, christianity, religion. trackback here are some great points shared by Craig Allert via ScotMcKnight: […]



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Peggy

posted August 22, 2007 at 5:46 pm


All right, then…quite a discussion, here.
RJS and Phil have spoken eloquently right along my lines of thinking. I believe that that DNA of Christianity is protected and passed on by the “seed” that the Holy Spirit plants in the hearts of those whose “soil” is receptive. In this manner it is the Holy Spirit that is the point of continuity, not any institutional presence or history.
The Body of Christ is not divided, friends, it is one body, found in many local expressions, animated by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Our ability to be totally connected to each other here on earth is a physical and cultural impossibility, but it is a current reality in the spiritual.
And so in every place where Jesus of Lord and the Holy Spirit is allowed to lead and empower, the DNA of the Body of Christ is free to replicate. When human corruption seeps in, it does not destroy the DNA, because the Holy Spirit keeps it safe and continues to break into human hearts everywhere it is invited–regardless of what tradition the humans hold to.
Surely you have met Christians from all the traditions in whom you have resonated with the Holy Spirit that is in you and also in them….



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vynette

posted August 22, 2007 at 5:46 pm


I must disagree that one cannot have “a high view of scripture” without a correspondingly high view of Church.
The earliest Christian communities in Jerusalem, Samaria, Lydda, Caesarea, Antioch etc. were all separate entities and from the earliest times were in possession of the various writings which form our present New Testament. The formation of the canon was due to a growing grass-roots consensus rather than a decision that was handed down by ecclesiastical authorities. The canon was not imposed by church leaders or by councils. They stand at the end of the process rather than at the beginning.
No action of a council or a synod was early enough to have had a decisive influence on the course of events. The council decrees have the form: “This council declares that these are the books which have always been held to be canonical”. It would therefore be more accurate to say that the canon selected itself.
As F.F.Bruce states in The Canon of the New Testament: “It was specially important to determine which books might be used for the establishment of Christian doctrine, and which might most confidently be appealed to in disputes with heretics…One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognising their innate worth and general apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa — at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 — but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities.”



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MarkE

posted August 22, 2007 at 5:48 pm


RJS #50:
Thank you!
We are on the same page.



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Mike Mercer

posted August 22, 2007 at 5:56 pm


There has been very little discussion in these postings about the key foundational role of the apostles in the writing of the NT and in the considerations of the Church as it came to agreement on the canon. Isn’t that where the true “authority” in this discussion lies? And wasn’t it that authority that the Church eventually came to recognize in the NT books through its sometimes messy process of canonization? If so, can’t we still therefore speak of “biblical authority” and a Church that stands under the Bible at the same time we affirm that the Church is God’s chosen, Spirit-filled people that “produced” the Bible. In like manner, did not Mary give birth to her Savior, and then submit to his authority?



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Peggy

posted August 22, 2007 at 6:04 pm


Mike,
I hate to even put my toe in here, lest the crocodiles snap it off, but…part of the discussion would seems to me to be which writings were ultimately considered apostolically authentic and applicable and, therefore, authoritative as the scriptures for the New Covenant Church (which includes the Old Covenant scriptures as well).



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Scot McKnight

posted August 22, 2007 at 6:18 pm


Mike,
I commented on this at #45, but it is not one above the other. The Bible did not create Church — that’s obvious since the Church was there before the Bible. The Church gave birth to the “canon” as the Word gave birth to the written Word that guided that process.



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Julie

posted August 22, 2007 at 7:59 pm


Hi MarkE. Thanks for chatting! :)
You said: So we take a realistic view of the bible and the church, then what? How do you see this playing out in the individual and the church today?
One way is that I think pastors would better serve their congregations if they at least taught about the process of canonization even if they take a high view of that process. I also think it helps to discuss the tendency to privilege one era over another, as though God was more involved, more active, more interested at another time.
If there is scholarship and challenges our assumptions or that leads us to reconsider previously held views, I think it is worth pointing out that the same Holy Spirit of the past is at work today and each of us has the responsibility to weigh arguments, to seek understanding and to render judgments (we all do this, but few are told that that is in fact what they are doing). In other words, even to believe a high view of church and the Bible depends on discernment exercised by the individual Christian.
Too often, I feel that the views held by many evangelicals (in the world I’m from) are naively adopted and sustained by deference to an authority that they defend but without much sense of what went into that authority’s conclusions. It appears to me that the default of most churches is to play these ideas out at the most basic level and to leave aside the messiness, the complicated nature of what Scripture is and how it evolved and why even today there are still so many thousands of ways to understand the faith despite one Holy Spirit.
In my opinion, I think it helps Christians get beyond what I call “magical thinking” where they picture some kind of process that results in the leather bound red letter Bible whose message is plainly understood if they simply read it devotionally. And while not everyone is as interested in all the details of the canonization process or the messiness of church politics and the difficulty of arriving at consensus about who has the authority to interpret the tradition, I still feel that it would be a healthier spirituality all around if we were taught not to fear the messiness, to recognize it as part of what our own spirituality is like and to know that on some level, we are just as dependent on the murkiness of Spirit led reasoning as any Christian who ever lived before us.
Does that make more sense?



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Julie

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:01 pm


Diane, #43: So that when the beliefs of our time conflict with traditional beliefs, we can stop and say, OK, have we made a mistake?
Do you do the same in reverse? When you come up against a belief of another time that seems to be from a cosmology or ancient cultural perspective… do you question if perhaps the original theologian or writer was limited by his time, his culture, his place?
Julie



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Ruth Tucker

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:22 pm


Allert’s book is a very welcome addition to the literature on the Bible and how it has come down to us. I strugged through my college years over the canon. I doubted the whole of Christianity because of that issue. I asked again and again: How can we have such a high view of Scripture when the process of developing the canon was such a human endeavor? In my adult years I spent a dozen years as a member and as a pastor’s wife of Bible churches where the Bible was everything. “The Bible Stands. . . .” was one of our favorite hymns. But one cannot understand the canon without understanding the church–and having a high view of the church. Allert’s book is the kind of correction we as Fundamentalits and Evangelicals need.



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RJS

posted August 22, 2007 at 8:35 pm


Ruth,
Issues of canon and inspiration and “realism” (literalism) were the principle issues driving me from the church in college/graduate school. I am participating here – having more or less made peace with the fact that general Fundamentalist and Evangelical understanding of scripture needs a correction – and that Christianity will still stand.
I am reading your book on walking away from faith these evenings – a good book (so far anyway).



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Scott M

posted August 22, 2007 at 9:04 pm


Phil, thanks for illustrating, even if not deliberately, exactly what I was trying to say when I said that Protestants mostly turned the “Church” into a spiritual thing with no present visible unity and none expected in the present age. In other words, the Protestant tradition interprets “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” in a way that would be utterly foreign to those who coined that phrase and which I frankly can’t reconcile to scripture. When Jesus prayed that we would be one so that the world might believe that the Father sent him, I have a very hard time believing our present reality even vaguely coincides with his desire.
RJS, I have the sense that you want to affirm the historic church in those areas with which you agree with it so that we can see Christianity today (every conceivably flavor I suppose) as part of that same historic Church. That fits nicely into a hyper-individualistic Western culture, but I’m not sure I can make historical sense of the idea. And I don’t see how you can simultaneously claim that no church actually has a continuing historic connection and that all churches have such a connection.
I will agree that Christianity is certainly visible as a world religion. But it can only be considered “one” in the same way that Hinduism is considered one religion, or Buddhism is considered one religion, or Islam is considered one religion (though it’s closer to the reality of being one than Christianity or either of the other big two). In other words, Christians might generally agree they follow Jesus of Nazareth, but they have a thousand different answers about what that means. Are they all right or contain grains of reality? Or are they all mistaken despite getting the bit here and there right. As far as I can discern, there is almost no unity in belief, practice, or worship among the Christian sects, certainly none somebody outside Christianity would ever recognize.



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Josh

posted August 22, 2007 at 9:24 pm


Scott M.
RJS has said it about as good as anyone can say it. Those people throughout time, space, and culture who have authentically obey and love the Lord Jesus Christ are the true church. His sheep know his voice and will only follow him.
I worked in a large factory for 8 years with Christians from all denominations. When we had prayer meetings, some would not come because of some of the people gathered(racism,reputation). Some would gladly testify to following Christ while others would avoid the identity at all costs. In the real world, it’s easy to know who the holy catholic church is. They are not perfect or sinless but they try dang hard to follow Jesus empowered by the Holy Spirit.
It should always be admitted that canonization was a messy process. But if one actually reads the actual texts that were left out(and how many who raise issues have actually done this) it’s easy to see why they were left out.



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Phil

posted August 22, 2007 at 9:59 pm


Scott M wrote: “… Protestants mostly turned the “Church” into a spiritual thing with no present visible unity and none expected in the present age.”
Are you sure that it was Protestants who did this? The lack of visible unity in the Church predates the Reformation by over 1000 years.
But, of course, if you define your denomination as “the One True Church”, then you can believe that there has never been division within the Church. This is what many Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox do. In this case, there is no schism within the Church; there are only schisms from the Church. That’s very convenient, but historically and theologically dishonest.
Scott M wrote: “When Jesus prayed that we would be one so that the world might believe that the Father sent him, I have a very hard time believing our present reality even vaguely coincides with his desire.”
I agree that our present reality is not quite what Jesus wants. It is only in the past few decades that many denominations have started talking to each other. Dialogues should continue at every level (clergy, laity, scholars).
The most promising dialogues have been between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. They are well on their way to full communion after over 1500 years apart. See http://www.orthodoxunity.org/
What kind of unity do you think the Church should have? Which denominations have to change in order to achieve this unity? Does it require conformity in all matters of doctrine and practice? If not, which issues are indispensable? What kind of unity did the Apostolic Church have?



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Diane

posted August 22, 2007 at 10:28 pm


Julie,
I definitely look at the history from both directions. When something from the NT, for example, conflicts with the what the world around me says is true and right, I do wonder if those writers got bound up in the limitations of their history and culture. But for me, the real conversion was when I started looking through the other end of the lens and wondering if MY culture was flawed. Now I weigh both sides.



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Keith

posted August 22, 2007 at 10:43 pm


Hey Scot,
Thanks for bringing this topic up. i try not to think about the canon process. I know it is a choice to believe that the process was Spirit inspired. It does move us beyond our faith in the Scriptures alone. But who wants to admit that?



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Anonymous

posted August 22, 2007 at 11:39 pm


New Additions « Growing Up in Church

[…] Scot McKnight on what it means to hold a high view of Scripture: http://www.jesuscreed.org/?p=2747 […]



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Scott M

posted August 23, 2007 at 6:56 am


Phil, you seem focused inwardly. What sort of agreement on doctrine and dogma would it take to be one? And have there ever been disagreements over doctrines in the past that have produced schism? The point seems to be to justify your own present framework. That’s well and good, but is not really the focus either of my question or of scripture.
It is only recently (in the scope of the history of Christianity) that, when you tell someone you have become a Christian, the natural and reasonable response is: Which church? That is, what sort of Christian are you? What flavor of Christian church have you joined? That is the point from scripture the Church through most of its history has taken very seriously. It has nothing all that much to do with the salvation or status of particular individuals. The Church early on determined that those who unwittingly had followed heterodox teachers were Christian and the sacraments received were valid. Our God is bigger than the fallible human beings from whom he has chosen to build his body.
Nevertheless, there was one Church and everyone, Christian and pagan alike saw Christianity and the Church as one and the same. That is the historical reality. And in our hyper-individualism and selfishness, we have completely abandoned that command of scripture and pretend it makes no difference. From John 17, how is it that the world will believe?
Or do you honestly believe it doesn’t matter?



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RJS

posted August 23, 2007 at 8:14 am


Jack and Scott M,
No – I don’t think I am affirming the historic church in those areas where I agree. I think that we must realize that there was some diversity at all times – we have had “flavors” of Christianity from the beginning, even in the New Testament and Apostolic Church – and it doesn’t matter. All that mattered then and now is affirmation of the Creator God and devotion to Jesus with a desire to truly follow his teachings. This doesn’t mean that “anything goes” – we have a heritage, a tradition of essentials, apparent even in the writings of Paul and the early church fathers, and we are redeemed into a community, the communion of saints, so to speak – and we are accountable to God and to this community. The canon does come from the church.
But I stand on God and Christ alone. As humans we want neat easy answers – identifying the “Church” as in the body of Christ with an institution, but the Spirit of God did not pass from the diversity of the early church into the RCC, the EO, or through the RCC into the churches of the reformation any more than inspiration of scripture passed from the original Greek manuscripts into Jerome’s Vulgate (a view espoused by many who wished a nice clean answer and boundary) or into the King James Bible (a view also espoused by many who wish for a nice clean absolute).
Frankly God did not give these nice clean absolutes: The composition, collection, and preservation of the NT as we have it does not allow for a simplistic understanding of inspiration. Likewise God has not preserved a pure institutional Church uniquely carrying his spirit. One need only look at the true evil that has been practiced in the name of God and the Church on occasion (RCC, EO and Reformation Churches) to realize that God did not preserve a pure “Institutional Church.”



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Scott M

posted August 23, 2007 at 9:11 am


First, in what sense do you find “diversity of the early church”? If you mean the diversity in areas of opinion and local practice which has always existed within both the RC and EO churches, I’m not sure how you can mark that as a point of discontinuity. If you mean actual diversity in structure, organization, and dogma (dogma which was not condemned as heresy either within the NT or in the few centuries following), then outline what you mean. I don’t see it. The early church is remarkably uniform in belief and practice, especially by today’s standard, and especially when you consider that it was often persecuted and somewhat underground during that period.
You’re making historical assertions in which I am either misunderstanding what it is you are asserting (a distinct possibility) or, if I do actually understand correctly, I think is contrary to what we actually find in history. Yes, there has always been diversity in myriad points of opinion and local practice. That diversity remains in both the RC and EO churches today, a lot more diversity actually than you’ll find in most Protestant denominations. Yet at the same time, they remain one church. How? And is that important?
From a perspective heavily influenced by non-Christian religions, I say it does matter, at least if you want Christianity to look any different from any other world religion. And given that our NT Scripture talks about unity, one body, and being one quite a bit actually, it seems that perspective conforms more closely to Scripture. So if you have a high view of Scripture, how can you not have a high view of the unity of the Church?
And what do you mean when you say you stand on God and Christ alone? Is that not of itself an “easy answer”? What privileges your understanding of God and Christ (and I’m not sure I understand the purpose of the ‘and’ in that statement) over anyone else’s?
And yes, God has chosen to form his Church from fallible human beings. And those human beings often fail to do good and often actively do evil. This is actually one of the critiques the EO have against the RC, that no human being is infallible and they place too much power in the hands of a single person without correction by fellow bishops. So what? Are you saying, then, that God cannot preserve his Church, in the visible and institutional form in which he began it, in spite of the fallible human beings with which he formed it? Is not part of the purpose of the Spirit in the faithful in the Church, to hold the faith as we have been given it in the face of those who turn away or fail?
There is very little or nothing clean or absolute about being human. In fact, human beings have done and continue to do a great deal of evil. Yet we hold God is redeeming them, do we not?
And for the record, neither the RC nor the EO Church claim that the Spirit is confined to the boundaries of their institutional organization. It is clear the Spirit is always working beyond those boundaries. In fact, one clear evidence of the working of the Spirit seems to be short-term chaos and confusion as it pushes the Church beyond where it is comfortable. The question becomes, where do you see the fullness of the visible and practical faith delivered by the apostles preserved? That is what the creed says, after all. Is the answer nowhere? What then of the promises of Scripture? Or do you spiritualize it into those individuals who separately do follow Jesus inside or outside the boundaries of any organization? Is the faith anywhere preserved? Or has it been reinvented everywhere?



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RJS

posted August 23, 2007 at 9:30 am


Scott M,
I cannot address all of this in any post of reasonable length, or in the time available – but in short:
I am saying that God can, has, and does preserve his Church, but this Church is not synonymous with any institutional form, that God did not begin the Church in any of the detailed institutional forms we have inherited, and that fallible human beings have mistaken the institution for the Church – with often disastrous results.



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JACK

posted August 23, 2007 at 10:00 am


RJS,
I’m not looking for agreement, per se. You have free will, just as I do, and many things go into how we come to see what is and judge it. This isn’t some debate; I’m not trying to score points and neither of us can save the other from the hard work of looking at these things.
But I think it is a stretch of the meaning of language and of logic to suggest that your position is any different than the type of “spiritualization” of the Church that Scott M describes. Maybe you don’t mean to suggest that your position is anything but that. That’s fine if that’s the case. And maybe I still don’t get the fine distinction that you draw. But I cannot see how you can describe what you have tried to spell out as the existence of a visible, continuing Church. It stretches the definition of the word “continuing” in very dramatic ways given all the changes of things that would have to be permitted into that wonderful “pail of orthodoxy” to maintain that concept. And it clearly stretches the term “visible” in ways that are even more dramatic.
Phil, I am speaking of the countless dramatic ways in which the Protestant Church is different from the Church that existed in both the East and the West prior to the Reformation. Big ways. You know them as well as I do. What I am saying is that your explanation of all the factors, the “details of history”, have to acccount for that too, just as much as the EO and Catholics have to. None of us are exempt from that. So look at the explanation that you are forced into based on your presumptions. It is an explanation that takes the vast bulk of the history of the Church and says that, at best, it was a mere human gloss on the faith that was unnecessary. And I know you would probably make the argument more strongly than that diplomatic read of history. I’m saying, fine. If you believe that, thanks for sharing. But examine the consequences of that. That says something of substance of how you view the nature of the Church and the work of the Holy Spirit in time. You might conclude that all of what flows from that is fine. I’m just trying to encourage taking a real look at your own position. Too often what I see is merely an attack on the EO/Catholic position. (And in this aspect, they can be treated as one because while they differ in certain aspects of ecclesiology no doubt, they share a very unified view of the role of the Church.)
Some see Christ and His Church inextricably linked in one single mission in a very close and intimate way throughout time. Others see Christ and His Church as far more separate and distinct things than that.
At the end of the day, the only thing I am asking is that you give my words the benefit of verification. Examine your life and see if there’s anything that corresponds. I’m not going to convince anyone on some blog of any of this.



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RJS

posted August 23, 2007 at 10:29 am


Jack – depends what you mean by visible. If you define visible by building, hierarchy and institution; then I guess I do have a more spiritual concept.
If we had one church institution over all time, and in all places, following the teachings of Jesus – then I would be speaking heresy, but I don’t see it.
Scot has had a series on Finding Faith/Losing Faith, and in this context, this is something that I have wrestled with.
If Church = RC then the evil that has been done by the RCC in the name of God and church would blow any claim to Christian truth out of the water.
If Church = Reformation (Luther, Calvin, …Baptists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Mennonites, …) then the evil that has been done by the churches in the name of God and reformation theology would blow any claim to Christian truth out of the water.
If Church = EO then the evil that has been done in the name of God and church would blow any claim to Christian truth out of the water.
This is what leads me to the conclusion that Church = Community of Christ Followers as I defined it in #50.



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Scott M

posted August 23, 2007 at 11:00 am


Now I begin to grasp where you’re coming from. You’re attempting to disengage yourself from the evil done by the Church and in the name of Christ. I certainly understand that motivation and I share the desire. But I don’t think it works. We can’t simply say that those who did evil while claiming the name of Christ were not the Church, while those who did good were. History is not that simple. If our faith is true, then many of those who did evil are our brothers and sisters and it is evil for which we as a Church are responsible. If you are adopted into a family, you get the whole family, good and bad. And since we believe those in Christ never die, those who were in Christ are still alive. And we have no foolproof means to determine who is and who is not in Christ. No institution is some sort of faceless blob. All are composed of their members. And within the institution of the Church, you find evil done by people who deeply desired to do what was right. Now some, I think, were clearly motivated by things other than Christianity. Sometimes we can make that judgment. But often we can’t. The Church is what it is, warts and all. And however ugly it can be, it is also the bride of Christ. Part of being a Christian is accepting the family for what it is even as you try to shape and be shaped by it.



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Josh

posted August 23, 2007 at 11:23 am


Scott M.,
Your posts are starting to sound a little irrational. You’re reading a false motivation into RJS’ post.
Jesus himself warned that his church/assembly would be composed of both good and bad, wheat and chaff/weeds. Like the fishing parable, God’s net catches a big load; He will sort them out in the end. He also warned of false prophets and teachers who would try to mislead them. Those who love Jesus are those who obey him.
I for one will never call some of the leaders of Christendom who brought about bloodshed and tyranny my ancestors. They were children of the devil for they acted like him. I know that there were and are some who do things out of ignorance but I will let God judge motivations. All I have to run on is outward actions.
And it’s just not biblical to talk about the church as an institution. This is same arguement that the Jesus destroyed when he said that God could raise up children of Abraham from the ground. What he wanted was people who imitated the faith of Abraham not his genetic code. Like Paul said, not all Israel is Israel. The true Jew is one who is circumcised of the heart. Look at the Galatian’s arguement. The Judaizers wanted to count who was truly the church by outward regulations(circumcision,kosher foods,etc.). Paul said “NO!” The true Israel is both Gentile and Jew united under the lordship of Christ. That was radical. That’s the church.



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Scott M

posted August 23, 2007 at 11:52 am


Josh, if you believe I’m irrational, you really shouldn’t waste your time trying to communicate with me. It will probably be a fruitless endeavor. ;)

And it’s just not biblical to talk about the church as an institution.

Thank you for clearly asserting the predominant view of Protestants of the Church as something purely spiritual. I’ve spent my entire Christian time within the Protestant fold. I thought I had understood that correctly. Never mind all those messy bits about calling and sending out followers, bishops, deacons, and all the rest flowing from the pages of scripture right into everything we know about the first, second, and third century Church.
However, RJS seemed to be saying that she had a different view. That the Church was visible and continuing and a material rather than a purely spiritual way. Ever since I’ve been trying (and largely failing) to grasp what she means. Her last comment switched a light bulb on for me. Doesn’t mean my intuition was right. But it was the best I had. If it’s wrong, then I still don’t grasp the distinction she is drawing.



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Phil

posted August 23, 2007 at 11:54 am


Scott M,
You completely ignored my questions (they weren’t rhetorical). Here they are again: What kind of unity do you think the Church should have? Which denominations have to change in order to achieve this unity? Does it require conformity in all matters of doctrine and practice? If not, which issues are indispensable? What kind of unity did the Apostolic Church have?
They are difficult questions and probably impossible to answer adequately. And you don’t need to try to give me answers. But think about it.
Scott M wrote: “It is only recently (in the scope of the history of Christianity) that, when you tell someone you have become a Christian, the natural and reasonable response is: Which church? That is, what sort of Christian are you? What flavor of Christian church have you joined? That is the point from scripture the Church through most of its history has taken very seriously.”
What is “the point from scripture”? It appears to have no referent in your comment. And what do you mean by “recently”? From the Roman Catholic perspective, the Eastern Orthodox are to blame for the existence of denominations. From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, both Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholics are to blame for the existence of denominations. Oh, and let’s not forget the Assyrian Church of the East.
There were at least four denominations of Christianity before the Reformation: Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrians. Each of them had a different communion. Eastern Orthodox could only take Eastern Orthodox communion, non-Eastern Orthodox could not take Eastern Orthodox communion, etc.
It is the policy of most (if not all) Evangelical churches that all Christians, of whatever denomination, are permitted to share in communion. A Roman Catholic, however, is forbidden by his own denomination to share in non-Roman Catholic communion. Obviously, there are very different views of what communion means. But my point here is that while Evangelicals strive for unity (and believe that, in some sense, that unity already exists), Roman Catholics (and others) reinforce disunity.
To blame Protestants for disunity in the Church, or for the existence of different flavours, is absurd.
Scott M wrote: “Nevertheless, there was one Church and everyone, Christian and pagan alike saw Christianity and the Church as one and the same.”
I agree. All Christians are part of the Church. All Christians are part of the One True Church, as I’ve said.
JACK wrote: “It is an explanation that takes the vast bulk of the history of the Church and says that, at best, it was a mere human gloss on the faith that was unnecessary.”
Again, it depends on what you mean by “the Church.” I would say that the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church are both unnecessary (and, for that matter, Protestant churches are too). In my view, even if no denominations existed, the Church would still exist (as is, no doubt, the case in heaven). My view of the Church requires no one particular hierarchical structure, though many different hierarchical structures are possible within the Church. If you find that the Roman Catholic hierarchy and sacraments help you in your daily walk with Christ, that’s fine. But if you claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the One True Church, don’t expect me to believe you. That’s all.
JACK wrote: “Too often what I see is merely an attack on the EO/Catholic position. (And in this aspect, they can be treated as one because while they differ in certain aspects of ecclesiology no doubt, they share a very unified view of the role of the Church.)”
Note that, for this statement to be true, you have to equivocate with the term “the Church.” Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have mutually exclusive referents for this term.
JACK wrote: “Some see Christ and His Church inextricably linked in one single mission in a very close and intimate way throughout time. Others see Christ and His Church as far more separate and distinct things than that.”
I fall in the former category. But my definition of “His Church” is not the same as yours.



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Scot McKnight

posted August 23, 2007 at 11:58 am


OK folks …
This has been a great conversation because it shows that ecclesiology runs deep but that running has some sharp edges.
I’m asking to watch the tone of disagreement. Converse with another; disagree with one another; but no name-calling or sharp words.



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RJS

posted August 23, 2007 at 12:07 pm


Scott M,
I agree with you – we take the whole family. And true Christians have done evil – many of those who have are our brothers and sisters, part of the church.
But consider the theology of “Church” – I don’t buy the idea that God would ordain a unique institutional Church and that institutional hierarchy and structure would condone and practice corruption and evil – on occasion unspeakable evil – even for a short period.
The conclusion then is that the historic church is the continuing, continuous, and visible presence of those who, individually and in community, believe in the creator God and profess allegiance to Jesus Christ, who honor him as Lord and savior and attempt to live according to the great commands – to Love God with heart, mind, body, and soul, and to love their neighbors as themselves.
Human Institution – no matter what institution – does not equal Church.



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JACK

posted August 23, 2007 at 12:14 pm


Phil,
I’m not sure if my point sunk in. I’m not here to convince you that Catholicism is true. Not my job nor within my ability. This is why I hate debates, because people don’t bother listening to each other. The fact that you have a Protestant in Scott M and a Catholic in me making comments I would hope suggest there’s something here worthy of reflection.
All I am saying is that your position has consequences. Consequences for what you think the Church is and its role and the action of the Holy Spirit within it. You’ve spelled out some of the consequences. You seem comfortable with them. Fine. I think it seems like a comfort gained from convenience versus looking at the hard facts, but whatever. However, it is strikingly unfair to suggest that it accounts for the “details of history” far better than the Catholic or Orthodox view. It doesn’t. It accounts for them in a very different way. One that has consequences. You might ultimately judge those consequences to be not of importance and more reasonable than the consequences that stem from the Catholic or EO view. But at least judge them.
I have to laugh when Protestants tell me how Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have mutually exclusive concepts of the Church. Because it typically comes from those who can recite me facts from a world history book, but can’t speak at all from the experience of the Christian life within the Catholic or Orthodox context. And, without diminishing the clear differences, there really is a deep bond and unity into how we understand life in Christ in the context of the Church.



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JACK

posted August 23, 2007 at 12:23 pm


RJS:
That’s helpful and I certainly understand your position better. And I understand the question that forms that struggle for you of how the Church Christ founded can subsist in any specific church. I don’t quite understand how you reach that position entirely (I know it can be messy, but some clarity on what evils you refer to might be helpful) given human free will and sin. But I get what you are grappling with much better now and why it lends itself to your present conclusion.



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Scott M

posted August 23, 2007 at 12:53 pm


You seem to be using community, individual, and institution in a way that is somehow discrete rather than inextricably intertwined. I can find virtually no concept of individual Christianity in Scripture. That’s not particularly surprising since the ancient world didn’t often phrase concepts and ideas from the hyper-individualistic perspective which we live and breath. Nevertheless, the important concepts in the NT are Kingdom and Church, and the individual only within that context. I think (but am hardly certain) that most people would agree with that.
Similarly, an institution doesn’t actually do anything. People leading it may direct. People following or participating may act. But it is always people who do whatever is done. (For some reason we seem to have a desire to make things less personal. I was in the military and you see that a lot in that context as well.)
I’m also not sure what you have in mind by “hierarchy and structure” that would condone and practice corruption and evil. It is always people who do that. And the “hierarchy and structure” never accomplishes all that much without the participation of those who are members of the institution. You can’t separate the two.
The Orthodox actually have relatively little hierarchy, almost as little as Baptists, actually. There are bishops, priests, deacons, and the faithful (priestly believers). They have other titles, but those are administrative titles that have grown up over the years as the Church grew large enough to need additional administrative support. They are all bishops of a specific church and have only a single bishop’s vote in synod. You also cannot be made a bishop except by two other bishops into a specific congregation and with the consent of the faithful of that congregation. And if they find that the bishop is descending into heresy, the congregation can turn to other bishops or even banish the bishop themselves.
The question then becomes, what is the faith we were given? A Baptist is not the same sort of Christian as a Lutheran as a Roman Catholic as an Anglican as a Pentecostal as an Orthodox as a Methodist … ad nauseum. Some are more like each other than they are like others, but they are all very different and sometimes almost incompatible expressions of Christianity. I don’t really care what label or institution you associate with it. Where is the historical faith still practiced?
If your answer is nowhere, then it can only be considered “continuing” in the very loosest and most abstract or spiritual sense. In other words, there have been people who follow Jesus of Nazareth for two thousand years, but there’s nothing much beyond a handful of shared beliefs which connect them. (And given the resurgence of all the classical heresies, I’m not even sure we can use those as benchmarks anymore. Is the church of T.D. Jakes a Church or not? After all, he’s an unabashed modalist.) Scripture and the creeds then depend on individual interpretation.
Or is there a community in which the historic faith can be found preserved in all its fullness? I don’t actually have an answer to that question myself. But it strikes me that you have to be able to answer that one yes before you can say the Church is historic and continuing in any meaningful way. I do agree with JACK here. Anything else distorts the idea of a continuing historic Church beyond all recognition.



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Scott M

posted August 23, 2007 at 12:58 pm


I realized the above rambled a lot as I worked out my thoughts. The crux of it is really in the last three paragraphs. Sorry for the rambling. Sometimes I think by typing.
And JACK, I wouldn’t say Orthodox and Roman Catholics have mutually exclusive concepts of Church. They just disagree about where the fullness of the life in Christ can be found. ;) (From the little I’ve read and heard, though, it actually is a divide that runs pretty deeply and sharply in a lot of ways. So I try not to make light of it, either.)



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Phil

posted August 23, 2007 at 12:59 pm


JACK,
You wrote: “I’m not sure if my point sunk in. … there’s something here worthy of reflection.”
But you haven’t given any indication that you’ve reflected on anything that I’ve written. Apparently, nothing I’ve written has “sunk in” with you. In fact, you’ve seemingly ignored everything that I’ve posted. Your posts are generic and do not engage with my posts.
You wrote: “I think it seems like a comfort gained from convenience versus looking at the hard facts, but whatever.”
Isn’t your view convenient for you? You haven’t provided any evidence or argument in favour of your position, as far as I can tell.
You wrote: “I have to laugh when Protestants tell me how Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have mutually exclusive concepts of the Church. Because it typically comes from those who can recite me facts from a world history book, but can’t speak at all from the experience of the Christian life within the Catholic or Orthodox context.”
I did not claim that “Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have mutually exclusive concepts of the Church”, so you must not be talking about me. Or, if you think you are, please re-read my post (keywords: “equivocate”; “referent”).
You have experience in the Orthodox Church? I’m willing to bet that I have you beat there.



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Peggy

posted August 23, 2007 at 1:02 pm


RJS,
Agreed. Thank you for consistently bringing the focus back to this foundational point.
I also see this issue as one involving a lack of differentiation between Old Covenant and New Covenant. The Old Covenant Israel was very much “institutionalized” and “physical” in nature. But the New Covenant in Christ Jesus is “spiritual” in nature–God said that in this new covenant he would write his law in the hearts of his people.
The spiritual nature of this New Covenant sees the Holy Spirit “birth” the church at Pentecost in incredible diversity of languages and disperse them back to their homes–not all lived in Jerusalem. The New Covenant manifests itself by lives that are walking in the Spirit and becoming more and more Christlike.
I join those who believe that this can be done without institutionalized culture forming the manifestation. That the Spirit working within those who are striving to be like Christ can do so within every culture and language–and that this can and does result in redeeming cultures as aspects of Kingdom Culture.
God’s Kingdom Culture is not RCC or EO or OO or Reformation or fill-in-the-blank. The simple faith RJS describes can be (and is) worked out in myriad cultures and the truth contained in scripture can be found at the foundation.
Yes, there are always challenges and corrections to be made. But I pray that we don’t just throw out the “unity” baby with the dirty “institutional” bathwater. And in the same way, I pray that we don’t require the “unity” baby to remain in dirth bathwater…letting out the dirty water and cleaning the tub between bathing is important…because any “baby” that is out there exploring and learning and growing up to be like Christ will get into some mud now and again….



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Josh

posted August 23, 2007 at 1:26 pm


Scott M.
I don’t know really what you are getting at but I guess I see your point in orthodoxy. I don’t know what you mean when you say that Christians across the spectrum are only connected by a few doctorines. The Apostle’s Creed is a major connection point between all the denominations and churches you listed. My phystical family is made up of Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Roman Catholics. There are a lot of things we disagree on but we all affirm the Apostle’s Creed and that we should follow Jesus in discipleship.
And when you say “historical faith,” what do you mean? The early church struggled with its identity. Was it a Jewish sect or Jew and Gentile unite under Jesus’ Lordship? The latter won out(and rightfully so). The cognitive doctorines that we now call orthodoxy was worked out as the church reacted to false or wrong sided doctorine that was raised as the church expanded. Harold O.J. Brown’s book Heresies is an excellent book on how doctorine worked out (and the unfortunate misunderstanding of creed that resulted in RCC and an EOC).
“It is proper then not only to be called Christians but also to be Christians”
Ignatius, Magnesians 4.1
I honor Peter, but I am never called a Petrian; also Paul, but I am not called a Paulian. I do not allow myself to be named for human beings, since I have come into being from God. Even so, if you are called a Christian because you accept that he is God, may you be so called and may you remain in the name and in the reality…. The name “Christian” is a very small thing, even if you pride yourself on it. Since you accept that he is God, show your acceptance by your works.
Gregory of Nazianzus
Oration 37:17-18



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RJS

posted August 23, 2007 at 1:36 pm


Scott M,
I think that we have a heritage in the historic church, a tradition of essentials, apparent even in the writings of Paul and the early church fathers. I have been reading quite a lot lately on the development of Christology – devotion to Jesus – in the NT, the early church and on the implied traditional creed, even in the writers of the second and early third century. And I’ve been reading the writings of the ante-Nicene church fathers – everything I can get my hands on. There is a strong historic essential in the church from the earliest times. And there have been heresies, minor and major, from the earliest times.
Modalism denies a very early historic church doctrine – which is a problem. Most churches or denominations don’t – the diversity come from additions to the early historic church doctrine. Some diversity arises in response to human failing and sin, some arises from a human desire for neat absolutes in the absence of unequivocal evidence, and some is simply acceptable diversity of opinion and practice.



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RJS

posted August 23, 2007 at 1:53 pm


Josh – Apostle’s Creed except for the “Descended into Hell” bit – which seems to be something of an “add-on.” How do we interpret this? But now I’ve gone way too far off the topic of this post.



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JACK

posted August 23, 2007 at 2:26 pm


Phil,
You are right, Phil. You did refer to “referents”. Of course the way in which that would have been relevant to what I had written depends on a reading of my comment that entirely focused on the fact that I used a capital “c” for the word church, instead of focusing on the fact that I wasn’t talking about trying to identify whether the Church subsists in Catholicism or EO, but in speaking in the manner in which the Church plays a role in the life of a Christian’s relationship with God (keywords: “role”; “Christian life”). So, if anything, you’ve only proved we are both guilty of not being as attentive to the others words and meaning as we should be.
As for the notion that I am not responding to any of your posts, well, what can I say other than that if you really believe that, why waste your time still responding to mine? Again, I have no interest in a debate. I’m just saying, be willing to acknowledge the consequences of your point of view.
As for experience in the Orthodox Church, I never claimed any. So if you are/were, sure your experience probably trumps mine. But this isn’t a question of number of chits. For the record, my experience of the East comes from the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox that I know and am friends with.
Scott M: Your last comment to me is of course right. As I tried to clarify for Phil, I am more focused when I speak of the deep unity on the way in which the Church plays a role in what it means to live as a Christian and how one grows in the faith, knows Christ, etc. It is in that dimension that I think the two are remarkably close. I did not mean to speak to the question of subsistence.
Which is really my end point. For the average Christian, the real question is this last point about what is the role of the Church in the concreteness of my being a Christian. I frankly find much of the conversation on the rest of it too often runs the lines of “armchair politics”, which just makes one ask: “great, but what does that have to do with you?” So I try not to focus on it as much.



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Josh

posted August 23, 2007 at 2:33 pm


RJS,
Yeah, except the descended into hell piece.
I think this is a reference to 1 Peter 3:18-20 and 2 Pet. 2:4 (also Rev. 20:1-3). In 1 Pet. 3:18-19, Jesus descends to the spirits in prison and “proclaims” or “preaches” to them. Although there are varying interpretations, I think that the spirits are not deceased people but demonic spirits. Jesus comes to them and proclaims victory over death, sin, and hell (cf. the “legion of demons who beg Jesus not to send them into the abyss).
So, I guess one can legitamately repeat the Apostle’s Creed with the descent into hell appendage if it is understood in this manner. Of course, some take this clause and meaning that Jesus went to a literal fiery hell(more Dante like than scriptural) and fiery hell and suffered three days for the sins of the world. What happens here is that some impose the penal substitutionary view of the atonement on an ancient creed (the substitutionary theory was around but not the “penal”). I think that is bad theology and really kind of morbid. I believe a proclamation of victory is behind the clause.



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JACK

posted August 23, 2007 at 2:58 pm


Just to clarify my last paragraph and then I will give it a rest. What I mean is that there are two ways to approach this whole subject, one that is focused on the concrete impact on me and my life of the question and the other is an abstract way that is detached from my life. The latter can be interesting and informative, in an academic way, but it is far inferior to the first.
So when I focuse on the role the Church plays in the life of being a Christian, that’s not to suggest there is an unimportance to the question of subsistence. But instead to just take a baby step. After all, if one doesn’t already have the mentality that I think is shared by EO/Catholics on this method of Christ/role of the Church, then all the more the question of subsistence will probably remain academic or illusive.



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Peggy

posted August 23, 2007 at 3:22 pm


It seems to me that the difference, in the end, is essentially one of “the role the Church plays in the life of being a Christian.” What “role” one agrees to will be foundational to how one views what “being a Christian” is.
The issue of “roles” is not unique to this area…and has caused more than its fair share of difficulties…. ;)
I perceive the “role” of the Church different in that it is not primarily form-based, but inter-relational–that whole perichoretic dance image again. And that is what colors my understanding of the Church–as dancing partners with the Triune God.
Certainly that image can appear simplistic, but I know that for me it is really a matter of being simplex. I have been especially enjoying reading Peterson’s “Eat This Book” in the context of this discussion.



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RJS

posted August 23, 2007 at 5:21 pm


Jack,
Thanks.
In your response to Phil you said “I wasn’t talking about trying to identify whether the Church subsists in Catholicism or EO, but in speaking in the manner in which the Church plays a role in the life of a Christian’s relationship with God (keywords: “role”; “Christian life”).”
I think that we agree on a significant point here – if we move for a moment past the subsistence of the Church in RC, EO, or protestant denominations — or any overarching institutional church.
I could not conceive of being a Christian in isolation. A Christian’s relationship with God requires active and committed relationship with and accountability to the community of believers in general and a local community of believers in particular. The Christian life requires being drawn into this community, sharing sacraments and worship among other things. We are saved through and into the Church. The rampant individualism – exemplified in part by church shopping, church hopping and other practices that devalue the community – in much of American evangelicalism (I can’t really speak to other traditions) is a tragedy.



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vynette

posted August 23, 2007 at 5:28 pm


It is the “assembly of the living God” that is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) not any institution.
The “assembly of the living God” in its corporate sense is invisible: “…Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto me…?” (Isaiah 66:1)
But because every person in whom the Spirit of God dwells is a living stone of the house of God (1 Cor.3:16), this indwelling manifests itself through those to whom Jesus addressed the following words: “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
The “assembly of the living God” is not the later regimented heirachy of those organisations which go by the name of “church” but rather, as the “living stones” of 1 Pet. 2:5 suggests, a fluid, dynamic organism consisting of those new creatures, members of the New Covenant, bonded together by Jesus’ new law of love.
This law of love is the ONLY doctrine preached by Jesus and the apostles. Not a weak, sentimental love but a love which is the sign of a truly great character, the only kind of love whereby it is possible to ‘love your enemies’. It was the outward revelation of this inner depth of character which demonstrated that the Kingdom of God “cometh not with observation…for, lo, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)
Love, by its very nature cannot be confined to any single institution. Nor can it be co-erced. It can only be drawn. It is the individual manifestations of the drawing power of love for God, Jesus, and the rest of humanity that is the “visible” church. Together, they form the “invisible” Kingdom or assembly of God existing since the resurrection.



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Scott M

posted August 23, 2007 at 7:23 pm


RJS, sometimes it sounds like you are saying almost exactly what I’m thinking. Other times it seems that our words and thoughts are simply not connecting — passing each other with no traction on either end. I’ll just let it tumble around indefinitely in the back of my head.
To return to something like the topic, it would seem that Protestantism has demonstrated in a living cauldron what happens when you elevate Scripture above the Church which provides and interprets Scripture for its members. (And I’m thinking here of Paul’s “members of one body” so there is no confusion.) Not only has it fragmented and splintered, but it seems to have recovered and incorporated somewhere or another many of the ancient heresies. I mentioned modalism as one example, but you also find variations of arianism and docetism at least and probably others if you really explore and scratch below the surface. Each of those fragments carries its own interpretation of Scripture. And every time enough adherents disagree over that interpretation, they split off and form yet another fragment. Like the very strange Army commercials they used to have, are we headed to a Church of One? Or has Protestantism effectively arrived at that destination — especially when mixed with the deadly combination of hyper-consumerism and hyper-individualism in America today?



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Bob

posted August 24, 2007 at 10:27 am


My two cents worth: Read Galatians 2. Read I Corinthians 3. Read I Corinthians 12. Whether you’re of Paul or Apollos, whether you withstand Peter to his face, you are part of the church, the current Pope’s views notwithstanding. Whether you’re the hand, foot, ear, or eye, you’re part of the body. Try reading those passages with RCC, EO, OO Mainstream Protestant, Evangelical,or Pentecostal substituted and maybe then you’ll realize how ridiculous and unproductive your bickering appears to many who lurk here.



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Peggy

posted August 24, 2007 at 11:14 am


Bob,
Thanks for the fresh breeze of perspective…



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Brian Berry

posted August 27, 2007 at 1:12 pm


Just wanted to be comment 100 :) I enjoy reading your blog. I went to college and served in a fraternity with Eugene Cho too… it’s nice to see you two connecting. He is an amazing man really.



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