Family Resemblance [1]

Ciao il Lazio Italia! Benvenuto!
You know: so what? A week ago, I was complaining that internet apologetics leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it’s like a sandwich with only condiment, or maybe it’s a sandwich which is all meat and no bread or veggies – it’s half the work, half the example we need to give and therefore not really all that great.

So now I jump in with both feet to internet apologetics focused on a group which is high-profile, and who already holds me in ill-repute, having been banned by Envoy forums and having been placed in Dave Armstrong’s Museum of Anti-Catholic villainy for pointing out to him that the term “anti-Catholic” is a term which denotes sociological bigotry and not merely Protestant dissent and rejection of Rome as a valid church. How’s that not going to leave the same bad taste – especially given the topic which can be rightly rebutted by the avid Catholic advocate, “dude: Rome never once openly rejects the Trinity. You’re full of it”?

Here’s why this is important: this discussion goes directly to the matter of where authority comes from. That’s the top-of-mind issue today for many non-Catholics who look at Rome and ask ahistorical, acontextual questions like, “if I were in church 1500 years ago, where would I be?” It seems to them that because some questions were not (and perhaps could not be) asked until about the 14th century, that Rome is itself a long-standing authority, a long-standing institution, and must therefore have something which (for example) Zwingli-ist Baptists don’t.

That concern gets raised to the highest levels when, for example, the question of whither the Bible is raised. I mean: isn’t the trump card of Catholic apologetics the affirmation that the church assembled and then ultimately canonized the Scriptures, thereby making the Bible a function of Magisterial authority and the right-minded office of the church to teach what God has ordained? I mean: how’s a Baptist supposed to overcome that example – with the Trail of Blood? It seems like it’s the end of the line for any Protestant when it comes down to authority – it’s some kind of unanswerable question. At least, that’s how those who turn up in Catholic apologetics frame it – nobody could answer my questions about authority and why it seems Protestants don’t have any, so I had to follow my conscience to Rome.

So there’s this problem that seems ridiculously common – people who are not Catholics find themselves faced with the most basic claims of Catholicism, and they don’t have any answers. And in the lack of answers, they think they have a logical or spiritual obligation to do what the guy who says he has authority tells him to do.

Well: OK. So where do we start, especially using the ground rules which we have adopted from Dr. Piper’s DGM? I’d like to start at a place where we can talk about Scripture – and one passage of Scripture in particular – in the way which Scripture presents itself.

So, for example, when Scripture says something like this: ):

    You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

    And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you--with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant--and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you, for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God, lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
We can read this and even though it is a somewhat difficult text we can get something out of it which is meaningful.

Let me be somewhat bold about something: the average Catholic and the average Baptist have the same basic problem – that is, there’s nobody reading the Bible to them and telling them what it means. There’s a lot of chatter elsewhere in the bandwidth about the “liturgical” context of Scripture and how that’s the proper basis for developing a hermeneutic, but frankly that idea has the massive problem that not one of the books of the NT was written for the primary purpose of being read during the liturgy. And even if that objection can be overcome, this view of Scripture has the problem of reconciling passages like Deu 6 or Psa 119 which both imply and demand that people read, memorize, and consider the Scripture at all times and not compartmentalize Scripture to some liturgical event.

But in that, the problem that people do not have someone educating them about the Scripture is rather large. For the Protestant, it’s large because that’s a rather central part of the reason we are not Catholics, historically. Sola Scriptura was (and is) a precept which says, in effect, that man does not live by bread alone (speaking of liturgical implications) but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. We should have more concern about what Scripture does say so that when someone comes around with something Scripture doesn’t say, we can at least post-up the first line of defense against error.

For the Catholic, this problem is large because it’s what the Magisterium is allegedly supposed to be doing. If we lay aside (for the moment) the issue of whether the Magisterium is itself the mouth of God, there’s this huge book God has given for the equipping of the faithful, and it appears that Rome doesn’t have any authoritative affirmations about that book. For example, there’s Genesis 1 and the matter of Creation. Without any question, the Catholic affirms – every Sunday – that God created the Heavens and the Earth, right? We believe in one God, the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth, of all that is seen and unseen. But can the Catholic read Genesis 1 and say, “The church has taught me, without any room to doubt it, that Genesis 1 is about the creation of the world by God”?

The answer is “no”. There are no infallible teachings to that matter – so the Catholic may read Genesis 1, and may, by his own power and learning, come to the conclusion that Gen 1 is about how God created the Heavens and the Earth, but that’s not an infallible belief: that’s a fallible belief. A homily this Sunday doesn’t fix that, either: only the Magisterium or the Pope may address the issue infallibly, and if they don’t, the Catholic has to muddle through as best he can until they do.

And I say that to say this: the authority problem cuts both ways, if it makes a cut at all. If it is required that there is some human person who can clear a matter up by means of his position or office, the Protestant is somewhat hung as he is without such a fellow, and the Catholic seems to have a guy who might have such an office but refuses to use it in that way.

So the question of human authority cannot decide for us what a passages of Scripture says. But it also seems, as we look at Deu 6 or Psa 119, that this question is not in the mind of the writers of Scripture. They escape the question by framing the matter in a significantly-different way.

You know – Deu 6 says what is says (above). Think about that: God is here issuing the Mosaic law, with its priesthood and its sacrifices, and the command to all of Israel is not, “and since I tell the priests special things, listen to them first”, but “these words that I command you today shall be on your heart”. Use all manner of means to never forget them – because in the good times ahead, you will be prone to forget them and turn away from me, God your Savior.

See: it is God’s word which the faithful must cling to – not God’s word interpreted, but what God said. God’s word is what will keep one from turning to idols and abandoning God. And what’s at stake here is whether you will do it for you.

So as we turn to Scripture, and then one group’s affirmation about who God is and how He relates to people, let’s remember that Scripture is given to us for our sake. It glorifies God, and proclaims what He has said, and while it does many things greatly, it instructs us about who God is and how we will know Him.

Anyone who wants to take that off the table is trying to take something precious away from you. If you want them to do that, I can’t stop you. I can only tell you it’s a bad idea.