Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Is Rome the True Church?" p. 3

     So we have shown in part 1 through a faulty exegesis of 3 John 9 that Geisler and Betancourt were far from proving their case that the Apostle John rejected an emerging episcopal system. Furthermore, in part 2 they also failed in (mis)citing Cyprian to cast smoke on the relationship between Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Let us now continue examining the third point (out of seven) that they use to show that the authoritarian papal system was an erroneous cancer that grew into the Church as time unfolded.

"Third, by the mid-second century, almost a century after most apostles had died - they very time that even apocryphal gospels were emerging - the church embraced a more unorthodox authoritarian structure. Indeed, Irenaeus, writing decades after the time of the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas (c. AD 140), spoke of an emerging episcopal form of government. So there was plenty of time for false views to emerge, even among those who were otherwise orthodox." (p. 10)

Again this is poor argumentation and a mistreatment of the historical data. Geisler throws in two references to apocryphal writings for no apparent reason other than to confuse the already confused reader. Surely this tactic is to bring in the idea that the "later" episcopal system was somehow in tandem with the apocryphal and hence unorthodox wings of the Church. But simply saying it (and in this case indirectly saying it) far from proves the point and I simply point the reader to any one of the myriad of responsible works on Patrology or Patristics (even Protestant such as Early Christian Doctrine by J. N. D. Kelly) to prove that the early patristic fathers were uniformly against unorthodox apocryphal writings (such as the Gospel of Thomas) that Geisler cites. 

The second ploy that Geisler attempts is to paint a picture that immense time has now already passed between the pristine time of the Apostles and the later darker time of the first fathers and the nebulous growth of the episcopal system. Again this is nothing new and an old argument that has been used by countless heretical and schismatic groups against the historic position throughout the centuries. What they (and Geisler) fail to mention is the reality that the entire world wide universal Christian Church so quickly adopted this system as coming down from the very Apostles and Christ Himself. All the fathers are unanimous on this episcopal form of Church governance, some even claim that they were inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself in carrying on this form as pristine and apostolic (cf. the Letter's of Ignatius, esp. to the Philadelphians. 7, 1-2). What Geisler fails to mention is the promise of the Holy Spirit that he will guide the early Church into all truth and thus to argue that He led the entire Church astray in such an early and formative stage (that would remain in place for nearly two thousand years) in the very heart of her system (the ecclesiastical governmental form). What Geisler fails to mention is that there is no rival system spoken of at all by the early fathers. There is no Presbyterianism, Congregational, Baptist, or Independent systems held by anyone at all. This is impossible if in fact some early Apostles / Christians would have supported because then there would have been at least some degree of debate and discussion on what was the truest pristine form of Church governance. The fact of the matter is that there is none, all the fathers and early writers are in agreement, the episcopal system is the single system that was handed down by the Apostles and by the Holy Spirit as He illuminated their minds with this reality. 

 None of these deeper issues are even touched upon by Geisler. And again I ask is this a  responsible and a fair presentation of the immense issues that are involved? Absolutely not. Already and at the very start of Geisler's attempt at an expose of Roman Catholicism I am very disappointed. It is clear this small work is not the apex of a Protestant cooperative effort at a clear and sober minded presentation of the issues on Roman Catholicism, for that we will have to continue waiting. In the meanwhile if the reader is interested in a robust but fairer presentation of these particular issues (Church governance in the early Church, which system is the correct one) see, Who Runs the Church? 4 Views on Church Government, published by Zondervan 2004. The episcopal form is presented by the Protestant Anglican Peter Toon who I consider one of the most cogent thinkers of Protestantism of the twentieth century. His philosophical argument is streamline to the extreme - using the clear evidence of history to prove his point. 


George Weis said...

Rick, once again you hit the nail * Bang * on the head!

You are a sledge hammer my friend.

You touch on a point that has it's wriggling roots twisted all around my gray matter. HOW would it be possible that all of these early and obviously orthodox followers of Christ be thinking the EXACT same thing so quickly? Episcopal Church government was everywhere. If what these gents are saying was true, then you would see a church here and there (and increasingly) over time. Instead, we see one bishop referring to another from a far off place... not the next town over so to speak.

It just doesn't add up. Yet, here I stand in the middle. Weird huh?


R. E. Aguirre. said...

Well George it's hard to deny the plain facts of history. Have you got into the writings of John Henry Newman yet? If not I suggest you do. He was a famous Protestant Anglican patristic specialist that wrestled with these exact questions. And after a life time of study converted to Catholicism with the famous words, "To take history seriously is to cease from being a Protestant."

But yes the historical witness especially of the Catholic fathers was a pivotal point that I could not ignore as a Protestant and their quiet and reverential voices is what drove me running out of the last Protestant church I was attending, one that looked more like the inside of a dentist' waiting room than a reverential place of worship.