Tonight we continue an examination of the first argument against Catholicism from Geisler and Betancourt which consists of seven points at refuting the quickly emerging episcopal form of Church governance in the early Christian communities.
"Fourth, considering the attacks on Christianity at the time, there was a strong motivation to develop an ecclesiology that would provide a united front against the divergent heretical groups emerging. This motivation is reflected in Irenaeus's emerging episcopal view of church government, a view that, ironically, did achieve a more mature form in Cyprian who himself warned against basing something on tradition, not truth." (p. 10-11)
Again this line of argumentation is really frustrating to rebut since the logic is manifestly circular and falls under it's own weight when closely scrutinized. Firstly - the point that the episcopal government was a "united front against heresy" proves the exact point that Geisler is trying to refute. For our Lord Christ knowing perfectly what would befall the early fledgling Church (namely heretical and schismatics attacks from all sides) promised to guard the Church both in her infancy and throughout, συντελειας του αιωνος, as Matthew makes clear (28:20). In fact in this Matthean text Christ in a context of doctrinal transmission and education, "διδασκοντες...τηρειν παντα...ενετειλαμην" makes clear He will remain with the Church during the course of this doctrinal codification. During the difficult times of debate and discussion, Christ being Lord of the Church remains with us, steadily guiding us as has been readily apparent throughout the Catholic Councils such as Ephesus, Chalcedon, Nicea, etc. This very point is made in Matthew as well (18:18-20). Not only Matthew but the Apostle John is privy to this (John 16:13). However in John's Gospel it is the Holy Spirit who guides the early Church into all understanding. We will be guided into αληθεια παση it is promised. Protestant NT scholar Craig Keener in his massive commentary on John makes the following notations on the meaning of the Johannine text,
"Since Jesus as the agent of the Father is wholly to be trusted and to repudiate Jesus is to repudiate the one who sent him, to repudiate the Spirit's representation of Jesus is to repudiate Jesus himself. In other words, the Spirit is viewed as the agent of Jesus active in and through the community." The Gospel Of John. V.2, p. 1039.
What is clear is that John is unmistakably claiming guardianship of the early Church by the Holy Spirit into doctrinal truth. (For in depth defenses that John is specifically speaking about guardianship on Church doctrinal decisions, see for example L. J. Lutkemeyer, "The Role of the Paraclete: Jn 16:7-15." CBQ 8; H. B. Swete, The Last Discourse and Prayer of Our Lord: A Study of St. John XIV.-XVII.)
Evangelical commentator D. A. Carson in his entry on John in the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series is as always a model of sober exegesis and clear thinking. After rejecting a strict futuristic interpretation of τα ερχομενα (as referring to eschatological events in the future) and also rejecting a wholly marginal interpretation that holds that these revelatory events only had to do with things that the Apostles were to experience in the first century, Carson remarks,
"what is yet to come refers to all that transpires in consequence of the pivotal revelation bound up with Jesus' person, ministry, death. resurrection and exaltation. This includes the Paraclete's own witness to Jesus, his ministry to the world (16:8-11) primarily through the church (15:26, 27)...under the inbreaking kingdom, up to and including the consummation." (p. 540)
Hence it is clear that the promises given to us by the Triune God in the New Testament concerning doctrinal protection for the Church remain strong, clear and valid. Geisler to his own folly thinks this is a drawback but on the contrary, the Church was unanimous in it's consideration of an episcopal system of Church government for it's own protection, surely taking the promises of the New Testament seriously, it is easy to understand why God would protect His Church in this way. Geisler is further confused when he says that this emerging episcopal view of church government was "Irenaeus' view" and that it "matured" in Cyprian and that in fact Cyprian himself warned us not to base things on tradition but rather truth. The episcopalian understanding was not a construct of Irenaeus' imagination but it is a verifiable fact that earlier fathers held and defended it (such as Ignatius and Clement of Rome). It did not mature with Cyprian at all but was already mature and stable as early as the first century as the letters of Ignatius make clear. The final assertion that Cyprian warned against tradition is simply absurd and I have shown Cyprian's true understanding of Tradition (one in line and uniformity with the patristic fathers en toto) in part 2 of my review of Geisler's book.
In conclusion we have seen that yet again Geisler and Betancourt are far from hitting their mark. On the flipside, a well written and deep philosophical treatise on the weaknesses of Protestantism is The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism, by Louis Bouyer.