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A Defense of Apatheism (Sort Of)

NOTE: This autumn I will be presenting a qualified defense of apatheism at a conference. This is a draft of the paper I plan to deliver. It is in response to Jonathan Rauch’s important essay “Let it Be” in which he develops the concept of apatheism.


 
The link between 9/11 and the new atheism is well-established, but that terrible day also spurred another lesser known response to religious zeal. I speak of the apatheist celebrated by Jonathan Rauch in a pithy but very influential 2003 article in Atlantic Monthly simply titled “Let it Be.”1Rauch begins this brief, 994-word essay in memorable fashion by recounting an occasion when he was asked to share his religious views:

“‘I used to call myself an atheist,’ I said, ‘and I still don’t believe in God, but the larger truth is that it has been years since I really cared one way or another. I’m’—that was when it hit me—‘an … apatheist!’”2

And thus was born “apatheism,” a portmanteau of apathy and theism. But what, precisely, does Rauch mean by apatheism? According to what I call the standard reading of this essay, Rauch’s apatheism reflects an ignoble attitude of intellectual laziness, of mere disinterest in matters of religious significance.

While I don’t dispute the fact that some people are becoming increasingly apathetic about religious commitment, in this essay I will focus my efforts on challenging the standard reading of Rauch’s concept of apatheism. Instead, I’ll argue for what I call the charitable reading according to which apatheism reflects an admirable attempt to chasten the human tendency toward fanaticism as expressed in anti-social behavior such as zealotry, bigotry, and affrontive expressions of proselytism and disputation. When viewed from that perspective, we can see that far from representing an ignoble fall into intellectual sloth, Rauch’s particular brand of apatheism reflects an admirable attempt to constrain public conduct. And for that, it should be respected, if not celebrated.

The Standard Reading

Let’s begin with the standard reading. Several Christian apologists and theologians have interpreted Rauch’s essay as conveying a deeply troubling intellectual apathy toward metaphysical and theological questions. For example, Dinesh D’Souza argues that Rauch’s apatheists “don’t care” whether God exists and that they are, in effect, practical atheists “because their ignorance and indifference amount to a practical rejection of God’s role in the world.”3

While D’Souza makes reference to apatheism only in passing, Douglas Groothuis offers a far more extensive treatment of Rauch’s essay in his book Christian Apologetics. For that reason, I will focus on Groothuis’ treatment to represent the standard reading.

Groothuis says that the apatheist of Rauch’s essay has a “relaxed attitude” toward religion, a “benign indifference” in which one refuses “to become passionate about one’s own beliefs or the beliefs of others.”4 Importantly, Groothuis recognizes that apatheism, like new atheism, is an intentional response to the danger of fanaticism. However, while the new atheists responded to religious fanaticism with their own secular version,5 Rauch’s apatheism targets all fanaticism, whether it be religious or secular. As Groothuis puts it, Rauch is seeking to provide a “tonic to incivility” that exudes the virtue of tolerance.

While Rauch’s apatheist seeks to avoid fanaticism, Groothuis insists that Rauch thereby places “tranquility above truth.” In short, Rauch’s misbegotten pursuit of civility is only secured at the cost of setting aside a swath of theological, metaphysical, and ethical questions. And this attitude, so Groothuis says, “is antithetical to the teaching of all religions and sound philosophy: that we should care about our convictions and put them into practice consistently.”6 In short, Groothuis charges Rauch with a toxic attitude which dissolves into a fundamentally anti-Christian intellectual sloth.7

The real cost of Rauch’s misguided response to dogmatic incivility is a failure to love either God or neighbor. Groothuis makes the point by quoting Rauch’s observation that his Christian friends “betray no sign of caring that I am an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual.” As Groothuis soberly observes, “For the serious Christian, however, an attitude of apathy over the eternal destiny of another human being is not an option.”8

Consequently, though apatheism may be borne out of a noble desire to avoid conflict, it sacrifices the pursuit of truth in the process and thereby becomes a textbook case of a cure that is worse than the disease.

The Charitable Reading

Now we turn to the charitable reading. This reading begins with the point that Groothuis himself makes: namely, that Rauch proposes apatheism as a way to avoid the dangers of fanaticism. It is also important to underscore the point that Rauch’s target is not religious fanaticism, per se. Rather, he targets fervent fanaticism generally, and it can be exemplified in atheistic or secular attitudes as surely as religious ones. As Rauch writes:

the hot-blooded atheist cares as much about religion as does the evangelical Christian, but in the opposite direction. “Secularism” can refer to a simple absence of devoutness, but it more accurately refers to an ACLU-style disapproval of any profession of religion in public life—a disapproval that seems puritanical and quaint to apatheists.9

Thus, Rauch has as little sympathy for the “hot-blooded atheist” as for the fire and brimstone street preacher. Both of these folk need to take an apatheistic chill pill.

At this point, it may help to illustrate the kind of behavior that Rauch is seeking to avoid. And to that end, I’ll briefly summarize two examples of fanaticism or dogmatic incivility, one religious, and the other secular.

We can begin with the religious example. When I was a teenager I was taught that we had to do street evangelism by going out and accosting people with this question: Do you know where you would go if you died tonight? I still remember two young women shaking off our religious invitation with a forceful riposte: “Leave us alone!” My companion, undeterred, followed them down the street calling out with increasing fervency, “But you have to believe!” As for me, I channeled my evangelistic fervor in another direction, by emptying a newspaper box holding copies of the Jehovah’s Witness magazine Awake! and tossing them in a dumpster. If we couldn’t win souls, at least we could prevent the JWs from damning them!10

That’s an example of the kind of behavior that Rauch would like us all to avoid, but as noted above, it is not limited to religious people. Just consider Barbara Ehrenreich’s description of growing up in a fervent secular household:

I was raised in a real strong Secular Humanist family—the kind of folks who’d ground you for a week just for thinking of dating a Unitarian, or worse. Not that they were hard-liners, though. We had over 70 Bibles lying around the house where anyone could browse through them—Gideons my dad had removed from the motel rooms he’d stayed in. And I remember how he gloried in every Gideon he lifted, thinking of all the traveling salesmen whose minds he’d probably saved from dry rot. Looking back, I guess you could say I never really had a choice, what with my parents always preaching, “Think for yourself! Think for yourself!”11

Whether the issue is a Christian wannabe evangelist preaching repentance and destroying JW literature or a secular evangelist preaching freethought and stealing Gideon’s Bibles, the same fanaticism is on display.

We can identify the following disturbing traits in these cases. First, both teen Randal and Mr. Ehrenreich exhibited zealotry, the expression of excessive zeal in their beliefs. Second, this zeal expressed itself in bigotry, an intolerance toward the beliefs of others, particularly evident in the effort to censor alternative views (Awake! Magazine, the Gideon’s Bibles). And finally, both exhibited an affrontive style of proselytism and disputation whether it was teen Randal accosting people in the street with the threat of hell or Mr. Ehrenreich always preaching “Think for yourself!” (One can only imagine the fireworks if young Barbara had actually dared to think for herself by embracing religion.)

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the target of such fanatical behavior is not limited to members of an outgroup, for it can equally target in-group members. Indeed, sometimes the pursuit of group purity encourages an even more rigorous enforcement of group solidarity. Witness the irenic Philip Melanchthon who, late in life, sadly commented that he welcomed his impending death so that he might “escape ‘the rage of the theologians.’”12

Like Rauch, I applaud the move away from this kind of in-your-face fanaticism, whether it be religious or secular. And this brings me to the second point: Rauch’s apatheism is not simply a matter of becoming lazy about religious belief. Rather, it represents a determined commitment to chasten our own innate impulses toward fanatical zealotry, bigotry, and affrontive proselytism or disputation.

We’ve all heard the maxim “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company” and we all know why. Religion and politics are topics which are uniquely able to inflame passion and stoke division. And because human beings have a tendency toward conflict in these areas, this is precisely why Rauch proposes we determine to guard ourselves against a lapse into overly zealous, potentially intolerant, and excessively aggressive behavior. Rauch puts the point like this: “it is the product of a determined cultural effort to discipline the religious mindset, and often of an equally determined personal effort to master the spiritual passions. It is not a lapse. It is an achievement.”13 This is a crucial point: Rauch’s apatheism, this chastening of our radical tendencies, is not mere laziness or sloth: rather, it is an earnest discipline.

Consider an example from that other incendiary field: politics. A married couple, Steve and Darlene, are traveling to the house of Steve’s parents for Thanksgiving just after the 2016 presidential election. While both Steve and Darlene campaigned for Hillary Clinton, Steve’s dad voted for Trump. As they drive, Darlene coaches Steve not to get into an argument with his dad about the president-elect: “Don’t take the bait, Steve. I don’t care if your dad wears his MAGA hat all through dinner. I forbid you to talk politics. You need to control yourself!”

The same advice that Darlene gives to Steve to avoid an incendiary topic and with it the risk of lapsing into fanatical behavior could likewise be given to the religious devotee with similar inclinations. Insofar as you have a tendency toward dogmatic zeal, bigotry, or affrontive proselytism or disputation, you should simply avoid these topics. This is not laziness. It is, rather, a careful discipline.

Finally, let’s turn to consider what Rauch says about Christians who are apatheists. This is a particularly important point because while some of Rauch’s statements here might appear especially damning, when read with the appropriate nuance I propose that they actually reveal admirable exercises of wisdom fully congruent with love of God and neighbor.

Here’s how Rauch describes apatheistic Christians: “Most of these people believe in God …; they just don’t care much about him.”14 This lack of care apparently extends to one’s neighbor as well. Rauch continues:

“I have Christian friends who organize their lives around an intense and personal relationship with God, but who betray no sign of caring that I am an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual. They are exponents, at least, of the second, more important part of apatheism: the part that doesn’t mind what other people think about God.”15

Even if what I’ve said thus far about Rauch’s apatheism is true – that is, even if it largely consists of an admirable determination to constrain the tendency toward fanaticism on incendiary topics – surely at least this attitude is problematic, is it not? After all, a Christian is called to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves. But Rauch appears to describe quite the opposite attitude with Christians who don’t particularly care about God orother people.

However, it seems to me that a closer reading of Rauch can defend him against this charge. While Rauch says that apatheistic Christians “just don’t care much” about God, he immediately adds that he knows many apatheistic Christians who “organize their lives around an intense and personal relationship with God”. This presents us with a puzzle: how can it be that they don’t care about God if they organize their lives around an intense and personal relationship with him?

The answer, I would suggest, is that Rauch is using “care” in a very particular way with respect to public expressions of religious fanaticism. In other words, “care” is understood here to consist of visible displays of devotion and piety. But it should be clear to any Christian that such visible actions do not thereby constitute a truly devotional life; indeed, they may even run counter to it. For example, when Jesus instructs on the discipline on prayer he advises his listeners to pursue private devotion rather than grandiose, public displays (Mt 6:5-6). Thus, so-called publicly visible care has little to do with one’s fulsome love of God.

Fair enough, but what about the fact that Rauch says his own Christian friends “betray no sign of caring” that he is “an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual”? Once again, we need to keep in mind Rauch’s very particular understanding of “caring.” These Christians may not “care” in the sense of engaging in public and visible displays whereby they confront and condemn Rauch’s beliefs and actions. But that hardly entails that they do not truly care about their non-Christian brother. Indeed, for all we (or Rauch) know, they may pray for him for hours a day.

Further, keep in mind that Rauch knows these individuals have deeply devout Christian faith. Their religion is no secret to him. Furthermore, it would presumably be commonly understood between parties that if Rauch had any questions about their faith, he’d be more than welcome to ask. We can assume that the door is open for further conversation, should he be interested. With that in mind, this essay gives no hint at present that Rauch is interested. So it should not surprise us that his friends have opted not to broach the subject at this time. Rather, they are simply sharing life together with their non-Christian friend while being sure not to repel him with off-putting displays of zeal, bigotry, or affrontive proselytism or disputation.

To be sure, you may not agree with the behavior of these apatheistic Christians or with the reasoning I’ve imputed to them. You may instead prefer the Christian to adopt a more confrontational expression of care toward the non-Christian. Even so, it still seems to me that the behavior Rauch describes is fully consistent with love of God and neighbor.

Conclusion

In this paper, I’ve sought to argue that the standard reading of Rauch’s apatheism is incorrect. Far from advocating for an ignoble intellectual sloth, Rauch instead makes an important point about chastening our own tendency toward radicalism. Within that context, he also offers a more balanced conception of devotional commitment to God and neighbor, one which is centered on the interior life rather than external, visible displays of piety and devotion.

Having said all that, I do want to extend an important olive branch to the standard reading. While I admire Rauch’s proposed discipline of chastening fanatical impulses, it does seem to me that his own present disposition is not a matter of exercising a discipline but rather of simply not caring. Indeed, that’s precisely what he says: “it has been years since I really cared one way or another.”

In short, it appears to me that “Let it Be” begins with one definition of apatheism – the state of not caring about the truth of religious or metaphysical questions – before Rauch then segues to a second definition of apatheism, one which describes the discipline of chastening fanatical impulses.

Thus, it would appear that the standard reading gets Rauch’s own disposition correct. Where it goes awry is in failing to recognize that Rauch conflates his own disinterest in religious and metaphysical questions with the principled chastening of fanatical impulses that he focuses on for the bulk of the essay. Given that these are, in fact, very different topics, we should ask how we might best disambiguate this unfortunate conflation. In response, I propose that we continue to use the term “apatheism” to refer to the sense described by the standard reading and exemplified by Rauch’s own religious disinterest. Meanwhile, we could refer to the latter concept of self-control with the Greek term enkrateia, a word that philosophers like Plato used to refer to an internal wisdom and self-control over the exercise of one’s passions. But one thing is clear: it is deeply misleading to refer to the latter attitude as apatheism.

Notes:

  1. Rauch, “Let it Be,” The Atlantic (May 2003), https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2003/05/let-it-be/302726/
  2. Rauch, “Let it Be.”
  3. What’s So Great About Christianity p. 24. While D’Souza doesn’t reference Rauch here, he does refer to him on page 36.
  4. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith(Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 150.
  5. See Randal Rauser, You’re not as Crazy as I Think: Dialogue in a World of Loud Voices and Hardened Opinions (Colorado Springs, CO: Biblica, 2011), 63-70.
  6. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 151.
  7. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 150-52.
  8. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 151.
  9. Rauch, “Let it Be.”
  10. For all the gory details, see What’s So Confusing About Grace? (Canada: Two Cup Press, 2017), chapter 7.
  11. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Give Me That New-Time Religion,” Mother Jones (June/July 1987), 60.
  12. Williston Walker with Richard A. Norris, David W. Lotz, and Robert T. Handy, A History of the Christian Church, 4th ed. (New York: Scribner, 1918, 1985), 528.
  13. Rauch, “Let it Be.”
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
Dr. Randal Rauser

Written by

Dr. Randal Rauser is Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary where he has taught since 2003. He is the author of many books including What on Earth do we Know About Heaven? (Baker, 2013); The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails (InterVarsity, 2012); Is the Atheist My Neighbor? (Cascade, 2015); An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar: Talking about God, the Universe, and Everything (Prometheus Books, 2016); and his most recent book, What's So Confusing About Grace? (Two Cup Press, 2017)"Randal also blogs and podcasts at RandalRauser.com and lectures widely on Christian worldview and apologetics.

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  • OMG

    When a person has something good to share, there is something to be said for spontaneous exuberance, less to be said for self-censorship.

  • David Nickol

    It is interesting to me that the two standard examples of topics not to discuss at family gatherings are politics and religion. What is it they have in common that make discussions of them so dangerous?

    • SpokenMind

      My guess is, people are passionate about religion and politics because they believe both have a significant impact on their lives and those around them.

    • They're important, so leave them to the experts aka your betters.

      • Martin Zeichner

        Hi Luke, How are you doing?

        your betters.

        I hope that you mean that, at least partially, ironically.

        I would remind you about our discussions about egalitarianism.

        Also "No man is good enough to be another's master"

        - William Morris.

        A quotation that I picked up from reading 'Heartbreak House' by George Bernard Shaw.

        Which, through Morris' social activism might have contributed to the eradication of slavery in the US.

        Also "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we study histories." My own paraphrase (with an imperfect rhyme) of a quote from Walter Scott by way of Macbeth by W.Shakespeare. Note the iambs

        I also recall something about having many influences.

        • I'm doing alright, thanks for asking. My comment was not meant literally, but it was meant to be somewhat complex. The less disciplined a group of people is and the less they wish to take responsibility for their actions, the more they need to be taken care of and obey. You see this in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8. Cries for a strongman leader also fall into this category; they are like cries for a political messiah instead of a spiritual messiah. Those who aren't actually going to implement anything in reality based on dinner conversations of politics and religion might actually not benefit from such conversations. That all being said, I suspect most of my readers live in America, where the push toward self-government is still strong, if waning.

    • It is not just family gatherings. In fact, the internet is often the only place people feel comfortable to discuss these matters. We have so much uncharitable discussion that leads to a lot of bad feelings and very little good thinking. People have deeply held world views that are held for reasons that are less rational than they suppose. So rational scrutiny that does not go well often leads to ad hominem arguments.

      I blame the reformation. Since then we have had no societal consensus on religion. We have created ways of making ourselves certain about our world views. World views require certainty. Yet these ways depend on opposing views not being voiced well. I know how shocked I was when I realized my certainty about the Reformed faith was dependent on not really contemplating opposing views.

      • I'm a little confused; if there is "societal consensus on religion", then how can it simultaneously be the case that "opposing views [are] being voiced well"? How often were opposing views burned at the stake? Was Martin Luther right to fear for his life? (I note that the Magisterial Protestants continued the tradition of persecuting 'heretics', including John Calvin's refusal to utterly stand against Michael Servetus being burned.)

        • Opposing views did happen. Yes there were heretics that we’re burned at the stake. Yet not every opinion was treated that way. Just when heresies became disruptive to society. Yes, they still should have handled those situations better but there was a lot of productive theology being discussed. Expressing a dissenting political opinion would get you executed a lot quicker that a dissenting theology. Luther is a good example. How extreme did his heresy need to get before he feared for his life?

          The point is western has not really worked since the reformation. We have tried expressing differences and it led to brutal wars. We tried not talking about our differences and it led to doctrinal indifference and that has led to atheism. We have done the opposite of John 17 where our lack of unity has produced a lack of faith. So yes, if we would embrace God’s truth communicated through his Church then Christianity would be workable again. We could have family discussions about God and we could build great societies.

          • I struggle with the idea that Jesus would ever approve of executing a heretic. Would Paul? I thought the former said that living by the sword means dying by the sword and that the latter said the battle we fight is not one of flesh and blood.

            Are you sure that the Reformation itself is the best point to pick wrt the breakdown of consensus/​godly dealing with heretics? I'm always reticent to believe those who argue, "If only everyone did things our way, things would be so much better!" And yet, you seem awfully close to that when you say "embrace God’s truth communicated through his Church".

          • It does seem convenient but remember I was raised Protestant. So I came to this conclusion only after looking far and wide for another coherent position to take. Yes, once you become certain you become very certain. Still it makes sense that we need to show the world unity and truth. Without it we just ask people to make an ad hoc commitment to one of many forms of Christianity. Then we ask them to bet their life that that choice is right. If Jesus is God He would leave us something better. If Catholicism is true it is a truth worthy of a Devine Jesus.

          • I'm not sure why the only alternative is "an ad hoc commitment to one of many forms of Christianity". I look at all the options, apply Jesus' command to judge trees by their fruits, and find them all severely wanting. This is confusing, because ostensibly God has infinite power and goodness on offer to us. The idea that if only more people would submit to the Magisterium then tremendous good fruit would become obviously manifest seems decreasingly plausible as the years pass. The same applies for any de facto Protestant magisterium.

            Now, I realize that I'm pushing away from the kind of centralization we see in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8. But don't we see decentralization in Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32? Or how about the "until" in Eph 4:13? For society to exist there must be order and this order can be imposed more from within or more from without. When Jesus came as a spiritual but not political messiah, did he not thoroughly demonstrate that bondage comes primarily from within instead of without?

            Perhaps I have by now raised the worry of [lawless] anarchy. If so, I suggest a study of the above passages and related, to see whether there exists a deep-seated belief that the only way to order society is to "lord it over each other as the Gentiles do". Of course we can always want to be nicer, but if in fact "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" end up being appropriate descriptions of what actually happens, then Mt 20:20–28 would seem to apply. God never said his way was easy, just that it was worth the cost.

          • I actually think the legitimacy of the Magisterium becomes more obvious as years pass. Protestantism starts to disagree about more and more basic issues. Catholicism remains true to the faith. Jesus never commanded us to judge churches. He said he would build one church. He has.

            Eph 4 is interesting. Eph 4:14 seems to describe the Protestant world to a T. Eph 4:13 talks about unity and knowledge. Not sure how you can see Protestantism as having either.

            I get what you are doing. The only way you can make sense of Sola Scriptura is to ignore the fact that so many other people are doing it and arriving at different places than you. Then your opinion can just be assumed to be more or less the same as God's truth. I was there for many years and you can make it work if you stick to like minded fellowships.

            I am not sure why Mt 20:20-28 would apply. It really addresses how authority should work. It does not really address who. If anything, bishops are well positioned to hold pastors accountable to be servant leaders. Protestant leaders are often accountable to nobody. That is a bigger problem in recent years with the rise of non-denominational churches. My brother and sister are pastors as well as my father. In one generation the personal power of the pastor has increased hugely. My father was accountable to his peers and to the larger denomination. My siblings are pretty much lone rangers. They preach their own doctrine and write their own rules in a way that just did not happen a generation ago.

          • I do not see what I've said which logically leads to thinking that "[my] opinion can just be assumed to be more or less the same as God's truth". I'm not at all suggesting that I can be my own Magisterium! I thought I made that clear. :-/

            Instead, I do not see any group of Christians organized around a de jure or de facto Magisterium manifesting the kind of awesome power and endless goodness that I expect God to have on offer to his creation. Nor do the reasons why there isn't more I see on offer from any of them convincing. Yes Jesus could do no great work in his home town where there was no faith, but he did some pretty amazing things elsewhere. I'm not asking for fireworks; we have plenty of real problems. Perhaps the best diagnosis I've seen is that 'canopy' about which Josef Pieper spoke. That seems to apply to Christians of all kinds.

            You say "Jesus never commanded us to judge churches"; but what was Matthew 23 other than Jesus judging the closest thing to a church which actually existed for him to judge? So much of the OT consists of God's prophets criticizing the religious and political elite. Why are those bits exempt from Paul's 1 Cor 10:1–13? The idea that the gates of hades will not prevail against the church can take on a rather different meaning if one recalls that we worship a God "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist".

            As to authority, you seem to be advocating a false dichotomy. A single Magisterium/​hierarchy of authority and pure [lawless] anarchy are not the only options for responsibility when it comes to pastors. Indeed, what we are seeing more and more clearly is that both of those options are prone to incredible weakness and devastating harm to "the least of these". Perhaps God never designed things to operate this way—perhaps Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 were unwelcome deviations from his plan. But to have something else, I'll bet you would need to actually do Mt 20:20–28. That is: too much deviation from servanthood by the leaders is an indication of something deeply, deeply wrong—not just standard human frailty.

          • It is more what you did not say that leads one to such ideas. Nobody declares themselves to be their own magisterium. They end up there because that is the default for those who do not address the question. Likewise, nobody explicitly assumes God's opinion is the same as theirs. They just don't think very hard about how their system could work in the case it was different.

            If you have an opinion and you have a way of interpreting scripture that fits with that opinion and you have a church community that agrees with that opinion then how can God tell you it is wrong? One answer is to assume the Holy Spirit would never let that happen. Yet if you look around you can find Christians who you believe are wrong and have all of that. If the Sola Scriptura system worked the Holy Spirit should produce a consensus among all serious bible Christians. No such consensus exists. So the only conclusion to draw is people are not arriving at truth using this method. They are arriving at certainty. Many believe strongly they are right about faith and morals. Yet they are wrong. Can you believe you are immune from such self-deception? Sure. It is remarkably easy to believe that. I know. I did it for quite some time.

            Matthew 23 is interesting. Jesus judges the Pharisees for sure. Yet how does it start?

            Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

            So Jesus is affirming the legitimacy of the corrupt leaders. He says obey them. Obey them because of the office they hold. What else is Moses' seat but an office? So Jesus is being very Catholic in Matt 23. Accept the leaders God gives you, good or bad. The legitimacy of the office and the holiness of the office-bearers are separate questions.

            I shall return and address the servant leadership thing later. This is already long enough.

          • They just don't think very hard about how their system could work in the case it was different.

            Well, "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" is rather different from "everyone submit to the [human] authority". (Even Moses didn't always submit to YHWH—Ex 32:9–14, Num 14:11–20, and Num 16:19–23. He sure took YHWH seriously, though.)

            If you have an opinion and you have a way of interpreting scripture that fits with that opinion and you have a church community that agrees with that opinion then how can God tell you it is wrong?

            I can do the Martin Luther thing and figure out that rigorous obedience to the current understanding leads to bad places. I can discuss with those outside my church community like I'm doing right now with you. God could send me a dream. I could read some scripture and realize that it just doesn't make sense within present understanding. I'm quite content to not have all the answers and even be quite wrong in some ways which God will correct in due time.

            If the Sola Scriptura system worked the Holy Spirit should produce a consensus among all serious bible Christians.

            If you expect the Holy Spirit to produce perfect unity, then why couldn't the Holy Spirit produce perfect obedience? I question the implicit idea of what the Holy Spirit would first produce in the process of perfecting Jesus' disciples. Perhaps God will prevent unity as long as the thing that would be unified would not properly attest to him.

            So Jesus is affirming the legitimacy of the corrupt leaders. He says obey them. Obey them because of the office they hold.

            Jesus is presupposing that the teaching coming from those leaders is correct. "For they preach [what is correct], but do not practice [what is correct]." Suppose, though, that the teaching is actually antithetical to Moses' "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" What then? What if it is assumed that Deut 5:22–33 is permanently in effect, irreversible this side of the eschaton?

          • You do like a lot of false choices. Luther can rigorously obey or he can start his own church. Nothing in between is possible. The Holy See must produce perfect unity and perfect obedience or they have no value at all. The church is a family. You don’t have perfection but it is important to have faithfulness. Bad fathers remain fathers and bad pope’s remain pope.

            As for Matt 23, it is interesting to see how you transform a command to obey into a command to obey if you agree. Jesus did not say obey if you agree. That sort of obedience is meaningless. Jesus just said obey. Yes, it gets hard. The community might take some wrong turns. Still it is what Jesus wants so we are guaranteed to arrive at the correct destination. No Protestant church is guaranteed that. In the end you need to decide whether to count on the promises of Jesus or your own smarts.

          • RG: If you have an opinion and you have a way of interpreting scripture that fits with that opinion and you have a church community that agrees with that opinion then how can God tell you it is wrong?

            LB: I can do the Martin Luther thing and figure out that rigorous obedience to the current understanding leads to bad places. I can …

            RG: You do like a lot of false choices. Luther can rigorously obey or he can start his own church. Nothing in between is possible.

            Woah, that wasn't at all the context of the Luther mention I made. You seemed to think I have necessarily made myself my own Magisterium; I explained how that was incorrect.

            RG: If the Sola Scriptura system worked the Holy Spirit should produce a consensus among all serious bible Christians.

            LB: If you expect the Holy Spirit to produce perfect unity, then why couldn't the Holy Spirit produce perfect obedience? I question the implicit idea of what the Holy Spirit would first produce in the process of perfecting Jesus' disciples. Perhaps God will prevent unity as long as the thing that would be unified would not properly attest to him.

            RG: The Holy See must produce perfect unity and perfect obedience or they have no value at all.

            Yeah, and because that line of argumentation is bogus, your own statement about Sola Scriptura is also bogus.

            Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. (Matthew 23:1–3)

            As for Matt 23, it is interesting to see how you transform a command to obey into a command to obey if you agree.

            I interpret the passage to predicate obedience on two things: (i) sitting on Moses' seat; (ii) preaching. I interpreted it as "preach [what is correct]", on the basis that that is the only way to interpret "do not practice". After all, the Pharisees were practicing quite a few different things. Do you think it didn't matter to Jesus what the Pharisees were preaching—that obedience would be required in any case? That's certainly not how Paul deals with Peter the Rock in Galatia …

          • Woah, that wasn't at all the context of the Luther mention I made. You seemed to think I have necessarily made myself my own Magisterium; I explained how that was incorrect.

            Sure, still that is the point. Luther's situation was complex and nobody thinks he should have just supported Pope Leo X. The question is just how he should have opposed him. Becoming an enemy of the Church of Christ because you disagree/ don't like the current pope is a bad response. Understandable but just wrong.

            The business about leading to bad places is telling. It implies Luther should have been worried about the health of the church. None of us need worry about that. Jesus guarantees that his church will prevail. Our job is to insure we are part of it. Any error in the church is Jesus' problem. We are not competent to fix the church. Luther proved that in spades by leaving Christendom much worse than he found it.

            Yeah, and because that line of argumentation is bogus, your own statement about Sola Scriptura is also bogus.

            Actually no. I was not talking about perfect unity. Just some sort of coherent sense of what makes up the core of the Christian faith. There is no such thing. There is disagreement about basically every doctrine and every liturgical practice. A few decades ago you could argue they at least agreed about morality. That has broken down as well. It is difficult for me to see what this is not fatal to Sola Scriptura. It has been tried and it has failed.

            I interpret the passage to predicate obedience on two things: (i) sitting on Moses' seat; (ii) preaching. I interpreted it as "preach [what is correct]", on the basis that that is the only way to interpret "do not practice". After all, the Pharisees were practicing quite a few different things. Do you think it didn't matter to Jesus what the Pharisees were preaching—that obedience would be required in any case? That's certainly not how Paul deals with Peter the Rock in Galatia …

            I think God kept bad leaders from messing up His covenant community. Jesus knew obedience was the only way a faith community could work. He knew obedience with an "if it is correct" condition was incoherent. Jesus said exactly what he meant.

            Paul criticizes Peter's practice. Who he ate with. He did not deny Peter's solemn teaching. That would have created a schism. So it is instructive on exactly how we should oppose leadership. Be bold but continue to respect the office.

          • I find it problematic to blame so much on Martin Luther when it was the RCC which credibly threatened his life, which drove him to break away. To therefore suggest that the breaking away was solely due to some mere disagreement or dislike is rather outrageous. Can you show me any basis in the NT for executing heretics?

            I'm afraid I just cannot agree that nobody is called to worry about the health of the church (other than Jesus). That makes no sense in the light of Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 being deviations away from God's desired state of affairs (Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32). It makes no sense in the light of Jesus and Paul worrying about the health of the church and urging us to imitate them. It makes no sense in the light of history, where "trust your betters" has not worked. It always ends poorly, like Israel and Judah ended up in exile. The only guarantee I see from Jesus is that death will not have the final say—he can resurrect the church just like he was able to bring a shoot out from a twice-burned stump.

            To the weak Sola Scriptura argument you're making: I can just weaken the minimum required moral standards in the analogous argument. Here's one: "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them." Has this been the nigh-uniform practice of the RCC? What is the value of unity and obedience to authority if incredible darkness is tolerated and not exposed? I'm not saying Protestants are better by the way; instead I suspect that the different groups of Christians around the world have different strengths and weaknesses and if they were to come to the kind of unity God wants, the result would be awesome.

            I think God kept bad leaders from messing up His covenant community.

            Have you read Ezekiel 34, lately?

            Jesus said exactly what he meant.

            The Pharisees were preaching things and they were practicing things. Why does Jesus' use of 'preaching' match that preaching, but his use of 'practice' not match that practicing?

            Paul criticizes Peter's practice. Who he ate with. He did not deny Peter's solemn teaching.

            What? Peter was "forc[ing] the Gentiles to live like Jews". Instead of obeying Peter the Rock, Paul condemned those commands. Those commands of someone with an office only second to Jesus, according to you.

          • I am not sure how many times to explain the same distinctions. We seem to be talking past each other. I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything you say . I just don’t think any of it justifies schism. Different groups of Christians do have different strengths and weaknesses. Yet we are to bring all those strengths together in one body. Sadly, we do not.

            For me, it boils down to one question. Do I want to be close to God? If I do then I should expect to change. Am I OK with that? If the truth of God is different than my favoured doctrines, am I OK with that? If Jesus wants to give Himself to me in the Eucharist, am I OK with that? If Jesus wants to give me his mother to nurture me spiritually, am I OK with that?

            Protestant Christianity keeps God at a safe distance. We can always convince ourselves God does not really mean that. We pick what we want to believe. We can change our image of God rather than changing ourselves. Then we convince ourselves we did the right thing.

            The Protestant church I was raised in is seen as pretty sold. That is it does not change that much that fast. Still it changed enough that my grandparents left it before I did. They left because they wanted the church of 1940. My thought was if going back to 1940 makes sense then why not go back to 1490?

          • David Nickol

            Protestant Christianity keeps God at a safe distance. We can always convince ourselves God does not really mean that. We pick what we want to believe. We can change our image of God rather than changing ourselves. Then we convince ourselves we did the right thing.

            Arrogant, prejudiced, egregiously overgeneralized prattle.

          • I could agree with all of those. Still I do think there is an important truth there none the less. Sola Scriptora allows you the ability to dodge hard truths. Not every protestant does that every time but the temptation is there.

          • David Nickol

            Sola Scriptora allows you the ability to dodge hard truths.

            First, name a few of those hard truths.

            Second, it seems to me that Catholics have no problem at all (individually) dodging hard truths. For example:

            About 39 percent of Catholics reported attending church in any given week, according to data collected between 2014 and 2017 and released Monday. That’s down from 45 percent between 2005 and 2008. And it’s a huge drop from 1955 when Gallup polling reported weekly Mass attendance at 75 percent.

            Even older Catholics, who are typically more religiously committed than younger ones, have stopped going to church as often. For the first time, Gallup found that no more than 49 percent of Catholics in any age group reported attending church in the past week.

            “Given that young Catholics are even less devout, it appears the decline in church attendance will only continue,” wrote Lydia Saad, a senior editor at Gallup.

            I haven't done an exhaustive study, but I think it is safe to say that Evangelical Protestants and Protestants from Historically Black Churches (not to mention Mormons) are more faithful when it comes to church attendance than Catholics, who are just a little bit more faithful churchgoers than Mainline Protestants.

            How many Catholic go to confession? How many obey the prohibition against using contraception?

            It seems to me that many Protestant churches put more stringent demands on their members than Catholics. You seem to imply that if I am, say, an Evangelical Protestant, sola scripture allows me to pick up a Bible and find an excuse not to obey any of the strictures my denomination places on me by "interpreting" the Bible to say what I want it to say. I don't think it works that way at all. I am just beginning to research this, so I cannot fully vouch for this source, but it fits with what I know so far:

            “Sola scriptura” was often understood to mean that only the Bible could be considered important, without the traditional Church exegesis. But in fact, the Reformers did not intend to do away with this tradition nor the centuries of reflection and meditation on the Scripture. Indeed, they knew the works of the Church Fathers well and did not hesitate to quote them, especially Saint Augustine, to support their arguments. For the Reformers, traditional interpretation of the Scriptures was a useful addition but did not have the same authority as the Bible itself.

            “Sola scriptura” did not mean that the Bible was the one and only book worth knowing, but it did have definitive authority. However, it was also necessary to be guided by a sermon in order to interpret it correctly.

            Here's another interesting passage:

            The Reformers rejected allegorical exegesis which was popular at the end of the Middle Ages. For example, the word Jerusalem, allegorically, meant the Church and not the town in Judaea, its literal meaning. It could also stand for the individual or the Kingdom of God. According to the sense given to a particular word, the meaning of the Biblical text could vary considerably. Some allegorical symbolism was very far-removed from the text. The Reformer Zwingli was the first to question the real meaning of the Biblical text. He was influenced by the Humanists in his support of scientific exegesis and the quest for the true, literal meaning of the Scriptures. The principle of “sola scriptura” taught that the historical or literal sense of the text was important, without the allegorical interpretation which many Reformers considered to be dishonest intellectually.

          • Jim the Scott

            @randygritter:disqus

            One hard true is Protestantism has no mechanism for determining the ultimate meaning of Holy Writ.

            As for the behavior of nominal Catholics why are they a factor? For decades I was a nominal Democrat but I almost never voted for Democrats over Republicans except on the local level. So does that make me comparrible to Hillary Clinton whose devotion to the Democrats is more fervent and orthodox? Should we not look at true believers over the nominal? So can I speak for the Democrat Party? I think not. (Obamacare plueez!).

            Also your stats David are questionable & bias. Here is the other side.
            https://www.catholicleague.org/survey-of-catholics-proves-revealing/

            https://www.catholicleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Survey.pdf

            Evengelical Protestant Churches are popular but liberal ones are dying or dead. Traditional Catholic Churches & Conservative parashes tend to thrive. The Eastern Catholic Churches are very popular. For some reason conservative religion thrives and liberal dies. Liberal Protestant winds up being a bunch of Atheists who haven't realized they can sleep in if they want.

            Sola Scriptura (like Scientism) is often a moving target. It is invoked to demand Catholics prove all doctrine & practice by the Bible alone uptil Friday night Bingo or Candy Drives as well a church verments and prayer to Saints but inconsistantly the concept is not itself taught in holy writ. I don't see why I should doubt the Assumption of Our Lady cause it's not explicit in Holy Writ (thought Rev 12 comes close) but I should ignore the fact not one verse in the bible says "Scripture is sufficient".

            Protestants are selective as to what Traditions they will accept or reject and they basically make up their own while claiming in some cases to reject Tradition. Further proof of the irrationality of their religious system.

            It pretty much makes every Christian his own Pope. The only difference between Jerry Falwell vs John Spong is one of degree not essence.

          • You are missing the point. People can always avoid hard truths when they are not worried about logical consistency. If you want to be Catholic and ignore Catholic teaching then you are not serious about your faith. I am starting with the assumption people want to follow God. That is not a safe assumption for everyone but it is for many protestants. Still when it gets hard people struggle. If you have 2 strains of Protestantism teaching contradictory doctrines then you just have to pick one. What do you pick? Often it is the easier one. That can change. Sometimes the easier one is the one you are used to. Sometimes it is the one that the culture is telling you. People are different. You can do what you are comfortable with. What you can't do is follow God. Your system does not allow you to really know which of the options is God's truth. You choose one and tell yourself it is God's truth. Then forget about the fact that you don't really know.

            So your questions about how many Catholics do this or that is really beside the point. Any Catholic can know God's truth when he needs to know it. The answer is either Yes or No or it is not essential. I still have to do with that answer whatever I choose. If others make strange choices that does not effect my choice at all.

            The link is interesting. It misses the error of course. If I was an Arian I would talk about how Arius interpreted the scriptures better than the church. What else will you say.

            On the allegorical exegesis question the reformers were clearly wrong. St Paul used allegorical exegesis in the NT. So how can you say it is bad? The ECF's used it as well including their beloved St Augustine. It is true that allegorical exegesis increases your need for an interpretive authority. The number of potential errors is just way higher. Regular exegesis still has a ton of potential for error but you can see allegorical exegesis would be another level.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            The Reformer Zwingli was the first to question the real meaning of the Biblical text.

            It was also Zwingli who, contra Luther and Calvin, argued that the Eucharist was just a purely symbolic memorial. This willingness to dispense with universally established Christian orthodoxy is reflected well in the theological outcome of "scientific exegesis." Trinitarian/Christological dogma, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc., etc. are all now punctuated with a question mark by any number of theologians.

          • David Nickol

            What really concerns me in these discussions—to the point where I am approaching a decision to withdraw from Strange Notions after participating here for a great many years—is what seems to me to be a attitude by several of the most prominent commenters of personal superiority over Protestants. I naturally expect Catholics to argue against Protestantism, but I don't expect arguments such as the one above (i.e., when Protestants find a teaching burdensome, they can just change to another Protestant sect). That is not really an argument against Protestantism. It is an implied insult to Protestants. Without any data to back it up, it is also just a fantasy. Do Protestants actually switch denominations so they can do as they please and still fool themselves into believing that they are really obeying God?

            It seems to me that Catholics who believe themselves to be in possession of the Truth should consider it as a gift that has not been given to everyone, and should be thankful for possessing it rather than being smug and looking down on Protestants, other Christians, and others of different religions or no religion.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I agree with you. I'm a Catholic but I'm comfortable in Protestant churches that practice liturgical worship. Many of my friends are Protestant, lapsed Catholics, Muslims, Jews, atheists, sbnr, etc. Good people, and some of them are better people than me.

            I hope that you'll continue posting, if not here then somewhere else.

          • OMG

            You may be comfortable, but would you say that you receive the body and blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in Eucharist within a Protestant church?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I have not the slightest intention of leaving the Catholic Church if that's what you're asking.

          • OMG

            I am asking what you understand Communion to be in a Protestant church. I'm asking whether you perceive any difference between Catholic Eucharist and Protestant communion.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Did you see my comment on Zwingli? I understand the eucharistic theologies of the Protestant reformers and how they differ to varying degrees from the traditional orthodox theology of the Eucharist. I've done the reading.

          • OMG

            Do you refer to this statement: "It was also Zwingli who, contra Luther and Calvin, argued that the Eucharist was just a purely symbolic memorial" ?

            Are you suggesting that this statement equates to a Catholic understanding of Eucharist?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I'm suggesting that my statement implies that I've read Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin, and that my reference to "universally established Christian orthodoxy" implies knowledge of patristic teaching on the Eucharist.

          • OMG

            I'm still unclear what you think/believe. The Fathers clearly took Jesus literally in John 5-6 while many Protestant denominations do not. Protestantism also denies the hierarchical Church, the visible Body of Christ, and the ordained apostolic priesthood. Trent addressed those differences. So how does one reconcile Trent with Protestant denial of Trent?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            I believe Catholic teaching.

          • You are absolutely right that Catholics should regard the Truth revealed by God through the Church as a gift and therefore not something that proves they are superior at all. I am sorry if I seemed to you to be conveying personal superiority. That is not my intent.

            I do think the fact that the Protestant system is unworkable is an argument against it's truth for many Christians. It would not be to you because you are atheist. You don't assume that Jesus shepherds His church and should logically do a good job. I did assumed that as a Protestant. I would expect others to do so as well.

            Showing the Protestant system is unworkable is not a personal insult against Protestants. They did not choose the system.

            Take an example. Say woman is pregnant and really wonders if it is at all possible that God might want her to get an abortion. If she is an evangelical, they say No. Why? Because the bible says so. But there is another church down the street that claims the bible does not say so. So who is right?

            If she is a Catholic they still say No. Yet this time is is based on the consistent teaching of the church based on scripture and clarified by the magisterium. The answer is not easy but at least it is clear. God asks you to reject abortion and trust Him.

            The point is she has to make a major life choice based on the answer. If she is not sure it is tempting to make the easier choice. That is not because Protestants are just bad people. It is because life is hard and uncertainty makes it harder. You could say it makes it easier because she has a choice. Yet if Christianity is true and abortion really is wrong it won't be a positive road for her.

            In the Catholic case at least she has the assurance that she is acting in God's will. She has the sacraments and the saints. No guarantees her life will be easy but Jesus is there for her every step of the way,

            I don't choose this example to be insensitive to women. I choose it because I want to show religious truth matters and uncertainty in serious matters is a big deal.

          • David Nickol

            I do think the fact that the Protestant system is unworkable is an argument against it's truth for many Christians. It would not be to you because you are atheist.

            I am not an atheist. I have never been an atheist, and I predict with great confidence that I will never be an atheist. When labels are necessary, I identify as an agnostic, but in truth, if there is a scale with atheism at some point and agnosticism at another, I would no doubt be somewhere in between. Also, in discussing Christianity's relation to Judaism or Catholicism's relation to Protestant, I pretty much assume the basics of the story of Jesus to be true. If Jesus was not God Incarnate (or something very much like that), to discuss Catholicism versus Protestantism is an exercise in history and sociology. I am interested in religion, not sociology.

            You don't assume that Jesus shepherds His church and should logically do a good job.

            Why should Jesus be a more effective shepherd to his followers than Yahweh was to the Israelites?

            Once again, your example of the Protestant woman who contemplates abortion and may switch churches is "anecdotal" in the worst sense—it is an anecdote that you have invented yourself! Is there any data you can cite that Protestants belonging to sects who prohibit X "convert" to sects that permit "X" when they are faced with a difficult choice.

            And keep in mind that there actually is data showing that Catholic women in the US procure abortions at the same rate as American women in general.

            So I don't buy your argument that Protestantism is "unworkable." In general, I would try to avoid dragging the difficult case of abortion into other "hot button" issues, but it might be argued that Catholicism actually makes decisions about abortions easier since one trip to the confessional erases an abortion from the record. Whether that is the case or not, it is clear that in actual practice, being a Catholic is no more of a deterrent to a woman facing a decision about abortion than being a Protestant.

          • The word atheist and the word Catholic are funny. They refer to different levels of belief at different times. I am sorry if I offended you. I should have said non-theist.

            I do think we should expect God to be a more effective shepherd than He was with the Israelites. The new covenant should be greater than the old. Catholics see that. The Eucharist is greater than the pass over and the Holy of Holy's and all the Old Testament sacraments. Infallibility of a sort did exist in the Old Testament with the Urim and the Thummim and the prophets. John seems to associate it with the office of high priest in John 11:49-52 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+11%3A49-52&version=NIV )

            Anyway, Catholicism has all these Old Testament graces being replaced with corresponding and greater New Testament graces. Protestantism denies most of those New Testament graces. So in their version of history the Holy of Holy's goes away and is not replaced with anything. The Levitical priesthood goes away and is not replaced with anything. The leadership of the high priest was another grace they see as disappearing and not being replaced.

          • So in their version of history the Holy of Holy's goes away and is not replaced with anything.

            The Holy of Holies was where YHWH could be most directly experienced. Only the High Priest was allowed in and only once a year during Yom Kippur, if he had undergone the appropriate purification rituals. But at Jesus' death, the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was supernaturally torn in half. Here's what catholic.com says:

            But I think the record of Scripture itself that the Temple veil was torn from top to bottom at the moment of the Son's death is a far more powerful symbol of the Father's "grief." The veil closed off the Holy of Holies, where the God of Israel dwelt. When that veil was ripped away, in a symbolic sense it "exposed" God to the world. That symbolic "exposure," perhaps, was a way of showing all mankind that God chose to be "made vulnerable" by the death of his only-begotten Son. (The Ripping of the Veil)

            Surely the only new Holy of Holies is the individual:

            But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. … Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Corinthians 6:17,19a)

            This was made impossible right after the giving of the Decalogue:

            “These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’ (Deuteronomy 5:22–27)

            It's almost as if this very stubbornness forced YHWH into the Holy of Holies, from which he would emerge when Jesus opened the way for a different kind of union with God, one where seeing the face of God does not result in insta-death. So your claim that the Holy of Holies "is not replaced with anything" appears true only if there is emphasis on 'anything', over against 'anyone'. Surely God's dwelling place got upgraded from 'thing' → 'imago Dei being'?

          • Sure, the presence of Jesus super-cedes the Holy of Holies. The tearing of the veil and all that. I learned it all in Sunday School. In practice, what did that mean? Nothing. Why? Because I had no concept of holiness in the first place. It reduces to just another way of saying Jesus is in your heart which we heard ever week. For Catholics the presence of God in the Eucharist is something real and clearly more powerful and more accessible than the Holy of Holies. More accessible because we don't have to go to Jerusalem. More powerful because we take His presence into out bodies.

            Veils are a good thing. They teach us that we are approaching the sacred. This is why women wear clothes. God gave us the Jews the veil of the Holy of Holies as a gift. He gave us His body under the veil of bread and wine as a greater gift. Removing one and not replacing it with the other does leave you poorer.

          • I first encountered the alleged difference between communion as performed by Protestants and the Eucharist as performed by Catholics when watching a video of Leah Libresco. She rather denigrated Protestant communion, but I believed her that for her, the Catholic Eucharist was much more meaningful. But to what extent is the intensity only in one's head? If one does what Jesus commands and judges the tree by its fruit, does one see a difference between Christians who engage in the different forms of unifying with Christ via ritual? Or can ritual become as empty as words?

            As to veils, I don't see how you can hold your position in the face of the following:

            Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:12–18)

            Genesis 3 tells us that men and women wear clothes because of sin, not because veils/​clothes are good. So the two functions of veils here are to hide glory because it is frightening and to hide corruption because it is disgusting. Surely you are not supporting the continuance of either of these things? (I'm assuming that Adam & Eve's sin manifested visibly, that the spiritual and the bodily hadn't yet been sundered to the extent they are now.)

          • You don't assume that Jesus shepherds His church and should logically do a good job.

            No, I don't assume that Jesus shepherds his church. But I do have some assumptions about what would be the case if he did, and what I observe about Christianity is not consistent with those assumptions.

          • Why is that? You have human leaders who have the freedom to obey or disobey God. So you should not expect perfection. You should expect that the church should survive and grow over the long term. It has. You should expect it to transcend culture. It has. You should expect it to raise up individuals and make them saints. It has. You should expect it to raise the level of society as a whole. It has done that too. Exactly what do you expect from the church that it has not done? Having zero leaders who commit serious sin is never going to happen.

          • You have human leaders who have the freedom to obey or disobey God.

            I see those human leaders disagreeing over practically every detail of what it is entailed by obedience to God. If he is communicating with any of them, we outsiders have no way to know which ones they are.

            You should expect that the church should survive and grow over the long term.

            I have seen plenty of non-Christian religions and other ideologies do just that.

            You should expect it to raise up individuals and make them saints. It has.

            It says it has.

            You should expect it to raise the level of society as a whole. It has done that too.

            Not that I can tell.

            Exactly what do you expect from the church that it has not done? Having zero leaders who commit serious sin is never going to happen.

            I expect people with whom God is communicating to know some things nobody else knows without having to say, "We can't prove it but you must take our word for it."

          • The first point you are getting confused between Catholicism and Christianity as a whole. Christianity, since the reformation, has little agreement on anything. Catholicism has been consistent and developing over time.

            Sure, non-Christian religions might grow for a variety of reasons. Islam stands out as ine that has survived and grown for a long time. So the Catholic Church is not the only religion with some historical pedigree. Still I would contend Islam’s survival is easier to explain in human terms . It is not one institution like the Catholic Church but more of a political/religious ideology.

            The goodness of the saints is out there for any to judge. Still you have to take Catholicism on it’s own terms. You can apply your definition of goodness and they might fall short. How do you know your definition is right? God, through the church, produced men and women who lived the life God described as good, through that same church.

            You don’t see that Catholicism has raised the level of society? You want to go back to the days of Nero? Why do we believe in human rights? Do you think that suddenly became obvious? That idea that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights? Did that come from somewhere?

            I know you would look at many of the Curch’s wonderful teachings on sex, marriage and procreation as a negative but that is also what I would expect. Some truths that are still so great as to be beyond the understanding of many modern people.

            The church does say an deniable proof is not going to happen. That goes back to the freedom thing. God will not force you to believe. Not with violence and not with reason. Still the church goes way beyond just saying take our word for it. Just open yourself up to God’s love and you will be drawn to Him.

          • Take an example. Say woman is pregnant and really wonders if it is at all possible that God might want her to get an abortion. If she is an evangelical, they say No. Why? Because the bible says so. But there is another church down the street that claims the bible does not say so. So who is right?

            Here's some actual data from the Pew Research Center on 2018 US opinions on abortion:


            Religious Affiliation Legal in all/most cases Illegal in all/most cases
            ---------------------------- ----------------------- -------------------------
            White evangelical Protestant 34% 61%
            Catholic 51% 42%
            White mainline Protestant 67% 28%
            Unaffiliated 74% 21%

            What do you make of that?

          • First of all, I think you are intentionally missing the point of the argument. It tells me it is a strong argument when smart guys like you can find no rebuttal and have to change the subject.

            Secondly, I find polling data completely irrelevant when making personal choices. There are a lot of people who call themselves Catholic that should not. More that those who call themselves Protestant and should not. So what?

            Thirdly, I think a lot of Protestants cease to be Protestant on some questions. I saw that in myself as a Protestant. Some questions of doctrine were clear and if you dissented on those you were not really Christian. That was very much like the doctrine of infallibility. The only difference is I had no coherent answer as to how a doctrine got into that category and how could I be sure we had them all right.

          • First of all, I think you are intentionally missing the point of the argument.

            Why do you think it is intentional? Can you demonstrate that to a plausible level of confidence? Because if you cannot, Randy, what you're doing here is rather insulting.

            It tells me it is a strong argument when smart guys like you can find no rebuttal and have to change the subject.

            I would describe the situation differently: you presented a social/​spiritual/​psychological model which may or may not well-match empirical reality. If you are not keenly interested in well-matching, please make that rather clear. For now I'll address an alternative response:

            Secondly, I find polling data completely irrelevant when making personal choices. There are a lot of people who call themselves Catholic that should not. More that those who call themselves Protestant and should not. So what?

            You have not demonstrated that your model is more than a just-so story; at best you can say that we don't know it's false because we haven't distinguished between true and false Catholics. There are some delicate No True Scotsman issues at play. (I don't throw the term around lightly; see my recent explorations over at SO in these two comments if you want to see what I mean by that.) For example, would the RCC be better off without the tithes and political connections of the false Catholics?

            The only difference is I had no coherent answer as to how a doctrine got into that category and how could I be sure we had them all right.

            I see no value in having pleasing answers and apparently coherent systems if they do not yield empirical superiority in the here-and-now. "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power." This is not a Baconian superiority, because as far as I know he saw no place for the kind of spiritual brokenness and bondage which Jesus had to fix first. What I do know is that the Bible tells us at many points about a religious elite which had all the answers and yet was raising disciples to be twice the sons of hell as they were. The only way to see them for what they are is to use some source of judgment external to them. Otherwise, they always tell you a good story about themselves.

          • Dennis Bonnette

            Without respect to any of your other observations in this comment, I would like to point out that your absence from this site would be a great loss to Strange Notions. You provide some of the most intelligent and well-researched comments on the threads. While we disagree, of course, on our most basic positions, I respect the sincerity and value of your comments -- even where I disagree with some points therein.

            Frankly, for an former Catholic, I am intrigued by the diligence with which you research and keep appraised, not only of the Catholic intellectual heritage, but also the most current documents from the Vatican.

            I have had limited time to do any writing myself lately, but I would surely encourage you to continue your participation on Strange Notions.

            I respect your commenting and always take what you say seriously, even if I may disagree with some of your conclusions.

          • What really concerns me in these discussions—to the point where I am approaching a decision to withdraw from Strange Notions after participating here for a great many years—is what seems to me to be a attitude by several of the most prominent commenters of personal superiority over Protestants.

            You've been here rather longer than I have, so perhaps frustration will build up within me like it has within you. But I wonder if the expressed superiority here is all that unusual, compared to a standard deviation nicer than the standard internet norm. Perhaps I just haven't gotten around enough, but excellent discussion sites seem rather rare.

            Perhaps there is an opportunity to bring a 20-ton press of rational and evidential force against the kind of expressed superiority which is irritating you. I'd be happy to throw some effort in that direction (I kind of am elsewhere on this comments section), even if you want to take a step back for a bit because your preferred style is a bit different. This is what YHWH said to Job:

            Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

            “Dress for action like a man;
                I will question you, and you make it known to me.
            Will you even put me in the wrong?
                Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?
            Have you an arm like God,
                and can you thunder with a voice like his?

            “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity;
                clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
            Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
                and look on everyone who is proud and abase him.
            Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low
                and tread down the wicked where they stand.
            Hide them all in the dust together;
                bind their faces in the world below.
            Then will I also acknowledge to you
                that your own right hand can save you.
            (Job 40:6–14)

            There is also the following from Jesus:

            “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33–37)

            I think they pair well. :-]

          • For me, it boils down to one question. Do I want to be close to God?

            Yes, and the two sets of passages I keep citing—Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 + Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32—deal with precisely this issue. The Israelites wanted human mediators between them and YHWH. YHWH allowed this, but the New Covenant hope was that this distance would be eliminated, that the only mediator would be Jesus Christ. Without such access to God, there is no way to know that the Pharisee's practice is not correct, not glorifying to God. Recall that Jesus said the scribes and Pharisees "make [each proselyte] twice as much a child of hell as yourselves". That's the opposite of closeness with God.

            I also expect closeness with God to manifest as some sort of power, taking into account 1 Cor 1:18–31 to understand the term 'power'. Paul writes that "the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." If the Roman Catholic Church really does present the best way to be close to God, then shouldn't one expect that it would have the greatest concentration of this power?

            If I do then I should expect to change. Am I OK with that? If the truth of God is different than my favoured doctrines, am I OK with that?

            My objection isn't to the changing, it's to the idea that the doctrines you're pointing to aren't themselves favored by a group of people. You keep using terminology which hints that God guides the RCC Magisterium while anyone who even smells vaguely of sola scriptura is being "guided" by subjectivity—and I mean by that word what an atheist would mean by sort of spitting it out when talking about religious beliefs. Is it unreasonable for me to expect that "more guidance by God" would result in "better fruit, on average"?

            Protestant Christianity keeps God at a safe distance.

            Apologies, but I've been to Mass in a suburb of SF and God was at plenty of a safe distance, there. In fact, there's a lot of talking during that Mass, which rather offends my Protestant sensibilities. It is hard for me to swallow that this is all countered by the administration of the Eucharist—hard to swallow theologically and via judging tree by fruit.

            My thought was if going back to 1940 makes sense then why not go back to 1490?

            We have gained things and lost things since 1490. One thing we have gained—and only very recently—is that a woman's word is finally becoming as trustworthy as a man's. I speak of #MeToo. I think it is incredibly shameful to Christianity that it wasn't on the forefront of #MeToo.

            I am not sure how many times to explain the same distinctions.

            This is what happens when there is no Magisterium to settle things. :-p On a more serious note, I find it just takes a lot of talking and repetition for people to bridge differences. Sometimes you find that what you believed wasn't as well-founded as you thought. Other times, you find that the differences force you to better articulate what you believe and you end up more confident.

            I just don’t think any of it justifies schism.

            Schism is justified if the other side tries to kill you. (Edict of Worms + Jan Hus)

          • The passages you keep citing are fine descriptions of the way God works in the New Covenant. God does put His Spirit withing us. You just keep asserting that somehow makes the magisterium a bad thing. That is plain silliness. So you think that at Pentecost Peter should have just stood up and said, "You are on your own, I have nothing to teach you. Follow your heart." When in Acts 2:42 we read, "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" that is an indication that the Holy Spirit had failed? That we needed to wait for Luther before the New Covenant would really be operational? That seems bizarre.

            It is very normal to believe people are filled with the Holy Spirit yet still require leadership. Last time I checked every Protestant church has leaders. So the question is not whether to have leaders but rather who should pick our leaders. Should we pick our own or should the church pick them?

            Even the New Testament itself exists because the early church believers needed authoritative teaching from the apostles. Nobody at the time thought it should stop with the death of the last apostle and it did not.

            Does the Roman Catholic church show evidence of God's power? The short answer is Yes. For the past 2000 years the church has done what no human institution could do. It has taught a consistent doctrine. It has produced many amazing saints. It has evangelized nations. It has brought the Christian religion back from the brink of destruction many times. It has done amazing things for women, for education, for science, for human freedom, etc. It has built Western Civilization by the power of God. No protestant church has shown the power of God nearly as clearly as the Catholic church has.

            I am not sure what you mean by the church not being on the forefront of the #MeToo movement. That movement is about secular women learning embracing a little piece of the truth Christianity has been teaching them for centuries. We taught the world that rape was wrong. Then we went further and taught them that marriage was the only place for something as amazing as sex. They are starting to remember the first truth. I pray they start to remember the second. Nicole Kidman made a comment that talking about what life was like in Hollywood when she was 22 is hard because even discussing is seems demeaning to her current marriage. I can understand that.

          • Randy, let it be known that I've long wanted to have a conversation like this with an intellectually-minded Catholic. So no matter when this conversation stops, I very much appreciate having gotten so far. Thank you! I wrote a long response and have saved it, but will start with just my reply to one of your paragraphs. Let me know if you'd like me post the replies to your other points.

            Even the New Testament itself exists because the early church believers needed authoritative teaching from the apostles. Nobody at the time thought it should stop with the death of the last apostle and it did not.

            Of course children require authoritative teaching. My question is whether they stay forever children. Does that "until" in Eph 4:11–16 take place before or after Jesus returns? Might God judge the Church/​church if she fails to sufficiently push members toward that maturity? That's really the judgment that I suspect is falling on the Roman Catholic Church, as well as Protestant churches in America. (I know too little to "suspect" much of any other Christianity.)

            A consistent pattern in the Bible is that sufficient disobedience leads to God retracting his power and sometimes, even his willingness to respond to inquiry. When this happens, the kind of "more obedience" espoused by that disobedient group will necessarily have a fatal error. One is that they know the right path but cannot get themselves to walk it. This might describe the Pharisees in Mt 23:1–4. Another is that they are mistaken about what the right path is and think that better pursuing their path—which is actually wrong—will ultimately turn things around. This describes those in Jeremiah 44:17, who thought that more offerings to the queen of heaven would save them.

            Is it actually true that if only more Catholics were to obey the Magisterium, God would be better glorified and his purposes would be better accomplished? My understanding of the Pharisees in Jesus' time was that they believed something similar: greater obedience among the Jews would lead to freedom from Roman occupation. What if their error was believing that obedience to human authority structures was the end goal? (No matter how much God is claimed to influence those human authority structures.) What Jesus says in the next section of Mt 23 supports my hypothesis:

            They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Mt 23:5–12)

            If we have to we can get into whether it is acceptable to call priests "father", but my overall point is that the scribes and Pharisees loved their religious hierarchies. Surely by now we know that constant use of honorifics reinforces the extant hierarchical structure. It exalts people in ways other than "Outdo one another in showing honor." The fact that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are currently invisible should give us pause: might their visible presence do us more damage than good, given how we [mis]understand God's desired end-state of humanity? Do we perhaps impose ourselves on each other much more/​differently than God deeply desires? (I mean to allow for deep relationships with much "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ", but little to no manipulation or other coercion.)

            I'm inclined to say that the history of accomplishments of Roman Catholicism or Protestantism is as [necessarily] relevant to us as Hezekiah's accomplishments were to Manasseh. By 2018, Christians of all sorts have lost a tremendous amount of cultural influence in Europe and the US. (I'm bracketing the Religious Right and white evangelicals, unless you insist I address them.) I say we are doing something wrong, that the error lies mostly in those who claim to have the best guidance and power available to humankind. The problem exists primarily inside, not outside. Surely this was an obvious message Jesus demonstrated in being a spiritual but not political messiah?

          • Randy, let it be known that I've long wanted to have a conversation like this with an intellectually-minded Catholic. So no matter when this conversation stops, I very much appreciate having gotten so far. Thank you! I wrote a long response and have saved it, but will start with just my reply to one of your paragraphs. Let me know if you'd like me post the replies to your other points.

            Thanks so much. I love these kinds of conversation. So, yes, I am interested in reading everything you wrote. It might take a while before I can give it all a proper response. Not even sure if this is the right place to do that. Still I will get started. I appreciate your honest and educated interaction. May God lead us both to His truth.

            Even the New Testament itself exists because the early church believers needed authoritative teaching from the apostles. Nobody at the time thought it should stop with the death of the last apostle and it did not.
            Of course children require authoritative teaching. My question is whether they stay forever children. Does that "until" in Eph 4:11–16 take place before or after Jesus returns? Might God judge the Church/church if she fails to sufficiently push members toward that maturity? That's really the judgment that I suspect is falling on the Roman Catholic Church, as well as Protestant churches in America. (I know too little to "suspect" much of any other Christianity.)

            I think you are reading a ton into one word. I would say the “until” can apply to us as individuals. We can get to a point in our walk with God where we are not tempted by heresy and are able to speak the truth in love into even the most confusing situations. Still that bring us closer to the Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. If you are drawing closer to someone you love to be close to their body. The impulse should not be to ditch the church as soon as you can. We might need the magisterium less and less but still need the sacraments, the scriptures, sacred tradition, etc.

            Paul’s description of this maturity talks about “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Protestants have produced neither of these. They don’t even claim unity. Profound knowledge of Jesus is often claimed but the content of this knowledge varies so much from one person the next that it is difficult to take such claims seriously. It is hard fit the reformation into this text. The reformers did not learn do much from “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” that they no longer needed to be taught. In fact, they refused to be taught because they thought they knew everything better than the God-given leaders. In fact, they fit the description of “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” a lot better. So, leaving the moorings of united Christian teaching and instead trying to figure out our own doctrine is precisely what St Paul is saying we should not do.

            A consistent pattern in the Bible is that sufficient disobedience leads to God retracting his power and sometimes, even his willingness to respond to inquiry. When this happens, the kind of "more obedience" espoused by that disobedient group will necessarily have a fatal error. One is that they know the right path but cannot get themselves to walk it. This might describe the Pharisees in Mt 23:1–4. Another is that they are mistaken about what the right path is and think that better pursuing their path—which is actually wrong—will ultimately turn things around. This describes those in Jeremiah 44:17, who thought that more offerings to the queen of heaven would save them.

            This is very much the truth of Protestantism. They are very sure about what God wants them to do but they are often wrong. God has retracted his power from them. He never retracted His power from the Catholic Church. It is more complex than that of course. God does not ignore Protestants. He did not ignore me when I was one for 40 years. Yet the key to unity and maturity eludes them.

            Is it actually true that if only more Catholics were to obey the Magisterium, God would be better glorified and his purposes would be better accomplished? My understanding of the Pharisees in Jesus' time was that they believed something similar: greater obedience among the Jews would lead to freedom from Roman occupation. What if their error was believing that obedience to human authority structures was the end goal? (No matter how much God is claimed to influence those human authority structures.) What Jesus says in the next section of Mt 23 supports my hypothesis:

            God does want obedience. That almost always boils down to obedience to a human authority. Sure there are some who get a special visions and dreams but most do not. Most end up hearing God’s word through another person. Again, the first 4 verses of Matthew 23 completely, totally and utterly destroy your position. The right answer then and the right answer now is to obey bad leaders and wait for God to replace them with good leaders. In the 1st century and in the 16th century the good leaders came.

            If we have to we can get into whether it is acceptable to call priests "father", but my overall point is that the scribes and Pharisees loved their religious hierarchies. Surely by now we know that constant use of honorifics reinforces the extant hierarchical structure. It exalts people in ways other than "Outdo one another in showing honor."

            This is very Catholic. God knows that any hierarchy comes with these kinds of temptations. That people might get caught up in the power and not see themselves as servant leaders. Yet Jesus never suggests throwing out leadership completely. He simply says you should try and appoint leaders who are not like the Pharisees.

            The fact that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are currently invisible should give us pause: might their visible presence do us more damage than good, given how we [mis]understand God's desired end-state of humanity? Do we perhaps impose ourselves on each other much more/differently than God deeply desires? (I mean to allow for deep relationships with much "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ", but little to no manipulation or other coercion.)

            Sure, yet we still need leaders. St Paul has authority in the Church, yet he is the one that write about submitting to one another. Of course, that included bishops submitting to laymen. It is a different sort of submission than the layman should give the bishop. Just like wives submitting to husbands is a little different than husbands submitting to wives. Yet the spirit of submission should be everywhere.

            I'm inclined to say that the history of accomplishments of Roman Catholicism or Protestantism is as [necessarily] relevant to us as Hezekiah's accomplishments were to Manasseh. By 2018, Christians of all sorts have lost a tremendous amount of cultural influence in Europe and the US. (I'm bracketing the Religious Right and white evangelicals, unless you insist I address them.) I say we are doing something wrong, that the error lies mostly in those who claim to have the best guidance and power available to humankind. The problem exists primarily inside, not outside. Surely this was an obvious message Jesus demonstrated in being a spiritual but not political messiah?

            I would agree the problem is inside Christendom. I would tend to point to what Jesus said would lead others to believe. John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” is a hint. John 1720-23: is more clear, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. “That is that Christians are supposed to display a supernatural love and unity that should make the fact that God is with us very clear. We no longer do that. Why not? The Protestant answer is that unity and truth is simply impossible. Christians will disagree, we just need to live with it. The trouble is that makes Jesus a liar. He says we can and must have unity and truth. Plus, Christendom did it for many centuries.

            We need to start by accepting the gifts God has given us to help us obey Him. We need to accept His leaders. We need to accept His sacraments. We need to accept the doctrines they teach are true. That is the beginning not the ending. We need to also live it. To much of the Church is willing to water down Catholic teaching to maintain some of the power the church has in society. It is a losing game. We need to stop playing it. We need to embrace the Truth and embrace those that are struggling to live the Truth. Pope Benedict talked about a smaller, purer church. I like that idea. I think it will go there. Catholicism will resurrect. It is the Body of Christ and it always comes back from the dead. Protestantism is simply finished. I do thing that Fundamentalist Christianity in the southern USA has played a role in God’s plan. I just don’t think it has an intellectually coherent answer to atheism.

          • Not even sure if this is the right place to do that.

            I was thinking about whether our discussion fits the 'apatheism' defended in the OP and I think it does. To the extent that anyone thinks it doesn't, I invite them to pipe up. :-)

            May God lead us both to His truth.

            Amen! I just want to have confidence that it is God doing the leading and not humans—a problem that all Christians appear to have, perhaps equally. One can cast demons out in Jesus' name, prophesy in his name, and do might works in his name—all without ever being known by him.

            I think you are reading a ton into one word. I would say the “until” can apply to us as individuals.

            Do you really think God would be happy for some individuals to make it exceedingly far in the faith while leaving their brothers and sisters in Christ in the dust? I mean brothers and sisters in Christ who are physically proximate. I think there are some severe theological problems with the idea that some individuals can leave all the rest in the dust—starting with God lowering mountains and raising valleys and finishing with God's power being most present in weakness.

            The Church is the Body of Christ. If you are drawing closer to someone you love to be close to their body. The impulse should not be to ditch the church as soon as you can.

            I would be inclined to take this more seriously if the Church did not claim exemption from judgment. ("Jesus never commanded us to judge churches.") There is a conundrum with Mt 23:1–4 you have yet to address: how did Jesus know that the scribes and Pharisees preached but do not practice? Surely they claimed that they practiced! Jesus clearly had a standard of judgment external to the scribes and Pharisees. He used that standard. We are called to follow him. To be discipled purely by the scribes and Pharisees, to have no external standard, was to become twice the son of hell that they were. Crucially, that external standard cannot be mediated by the RCC. Internal mediation was introduced in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 and removed in Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32.

            As to said "impulse", I worry you are constructing a straw man. At best, one learns in growing up that one's parents are fallible, but rather less fallible than one believed in one's teenage years. We could explore just what it would mean to claim that they are infallible in preaching while exceedingly fallible in practice.

            Paul’s description of this maturity talks about “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Protestants have produced neither of these. They don’t even claim unity.

            I agree. But the unity you've claimed existed prior to the Reformation is belied by the East–West Schism happening centuries before. If you ignore that disunity, what other disunity have you ignored? I'm inclined to go back to the first time that one person who thought that [s]he followed Jesus decided to kill another person who thought that [s]he followed Jesus, in the name of Jesus. The instant that the community of Christians is defined by who didn't get killed, it is a political unity, not a religious unity. Jesus didn't kill; he was killed. Satan is the killer: Jn 8:39–47. How is it not that simple?

            Profound knowledge of Jesus is often claimed but the content of this knowledge varies so much from one person the next that it is difficult to take such claims seriously.

            I agree. At best, we could say that someone who has drawn close to God in the context of ministering to the homeless may have an interestingly different understanding of God than someone who has drawn close to God in the context of evangelizing and discipling scientists. I can believe that different kinds of service result in different aspects of God being emphasized. But even in this situation, the fact that the different … disciplines have not been better merged and cross-fertilized is very sad.

            But I must reiterate that unity of belief without demonstrated superiority of ability to love counts for little if not negatively, in my book. If you want to say that there is some core group of Roman Catholics who do have this demonstrated superiority, I will ask whether Protestants can point to any such core group(s) among themselves.

            In fact, they fit the description of “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” a lot better.

            Just what does this mean when their Catholic counterparts were engaged in extensive corruption in practice? Isaiah 58 is not friendly to those who go through the right motions but are not actually accomplishing God's objectives. I suspect a strong connection could be made between "right doctrine" in Catholicism and "right ritual" in Judaism. Then we could see how the following applies to Catholicism:

            “Come to Bethel, and transgress;
                to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
            bring your sacrifices every morning,
                your tithes every three days;
            offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
                and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
                for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
                        declares the Lord GOD.
            (Amos 4:4–5)

            Your particular emphasis on Mt 23:1–4 possibly provides some very interesting insight into the Protestants' emphasis on "salvation by faith and not works", and how it so often yields a lack of practice. I don't know if your interpretation aligns with the Magisterium, but I'm finding it increasingly fascinating. I myself have always viewed "going through the motions" as utterly worthless, but there is an alternative, and that is obeying one's religious authorities in letter but not in spirit. This would allow one to subvert institutions from the inside. I've increasingly surmised that this is precisely what the NT does to Roman slavery, but that's a subversion of civil authority, not religious. One problem with all this is that "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" makes it seem like perhaps the letter is supposed to pass away, not merely take second fiddle.

            God has retracted his power from [Protestants]. He never retracted His power from the Catholic Church.

            Can this be understood from any empirical analysis, by any judging of tree by fruit? Or can it only be understood in a rational/​dogmatic fashion? We're not talking about what has been done in the past; Hezekiah's achievements were of no credit to Manasseh.

            God does want obedience. That almost always boils down to obedience to a human authority.

            This is why I keep juxtaposing Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 to Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32. The New Covenant seems to put your "almost always" in severe question.

            Again, the first 4 verses of Matthew 23 completely, totally and utterly destroy your position. The right answer then and the right answer now is to obey bad leaders and wait for God to replace them with good leaders. In the 1st century and in the 16th century the good leaders came.

            I don't think you've sufficiently addressed my questions about Matthew 23:1–4, so your "totally and utterly destroy" seems hasty and suspicious. (Why do you need to declare victory so quickly, if you are so confident?) The good leaders in the 16th century could plausibly be traced to a need to compete with Protestants, so I cannot immediately give that any weight. I might just be convinced if you could demonstrate that the Roman Catholic Church routinely teaches that its leaders could be as terrible as the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus lambasted. Does it?

            A meta-issue here is how to properly act when there is significant disobedience among an entire group. My observation is that one person generally finds it hard to obey all that much more than the people nearby. This isn't just a matter of will or suffering but also of knowledge: "Bad company ruins good morals." To say that followers should unswervingly obey their leaders while their leaders are in flagrant disobedience to God is weird and I suspect, physically untenable. In fact, scripture tells us to think with opposite weighting: "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."

            Yet Jesus never suggests throwing out leadership completely.

            No, but he radically transforms the very understanding of 'leadership'; see for example Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20. Jesus did shockingly little imposing himself on any other human and if one looks at the OT and plots God's coercive actions by year, I think one will find that he did shockingly little imposing of himself on any humans. If one throws out leadership which has sufficiently deviated from the model we see in the Bible, then one is equivocating on words to say that one is throwing out Jesus' understanding of 'leadership'.

            Of course, that included bishops submitting to laymen.

            What are some excellent examples of this?

            That is that Christians are supposed to display a supernatural love and unity that should make the fact that God is with us very clear. We no longer do that. Why not? The Protestant answer is that unity and truth is simply impossible.

            You're being awfully monolithic in saying "the Protestant answer". Francis Schaeffer was huge on both those passages in John; see his The Mark of the Christian. Peter J. Leithart takes the matter seriously in The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church. Ephraim Radner gets very intense with his The End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West and A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church. What seems to be the case is that none of the answers on offer is very promising.

            Perhaps you could explain how the RCC trying to shove the Filioque down the throats of the now-Eastern Orthodox Church constitutes an act of "supernatural love and unity"? I would benefit from much more study of it (I've read Timothy Ware's The Orthodox Church), but my current understanding is that the insertion of the Filioque is best described as a coercive power play, no matter what other narratives one could tell about it. To the extent that this exemplifies the RCC's solution to disunity, it seems to be part of the problem, not part of the solution! "We have the answers; submit!" is not compelling in the light of Mt 20:20–28 and is not compelling when one compares the fruit of the various trees.

            Protestantism is simply finished.

            I suggest taking a look at The Explosive Growth of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity in the Global South, and Its Implications for Catholic Evangelization.

            I just don’t think [Protestantism] has an intellectually coherent answer to atheism.

            Fascinating; I see your "quest for certainty" to be rather antithetical to scripture's challenge to live a destabilized existence. "Dare to question authority" is precisely what Moses and later the Israelites did in Ex 32:9–14, Num 14:11–20, and Num 16:19–24. Job was incredibly free-thinking in refusing to bow to social pressure and conclude that he was guilty. The prophets were insanely courageous in opposing the entire religious establishment. And it all culminates in God becoming human and letting those who claim to worship him kill him—in so doing, becoming unified with those they claimed to hate most (Roman occupiers).

            It is rather sobering if instead of one group of Christians being the Magisterium, all are. The weight of responsibility of having some aspect of God I potentially best understand and some way of acting in reality I am potentially best at is extreme. It is crushingly perplex to wonder how there could be a return to unity without something like the Roman Catholic Magisterium. If every Christian matters to the ἐκκλησία in these ways, then perhaps 99% of those leaders who call themselves 'Christians' have been woefully inept at their jobs as leaders. But I remember that a whole generation had to die in the wilderness because taking the Promised Land was so scary and the temptation to return to the safety of Egypt was so strong. Being "one who conquers" requires that one finally eliminate the middle-man mediators and be rooted directly and deeply in Jesus. This is not an expectation for just the elite. There are no elite in the ἐκκλησία as I understand it.

          • Do you really think God would be happy for some individuals to make it exceedingly far in the faith while leaving their brothers and sisters in Christ in the dust? I mean brothers and sisters in Christ who are physically proximate. I think there are some severe theological problems with the idea that some individuals can leave all the rest in the dust—starting with God lowering mountains and raising valleys and finishing with God's power being most present in weakness.

            I really don't see the problem here. It is just obvious that some people progress much further, much faster in the faith than others. St Paul progressed quickly, yet He talked about God's power being made perfect in weakness. So I don't see the problem there.

            There is a conundrum with Mt 23:1–4 you have yet to address: how did Jesus know that the scribes and Pharisees preached but do not practice? Surely they claimed that they practiced! Jesus clearly had a standard of judgment external to the scribes and Pharisees. He used that standard. We are called to follow him. To be discipled purely by the scribes and Pharisees, to have no external standard, was to become twice the son of hell that they were. Crucially, that external standard cannot be mediated by the RCC.

            Jesus did not talk about a standard of judgement that the Pharisees met. In fact, the rest of the chapter indicates they failed to meet any standard. What Jesus did say is, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you." So Jesus does give the reason that obedience is required. It is because they sit on Moses' seat. So we don't have to manufacture reasons why Jesus might say this. We can just accept the actual reason He gives. They sit on Moses seat. That is a statement about their position or office rather than a statement about their moral status. The respect is due to the the office and not the person. Jesus is making precisely the same distinction that Catholics make. So there is no conundrum or standard. He just means what He says.

            No, but he radically transforms the very understanding of 'leadership'; see for example Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20. Jesus did shockingly little imposing himself on any other human and if one looks at the OT and plots God's coercive actions by year, I think one will find that he did shockingly little imposing of himself on any humans. If one throws out leadership which has sufficiently deviated from the model we see in the Bible, then one is equivocating on words to say that one is throwing out Jesus'

            Agreed, Jesus radically transforms what leadership should be. The Catholic church gets that fully. Yet He does not say we should wait for perfect leaders before we obey. Even saying obedience is no longer required when they have "sufficiently deviated from the model we see in the Bible" is a recipe for disaster. It means people have an easy excuse for disobeying. This is precisely what Jesus rejects. You have an excuse for disobedience. Obey anyway. That is the way it has to be in a sinful world. There is always someone who will bad mouth the leadership. Having the faithful judge whether they deem their leadership worthy of obedience will lead to chaos. Think of a family. If the kids are told to judge whether their father is a good, biblical father and only obey him if he is then what would happen?

          • For now I'm going to respond only to the middle part because I suspect it is a major impasse.

            Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. (Matthew 23:1–3)

            Jesus did not talk about a standard of judgement that the Pharisees met. In fact, the rest of the chapter indicates they failed to meet any standard. What Jesus did say is, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you."

            Why do you think it's ok to omit the bit I put in strikethrough? It seems rather plausible to me that Jesus is providing a further condition required: that the scribes and Pharisees actually be teaching correctly. Otherwise, passages less intense than the following would surely apply:

            “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 12:32–13:5)

            I picked out this passage because it says that even if someone could do real miracles and utter successful prophesy, any deviation whatsoever from the teaching passed to the Israelites would result in immediate execution. Surely this applies to the one who performs no miracles nor utters any successful prophesy. Sitting in Moses' seat would not save you! And yet, you have made it a sufficient condition.

            That is a statement about their position or office rather than a statement about their moral status. The respect is due to the the office and not the person.

            Where did I make this about their moral status? I've advanced two lines of critique when it comes to Mt 23:1–4:

            (A) Jesus also predicates obedience on the scribes and Pharisees preaching what is correct.

            (B) The judgment of whether the scribes and Pharisees are practicing what is correct cannot come from them, on pain of having zero protection against being made twice the son of hell as they might be.

            You pushed back against (A)†; you don't seem to have responded to (B) at all.

            † Here's at least one instance:

            RG: As for Matt 23, it is interesting to see how you transform a command to obey into a command to obey if you agree. Jesus did not say obey if you agree. That sort of obedience is meaningless. Jesus just said obey.

            LB: … Do you think it didn't matter to Jesus what the Pharisees were preaching—that obedience would be required in any case? …

            RG: I think God kept bad leaders from messing up His covenant community. Jesus knew obedience was the only way a faith community could work. He knew obedience with an "if it is correct" condition was incoherent. Jesus said exactly what he meant.

          • I agree this is a major impasse. I can get it. I was there. How can I be expect to obey someone who is just plain wrong? God would not do that to anyone. But He does. Why? Because sometimes the most important truths for us to learn are those we are sure are wrong. Actually that happens a lot. If fact, telling God I am willing to obey leaders that seem reasonable to me is not much of an obedience. The Pharisees are a good example. They applied the reasonableness test to Jesus. He failed. The wisdom of God seems foolish to men. Yes, even to men who see themselves as mature Christians.

            Your exegesis is another example. No matter how clearly Jesus says something you can't make yourself believe He means it. What seems plausible to you is that He means the exact opposite of what He says.

            Now you search the scriptures looking for evidence Jesus means what you want him to mean. All the passages where we are told to obey leaders and not rebel can easily be dismissed. For example, Jude associates rebels with Korah's rebellion from Numbers 16 but we can easily tell ourselves our rebellion is not like that. Our sin always looks different to us. Does it look different to God?

            Anyway, you bring up Deuteronomy. The key difference there is that God does not choose this leader. The person just declares that he has received revelation. No office is held. Plus, God does not say any deviation whatsoever. He basically says if they explicitly break the first commandment that is too much. One simple test.

            Then there is you point B. You point out obedience is not safe. You are right. You need to trust God. Yes, trusting God means trusting the leaders He has put in place. Yes, your personal discernment still means a lot. Jesus' words indicate you respect their authority but you don't follow them blindly. When your feelings are against it you end up doing the minimum. Still you keep open the possibility that it is you whose thinking needs to change.

            What is at stake here is nothing less than our willingness to let God be God. If we restrict God's work to those leaders who we feel comfortable with then we are putting limits on what God is allowed to tell us and what we simply will not accept. In our pious imagination we feel we are trying to follow God but are we? Or are we making others twice the son of hell that we are?

          • If we restrict God's work to those leaders who we feel comfortable …

            Do you truly believe that this accurately characterizes my position? Per your "I was there.", I suspect that you are force-fitting what I've said into your own experiences and that you only obeyed leaders when:

                 • "seem reasonable to me"
                 • "we feel comfortable"

            However, I have voiced at least one key difference between you and me: "I refused to make myself a infallible[†] Magisterium." From what you've said, it seems that you did make yourself an infallible† Magisterium, until you converted to Roman Catholicism. I am therefore driven to wonder how much of your criticisms of my arguments have really been criticisms of your own arguments, when you were a Protestant.

            † See your "Everyone has their own magisterium." It's not clear to me how much you rely on infallibility; on the one hand you write "Would anything less than an infallible statement have created a consensus?" while on the other you write "Remember the magesterium is only infallible in certain situations." Your caricature of me, "Then your opinion can just be assumed to be more or less the same as God's truth.", is sufficiently close to "infallible" for present purposes. Strictly speaking, "infallible Magisterium" can be replaced with "source of teaching superior to all others".

            Your exegesis is another example. No matter how clearly Jesus says something you can't make yourself believe He means it. What seems plausible to you is that He means the exact opposite of what He says.

            You have consistently ignored the obvious parallelism:

                 (A) "do and observe whatever they tell you," ∼ "For they preach,"
                 (B) "but not the works they do." ∼ "but do not practice."

            You are right that Deut 12:32–13:5 pretty clearly doesn't target religious leaders; I picked it because of its intensity: signs/​wonders were to be counted irrelevant when it comes to obedience. But I could just have easily run with Deut 17:2–7, which in no way excludes religious leaders. The insistence on "two or three witnesses" is mirrored in 1 Tim 5:19–20, which explicitly puts laypersons in the position of rebuking religious leaders. Could your priest just tell you that 1 Tim 5:19–20 doesn't apply to him and order you to believe that?

            As to your "exact opposite", I don't see how ever questioning one's leaders constitutes "exact opposite". See Moses and the Israelites questioning YHWH in Ex 32:9–14, Num 14:11–20, and Num 16:19–24. You actually don't know what it would take for me to consider disobeying my religious leaders, although you have thrown up many caricatures based on approximately zero evidence. My best explanation is that you've been projecting your own experiences on to me; I would ask you to see how similar I really am to how you were.

            LB: I picked out this passage because it says that even if someone could do real miracles and utter successful prophesy, any deviation whatsoever from the teaching passed to the Israelites would result in immediate execution.

            RG: Plus, God does not say any deviation whatsoever. He basically says if they explicitly break the first commandment that is too much. One simple test.

            I stand corrected; the "You shall not add to it or take from it." in the beginning of Deut 12:32–13:5 is not necessarily sufficient to constitute "rebellion against the LORD your God". This however has consequences for the rest of your comment: to the extent that some deviation is allowed, the equality you drew—

            All the passages where we are told to obey leaders and not rebel can easily be dismissed.

            —is erased. If disobeying on any point immediately constitutes "rebel", then my "any deviation whatsoever" is correct. And don't be deceived: your "doing the minimum" is disobedience (Eph 6:5–8). If you, the champion of obedience, are willing to do that, then what will others do who are not so enthusiastic?

            What is at stake here is nothing less than our willingness to let God be God. If we restrict God's work to those leaders who we feel comfortable with then we are putting limits on what God is allowed to tell us and what we simply will not accept.

            It would appear that you've not really internalized Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8. What you write makes perfect sense [to me] if one presupposes that those two events are in one's past and have set the standard. The Israelites explicitly demanded that YHWH not talk to them, except through their religious leaders. Then they demanded a political leader who would have more authority than their religious leaders. It is you who seem to want to keep God behind a veil, from which the Roman Catholic Church will titrate him to the laypersons. Jesus' death tore the veil to the Holy of Holies and yet you say "Veils are a good thing."

            The refusal to have YHWH directly talk to oneself is explicitly reversed in Heb 12:18–29. No longer do we have "a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them." I suspect Jesus' refrain of "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" is related to this, although Is 6:8–13 was also clearly relevant. So Hebrews, so full of warnings earlier, tells us: "See that you do not refuse him who is speaking." Such refusal is what required a priestly caste which the people promised to obey instead of directly listening to God.

            I would phrase your first sentence as "willingness to be in ever-deepening relationship with God". The phrasing of "willingness to let God be God" denotes obedience much more than relationship, at least to my ears. Your phrasing reminds me of the servant-status in Jn 15:12–17; it risks perpetual childhood. Now, according to your theory the RCC will help people mature and this will involve them agreeing with the Magisterium and then we will get "societal consensus on religion". But what I see is something much closer to perpetual childhood plus rebellion with Pope Benedict's "smaller, purer church" left over—which does not seem nearly enough to get that societal consensus you want.

          • You start by making a straw man objection against me. That what I am talking about is very different from what you are talking about. I am reminded of a large discussion a few years ago when Kieth Mathison argued that his version of Sola Scriptura was different than that used by some of the more extreme Protestants. The previously mentioned Called to Communion site argued there was no principled distinction. The article is here:
            http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/11/solo-scriptura-sola-scriptura-and-the-question-of-interpretive-authority/

            So it is easy to see distinctions that are not there. My Sola Scriptura is so different from so and so's Sola Scriptura because he arrives at such different conclusions for such different reasons. Yet is it a principled difference? You say you don't make yourself an infallible magisterium. You say I did when I was a Protestant. I would not have accepted that characterization when I was a Protestant so the fact that you don't accept it now is more of a point in common that a difference.

            The definition of infallible authority is not really "source of teaching superior to all others." That sounds like you are sitting as the final judge of all the sources. There is not one that can command automatic obedience. The trouble is if you get your mind firmly set on something that turns out to be wrong then there is nothing that can move ou off that opinion. If you look around Christendom and all the division the one thing you can be sure about is many people have their mind firmly set on wrong doctrines. So it is dangerous and even arrogant to assume you are not one of those people.

            The notion that infallibility only applies in a limited number of cases does not mean I don't rely on it. It is important that it does not try and definitively answer to many questions. As St Augustine said, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." First you need to know what the essentials are. Then you need to know what is the authentic Christian position on those matters. That requires a magisterium. The fact that there are many non-essentials is a good thing but we would not know it unless we had a magisterium. Protestants sometimes try and cope with their lack of magisterium by declaring almost everything to be non-essential. I was not trying to go there. I was just saying that Catholicism is not as oppressive as some think because liberty is there.

            You have consistently ignored the obvious parallelism:

            (A) "do and observe whatever they tell you," ∼ "For they preach,"
            (B) "but not the works they do." ∼ "but do not practice."

            Really? We shall try 1 more time. Mat 23:2-3:

            The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

            The first 2 sentence is what you tend to ignore. The actual words of the text indicate the first sentence is the reason for the command in the second sentence. Then the 3rd sentence clarifies and limits the obligation of the second. Their leadership is legit but that does not make them perfect or even good. So Jesus' command has with it a promise. If you obey them because you want to obey me then I will take care of things. He can't mean trust the Pharisees because they are good guys at least when it comes to preaching but bad guys in so many other ways. That would be incoherent. He says trust the people who sit on Moses' seat because God is trustworthy. God protects sacred offices for the sake of the faithful. He does so despite the fact that some office-holders are immoral.

          • You start by making a straw man objection against me. That what I am talking about is very different from what you are talking about.

            If it is definitely a straw man, you are de facto infallible [on this point].

            You say you don't make yourself an infallible magisterium. You say I did when I was a Protestant.

            Your first sentence is correct. Your second is incorrect. I supported my "it seems that you did make yourself an infallible† Magisterium" with your own words. Feel free to examine the † and tell me if and where I misunderstood you.

            I am reminded of a large discussion a few years ago when Kieth Mathison argued that his version of Sola Scriptura was different than that used by some of the more extreme Protestants. The previously mentioned Called to Communion site argued there was no principled distinction. The article is here: [Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority]

            This reminds me of the revulsion I slowly built toward Protestant apologetics: it seemed increasingly like an excuse for the lack of God's power. Believe because of arguments, not because God is good and wants to enlist you in the redemption/​reconciliation of the world. Judging trees by fruit is conspicuously absent. All that is left is arguing about symbols and politics. And yet: "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power."

            The trouble is if you get your mind firmly set on something that turns out to be wrong then there is nothing that can move ou off that opinion.

            Is this any less true of Roman Catholics than any other flavor of Christian? It's not like there's perfect obedience among Roman Catholics. And I don't care if you have a rationalistic "better"; if there's no empirical "better", then you have talk without [demonstrated] power.

            If you look around Christendom and all the division the one thing you can be sure about is many people have their mind firmly set on wrong doctrines. So it is dangerous and even arrogant to assume you are not one of those people.

            I see it as no less dangerous and arrogant for the Magisterium to claim infallibility. Surely this is the defense used to execute "heretic" after "heretic". We are certainly correct, therefore it is ok to execute. John 8:39–47 be damned. Where you say that the Protestant has no way to really admit error, I say that the Magsterium has no way to really admit error. When Paul said that the OT is given so "that we might not desire evil as they did", did he not mean that we are in danger of recapitulating their errors? Well, how do we avoid that? It seems to me the only answer is to take seriously those who call us into question and never execute them. Any group of Christians can become inbred, theologically.

            LB: You have consistently ignored the obvious parallelism:

                 (A) "do and observe whatever they tell you," ∼ "For they preach,"
                 (B) "but not the works they do." ∼ "but do not practice."

            RG: Really? We shall try 1 more time. Mat 23:2-3:

            The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.

            The first 2 sentence is what you tend to ignore. The actual words of the text indicate the first sentence is the reason for the command in the second sentence.

            Why are you, a Catholic, working off of the NIV? Here's the NABRE:

            “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. (Mt 23:2–3)

            That's rather similar to the ESV, which I've been using. The parallelism is right there. I'll bet it's there in the Greek and Latin. Shall we check? As to your claim of what I tend to ignore, I wrote the following early on: "I interpret the passage to predicate obedience on two things: (i) sitting on Moses' seat; (ii) preaching." If you see value to harping on something we agree upon instead of focusing on where we disagree, please explain.

            He says trust the people who sit on Moses' seat because God is trustworthy. God protects sacred offices for the sake of the faithful. He does so despite the fact that some office-holders are immoral.

            Then how did the Israelites get carried off into exile? I believe that God is trustworthy by the way—just not via the means you've outlined. Your position is only tenable if the NT works differently than the OT, but you have the problem that Mt 16:18 could be accomplished via Is 6:13 → 11:1. There are also the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, where apostles are judged(!) and entire churches can lose their salvation(!).

          • I do have the feeling that the discussion so far has not really touched on the main reasons why people convert. It has focused on a few passages that you are trying to shoe-horn into the question. I don't think you succeed. They are mostly irrelevant.

            Scott Hahn once organised a talk on this topic along 4 points. That is that Protestantism is unbiblical, unhistorical, illogical and unworkable. I think those categories work well. The last one is the one we have talked about a little.

            The biblical arguments take a long time because there are quite a number of important passages and quite a number of opinions about what each of them mean. Certainly I had to spent many hours on Matthew 16:13-20 alone. Then there are a number of other related passages. There were also many debates on justification and the Eucharist. After reading for quite a while I remember asking myself which side of these debates I would rather be on? Which position had fewer difficulties and was more intuitive? The answer was clearly the Catholic position. So I worked harder to find a better presentation of the protestant side. I just could not find any protestant exegesis that could stand up under Catholic counter-arguments.

            History was huge for me. One Catholic asked some knowledgeable Protestants to name one orthodox Christian before the year 1200. There were many impressive Christians who knew the bible well. Yet none that arrived at anything near their particular brand of Christianity. Yet they asserted those very doctrines were clearly taught in scripture. How clear could they be?

            The logical objections start with the canon question. Where did the bible come from if there is no other authority to establish it? When did it become the rule of faith? Who declared that to be the case? Then there is the self-refuting issue. The bible never teaches Sola Scriptura.

            Anyway, you get the idea that these discussions can get long. I am game for long. If you want a web site that presents most of these arguments you can try
            http://www.calledtocommunion.com/

            That is from a Calvinist perspective. Not sure if you are Calvinist. Still it is good because those guys are intellectually rigorous and they tend to respond to questions.

          • I do have the feeling that the discussion so far has not really touched on the main reasons why people convert. It has focused on a few passages that you are trying to shoe-horn into the question. I don't think you succeed. They are mostly irrelevant.

            I never meant to address "the main reasons why people convert". Instead, I find a general pattern in humanity: that humans respond to one extreme by going to the other extreme. I don't think they themselves generally see this and if we look at Luther and Calvin, they are appropriately connected with the Magisterial Reformation. Luther didn't even want to schism, originally. And yet, we have a tremendous amount of pluralism among Protestant denominations. What I've been driving at—completely unsuccessfully, it seems—is that maybe there is a problem with both extremes: an extreme form of Sola Scriptura at one end and the RCC Magisterium at the other. It rather irritated me when you wrote the following:

            RG: You do like a lot of false choices. Luther can rigorously obey or he can start his own church. Nothing in between is possible. The Holy See must produce perfect unity and perfect obedience or they have no value at all.

            You seem to be engaged in precisely a false choice, a "nothing in between is possible", when it comes to the two extremes of authority. Let's recall how this all started:

            RG: I blame the reformation. Since then we have had no societal consensus on religion. We have created ways of making ourselves certain about our world views.

            Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to think that unless the Magisterium is producing "societal consensus on religion", there is no possible alternative which God might have instituted. If you want to see a third way in a different realm, you could consult the consensus-generation which happens in science, which is definitely neither Magisterial nor anarchic. The consensus generated is certainly far from perfect, but I would doubt the utility of a perfect consensus of the letter with significant deviation of the spirit. "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power."

            If the purpose is to understand God's desired relationship with humans and degraded versions of that in reality, I don't see how a passage like Numbers 11:24–30 constitutes "shoe-horn[ed]", nor Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 & Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32. Jesus' repeated use of "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear!" could be a reference to the Israelites pleading with YHWH to say nothing more to them, right after the giving of the Decalogue.

            Scott Hahn once organised a talk on this topic along 4 points. That is that Protestantism is unbiblical, unhistorical, illogical and unworkable. I think those categories work well. The last one is the one we have talked about a little.

            I would be willing to get into the wider discussion you've presented here, but I am inclined to first request that we focus on your "societal consensus on religion" which sparked this whole conversation. You have in your mind an ideal of what the Magisterium could do, the societal consensus it could produce. I think you erred in not taking seriously the East–West Schism, which took place centuries before the Protestant Reformation. I say we ought to compare implementations rather than ideals. Judge trees by their fruit. That's what the prophets of the OT did, repeatedly. They judged Israel as a whole. I would make an exception for situations where we are plausibly headed toward the ideal, but that's one of the points I've contested when it comes to the RCC in the 21st century.

            Which position had fewer difficulties and was more intuitive?

            It might help you to know that I was rather persecuted by my peers from K–12 and thus learned to be incredibly skeptical of society and social power. My psychological and intellectual defenses came from scripture. Among other things, I disallowed myself from thinking I was righteous while they were sinners. I refused to make myself a infallible Magisterium. Indeed, one might say that an infallible Magisterium crucified Jesus Christ. I'll bet the scribes and Pharisees would say that they had unchanged doctrine. Indeed, it was very important to argue only based on what teachers before had said, which IIRC is one of the reasons Jesus' authoritative teaching was so shocking to his hearers.

            Furthermore, I don't know how to find the RCC intuitive when it has executed heretics and hasn't, to my knowledge, ever fully and completely repented of that. (Repentance in my mind includes a full analysis of how one managed to sin.) Did Jesus or Paul ever suggest that this might possibly be a way to do things? I'm particularly sensitive to this matter because I have had humans repeatedly try to shut me up in the past. If the RCC could have accomplished that without burning heretics, perhaps it would have. (One potential problem with this is that forcing someone to shut up falls short of forcing him/her to recant.)

            The logical objections start with the canon question. Where did the bible come from if there is no other authority to establish it? When did it become the rule of faith? Who declared that to be the case? Then there is the self-refuting issue. The bible never teaches Sola Scriptura.

            It is my understanding that canon was determined largely via what was bearing fruit among Christians represented at the relevant Ecumenical Councils. There was no single person deciding, nor one single geographic region deciding. As to your repeated attacks on Sola Scriptura, are you attacking a straw man? Or if not a straw man, a version of it which was not advanced by the non-Radical Reformers and which you have little basis to characterize me as holding? I would agree that it is wrong to think that we can just steamroll the interpretations and understandings of those who came before us. And yet, "don't steamroll" ⇏ "unquestioningly obey". It could be that those who came before got some things right and some things wrong. That's what we see in Hebrews 11, isn't it?

            N.B. I've just started to read Stanley Hauerwas' Unleashing the Scripture: Freeing the Bible from Captivity to America; he pushes against an extreme understanding of Sola Scriptura which he claims is prevalent in America. I'm not sure I completely agree; I have a sneaking suspicion that what he is critiquing is something which pretends to be Sola Scriptura while those in social power determine key aspects of interpretation behind the scenes. But perhaps he actually says something like that later in the book. My own attempt to really do the extreme of Sola Scriptura drove me to see that I must critically depend on my fellow believers and the totality of Christianity in space–time. What I don't [yet?] accept is that the RCC Magisterium is the only way that such dependence could happen.

            Anyway, you get the idea that these discussions can get long. I am game for long. If you want a web site that presents most of these arguments you can try
            http://www.calledtocommunio...

            That is from a Calvinist perspective. Not sure if you are Calvinist. Still it is good because those guys are intellectually rigorous and they tend to respond to questions.

            I'm definitely game for long. I'm much more inclined toward Arminianism than Calvinism; I find myself generally in agreement with Roger Olson. I prefer dialogues to monologues, with Q&A being at least better than monologues. Among other reasons, I find that people of one side frequently frame the other side in ways it would not agree with. Proverbs 18:17 says "The one who states his case first seems right, / until the other comes and examines him." I believe that to be an iron law. This doesn't mean that the other side always correctly introspects, but I think it is extremely important to see self-description and description-by-others juxtaposed.

          • I will have to leave these for a time. I am going out of town for a couple of days. Still, thanks for the reply. Interesting as always.

          • No worries; you may have noticed that I did this myself, from Thurs–Mon of last week. I'll be around when you get back, should you want to continue things. :-)

          • What I've been driving at—completely unsuccessfully, it seems—is that maybe there is a problem with both extremes: an extreme form of Sola Scriptura at one end and the RCC Magisterium at the other.:

            I guess that is where most Protestants see themselves. The thing of it is, it is not really a continuum. There is a principled difference between trusting God to lead His church and trusting your personal discernment alone. Personal discernment does not go away but believing the church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15)" makes things a lot easier.

            The trouble with the middle ground idea is that there is no consistency. If tradition can be ignored on one point then why can't it be ignored on another? The RCC actually has an answer to that in differentiating between sacred tradition and other traditions. There are different levels of authority even withing sacred tradition. So only a selected number of traditions are identified as being trustworthy.

            There is no room for middle ground. Either there is a way to declare one doctrine to be forever part of the faith or there is not. Catholics and Protestants agree that humans cannot do this. It can only be done by God. So either God has some way of enabling some people to do that or He does not. If He does not then everything is up for grabs.

            Now the question of "if He does maybe He does it some other way: is an interesting one. I wrestled with this for a while. Maybe a long and strong tradition could be enough. If almost all Christians believed something for a while, like a couple of centuries, then it might be infallible. The trouble is any reasonable test I could think of would be met by all the Catholic doctrines I did not like. The recognition of the office of bishop and the chair of Peter is everywhere. The veneration of Mary, the belief in purgatory, the real presence in the Eucharist, etc. They all meet pretty much every "are they part of the faith" test I could think of.

          • Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to think that unless the Magisterium is producing "societal consensus on religion", there is no possible alternative which God might have instituted. If you want to see a third way in a different realm, you could consult the consensus-generation which happens in science, which is definitely neither Magisterial nor anarchic. The consensus generated is certainly far from perfect, but I would doubt the utility of a perfect consensus of the letter with significant deviation of the spirit. "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power."

            In practice, when Christians withing society disagree on almost every issue then government will tend to stop looking to Christianity for moral direction. Is there another way to get consensus? I think prayerfully going back to the bible has been tried and tried and has mostly failed. That makes us look bad as Christians.

            What about science? Consensus-generation in science happens by experimentation. Anything you really disagree with you can look up the papers and redo the experiments if you want. How could that work in Christianity? Even in science we see a lot more junk science when we get into social sciences. People have opinions and experiments are constructed to support opinions rather than to find truth.

            I don't see any way of consensus generation except infallible teaching. When I grew up in a reformed church the big question was women in office. Both sides felt so strongly. Would anything less than an infallible statement have created a consensus? I don't see how? You leave the door open a crack that they might still be right and either group will just assume that is the case. Of course, no infallible teaching was available so the church just split. A practical solution but one that leaves no answer to the question of how does God actually feel about women in office.

            The reality is the other great consensus builder is the culture. So you start to get a situation where the culture changes the church rather than one where the church changes the culture. This is even true in Catholic countries because the rebellion against God's teaching has crept into the church as well. So instead of the church being ahead of the curve and raising the culture up you see the culture being ahead and leading us to lower levels of morality. Why would anyone want to join a church that is just going to mimic the culture eventually?

          • It might help you to know that I was rather persecuted by my peers from K–12 and thus learned to be incredibly skeptical of society and social power. My psychological and intellectual defenses came from scripture. Among other things, I disallowed myself from thinking I was righteous while they were sinners. I refused to make myself a infallible Magisterium. Indeed, one might say that an infallible Magisterium crucified Jesus Christ. I'll bet the scribes and Pharisees would say that they had unchanged doctrine. Indeed, it was very important to argue only based on what teachers before had said, which IIRC is one of the reasons Jesus' authoritative teaching was so shocking to his hearers.

            I am sorry to hear about your pain. I don't mean to belittle it but I do wonder how similar our stories are. I was not well liked by peers growing up but persecuted might be too strong a word for me. Still I do see how the human experiences of pain and comfort can bias our thinking especially in matters that involve trust. To me, that is one big reason why we need the Church because our reason is skewed by so many things.

            Yes, the magisterium crucified Jesus Christ. John 11:49-52 makes clear that the Holy Spirit had not left them even if the middle of their planning Jesus' murder. John points out how Caiaphas speaks a deeper truth than he knows through the spirit and he connect that with the office he holds.

            Furthermore, I don't know how to find the RCC intuitive when it has executed heretics and hasn't, to my knowledge, ever fully and completely repented of that. (Repentance in my mind includes a full analysis of how one managed to sin.) Did Jesus or Paul ever suggest that this might possibly be a way to do things? I'm particularly sensitive to this matter because I have had humans repeatedly try to shut me up in the past. If the RCC could have accomplished that without burning heretics, perhaps it would have. (One potential problem with this is that forcing someone to shut up falls short of forcing him/her to recant.)

            Again, the grace resides with the office and not with the person. The office will be held by sinful people, sometimes disturbingly sinful people. Any notion of infallibility that depends even a little bit on the holiness of the people is doomed to fail. Catholic ecclesiology is all by the grace of God. Protestant ecclesiology is all by the works of man. Ironic, given the Protestants slogan Faith Alone but it is true.

            Could God use David despite the incident with Bathsheba? Could God use Peter despite his denials. Could God use Paul despite the persecutions. Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Elijah, etc. There are so many vehicles of grace God used powerfully despite some bad moments. Why not the church? God allows bad things to happen to a point. He does not allow His plan of salvation to be thwarted. If the gospel of Christ is central to that plan then He will not allow that gospel to get distorted and lost in a sea of heresies.

          • It is my understanding that canon was determined largely via what was bearing fruit among Christians represented at the relevant Ecumenical Councils. There was no single person deciding, nor one single geographic region deciding. As to your repeated attacks on Sola Scriptura, are you attacking a straw man? Or if not a straw man, a version of it which was not advanced by the non-Radical Reformers and which you have little basis to characterize me as holding? I would agree that it is wrong to think that we can just steamroll the interpretations and understandings of those who came before us. And yet, "don't steamroll" ⇏ "unquestioningly obey". It could be that those who came before got some things right and some things wrong. That's what we see in Hebrews 11, isn't it?

            Whatever you say about the process that generated the canon the central question is whether it was infallible. Was it? If it was are there any other proclamations of the early church that are also infallible? Is there any principle by which we can know what they are?

            You have not told me what Protestant faith tradition you belong to so I am really talking abstractly about Sola Scriptura as a principle. Nobody follows it consistently. For example, as a protestant I believed in infant baptism. Reformed theologians would point out that it was the practice of the early church likely going right back to the apostles. In other words they would make a very Catholic argument from tradition. So we liked tradition when it was on our side.

            Yet there is a line. You either know it is from God or you don't. If you don't then there is almost a sense of why bother with it. That would not have been true of Protestants 100 years ago. Most back then would have identified a major Protestant confession as important to their beliefs. The Augsburg Confession, the Westminster Catechism, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion from Anglicanism, mine was the Heidelberg Catechism. That has changed. Most now go with what their pastor and their favourite authors say. Everyone has their own magisterium. If you want to tell me what sources of truth you trust I can try and make my comments more relevant to that.

            As for Hauerwas' book, I have not read it but the narrative used to describe it is typical of Protestant speaking. He identifies some errors in interpreting scripture and then asserts his own opinion is the right way to interpret scripture. Yet the phrasing is often more presumptive. Some people believe A, some believe B but the bible teaches C. Of course, C is just the author's opinion. The subtle claim being made is I am the authentic interpreter of scripture. That is a huge claim. It is precisely the claim the RCC makes. Yet they can explain how they were commissioned by Jesus fill that role. Protestant pastors and writers implicitly claim to fill that role. Most do not do it explicitly because they admit God never asked them to. Still I think there is open season on false prophesy. I don't want to pick on Hauerwas. I think I have read some good articles by him. I just don't think looking for the right answer in the endless stream of protestant opinions is going to solve the root problem. We need God for that.

            Actually all 3 methods described in the introduction have some real value and some real pitfalls. The pitfalls can be eliminated by being in submission to the Church. Even in a great community the interpretation of scripture can go sideways. There are just many examples of that in Catholic history.

          • Per your request, here's part 2 (part 1).

            God does put His Spirit withing us. You just keep asserting that somehow makes the magisterium a bad thing. That is plain silliness.

            Respectfully, I don't think you can find anywhere I have argued or entailed the following:

                 (1) All believers have the Holy Spirit.
                 (2) Therefore, the Magisterium is a bad thing.

            At most, I have reasoned the following:

                 (1′) No form of Christianity seems particularly special.
                 (2′) Therefore, the Magisterium is not special.

            I have stated (1′) multiple ways by now. You've objected to (1′) here, so let me respond to that. By the way, I'm mostly referring to the time period 1900–2018 when I state (1′) ⇒ (2′).

            Does the Roman Catholic church show evidence of God's power? The short answer is Yes. For the past 2000 years the church has done what no human institution could do. It has taught a consistent doctrine. It has produced many amazing saints. It has evangelized nations. It has brought the Christian religion back from the brink of destruction many times. It has done amazing things for women, for education, for science, for human freedom, etc. It has built Western Civilization by the power of God. No protestant church has shown the power of God nearly as clearly as the Catholic church has.

            How does the Filioque not single-handedly refute your "consistent doctrine"? Its addition contravened the Third Ecumenical Council. Martin Luther picked out many contradictions in church teaching but I'd prefer to only get into the weeds if necessary. I'm also rather worried about a repeat of Not in Heaven, which declares that YHWH has nothing really new to say to us and no corrections to ever offer us. After all, if the Magisterium is infallible, then any prophet who challenges it (cf Isaiah 58) is automatically wrong.

            As to "many amazing saints"—does Protestantism have none/​few of those? Protestants have certainly evangelized many nations. I don't know what you mean by "brought the Christian religion back from the brink of destruction many times"; God can raise the dead rather easily. The "gates of Hades" (death) will not overcome the church. It didn't overcome Jesus. Your overall comparison to Protestantism, though, seems rather questionable given that you seem to be comparing AD 33–2018 to AD 1517–2018. I'm also wary of taking too much credit for what was done in the past; plenty of times in the OT, a generation in the past was righteous while the current generation was not.

            I am not sure what you mean by the church not being on the forefront of the #MeToo movement. That movement is about secular women learning embracing a little piece of the truth Christianity has been teaching them for centuries.

            Where has the RCC been pushing for the testimony of women to be considered on equal footing with the testimony of men? Where has the RCC been pushing for an equal treatment of male and female sexual escapades, vs. seeing men as virile and women as whores? (I'm talking about the RCC pushing against culture.) The RCC is quite willing to "get political", like opposing euthanasia in MA in 2012. It's very different to say that some doctrines over there support #MeToo and to say that "I think it is incredibly shameful to Christianity that it wasn't on the forefront of #MeToo." Think back to when slavery was practiced in the antebellum US South; surely we could construe some teachings "over there" as actually militating against what was going on.

            So the question is not whether to have leaders but rather who should pick our leaders. Should we pick our own or should the church pick them?

            Taking Eph 4:13 into account, I think God picks leaders and I see no evidence to warrant thinking he especially uses the RCC to do so. See my (1′).

            So you think that at Pentecost Peter should have just stood up and said, "You are on your own, I have nothing to teach you. Follow your heart."

            Nope; that is not entailed by (2′). Maybe we all have things to teach each other, and the more each of us matures, the more each of us has to teach. This is an alternative to there being a single Magisterium (Protestant or Catholic). In the beginning, I can see how it would be required to start somewhere and not go off in too many directions at once. But you will note there is an "until" in Eph 4:13. As far as I can tell, in your understanding that "until" comes after Jesus returns. I observe the same of most Protestantism. It just isn't seen as a failure for Deut 5:22–33 to well-describe most Christians today. That deeply irks me.

            Does the Roman Catholic church show evidence of God's power?

            That's not the question. See (1′).

          • This is getting quite long. Again, I question if this is the right place. One other issue I have noticed is comments get cut off. I have noticed it with mine and yours. My cut off comment was not long I I took it as a sign from the Holy Spirit not to make that last point. Yours I am not sure how much I missed. Anyway, I have written quite a bit and there is a fair bit more to respond to. I am game but I wonder if other are getting annoyed

            Respectfully, I don't think you can find anywhere I have argued or entailed the following:

            (1) All believers have the Holy Spirit.
            (2) Therefore, the Magisterium is a bad thing.

            At most, I have reasoned the following:

            (1′) No form of Christianity seems particularly special.
            (2′) Therefore, the Magisterium is not special.

            I have stated (1′) multiple ways by now. You've objected to (1′) here, so let me respond to that. By the way, I'm mostly referring to the time period 1900–2018 when I state (1′) ⇒ (2′).

            So you want to limit the inspection to the period after 1900? OK. But in fairness you should not bring up burning heretics and such if you are wanting to exclude that period from our discussion. I think examining any period of history will show Catholicism to be the one true religion.

            The first point I would like to bring up is something I have already mentioned. That is that the Protestantism of 1900 is basically dead. Almost all protestants back then did hold to one of the main post-reformation creeds. They were also very strongly liturgical in their worship practice. Those 2 things have changed big time in almost every branch of Protestantism. Sure there are some old folks who still hang on but it is fast disappearing. Just yesterday I heard another traditional church had decided to stop meeting. It was one that my dad had been asked to pastor back in the 1960's so there was some sadness for him. But that is the trend in all denominations I am aware of.

            What has happened with the increase of immigration and communication is that denominational loyalty has broken down. You can say that is a good thing or a bad thing but what can't really be argued is that it is a major change. To survive churches have tried competing based on the Sunday morning experience. Give them better music and more entertaining preaching than the church down the street and watch the pews fill up. It strikes me as a very different religion.

            Catholicism has changed but it has not become a different religion. It still professes the same faith and still celebrates the same mass. Sure we updated it. Yet there was clear control of exactly how far that update was going. Each bishop allows what he allows and no more. It would still be recognizable to Catholics from 1900 and even much earlier.

            The other major change Protestants made since 1900 their acceptance of artificial contraceptives. At that point all of Christendom had consistently said breaking the link between sex and procreation was inherently immoral. One by one all the protestant churches flipped on this. Why? Well if you have to compete for young people and young people want it then saying No is risky.

            The big problem is that Christian sexual ethics become incoherent when you accept artificial contraceptives. Saving sex for marriage makes little sense marriage does not involve children. Eventually sex starts happening in less and less serious relationships. The institution of marriage starts to break down.

            Then you have the sanctity of life. If the act that creates life can be manipulated without concern then how can the product of conception be instantly sacred? There is a disconnect there.

            Anyway, that was one huge error protestants made and Catholics have a chance to correct only through the grace of God. It allows the pope to not only produce a document like Humanae Vitae but for the faithful to know it is true. Not everyone obeys it but that is always the case. The first step is understanding the truth. Living it is also hard but when the understanding is less than clear it becomes harder.

          • Quick technical reply:

            One other issue I have noticed is comments get cut off. I have noticed it with mine and yours. My cut off comment was not long I I took it as a sign from the Holy Spirit not to make that last point. Yours I am not sure how much I missed.

            Where do you see comments get cut off? If via https://disqus.com/home/, then you often have to click "View in discussion" or the timestamp to get to the full comment. If via email, then Disqus doesn't know that email clients will add a newline after so many characters in the HTML, possibly disrupting HTML tags and potentially hiding or distorting all subsequent content. When at https://strangenotions.com/a-defense-of-apatheism-sort-of/ or https://disqus.com/home/discussion/strangenotions/a_defense_of_apatheism_sort_of/, there is a "see more" button for long comments and I haven't noticed yours getting cut off there.

            When it comes to submitting comments, I suggest authoring them in a text editor instead of in your browser. This is obnoxious on a phone but perhaps you don't write your longer comments on a phone. Anyhow, Disqus for a long time had a habit of eating comments. They might have finally fixed it, but I wouldn't trust them.

          • How does the Filioque not single-handedly refute your "consistent doctrine"? Its addition contravened the Third Ecumenical Council. Martin Luther picked out many contradictions in church teaching but I'd prefer to only get into the weeds if necessary. I'm also rather worried about a repeat of Not in Heaven, which declares that YHWH has nothing really new to say to us and no corrections to ever offer us. After all, if the Magisterium is infallible, then any prophet who challenges it (cf Isaiah 58) is automatically wrong.

            You have to understand what consistent means. It does not mean unchanging. It means when doctrine changes it does so in a way that the old doctrine is shown to be incomplete but not flat out wrong. For example:
            1. The planets revolved around the sun in a circular orbit
            2. The planets revolve around the sun in an elliptical orbit
            Statement 2 would be consistent with statement 1 because it does not declare 1 to be completely wrong but rather less right. It is right to a point. Now if you wanted to be uncharitable and were determine to find contradictions you could argue that the strict definition of a circle declares 1 to be flat out wrong. Yet you if you choose to see it the move from lesser truth to greater truth is there.

            The Filioque is like that. It is a move from a lesser truth to a greater truth. It is not denying the previous version. So it would be a teaching of consistent doctrine.

            As I said, charitable interpretation is required. I am not surprised Luther was able to find many contradictions. He was nowhere near charitable. BTW, the same it true of scripture. I am not surprised someone was able to write a book about 100 contradictions in the bible. Yet I still believe it is internally consistent and also consistent with sacred tradition. You just need to want to find a truth being slowly unveiled over time.

            Prophets still happen. St Francis of Assisi changed the church but remained loyal to the pope. The 16th century had a bunch of Catholic Reformers that actually reformed the church rather than just left the church. I am thinking of St Fransis de Sales, St Ignatius Loyola, St Terese of Avela, etc. St Catherine of Sienna was a prophet in her time. There were many more. Remember the magesterium is only infallible in certain situations. Most of their statements and actions can be criticized. Certainly Pope Francis' handling of the abuse scandal has been and likely with good cause.

            Protestantism has prophets but how many are false prophets? That is a scary question when you understand how God feels about false prophecy.

          • RG: For the past 2000 years the church has done what no human institution could do. It has taught a consistent doctrine.

            LB: How does the Filioque not single-handedly refute your "consistent doctrine"? Its addition contravened the Third Ecumenical Council.

            RG: You have to understand what consistent means. It does not mean unchanging.

            The inconsistency is with the following:

            It is not permitted to produce or write or compose any other creed except the one which was defined by the holy fathers who were gathered together in the holy Spirit at Nicaea.

            Any who dare to compose or bring forth or produce another creed for the benefit of those who wish to turn from Hellenism or Judaism or some other heresy to the knowledge of the truth, if they are bishops or clerics they should be deprived of their respective charges and if they are laymen they are to be anathematised. (Definition of the faith at Nicaea)

            As I said, charitable interpretation is required. I am not surprised Luther was able to find many contradictions. He was nowhere near charitable.

            I will keep that in mind if/when I explore the alleged contradictions Luther discussed. In the meantime, how good a job do you think you've done in demonstrating "charitable interpretation" of my own position?

            Prophets still happen. St Francis of Assisi changed the church but remained loyal to the pope. The 16th century had a bunch of Catholic Reformers that actually reformed the church rather than just left the church. I am thinking of St Fransis de Sales, St Ignatius Loyola, St Terese of Avela, etc. St Catherine of Sienna was a prophet in her time. There were many more. Remember the magesterium is only infallible in certain situations. Most of their statements and actions can be criticized. Certainly Pope Francis' handling of the abuse scandal has been and likely with good cause.

            Protestantism has prophets but how many are false prophets? That is a scary question when you understand how God feels about false prophecy.

            If the Roman Catholic Church had a demonstrated history of never executing people with whom it disagreed, then I suspect Martin Luther would have been among that list. As it was, the promise of protection to Luther was too reminiscent of the promise of protection to Jan Hus, which Roman Catholics declared null and void because apparently it's perfectly acceptable to break one's vows to heretics.

            You worry about false prophets and you are right to do so: the OT and NT worry about them rather extensively. Simultaneously, Jesus repeatedly criticizes the routinized execution of true prophets. Jesus says of such people, "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires." If we run with your interpretation of Mt 23:1-4 whereby the only requirement is "Obey them because of the office they hold." (vs. including "For they preach"), then Jesus is saying to obey someone who might well worship Satan instead of God. Do you agree, or disagree?

          • I think you give Luther too much credit. I doubt the threat of execution had much to do with his decision to leave the church. He had powerful political leaders protecting him. If the threat of martyrdom caused him to commit the sin of schism that would actually not reflect well on him. You are supposed to be willing to give up your life for Jesus. St Thomas Moore did. I actually think Luther would have done so as well if it came to that.

            I do think Luther believed the church would soon see he was right and welcome him back. He absolutely did not see the endless schisms coming. I actually think the reformation would have happened without him. You had the printing press. You had a series of bad popes. You had political leaders who were wanting to undermine the Church. Plus you had a philosophical move towards nominalism. It was bound to happen.

          • I think you give Luther too much credit. I doubt the threat of execution had much to do with his decision to leave the church. He had powerful political leaders protecting him.

            Luther wanted to reform the RCC. The RCC wanted Luther assassinated. The latter precluded the former. And I will repeat because you don't seem to want to face this head-on: there is no place where Jesus, Peter, or Paul get remotely close to endorsing the execution of "heretics". That's not a small difference between them and the RCC. And yet, according to a strict interpretation of your words, you would be obligated to participate with your priest in the murder of a "heretic" if he were to order you to help him.

            If the threat of martyrdom caused him to commit the sin of schism that would actually not reflect well on him. You are supposed to be willing to give up your life for Jesus. St Thomas Moore did.

            You realize that you're putting the Roman Catholic Church in the position of the Jews who conspired to execute Jesus in saying this, right? "If we choose to execute you, it is your martyrly duty to comply." I don't think you want to be saying that. Thomas More, on the other hand, was martyred for his support of the RCC, over against the state.

            I actually think the reformation would have happened without him.

            Possibly. But you said "I blame the reformation."; some of your reasons lie squarely at the foot of the RCC.

          • Luther wanted to reform the RCC. The RCC wanted Luther assassinated. The latter precluded the former.

            I don't think so. Luther simply lost patience and left the church. He was actually more likely to be executed after he left but he knew he had strong political allies. He was not much of a reformer anyway. If you read his stuff he exhibited very little charity towards Catholics or even protestants he disagreed with. Of course Pope Leo X was not good in this regard either. Still you don't reform a church by throwing around insults and condemnations the way he did.

            And I will repeat because you don't seem to want to face this head-on: there is no place where Jesus, Peter, or Paul get remotely close to endorsing the execution of "heretics". That's not a small difference between them and the RCC. And yet, according to a strict interpretation of your words, you would be obligated to participate with your priest in the murder of a "heretic" if he were to order you to help him

            You do realize that as soon as Protestants gained power they executed heretics quite frequently as well? So the execution of heretics is not really a Protestant/Catholic difference. Both groups look back on that practice with disgust.

            My understanding is that the execution of heretics was done by the state. Yes, the church was involved in determining who was actually heretical. Still the law that prescribed execution as a punishment was made by the political leaders and the actual execution was carried out by the state. So I am not sure anyone ever executed anyone as an act of obedience to the church. I am not positive about this but your example seems a little hypothetical. A little bit like someone asking what you would do if God asked you to execute someone.

            If a priest asked you to execute a heretic you could refuse to obey. You are to obey your conscience first. If what the priest tells you violates that you have an obligation to disobey. You should not actively oppose your priest. You can communicate your concerns to him and to his bishop. Still you should trust the church to fix any problem that exists. You should be prepared to have your conscience reformed in this area if it turns out you are in error. Still the church has declared the killing of an innocent to be intrinsically evil. The church should never order you to do something intrinsically evil in obedience to God.

            You realize that you're putting the Roman Catholic Church in the position of the Jews who conspired to execute Jesus in saying this, right?

            Not sure why that is a problem. Again, I accept that the church can make short term errors. Ultimately the church will get it right. There is the possibility of someone connected with the church rashly executing someone in the meantime.

            I don't think you want to be saying that. Thomas More, on the other hand, was martyred for his support of the RCC, over against the state.

            Why not? Against the state who was usurping the authority God had properly granted the Church. St Thomas was willing to serve the state in all other matters.

            Possibly. But you said "I blame the reformation."; some of your reasons lie squarely at the foot of the RCC.

            Sure, at the foot of human leaders and human followers who had additional temptations based on new technologies. Certainly we had some bad popes leading up to the reformation. That did not help at all. Still we are not asked to obey only if our leaders are saintly.

          • LB: Luther wanted to reform the RCC. The RCC wanted Luther assassinated. The latter precluded the former.

            RG: I don't think so. Luther simply lost patience and left the church.

            Does this matter enough to dig through historical sources? (Will your position appreciably change if I convince you that the threat of assassination plausibly increased the chance of schism?)

            Still you don't reform a church by throwing around insults and condemnations the way he did.

            Is anyone claiming that Luther was even remotely perfect? If the One True Church cannot take insults, then she demands rather more obedience than she herself exercises.

            You do realize that as soon as Protestants gained power they executed heretics quite frequently as well? So the execution of heretics is not really a Protestant/​Catholic difference. Both groups look back on that practice with disgust.

            Protestants permit more error in their tradition than Roman Catholics do, which would be the key difference. I do not see how emotions of disgust are relevant; if the Roman Catholic Church has never repented of executing heretics—and this involves exploring just how it managed to rationalize that behavior—I say that's a serious problem.

            My understanding is that the execution of heretics was done by the state. Yes, the church was involved in determining who was actually heretical. Still the law that prescribed execution as a punishment was made by the political leaders and the actual execution was carried out by the state.

            Oh c'mon, look at WP: Edict of Worms + WP: Jan Hus.

            If a priest asked you to execute a heretic you could refuse to obey. You are to obey your conscience first. If what the priest tells you violates that you have an obligation to disobey. You should not actively oppose your priest. You can communicate your concerns to him and to his bishop. Still you should trust the church to fix any problem that exists.

            First, I'm surprised that you permit conscience to overrule Mt 23:1-4. Here's what you wrote earlier:

            RG: As for Matt 23, it is interesting to see how you transform a command to obey into a command to obey if you agree. Jesus did not say obey if you agree. That sort of obedience is meaningless. Jesus just said obey.

            That isn't necessarily a contradiction, as the mental faculties involved in "conscience" may be somewhat or even very different from those involved in "if you agree". Your input would be appreciated. Second, I think events over the last few decades have shown the above strategy to not always be the best one. This can only be seen because the secular state has enough power over the RCC.

            RG: If the threat of martyrdom caused him to commit the sin of schism that would actually not reflect well on him. You are supposed to be willing to give up your life for Jesus. St Thomas Moore did.

            LB: You realize that you're putting the Roman Catholic Church in the position of the Jews who conspired to execute Jesus in saying this, right?

            RG: Not sure why that is a problem. Again, I accept that the church can make short term errors. Ultimately the church will get it right. There is the possibility of someone connected with the church rashly executing someone in the meantime.

            You said that Luther ought to have let the church—which claims to be the One True Church—execute him for what it judges to be "heresy". (This is different from Thomas More, who stood up for that church against the state.) But if in fact that church is being much worse by thinking that Jesus, Peter, or Paul would ever sanction the execution of "heretics", then perhaps Luther's "character fault" pales in comparison.

            Still we are not asked to obey only if our leaders are saintly.

            If you mean quite the extreme with that "saintly", then I agree. However, there is "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."

          • Does this matter enough to dig through historical sources? (Will your position appreciably change if I convince you that the threat of assassination plausibly increased the chance of schism?)

            My position on what? I won't become Protestant. My opinion of Luther might change. My opinion of Pope Leo X is already quite low so that is unlikely to change. I would find it interesting. At least enough to read an article you find relevant.

            Is anyone claiming that Luther was even remotely perfect? If the One True Church cannot take insults, then she demands rather more obedience than she herself exercises.

            The claims about Luther are strange. He is often admired. I know I heard that a lot as a Protestant. The fact that he so obviously lacked basic Christian charity should give people pause. For a Protestant he really changed the way we relate to God. Moses brought a new covenant. David did. Jesus certainly did. Luther changed the faith enough to call it a new covenant. Logically Protestants should then see Luther as being in the same category as Moses and David and Jesus. In fact, the covenants get greater so being strictly logical he should be greater than Jesus. Of course, that is unthinkable for a Protestant to say anyone is greater than Jesus. Yet Luther improved on the Christendom that Jesus started. Jesus obviously failed to communicate a ton of stuff that Luther communicated. So Luther succeeded where Jesus failed.

            Protestants permit more error in their tradition than Roman Catholics do, which would be the key difference.

            I don't think this is true. Protestants split frequently because they are trying to rid themselves of error. Most instinctively know there are some articles of faith that are just central and should never be denied. In other words, they don't really believe Sola Scriptora. Yet they don't want to deny Sola Scriptora because, ironically, it has a lot of tradition behind it. Not sacred tradition, human tradition, the kind Jesus really did say we should not put above the Word of God.

            Anyway, Catholics can and do permit much more error. One reason Protestants can't permit error is because doctrine is based on voting. If you allow dissent in your fellowship then those dissenters get to vote for who your next pastor will be. They get to send representatives to synods which can change the official teaching of the church. That does not happen with Catholics.

            I do not see how emotions of disgust are relevant; if the Roman Catholic Church has never repented of executing heretics—and this involves exploring just how it managed to rationalize that behavior—I say that's a serious problem.

            Is it? I don't know anyone who worries the church is going to go back to executing heretics. Protestants try and have it both ways. They pretend they are part of a very old religion but don't actually defend all of Christian history. If their church started 50 years ago they defend 50 years of history. They don't have to defend Luther yet they can take credit for St Francis of Assisi. Catholic wear it all. We don't say it was OK but Yes we do admit that was us. We are the same Church. Jesus started just one and we are proud to be part of her.

            Oh c'mon, look at WP: Edict of Worms + WP: Jan Hus.

            Your link proves my point exactly. The Edict of Worms was issues by Charles V. He is a secular ruler. He is not a church official. So the notion of infallibility does not apply.

            First, I'm surprised that you permit conscience to overrule Mt 23:1-4. Here's what you wrote earlier:

            Like everything, the teaching on obedience develops and gets clarified. Jesus did not make any exceptions in Mt 23. Yet if you are dealing with a non-infallible statement and it seems to ask you to do something that contradicts other church teaching then you don't just blindly obey. You never leave the church or start another church but you prayerfully try to find a way to respect authority and all of church teaching.

          • That isn't necessarily a contradiction, as the mental faculties involved in "conscience" may be somewhat or even very different from those involved in "if you agree". Your input would be appreciated.

            I would say conscience includes you obedience. It is not just a feeling. Yet the key difference here is how you should respond. You should try and respond with the church. If your priest is not in union with the church then you need to find that out. In the short term you might choose not to engage in any significant action because you are struggling to believe. That is OK. What you cannot do is declare their authority to be null and void based on your doubts.

            Second, I think events over the last few decades have shown the above strategy to not always be the best one. This can only be seen because the secular state has enough power over the RCC.

            Actually it is. The abuse scandal would not happen if people communicated their doubts about priests to others. It is when folks assumed some sort of impeccability for the priests that the trouble happened. If it seems wrong tell the bishop and tell the police. That is in no way denying the grace of his office.

            The RCC has always wanted independent secular rulers. It is no argument against the RCC that it needs a police force.

            You said that Luther ought to have let the church—which claims to be the One True Church—execute him for what it judges to be "heresy".

            If he believes, as he should, that the RCC is the one true church then he would not continue to teach what they label as heresy. The threat of execution should not stop him. The illogical nature of opposing the Church of Jesus Christ should.

            I do think Luther would have accepted execution if it came to that. It would be farm more likely than admitting he might be wrong.

            But if in fact that church is being much worse by thinking that Jesus, Peter, or Paul would ever sanction the execution of "heretics", then perhaps Luther's "character fault" pales in comparison.

            Did Peter sanction the execution of Ananias and Sapphira? It is easy in the 21st century to see the errors of the 16th century. It was not so easy back then. It was only after much blood shed by all sides that anyone arrived at that place.

            If you mean quite the extreme with that "saintly", then I agree. However, there is "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."

            The trouble is of you are judging your leaders then you are in a bad space. Leaders will be judged by God more harshly. Think millstones around necks. Still if I don't want to obey a leader I can always find some fault in him.

            Yet Jesus said to Peter, "for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven" and just a few verses later said to the same man, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."

            They key is to know when somebody's statements are in the first category and when that same person's statements might be in the second. The first kind is the very foundation of the church. We can't do without it and God knows that. So He gives us a way to tell.

          • Sample1

            If LB doesn’t vigorously investigate this comment, I will.

            The abuse scandal would not happen if people communicated their doubts about priests to others. It is when folks assumed some sort of impeccability for the priests that the trouble happened. If it seems wrong tell the bishop and tell the police. That is in no way denying the grace of his office.

            Mike

          • Because you think attacking the Priesthood will finally be the trick that makes your shame over sin go away?

          • RG: As for Matt 23, it is interesting to see how you transform a command to obey into a command to obey if you agree. Jesus did not say obey if you agree. That sort of obedience is meaningless. Jesus just said obey.

            RG: I would say conscience includes you obedience. It is not just a feeling. Yet the key difference here is how you should respond. You should try and respond with the church. If your priest is not in union with the church then you need to find that out. In the short term you might choose not to engage in any significant action because you are struggling to believe. That is OK. What you cannot do is declare their authority to be null and void based on your doubts.

            That still seems like obeying only if you agree—if your conscience agrees. "Jesus just said obey." Remember what you also wrote to me on this matter: "What seems plausible to you is that He means the exact opposite of what He says."

            The abuse scandal would not happen if people communicated their doubts about priests to others. It is when folks assumed some sort of impeccability for the priests that the trouble happened. If it seems wrong tell the bishop and tell the police.

            That does not seem consistent with Vatican requires bishops 'to cover up child sex abuse' in absence of reporting laws, expert says. More generally, humans seem to prefer to keep things in-house until it gets really egregious. The very concept of a Magisterium which can be [nigh] infallible only seems like it would amplify this human tendency. And it seems like you may well be in disagreement with the Magisterium here; if so will you obey it and strain to align your conscience with it?

            LB: You said that Luther ought to have let the church—which claims to be the One True Church—execute him for what it judges to be "heresy".

            RG: If he believes, as he should, that the RCC is the one true church then he would not continue to teach what they label as heresy. The threat of execution should not stop him. The illogical nature of opposing the Church of Jesus Christ should.

            The threat of execution is something that would make Luther question whether the RCC really is the one true church. (Michael Servetus was executed under Calvin, not Luther.) Again, where did Jesus, Peter, Paul, or any other NT author in any way justify the execution of "heretics"? I don't recall humans participating in the executions of Ananias and Sapphira. If God is going to do it directly that's quite a different thing.

            It is easy in the 21st century to see the errors of the 16th century. It was not so easy back then. It was only after much blood shed by all sides that anyone arrived at that place.

            This is generally true, but I don't see why it should have been so hard in the 16th century to see that neither Jesus, Peter, Paul, nor any other NT author justified the execution of "heretics". Mt 20:20–28 and 23:8–12 seem to rule out the execution of "heretics". Instead, what the Jews and Christians had was a history of evil religious leaders executing those whom they saw to be "heretics". The only exception I can think of is Elijah on Mt. Carmel, and his execution of 450 priests of Baal did not end well for him.

            You have talked about what you expect God to have taught the church before 1500. Well, one of the things I expect is that it should have been obvious that Christians shouldn't go about executing "heretics". I could add to that the mass-murder of Christians by Christians which we saw in the Thirty Years' War—where sometimes Protestants and Catholics would fight on the same side. If Roman Catholics want to operate according to Deut 12:32–13:5 and 17:2–7, then all they have to do is admit that they're operating according to the Mosaic Covenant instead of the New Covenant. But then they have absolutely no basis for claiming safety from becoming worse than the surrounding nations, or from exile.

            RG: Still we are not asked to obey only if our leaders are saintly.

            LB: If you mean quite the extreme with that "saintly", then I agree. However, there is "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."

            RG: The trouble is of you are judging your leaders then you are in a bad space. Leaders will be judged by God more harshly. Think millstones around necks. Still if I don't want to obey a leader I can always find some fault in him.

            Judged by God? "But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged." + "Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear." Are we back at "Paul criticizes Peter's practice. Who he ate with. He did not deny Peter's solemn teaching."? In that case there is Rev 2:1–2. Is the idea here that one must pivot off of some sort of teaching and so what the church in Ephesus was doing was prioritizing one set of teachings over another?

            I would like you to explain why you think your last sentence probably isn't a caricature of my position. (If it's Catholic-Randy's evaluation of Protestant-Randy's belief or behavior, that doesn't mean Protestant-Luke is like Protestant-Randy.)

            Yet Jesus said to Peter, "for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven" and just a few verses later said to the same man, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns."

            They key is to know when somebody's statements are in the first category and when that same person's statements might be in the second. The first kind is the very foundation of the church. We can't do without it and God knows that. So He gives us a way to tell.

            But you haven't solved the problem if your answer is: "Trust this group of humans and never judge them." In the Gospel it's Jesus saying which is which, but for people like me it's just those you say/​the RCC says succeed Peter. Jesus apparently no longer has any interest in playing that role directly, as if God just doesn't want that close of a relationship with more than the Magisterium. Does that not strike you as the least bit odd? (see also my "what we think God's ideal way of being with his creation is")

            Even you recognize the problem of saying to merely trust the Magisterium; otherwise it would have been irrational to consider "It has built Western Civilization by the power of God." to be relevant. (you repeated this: "It has built Western civilization.") But beyond having some sort of rational force in your mind, I haven't figured out how you think about the connection between empirical evidence (fruit) and trustworthiness of teaching.

          • OMG

            I wonder if you wouldn't mind giving a source for the claim. "The RCC wanted Luther assassinated." I have skimmed Warren Carroll's History of Christendom and cannot find it although I perhaps missed it. I don't dispute what you say, but I have never heard or read the claim prior to reading your post, and I'd like to learn more about it. Thanks.

          • OMG

            Thanks. In view of what I've read so far regarding Luther, this looks like a case of the Charles V, Roman emperor, wanting Luther assassinated, with the RCC taking the blame. When time is given me, I hope to learn more.

          • So you reject the following:

            The Papal nuncio at the diet, Girolamo Aleandro, drew up and proposed the denunciations of Luther that were embodied in the Edict of Worms, promulgated on 26 May.

            To protect the authority of the Pope and the Church, as well as to maintain the doctrine of indulgences, ecclesiastical officials convinced Charles V that Luther was a threat and persuaded him to authorize his condemnation by the Holy Roman Empire. (WP: Diet of Worms § Edict of Worms)

            ? That's just Wikipedia so we could look for better sources. Here's more on Aleandro:

            In the following year he went to Germany to be present as papal nuncio at the coronation of Emperor Charles V, and was also present at the Diet of Worms, where he headed the opposition to Martin Luther, advocating the most extreme measures to repress the doctrines of the reformer. His conduct evoked the fiercest denunciations of Luther, but it also displeased more moderate men, especially Erasmus. The edict against the reformer, which was finally adopted by the emperor and the diet, was drawn up and proposed by Aleandro.[3] After the close of the Diet, the papal nuncio went to the Netherlands, where he instigated the executions of two monks of Antwerp due to their embrace of the Reformation, resulting in their being burnt in Brussels. (WP: Girolamo Aleandro)

            That's almost verbatim from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica entry on Aleandro, Girolamo.

          • OMG

            I stand by my original statement.

            From the posts you offered paragraph 1: Aleandro proposed "denunciations." Isn't a denunciation a public condemnation (it is not clear whether the condemnation is of the man or of his teachings). Still, I don't see "assassination" there.

            Paragraph 2: "Ecclesiastical officials" convinced Charles that Luther was a threat and persuaded him to" authorize his condemnation." Who are those officials? Was it the Pope acting in the name of the Church? Did the condemnation consist of a denouncement of teachings or of a man's life?

            Paragraph 3: Aleandro (presumably he) "advocated the most extreme measures to repress the doctrines of the reformer." Was murder among the measures to repress doctrine? It's not clear, is it?

            Aleandro may have 'instigated' some executions (How does one instigate an execution?), but did the RCC officially call for the assassination of Luther?

            Look, I believe it may very well have been that the RCC ordered Luther's assassination. With knowledge that martyrdom feeds seeds, would the RCC officially do that? Or was it simply some underground conspiracy of one or a few individuals (perhaps Catholic Church officials) who took matters into their own hands but for which the Church is now blamed?

            I appreciate your info, and I hope to learn more.

          • I suggest reading the text of The Edict of Worms and note the following definition of 'papal nuncio': "A papal nuncio (officially known as an Apostolic nuncio) is a permanent diplomatic representative (head of diplomatic mission) of the Holy See to a state …" (WP: Apostolic Nunciature) It's not murder if you get the state to declare someone an outlaw, which [probably] Aleandro convinced Charles V to do. That functioned to put a price on Luther's head, for killing outlaws got you a reward. That's one way to instigate a killing; I am sure there are others.

            I don't know how formal the RCC's push toward the execution of "heretics" was. But I'm not sure how much that matters; it'd be like just ignoring all military engagements taken by the US not listed under WP: Declaration of war by the United States § Formal. I wouldn't be surprised if Roman Catholics have always known that neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor Peter, nor any other author of the NT got anywhere close to authorizing the execution of "heretics". My suspicion is that God cares rather less about what was said and rather more about the intentions. Feel free to explain how the execution of "heretics" is anything other than flagrant disobedience of the following:

            But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks for that link, the edict was due to finding Luther guilty of treason, it is fully detailed in the link.

            Feel free to explain how the execution of "heretics" is anything other than flagrant disobedience of the following:

            So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
            On that day, someone who is on the housetop
            and whose belongings are in the house
            must not go down to get them,
            and likewise one in the field
            must not return to what was left behind.
            Remember the wife of Lot.
            Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it,
            but whoever loses it will save it.
            I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed;
            one will be taken, the other left.
            And there will be two women grinding meal together;
            one will be taken, the other left."
            They said to him in reply, "Where, Lord?"
            He said to them, "Where the body is,
            there also the vultures will gather."

          • Where has the RCC been pushing for the testimony of women to be considered on equal footing with the testimony of men? Where has the RCC been pushing for an equal treatment of male and female sexual escapades, vs. seeing men as virile and women as whores? (I'm talking about the RCC pushing against culture.) The RCC is quite willing to "get political", like opposing euthanasia in MA in 2012. It's very different to say that some doctrines over there support #MeToo and to say that "I think it is incredibly shameful to Christianity that it wasn't on the forefront of #MeToo." Think back to when slavery was practiced in the antebellum US South; surely we could construe some teachings "over there" as actually militating against what was going on.

            You misunderstand the role of the magisterium. It is not really there to cheer lead movements that are basically good. Movements like euthanasia that are intrinsically evil should be opposed. Still even then the role of the magisterium is more clarifying the doctrine than engaging in political action. Lots of Catholics, including priests and bishops, have commented positively on the #MeToo movement. It has actually declared male and female fornication to be gravely evil. Yes, it has pushed against culture in this regard. It is so far ahead of the #MeToo movement in terms of sexual morality that it is difficult to compare notes. The RCC talks about chastity while #MeToo talks about consent. Consent is not enough if it is just someone agreeing to sin with you.

            Nope; that is not entailed by (2′). Maybe we all have things to teach each other, and the more each of us matures, the more each of us has to teach. This is an alternative to there being a single Magisterium (Protestant or Catholic). In the beginning, I can see how it would be required to start somewhere and not go off in too many directions at once. But you will note there is an "until" in Eph 4:13. As far as I can tell, in your understanding that "until" comes after Jesus returns. I observe the same of most Protestantism. It just isn't seen as a failure for Deut 5:22–33 to well-describe most Christians today. That deeply irks me.

            If we were not intended to go off in too many directions in the first century then why has that changed. If you read the first few chapters of Acts you see Peter being respected as a leader. Acts 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Notice it does not say they ignored the apostles teaching and interpreted scripture for themselves. If that was important then why is it not important now?

            I think the word "until" in Eph 4:13 is just a conjunction. It does not denote any major event. IT denotes 2 ideas that that are connected. One often flows from the other but not always strictly chronologically. Embracing the teachers God gives you leads to unity and truth and maturity. That leads to a peace that deepens our relationship with Jesus and makes us power witnesses in society. If we ignore the magisterium we are tossed about by winds of doctrine and easy prey to false prophets.

          • RG: God does put His Spirit withing us. You just keep asserting that somehow makes the magisterium a bad thing. That is plain silliness.

            LB: Respectfully, I don't think you can find anywhere I have argued or entailed the following: …

            RG: [ignored]

            Randy, I would like you to either acknowledge that I never argued nor entailed what you claimed, or show where I did argue or entail what you claimed. How can we have a God-glorifying conversation if there are no consequences for getting the other's position badly wrong, especially in an insulting manner? As it stands, what you've said here is quite the example of "a attitude … of personal superiority over Protestants".

            LB: Where has the RCC been pushing for the testimony of women to be considered on equal footing with the testimony of men?

            RG: You misunderstand the role of the magisterium. It is not really there to cheer lead movements that are basically good.

            I said "RCC"; you switched that to "magisterium". You go on to deal with sexuality instead of testimony. First, I'm not sure it caters to the brokenness of humans like Moses did with divorce certificates. Second, it permits female testimony to be forever discounted: the injustices referenced by #MeToo can be condemned purely on the basis of violating sexual purity. I'm happy that some Catholics have affirmed #MeToo, but that does not constitute "on the forefront of #MeToo".

            If we were not intended to go off in too many directions in the first century then why has that changed.

            At first, children must merely obey. But when they grow up, if they are taught well, they learn that systems can only change so much per unit time and one has to put up with a lot of ick in the meantime. If they are taught well, they learn to "pick their battles". If they are taught well, they learn to argue respectfully with authority. If they are taught well, discipline can come from within instead of from without. Is that not Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32? "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts."

            Just look at the history of Israel in the OT. YHWH was heavy-handed for basically one short periods: the Exodus and conquering of the Promised Land. This I see as the Israelites' childhood phase. But YHWH did not continue the heavy-handedness; he gave the Israelites extraordinary freedom very quickly. They used it badly (e.g. the book of Judges ends with the Benjamites recapitulating Sodom). Do you think that the RCC knows better than YHWH did in the OT? Should YHWH have used a heavier hand for more of the time?

            If you read the first few chapters of Acts you see Peter being respected as a leader. Acts 2:42 says, "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Notice it does not say they ignored the apostles teaching and interpreted scripture for themselves.

            Your caricature of sola scriptura has become grating, Randy. Recall @davidnickol:disqus's comment, where we see that the Reformers did not hesitate to quote the Church Fathers. What we do not see in the passage you cite is an elevation to infallibility, as if some Christians have a closer relationship to God than others and therefore have the right to "lord it over" / "exert authority over" other Christians.

            I think the word "until" in Eph 4:13 is just a conjunction. It does not denote any major event. IT denotes 2 ideas that that are connected. One often flows from the other but not always strictly chronologically. Embracing the teachers God gives you leads to unity and truth and maturity. That leads to a peace that deepens our relationship with Jesus and makes us power witnesses in society. If we ignore the magisterium we are tossed about by winds of doctrine and easy prey to false prophets.

            The only group which appreciably heeds the RCC Magisterium appears to be Pope Benedict's "smaller, purer church" and it doesn't appear that that church is anything like "a powerful witnesses in society". Indeed, your "smaller, purer church" reminds me of all the Protestant sects which solve the unity problem in Jn 17:20–23 by declaring themselves to be the "smaller, purer church". Your theory about what the Magisterium does, does not seem to match the empirical evidence. Maybe that's because the RCC does not emphasize maturity and respectful arguing with authority in the way God desires. I stand behind what I wrote earlier:

            LB: Instead, I do not see any group of Christians organized around a de jure or de facto Magisterium manifesting the kind of awesome power and endless goodness that I expect God to have on offer to his creation. Nor do the reasons why there isn't more I see on offer from any of them convincing.

            Your reply placed a value on "consensus", but I insist that "the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power." If that "consensus" only yields a "smaller, purer church", then plenty of Protestant sects can claim that. The Eastern Orthodox Church can probably claim that. Is any of those groups [currently] distinguished from the rest by superiority at ministering to "the least of these"?

          • I have been confused about why you keep making references to the Holy Spirit withing us. If you are not implying that it makes the magisterium something contrary to God's plan then I don't know why you keep bringing it up. At the risk of stating the obvious the differences between Protestants are not explained by these passages. They are a partial answer to how we arrive at truth but if there were the full answer the people using that method alone would all be arriving at the same basic truth. In fact, if that was God's intent I doubt it would have taken him 1500 years to communicate it.

            I am sorry if I got your position wrong in an insulting manner. I should have asked you to explain yourself rather than fill in the blanks. I never want you to feel insulted. I can ask questions in a way that highlights something I feel is incoherent. That is not meant to be insulting. It is meant to be strongly argumentative but rest assured I respect your intelligence greatly. If I didn't I would not bother trying to point out places where your argument is bad. I think you are smart enough to see the deep flaws in Protestantism.

            You are looking for the Catholic church to do something that impresses you. I am not sure what would qualify. The church has done a ton to help the poor. Check this out for a taste:
            https://www.patheos.com/blogs/billykangas/2014/07/50-ways-catholics-are-working-on-ending-hunger-today.html

            If you were able to be objective you would see that by any reasonable measure the Catholic Church is the top religious organization is the world and it is not close. It is the city on a hill Jesus talked about. It has been that for the entire world for the last 2000 years.

          • I have been confused about why you keep making references to the Holy Spirit withing us. If you are not implying that it makes the magisterium something contrary to God's plan then I don't know why you keep bringing it up.

            Deut 5:22–33 set up a Magisterium. Was it God's plan? I think the answer here parallels Moses' divorce certificates: it was a temporary measure required because of hardness of heart. In the OT, God's Spirit was not commonly found. Moses wishes it were in Num 11:24–30. The prophets look forward to a time when humans no longer mediate God's presence or laws, in Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32. I see many of your arguments as taking place before this time, before the New Covenant. I don't need humans to tell me what God requires of me if my ears are open to the Holy Spirit. That is, however, a big "if"—for me as well as for the "series of bad popes" to which you alluded.

            At the risk of stating the obvious the differences between Protestants are not explained by these passages. They are a partial answer to how we arrive at truth but if there were the full answer the people using that method alone would all be arriving at the same basic truth. In fact, if that was God's intent I doubt it would have taken him 1500 years to communicate it.

            On the same basis I could say that after 2000 years, I would expect the church with the best method to have achieved something better than a "smaller, purer church" with shrinking social influence. But I'll agree that "Heed the Holy Spirit!" is not much of a method; it's about as specific to the Christian as "Try really hard!" is to the aspiring NBA all-star.

            What I actually believe is that Christians today are not immune to any of the patterns in the OT, from patterns of individuals to patterns of the church as a whole. I also expect the empirical realm to matter much more than it appears to in your thinking—and most Christians' thinking. Merely getting doctrine and ritual correct is of little use:

            “Come to Bethel, and transgress;
                to Gilgal, and multiply transgression;
            bring your sacrifices every morning,
                your tithes every three days;
            offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened,
                and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them;
                for so you love to do, O people of Israel!”
                        declares the Lord GOD.
            (Amos 4:4–5)

            I think there is a tremendous amount we have yet to understand about how to do our part in bringing the New Covenant to fruition. I would have liked it to take less than 2000 years, but I'm not going to compromise and say that wherever we are now, we've largely achieved what the prophets in the OT and apostles in the NT envisioned. If it looks like there is still a tremendous amount of "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", I will demand an accounting for why that appearance is not reality or if it is, why that reality remains so strong among Christians who believe Jesus' words in Mt 20:20–28.

            RG: God does put His Spirit withing us. You just keep asserting that somehow makes the magisterium a bad thing. That is plain silliness.

            RG: I am sorry if I got your position wrong in an insulting manner.

            Apology accepted. Next time, if you cannot demonstrate that I've asserted or entailed "plain silliness", please don't claim that I have.

            You are looking for the Catholic church to do something that impresses you. I am not sure what would qualify. The church has done a ton to help the poor. Check this out for a taste: [Fifty Ways Catholics are Working on Ending Hunger Today!]

            I'm not looking to be impressed; I'm looking for Roman Catholics to show superior ability to accomplish what we can hopefully all agree that God cares about. Judge trees by their fruit.

            If you were able to be objective you would see that by any reasonable measure the Catholic Church is the top religious organization is the world and it is not close.

            Do you think I cannot find "Fifty Ways Protestants are Working on Ending Hunger Today!"? If you have evidence to provide of your claim here, present it! Even if you don't convince me, surely it'll be valuable for whomever is reading along. By the way, I wouldn't be surprised if Roman Catholics were superior at some things; I expect that is true of all Christians. The empirical comparisons I'm after here are intended to push all Christians to learn from each other and enhance each other as we work to serve those in need and draw closer to God.

          • I don't need humans to tell me what God requires of me if my ears are open to the Holy Spirit. That is, however, a big "if"—for me as well as for the "series of bad popes" to which you alluded.

            That is the arrogance of Protestantism. I have an entirely subjective experience of what I assume is the Holy Spirit and that gives me authority over all other believers past and present. Catholics accept the Holy Spirit leads us but can also accept that we can get it wrong. That is why we need to constantly do a sanity check to see if our discernment lines up with scripture, tradition and the magisterium. I know Protestants try to check with scripture but even that is a subjective process. A few proof texts can skew everything. This is what is feels like to me when you keep bringing up the same passages.

            On the same basis I could say that after 2000 years, I would expect the church with the best method to have achieved something better than a "smaller, purer church" with shrinking social influence.

            That is a strange statement. The smaller, purer church is something that has happened a few times in history when things have gotten bad. It might be happening again now. Still it is not the sum total of what the Catholic Church has done for 2000 years. I really don't think you are trying to make a fair assessment.

            What has the church done? It has built Western civilization. It evangelized the Roman Empire. The it did it again after the Barbarians took over. It held many councils to really nail down the definition of who Jesus is. BTW, the office of the papacy was powerfully used by the Holy Spirit to do this. To many ideas to write about here. Many of them need to be rethought from a Catholic perspective. The Council of Trent was the Church showing strength and proclaiming the truth in the face of Protestant heresy. The counter-reformation was the fruit of this. Anyway, it gets long ans complex and if you are not open to hearing it I would be wasting my time.

            But I'll agree that "Heed the Holy Spirit!" is not much of a method; it's about as specific to the Christian as "Try really hard!" is to the aspiring NBA all-star.

            I would add "Obey the Bible" to that. Every group claims they are doing it so it ceases to differentiate. It is good but not enough.

            What I actually believe is that Christians today are not immune to any of the patterns in the OT, from patterns of individuals to patterns of the church as a whole. I also expect the empirical realm to matter much more than it appears to in your thinking—and most Christians' thinking. Merely getting doctrine and ritual correct is of little use:

            I would say Christians are not immune but God now gives us greater grace. So the collection of people in the church can fall just as deeply into sin but God does more to protect His Church. He protected the Israelites too but allowed an exile and some periods where the true teaching was all but lost. He does not allow that anymore not because we are so holy but because the grace Jesus brought through His incarnation, death and resurrection prevents it.

            True doctrine and true sacraments are huge. Yes, we still need to obey. Faith alone is not enough. Faith expressed through love is required. Still if we get the faith consistently right that would be a huge improvement over what is presented today. Then if we offer believers the body and blood of Jesus the way He longs to give Himself to us. That would change hearts and minds in amazing ways. Sacraments are powerful, especially the Eucharist and Confession. Without them we are like a 3rd world country where people die of starvation and of curable diseases. The Eucharist is spiritual food and Confession is spiritual penicillin.

            Are those enough? Not completely. We can still fall into a spiritual sloth when these are widely practiced. Still I would love to get back to the situation where this is the biggest problem.

          • LB: I don't need humans to tell me what God requires of me if my ears are open to the Holy Spirit. That is, however, a big "if"—for me as well as for the "series of bad popes" to which you alluded.

            RG: That is the arrogance of Protestantism. I have an entirely subjective experience of what I assume is the Holy Spirit and that gives me authority over all other believers past and present. That is why we need to constantly do a sanity check to see if our discernment lines up with scripture, tradition and the magisterium.

            Wow, you shifted from "what God requires of me" → "authority over all other believers past and present". You objected when I claimed that Protestant-Luke doesn't have a magisterium, unlike Protestant-Randy, even when viewed from God's perspective instead of an allegedly warped-Protestant perspective. The very different phrasing here strengthens my case: for some reason you seem to want to take a nigh-infallible perspective and impose it on me. What have I actually said which merits that perspective?

            I said the thing you called "arrogance" because of "And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD." That has to mean something, doesn't it? Well, it seems to me a pretty obvious reversal of the magisterium instituted in Deut 5:22–33. This doesn't mean that all of a sudden leadership is not required (recall my "Nope; …"); the New Covenant is surely gradual. That's how I interpret Eph 4:11–16. Leaders are needed to help all members mature. If in fact the attitude of leaders is more like that of Joshua in Num 11:24–30, that's a problem. Maybe a huge problem.

            What really seems to be going on is that the Magisterium always has more Holy Spirit than any of the laypersons. Something like that seems entailed by the "Theory of the 'Office'" you've put forward. God could work however he wants, but the way he does work is that the RCC is always more right than any outside group and the Magisterium is always more right than any critics. These are overall/​average measures; there will be occasional bad apples (including popes). What will never happen is the need for a prophet to offer any sort of radical critique, like OT times. Reformers yes, but radical critique no. I expect you to take issue with this paragraph somehow; I'm having considerable difficulty in nailing down just what error the RCC could fall into and what error it is immune from.

            A few proof texts can skew everything. This is what is feels like to me when you keep bringing up the same passages.

            Why don't you take me through one of the alleged skewings? I happen to think that the passages I repeatedly cite are really important, but if you think that they need to be held in tension with other passages which I have not included, feel free to raise those passages to attention!

            RG: I have been confused about why you keep making references to the Holy Spirit withing us. If you are not implying that it makes the magisterium something contrary to God's plan then I don't know why you keep bringing it up. At the risk of stating the obvious the differences between Protestants are not explained by these passages. They are a partial answer to how we arrive at truth but if there were the full answer the people using that method alone would all be arriving at the same basic truth. In fact, if that was God's intent I doubt it would have taken him 1500 years to communicate it.

            LB: On the same basis I could say that after 2000 years, I would expect the church with the best method to have achieved something better than a "smaller, purer church" with shrinking social influence.

            RG: That is a strange statement. The smaller, purer church is something that has happened a few times in history when things have gotten bad. It might be happening again now. Still it is not the sum total of what the Catholic Church has done for 2000 years. I really don't think you are trying to make a fair assessment.

            Surely you weren't referring to the "sum total" of what Protestants have achieved when you said "that method alone"—which is some combination of "Heed the Holy Spirit!" and caricature of sola scriptura. After all, haven't Protestants translated the Bible into numerous languages? Furthermore, the idea that the Roman Catholics have "that method" pretty much figured out is belied by the "smaller, purer church".

            Anyway, it gets long ans complex and if you are not open to hearing it I would be wasting my time.

            I stand by what I wrote at the end of my comment to which you are responding.

            I would say Christians are not immune but God now gives us greater grace. So the collection of people in the church can fall just as deeply into sin but God does more to protect His Church. He protected the Israelites too but allowed an exile and some periods where the true teaching was all but lost. He does not allow that anymore not because we are so holy but because the grace Jesus brought through His incarnation, death and resurrection prevents it.

            I think I agree with "greater grace" but I don't see where God promises that his Church will get extra protection. As I wrote earlier, "Mt 16:18 could be accomplished via Is 6:13 → 11:1". So much sin is justified in the face of death, whether physical or reputation. But the Church cannot stay dead if it is truly following he "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist".

            Still if we get the faith consistently right that would be a huge improvement over what is presented today.

            I'm not convinced it's really possible for the intellect to be so pure while the rest severely lags behind. This seems to depend on a platonic understanding of knowledge, where doing does not teach us all that much which is relevant for getting "the faith" correct.

            Then if we offer believers the body and blood of Jesus the way He longs to give Himself to us. That would change hearts and minds in amazing ways. Sacraments are powerful, especially the Eucharist and Confession.

            I certainly think confessing one's sins and the Lord's Supper are important; I'm not convinced that the way Catholics say it ought to be done is borne out with better fruit in empirical-land. Let's take for example the line from Mass, "Lord, I am not worthy for you to enter under my roof, but say only the word and my soul shall be healed." I take severe issue with giving credit to the dimension of "worthy" instead of condemning at as antithetical to the kind of gracious relationship God wants to have with us and that he wants us to have with others. But I'm willing to respect the empirical evidence: if there is more fruit generated by saying "I am not worthy" every week, I would temper my criticism and try to understand the mismatch between my rational system and what's in front of my face.

          • Wow, you shifted from "what God requires of me" → "authority over all other believers past and present". You objected when I claimed that Protestant-Luke doesn't have a magisterium, unlike Protestant-Randy, even when viewed from God's perspective instead of an allegedly warped-Protestant perspective. The very different phrasing here strengthens my case: for some reason you seem to want to take a nigh-infallible perspective and impose it on me. What have I actually said which merits that perspective?

            I agree with the Wow part. I found it

          • Wow, you shifted from "what God requires of me" → "authority over all other believers past and present". You objected when I claimed that Protestant-Luke doesn't have a magisterium, unlike Protestant-Randy, even when viewed from God's perspective instead of an allegedly warped-Protestant perspective. The very different phrasing here strengthens my case: for some reason you seem to want to take a nigh-infallible perspective and impose it on me. What have I actually said which merits that perspective?

            I agree with the Wow part. It is quite striking. It isn't really a shift. It is a progression. When you claim the authority to take one step then you have really claimed the authority to take 100 or 1000. If you don't accept that someone has the authority to draw lines somewhere then the only limiting factor is you. So it does not seem right but the logic is there. You phrasing might be different but there is no principled difference.

            I said the thing you called "arrogance" because of "And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD." That has to mean something, doesn't it?

            It does mean something. It is something that has been a fact in the Church since Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes on all men and women in the church. That does not mean the office of Priest, Bishop and Pope are not needed. They were there in the book of Acts. They were there through many centuries of church history. The Holy Spirit does not mean no leadership is required. In fact, greater power for the laity requires stronger leadership.

            Well, it seems to me a pretty obvious reversal of the magisterium instituted in Deut 5:22–33. This doesn't mean that all of a sudden leadership is not required (recall my "Nope; …"); the New Covenant is surely gradual

            A Covenant is never gradual. There is a gradual deepening of God's revelation through His Church. Yet the fundamental nature of the covenant that you have to accept the faith as defined by the church does not change.

            I expect you to take issue with this paragraph somehow; I'm having considerable difficulty in nailing down just what error the RCC could fall into and what error it is immune from.

            This is precisely define by the First Vatican Council. Try this:
            http://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/a-brief-history-of-papal-infallibility

            It essentially says papal documents that meet certain criteria are immune from error. All papal actions are most papal statement do not meet this criteria and could be suspect.

            Why don't you take me through one of the alleged skewings? I happen to think that the passages I repeatedly cite are really important, but if you think that they need to be held in tension with other passages which I have not included, feel free to raise those passages to attention!

            I don't see much tension except that created by you. I can walk you through all the passages on the authority of Peter and the church and the apostles. It would take many words to do that justice. You made a reference to Mat 16:18 which made no sense to me so you seem to be somewhat aware of where that goes.

            I'm not convinced it's really possible for the intellect to be so pure while the rest severely lags behind. This seems to depend on a platonic understanding of knowledge, where doing does not teach us all that much which is relevant for getting "the faith" correct.

            I agree. That is why declaring people to be saints can be as important as defining doctrinal formulas. Protestants can't do either and Catholics can do both because of the pope.

          • When you claim the authority to take one step then you have really claimed the authority to take 100 or 1000. If you don't accept that someone has the authority to draw lines somewhere then the only limiting factor is you. So it does not seem right but the logic is there. You phrasing might be different but there is no principled difference.

            You are forgetting two key scriptures:

            submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

            But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

            How am I going to obey those and simultaneously arrogate "authority over all other believers past and present"? And those passages aside, to arrogate such authority would be to put myself above Jesus! The most he did to impose himself on people was to drive the money-changers out of the Temple complex.

            It does mean something. It is something that has been a fact in the Church since Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes on all men and women in the church.

            But what does that mean? From what you wrote earlier—

            RG: Catholics accept the Holy Spirit leads us but can also accept that we can get it wrong. That is why we need to constantly do a sanity check to see if our discernment lines up with scripture, tradition and the magisterium.

            —what the Holy Spirit demonstrably does is help us obey the Magisterium. That is, only select people have voting shares of the Holy Spirit. I'm sorry, but it's all a little suspect, especially if there is no empirical evidence that the actual obedience of Roman Catholic laity is superior to that of other Christians.

            That does not mean the office of Priest, Bishop and Pope are not needed. They were there in the book of Acts. They were there through many centuries of church history. The Holy Spirit does not mean no leadership is required. In fact, greater power for the laity requires stronger leadership.

            There's a reason I referenced my "Nope; …": initially leadership is obviously needed. But what is the scriptural basis for your last sentence? Surely you aren't saying that the more everyone becomes like Jesus, the more "stronger leadership" is required?

            A Covenant is never gradual.

            Its instantiation in people (vs. acceptance as dogma) certainly seems gradual to me. See also my "platonic understanding of knowledge", which puts into question whether we really understand the dogma apart from practice which is at least in the vicinity. And if in fact the New Covenant means everyone becoming more like Jesus and thus requiring less [permanent] hierarchy, then our understanding of what it is would actually be gradual itself.

            This is precisely define by the First Vatican Council. Try this:
            [A Brief History of Papal Infallibility]

            That doesn't address how much error the RCC can fall into. The message I get is that no matter how much error the RCC can fall into, the available alternatives will always be worse. But is that demonstrably true, or is it merely claimed? What makes the matter quite difficult in my mind is that the RCC's way seems optimal if we are in a post-Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 state. If those who call themselves Christians don't actually want to hear from God and instead want to be "like all the nations", then you will need something like the Magisterium. But this isn't New Covenant existence.

            RG: A few proof texts can skew everything. This is what is feels like to me when you keep bringing up the same passages.

            LB: Why don't you take me through one of the alleged skewings?

            RG: You made a reference to Mat 16:18 which made no sense to me …

            I wrote (and quoted) that "Mt 16:18 could be accomplished via Is 6:13 → 11:1". The meaning is that resurrection conquers death. But if we forget about resurrection, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" would be interpreted as "does not die". I think history shows fairly well that institutions which fear death make moral compromises to ensure their existence.

            What else do you think I have skewed?

          • You are forgetting two key scriptures:

            You are missing the point. I was not describing what scripture says you ought to do or even what you intend to do. I was describing the logical expected and empirically observed impact of relying solely on the Holy Spirit as your authority. It is not a question of whether you will drift away from Christianity. It is just a question of how far and how fast.

            Submitting can be done within a heretical community. So the fact that you are submitting does not help unless the person you are submitting to is ultimately grounded in something more than a subjective interpretation of scripture confirmed only by pious feeling assumed to the Holy Spirit. Not saying people are not sincere. I sure was. I am just saying it goes against history and logic and ironically scripture as well.

            —what the Holy Spirit demonstrably does is help us obey the Magisterium. That is, only select people have voting shares of the Holy Spirit. I'm sorry, but it's all a little suspect, especially if there is no empirical evidence that the actual obedience of Roman Catholic laity is superior to that of other Christians.

            Obeying the magisterium is just a small part of the life of a Christian. The Holy Spirit is involved in a lot more than that. It is like saying 100% of driving is not driving into the ditch. Not really. Once you master not driving into the ditch then the real driving begins. The magisterium's role is to help us avoid some of the big errors from the past. The current magisterium does not have voting shares in what those answers were. The current leaders discern the current controversies but they often take many years to settle something. So the power struggle you describe is just not real.

            As for empirical evidence, just look around. Who is the one teaching the same gospel for 2000 years? No branch of Protestantism can claim any coherent connection with historical Christianity. They have to say that for some significant period of church history the true gospel was totally and completely lost. Then they have to avoid asking how they can know they don't have the gospel wrong now. If the Holy Spirit let folks get it wrong once then how can we be sure what we embrace it even close?

            There's a reason I referenced my "Nope; …": initially leadership is obviously needed. But what is the scriptural basis for your last sentence? Surely you aren't saying that the more everyone becomes like Jesus, the more "stronger leadership" is required?

            Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority. I have seen it. You want a biblical example? Look at the circumcision controversy of Acts 15. If there was no authority of a Church Council led by Pope Peter then the fight would have never been resolved. It is not that the people on the other side lacked virtue. They were simply confident in their opinion. Only an infallible answer could change their mind. The kind Jesus describes in Mt 18:17.

            That doesn't address how much error the RCC can fall into. The message I get is that no matter how much error the RCC can fall into, the available alternatives will always be worse. But is that demonstrably true, or is it merely claimed?

            The RCC has the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ truly present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. So any fellowship missing that is missing a lot. Then there is the matter of unity. Do you want to be united with the world-wide body of Christ?

            So what are you looking for? You want a scientific experiment that proves the RCC is the best short term answer for you? At some point faith is required. You have the evidence of so many failed schisms over the centuries. Sure you can hope yours is different.

          • LB: There's a reason I referenced my "Nope; …": initially leadership is obviously needed. But what is the scriptural basis for your last sentence? Surely you aren't saying that the more everyone becomes like Jesus, the more "stronger leadership" is required?

            RG: Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority. I have seen it. You want a biblical example? Look at the circumcision controversy of Acts 15. If there was no authority of a Church Council led by Pope Peter then the fight would have never been resolved. It is not that the people on the other side lacked virtue. They were simply confident in their opinion. Only an infallible answer could change their mind. The kind Jesus describes in Mt 18:17.

            I want to drive a wedge between "strong, holy people" and "more … like Jesus". I have had multiple conversations with people who think of strength and holiness in ways very different from what I see in Jesus. I've convinced some of them of the same. One was worried that the more transformation one has from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18), the less accessible or even comprehensible one is to regular laypeople. When I pointed out how accessible Jesus was to laypeople, he revised his understanding of what "glory" actually is.

            Acts 15 is rather useful here: Peter does not say to believe him "because Jesus said I was the rock upon which he would build his church" and the gathered council agrees because "it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us". Not because Pope Peter spoke ex cathedra. The Holy Spirit came through for them and their beings were not too permeated with the consequences of Adam's sin.

            The overall idea I get from you is that humans are constantly looking to arrogate as much power and authority as they can—at least some group quite relevant to our conversations. "When you claim the authority to take one step then you have really claimed the authority to take 100 or 1000." And so we need "someone [who] has the authority to draw lines somewhere". This is eerily similar to the Enlightenment notion that the only way to protect oneself against power is to amass power oneself. I say there is a big mismatch between this and 1 Cor 1:18–2:10. Does it change when one switches from political power to religious authority? Neither Jesus nor YHWH used anything close to the full power and authority they had over us broken image-bearers. Since when does human authority make the kind of concessions we see in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 when there is no realpolitik need?

            To put it baldly, you seem to have bought into what John Milbank calls an 'ontology of violence'. However powerful the Holy Spirit is, however much the New Covenant is "instantiat[ed]", followers of Jesus are fundamentally resistant to the calls toward unity and humility in e.g. Phil 2:1–10 and Eph 4:1–7. This holds for all believers except for the Magisterium, which has extra Holy Spirit which overcomes this lust for power and domination. I look forward to you explaining how I've gotten your position wrong.

            You are missing the point. I was not describing what scripture says you ought to do or even what you intend to do. I was describing the logical expected and empirically observed impact of relying solely on the Holy Spirit as your authority.

            You moved from my "what God requires of me" to your "authority over all other believers past and present" and I don't see how you can do that without egregiously violating Eph 5:21 and Mt 20:25–28. You also seem to be presupposing a domineering spirit in followers of Jesus—except for the Magisterium. Countering one kind of domination with another doesn't seem to match God working through weakness. It rather seems like "lord it over" / "exercise authority over". (If you think this use of Mt 20:25–28 needs tempering by Lk 22:24–34 per this comment, just say so.)

            Obeying the magisterium is just a small part of the life of a Christian. The Holy Spirit is involved in a lot more than that.

            I don't see how that can be so small and yet yield "we could build great societies". You've made a very, very big deal of Protestant refusal to submit to the Roman Catholic Magisterium. Without it, all hell breaks loose. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit just doesn't have the ability to bring unity without extraordinary human aid—via that elite group of individuals [throughout time] who have/had "voting shares of the Holy Spirit". I don't particularly care if the voting takes decades or centuries; plenty of society is shaped via long-term decisions.

            ———

            At stake here, from my perspective, is whether (i) what the RCC has accomplished is a sign that "more would be better"; or whether (ii) the RCC is assuming too little from sanctification by this point in history. God clearly lets degraded situations persist for a while and produce good fruit—"for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them"—but they do not last and plenty of less-than-stellar aspects accompany. Does the route away from that "smaller, purer church" (which you see as temporary) involve a turning back to how we did things before?

            I believe that with God, all things are possible. That means there is no need whatsoever to get stuck on a suboptimal way to organize society and Christianity. The Holy Spirit has infinite power. It's not like he is too weak to overcome any and all consequences of our sin plus the sins of those who came before us. Assuming you agree with me so far, do you think that God ultimately wants a hierarchy like the RCC has, whereby the further up you are, the clearer is your view of what God wants and the better you are at putting it into practice, and the more you get to tell other people what to think and what to do? Hovering in the background might be the skepticism that the hierarchy is actually in any contact with God whatsoever, but let's put that aside and just ask what we think God's ideal way of being with his creation is.

          • Thanks so much for the reponse. I was beginning to think you had dropped this which would have made me sad.I agree with what you said about holiness not always being what we think but always being what Jesus showed us. I would say that the church is the body of Christ and shows us a fuller picture of holiness. Thousands of saints will show us more ways to be holy than 4 gospels could.

            Acts 15 is rather useful here: Peter does not say to believe him "because Jesus said I was the rock upon which he would build his church" and the gathered council agrees because "it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us". Not because Pope Peter spoke ex cathedra. The Holy Spirit came through for them and their beings were not too permeated with the consequences of Adam's sin.

            The terminology is different than what modern Catholic's use but the concept is the same. There was a controversy. The church leaders met to resolve it. Their resolution was the Holy Spirit's resolution. So there is a claim of infalibility there. There is no claim that they were not permeated by sin. Just the decision was from the Holy Spirit. They did not say we are so holy, listen to us. The Judiazers were likely prety holy too. They likely didn't deny Jesus 3 times or spend time persecuting the church. Plus the Judiazers would have had some pretty good biblical arguments. It says in the Old Testament that gentile converts need to be circumcised. They were claiming the authority to overrule what many would descibe as clear biblical teaching. Their word was the final word. It was a special grace that saved the church from endless debate and schism.

            To put it baldly, you seem to have bought into what John Milbank calls an 'ontology of violence'. However powerful the Holy Spirit is, however much the New Covenant is "instantiat[ed]", followers of Jesus are fundamentally resistant to the calls toward unity and humility in e.g. Phil 2:1–10 and Eph 4:1–7. This holds for all believers except for the Magisterium, which has extra Holy Spirit which overcomes this lust for power and domination. I look forward to you explaining how I've gotten your position wrong.

            You have my position so very wrong it is difficult for me to explain how. I have never advocated or even considered violence as entering into this. It is you that keeps bringing it up. The concept is not my power against someone else's power. The concept is God's power against the power of evil. We can't win. We either submit lovingly to God's power or we end up enslaved by Satan's power. The question is where is God's power? Is it in the latest church some smooth-talking preacher started? It it in the latest doctrinal fads? To me, it has to be where it has always been. Regardless of where that is it is not something God is going to move around. There has to be some consistent principle that has worked through history.

            The one thing that does not work is just chasing after whatever seems good to your ears or my ears. The source has to be right. The bible? Yes. The Holy Spirit? Yes. But everyone claims those 2 things. If Satan started a church, and I am certain he has started many, he would claim that for sure. What can't Satan fake? Can he fake something as impressive as the Catholic Church? It is easy to say. They said Jesus was a prince of demons. Does it really make sense. It would mean Satan compiled the scriptures and fought all the Christological heresies. It would mean he evangelized Europe and produced many saints. It is like the liar, lunatic, Lord argument. You ask what the church could be. At some point you become convinced the other options are not tenable.

            You also seem to be presupposing a domineering spirit in followers of Jesus—except for the Magisterium. Countering one kind of domination with another doesn't seem to match God working through weakness. It rather seems like "lord it over" / "exercise authority over". (If you think this use of Mt 20:25–28 needs tempering by Lk 22:24–34 per this comment, just say so.)

            I presuppose sin in the followers of Jesus. I presuppose it in the magisterium as well. That is why a special grace is needed for us to avoid completely corrupting the gospel. This is not countering domination with domination. Protestant pastors need to be dominating. They need to compete with other Protestant pastors. It was less true a few decades ago when denominational loyalty was much higher. Yet today Catholic priests have a much easier time. They don't have to please the crowd. They just have to please their bishop. There is actually much less of a "lord it over" dynamic in the Catholic church. Of course there are exceptions but I think the structure of the church lends itself to servant leaders.

            I would not say Mt 20:25–28 needs tempering by Lk 22:24–34. I would say Jesus makes clear that Mt 20:25–28 in Lk 22:24–34 does not contradict in any way a powerful office of bishop and a powerful office of pope. The servant leader thing is God's will. Every pope and bishop and priest needs to understand it. Also those of us in lay leadership need to get it as well. If anything, we need to live that more radically. The more legit the office the more important that is be exercised with great humility. That is why Jesus washed the disciples feet said in John 13, "Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet" He did not cease to be Teacher and Lord. He was Teacher and Lord in a different way.

          • I wrote a rather long response but I think it'd be better to start here:

            I presuppose sin in the followers of Jesus. I presuppose it in the magisterium as well. That is why a special grace is needed for us to avoid completely corrupting the gospel.

            If there is truly nothing exemplary about the Magisterium except that special grace, then why does God exclusively provide it to the 'office'? Forgive me, but the pattern you describe seems to pattern-match that of the OT where (i) the Holy Spirit only rested on leaders and prophets; (ii) only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies. You said "Veils are a good thing."; I don't know how to reconcile this with the fact that the veil to the Holy of Holies was torn in half. If you want further confirmation that the veil is gone, see what Paul wrote:

            Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:12–18)

            The veil being lifted in no way prevents us from acknowledging when we are "approaching the sacred"; on the contrary:

            For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18–24)

            This is an explicit contrast to Deut 5:22–33, one of those passages I keep citing. Another contrast is 1 Ki 19:9–13, which looks like the Deuteronomy passage except God speaks in a low whisper instead an loud voice. What follows in the Hebrews passage becomes rather poignant: "See that you do not refuse him who is speaking." According to you though, only the Magisterium really does this, and not necessarily under voluntary control. (That 'special grace' seems awfully similar to 'verbal plenary inspiration'.) Followers of Jesus—even "[s]trong, holy people"—are still not ready to hear directly from God and attempting this "will produce bigger fights".

            As best I understand, you hold that sin is simply too powerful and that instead of God countering enough so that we can listen enough and not mix it too much with our corruption, God selectively overrides it supernaturally. Anything less than this would lead to "completely corrupting the gospel". Is this really your position? In the balance here is just how much sanctification God wishes to empower and how he prefers to go about it.

          • You might have a point here if the big difference between Protestants and Catholics is that one had leaders and the other did not. The truth is both have strong leaders. So no matter how often you drag these passages into the discussion they still don't belong. Yes, there is a real difference between the way personal discernment and personal holiness works in the Old Covenant and the New. The new covenant has greater grace generally and also in this area. Yet none of the passages says we will stop having spiritual leadership. In fact Jesus says we will have better leaders which implies some leaders.

            What is really different about Catholicism is more found in sacred tradition. The sacred tradition is related to the magisterium but it is not the same thing. The magisterium is needed for a tradition to remain on course. It is the primary way the Holy Spirit keeps the tradition pure. Still it explains why your focus on this relatively small subset of the church is really misguided.

            Tradition is simply a human reality. We don't take all arguments equally. We would never arrive at even the simplest conclusion if we did. We latch on to people we trust and follow their thinking. We start with our family and as we grow older we expand the circle of who we trust. Our tradition not only determines which church we go to but which books we read and which songs we listen to and which bible studies we attend. I was raised in a reformed tradition and as a young adult started to fellowship with Pentecostal Christians. it was hard to describe. They were both bible focused but very different.

            One question I asked was about infant baptism. My reformed church practiced it. Why? Because it was biblical. The Pentecostal church practiced adult baptism. Why? Because it was biblical. They read the same bible but every single Pentecostal thought it taught adult baptism and every single reformed Christian thought it taught infant baptism. What really made the difference. Tradition.

            So I started to realize how much tradition influences us even if we think we are just following scripture. I started to think that is would be very important to have the right tradition. That way all those subconscious influences would be pushing me towards truth rather than error. The good news of Catholicism is God gives us exactly that. The bad new for me at least was it was not really that close to the reformed tradition.

            So God keeps Catholic tradition on track. How does He do it? The magisterium plays a role for sure. Mostly when Christians come to strong differences of opinion. Those are important times. Yet that does not happen all the time. Often the community has a strong consensus about what is right. That flows from people listening to the Holy Spirit. So the gift of sacred tradition flows from both the stuff you are talking about and from the occasional intervention from an infallible magisterium.

            Protestantism is a mess. Still it did not get there overnight. We are at 500 years and counting. It is a flawed system and the flaws are more obvious and serious now than ever. Still a lot of good things have happened in Protestant churches. The traditions there are not all bad. Still they are human traditions. Jesus talked about human traditions to distinguish them from sacred tradition.

          • You packed a lot in that comment; my attempts to address all of it blew up my response size. So instead I'm going to focus on what spiritual maturity is, by looking at some history and some scripture. First the scripture:

            Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9–11)

            The history is the Thirty Years' War, where Protestants and Catholics massacred each other. I want to contend that John above offers an extremely severe criticism of every single person who claimed to be a Christian and killed someone whom Jesus would call his own. Every such person would be characterized as "walking in the darkness". We might even include those Christians who could have called for an end to the violence, even if that would have resulted in loss of power or even their own lives—"For your sake we are being killed all the day long; / we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."

            I say that the Thirty Years' War demonstrated how pathetically spiritually immature were the majority of Christians on the European continent, if Jesus would in fact call them his own. Unless you posit a terrible drop in maturity following 1517 (the Thirty Years' War was 1618–1648), we can estimate that the state in Martin Luther's time was approximately atrocious. If our reasoning accepts that state of [im]maturity as somehow normal, then we are falling far below a standard Paul himself set out:

            But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4)

            From all I have seen from you, you just don't expect followers of Jesus to rise above this unless they say "I follow the Pope". "Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority." I say that as judged by scripture, the people you are calling 'strong' and 'holy' are spiritually immature. Here's more:

            Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13–18)

            Historical counterfactuals being difficult, it is hard to say whether there would have been more spiritual maturity among all Christians had Martin Luther shrunk his objections to something which would not have resulted in his excommunication or worse. But I look around today and in the last two centuries and I don't see much maturity. I see much "lord it over" / "excercise authority over" and little "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ". I see an abundance of blaming everyone but oneself, everyone but one's own tribe. I see approximately zero willingness of Christians to lay bare their sins in the way the Bible does. Instead, everyone is hard at work protecting their reputations—all to better spread the Gospel, of course.

            From what I can tell, Randy, pretty much all of your argumentation is within the context of extreme spiritual immaturity. It is within the context of people who are stubborn that "the love of Christ [holds us together]" is false—something extra is needed. I have repeatedly cited Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 because they are instances of "something extra is needed". In both cases, YHWH agreed/​relented. In such situations human leaders are required, but only because of terrible spiritual immaturity.

            Before either of us moves on to how to rectify the situation I say is characterized by "terrible spiritual immaturity", I would like to know to what extent you even agree with the above characterization. Note that I have already agreed that the spiritually immature require leaders; see my "Nope; …", to which I have linked several times now.

          • The history is the Thirty Years' War, where Protestants and Catholics massacred each other. I want to contend that John above offers an extremely severe criticism of every single person who claimed to be a Christian and killed someone whom Jesus would call his own

            First of all, you need to be careful when attacking other Christians for the sin of attacking other Christians. You can run into some pot-kettle issues very quickly.

            Secondly, I am not sure this is at all related to maturity. It is related to Protestantism. Protestants have no good way of handing disagreements among believers. There are a couple of options and each has a problem. One option is to say their doctrine is in fact the clear teaching of scripture and those who disagree with it are going against scripture. Why? Well, they must be evil or maybe just their leaders are evil but they have a serious spiritual weakness. The trouble is that when multiple groups get passionate about opposing doctrines that can lead to some heated disagreements and even violence. There is no way to resolve these disputes in the Sola Scriptura model except through force.

            The other way to deal with disputes is to avoid getting passionate about doctrine. Just declare every doctrinal question to be unimportant and you will avoid the fights. After 30 years of war this is very tempting. Still it does not work. You end up with a society that views religion in total as unimportant. It ultimately leads to atheism. Before Protestantism, no religion had every seem a substantial number of their adherents become atheist. The doctrinal agnosticism that many Christians landed on in response to Protestantism has led to just that. Even those who don't become explicitly atheist often become functional atheists because they are not certain enough about their faith to apply it to the important question in their life.

            So I agree with you that the 30 years war was bad. It does seem strange to conclude from it that Catholciism is bad and Protestantism is good.

            From what I can tell, Randy, pretty much all of your argumentation is within the context of extreme spiritual immaturity.

            That is an error on my part. Extremely mature Christians do need the church. Mature Christians know they need the church and it is not an issue. Can Protestant Christians be mature? It is hard to say. Many settle on some tradition and try and develop virtue where they are at. Yet the concept of obedience is very weak. So Protestantism is rife with extreme spiritual immaturity at least when dealing with the deeper questions of why they have chosen the tradition they did. I do think you get into matters of judging quite quickly when talking about Christian maturity. I am not even sure it is a useful concept to focus on. Talking about our own maturity is fine but going around labelling this Christian as mature and that Christian as immature seems problematic.

          • Would you be a bit more clear on what you think is rash about applying 1 Jn 2:9–11 to those who [intentionally] killed followers of Jesus while themselves claiming to be followers of Jesus?

          • I am not sure rash is the right word. Still people who believe something act on that belief. They fight for what they see as truth. Protestantism gives them no other choice. If you are sure you are right about matters involving many souls then what do you do. What does love for your brother who you see look like? Remember violence is often something that sneaks up on people. They disagree strongly and it just gets violent.

            For centuries Catholicism had told them the church was there to insure the gospel was available to others. Now Protestantism put it on the individual Christian to distrust the church and do what needed to be done for the “true” gospel to be preached. We can sit back and quote our favourite proof texts and make anachronistic judgements. We need to ask deeper questions.

          • You're making this out to be exclusively about Protestantism, but that's not true to the facts about the Thirty Years' War. Protestants massacred Catholics, Catholics massacred Protestants, and sometimes each massacred their own. I ask you whether that can happen without those involved in the killing being judged as "walks in the darkness" per 1 Jn 2:9–11. And it really applies to all who claim to follow Jesus who hated anyone who really does follow Jesus. If the Pope at the time hated a single true Jesus-follower, then he walked in darkness. John is even more severe later on: "whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother." I don't think you love your brother by killing him.

            You say people fight for what they see as true and I agree. But do they think the fight is one of flesh and blood? If so, they are walking according to the flesh and are of no use to God except as vessels of dishonor God will reluctantly use to show his wrath. Do they "lord it over" / "exercise authority over"? Then they do not love Jesus, because "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." God almost never imposes his way on us; largely he lets those who use the most manipulation, coercion, and violence try out their ideas. Perhaps those people are the most in danger of hellfire. Some people won't admit their ideas are evil until they are tried and result in enough suffering.

            As to "anachronistic judgements", what's anachronistic about my application of scripture above? At best, the Protestants and Catholics who killed each other didn't think the other side had any "true Christians". Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus! But who really thinks John meant "hates whom he thinks is his brother"? Those who say "I would never kill a brother" can go read Jn 8:31–59.

            As to "We need to ask deeper questions.", what are some examples? I think examining our fundamental presuppositions—levels of spiritual maturity to expect, whether we're operating off of an ontology of violence—are rather important things to investigate. What do you think is more important?

          • I am not saying it exclusively about Protestantism. Every way is complex. Saying there is just one cause is almost always wrong. Still nothing of this scale happened before Protestantism came on the scene. I don't think that is a coincidence. People didn't suddenly change their understanding of I John 2. They changed their understanding of the Church. They no longer trusted God to protect the gospel using the church. Why? Because Protestants said it was not so.

            What is anachronistic? You are a 21st century guy. You don't understand how people thought in the 17 century. They believed salvation was tied to believing the right faith. Especially with Faith Alone on the scene it made sense that the content of your faith should matter. That is actually more coherent than modern Protestants who assert that Faith Alone is true yet it does not matter if the stuff you actually believe is nothing close to the truth. People in the 17th century took heaven and hell seriously.

            The deeper questions are the ones I have been raising and you have been avoiding. Spiritual maturity is a dodge. Ontology of violence is a dodge. We agree on those questions. What we disagree on is where we can find true doctrine and true sacraments along with how important it is to have those.

          • I'd like to zero in on this because matters here seem to be guiding much of our whole discussion:

            LB: There's a reason I referenced my "Nope; …": initially leadership is obviously needed. But what is the scriptural basis for your last sentence? Surely you aren't saying that the more everyone becomes like Jesus, the more "stronger leadership" is required?

            RG: Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority. I have seen it. You want a biblical example? Look at the circumcision controversy of Acts 15. If there was no authority of a Church Council led by Pope Peter then the fight would have never been resolved. It is not that the people on the other side lacked virtue. They were simply confident in their opinion. Only an infallible answer could change their mind. The kind Jesus describes in Mt 18:17.

            LB: ⋮
            To put it baldly, you seem to have bought into what John Milbank calls an 'ontology of violence'. However powerful the Holy Spirit is, however much the New Covenant is "instantiat[ed]", followers of Jesus are fundamentally resistant to the calls toward unity and humility in e.g. Phil 2:1–10 and Eph 4:1–7. This holds for all believers except for the Magisterium, which has extra Holy Spirit which overcomes this lust for power and domination. I look forward to you explaining how I've gotten your position wrong.

            RG: You have my position so very wrong it is difficult for me to explain how. I have never advocated or even considered violence as entering into this. It is you that keeps bringing it up. The concept is not my power against someone else's power. The concept is God's power against the power of evil. We can't win. We either submit lovingly to God's power or we end up enslaved by Satan's power. The question is where is God's power?

            I'm sorry, I should have said more about what Milbank means by 'ontology of violence'. This 'violence' need not be physical; the physical is merely the basest version of conflict and provides the metaphorical grounding for your "bigger fights". So the question is whether conflict is primordial, whether it is baked into creation. Myths like Enûma Eliš assume that it is; in fact Genesis 1–2 may be unique in arguing that things were created to be harmonious and that we fell from a state of shalom. Primordial conflict is baked into our cultural DNA via Hobbes' embrace of "the war of all against all"[1]. We may carry out this fight on the sports field and in the market[2] instead of on the battle field[3], but it is nevertheless there. Ultimately, my being is threatened by your being. And so no matter how confident I am about my position, I must fight you if you disagree. I must always seek to arrogate as much authority as I can: "When you claim the authority to take one step then you have really claimed the authority to take 100 or 1000."

            Those "[s]trong, holy people" you describe are caught up in an 'ontology of violence'. It is people in the flesh who desperately arrogate as much authority as they can, both for self-preservation and to be, at the expense of others. (Perhaps they pretend it is for the good of others.) If you believe this is the only life or if you believe that God will not reward you properly, then you must grab as much as you can now. "[S]ubmitting to one another" is admissible only when brown-nosing. To the extent that you didn't get to be in this life, you will never be in legacy or eternity. My existence, at its core, is inconsistent with yours. The Christian who believes the Holy Spirit can't/​won't do that much about sin can believe this about the consequent, corrupted natures.

            Now consider an 'ontology of peace' with resurrection and true justice. If my idea is truly better but the majority choose another path, I can rest in the knowledge that God often allows suboptimal solutions to be temporarily chosen and that if I do not live to see my better solution implemented, God will credit me just the same. The one who insists on placing himself/​herself before me is by definition lesser in the kingdom of God. So be it: that person apparently needs to accumulate more evidence by getting to be the one whose ideas are implemented. I can predict bad consequences like the prophets of old and then be ready to forgive if things go badly. (If things don't go badly, perhaps I need to repent.) I can know that the truly righteous work hard to build up the righteousness of others. Yes it can be frustrating doing this without "lord it over" or "exercise authority over", but there is no other route to true maturity.

            The power of Satan is domination and division and death; the power of God is weakness and cooperation and resurrection. "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." The binding and loosing that is singular in Mt 16:19 is plural in Mt 18:18. As much as some Protestant leaders would like to believe, Mt 18:17 reads "tell it to the church", not "tell it to the church leadership". For Catholics, Peter is not 'the church'; instead Jesus said he would build his church on Peter in Mt 16:18. The very term ekklēsia refers to a democratic phenomenon: it is the assembly of the dêmos.

            You, Randy, seem to believe much less in cooperation and resurrection. When you use 'resurrection' to talk of the church, you really mean that a "smaller, purer church" becomes big again[4]. Cooperation alone simply doesn't work you say—look at the Protestants! All must be in submission to Christ the Pope, who alone can be properly submitted to Jesus[5]. This all kinda-sorta makes sense if you assume absolute spiritual immaturity of everyone. Since I addressed the maturity issue at length two days ago, I won't say more here. But the RCC has had almost 2000 years to improve wrt spiritual maturity. Are you impressed with the result? Are you really satisfied by "[t]housands of saints"? I'm pretty sure Jesus, Paul, and pretty much everyone else expected and still expect rather more.

             
            [1] Yes this is prioritizing Hobbes over against Locke; the latter rejected an equivalence between 'the state of nature' and 'the state of war' in favor of an appeal to 'reason'. (Second Treatise III § 19) However, this 'reason' is clearly tribal, pitting our existence against theirs.
            [2] In The Passions and the Interests, Albert O. Hirschman argues that capitalism was first legitimized by preferring its predictable, peaceful competition for material things over the violent, destructive competition for glory.
            [3] I'm not sure I can really say this given the perpetual "War on Terror" but it certainly is our popular self-conception.
            [4] You write "Catholicism will resurrect.", but you also write "[God] does not allow [exile] anymore not because we are so holy but because the grace Jesus brought through His incarnation, death and resurrection prevents it." Your question "When do you think the church died?" was surely rhetorical—the [Roman Catholic] church has never died.
            [5] This isn't quite right; instead it is that if someone disagrees with the Pope, the Pope gets to decide who is right. Ostensibly the Pope listens to God and doesn't really decide himself. What is important here is that the deciding factor is not agreement (like in Acts 15), but trust in pure authority with no necessary track record.

          • These are interesting thoughts. Certainly an ontology of peace would have to worry about being so wimpy as to never effect any positive change. Pope John Paul II said the church can not impose anything. She can only propose things. She has to cunt on the beauty of her message to attract people. Then it seems like you will always get the church going in cycles. She gains power and strength. Yet the next generation rebels against that power. They attack the church. She become a martyr. Then she becomes beautiful again. Then people are drawn back. I am not sure if there is any way to propose hard truths like the gospel contains and have them become widely accepted without a rebellion.

            I still don't think I am advocating an ontology of violence. I am pointing out the principles of logic and history point strongly to the truth of Catholicism. You have not refuted a bit of it. Most of your response is off point like this one is. We can all agree peace is better than violence. Protestantism still remains problematic. Anyway, using logic to draw people to the truth is not the same as using violence. Even if your definition of violence is broad and includes more than physical violence. A broad definition like that can lead to people just calling any position they don't like an ontology of violence.

            Am I impressed with what the RCC has accomplished in 2000 years? Yes. Could we imagine better? Sure. We can always imagine a world where things happen more quickly and more easily. God has worked through many centuries to bring His Kingdom to earth. Did it have to take thousands of year before Jesus would come? I guess it did. Did it have to take thousands of years after? I guess so.

            The thing I see in the RCC is progress. Never enough to satisfy you of course. Still progress. Has any Protestant church progressed? Maybe you could argue a few have progressed for a couple of decades. None has progressed for centuries, let alone millennia. The RCC is simply a thing the human species could not have produced. It has always been made up of very fallible human beings but it has always not only survived but grown stronger.

          • LB: Surely you aren't saying that the more everyone becomes like Jesus, the more "stronger leadership" is required?

            RG: Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority. I have seen it.

            RG: I still don't think I am advocating an ontology of violence.

            It's right there: becoming more like Jesus fails to prevent the doctrinal schism we see with Protestantism. Without submission to Jesus the Pope, "When you claim the authority to take one step then you have really claimed the authority to take 100 or 1000." Your model here is of people who just can't wait to dominate each other. Despite the command to not "lord it over" or "exercise authority over". Despite the command to "[submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ". Despite the fact that Paul characterizes those who have "strive and jealousy" among them as "people of the flesh" and "infants of Christ". Despite James' answer to "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?".

            In your model, Christians are fundamentally set against each other—enough to create schism after schism—unless the love of Christ holds them together they submit to a human authority. So either we were just created to always need a human authority (that is, God thought he wasn't enough) or God just doesn't have any interest in sanctifying anyone enough to grow out of needing a human authority. Either way, that means that at the most fundamental aspect of our being which matters, we are opposed to each other such that we will fight and schism and war. But to make too much of physical violence is to ignore Paul's warning that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood". John Milbank does not make that error; I invite you to not make it, either.

            LB: This all kinda-sorta makes sense if you assume absolute spiritual immaturity of everyone. Since I addressed the maturity issue at length two days ago, I won't say more here. But the RCC has had almost 2000 years to improve wrt spiritual maturity. Are you impressed with the result? Are you really satisfied by "[t]housands of saints"? I'm pretty sure Jesus, Paul, and pretty much everyone else expected and still expect rather more.

            RG: Am I impressed with what the RCC has accomplished in 2000 years? Yes. Could we imagine better? Sure. We can always imagine a world where things happen more quickly and more easily. God has worked through many centuries to bring His Kingdom to earth. Did it have to take thousands of year before Jesus would come? I guess it did. Did it have to take thousands of years after? I guess so.

            Were you answering my narrow question about progress in spiritual maturity, or were you alluding to "It has built Western civilization."? Western civilization can evidently coexist with extensive, atrocious human behavior—as we're seeing on the surface today. Western civilization may even destroy itself; it certainly isn't replacing itself with its birth rates.

            The thing I see in the RCC is progress. Never enough to satisfy you of course.

            I don't believe you've ever tried to make a controlled comparison between Protestantism and Catholicism, so how do you know your second sentence to be true? I would like an answer to that question. I have merely claimed that if God wants us to submit to Jesus only through the Pope, then there should be some sort of superiority exhibited by those who do, which can be assessed empirically. "You shall know them by their fruits."

          • It's right there: becoming more like Jesus fails to prevent the doctrinal schism we see with Protestantism. Without submission to Jesus the Pope, "When you claim the authority to take one step then you have really claimed the authority to take 100 or 1000." Your model here is of people who just can't wait to dominate each other.

            When I say "claim the authority" I don't mean claiming it over and against another person. I mean claiming it over and against God. That has implications for your relationship with other Christians but the root problem is between you and God. So the question is whether there is any limit to what you can convince yourself is God's will. That is a limit that is not under your control. Is there any authority you recognize?

            Now rebellion against God implies rebellion against Christians who are actually following God. That is clear enough. What about the reverse? Can you rebel against other Christians and not rebel against God? Not really. It assumes there is no Christian leadership that has God right. Yet sometimes we fool ourselves. Sometimes we band together with some like-minded Christians and convince ourselves we are the faithful remnant of Christendom. It is really a huge claim. One that does not really pass the sanity test. Still at some level people believe it. I know I did as a Christian Reformed believer. So it might not feel like rebellion. But does it have to feel like rebellion to be rebellion?

            Despite the command to not "lord it over" or "exercise authority over". Despite the command to "[submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ". Despite the fact that Paul characterizes those who have "strive and jealousy" among them as "people of the flesh" and "infants of Christ". Despite James' answer to "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?".

            There is a way of exercising authority that Jesus wants us to stay away from. I got it. Yet there is a way of exercising authority that Jesus wants us to use. Jesus modelled it for us. Jesus spoke with authority.

            The verse on "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" is quite helpful. IIRC, it is Eph 5:21. That puts the emphasis on the submitter rather than the leader. That is where is belongs. We are called first and foremost to submit. It is hard. We struggle with pride. Still we need to do it. To ask that our leaders be 100% Christ-like before we submit to them is just finding excuses. God gives leaders. We need to accept that He knows what He is doing.

            In your model, Christians are fundamentally set against each other—enough to create schism after schism—unless the love of Christ holds them together they submit to a human authority. So either we were just created to always need a human authority (that is, God thought he wasn't enough) or God just doesn't have any interest in sanctifying anyone enough to grow out of needing a human authority.

            There is another option. Maybe God want to draw us into a close relationship with Himself and with each other. You know, the idea that God is love. Love does not mean growing apart. It means growing to be of one mind. You still need authority then but you embrace it rather than fight it because you see it as binding you to the body of Christ and by extension to Christ Himself. So God does think just Him is not enough. He wants to give us each other. That is not just a bonus but a ladder. Learning to love each other in the church raises us up to the level of divine love.

            There is even more. I Cor 10:17 says, "Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf." So the sacrament of the Eucharist unites us. It makes us one body because we partake of one body. It describes a cause and effect.

            Either way, that means that at the most fundamental aspect of our being which matters, we are opposed to each other such that we will fight and schism and war. But to make too much of physical violence is to ignore Paul's warning that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood". John Milbank does not make that error; I invite you to not make it, either.

            That is true of Protestantism. It is not true of Catholicism. We can oppose each other without love, even without violence. That is one danger. The other danger is to refuse to oppose each other so religion no longer matters. It becomes watered down so we refuse to fight the spiritual battle Paul talks about.

            I don't believe you've ever tried to make a controlled comparison between Protestantism and Catholicism, so how do you know your second sentence to be true? I would like an answer to that question. I have merely claimed that if God wants us to submit to Jesus only through the Pope, then there should be some sort of superiority exhibited by those who do, which can be assessed empirically. "You shall know them by their fruits."

            The comparisons I make don't impress you. If you want to know about fruits then read about the saints. If you want to judge anything you judge by its best practitioners. You judge Basketball by watching Michael Jordan and not the overweight, middle-aged guys at the Y. Look at Catholic saints. St Augustine, St Patrick, St Thomas Aquinas, St Francis of Assisi. See if there are any impressive papists.

          • When I say "claim the authority" I don't mean claiming it over and against another person. I mean claiming it over and against God. …

            Now rebellion against God implies rebellion against Christians who are actually following God. That is clear enough. What about the reverse? Can you rebel against other Christians and not rebel against God? Not really. It assumes there is no Christian leadership that has God right. …

            I'm sorry, but your second paragraph appears to undermine the first. In ANE creation myths other than Genesis, all humans were slaves of the gods but the pharaoh/​king/​emperor got to be the divine image bearer and order around the rest of the slaves. The message was clear: if you oppose the king you were actually opposing the gods. We now see that for the system of control it was. Genesis told a radically different story: all humans were created in the image of God. The model you're presenting seems to me much closer to the myths which Genesis 1 argued against, than Genesis 1. At best, I can compare your model to 1 Cor 3:1–4 and Heb 5:11–6:3, where something authority-like is required because of immaturity.

            There is a way of exercising authority that Jesus wants us to stay away from. I got it. Yet there is a way of exercising authority that Jesus wants us to use. Jesus modelled it for us. Jesus spoke with authority.

            But what's the difference? In Lk 22:24–34, we have Jesus saying "let the greatest among you become as the youngest", and yet the Pope addresses others as 'child'. It is as if children in the RCC never grow up—unless perhaps they're one of the ≈ 10,000 saints? From what I read, it is traditional also to kneel before the Pope; is this also an example of the Pope "becom[ing] as the youngest"?

            The verse on "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" is quite helpful. IIRC, it is Eph 5:21. That puts the emphasis on the submitter rather than the leader.

            That's because there is no leader in that passage, except perhaps Jesus—and unlike the Pope, Jesus never expected people to kneel before him.

            We are called first and foremost to submit. It is hard. We struggle with pride. Still we need to do it. To ask that our leaders be 100% Christ-like before we submit to them is just finding excuses.

            What have I said which can be honestly construed as requiring leaders to be perfectly obedient before I am at all obedient? May I assume that your argument requires that extreme characterization in order to go through? Or does it not require our leaders to be at all Christ-like in order for submission to them to be absolute (modulo "conscience" which always obeys "You should not actively oppose your priest.")?

            There is another option. Maybe God want to draw us into a close relationship with Himself and with each other. You know, the idea that God is love. Love does not mean growing apart. It means growing to be of one mind. You still need authority then but you embrace it rather than fight it because you see it as binding you to the body of Christ and by extension to Christ Himself.

            I see no reason to believe that God designed us to naturally grow apart unless we submit to a common human authority. I see this as the impact of sin, whereupon we vie for power and authority. I also see no necessary connection between being in deep relationship with each other and being in common submission to some human authority. Indeed, requiring a common human authority represented a degradation of Israel's relationship with God, in both Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8.

            LB: Either way, that means that at the most fundamental aspect of our being which matters, we are opposed to each other such that we will fight and schism and war. But to make too much of physical violence is to ignore Paul's warning that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood". John Milbank does not make that error; I invite you to not make it, either.

            RG: That is true of Protestantism. It is not true of Catholicism. We can oppose each other without love, even without violence. That is one danger. The other danger is to refuse to oppose each other so religion no longer matters. It becomes watered down so we refuse to fight the spiritual battle Paul talks about.

            Catholics massacred Protestants in the Thirty Years' War just like Protestants massacred Catholics. Sometimes Protestants massacred Protestants and sometimes Catholics massacred Catholics. I'm inclined to agree with Brad S. Gregory's conclusion in The Unintended Reformation that this and related religious violence convinced many people to downgrade the importance of any religious doctrine which was disagreed upon. It makes sense to me that God would grind away any part of us which gives us justification to massacre other parts of us. BTW, it is statements like this one which caused me to say "You didn't blame the Roman Catholic Church. It may have borne guilt, but strictly less than 50%."

            RG: The thing I see in the RCC is progress. Never enough to satisfy you of course.

            LB: I don't believe you've ever tried to make a controlled comparison between Protestantism and Catholicism, so how do you know your second sentence to be true?

            RG: The comparisons I make don't impress you.

            On multiple occasions you have compared 2000 years of RCC accomplishments with 500 years of Protestant accomplishments. (example) This is not a "controlled comparison". You have pointed out that the RCC explicitly canonizes saints; apparently this is somehow better than Protestants having people they set up as role models but not with an official canonizing process. (Does it actually yield increased maturity among Catholics? You have cited no evidence in favor of this.) You have linked to Fifty Ways Catholics are Working on Ending Hunger Today!, as if Protestants could not do the same. What have I missed?

            If you want to judge anything you judge by its best practitioners.

            Only if the purpose of the thing is to find the few gems in the rough rather than lower mountains and raise valleys. Here are Paul's words: "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." Everyone. Now, there are wolves among the sheep and others who will not persevere until the end, but neither of those qualifications allows us to merely select the Michael Jordans and ignore the rest.

            Now, let me be clear that I see virtually no Christians today participating in the mission Paul described. They might be sad that there are only a few Michael Jordans, only ≈ 10,000 saints. But they don't see that fact as a sign of epic failure. Paul was just too ambitious. Perhaps sadly, Joshua's viewpoint in Num 11:24–30 is the superior one—at least for our broken world.

          • I'm sorry, but your second paragraph appears to undermine the first.

            It seems to but it does not. Obedience to God is key. If we can't obey human leaders we can see how can we obey God who we cannot see? The Old Testament is full of prophets that people were supposed to listen to. The Garden of Eden did not have that. So what?

            But what's the difference? In Lk 22:24–34, we have Jesus saying "let the greatest among you become as the youngest", and yet the Pope addresses others as 'child'. It is as if children in the RCC never grow up—unless perhaps they're one of the ˜ 10,000 saints? From what I read, it is traditional also to kneel before the Pope; is this also an example of the Pope "becom[ing] as the youngest"?

            I am not sure what you are talking about here. I have never met the pope so the protocol is quite irrelevant to me. It is certainly not an infallible teaching so why does it matter. Does Pope Francis speak with arrogance or humility? I think he tries to be humble but sometimes misses th mark. What I think does not matter much. It is all beside the point.

            That's because there is no leader in that passage, except perhaps Jesus—and unlike the Pope, Jesus never expected people to kneel before him.

            So your comfortable with submission as long as there is no leader?

            What have I said which can be honestly construed as requiring leaders to be perfectly obedient before I am at all obedient? May I assume that your argument requires that extreme characterization in order to go through?

            Actually it is your argument that requires the extreme to work. Is kneeling before the pope relevant? If so, you are requiring the Pope to meet your definition of perfect humility before you obey. Can we be called to obey imperfect leaders. Peter was a denier. Paul was a persecutor. Moses was a murderer. David was an adulterer. Yet a pope might have improperly reacted to a kneeling person.

            Or does it not require our leaders to be at all Christ-like in order for submission to them to be absolute

            Submission is not absolute. It is limited. In those circumstances we trust the grace of God to prevent error and not the holiness of the pope. So yes, you need to obey even a bad pope when he speaks with the full authority of the church. At some point faith needs to kick in and we need to bow to the word of God rather than tell God whether His word meets with our approval or not.

            I see no reason to believe that God designed us to naturally grow apart unless we submit to a common human authority. I see this as the impact of sin, whereupon we vie for power and authority. I also see no necessary connection between being in deep relationship with each other and being in common submission to some human authority

            So it is because of sin rather than by design. It is still required. You can't see that. It seems like a bizarre claim but that is the position you are forced in to. Think of all the human institutions that work well without any human leadership ... keep thinking.

            I'm inclined to agree with Brad S. Gregory's conclusion in The Unintended Reformation that this and related religious violence convinced many people to downgrade the importance of any religious doctrine which was disagreed upon. It makes sense to me that God would grind away any part of us which gives us justification to massacre other parts of us.

            I agree with Brad Gregory's great book as well. I just think the consequence was terrible. You seem to like it. Downgrading any doctrine where there is disagreement causes Christianity to collapse and die over time. Disagreement over pretty much every doctrine is inevitable. Important doctrines are not immune. So does the fact that the Eucharist and the Papacy were the most disagreed on doctrines of the 17th century make them less important? I know I assumed that. It is not true though. We need to get these things right.

            Now, let me be clear that I see virtually no Christians today participating in the mission Paul described. They might be sad that there are only a few Michael Jordans, only ≈ 10,000 saints. But they don't see that fact as a sign of epic failure. Paul was just too ambitious. Perhaps sadly, Joshua's viewpoint in Num 11:24–30 is the superior one—at least for our broken world.

            Maybe you just have it wrong. Maybe God is happily building his Kingdom and you are just missing it.

          • Obedience to God is key. If we can't obey human leaders we can see how can we obey God who we cannot see?

            That's a rather odd adaptation of "for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." I'm curious; do you think Moses was being disobedient in Ex 32:9–14, Num 14:11–20, and/or Num 16:19–24? As a hint, I'm trying to drive a wedge between "obey" and "take deadly seriously". The former includes some of the latter, but not necessarily all. The latter is more concerned with God's ultimate goal, which obedience need not comprehend (recall the difference between servants and friends in Jn 15:12–17).

            RG: There is a way of exercising authority that Jesus wants us to stay away from. I got it. Yet there is a way of exercising authority that Jesus wants us to use. Jesus modelled it for us. Jesus spoke with authority.

            LB: But what's the difference? In Lk 22:24–34, we have Jesus saying "let the greatest among you become as the youngest", and yet the Pope addresses others as 'child'. It is as if children in the RCC never grow up—unless perhaps they're one of the ≈ 10,000 saints? From what I read, it is traditional also to kneel before the Pope; is this also an example of the Pope "becom[ing] as the youngest"?

            RG: I am not sure what you are talking about here. I have never met the pope so the protocol is quite irrelevant to me. It is certainly not an infallible teaching so why does it matter. Does Pope Francis speak with arrogance or humility? I think he tries to be humble but sometimes misses th mark. What I think does not matter much. It is all beside the point.

            I am trying to figure out a difference between the two ways of "exercising authority" which has Jesus meaning something significant when he tells us not to "lord it over" / "exercise authority over". I have pointed out that two established practices of the RCC seem to be in flagrant contradiction with Jesus' teaching on this matter. If someone calls me "child", I am not his brother. If I kneel before someone, I am not his brother. Both of those social protocols lift up one person over against the other, which is something Israelite kings were to fastidiously avoid: "that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers" (Deut 17:14–20). What I'm saying here is that both those social protocols seem to be in utter denial of the heart of God, which is to raise others up—not reinforce how puny they are in comparison to him. To claim that I have a better idea of what God wants than you and forcing that on you is one step away from the ultimate way to reinforce how puny you are in comparison to me. (That being, to just declare myself God.)

            So your comfortable with submission as long as there is no leader?

            I consider my leader to be Jesus Christ. He is my high priest, not the Pope.† As to submitting to humans, there are plenty of situations where this is needed to organize people to go do things. But gifting/​talents/​expertise aside, would it scandalize people for the roles to be reversed? If so, then the spirit of "submitting one to another out of reverence for Christ" would seem to be absent.

            † Compare to your "The leadership of the high priest was another grace [Protestants] see as disappearing and not being replaced."

            LB: What have I said which can be honestly construed as requiring leaders to be perfectly obedient before I am at all obedient? May I assume that your argument requires that extreme characterization in order to go through?

            RG: Actually it is your argument that requires the extreme to work. Is kneeling before the pope relevant? If so, you are requiring the Pope to meet your definition of perfect humility before you obey. Can we be called to obey imperfect leaders. Peter was a denier. Paul was a persecutor. Moses was a murderer. David was an adulterer. Yet a pope might have improperly reacted to a kneeling person.

            Before we address this, let's get straight that you greatly weakened my argument, from "it is traditional also to kneel before the Pope""a pope might have improperly reacted to a kneeling person". I would like to know why you did that; the two phrases seem rather different.

            LB: I see no reason to believe that God designed us to naturally grow apart unless we submit to a common human authority. I see this as the impact of sin, whereupon we vie for power and authority. I also see no necessary connection between being in deep relationship with each other and being in common submission to some human authority. Indeed, requiring a common human authority represented a degradation of Israel's relationship with God, in both Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8.

            RG: So it is because of sin rather than by design. It is still required. You can't see that. It seems like a bizarre claim but that is the position you are forced in to. Think of all the human institutions that work well without any human leadership ... keep thinking.

            Given my "Nope; …", exactly what is it that I cannot see? I've repeatedly said that leaders are required to raise all up to maturity. You ask me to consider human institutions so I will: when that maturity does not happen, you get the kind of degradation of institutions we see in the US and probably elsewhere. It is as if God did not design humanity to work with there being a permanent leader/​follower dichotomy. (Contrast this to humans organizing themselves into temporary hierarchies in order to accomplish this or that purpose.)

            LB: Catholics massacred Protestants in the Thirty Years' War just like Protestants massacred Catholics. Sometimes Protestants massacred Protestants and sometimes Catholics massacred Catholics. I'm inclined to agree with Brad S. Gregory's conclusion in The Unintended Reformation that this and related religious violence convinced many people to downgrade the importance of any religious doctrine which was disagreed upon. It makes sense to me that God would grind away any part of us which gives us justification to massacre other parts of us.

            RG: I agree with Brad Gregory's great book as well. I just think the consequence was terrible. You seem to like it. Downgrading any doctrine where there is disagreement causes Christianity to collapse and die over time.

            My words made you think I like the consequence?! No, I think it is a judgment of God on Protestants & Catholics and a means he used to lessen the massacring.

            Disagreement over pretty much every doctrine is inevitable. Important doctrines are not immune. So does the fact that the Eucharist and the Papacy were the most disagreed on doctrines of the 17th century make them less important? I know I assumed that. It is not true though. We need to get these things right.

            I still don't see why I ought to believe your first sentence. It sounds to me like the people who are so interested in disagreeing don't actually want the same end goal. And yet, wanting what God wants is the criterion for shifting from "servant of Jesus" → "friend of Jesus" (Jn 15:12–17). Yes there can still be argument about means to a common end, but mature people know that after some amount of discussion, some course of action needs to be implemented. If I act with an eternal mindset, I can be at peace if my idea is not the one chosen. God lets plenty of sub-par ideas be tried out and so I must imitate that patience. What's especially fun is that I win even if I'm in error and my idea was actually the worse idea. :-)

            So it seems like you still hold to an ontology of violence, that we† actually want fundamentally opposed things and unless we all obey a human authority who hears better from God than the rest of us because God arbitrarily‡ chose him, all hell will break loose. Obedience to a human authority is important precisely because of this innate† tendency toward disagreement and authority-grabbing.

            † Post-Fall, but with as much sanctification as God cares to effect.
            ‡ God could just as easily talk to all of us directly but for some unknown reason he does not. Clearly he wants to (Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32), but according to you that only happens via obedience to the Magisterium.

            Maybe you just have it wrong. Maybe God is happily building his Kingdom and you are just missing it.

            C'est possible. Am I the only one of us who can conscience being in radical error? (I know that Protestant-Randy can now think that within Catholic-Randy's mind, but how about Catholic-Randy, once Protestant-Randy is out of the picture?)

          • As a hint, I'm trying to drive a wedge between "obey" and "take deadly seriously". The former includes some of the latter, but not necessarily all. The latter is more concerned with God's ultimate goal, which obedience need not comprehend (recall the difference between servants and friends in Jn 15:12–17).

            I am thinking "take deadly serious" is often meaningless. It can mean I take this seriously when it happens to agree with the opinion I would hold anyway. How often does it actually change your opinion? Does it change your opinion when it really needs to be changed. Often when it really needs to be changed is when you most resist changing it. So those are the times when "take deadly seriously" is followed by "in this case I am going to ignore it."

            I have pointed out that two established practices of the RCC seem to be in flagrant contradiction with Jesus' teaching on this matter. If someone calls me "child", I am not his brother. If I kneel before someone, I am not his brother. Both of those social protocols lift up one person over against the other, which is something Israelite kings were to fastidiously avoid

            I have been a Catholic for 15 year and I have zero experience with your "established practices of the RCC." Perhaps there is some tradition of kneeling before the Pope. I am familiar with kissing the ring of the Pope. That is a gesture that points to his office rather than his person. It makes sense to show respect for the office. All these ways of lifting up the pope are supposed to be about respecting the office. The same thing with Bishops and Priests. My dad was a pastor. He had a lot of people honor him because of the position he held. It happen and it can be a good thing. There is a danger there for sure in confusing people. Yet there is also a danger in letting your office holders live under disgraceful conditions.

            I consider my leader to be Jesus Christ. He is my high priest, not the Pope.† As to submitting to humans, there are plenty of situations where this is needed to organize people to go do things. But gifting/?talents/?expertise aside, would it scandalize people for the roles to be reversed? If so, then the spirit of "submitting one to another out of reverence for Christ" would seem to be absent.

            Everyone will say their leader is Jesus when they want to disobey. It is a good rhetorical trick but it makes you useless in the Kingdom. A King needs someone who will do what he is told. Doing what he imagines the King would want is not the same thing. Often it happens to be very similar to what he wants for himself. We are good at convincing ourselves that God wants what we want.

            Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ does not imply roles can be reversed. Paul's first example of such submission is wifes to husbands and husbands to wife. Mutual submission but not the same kind of submission each way. The description in Eph 5 are very different. Can the roles be reverse? No. The same goes for the submission of a priest to a bishop. We hear submission and we immediately assume abuse. It does not have to be that way. It can be a beautiful loving relationship where authority is working well.

            It is as if God did not design humanity to work with there being a permanent leader/?follower dichotomy. (Contrast this to humans organizing themselves into temporary hierarchies in order to accomplish this or that purpose.)

            So hierarchies are good but just not permanent hierarchies? I guess God does use death as a way to renew the hierarchy. So in that sense it is temporary. Yet most leaders God called He called until death. Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, etc. Even bad leaders were often removed by death rather than by some other method. I am thinking the idea of temporary hierarchies has little support in scripture or tradition. It would still leave us with the problem of how we tell a good hierarchy from a bad one.

            My words made you think I like the consequence?! No, I think it is a judgment of God on Protestants & Catholics and a means he used to lessen the massacring.

            I would not say doctrinal indifference is from God. When disobedience leads to bad consequences then God wants us to respond by returning to obedience. This was taking disobedience to a new level. Rather than rejecting Catholic doctrine in favor of some other doctrine deemed to be more "biblical" they ended up rejecting Catholic doctrine and getting nothing in return. On the road to atheism.

            Yes there can still be argument about means to a common end, but mature people know that after some amount of discussion, some course of action needs to be implemented. If I act with an eternal mindset, I can be at peace if my idea is not the one chosen. God lets plenty of sub-par ideas be tried out and so I must imitate that patience. What's especially fun is that I win even if I'm in error and my idea was actually the worse idea. :-)

            That is precisely my thinking on the times I disagree with the church. So why can you do that with some people but not with Catholic leadership?

            So it seems like you still hold to an ontology of violence, that we actually want fundamentally opposed things and unless we all obey a human authority who hears better from God than the rest of us because God arbitrarily chose him, all hell will break loose. Obedience to a human authority is important precisely because of this innate tendency toward disagreement and authority-grabbing.

            It seems you are still trying use the phrase "ontology of violence" regardless of how badly it fits. We don't always want fundalmentally opposed things. When we don't we can make things work under any system. The strength of Catholicism and the weakness of Protestantism can be seen when there is opposition. Avoiding opposition is wishful thinking. It can happen for a while but it cannot last. Believing God gives us a better way is what living by grace is all about.

            Am I the only one of us who can conscience being in radical error? (I know that Protestant-Randy can now think that within Catholic-Randy's mind, but how about Catholic-Randy, once Protestant-Randy is out of the picture?

            The possibility that I am in radical error is precisely why I am Catholic. What prevented me from becoming Catholic sooner was that I could not really swallow how far from God's truth I actually was. I did not think I was perfect but I thought I was closer than I was. I think that is pretty common among Protestants. Could I be THAT wrong on Mary, on salvation, on the reformation, etc.

          • You didn't answer my very first question. Was Moses being disobedient?

          • No, He was asking God to reconsider. That is not disobedience. He is accepting God's right to do what He is suggesting. He is just suggesting something else might be better. We are actually supposed to do that with our leaders in Christ. It seems odd to do that with God Himself but we still should if that is where our heart is.

          • RG: Obedience to God is key. If we can't obey human leaders we can see how can we obey God who we cannot see?

            LB: That's a rather odd adaptation of "for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." I'm curious; do you think Moses was being disobedient in Ex 32:9–14, Num 14:11–20, and/or Num 16:19–24?

            RG: No, He was asking God to reconsider. That is not disobedience. He is accepting God's right to do what He is suggesting. He is just suggesting something else might be better. We are actually supposed to do that with our leaders in Christ. It seems odd to do that with God Himself but we still should if that is where our heart is.

            I don't see any explicit "accepting God's right" in any of those passages. Actually, Moses tells God in each passage that for God to do what he plans would look really, really bad. Elsewhere, when God's anger burns hot, Moses asks God to kill him if there isn't a serious change. (Num 11:10–15) I don't get the sense that Moses would have been ok in any of those instances, had God done precisely what God suggested.

            What does make perfect sense to me is your "odd"; that's what you get when obedience is emphasized above maturity. Maturity allows you to question; obedience does not. And I mean seriously question, as in suggest that there's a much better way; a child merely asking why his father commands him to do X is different in kind. To question with the purpose of proposing a better way, I say one has to "take deadly seriously". And yet this is how you respond:

            I am thinking "take deadly serious" is often meaningless. It can mean I take this seriously when it happens to agree with the opinion I would hold anyway. How often does it actually change your opinion? Does it change your opinion when it really needs to be changed. Often when it really needs to be changed is when you most resist changing it. So those are the times when "take deadly seriously" is followed by "in this case I am going to ignore it."

            Is this how you regularly employ language? If this is how you think I regularly employ language, do you have a shred of evidence to back that up?

            I have been a Catholic for 15 year and I have zero experience with your "established practices of the RCC."

            That's fine; we can talk about them in the hypothetical for the time being and if they appear to actually be in gross violation of scripture, I can research the matter. But if you'll just find a way around them if they were actual, that research would be a waste of time. So for example:

            All these ways of lifting up the pope are supposed to be about respecting the office.

            So? Being expected to kneel before the Pope is a flagrant violation of "let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves". Jesus did not require or expect this and therefore: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master."

            Everyone will say their leader is Jesus when they want to disobey.

            And therefore … unless you say your leader is some human you're probably a disobedient liar? Because if all you're saying is that there are false prophets and antichrists and such I would agree. But how did Jesus say to discern them? "You will recognize them by their fruits." What is your stance on that? "This is why judging fruit is such a waste of time." How is that not a blatant refusal to follow Jesus?

            A King needs someone who will do what he is told. Doing what he imagines the King would want is not the same thing.

            "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." You would make virtually all Christians out to be servants, not friends. Furthermore, it is arguable that the reason the Israelites failed God is that they only ever did precisely what you say a King needs, rather than trying to understand the heart of God. "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."

            We hear submission and we immediately assume abuse.

            I don't. What makes me suspicious is when there is absolutely no behavioral requirement of leaders, if all they require is a 'special grace' which one must accept on someone's say-so because its very definition involves there being no empirical evidence which could disprove it. Essentially: "God wants you to obey me no matter how wicked I am." You've attempted to deflect this criticism by insinuating that having any behavioral standards would be to have perfect behavioral standards. And yet, 1 Tim 5:19–20 would be meaningless if that were actually true.

            I am thinking the idea of temporary hierarchies has little support in scripture or tradition.

            Re-read Num 11:24–30. Those who prophesied were the hierarchy. Joshua wanted the hierarchy to be properly sequestered in the mobile temple complex; Moses dreamed of the time when all would prophesy. In Eph 4:11–16, Paul looks forward to when the jobs required to help Christians mature are no longer required because all are mature. In Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32, we see God having a direct relationship with each person, unmediated by any hierarchies set up due to human stubbornness in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8. I would also think that Jesus' command not to "lord it over" or "exercise authority over" would be a rather large hint.

            When disobedience leads to bad consequences then God wants us to respond by returning to obedience.

            And did the Roman Catholic Church change course and adopt Paul's goal? "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." Clearly there were few mature Catholics during the Thirty Years' War, or surely the Catholics would have done less massacring. Given that you yourself want the RCC to be judged by its "Michael Jordan[s]", I would surmise that holiness and righteousness is as outsourced to those ≈ 10,000 saints now as back then. The rest can obey as servants, not friends.

            LB: Yes there can still be argument about means to a common end, but mature people know that after some amount of discussion, some course of action needs to be implemented. If I act with an eternal mindset, I can be at peace if my idea is not the one chosen. God lets plenty of sub-par ideas be tried out and so I must imitate that patience. What's especially fun is that I win even if I'm in error and my idea was actually the worse idea. :-)

            RG: That is precisely my thinking on the times I disagree with the church. So why can you do that with some people but not with Catholic leadership?

            The RCC does not appear to have "maturity of all" as a very high-level goal. You yourself said "I do think your focus on maturity is odd. … It is not a dominant theme of scripture …". If there's anything you're not going to accomplish by mistake, it's maturity.

            LB: So it seems like you still hold to an ontology of violence, that we† actually want fundamentally opposed things and unless we all obey a human authority who hears better from God than the rest of us because God arbitrarily‡ chose him, all hell will break loose. Obedience to a human authority is important precisely because of this innate† tendency toward disagreement and authority-grabbing.

            RG: It seems you are still trying use the phrase "ontology of violence" regardless of how badly it fits. We don't always want fundalmentally opposed things.

            It's a good thing I didn't use the word "always".

            LB: Am I the only one of us who can conscience being in radical error? (I know that Protestant-Randy can now think that within Catholic-Randy's mind, but how about Catholic-Randy, once Protestant-Randy is out of the picture?)

            RG: The possibility that I am in radical error is precisely why I am Catholic.

            I don't hear Catholic-Randy speaking about possibly being in radical error; I hear Protestant-Randy speaking. Catholic-Randy is now absolutely sure he's on the right path—just obey the Magisterium. They cannot possibly be wrong [on anything significant].

          • I don't see any explicit "accepting God's right" in any of those passages. Actually, Moses tells God in each passage that for God to do what he plans would look really, really bad. Elsewhere, when God's anger burns hot, Moses asks God to kill him if there isn't a serious change. (Num 11:10–15) I don't get the sense that Moses would have been ok in any of those instances, had God done precisely what God suggested.

            So what is your point? When your leader makes a decision you really don't like you can express strong feelings. Moses does. What would Moses have done if God didn't take his advise? It does not say but my guess is Moses would have continued to serve God. He would not have gone off and started his own religion. That is the difference between obedience and schism. When the differences get heated the obedient person lets God's appointed leader have the final word. That does not mean you become a yes-man. You let said leader know very clearly if you discern that his decision is not wise.

            What does make perfect sense to me is your "odd"; that's what you get when obedience is emphasized above maturity. Maturity allows you to question; obedience does not. And I mean seriously question, as in suggest that there's a much better way; a child merely asking why his father commands him to do X is different in kind. To question with the purpose of proposing a better way, I say one has to "take deadly seriously".

            Hopefully the previous comment clarifies that obedience does not imply a lack of questioning. Hopefully the leader encourages questioning. Still the need to end up with one answer is often real. Sometime you can agree to disagree but often there is a practical reason the church needs some answer soon.

            I say one has to "take deadly seriously". And yet this is how you respond:
            Is this how you regularly employ language? If this is how you think I regularly employ language, do you have a shred of evidence to back that up?

            It is a matter of what it means when the disagreements get heated. When a person really feels strongly then nice language about taking someone's opinion deadly serious does become meaningless. We disagree about the issue of the day and the respect disappeared. How many schism have to happen before Protestants take this problem seriously?

            That's fine; we can talk about them in the hypothetical for the time being and if they appear to actually be in gross violation of scripture, I can research the matter. But if you'll just find a way around them if they were actual, that research would be a waste of time.

            Calling it a gross violation of scripture is just false. I can see it both ways. Some might say kneeling is not called for based on scripture. Some might say it is. I am not sure what Pope Francis thinks but I would bet he is in the former camp. It is not something the church forces people to believe.

            So? Being expected to kneel before the Pope is a flagrant violation of "let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves". Jesus did not require or expect this and therefore: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master."

            It is difficult to describe the kind of evil you engage in here. You are putting words into God's mouth. You are doing it to attack another Christian.

            And therefore … unless you say your leader is some human you're probably a disobedient liar? Because if all you're saying is that there are false prophets and antichrists and such I would agree. But how did Jesus say to discern them? "You will recognize them by their fruits." What is your stance on that? "This is why judging fruit is such a waste of time." How is that not a blatant refusal to follow Jesus?

            I would not say they are a liar. They are not being honest with themselves about where they are getting their ideas. Almost everything we believe comes from another person. We need to know who to trust. This is especially true when multiple people professing to be Christian give different answers. We need to take seriously the possibility that we can choose the wrong one.

            What are fruits? Certainly logical incoherence seems like a fruit of the reformation. Then you have massive disunity. These are objective fruits that show Protestantism to be full of false prophets. You can inconsistently hope your sliver of Protestantism is the exception but generally the fruit is not good.

            When I said judging fruit was a waste of time I was referring to the subjective fruit you were focusing on. Who loves their neighbor better? Then there is the proof by anecdote, I head this story about how horrible Catholics are so bad fruit. It becomes an excuse for judging.

            At the end of the day are individuals supposed to judge this fruit or is the church supposed to judge it? I mean the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses have good fruit when judged by the people they are studying with. Do we tell them to run with their own judgement?

            "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." You would make virtually all Christians out to be servants, not friends. Furthermore, it is arguable that the reason the Israelites failed God is that they only ever did precisely what you say a King needs, rather than trying to understand the heart of God. "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge."

            Again you conflate leadership with relationship. We are all called to be close to God. We are not all called to lead. Those not called to lead can still be friends of God. We can know God. Just some of that knowledge comes from scripture, tradition and the magisterium. That is some is from public revelation. Then we all have private revelation where God speaks to our hearts. We need both and we need to make sure our private thoughts are consistent with what has publicly been revealed.

            What makes me suspicious is when there is absolutely no behavioral requirement of leaders, if all they require is a 'special grace' which one must accept on someone's say-so because its very definition involves there being no empirical evidence which could disprove it. Essentially: "God wants you to obey me no matter how wicked I am." You've attempted to deflect this criticism by insinuating that having any behavioral standards would be to have perfect behavioral standards. And yet, 1 Tim 5:19–20 would be meaningless if that were actually true.

            There is a hierarchy. So the requirements for priests are set by the bishop. The requirements for bishops are set by the pope. So only the pope has no real requirement. Still popes chosen are typically people who have been very holy priests and bishops for many years. Even if a bad pope is chosen he can only live so long. At some point we need to trust God. The point is that the behaviour of the leader can't be judged by the follower. That causes leadership to become ineffective.

            In I Tim 5, who is judging the elders? Timothy is being asked to. Timothy is a bishop. He is being told by Paul to require proof beyond a reasonable doubt before assuming a leader is guilty. Yet he also says to not be hasty in laying on of hands. So be careful who you ordain. Paul wants holy men but knows they will be criticized and often unfairly. It comes with the territory.

            Re-read Num 11:24–30. Those who prophesied were the hierarchy. Joshua wanted the hierarchy to be properly sequestered in the mobile temple complex; Moses dreamed of the time when all would prophesy. In Eph 4:11–16, Paul looks forward to when the jobs required to help Christians mature are no longer required because all are mature. In Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32, we see God having a direct relationship with each person, unmediated by any hierarchies set up due to human stubbornness in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8. I would also think that Jesus' command not to "lord it over" or "exercise authority over" would be a rather large hint.

            You keep coming back to the same old passages. None of them say what you want them to say. Yet they are all you have. So you position is not biblical. Just admit it. You assume every reference to intimacy with God is an implied condemnation of any hierarchy. Yet Catholics believe in both. Read St John of the Cross, St Francis de Sales, St Teresa of Avila or any of the other great Catholic mystics. They were all faithful to the magisterium and came as close as anyone to complete Christian maturity.

            And did the Roman Catholic Church change course and adopt Paul's goal? "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." Clearly there were few mature Catholics during the Thirty Years' War, or surely the Catholics would have done less massacring. Given that you yourself want the RCC to be judged by its "Michael Jordan[s]", I would surmise that holiness and righteousness is as outsourced to those ˜ 10,000 saints now as back then. The rest can obey as servants, not friends.

            Again nonsense. There were mature Catholic Christians during the 30 years war. What did you expect them to do? There were many holy Christian martyrs in Germany during the Nazi time. The mature voices don't always win the day. Sin is still strong. That is precisely why we need the church. Your idea that having many saints actually hurts things is just incoherent. I did find this one article that says viewing the 30 years war as a religious conflict at all displays an anti-Catholic bias
            https://www.realclearhistory.com/articles/2017/12/12/10_things_you_didnt_know_about_30_years_war_258.html
            So who knows about the 30 years war. It is a cherry-picked example and maybe a doctored cherry pick. Still it does not prove what you want it to prove.

            The RCC does not appear to have "maturity of all" as a very high-level goal. You yourself said "I do think your focus on maturity is odd. … It is not a dominant theme of scripture …". If there's anything you're not going to accomplish by mistake, it's maturity.

            The "maturity of all" when understood in a proper Catholic way could be accepted as a goal of the church. The trouble with maturity is anything can be labelled as maturity. That is why it is not a dominant theme. You could be a mature Gnostic or a mature Pagan.

            I don't hear Catholic-Randy speaking about possibly being in radical error; I hear Protestant-Randy speaking. Catholic-Randy is now absolutely sure he's on the right path—just obey the Magisterium. They cannot possibly be wrong [on anything significant].

            I am convinced the church is not in radical error. That does not mean I am on the right path but it helps. It is hard for a Protestant to imagine God being that helpful in keeping us on the right path. Yet once you accept it it becomes the most natural thing. Of course God wants to help us.

          • So what is your point?

            My point is that "Obedience to God is key." is not obviously true when it comes to Moses in Ex 32:9–14, Num 14:11–20, and Num 16:19–24. What seems 'key', in fact, is understanding God's intent, understanding his heart. Compare: "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." Obedience is far from sufficient. Indeed, does it not get gradually replaced by cooperation and agreement? To the extent this doesn't happen, the New Covenant has not been "instantiat[ed]": "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts."

            When your leader makes a decision you really don't like you can express strong feelings. Moses does. What would Moses have done if God didn't take his advise? It does not say but my guess is Moses would have continued to serve God.

            I don't know if you intended this, but framing the matter as "don't like" and "strong feelings" can be easily dismissive if (i) prime emphasis is placed on the intellect; (ii) the emotions are seen as more fallen or otherwise less trustworthy than the intellect. Maybe I'm wrong, but I see the RCC as generally holding to both of these. In the above three passages, Moses offers arguments.

            Now, I'm not sure if Moses would have become the new Noah if God had insisted. In Num 11:10–15 we see God get similarly angry as the above three passages; Moses' response is "If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness." Where Moses fails is in refusing to switch from striking the rock to verbally commanding asking/​telling the rock; compare Ex 17:6-7 and Num 20:8-13. Moses fails to understand the move from severe and authoritative ("strike the rock") to something which is less intense than "command" ("tell the rock"). The word used in the Numbers passage is dabar; had YHWH meant something more intense surely he would have used a word like tsavah.

            He would not have gone off and started his own religion. That is the difference between obedience and schism. When the differences get heated the obedient person lets God's appointed leader have the final word. That does not mean you become a yes-man. You let said leader know very clearly if you discern that his decision is not wise.

            Do you really mean to say that without the pope as top dog, it's a different religion? As to your repeated digs at Protestants schisming, I'm going to cease responding to them until you deal fully with the RCC cementing the East–West Schism via trying to shove the Filioque down the East's throats. Contrast this to how Paul dealt with the factious Corinthians: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

            Hopefully the leader encourages questioning.

            I don't see how one can be obedient to God without encouraging questioning. The very fact that you put this as a 'hopefully' instead of something much more severe is quite concerning to me. But it does explain the extraordinary lack of maturity displayed by all during the Thirty Years' War as well as today.

            When a person really feels strongly then nice language about taking someone's opinion deadly serious does become meaningless.

            Then that person is not being like Jesus. How is that not absolutely obvious? You are presupposing the most pathetic standards when it comes to spiritual maturity. Your "Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority." are pathetic. They are neither strong (except strong-willed) nor holy. And yet these emotions are supposed to be reined in by obeying the hierarchy?

            Calling it a gross violation of scripture is just false.

            Then Randy, I have absolutely no idea what you think Jesus meant when he said not to "lord it over" or "exercise authority over", nor what you think Jesus meant when he said "let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves". You surely cannot mean that it is ok to "lord it over", "exercise authority over", and require others to kneel in your leader's presence if God is believed to be behind your leader.

            RG: All these ways of lifting up the pope are supposed to be about respecting the office.

            LB: So? Being expected to kneel before the Pope is a flagrant violation of "let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves". Jesus did not require or expect this and therefore: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master."

            RG: It is difficult to describe the kind of evil you engage in here. You are putting words into God's mouth. You are doing it to attack another Christian.

            Precisely what words am I putting into God's mouth? I used quotes to specify what you and I both believe came from God's mouth. I contend that I have interpreted and applied them correctly. To construe them as an attack on another Christian only makes sense if it's really important for those practices of the RCC to be ok. Incidentally, Randy, this is why I'm rather skeptical that you actually want to encourage questioning of followers by leaders. Here it got hard-hitting and so you characterized what I was doing as "evil", and it seems not a minor evil because you have trouble describing it.

            When I said judging fruit was a waste of time I was referring to the subjective fruit you were focusing on. Who loves their neighbor better? …

            At the end of the day are individuals supposed to judge this fruit or is the church supposed to judge it? I mean the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses have good fruit when judged by the people they are studying with. Do we tell them to run with their own judgement?

            Well, Jesus said that "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." So he expects non-Christians to be able to judge exactly the subjective fruit that you think Christians cannot judge. To your second question, what do you think of "But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."? That doesn't seem restricted to 'the church'. As if 'the church' is really mostly 'the church leadership', even though the very word ekklēsia hearkens back to the assembly of the Athenian democracy.

            To certain Mormons and perhaps Jehovah's witnesses, I would challenge those standards of "good fruit". So for example, what does it say about a religion if it is super-important that you cut ties with friends and even family who are not members of that religion? Will they "pollute" you? Actually that's a great way to enable cultish behavior, where all sorts of horrible can be perpetuated and everything is kept within the hierarchy. It's also a way of telling the individual that [s]he cannot actually trust his/her own judgment, that [s]he should just trust the collective. That actually seems to be your stance as well, except for the four words I've underlined: "If it seems wrong tell the bishop and tell the police."

            Again you conflate leadership with relationship.

            It is Jesus who distinguishes between 'servant' and 'friend'.

            Then we all have private revelation where God speaks to our hearts.

            Yeah, I've heard this from Catholics and Protestants. As best I understand, what is actually meant is that God will help you obey what your betters tell you you must do. Random people aren't expected to get anything from God which is so valuable that it merits a permanent record. It's mostly the leadership and ≈ 10,000 saints who get that kind of honor. God just … doesn't love the rest all that much in comparison. They can ask questions, but they must never commit "the kind of evil" I committed a comment above.

            There is a hierarchy. So the requirements for priests are set by the bishop. The requirements for bishops are set by the pope. So only the pope has no real requirement. Still popes chosen are typically people who have been very holy priests and bishops for many years. Even if a bad pope is chosen he can only live so long. At some point we need to trust God. The point is that the behaviour of the leader can't be judged by the follower. That causes leadership to become ineffective.

            And yet, the future behavior of YHWH was judged by Moses, on at least four [recorded] occasions! That's the rub, Randy. YHWH wants his followers to question/​criticize/​judge him. He called Job to do exactly this in Job 40:6–14: "Gird your loins like a man / I will question you, and you make it known to me. / Will you even put me in the wrong? / Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?" I have heard this as God putting Job in Job's worm-like mortal place, but that doesn't fit with God saying in the end, "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." It is Job's friends who wanted to make Job out to be worm-like and who insisted he had no right to question God.

            The very name 'Israel' means "wrestles with God"! But you would not have anyone wrestle with the Vicar of Christ. Where Jesus permitted the scribes and Pharisees and random lawyers do plenty of questioning of him (including his fruits, such as healing on the Sabbath and allowing his disciples to gather grain on the Sabbath), Jesus' representative is immune from such questioning. I'm sorry, but I will stand by what Jesus wrote: "A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master." If it was ok to seriously question Jesus but not the Pope, then you really do have a different religion than I. My God virtually insists on being questioned.

            In some sense, God is a rather ineffective leader; just read Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 and look at the history of Israel. I say this is because he required maturity of the Israelites and was willing to tolerate their failures and the captivity consequences so that they would be able to finally learn from their mistakes and understand the consequences of actions, rather than obeying without understanding. God doesn't seem to have much patience for sustained obedience without understanding; he surely could have designed this into human nature had he wanted, and sanctified away whatever goop was added on top by sin.

            In I Tim 5, who is judging the elders? Timothy is being asked to. Timothy is a bishop.

            He is asked to ensure there are at least two witnesses, something which goes back to torah. Recall the Pharisees scrambling to find two witnesses to agree on what Jesus said in order to condemn him. I think the text is consistent with your contention that only those higher in the hierarchy are permitted to rebuke elders, although I don't see how it requires that. The fact that Jesus was quite willing to judge the Pharisees' and Sadducees' fruit and we are told to imitate him seems to tip the scale in my direction, but I'm guessing you have a reason for why this particular aspect of Jesus' life is not to be imitated by us.

            You keep coming back to the same old passages. None of them say what you want them to say. Yet they are all you have. So you position is not biblical.

            You're welcome to substantiate your bare claims with supporting arguments; until you do that what am I supposed to do—make your arguments for you? The only passage in that list you've really dealt with at length is Eph 4:11–16 and the "until" in v13. We can revisit that if you'd like; I can easily pull up all your dealings with it to summarize and try to avoid repeating old ground. (I regularly extract the entire conversation and save it so that it's easy to search through.)

            You assume every reference to intimacy with God is an implied condemnation of any hierarchy.

            Incorrect.

            There were mature Catholic Christians during the 30 years war. What did you expect them to do?

            Put their lives on the line after the pattern of Jesus. If there were any respect for the good works of their leaders, Protestants or at least Catholics at the time would see that their massacring was doing in those who were considered the best among them. "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; / we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." But if you're convinced that the church's earthly incarnation must survive without requiring total resurrection, you wouldn't dare put your existence on the line like this.

            I did find this one article that says viewing the 30 years war as a religious conflict at all displays an anti-Catholic bias [10 Things You Didn't Know About 30 Years' War]

            Nothing I've said has required it to be categorized as "a religious conflict". All it requires is that Protestants were massacring Catholics and Catholics were massacring Protestants (and sometimes massacring their own). I am inclined to believe that their claimed religious reasoning for doing the massacring was just a façade. But that just testifies to their horrible immaturity.

            LB: The RCC does not appear to have "maturity of all" as a very high-level goal. You yourself said "I do think your focus on maturity is odd. … It is not a dominant theme of scripture …". If there's anything you're not going to accomplish by mistake, it's maturity.

            RG: The "maturity of all" when understood in a proper Catholic way could be accepted as a goal of the church. The trouble with maturity is anything can be labelled as maturity. That is why it is not a dominant theme. You could be a mature Gnostic or a mature Pagan.

            "a goal" ⇏ "a very high-level goal"

            I don't buy your claim about the polysemous nature of 'maturity'; first of all I think I have been rather more specific than you have given me credit (first paragraph), and second of all that same argument can be made of the term 'God'.

            I am convinced the church is not in radical error. That does not mean I am on the right path but it helps. It is hard for a Protestant to imagine God being that helpful in keeping us on the right path. Yet once you accept it it becomes the most natural thing. Of course God wants to help us.

            All those sacraments of which all those Catholics regularly partook in 1618 did not stop so many of them from massacring Protestants and sometimes, fellow Catholics. If right doctrine and right liturgy are so powerless in the face of such horror, then I question how much of a help they actually are—in such intense isolation from good character and good fruit. Likewise, I can easily see there being good character and good fruit amidst doctrine and liturgy that are not 100% perfect. I can easily see God correcting (and enhancing) doctrine and liturgy in time, just like he can correct (and enhance) character in time. There's nothing which says the only way he can [fully] help us is via the RCC hierarchy and Magisterium. So yes, "Of course God wants to help us."

          • I don't see how that can be so small and yet yield "we could build great societies". You've made a very, very big deal of Protestant refusal to submit to the Roman Catholic Magisterium. Without it, all hell breaks loose. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit just doesn't have the ability to bring unity without extraordinary human aid—via that elite group of individuals [throughout time] who have/had "voting shares of the Holy Spirit". I don't particularly care if the voting takes decades or centuries; plenty of society is shaped via long-term decisions.

            GK Chesterton compared getting doctrine right to balancing on a log. A small error can be the difference between remaining upright and falling. This is what is happening. Small errors are causing big problems over many generations. Jesus told us to build our house on a rock. He did not say a house built on sand would fall right away. He said it would fall and the collapse would be great but only after quite a bit of wind and rain and floods.

            At stake here, from my perspective, is whether (i) what the RCC has accomplished is a sign that "more would be better";

            The problem is it puts you as a judge of the RCC and ultimately of God. It is like an atheist saying he will believe in God once someone convinces him that religion has been great. The reality is messy enough that the argument is only clear to the faithful.

            or whether (ii) the RCC is assuming too little from sanctification by this point in history. God clearly lets degraded situations persist for a while and produce good fruit—"for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them"—but they do not last and plenty of less-than-stellar aspects accompany

            What does "do not last" mean? The church has lasted longer than any other human organization. I do think the less than stellar aspects will always be there. Scandals exist. Unimpressive leaders exist. If they don't then wait a while. They will come.

            Does the route away from that "smaller, purer church" (which you see as temporary) involve a turning back to how we did things before?

            Not to what we did before but to something better. This is a type of dying and rising that the Body of Christ has been known to do. The rising is always to something better. The church has never sought to turn the clock back. It seek to move forward with true progress. What is called progress thse days is just a recycling of the bad ideas of the past.

            do you think that God ultimately wants a hierarchy like the RCC has, whereby the further up you are, the clearer is your view of what God wants and the better you are at putting it into practice, and the more you get to tell other people what to think and what to do? Hovering in the background might be the skepticism that the hierarchy is actually in any contact with God whatsoever, but let's put that aside and just ask what we think God's ideal way of being with his creation is.

            That is not what the hierarchy is for. The hierarchy is to show us the path and point out some land mines. There is no sense that the hierarchy is holier than the rest of us. Mother Teresa was not a member of the hierarchy. Yet the church cannonized her very quickly because she was holy. There are actually many saints like her that out-shine most of the bishops and popes. Sure Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Romero were pretty amazing as well but it is simple not true that the hierarchy is holier than everyone else. I doubt it has ever been true. The Blessed Virgin Mary is the holiest saint and she was not part of the hierarchy. Now the consecrated celibates tend to reach a higher state of holiness than the married saints. That is true but that is something different than saying the hierarchy is holier.

            What I think God wants is people trying to serve Him with passion, creativity and energy. I think He also wants obedience. He want people who will walk away from their most cherished ideas if they turn out to be contrary to God's will. That should not happen all the time but as often as it does He wants people who will joyfully change direction. Yes, it is always tempting to say the hierarchy really does not speak for God. That temptation would be there no matter what method God used. He chooses to give us that option.

          • The RCC has the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ truly present in the sacrament of the Eucharist. So any fellowship missing that is missing a lot. Then there is the matter of unity. Do you want to be united with the world-wide body of Christ?

            I think I would focus more on transubstantiation if I were convinced that the belief that one is really consuming Jesus demonstrably results in more conformation to his character. I get that there are rational systems which claim this, but I have learned to be rather skeptical of pretty-looking trees which I have not been convinced (by personal experience or people who have earned my trust) yield good fruit. "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know."

            To your question, I would phrase it differently: I want to be united with all followers of Jesus throughout space–time. This includes the Eastern Orthodox Church, which you ignored when you wrote "I blame the reformation."—even though the East–West Schism happened centuries before Luther.

            So what are you looking for? You want a scientific experiment that proves the RCC is the best short term answer for you? At some point faith is required. You have the evidence of so many failed schisms over the centuries. Sure you can hope yours is different.

            I am disappointed that I have not sufficiently warded off both of those [obviously stupid?] possibilities. One reason I keep referring to the OT is that it records multi-generational and many-generational patterns, which I see as crucial to dealing with the matters we have been discussing. There's so much gradual change; nominalism is a great example. I also thought I had clearly stated that I have nothing like a systematic solution. I take it to be central to the faith—and here I don't mean "submitting to a common [human] authority"—that we are "pilgrims on the way", with less of a complete picture of how God is going to do what he says than our also-incomplete picture of what he says he is going to do. Is that not the message of Rom 4:16–25?

            When I ask "But is that demonstrably true, or is it merely claimed?", I am endeavoring to judge by the heart and not by appearances. Here's what Paul thinks of mere claims:

            But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Corinthians 4:19–20)

            A few verses up he urges the Corinthians to be imitators of him. Well then, does that not mean that we have to discern between talk and power? Isn't Paul frustrated with the Corinthians for not being able to do this themselves, that they still need milk and not solid food? Have I now made it clear that I'm not talking about "[just] a scientific experiment"? (Gal 6:3–4 and 1 Thess 5:19–21 make it clear that testing is important. In the letter to the Ephesian church we have: "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.")

          • I think I would focus more on transubstantiation if I were convinced that the belief that one is really consuming Jesus demonstrably results in more conformation to his character. I get that there are rational systems which claim this, but I have learned to be rather skeptical of pretty-looking trees which I have not been convinced (by personal experience or people who have earned my trust) yield good fruit. "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know."

            It is not a rational system that claims this. It is Jesus. So you are willing to focus on the words of Jesus if they meet some arbitrary criteria you made up? Maybe the person who imagines he knows something is you.

            To your question, I would phrase it differently: I want to be united with all followers of Jesus throughout space–time. This includes the Eastern Orthodox Church, which you ignored when you wrote "I blame the reformation."—even though the East–West Schism happened centuries before Luther.

            The East-West schism was a bad thing. We experienced more consequences from the reformation partly because Western Europe was more dominate politically and partly because the Protestant error was worse. The Eastern Orthodox accepted the office of bishop. That means they are somewhat grounded. We have seen that in history. They have had far fewer issues with dotrinal change and schism. The Eastern Orthodox has valid sacraments so I am much more closely united with that church than I was as a Protestant. Plus, they give a semi-independent witness to the biblical nature of Catholic doctrines like those around Mary and the Eucharist.

            I am disappointed that I have not sufficiently warded off both of those [obviously stupid?] possibilities. One reason I keep referring to the OT is that it records multi-generational and many-generational patterns, which I see as crucial to dealing with the matters we have been discussing. There's so much gradual change; nominalism is a great example.

            Why do you need to go to the Old Testament to find multi-generational patterns? The trouble is that Protestantism can't remain stable enough for you to discern such patterns. Protestant churches tend to change teaching in a fundamental way every few decades. Certainly the church I was raised in had. I can see a lot of ways it changed big time since I was a child. My parents and grand parents described different ways the same church changed during their time. The pattern was a general watering down of the faith. There was the occasional split of the faithful remnant that was protesting the change but the pattern continued. So I can't say I know what multi-generations in the same faith looks like despite the fact that my family was in the same church organization for over a century.

            I also thought I had clearly stated that I have nothing like a systematic solution. I take it to be central to the faith—and here I don't mean "submitting to a common [human] authority"—that we are "pilgrims on the way", with less of a complete picture of how God is going to do what he says than our also-incomplete picture of what he says he is going to do. Is that not the message of Rom 4:16–25?

            Again, I agree but it seems completely irrelevant. You don't have a systematic solution. Catholics have more information. They have a source of doctrine they can trust rather than thousands of sources they can't trust. Still there is a still a lot of adventure. You make it up as you go. You know a few more things for sure but every answer leads to another 10 questions. At the end of the day it is nothing close to systematic.

            14 I am writing this not to shame you but to warn you as my dear children. 15 Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you to imitate me. 17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.

            18 Some of you have become arrogant, as if I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing, and then I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. 20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. 21 What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit? 1 Cor 4

            What is Paul talking about here. He is a bishop. He sees himself as a spiritual father. He also sees Timothy that way. He calls these people arrogant. My guess is they have claimed authority but they have not been give that authority by a legitimate successor of the apostles. That is they have not been ordained. So should they be? Paul wants to come and see. If he cannot then he wants Timothy to make the call. He is not telling each individual member of the Corinthian church to make his or her own call. He is saying trust me and trust Timothy because we are the legit leaders appointed by Jesus.

            So testing is important but testing can be done by church leaders. Often that is not practical and we have to discern for ourselves. Yet when someone is questioning important church teachings it is important that the leaders get involved. You don't just pick a new leader because what he says sounds good to you. You let the hierarchy do its job.

          • I wrote (and quoted) that "Mt 16:18 could be accomplished via Is 6:13 → 11:1". The meaning is that resurrection conquers death. But if we forget about resurrection, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" would be interpreted as "does not die". I think history shows fairly well that institutions which fear death make moral compromises to ensure their existence.

            When do you think the church died? When do you think it was resurrected? I could point to some short near-death experiences of the church. That is the church looked dead and then came back string against all expectations. I assume you are talking about the true church dying completely and then rising again many centuries later. Then the RCC church survived and thrived all these years as a hugely clever impostor of the true church.

            I am interested to here the details. When exactly did the church die? When did it resurrect? As a Protestant I was game for such a story. I could not find one that made any sense. So I am interested to hear yours.

            As far as moral compromise goes, I think history shows that institutions that make those compromises still die. Again, I would like details. What compromises did the church make and when?

            What else do you think I have skewed?

            Well, take a look at Luke 22:24-34

            A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

            “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

            But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

            Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

            A heresy is when you take one Catholic truth and use it to defeat other Catholic truths. This is what you do with the first part of the passage. Jesus gives 3 responses to this "Who is the greatest?" controversy. First he says their notion of greatest is wrong. That is the truth you understand and focus on to the exclusion of the other 2 answers.

            The second answer Jesus gives is "I confer on you a Kingdom..." Jesus is saying in a sense that all the disciples will be in an exalted position on thrones as judges and that is a big deal. This is what is called apostolic authority. It means something. It is the reason the early church venerated the New Testament books because they understood Apostles have authority. They even understood that authority could extend to St Paul even though he was not there at this time. So Jesus talked about the important church office of bishop in response t o the "Who is the greatest?" controversy.

            The third response Jesus has is to address Peter directly. He calls him Simon and Peter in this short selection recalling the time Jesus changed Peter's name in Mt 16. So addressing him specially in this regard is important. His previous words about servant leadership do not nullify the special role of Peter. What does He say? He says Satan has asked to sift the whole group but Jesus has prayed for Peter in particular that his faith will not fail. So God continues to work through leaders. The next 2 lines show Jesus knows exactly how weak a leader He has.

            Repeating Jesus' first response to this over and over while ignoring the second and 3rd responses seems a bit like skewing to me.

          • When do you think the church died? When do you think it was resurrected?

            I don't have in mind when the whole church died but I do have in mind when Christianity was crushed in locales. One example would be the Jesuits who worked with the Guarani Natives in Brazil. I'm mostly working off of the plot of The Mission at the moment, which indicates that the worldly integrity of the RCC would have been threatened if the RCC had defended the absolutely fantastic fruit God had produced with his Jesuit coworkers. It is my judgment that the decision to order the Jesuits out was based on fear of death and lack of faith in resurrection. Or to use an older metaphor, it was based on fear of exile (via fracture of Christendom) and lack of faith in a remnant being re-gathered.

            Either you believe that God will protect you (perhaps via resurrection) and therefore you need never make moral compromises, or you believe that it's really humans holding things together and so some compromises are necessary to perpetuate your group. Actually, anything to continue your existence. A less extreme example is disobedience of 1 Tim 5:19–20 in order to preserve reputation.

            I assume you are talking about the true church dying completely and then rising again many centuries later.

            No. I think gradual corruption is the better understanding. In Jeremiah 7:1–15, we see that 'the temple of the LORD' had come to mean a place where you could go to get cheaply forgiven so that you can resume stealing, murdering, committing adultery, swearing falsely, etc. That's not how it was originally understood. Did this change happen in the course of a single generation? Probably not.

            Then the RCC church survived and thrived all these years as a hugely clever impostor of the true church.

            That is far too binary. I actually think all of Christianity is sick due to its disunity. I think Christianity has had its fill of one group claiming it has pretty much all of the answers, if only all the others would listen. I think we need to learn to listen to and learn from one another in ways far more intense than the world has seen. I believe this would be a powerful witness to the world.

            By the way, any time I hear a Holy Spirit-empowered Christian blame other Christians for problems and in any way exempt himself/​herself—even the tiniest amount—all sorts of alarm bells go off in my head. This is why I keyed in on your "I blame the reformation." You didn't blame the Roman Catholic Church. It may have borne guilt, but strictly less than 50%. I am beginning to see how your logic works; it seems predicated upon 'special grace' without any guarantee of sanctification. (see my recent comment) But you also appeal to empirical evidence, to good things the RCC has done. I haven't disentangled how that works.

            LB: What else do you think I have skewed?

            RG: Well, take a look at Luke 22:24-34

            The second answer Jesus gives is "I confer on you a Kingdom..." Jesus is saying in a sense that all the disciples will be in an exalted position on thrones as judges and that is a big deal. This is what is called apostolic authority.

            But what does 'exalted' mean and what does 'judge' mean, in light of "the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves"? How is saying that those with apostolic authority ought to be obeyed anything other than the earthly version of "lord it over" / "exercise authority over"? How is calling a priest "father" not in flagrant contradiction with "the greatest among you should be like the youngest"?

            One possibility is that Jesus exemplified judging via his exchanges with the Pharisees and Sadducees. He argued with them and pierced through to their hearts in doing so. This is also what we see with all those letters in the NT: appeals to people via argument with the hope that they would be convinced. Paul is very clear that only those with the Holy Spirit will possibly be convinced. What he says will seem foolishness to the rest. But why would this be the case? It can't be something like, "Look at my resume; isn't it impressive? Join me!"

            The third response Jesus has is to address Peter directly. He calls him Simon and Peter in this short selection recalling the time Jesus changed Peter's name in Mt 16. So addressing him specially in this regard is important. His previous words about servant leadership do not nullify the special role of Peter. What does He say? He says Satan has asked to sift the whole group but Jesus has prayed for Peter in particular that his faith will not fail. So God continues to work through leaders. The next 2 lines show Jesus knows exactly how weak a leader He has.

            How do you get that Satan wanted to sift the whole group? I checked the Greek and "Satan demanded to have you" is singular. Interesting observation; v31 has plural 'you' while v32 has singular 'you'. I'm not quite sure what to make of this, since Jesus prays for all believers in a similar way in John 17.

            I don't see Peter as weak either—he's the only one who ran after Jesus when he was betrayed and Jesus makes an obvious word play in Mt 16:18 between Petros and petra. Jesus uses petra in the Sermon on the Mount: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the petra." Peter heard the Holy Spirit and said out loud: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This lines up perfectly with my recent comment where I quoted: "See that you do not refuse him who is speaking."

          • I don't have in mind when the whole church died but I do have in mind when Christianity was crushed in locales.

            I know you can comb through history and find some examples of churchmen behaving badly. Even searching through movies for anti-Catholic themes is quite something. I wonder why your alarm bells never go off. You seem like you are blaming Catholics for problems and exempting yourself. Like Protestants never got caught up in politics and did some nasty things. Seeing The Mission as an anti-Catholic movie seems quite strange to me. You do know the Jesuits were Catholics, don't you?

            You are the one who tried to avoid the clear teaching of Matthew 16 by suggesting the church died and rose again. So did this happen or not? If so, why can't you point to a time when it happened? You talk about gradual corruption. Was the church corrupt in the 4th century? That is when the cannon of the New Testament was defined and the creeds were written. Was is corrupt in the 2nd and 3rd century? That is when the church grew despite severe persecution and eventually took over the Roman Empire. The trouble is that the alleged errors that Protestants like to point to can actually be found quite early. So this narrative of the church that grew corrupt and embraced false teachings which the reformers corrected just does not fit the data.

            That is far too binary. I actually think all of Christianity is sick due to its disunity. I think Christianity has had its fill of one group claiming it has pretty much all of the answers, if only all the others would listen. I think we need to learn to listen to and learn from one another in ways far more intense than the world has seen. I believe this would be a powerful witness to the world.

            It would be a powerfully negative witness to the world. It would mean Christians have no clue what they believe and cannot provide a strong foundation on which to base your life. This is what Eph 4:14 talks about when it refers to people "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming." Listening to each other is great but after you listen you need to be able to tell truth from falsehood. One group does not have all the answers. Yet the gospel is not something we make up by consensus. It is given to us by God. If God wants to speak more often through one group of people we should let Him do that.

            Think of Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus asks what people were saying. The reply was, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He did not say REALLY listen to those people and that will be an awesome witness to the world. He said Peter's answer was revealed by God by a special grace and was therefore true. The rest of the answers? They were wrong. So yes, listen. Just don't pretend that everyone has the same grace and don't be afraid to say some folks are just plain wrong.

            By the way, any time I hear a Holy Spirit-empowered Christian blame other Christians for problems and in any way exempt himself/?herself—even the tiniest amount—all sorts of alarm bells go off in my head. This is why I keyed in on your "I blame the reformation." You didn't blame the Roman Catholic Church. It may have borne guilt, but strictly less than 50%.

            I was raised Protestant so blaming the reformation does not really exclude myself. I did phrase it in a way to leave aside the question of who is to blame for the reformation. I do blame Catholics. Not the Church as Church. The Church is the pure spotless bride. Yet the 10 popes that preceded the reformation were generally weak and corrupt. That was one of the causes. I would not say it has to be less than 50% no matter how such a number might be calculated.

            I don't get why someone has to blame themselves when they try and point out a problem in the church. Particularly when talking about an event that happened before any of us were born but generally as well. If I say some problem is caused by artificial contraception and I have never used artificial contraception does that make my comment wrong? If I had used it then my comment would be more likely to be right?

            But what does 'exalted' mean and what does 'judge' mean, in light of "the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves"? How is saying that those with apostolic authority ought to be obeyed anything other than the earthly version of "lord it over" / "exercise authority over"? How is calling a priest "father" not in flagrant contradiction with "the greatest among you should be like the youngest"?

            So you are saying Jesus is contradicting Himself? Jesus said both these things at the same time in response to the same event. I have never thought of them as contradictory. You imagine they are. Yet it is Jesus who says it. We just discussed a passage where St Paul calls himself a father. Jesus calls for us to be child-like in some ways. He does not call for us to be like children in all ways. The reality of authority does not contradict it but makes it all the more important.

            I am glad you noticed the singular and plural version of "you" in Luke 22. I am not sure why the point you made about Hebrews 12 creates any problem on a Catholic reading. Why is it hard to see the Catholic Church as the city of the living God? It talks about coming to something in order to come to Jesus. The sprinkled blood is a sacramental image. The firstborn refers to saints who came before us. It seems to fit a Catholic ecclesiology better than a Protestant one.

          • I know you can comb through history and find some examples of churchmen behaving badly.

            That's not the point. The point is that when choices are made to maintain the worldly integrity of the church—as apparently happened with/to the Jesuits who were working with the Guarani Natives—then the fact that the RCC is still around becomes clouded: is it because God kept it from falling apart, or is it because it morally compromised? Imagine instead that the Pope had said no to the Portuguese, that the Jesuits would stay and continue to produce the fantastic fruit which was evident to anyone who wasn't enslaved to mammon. Suppose that the worst happened: that the entire Jesuit Order was condemned by the Portuguese and that the European Catholic Church fractured. Now image that the RCC never morally compromised and this happened dozens of times in various ways. Would the RCC still have the positive characteristics you ascribe with anywhere near the same magnitude? Would you even be able to allege that it has an unbroken line going back to Peter?

            I don't need to say Protestants are any better in order to ask the above questions. I just need to question whether the RCC so feared "death" that it made compromise after compromise. If you want more examples, look at compromises with Mussolini and Nazi Germany. It's not like I'm saying the RCC is especially bad—virtually all humans work very hard to protect their reputations and their existence. The Bible demonstrates beyond a doubt that God is quite willing to work within brokenness to produce good.

            You seem like you are blaming Catholics for problems and exempting yourself. Like Protestants never got caught up in politics and did some nasty things.

            I have no idea what your evidential basis is for this claim, especially since the next thing you quote from my in your reply is "I actually think all of Christianity is sick due to its disunity."

            LB: I wrote (and quoted) that "Mt 16:18 could be accomplished via Is 6:13 → 11:1". The meaning is that resurrection conquers death. But if we forget about resurrection, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" would be interpreted as "does not die". I think history shows fairly well that institutions which fear death make moral compromises to ensure their existence.

            RG: You are the one who tried to avoid the clear teaching of Matthew 16 by suggesting the church died and rose again.

            If you're referring to the upstream quote I included, it talks about possibility, not actuality. If you're referring to something else I wrote, please quote it. If you believe it is false that "the gates of Hades did not overcome Jesus", please let me know.

            You talk about gradual corruption. Was the church corrupt in the 4th century? That is when the cannon of the New Testament was defined and the creeds were written. Was is corrupt in the 2nd and 3rd century?

            The church being ok with the execution of Arians is an instance of corruption. My understanding of the canonization of scripture is that it was (i) ecumenical; (ii) guided by judging texts by fruit they produced among Christians represented by the assembled bishops—among other things. An example is the third ecumenical council which produced the statement I excerpted about not changing any creeds. For contrast, see the imposition of the Filioque by the RCC on the Eastern Orthodox, which was (i′) the opposite of ecumenical; (ii′) not guided by any assessments about good fruit that I know of. But I think you've disbarred yourself from using (i) or (ii). The former, because unity can only come by "submitting to a common [human] authority". The latter, because "Jesus never commanded us to judge churches."

            The trouble is that the alleged errors that Protestants like to point to can actually be found quite early. So this narrative of the church that grew corrupt and embraced false teachings which the reformers corrected just does not fit the data.

            I have told no such narrative. Unlike you, I do not require [our understanding of] doctrine and/or tradition to be perfect. (You would ostensibly argue that my position collapses if I don't require this.) God works amidst brokenness and incompleteness. At most I have appealed to the OT, which has cycles of corruption and rediscovery of God's intent. I believe that when Paul warned us about recapitulating the errors in the OT, he meant all of the errors, not just certain ones. When Paul says that all scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, I say he meant "all". I doubt he meant "interesting history lesson" to suffice.

            LB: I actually think all of Christianity is sick due to its disunity. I think Christianity has had its fill of one group claiming it has pretty much all of the answers, if only all the others would listen. I think we need to learn to listen to and learn from one another in ways far more intense than the world has seen. I believe this would be a powerful witness to the world.

            RG: It would be a powerfully negative witness to the world. It would mean Christians have no clue what they believe and cannot provide a strong foundation on which to base your life. This is what Eph 4:14 talks about when it refers to people "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming." Listening to each other is great but after you listen you need to be able to tell truth from falsehood. One group does not have all the answers. Yet the gospel is not something we make up by consensus. It is given to us by God. If God wants to speak more often through one group of people we should let Him do that.

            What answer does the RCC lack which some other group of Christians has? As to the rest, unified doctrine with hypocritical practice results in the name of God being blasphemed among the nations. When the Israelites were to be envied for their great laws, it was because those laws were being put in practice and yielding fantastic fruit. (Deut 4:6–10) I stand by what I wrote earlier: "Perhaps God will prevent unity as long as the thing that would be unified would not properly attest to him." If God wants to speak more often through one group of people, let that group generate the fruit which Jesus told us to judge by. If it mostly appeals to stories it tells about the past, that's a red flag.

            Think of Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus asks what people were saying. The reply was, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He did not say REALLY listen to those people and that will be an awesome witness to the world. He said Peter's answer was revealed by God by a special grace and was therefore true. The rest of the answers? They were wrong. So yes, listen. Just don't pretend that everyone has the same grace and don't be afraid to say some folks are just plain wrong.

            Erm, seeing as I'm disagreeing with you rather a lot, how on earth am I possibly pretending that everyone has the same grace? Jesus said "my sheep hear my voice"; what do you think this means? You seem to equate 'listen' with 'believe'; I made no such equivalence. Instead, I think you have insights which are valuable to explore. I also trust you to better show weakness and error in my thinking than I can myself—at least from some important angles.

            I was raised Protestant so blaming the reformation does not really exclude myself. I did phrase it in a way to leave aside the question of who is to blame for the reformation. I do blame Catholics. Not the Church as Church. The Church is the pure spotless bride. Yet the 10 popes that preceded the reformation were generally weak and corrupt. That was one of the causes. I would not say it has to be less than 50% no matter how such a number might be calculated.

            Hmm, I think I could be forgiven for guessing that you lay most of the blame on Protestants; if that isn't a slam-dunk case, then exactly how special is the 'special grace' to which you refer? Is it perhaps special like the glory, covenants, law, etc. given to the Jews which Paul recounts in Rom 9:1–5?

            LB: By the way, any time I hear a Holy Spirit-empowered Christian blame other Christians for problems and in any way exempt himself/​herself—even the tiniest amount—all sorts of alarm bells go off in my head. This is why I keyed in on your "I blame the reformation." You didn't blame the Roman Catholic Church. It may have borne guilt, but strictly less than 50%.

            RG: … I don't get why someone has to blame themselves when they try and point out a problem in the church. Particularly when talking about an event that happened before any of us were born but generally as well. …

            I provided a general principle and then applied it to a particular situation—hence my "You didn't blame the Roman Catholic Church." To the extent that the RCC was the problem when it comes to the Reformation, more of the same is not the solution. And yet, you're advocating the RCC as the solution. And yet, according to you, those popes had perfect doctrine. My own response is that (a) they didn't; (b) perfect doctrine guarantees nothing anyhow.

            LB: But what does 'exalted' mean and what does 'judge' mean, in light of "the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves"? How is saying that those with apostolic authority ought to be obeyed anything other than the earthly version of "lord it over" / "exercise authority over"? How is calling a priest "father" not in flagrant contradiction with "the greatest among you should be like the youngest"?

            RG: So you are saying Jesus is contradicting Himself? Jesus said both these things at the same time in response to the same event.

            Nope, I think Jesus meant something by 'exalted' 'sit on thrones' and 'judge' which are very different from what one would understand by observing the world—or even the scribes and Pharisees who "sit on Moses' seat". They completely missed the point of the law and the prophets: "they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge". Jesus' own disciples were pretty confused in Lk 22:24–34 when they argued about who is greatest. When Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet, he betrayed the most profound of misunderstandings of how Godly power works.

            I am not sure why the point you made about Hebrews 12 creates any problem on a Catholic reading. Why is it hard to see the Catholic Church as the city of the living God?

            Do you see the reversal between Deut 5:22–33 and Heb 12:18–29? To a significant approximation, you seem to be presenting the Pope as the new Moses, the new intermediary between us and God. There is an important difference, in that anyone with the Holy Spirit can technically hear from God. But the Pope gets veto power according to you and from my own admittedly parochial understanding, there isn't all that much expectation that very many will hear from God—except perhaps things which reconfirm RCC teaching. It is hard for me to see the RCC's mediator of the new covenant being Jesus instead of the Pope.

            I also can't see why your emphasis on pure doctrine/​tradition is so important, when an ostensibly pure doctrine/​tradition failed miserably to prevent the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War. Nor given Paul's "You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”" Nor given Rom 9:1–5. The Jews had the law and the prophets and so much more and they failed, catstrophically, to understand that the purpose virtually was "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them". I don't see how the RCC could avoid that fate even if it had perfect doctrine/​tradition.

            If the Catholic Church were currently producing spiritual maturity commensurate with almost 2000 years of accrued knowledge and wisdom, then I would take seriously its claim to be the Church. Perhaps you think that "[t]housands of saints" is about what we could expect; I think that's a pathetically low number. I think that the best explanation is that few Christians have anything like Paul's expectation of the maturity of all believers. Where Paul expects peace among believers with no reference to a common human authority, you say that "Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority." I believe you, but only because said "[s]trong, holy people" fall pitifully below the standard exemplified by Jesus. When Paul dealt with a church struggling with "jealousy and strife", he described them as "people of the flesh, as infants in Christ".

          • I don't need to say Protestants are any better in order to ask the above questions. I just need to question whether the RCC so feared "death" that it made compromise after compromise. If you want more examples, look at compromises with Mussolini and Nazi Germany. It's not like I'm saying the RCC is especially bad—virtually all humans work very hard to protect their reputations and their existence. The Bible demonstrates beyond a doubt that God is quite willing to work within brokenness to produce good.

            If you don't say Protestants are better then you need to understand what you are asking. Can a church be the legit Church of Christ and have these things happen? Why not? God does not give us a perfect church. He gives us a church that is free from error in a limited way. Basically as limited as it can be and still preserve the integrity of the gospel. He preserves as much human freedom as He can. So yes, the church messed up wrt the Jesuits. That does not alter the fact that what made the Jesuits so strong was a devotion to the pope. It makes it sad because a pope was complicit in their downfall.

            Yet the stunning incompetence of so many church leaders makes the survival of the church all the more remarkable. The fact that church leaders were concerned about death is hardly relevant. Lots of leaders were worried about the survival of their institution and it still died. This one does not die because Jesus said it would not. Nothing else explains it.

            BTW, don't believe everything you read about the RCC. What people say about the popes and Hitler and Mussolini is mostly fiction.

            If you're referring to the upstream quote I included, it talks about possibility, not actuality. If you're referring to something else I wrote, please quote it. If you believe it is false that "the gates of Hades did not overcome Jesus", please let me know.

            So the possibility is not a real possibility. So we are back to Matthew 16 being about Jesus instituting the papacy? Jesus does not say the gates of hell would not overcome Him. He says they would not overcome His Church, the one with Peter as the foundation. So the church of the 1st century which was the subject of these promises still exists and is still the subject of the promises. So Peter must have successors. A succession that continues to the present day.

            The church being OK with the execution of Arians is an instance of corruption.

            Actually it was the Arians that engaged in violence and threats of violence against the Trinitarians. I am not aware of any violence the other way. OK, St Nicolas punches Arias at Nicea but we are on the eve of his feat day as I write this so I shall give him a break. St Athanasius was forced out of his diocese 3 times by threats of Arian violence. A pope was threatened at one point.

            My understanding of the canonization of scripture is that it was (i) ecumenical; (ii) guided by judging texts by fruit they produced among Christians represented by the assembled bishops

            The trouble is that does not deliver conscience-binding certainty. Especially when the judges were professing so much that Protestants would call heresy. It is the sort of authority Protestants throw out quickly and easily when they disagree with it. So is the cannon of scripture settled or is it just another human opinion folks can disagree with?

            I have told no such narrative. Unlike you, I do not require [our understanding of] doctrine and/or tradition to be perfect. (You would ostensibly argue that my position collapses if I don't require this.) God works amidst brokenness and incompleteness.

            Perfection is not required. You do need certainty in essential doctrines. If you have no essential doctrines then you have no faith so there is nothing to collapse.

            What answer does the RCC lack which some other group of Christians has? As to the rest, unified doctrine with hypocritical practice results in the name of God being blasphemed among the nations.

            There have been cases where a truth was believed by another group first and then the RCC took it on. For example the use of wedding rings was something a non-Christian group did first.

            If Christians teach a unified doctrine and live it out imperfectly it would be a huge improvement over what is happening now. Christians don't claim they will be without sin. So getting the teaching right and achieving inconsistent results in practice is the best we will do. Part of those inconsistent results will be awesome saints who lived it well and showed just how beautiful God's truth is.

            Hmm, I think I could be forgiven for guessing that you lay most of the blame on Protestants; if that isn't a slam-dunk case, then exactly how special is the 'special grace' to which you refer?

            It is interesting how quickly you pivot. You think X and that disproves Catholicism. You don't think X. You think not X. That disproves Catholicism as well. The church is damned no matter what the data. This is why judging fruit is such a waste of time.

          • Since you made a fairly intense accusation ("how quickly you pivot"), I'm going to zero in on exactly what I did, to see if it really qualifies as such. I've put in strikethrough what you excised when responding:

            LB: By the way, any time I hear a Holy Spirit-empowered Christian blame other Christians for problems and in any way exempt himself/​herself—even the tiniest amount—all sorts of alarm bells go off in my head. This is why I keyed in on your "I blame the reformation." You didn't blame the Roman Catholic Church. It may have borne guilt, but strictly less than 50%. I am beginning to see how your logic works; it seems predicated upon 'special grace' without any guarantee of sanctification. (see my recent comment) But you also appeal to empirical evidence, to good things the RCC has done. I haven't disentangled how that works.

            RG: I was raised Protestant so blaming the reformation does not really exclude myself. I did phrase it in a way to leave aside the question of who is to blame for the reformation. I do blame Catholics. Not the Church as Church. The Church is the pure spotless bride. Yet the 10 popes that preceded the reformation were generally weak and corrupt. That was one of the causes. I would not say it has to be less than 50% no matter how such a number might be calculated.

            LB: Hmm, I think I could be forgiven for guessing that you lay most of the blame on Protestants; if that isn't a slam-dunk case, then exactly how special is the 'special grace' to which you refer?

            RG: It is interesting how quickly you pivot. You think X and that disproves Catholicism. You don't think X. You think not X. That disproves Catholicism as well. The church is damned no matter what the data.

            How was I attempting to "disprove Catholicism"? My argument all along has been a lack of demonstrated superiority of Catholics when a controlled comparison is made—that is, 500 years of Protestant history to 500 years of Catholic history or perhaps the last 50–100 years of each so we don't play History Wars™. You have claimed that the 'special grace' of the 'office' makes Roman Catholics superior; I see two ways to interpret this:

                 (1) superior by a purely intellectual measurement
                 (2) superior by measuring fruit

            I'm pretty sure you agree with @drdennisbonnette:disqus when he said "[Jesus] prayed that all may be one, as he and the Father are one. Such unity has always been understood as measured by a unity of doctrine." That would be (1). I have no interest in pure intellectual measurement: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." So you might say that if one first gets the intellectual realm in order, then the fruit will follow. This allows you to place great importance on the 'special grace' of the 'office'. But then we need to ask whether history bears this out. Hence the question of whether:

                 (A) The RCC is strictly less than 50% blameworthy for the Reformation.
                 (B) The RCC is at least 50% blameworthy for the Reformation.

            If (A), then you can lament that the Protestants refused to obey. Even if there were popes who were "generally weak and corrupt", the 'special grace' protected them. But I suspect I poked a hole in (A): it doesn't look very good if Christians who are favored by God are mostly blaming others for problems. Now if (B), then that 'special grace' is looking rather impotent. Perhaps the primacy of importance you place on it is unmerited.

            In your verbiage, it seems that neither X nor ¬X is palatable to you. X = (A), ¬X = (B). You either put yourself in the position of saying that the side most blessed by God just didn't have the wisdom and power to prevent disaster, or that the secret sauce the RCC has ('special grace') doesn't actually have the wisdom and power to prevent disaster. (Something else is also needed.) This doesn't "damn" the church; that is unacceptable hyperbole if it was meant to describe my position.

            This is why judging fruit is such a waste of time.

            Obeying Jesus' words ("You will recognize them by their fruits.") is "such a waste of time"? At most, I would say that people can be too immature to do such judging. The Corinthians had been paying way too much attention to questionable teachers; Paul describes them as "people of the flesh, as infants in Christ". The author of Hebrews uses the same "milk, not solid food" metaphor as Paul; he writes that "solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." Your statement here reinforces my suspicion that you presuppose almost all Christians are horridly immature—even "[s]trong, holy people". At best there are the "Michael Jordan[s]", the ≈ 10,000 saints.

            Do you think God might be rather unhappy about the pathetic expectations that the vast majority of Christians have wrt maturity of more than the elite?

          • How was I attempting to "disprove Catholicism"? My argument all along has been a lack of demonstrated superiority of Catholics when a controlled comparison is made—that is, 500 years of Protestant history to 500 years of Catholic history or perhaps the last 50–100 years of each so we don't play History Wars

            Not sure what your idea of a controlled comparison is. You point to the movie The Mission which has good Catholics and bad Catholics. Where was the parallel Protestant situation? There is no Protestant equivalent of the Jesuits. There could not be. The trouble is Protestantism splits into so many subgroups it is hard to compare them at all. You can call it History Wars. I see it as a complete failure of Protestantism that they have less and less unity around any teachings as time goes on. Catholicism has clear teaching that has developed beautifully over the last 500 years. It remains in continuity with what it has always taught yet progresses into a deeper understanding of the mystery of the gospel. So which looks more like the body of Christ? If you can't see it I can't help you.

            So you might say that if one first gets the intellectual realm in order, then the fruit will follow. This allows you to place great importance on the 'special grace' of the 'office'. But then we need to ask whether history bears this out.

            I do think both fruit and intellectual methods should get us to the same place. Yet we can get both wrong. Fruit is hard to judge because of limited knowledge and a highly subjective experience. Certainly it took me a while to see the fruit of the Catholic church because I was in a very good Protestant church. You value a certain type of spirituality and believe a certain historical narrative. That is often a very limited view. It was in prolonged wrestling with the intellectual incoherence of the Protestant position that caused me to take a second look at the fruit.

            Hence the question of whether:
            (A) The RCC is strictly less than 50% blameworthy for the Reformation.
            (B) The RCC is at least 50% blameworthy for the Reformation.

            It is clear to me that the answer to this question should not change the answer to whether we should be Protestant or Catholic. It is also clear to me that this question is almost impossible to answer. The real question is whether or not the reformation was a good thing. Not so much were the reformers right on doctrine. More were they right on process. Is Sola Scriptura right? Is breaking communion with the Pope every right?

            Obeying Jesus' words ("You will recognize them by their fruits.") is "such a waste of time"? At most, I would say that people can be too immature to do such judging. The Corinthians had been paying way too much attention to questionable teachers; Paul describes them as "people of the flesh, as infants in Christ". The author of Hebrews uses the same "milk, not solid food" metaphor as Paul; he writes that "solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil." Your statement here reinforces my suspicion that you presuppose almost all Christians are horridly immature—even "[s]trong, holy people". At best there are the "Michael Jordan[s]", the ˜ 10,000 saints.

            Immature people can judge fruits strangely. We can also think we are mature when we are not. But what to do when there seems to be mature Christians on both sides? I would prefer to err on the side of assuming too many people are immature, especially myself. The Saints are given to us so that there will be some definitively in the mature camp. If you don't trust the canonization process yet then pick out the ones you do trust.

          • Not sure what your idea of a controlled comparison is.

            In the ideal, you have two situations which are identical except for one difference, and then you can look at the situations and get an idea of what that one difference might cause—or at least, be correlated with. In the present situation, the closest thing would be comparing Protestant accomplishments over the last N years to Catholic accomplishments over the last N years, where each had approximately the same social influence, resources, etc. But I was just pushing for making N the same for both groups instead of letting 2000 years of Catholic history compete with 500 years of Protestant history.

            You point to the movie The Mission which has good Catholics and bad Catholics. Where was the parallel Protestant situation?

            I was not attempting to make a controlled comparison, there. Instead, I was showing some behavior which seems obviously anti-Jesus and yet probably served to maintain the worldly integrity of the church—something you claimed was God's doing. I could understand the Roman Catholics undertaking that if they deeply believe the church must not die and have some doubts as to whether God will keep it from dying without some "help". If they had believed in God's ability and willingness to resurrect the church, perhaps they would have chosen differently. Perhaps.

            Catholicism has clear teaching that has developed beautifully over the last 500 years. It remains in continuity with what it has always taught yet progresses into a deeper understanding of the mystery of the gospel. So which looks more like the body of Christ? If you can't see it I can't help you.

            If God cared most about beauty of teaching then probably Catholicism would win. If God cared most about beauty of sacraments, then probably Catholicism would win. The thing is, I'm not at all convinced that these are at the top of God's list. One has to build one's house on the rock for Jesus' words to provide security. Truth spoken without love leaves one as nothing. As to sacraments, what do the prophets think of rituals and sacrifice?

            At this point, I expect you to point to "It has built Western civilization." and such as support for the RCC's fruit. Simultaneously, you will hold that no empirical correlates could possibly count against it. No matter how many bad popes in a row there are, no matter if the RCC were ≥ 50% responsible for the Reformation, the RCC is still the most trustworthy human institution in existence and God wants his truth to be mediated through the RCC hierarchy more than having a direct relationship with everyone who follows Jesus. Essentially, evidence can always count for the RCC, but it can never really count against the RCC.

            I do think both fruit and intellectual methods should get us to the same place. Yet we can get both wrong. Fruit is hard to judge because of limited knowledge and a highly subjective experience.

            Fruit is as hard to judge as wisdom is hard to acquire. But why would matters of the intellect be any easier? How do you distinguish between thinking you know something and verifying you know it? "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise …" I'm also not sure that the intellect can suffice on its own; I think God cares rather more about particular, contingent reality than is allowed by any sort of a priori intellectualism. After all, he loves you and me quite a lot.

            LB: Hence the question of whether:
                 (A) The RCC is strictly less than 50% blameworthy for the Reformation.
                 (B) The RCC is at least 50% blameworthy for the Reformation.

            RG: It is clear to me that the answer to this question should not change the answer to whether we should be Protestant or Catholic. It is also clear to me that this question is almost impossible to answer.

            As I said in that comment, I wasn't trying to "disproves Catholicism"; I was questioning just what the 'special grace' of the 'office' does. The beauty of my argument is that I didn't need to figure out whether it is (A) or (B).

            The real question is whether or not the reformation was a good thing. Not so much were the reformers right on doctrine. More were they right on process. Is Sola Scriptura right? Is breaking communion with the Pope every right?

            I think it was an incredibly broken situation and that nobody came away smelling like roses. I believe the Thirty Years' War makes this clear: Protestants were not appreciably more or less holy/​righteous than Catholics during the massacres which took place. The Thirty Years' War demonstrates the quality of person that the Catholics and Protestants were able to produce, 100 years after the Reformation began. The result is a burning shame to Protestants and Catholics and both deserved to lose influence. Any 'special grace' that the 'office' might have was woefully impotent to stop the killing. I don't really care if there were a lot of politics in the mix by the way: all that would say is that politics were much more important to those people than their faith.

            Immature people can judge fruits strangely. We can also think we are mature when we are not.

            Isn't that exactly what Paul drives at in 1 Cor 3–4, as well as elsewhere in his letters to the Corinthians? I especially love 2 Cor 3:1–3, where Paul says his letters of recommendation are the Corinthians themselves. Contrast this to the kind of letter of recommendation Paul thought they might want.

            But what to do when there seems to be mature Christians on both sides?

            I would ask those on both sides to tell me just how important it is to strive for the maturity of all, vs. other objectives (e.g. making new converts, feeding the poor). I see the OT as YHWH attempting to lift up all his people to be his "equal", in an accommodation sense. I see YHWH as desperately wanting people to honestly argue with him. (This is a major way we gain understanding; look also to Jesus' pervasive arguing.) Jesus arrived on the scene because there came a time when there was nobody to stand in the breach (compare Ezek 22:29–31 and Is 59:14–18). Could those mature Christians argue me out of that interpretation? If not, to what extent are they being like their God?

            If we are all truly growing closer to God, would unity not be the inevitable result? Might we find that we can help each other grow closer to God, that perhaps he has given each person unique talents and insights into him and his creation? Were this the case, then Paul's adjuring us to "Outdo one another in showing honor." would take on a newer, more intense meaning. Were this unity to be caused by something other than obedience to a human authority, then it would surely be easier to posit that God was the unifying factor instead of man.

            I would prefer to err on the side of assuming too many people are immature, especially myself. The Saints are given to us so that there will be some definitively in the mature camp. If you don't trust the canonization process yet then pick out the ones you do trust.

            We seem to be back here:

            LB: This all kinda-sorta makes sense if you assume absolute spiritual immaturity of everyone. Since I addressed the maturity issue at length two days ago, I won't say more here. But the RCC has had almost 2000 years to improve wrt spiritual maturity. Are you impressed with the result? Are you really satisfied by "[t]housands of saints"? I'm pretty sure Jesus, Paul, and pretty much everyone else expected and still expect rather more.

            RG: Am I impressed with what the RCC has accomplished in 2000 years? Yes. Could we imagine better? Sure. We can always imagine a world where things happen more quickly and more easily. God has worked through many centuries to bring His Kingdom to earth. Did it have to take thousands of year before Jesus would come? I guess it did. Did it have to take thousands of years after? I guess so.

            LB: Were you answering my narrow question about progress in spiritual maturity, or …

            RG: [question ignored]

            There is another possibility to what you seem willing to tolerate: that too few Christians throughout the ages have considered the maturity of all Christians to be an ultra-important priority. This is why I suspect you're quite wrong to suggest "We agree on [spiritual maturity] …" Once again: your focus on human intermediaries between the masses and God makes sense if there is pervasive immaturity. That's what we see in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8! People want other people to be holy for them so they don't have to. Holiness is subcontracted. Put aside what everyone says and just look at the behavior patterns: "success" is when there are some saints/​celebrities one can point to on one's own side.

          • In the ideal, you have two situations which are identical except for one difference, and then you can look at the situations and get an idea of what that one difference might cause—or at least, be correlated with. In the present situation, the closest thing would be comparing Protestant accomplishments over the last N years to Catholic accomplishments over the last N years, where each had approximately the same social influence, resources, etc. But I was just pushing for making N the same for both groups instead of letting 2000 years of Catholic history compete with 500 years of Protestant history

            Have your seriously tried to do that? Maybe I missed it. How to measure accomplishments is another question. Also, are we talking world-wide or just in some location? Protestantism changes to suit the particular culture. Sometimes that looks effective for a while. So in the Southern US it looks very different than it looks anywhere else. In my mind faithfulness to the gospel is huge. That is hard to measure for a short time. Nobody changes their teaching that quickly.

            If God cared most about beauty of teaching then probably Catholicism would win. If God cared most about beauty of sacraments, then probably Catholicism would win. The thing is, I'm not at all convinced that these are at the top of God's list. One has to build one's house on the rock for Jesus' words to provide security. Truth spoken without love leaves one as nothing. As to sacraments, what do the prophets think of rituals and sacrifice?

            I think God's teaching it the truth and it is also more beautiful than anything man can make up. So yes, beauty points us to God. Sure truth needs to be spoken with love. That is actually easier when you are sure your truth is truly revealed by God. When we are debating whose version of God's word is right then love can get lost in the desire to win. As Catholics we don't need to establish God's truth. God has done that. We do need to love according to that truth. The Word needs to become flesh. Truth without love is fundamentalism. Love without truth is liberalism. Both leave us without an experience of God. We need both.

            the RCC is still the most trustworthy human institution in existence and God wants his truth to be mediated through the RCC hierarchy more than having a direct relationship with everyone who follows Jesus. Essentially, evidence can always count for the RCC, but it can never really count against the RCC.

            You offer a false choice. God wants us to have a direct relationship with Jesus. He also wants us to embrace the revelation He has given us through the RCC. The Church is God's gift to us. It is there to help us. To guard the faith. To give us food for the journey. To help us up when we fall. None of this separates us from Jesus. It all brings us closer to Him.

            Evidence can count against the church. You just have to offer evidence that shows the actual claims of the church are false. She never claimed to have sinless leaders. So evidence that this or that leader sinned does not count. She claimed she would exist until the end of time. She claimed that her authoritative teachings are true. Now those things happen to be true so it is hard to give evidence that they are not. Still in principle there could be such evidence. In fact, one would expect these things not to be the case. So it is not unfalsifiable. It is just true.

            The result is a burning shame to Protestants and Catholics and both deserved to lose influence. Any 'special grace' that the 'office' might have was woefully impotent to stop the killing. I don't really care if there were a lot of politics in the mix by the way: all that would say is that politics were much more important to those people than their faith.

            On thing you need to learn about the Catholic notion of grace. Grace is often something we need to cooperate with for it to be effective. The grace of infallibility works without our cooperation but it is fairly narrow. We as Christians need to take the truth we are given and live it. When Catholics fail to do that it is not God's fault. Yet what is the appropriate reaction? People failed to live by the bible yet you don't want to discard the bible based on the 30 years war. Somehow you do want to discard the Church. It seems inconsistent. If the issue was a lack of obedience rather than a lack of revelation then the solution is not to ignore the revelation but to obey it. It is not to run away from the Church but to embrace her more fully.

            If we are all truly growing closer to God, would unity not be the inevitable result?

            That is exactly true. It follows from the lack of unity in Protestantism that people are not growing closer to God. They feel like they are. I know I did and a lot of people I have talked to did and still do. Yet are they really? Is it an illusion?

            Were this unity to be caused by something other than obedience to a human authority, then it would surely be easier to posit that God was the unifying factor instead of man.

            This seems like wishful thinking. What you describe is the same recipe for unity Protestants have been talking about for 500 years. It does not work. The Church is God's plan for unity. If you ditch God's plan for your own plan hoping that after 500 years of failure it will somehow work that will not point to God as the unifying factor. Catholicism will still be united and give glory to God. Protestantism will still be a mess and lead many to atheism.

            There is another possibility to what you seem willing to tolerate: that too few Christians throughout the ages have considered the maturity of all Christians to be an ultra-important priority. This is why I suspect you're quite wrong to suggest "We agree on [spiritual maturity] …" Once again: your focus on human intermediaries between the masses and God makes sense if there is pervasive immaturity.

            I think we agree on the importance of maturity. I don't think we agree on what maturity looks like. That is really a question of doctrine. To me a mature Christian is not one who complains about the authority of the church. That is a mark of immaturity. A mature Christian has learned to think with the Church and sees a joy in doing so. Then they make a great effort to internalize that thinking as much as possible. You have to really trust it is from God before you will be able to submit to it even in your secret thoughts.

            Maturity also causes us to move from relating to God as a master to relating to God as a Father. I remember one sermon by John Henry Newman. He later converted to Catholicism but this was written when he was still Anglican. He reflected on the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. He noticed how both sons used the word slave. One said twice that He was not worthy to be a son and should be accepted only as a slave. The Father ignores this and teats him like a son anyway. The other son says all these years I have served you like a slave. The question is why? Why does he serve like a slave and not like a son? Newman's point was that often when we first come to Jesus we relate to God like our slave master. This is not bad. Yet it becomes bad if it remains that way. Once we get some maturity we need to start relating to God as our Father. Not just accepting that we call Him Father but really changing the nature of our relationship so we are no longer a slave. We still obey. Expectations for a son are greater than those of a slave. Yet the dignity is so much greater.

          • I think we agree on the importance of maturity. I don't think we agree on what maturity looks like. That is really a question of doctrine. To me a mature Christian is not one who complains about the authority of the church. That is a mark of immaturity. A mature Christian has learned to think with the Church and sees a joy in doing so. Then they make a great effort to internalize that thinking as much as possible. You have to really trust it is from God before you will be able to submit to it even in your secret thoughts.

            I'm sorry, but "complains about" seems remarkably vague and possibly passive-aggressive. Do you mean to construe my asking whether any Christians around have a workable idea of how to produce appreciable† maturity as itself immaturity? If not, exactly what are you gathering under the description of "complains about"? You have a history of misrepresenting what I have said‡, so I may follow-up with a request for precise quotations instead of paraphrases.

            † I mean something rather more than ≈ 10,000 saints; a good foil is the incredible immaturity we see in Protestants and Catholics during the Thirty Years' War.
            ‡ A recent example: "From what I read, it is traditional also to kneel before the Pope""Yet a pope might have improperly reacted to a kneeling person."

          • I do think your focus on maturity is odd. Almost anything can be described as mature or immature. It is not a dominant theme of scripture so you end up focusing on just a few passages. Then there is the fact that you see it as somehow opposed to Catholicism. Re-framing the Christian faith in a way that puts a bad label on others and a good label on yourself does not strike me as mature.

            I was not thinking specifically of you when I used the phrase "complains about the authority of the church." That is more just a generic description of those who stand above the church and judge here. Some of them are Catholics. That they see themselves as being mature and I would not see them that way. If you think that describes you then so be it.

            I actually think that when you complain the loudest about me misrepresenting you it is because the characterization hurts. That might be because it is wrong and hurtful and if it is I apologize. Still it might be because it is right and hurtful. Pain is God's megaphone. In that case it would mean our discussion is uncovering some something.

          • I do think your focus on maturity is odd. … It is not a dominant theme of scripture so you end up focusing on just a few passages.

            Then you get to consider Paul "odd": "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me." The ESV translates words "mature" eight times, six from Paul are relevant and one in Hebrews is relevant. The Greek for the word in Colossians is τέλειος and it is found 19 times in 17 verses.

            Furthermore, the New Covenant itself looks forward to a time where people won't have to be commanded to do anything by other humans because God himself will be present within them: Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32. This is obviously a reversal of the distancing which happened in Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8, where the people asked for human intermediaries to obey. By your definition of 'maturity', which ties it heavily to obedience, the New Covenant is even more obviously about 'maturity'. "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts."

            I actually think that when you complain the loudest about me misrepresenting you it is because the characterization hurts.

            Umm, it didn't hurt for you to misrepresent "From what I read, it is traditional also to kneel before the Pope""Yet a pope might have improperly reacted to a kneeling person." It was simply obnoxious. When you get my argument wrong, it means I have to expend more effort to correct that misunderstanding.

          • LB: In the ideal, you have two situations which are identical except for one difference … But I was just pushing for making N the same for both groups instead of letting 2000 years of Catholic history compete with 500 years of Protestant history.

            RG: Have your seriously tried to do that?

            Nope; my argument has not required that I do so. Do note the last sentence of what I wrote; was it not obvious to you from the beginning that it is rather unfair to compare 2000 years of Catholic history to 500 years of Protestant history?

            Protestantism changes to suit the particular culture.

            From the SF parish I visited, so does Catholicism. Or a parish elsewhere I've heard of, which has a [sexually active] lesbian priest and is still apparently a Catholic church. On the other hand, there are Protestant churches which do rather little to suit the particular culture; I went to a Plymouth Brethren church in MA and visited an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in SF.

            So in the Southern US it looks very different than it looks anywhere else.

            So were Catholic parishes in the Southern US consistently pushing against slavery, before the Civil War? WP: Catholic Church and slavery § United States indicates that was not the case. Vatican II changed the RCC's stance on slavery but it looks like it was mostly cultural catch-up.

            In my mind faithfulness to the gospel is huge.

            Plenty of Protestants believe that Jesus died for our sins because God loved us and there was absolutely nothing we could do to save ourselves. So you must mean something more than that. Perhaps you think that believing in transubstantiation is ultra-important, even though you will not or cannot produce any evidence that those who so believe are superior at loving their neighbor than those who think communion is merely symbolic?

            When we are debating whose version of God's word is right then love can get lost in the desire to win.

            There's your presupposition of an ontology of violence popping up again. If my desire is to win like this, I am not being like Jesus.

            You offer a false choice. God wants us to have a direct relationship with Jesus. He also wants us to embrace the revelation He has given us through the RCC. The Church is God's gift to us.

            Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus would like to have a word with you. If the Pope can singlehandedly throw me out of the church and if there is no salvation outside of the church, then he singlehandedly controls whether my relationship with Jesus lives or dies.

            Evidence can count against the church. You just have to offer evidence that shows the actual claims of the church are false.

            That 'special grace' failed to prevent the Reformation and you're not willing to commit to the Reformation being > 50% the fault of Protestants. You think the Reformation was a terrible, terrible thing. That 'special grace' did not prevent Catholics from massacring Protestants and Catholics in the Thirty Years' War. It's not clear what that 'special grace' actually accomplishes when one judges by fruit.

            People failed to live by the bible yet you don't want to discard the bible based on the 30 years war. Somehow you do want to discard the Church. It seems inconsistent. If the issue was a lack of obedience rather than a lack of revelation then the solution is not to ignore the revelation but to obey it.

            I have very clearly criticized a lack of priority on maturity of all, on the part of both Catholics and Protestants. This only constitutes "discard the Church" if the RCC is rather set on not elevating this priority higher than it is. As far as I can tell, this lack of priority constitutes a grotesque lack of obedience on the part of Protestant and Catholic leaders at the highest levels. To suggest that the answer is merely to run back to them is literal insanity—to try the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.

            LB: Were this unity to be caused by something other than obedience to a human authority, then it would surely be easier to posit that God was the unifying factor instead of man.

            RG: This seems like wishful thinking. What you describe is the same recipe for unity Protestants have been talking about for 500 years. It does not work. The Church is God's plan for unity.

            The recipe Catholics have been using over the last 500 years has worked better—to unify Catholics and Protestants as well as Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and really Catholics and all other Christians on the planet? As far as I have read, it was the Roman Catholic Church which brought about the final schism between the East and West, which is rather the opposite of what you're saying here.

            I think we agree on the importance of maturity. I don't think we agree on what maturity looks like. That is really a question of doctrine. To me a mature Christian is not one who complains about the authority of the church. That is a mark of immaturity.

            How does your first sentence not contradict "I do think your focus on maturity is odd."? As to what constitutes "complains about the authority of the church", that is rather vague and so is your follow-up of "those who stand above the church and judge here". Since you declined to make anything I've said an example of "complains", I have very little to go on.

          • Nope; my argument has not required that I do so. Do note the last sentence of what I wrote; was it not obvious to you from the beginning that it is rather unfair to compare 2000 years of Catholic history to 500 years of Protestant history?

            What does unfair mean? If the evidence points to Catholicism then you change the rules to make it more fair? Interesting.

            From the SF parish I visited, so does Catholicism. Or a parish elsewhere I've heard of, which has a [sexually active] lesbian priest and is still apparently a Catholic church. On the other hand, there are Protestant churches which do rather little to suit the particular culture; I went to a Plymouth Brethren church in MA and visited an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in SF.

            The sexually active lesbian priest is not an actual Catholic parish. Things don't get quite that crazy even in liberal Catholic parishes. They do exist. Still they are limited by what the local bishop is willing to allow. Nothing like that exists in Protestantism. Many bishops allow more than I would but I respect their authority.

            When I say Protestant churches reflect their culture that sometimes means a particular sub-culture which they serve. So yes, conservative Protestant churches do exist. I typically found one with a charismatic worship style but a conservative theological stance. Still, just because that suited me didn't mean it was true.

            So were Catholic parishes in the Southern US consistently pushing against slavery, before the Civil War? WP: Catholic Church and slavery § United States indicates that was not the case. Vatican II changed the RCC's stance on slavery but it looks like it was mostly cultural catch-up.

            Slavery is a long story. St Patrick was the first to suggest salvery was always wrong. He was a slave before he was a bishop. Anyway, I found this in the Catholic Encyclopedia, https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/slavery

            in 1462, Pius II declared slavery to be "a great crime" (magnum scelus); that, in 1537, Paul III forbade the enslavement of the Indians; that Urban VIII forbade it in 1639, and Benedict XIV in 1741; that Pius VII demanded of the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, the suppression of the slave-trade, and Gregory XVI condemned it in 1839; that, in the Bull of Canonization of the Jesuit Peter Claver, one of the most illustrious adversaries of slavery, Pius IX branded the "supreme villainy" (summum nefas) of the slave-traders. Everyone knows of the beautiful letter which Leo XIII, in 1888, addressed to the Brazilian bishops, exhorting them to banish from their country the remnants of slavery a letter to which the bishops responded with their most energetic efforts, and some generous slave-owners by freeing their slaves in a body, as in the first ages of the Church.

            Plenty of Protestants believe that Jesus died for our sins because God loved us and there was absolutely nothing we could do to save ourselves. So you must mean something more than that.

            Protestants are forced to reduce the gospel to something like that because that is all they can agree on. If one tries to live the faith it takes very little time before one runs into many issues they disagree on. So yes, I mean a version of the gospel robust enough to actually live. Not just a slogan.

            Perhaps you think that believing in transubstantiation is ultra-important, even though you will not or cannot produce any evidence that those who so believe are superior at loving their neighbour than those who think communion is merely symbolic?

            Jesus thought transubstantiation is ultra-important. That is enough for me. I wonder if you apply this test to all questions. Can you prove that those who believe in the bible are superior at loving their neighbour? Can you prove it for people who believe in the incarnation or the resurrection? Again, if you demand proof and try and eliminate faith then you end up an atheist.

            Do I think it is true? Yes. In fact I can find very little reason the church has survived as well as it has with such a lousy Sunday morning service. It is lousy in our eyes but it is the way God wants to be worshipped. He wants to give Himself to us liturgically. He wants us to accept on faith that that is really Him.

            There's your presupposition of an ontology of violence popping up again. If my desire is to win like this, I am not being like Jesus.

            I do believe in sin. I was a Calvinist! This comment is mostly from my experience in discussions. Some are holy enough to avoid being uncharitable but not many. I try but with sadly limited success as you have already pointed out.

            Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus would like to have a word with you. If the Pope can singlehandedly throw me out of the church and if there is no salvation outside of the church, then he singlehandedly controls whether my relationship with Jesus lives or dies.

            That is not what Extra Ecclesiam Nulla means. There is salvation outside the visible church. God can invisibly join people to His church. Excommunication declares a person to be in spiritual jeparody. The declaration itself does not put them on the road to hell. They are there already. It tells them and everyone else that such is the case and people can react accordingly.

            That 'special grace' failed to prevent the Reformation and you're not willing to commit to the Reformation being > 50% the fault of Protestants. You think the Reformation was a terrible, terrible thing. That 'special grace' did not prevent Catholics from massacring Protestants and Catholics in the Thirty Years' War. It's not clear what that 'special grace' actually accomplishes when one judges by fruit.

            What it does is it offers the world Jesus. It does not force Jesus on the world. They can accept or reject Him. Protestants accept the grace of scripture which came through the church. So they can gain a limited understanding of Jesus from that. Sadly, they don't accept the rest of what Jesus offers. The bible is a fait accompli so they don't need to worry about what might happen in the future. They don't need to be afraid. Jesus loves them and would not lead them wrong.

            I have very clearly criticized a lack of priority on maturity of all, on the part of both Catholics and Protestants. This only constitutes "discard the Church" if the RCC is rather set on not elevating this priority higher than it is. As far as I can tell, this lack of priority constitutes a grotesque lack of obedience on the part of Protestant and Catholic leaders at the highest levels. To suggest that the answer is merely to run back to them is literal insanity—to try the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.

            This is confusing. Before the reformation we did not have anything like the 30 years war. After the reformation we had it. So going back to historical Christianity would be insane? They would be expecting the same result, no war, no doctrinal confusion.

            The recipe Catholics have been using over the last 500 years has worked better—to unify Catholics and Protestants as well as Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and really Catholics and all other Christians on the planet? As far as I have read, it was the Roman Catholic Church which brought about the final schism between the East and West, which is rather the opposite of what you're saying here.

            The recipe has unified most Christians. Most are Catholics. It has not unified those who reject the recipe. Why is that surprising? The recipe works. Everything that people say you would surrender to become Catholic you can actually keep. The love of scripture, the charismatic worship, the active evangelism, etc. On top of that you get awesome sacraments, a coherant view of history, theology and morality, plus an awesome, world-wide community.

            How does your first sentence not contradict "I do think your focus on maturity is odd."? As to what constitutes "complains about the authority of the church", that is rather vague and so is your follow-up of "those who stand above the church and judge here". Since you declined to make anything I've said an example of "complains", I have very little to go on.

            Maturity can mean a lot of things. We all agree that we grow in sanctity and that is important. What does that look like? On that we don't agree. So just going back to the word maturity over and over again is not that helpful. You have not been precise about what you mean. Generally it seems like you see maturity as being more individual. Mature Christians don't depend on other Christians. Yet in John 5:19 Jesus said he can do nothing without the Father. So is that immature? Maybe maturity is being comfortable with dependence. Yes, even dependence on the church.

            I know when I was Protestant and asking a lot of questions I did notice a depth of wisdom in Catholics, especially Dominicans. You might call that maturity. You might call that fruit. It impressed me and it made me take more seriously their view of the church as a deep well we could draw such wisdom from.

          • Sample1

            Again, if you demand proof and try and eliminate faith then you end up an atheist.

            It is wonderful to see someone who gets it, at least partially. I can’t count how many times religious people claim that I as an atheist have faith. As you point out, atheism doesn’t contain faith. But as for proof, that’s better understood as reasonable evidence. Proof is something believers do claim to have, loads of it through various avenues: philosophical, theological. And yet such proofs aren’t seen as proofs by atheists nor are some even seen as proofs by believers! When I was a Catholic I often thought offering proofs negated the value of faith because faith is supposedly what pleases the Catholic deity (and Catholic leaders).

            Pro-tip: I think the best way to convert atheists into believers is to catch them when young, immerse them in a mono culture of faith, and give them reasons to believe they will suffer negative consequences during life and after death should they apostatize. ;-)

            Sorry to interrupt your discussion with Luke, a convo I’m enjoying.

            Mike

          • There are different levels of proof. If someone wants absolute proof then they can't even prove other people exist. So if you take atheism as a privileged hypothesis and say you will believe it unless someone forces me with unbreakable logic to believe otherwise then you will end up atheist. Protestants can be that way with their own tradition. They privilege Fundamentalism or whatever else. Catholicism is where you end up if you step back and ask what is the most reasonable thing to believe knowing no slam dunk argument exists for any one tradition.

          • David Nickol

            Jesus thought transubstantiation is ultra-important. That is enough for me.

            It is wildly anachronistic to write about the thought of Jesus regarding transubstantiation, since the concept took about a thousand years to develop. According to Wikipedia (and many other sources):

            The earliest known use of the term "transubstantiation" to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist was by Hildebert de Lavardin, Archbishop of Tours, in the 11th century. By the end of the 12th century the term was in widespread use.

            We have, in the Gospels, words of Jesus such as "This is my body," or the discourse in John 6, but Jesus never taught that "transubstantiation" occurred. The sayings about eating flesh and drinking blood are enigmatic, and while Catholics may believe the Church has the authority to interpret them correctly, Jesus never said, "When I talk about eating my flesh and drinking my blood, here is exactly what I mean."

            The NAB has this interesting footnote to John 6:54-58:

            Eats: the verb used in these verses is not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: “munch,” “gnaw.” This may be part of John’s emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus (cf. Jn 6:55), but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning “eat.”

            And yet their translation reads: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him." Didn't the translators read the notes?

          • The word was not used until later. The concept existed. We didn't have language to describe it because it was a radical new thing.

            The sayings are enigmatic. It makes me wonder what a non-theist thinks of them. Were they uttered by Jesus? Did a later Christian make them up like people imagine about so many gospel stories? Yet who would make up such a thing? Why would Christians of any age embrace such an odd thing unless they were sure it was from Jesus. Yet if Jesus did say it then He is either mad or he really believed we needed to eat his body and blood.

          • David Nickol

            The word was not used until later. The concept existed.

            The concept that existed was that Jesus was somehow present when Christians gathered weekly, on the Lord's Day, to share a communal meal including bread and wine. For over a thousand years, Christianity did without an official explanation of exactly how Jesus was present. "Transubstantiation" is an explanation in Aristotelian terms—an explanation that was not possible in the Latin West until the rediscovery and translation of Aristotle's work beginning in the 12th century. Even then, there were competing concepts, although transubstantiation rather quickly won out. Prior to the rediscovery of Aristotelian philosophy, any Christian would have been bewildered by an explanation of transubstantiation, since it would have necessarily have relied on unfamiliar philosophical concepts.

            The sayings are enigmatic. It makes me wonder what a non-theist thinks of them.

            There is no shortage of theists in the world (for example, Jews, Protestants, Muslims) who do not believe Jesus conferred the power of transubstantiation to his followers. I am wondering when you think of the word "theist" if you automatically think "Catholic" and exclude everyone else.

            Were they uttered by Jesus?

            Well, we know for a fact they weren't, since the words we have are in Greek and Jesus would have spoken Aramaic. Do we know if Jesus said something exactly equivalent in Aramaic and the Greek is a faithful translation? I don't know, and neither does anyone else.

            According to what I have read, and I have not studied this at all in depth, in Aramaic, the verb "to be" would only have been implied, so Jesus might have said something like, "This my body." I don't exactly know what to make of that.

            The seven "I am" statements in the Gospel of John (including "I am the bread of life" and "I am the true vine") are clearly metaphorical. It is certainly not impossible that saying bread was his body and wine was his blood was as metaphorical as "I am the bread of life." I have seen it hypothesized before that the practice of the Lord's Supper inspired the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper rather than the other way around. And why is something so important as the institution of the Eucharist not in the Gospel of John? I certainly don't know.

            Yet if Jesus did say it then He is either mad or he really believed we needed to eat his body and blood.

            You are recycling the old "trilemma" argument. Take something that perhaps Jesus said, put your own infallible interpretation on it, and then dare someone to call Jesus a madman if they don't accept it. It is perfectly possible that Jesus did not say what you believe he said. And if he did, it is perfectly possible that he did not mean what you think he meant. Also, those who make bold religious claims that are not literally true are not necessarily "madmen."

            At best, "transubstantiation" is a way of describing an incomprehensible mystery in the human terms of a specific school of philosophy. Even though the Catholic Church seems to teach that that is an appropriate way (or even the best way) to describe the mystery, it is the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist that is of primary importance, not a "technical explanation" devised more than a thousand years after the first Eucharistic celebrations. I don't see how those in the first Christian millennium who knew nothing of transubstantiation got less out of the Eucharist than those who believe in transubstantiation. It seems to me it is very easy to go too far in trying to explain a mystery.

          • Rob Abney

            Your contention about Transubstantiation being a product of the recovery of Aristotle in the 12th century is undermined by the history of the debate about the issue at least as early as the 9th century.
            St. Paschasius Radbertus Theologian, b. at Soissons, 786; d. in the Monastery of Corbie, c. 860
            "The scientific advantage which accrued to theology from this first controversy on the Eucharist is by no means unimportant. For, through the accurate distinction made between the Eucharistic Body of Christ and its exterior sensible appearances, the way was cleared for a deeper understanding of the Eucharistic species or accidents in distinction from, and in opposition to, the invisible body of Christ hidden under them. Hence also the difficult notion of Transubstantiation gained much in clearness, distinctness, and precision." http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11518a.htm

          • David Nickol

            I think you are misinterpreting what you quote, but everyone can judge for himself or herself. In my two responses to Randy Gritter, I was commenting on his statements that (1) "Jesus thought transubstantiation is ultra-important," (transubstantiation is a concept that was unknown to first-century Palestinian Jews) and (2) "The word was not used until later. The concept existed." As for (2), even if we accept your interpretation above, the concept began to be developed in the 8th or 9th century.

            And to present my own quote from the old online Catholic Encyclopedia:

            The scientific development of the concept of Transubstantiation can hardly be said to be a product of the Greeks, who did not get beyond its more general notes; rather, it is the remarkable contribution of the Latin theologians, who were stimulated to work it out in complete logical form by the three Eucharistic controversies mentioned above, The term transubstantiation seems to have been first used by Hildebert of Tours (about 1079). His encouraging example was soon followed by other theologians, as Stephen of Autun (d. 1139), Gaufred (1188), and Peter of Blois (d. about 1200), whereupon several ecumenical councils also adopted this significant expression, as the Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215), and the Council of Lyons (1274), in the profession of faith of the Greek Emperor Michael Palæologus. [Bold added]

            The eucharistic controversies did not develop the concept of transubstantiation. They stimulated later theologians to formulate the concept. The concepts of substance and accidents are essential to the concept (doctrine) of transubstantiation, and they are Aristotelian (and Thomist) in origin.

            I know that my own personal beliefs (or lack of them) are often very much in conflict with Catholic teaching, but I have said absolutely nothing controversial when it comes to my treatment of the development of the concept of transubstantiation.

          • David Nickol

            Interesting quote from an interesting article:

            The Christian belief that the Eucharist is not simply bread and wine but the actual and effective presence of Jesus is, I believe, something that can be affirmed independently of Greek philosophy. But to claim that transubstantiation itself is conceptually independent of Greek philosophy seems both false and misguided, as if somehow the term transubstantiation were what is sacred and not Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. [Bold added]

          • Rob Abney

            I will add that this is about the development of the "understanding" of the concept of transubstantiation.
            Your only controversial statement in my opinion was:

            The concept that existed was that Jesus was somehow present when Christians gathered weekly, on the Lord's Day, to share a communal meal including bread and wine.

            Here is an article that says that the "daily bread" was certainly something more than a communal meal.
            https://www.regnumchristi.org/en/church-start-daily-mass/

          • David Nickol

            The notion that Acts 6:1-6 tells of the ordination of seven priests who would say "daily mass" is indefensible. The reason The Twelve give for selecting additional helpers is, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table." That is not the justification one would give for helpers who were to be ordained as priests and distribute communion.

            I said nothing about "daily bread." While there surely are associations to be made between the Lord's Prayer and the Eucharist, it would be bizarre to interpret "give us this day our daily bread" to literally mean something like "give us Holy Communion every day of the week." There was as yet no Eucharist to receive when Jesus gave the Lord's Prayer.

            The communal meal on the Lord's Day (Sunday) in the earliest Church was—or course—"certainly something more than [just] a communal meal"—it was a Eucharistic celebration. But it was a communal meal. Christian worship took place in private homes in the earliest days. On Sundays. The first church is believed to have been built in the third century.

          • Rob Abney
          • The concept that existed was that Jesus was somehow present when Christians gathered weekly, on the Lord's Day, to share a communal meal including bread and wine. For over a thousand years, Christianity did without an official explanation of exactly how Jesus was present

            There was a pretty clear understanding. Not as philosophically sophisticated as the one St Thomas Aquinas offered later but that does not mean they had no clue. St Ignatius in the early 2nd century used the Eucharist as a rebuttal to the Gnostic idea that Jesus did not have a physical body. They thought the incarnation made no dense because flesh was evil and so God could not take on flesh. The Eucharist could not work as a counter-argument unless it was understood to be Jesus' physical body made present. So that was there early on.

            St Ignatius was mentored by the apostle John so he would have had greater insight into what John 6 meant having had many chances to speak with the author. Would John make it up? It is hard to see why. The Romans had very few strong moral prohibitions but cannibalism was one. Why associate Christianity with that. Then there was the Jews. They were prohibited from drinking blood in the book of Leviticus. So Jesus is offending everyone. Why would He do that? Why would anyone make it up?

            Even if you believe the incoherent assertion that Christians somehow changed the gospels they should have changed them in a way that somehow benefits some people. To add some miracle stories makes some sense if you assume Christians were very gullible and didn't care about the truth. They were neither but scholars need to ignore that to make theory theory work. Still granting all that leaves you with no explanation for the Eucharist.

            Of course I recycle the trilemma argument. It is a good argument that points out how poorly non-theism explains things. It fails to explain Jesus but that is just the beginning.

          • Part 1 of 2. (2 of 2)

            RG: I think we agree on the importance of maturity. I don't think we agree on what maturity looks like. That is really a question of doctrine. To me a mature Christian is not one who complains about the authority of the church. That is a mark of immaturity.

            LB: How does your first sentence not contradict "I do think your focus on maturity is odd."? As to what constitutes "complains about the authority of the church", that is rather vague and so is your follow-up of "those who stand above the church and judge here". Since you declined to make anything I've said an example of "complains", I have very little to go on.

            RG: Maturity can mean a lot of things. We all agree that we grow in sanctity and that is important. What does that look like? On that we don't agree. So just going back to the word maturity over and over again is not that helpful. You have not been precise about what you mean. Generally it seems like you see maturity as being more individual. Mature Christians don't depend on other Christians. Yet in John 5:19 Jesus said he can do nothing without the Father. So is that immature? Maybe maturity is being comfortable with dependence. Yes, even dependence on the church.

            I've defined 'spiritual maturity' piecemeal; one crucial aspect is "does not massacre other humans". I seriously hope we agree 100% on this. Another is "doesn't have jealousy and strife", referring to 1 Cor 3:1–4. Another is "have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil", taken from Heb 5:11–6:3. Yet another is "You will recognize them by their fruits." To add one more, there is Ja 3:13–18. I can link you each place I've included these in our discussion if you'd like. Does all of this leave you in "not precise" territory?

            As to the 'more individual' vs. 'dependence' issue, I would say that Jesus indicates a kind of independence when he said "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." Servants obey without understanding, while friends cooperate with understanding. Paul writes of his fellow Hebrews: "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." The Sermon on the Mount is in essence Jesus showing everyone that the very heart of God had been terribly misunderstood. When you understand someone's intent well enough, you do gain a kind of independence. Moses was able to [repeatedly!] challenge God because he saw a better way to do what God clearly wanted to do. (It could be that Moses had to be willing to shoulder the extra burden for it to qualify as "better".)

            Does the above mean that a Christian is no longer dependent on Jesus and fellow Christians? On the contrary, it allows for much deeper dependence, based on knowledge instead of ignorance. I've already sketched out one way this might work:

            LB: If we are all truly growing closer to God, would unity not be the inevitable result? Might we find that we can help each other grow closer to God, that perhaps he has given each person unique talents and insights into him and his creation? Were this the case, then Paul's adjuring us to "Outdo one another in showing honor." would take on a newer, more intense meaning. Were this unity to be caused by something other than obedience to a human authority, then it would surely be easier to posit that God was the unifying factor instead of man.

            You described the last sentence as "wishful thinking". But the point here is that I spoke of a deep interdependence which runs contrary to your "don't depend".

            A relationship based purely on obedience is immature. If the one obeying is a child, this is natural. If the one obeying has had plenty of pure spiritual milk, it is pitiful that [s]he has not advanced to solid food. Obedience to humans is a substitute for listening to God; Deut 5:22–33 could not be more clear. If you're listening to God, you will naturally cooperate with other humans who are also listening to God. "Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you." Now, the paragraph of yours I quoted above continues:

            RG: A mature Christian has learned to think with the Church and sees a joy in doing so. Then they make a great effort to internalize that thinking as much as possible. You have to really trust it is from God before you will be able to submit to it even in your secret thoughts.

            So in a sense you are ok with my logic above, but only if the result tends toward complete agreement with the Magisterium. And you're so skeptical that very many people can do the above that your default mode is to reason according to immaturity—even of "[s]trong, holy people". To a good approximation at least, you seem to measure maturity by measuring obedience. And yet, this is far from the full content of maturity.

            When I read through the Bible, obedience does play a rather big role. But I think of it in the way that a physicist-in-training has to obey for quite a while before [s]he can learn enough to challenge his/her teachers. Without enough training, [s]he can't even have an interesting conversation about physics with his/her professors. The point of the training is not to create an obedient servant; indeed the teacher is most honored if the student surpasses him/her because of the teacher's efforts. Of course we cannot surpass God, but we find that YHWH wants humans he can argue with, not merely order around. That's because ordering around is easy; it doesn't require the servant be nearly as much as the teacher requires the surpassing student to be. To argue with YHWH, one has to have some sense of what he desires. Moses argues with YHWH on precisely this basis and wins each time.

            Now, suffusing my comments is a skepticism of whether the Magisterium is as correct as you say it is. You seem to think all would fall apart if the Magisterium were not largely† infallible; this seems predicated upon a presupposition of widespread immaturity of the kind Paul hoped could be eradicated from the Corinthian church. I don't see a rigid‡ hierarchy of complete obedience* being anywhere near central to Paul's solution. I think a group of people can get enough of a sense of the heart of God to press forward without "produc[ing] bigger fights". I am tempted to say that perennially needing a rigid‡ hierarchy is a sign of failure.

             
            † Qualify this however you want; I doubt you'd weaken what I've said sufficiently to undermine what I build upon 'largely infallible'.
            ‡ I'm not sure 'rigid' is the right term, here. You have given me the sense that there are similarities between the Catholic hierarchy and a standard military hierarchy. Obedience plays a central role in your thinking, at least as regards the topics we have discussed.
            * Modulo "conscience" which always obeys "You should not actively oppose your priest.")

          • Not sure the point by point reply is going to move things forward here. To me you ignore the data on Protestantism. That Protestants do not grow close to each other over time and therefore we can know that many of them are not growing closer to God. Now they feel like they are getting closer to God. They are feel that quite strongly. Yet we know from history and logic that it is not true.

            Now I see all your reasoning as talking about this problem and not really facing it. Does thinking about maturity solve the problem. No. Every branch of Protestantism could do a series of sermons on spiritual maturity and it would not bring them together. In fact, many Protestant groups frequently do stiff like that. If that was going to work it would have worked by now. So you discussion of maturity is interesting and useful but it does not put the finger on the problem.

            When you talk about obedience you don't talk about it using a maturity model. That is that blind obedience is needed but it is not the goal. The goal is to be close to God and to be like God. Blind obedience is good but it needs to be followed by a deeper and deeper understanding of why we are told to do that in the first place. When we understand that and internalize that into our hearts then we become more like God and become closer to God as result.

            You seem to assume that at some point in that process you will stop obeying. You won't. If you do then something has gone seriously wrong. You have made a wrong turn and are no longer moving closer to God. How would you know? Well, if you take obedience seriously you would know right away. If you don't then you might never know. You can easily just assume you have matured and that is why things have changed. At this point you complain that I am assuming a general lack of maturity. Well, the data says Protestants are all over the place and therefore most are not as close to God as they suppose.

            So the question of infallibility has to be asked after looking at the complete failure of Protestantism. The question is whether any form of Christianity can work. That is what is at stake. Did Jesus allow His gospel to get lost? If not, then it should be find-able. So I get your skepticism. Believing a church you always rejected is right when the church you have basically trusted is wrong? It is hard. Yet when you frame the question in terms of God being somewhere then it makes sense. The promise of Christmas is Emmanuel. God is with us. If no church stands out as the fulfilment of that promise then God is not really with us.

          • To me you ignore the data on Protestantism. That Protestants do not grow close to each other over time …

            I shall stay true to my word:

            LB: As to your repeated digs at Protestants schisming, I'm going to cease responding to them until you deal fully with the RCC cementing the East–West Schism via trying to shove the Filioque down the East's throats. Contrast this to how Paul dealt with the factious Corinthians: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

            Incidentally, that is also evidence that I am paying attention to precisely the data you say I'm ignoring. I acknowledge it and vow to deal with it once you've dealt with what the Catholics did centuries before the Reformation.

            Does thinking about maturity solve the problem. No.

            Erm, I never suggested that thinking about maturity would solve the problem. You'd need actual maturity, and in quantities more than ≈ 10,000. No Christians I know of have demonstrated an ability to produce such maturity. (modulo 1 Cor 3:5–9)

            If that was going to work it would have worked by now.

            The same could be said about whatever the RCC says would bring unity of all Christians. If the RCC worked as well as you claim, then Catholics would have been notably resistant to massacring anyone during the Thirty Years' War and you would have plenty of Catholic leaders sacrificing themselves to stop the madness. If the RCC worked as well as you claim, would you need to make remarks about "a smaller, purer church"?

            It's starting to look a little like "Whatever the RCC does or is, that defines 'works'." I hope that's not your position, but the only exception I can think of is "You just have to offer evidence that shows the actual claims of the church are false.", which needs to be read through the lens of "Again, if you demand proof and try and eliminate faith then you end up an atheist." That is: it is impossible to falsify truth-claims which have no possibility of empirical falsification, and yet if the possibility of empirical falsification means one is negating 'faith', then final immunity has been granted to those truth-claims—at the cost of snapping any connection to embodied reality.

            Blind obedience is good but it needs to be followed by a deeper and deeper understanding of why we are told to do that in the first place. When we understand that and internalize that into our hearts then we become more like God and become closer to God as result.

            Where does God ask for blind obedience? The example of Abraham is far from 'blind' and he is the archetype of faith. At best, you make me think of the self-blinded obedience of Deut 5:22–33. "We don't want to hear from you God, so just speak to Moses and we'll blindly obey him." We know how well that worked out.

            You seem to assume that at some point in that process you will stop obeying.

            Here's what I wrote in a different thread:

            LB: My point is that "Obedience to God is key." is not obviously true when it comes to Moses in Ex 32:9–14, Num 14:11–20, and Num 16:19–24. What seems 'key', in fact, is understanding God's intent, understanding his heart. Compare: "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." Obedience is far from sufficient. Indeed, does it not get gradually replaced by cooperation and agreement? To the extent this doesn't happen, the New Covenant has not been "instantiat[ed]": "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts."

            If one is cooperating and agreeing with God, one is obeying God. If one is obeying God, one is not necessarily agreeing with and any sense of cooperation becomes iffy, especially over time. The final end-state of mere obedience is actually "This people honors me with their lips, / but their heart is far from me". It works by perfect obedience being declared impossible and then a slow slide as approximations become more approximate.

            The promise of Christmas is Emmanuel. God is with us. If no church stands out as the fulfilment of that promise then God is not really with us.

            I stand by what I wrote earlier: "Perhaps God will prevent unity as long as the thing that would be unified would not properly attest to him." You better believe that Christians willing to massacre other Christians† during the Thirty Years' War was an atrocious testimony. Did any group stand out during that disaster?

            † While of course denying the others are really Christians—"They believed salvation was tied to believing the right faith." Because the Bible is all about treating the out-group as trash—especially the Gospel.

          • As to your repeated digs at Protestants schisming, I'm going to cease responding to them until you deal fully with the RCC cementing the East–West Schism via trying to shove the Filioque down the East's throats. Contrast this to how Paul dealt with the factious Corinthians: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

            That is you choice. It is a completely irrational choice. You are free to leave reason behind. I will just note that you cannot make a rational defense of Protestantism.

            The Filioque? Not sure what you want me to say. It is simply true. Most Protestants believe it. I don't know what you mean by throat shoving. Supposing that is true though. The schism should have ended in 1439 at the Council of Florence. The Filioque was resolved. The Eastern Patriarchs agreed to a resolution. It fell apart for political reasons. It should not have.

            You are big on blame. I am not. I am big on truth. Who cares who behaved badly? Is the process for arriving at truth actually working. If not, then we should change it. If it is we should embrace it. Even if something else went wrong and things got ugly, so what? If truth was revealed then I can try and work on how to live that truth.

            Erm, I never suggested that thinking about maturity would solve the problem. You'd need actual maturity, and in quantities more than ˜ 10,000. No Christians I know of have demonstrated an ability to produce such maturity

            So you are proposing something that has never actually worked? BTW, I don't care about the 10,000. I care about myself. Am I doing God's will and coming into a better or more mature relationship with him. Having 10,000 saints helps but I still have to do it. But I don't need to worry about quantities. I need to worry about me.

            The same could be said about whatever the RCC says would bring unity of all Christians. If the RCC worked as well as you claim, then Catholics would have been notably resistant to massacring anyone during the Thirty Years' War and you would have plenty of Catholic leaders sacrificing themselves to stop the madness. If the RCC worked as well as you claim, would you need to make remarks about "a smaller, purer church"?

            I never made such claims. The church can't force Protestants to unite with all Christians. It can only offer unity and truth to those willing to accept it. Protestants by definition don't accept it. Unity and truth do not guarantee the church will have no more struggles. It will. John 17:21 says unity will lead to the world knowing Jesus was sent by God. That is a big deal. Still there is a spiritual battle to be fought. You remind me of nominal Catholics who expect the moral life to be easy because they are Catholic. Like the Jews who thought they had it made because they were descendants of Abraham. It never works that way.

            That is: it is impossible to falsify truth-claims which have no possibility of empirical falsification, and yet if the possibility of empirical falsification means one is negating 'faith', then final immunity has been granted to those truth-claims—at the cost of snapping any connection to embodied reality.

            Again, think about your belief in scripture. Does believing in the bible lead to some empirically verifiable goodness? I think so. Still how easy would it be to convince a skeptic that way?

            It is possible to falsify the faith. The church would simply need to behave like Protestant churches and abandon Christian tradition. John Henry Newman said to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant. That is every branch of Protestantism has to admit to countless times when the church was teaching falsehood. One consequence of that admission is there is a real chance they are teaching falsehood now. Catholicism says that has not happened and will not happen. It is clearly falsifiable. Newman set out to falsify it. He failed and joined the church instead. He is likely to be made one of your sneered at 10,000 in the next couple of years.

            Where does God ask for blind obedience? The example of Abraham is far from 'blind' and he is the archetype of faith. At best, you make me think of the self-blinded obedience of Deut 5:22–33. "We don't want to hear from you God, so just speak to Moses and we'll blindly obey him." We know how well that worked out.

            God does not ask for blind obedience but He accepts it. We all start there. He normally enlightens us pretty quickly. Still on some issues you might not see God's wisdom for a while.

            If one is cooperating and agreeing with God, one is obeying God. If one is obeying God, one is not necessarily agreeing with and any sense of cooperation becomes iffy, especially over time. The final end-state of mere obedience is actually "This people honors me with their lips, / but their heart is far from me". It works by perfect obedience being declared impossible and then a slow slide as approximations become more approximate.

            Actually no. Obeying with your lips and not with your life would lead to that. That is not obedience. That is hypocrisy. Serious obedience always leads to a deepening of your relationship with God. We are saying the same thing here. The trouble comes when you say replaced. It never gets replaced. The world, the flesh and the devil will always be trying to fool us, to throw us off course. Obedience becomes an anchor that can keep you from drifting away while you think you are growing.

            I stand by what I wrote earlier: "Perhaps God will prevent unity as long as the thing that would be unified would not properly attest to him."

            It is quite the opposite. The lack of unity is what makes people see Jesus as not making much difference at all. God commands us to be united. He does not command us to build a great church first. Building the church is what Jesus say is His job. Mt 16:18 says, "On this rock I will build My church." When we try and do it we mess up. Uniting ourselves to the church is something we can do. We can refuse because of the 30 years war or because of the Filioque but what is the real reason? We like the doctrines we like. Giving them up because they are not true is not as easy as one might suppose.

          • Here is Timothy Ware, now Bishop Kallistos Ware, talking about the setting of the East–West Schism:

            The Greeks assigned to the Pope a primacy of honour, but not the universal supremacy which he regarded as his due. The Pope viewed infallibility as his own prerogative; the Greeks held that in matters of the faith the final decision rested not with the Pope alone, but with a Council representing all the bishops of the Church. Here we have two different conceptions of the visible organization of the Church. (The Orthodox Church, 49)

            There are two very different kinds of unity here:

                 (1) agreement in the Spirit
                 (2) imposition by single [human] authority

            Here's how Nicetus, a twelfth-century Archbishop of Nicomedia, put it:

                My dearest brother, we do not deny to the Roman Church the primacy amongst the five sister Patriarchates; and we recognize her right to the most honourable seat at an Ecumenical Council. But she has separated herself from us by her own deeds, when through pride she assumed a monarchy which does not belong to her office . . . How shall we accept decrees from her that have been issued without consulting us and even without our knowledge? If the Roman Pontiff, seated on the lofty throne of his glory, wishes to thunder at us and, so to speak, hurl his mandates at us from on high, and if he wishes to judge us and even to rule us and our Churches, not by taking counsel with us but at his own arbitrary pleasure, what kind of brotherhood, or even what kind of parenthood can this be? We should be the slaves, not the sons, of such a Church, and the Roman See would not be the pious mother of sons but a hard and imperious mistress of slaves. (Quoted in S. Runciman, The Eastern Schism, p. 116.)

            The Western Church was not always so authoritarian; Ware briefly argues that it became so because of the barbarian-infested political instability in the West after the fall of Rome, with the Papacy as the most stable element. The RCC still heeds most of the Ecumenical Councils, even though they were not infallibly decided upon by the Pope. But it left that path for understandable (in a realpolitik sense) reasons. The imposition of the Filioque (by Cardinal Humbert claiming in his Bull of Excommunication that those in the East removed it) makes it absolutely clear that Rome wanted to fully move from (1) → (2). Unity henceforth would be imposed. But the attempt to do this actually shattered the unity of the church. The behavior of the legates sent by Pope Leo IX make it rather clear that what was attempted was "lord it over" / "exercise authority over". Like the Gentiles do.

            You say that the schism could have ended at the Council of Florence in 1439 but failed due to political reasons; this ignores the fact that Constantinople was about to be sacked, in 1453. That is, it was the desperate need for allies that caused the East to assent to so much. It was hoped that the West would supply military aid in fighting the Turks, but little was that aid and Constantinople fell with Turks outnumbering defenders more than twenty to one. (The East did not require parity to defend, given the fantastic Walls of Constantinople.) I doubt God is impressed with much of anything done for political expedience.

            I'm actually rather more interested in fruit than blame; were superior fruit available via (2) unity imposed by single [human] authority, then I would judge that to be better. However, when we look at the fruit of those who would "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", we see one obvious instance of cementing a schism and another where you are not confident in assigning less than 50% of the blame to the RCC. Despite this, you double down on (2) being the kind of unity Jesus described in his prayer. You say that (1) unity unity via agreement in the spirit just doesn't work—look at Protestantism, after all. And yet, that's what happened before the East–West Schism! Look at all those [truly] ecumenical councils.

            P.S. Merry Christmas!

          • I don't know all the details here but I do understand that Cardinal Humbert's lack of political skills contributed to the schism. This was a bad thing. The ex-communication might have been needed but it needs to be a last resort. Even the way it was done with a harshly worded document was not very charitable. So yes, I would call that a clear violation of the "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" command. It does not invalidate papal authority but that legitimate authority was used in an unchristian way in this case with very bad consequences.

            Still the objection is not valid. If God wants to give the Bishop of Rome authority over the whole church then who are we to question Him? The Archbishop of Nicomedia seems to think God does not have that right. He does.

            You see 2 different kinds of unity. i agree. I just don't see them as opposed. I think #1 is preferable but #2 is sometimes required. Sometimes agreement in spirit simply never happens. Then what do you do? You either split the church or you use method #2. Splitting the church is sin. Protestants forget that. Schism is never God's will. Jesus wants one pure, spotless bride.

            Actually, God imposing His will using a single human authority has precedent in the bible. There are prophets, there are kings, there are judges, etc. In fact, God using a single human as the main mediator of His Word is the rule not the exception.

            I agree that fruit matters more than blame. Was the truth taught? It was. Could it have been taught in a more loving way? Yes. The first part matters more. We need a consistent source of truth and the Catholic Magisterium gives us that. That is amazing fruit that we should thank God for every day. Teaching the truth with love is something we are called to do every day. This story should remind us that that is important at every level of the church. Love matters.

            I think you are looking at the fruit badly. You are looking at the long Catholic history and finding a small number of uncharitable uses of Papal power. Not false teaching which would be a real problem but some Catholics behaving badly which is always going to happen. On the other hand, you ignore many thousands of Protestant schisms in a much shorter history. Many Protestants teaching false doctrine in God's name. There are also many instances of unloving acts by Protestants but that is also unavoidable, just that eliminating the Pope did not make it go away.

            So if you compare the 2 histories systems it is hard not to notice that the Catholic church has performed way better. Avoiding schism is a key measure. It is objective. Cherry-picking some stories from history and only focusing on Catholic short-comings is not objective. It is mud slinging.

          • You seem to have missed my main point: that ecumenical unity you claim is impossible without a single human authority is what existed before, and was shattered by, the claim to be the single human authority. It happened by "lord it over" / "exercise authority over". And yet, you're telling me that the very thing which shattered ecumenical unity is the solution to obtaining ecumenical unity.

          • Unity existed because the Papacy existed. We see that in the Book of Acts. Peter is in charge of the church. At no point in church history did we have unity without authority. Rejecting authority destroys unity. That is called sin. So what you claim existed did not exist. What you claim was shattered was not shattered. The unity was and is still there. Just that Eastern Christians and later Protestants sinfully refuse to participate in it fully. So there is no solution required about to how to obtain unity. It exists. God has preserved it. We just need to accept the gift of God.

            Your continued reference to "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" continues to be completely irrelevant. All Christian leaders try to exercise charitable leadership. All have failed to some extent. Have the Catholics failed more than other branches of Christianity? My experience has been the opposite. Catholic priests, on the whole, are more humble and less "lord it over" type people than Protestant pastors. It actually annoys me sometimes. I am used to more assertive leaders and Catholic culture just has less of it.

            Still the question is irrelevant. If you could somehow demonstrate that Catholic leaders are worse than some other leadership out there that would not justify not being Catholic. It would be one subjective human judgement at one point in time. God simply knows better than we do. Both history and logic shows your way fails and God's way succeeds. I mean that is what we have for the past 500 years of Protestantism. People choosing leaders based on short term, error prone, human thinking.

          • Are you claiming that there was a pope during the first six ecumenical councils who claimed and/or enacted the kind of authority over other Christians, which was claimed for the Pope around the time of the East–West Schism? I'm not talking about a contentious interpretation of a few verses in the NT, I'm talking about how Christians actually lived together and understood God.

            As to your comments about unity, let's recall that Jesus said the unity of the church would be evidence to nonbelievers that God sent Jesus into the world. Do you think the unity you describe constitutes such 'evidence'? Do you think [m]any nonbelievers would agree with your stance?

          • The authority of the pope, like everything else, is something that the church has grown to understand better and better over time. So the understanding was not the same but it was quite strong early on.One quote comes to ind from the 3rd century:

            On him [Peter] He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigned a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?" (Cyprian, The Unity of the Catholic Church [first edition] 4, c. AD 251)

            So the office of the papacy was seen as essential to Christian unity very early. Cyprian had a few disagreements with the pope of his day so it is significant that he was so strong on this point. So the authority was well understood. It was exercised in a different way because this situation where 2 significant apostolic successors sharply disagreed had not happened yet.

            Absolutely the unity I describe constitutes huge evidence for the divinity of Christ. The fact that one office could survive and teach consistently for so many centuries is way beyond what humans could do. Especially when you consider the complexity of the teaching and the number of different cultures involved. The fact that so many amazing Christians over that time embraced that teaching and showed how beautiful it is when it is lived out seriously is more evidence. The Catholic church simply cannot be explained in any other way than Jesus is who He said He is and left us the kind of Church he said He would leave us.

            Protestantism is what causes people to doubt the reality of Christ. People, quite rightly, see that there is nothing supernatural in their tendency to disagree about almost ever doctrine and almost every liturgical practice. Almost every significant Protestant has created his own brand of it with doctrines that are inconsistent with other branches. That is precisely what you would expect from a human religious movement. So it leads people to quite naturally think that the real truth might be atheism.

            Unfortunately the story of the Catholic church has not been told well. That is our fault as Catholics. In many ways we have been doing a worse job of living the faith that the Protestants were doing. That is changing but it is still something we need to work on. In fact, Protestant converts have been an important part of that change.

          • I don't see anything more than the Roman Patriarch being "first among equals" in that bit from Cyprian when it comes to the matter we've been discussing. The rest emphasizes that the unity of Christians must be single-minded—democracies, for example, generally aren't single-minded. Nor can each apostle go found the church he wanted and have his own fiefdom.

            Now let's run with the above unity. Where is the unity between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox? You wrote that "The Eastern Orthodox has valid sacraments so I am much more closely united with that church than I was as a Protestant.", but how does that get anywhere near to the unity Cyprian described? Are you blaming Protestants for something which started centuries before them?

          • First among equals is a valid way to describe things. Still St Cyprian does take it to the next level. That is that the successor of Peter's status as first among equals implies that this office is the one office a Christian must remain united with. Every other office could be in schism but the Pope cannot be. So always insure you are in unity with the Bishop of Rome.

            The unity between the Eastern Orthodox and the Catholic Church is based on apostolic succession. That is both communions have bishops that are legitimately successors of the apostles. That is another important office. This is why the Eastern Orthodox have not fallen into error nearly as badly or as frequently as the Protestants have. They have a real grace that helps them.

            You are quite focused on blame. I am not. Much of it is centuries old. So why does it matter? What matters is what we need to do now. That is that God's will has always been that we take leadership from the successor of Peter. Yes that means the doctrines we believe that are different from the authoritative teaching of the Pope are simply wrong. The fact that the office is legit means the claims of infallibility are legit as well.

            So what is the problem? We like to pick our own doctrines. We think we want the truth but when the truth is distasteful we don't really want it. The question is, why should we expect our opinions to be closer to the truth than they are to Catholic teaching? I know I expected that but I had no real reason to expect it. It boils down to pride. I can't accept that I am that far from the truth because it is humiliating.

          • David Nickol

            Here's the end of the entry about Peter in John L. McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible.

            One should not look in Peter or in the primitive Church for the developed conception of the primacy which appeared no earlier than the 3rd century. The NT does not show Peter exercising a monarchical leadership. The development of the power posessed by the Church and by Peter into monarchical leadership lies outside of biblical theology; it is an example of the development of dogma, to the office of the Church to define the exercise and the application of the powers she has received from Jesus Christ in historical situations which were never encountered in the primitive Church.

            For believing Catholics, it seems to me not unreasonable to claim that the leadership role of Peter contained the seeds of the papacy which evolved over more than a century into something that became the primacy of Rome and the recognition of the bishop of Rome as the head of the Catholic Church. But for non-Christians or Protestants (or even Catholics who are familiar with the development of the leadership structure in the early Church) it makes no sense to identify Peter as "the first pope" or describe his leadership role as "the papacy." Jesus most definitely did not leave an instruction manual describing the structure of the Catholic Church. The leadership roles of bishops, along with the offices of priests and deacons evolved. Catholics may certainly maintain that they evolved with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but that is not a historical fact but a matter of religious belief.

          • The primacy of Peter in the New Testament is just a fact. You can count the number of times he is mentioned, the number of acts he initiates and the number of statements he makes. He is just the dominant player. No surprise you can find some guy who denies it. Biblical scholars ignore biblical data a lot.

            Yes, the papacy is an example of the development of doctrine. The universal authority of the pope over the entire church was not clear until later. Yet right from the first Pentecost there was zero controversy about who was the leader of the church. Pope Clement exercised authority over the church in Corinth because he was Bishop of Rome and that was in the first century. The office of pope was not as dominate as it is today. Many early Catholics might have had no idea of the importance of the Bishop of Rome. Still the notion that the successor of Peter had a special role to play in the church came from Jesus and really all the bishops would have understood that from the beginning.

            So I would say anyone who does not identify Peter at the first Pope has a very strange understanding of church history. You can deny it if you religious beliefs force you to deny it but it is not a natural way to interpret the data. Who is the first Pope then?

          • David Nickol

            Where in the Bible does it say that Peter the Apostle was the Bishop of Rome (or even was in Rome at any point)? Where in the Bible does it say that after Peter's death, a successor should be elected to succeed him? Peter simply disappears from the story in Acts.

            No surprise you can find some guy who denies it. Biblical scholars ignore biblical data a lot.

            This reminds me of a certain person I won't mention here. Do you know more about the Bible than biblical scholars? What are your trusted references for questions of biblical scholarship?

          • First among equals is a valid way to describe things.

            I don't see how that description comes anywhere close to describing anything Catholics would accept, today. There are no "equals" to the Pope.

            You are quite focused on blame. I am not. Much of it is centuries old. So why does it matter?

            You blame the Protestants for schisming and thus being a terrible witness to Christianity and instigator of mass atheism to boot. And yet, the RCC cemented the first schism with the East via "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" and they have never returned to the kind of unity Cyprian describes. Either that unity is as important as you say it is and it doesn't exist, or it isn't as important as you say it is and major parts of our conversation has been misguided.

            So what is the problem? We like to pick our own doctrines.

            I disagree. That cannot explain the massacring of Protestants by Catholics, Catholics by Protestants, and sometimes same by same during the Thirty Years' War. If anything counts as "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", it's mass-murdering people who do not agree with you.

          • First among equals is something Catholics say. It emphasises the idea that the authority the pope has should be used sparingly. Really most bishops should be able to govern their own diocese. Likewise the bishop should strive to use his authority over parishes sparingly. Local leadership is often better leadership. It is related to the principle of subsidiary.

            Either that unity is as important as you say it is and it doesn't exist, or it isn't as important as you say it is and major parts of our conversation has been misguided.

            Why is this? It is important. It does exist. It does not require 100% perfection on the "lord it over" front. This is a good thing because most leaders struggle with that. You pointing that out again and again continues to be a red herring.

            Was unity lost when the Nicolatians split from the church? Was it lost when Arians or Nestorians or whoever else split from the church? No. The church remain one, holy, catholic and apostolic body. Those that left her left that unity. I don't see why the Eastern Orthodox or Protestant situations are different. The church continued to bless the world without them. The ever deepening understanding of God's word continues. The amazing saints are still be produced. People continue to predict her demise and continue to be wrong.

            I continue to be uninterested in the what folks thought during the 30 years war. I know that modern Christians don't engage in mass murder so that problem is solved at least for now. I am talking about why I resisted uniting myself with the church and why many people I know seem to resist it as well. I don't think it has anything to do with the 30 years war. Conservatives, like myself, do seem quite attached to certain doctrines. Liberals seem caught up in the sentimentalism of the culture. I don't understand them as well.

          • First among equals is something Catholics say. It emphasises the idea that the authority the pope has should be used sparingly.

            Then they aren't "equals". See OrthodoxWiki: Primus inter pares. There are no "equals" to the following from Pope Boniface VIII: "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Unam sanctam, 1302)

            The church remain one, holy, catholic and apostolic body. Those that left her left that unity.

            The East did not leave, she was forcibly evicted. Either the only Christians (= people Jesus would call his own) are in active submission to the Pope (as Boniface VIII required), or the unity spoken of in Jn 17:20–23 does not exist. "that they may all be one"

            RG: So what is the problem? We like to pick our own doctrines.

            LB: I disagree. That cannot explain the massacring of Protestants by Catholics, Catholics by Protestants, and sometimes same by same during the Thirty Years' War.

            RG: I continue to be uninterested in the what folks thought during the 30 years war. … I am talking about why I resisted uniting myself with the church and why many people I know seem to resist it as well.

            Yes and I have shown your explanation to fall short. When doctrine is defined to have no empirical correlates, then what is believed is purely a function of power. That's what the Thirty Years' War was about: power and control. That's also why you really would require a single human authority: because there is nothing else to decide which doctrine is correct. But we can question whether God actually asks us to believe things that have no empirical correlates, no matter how indirect. (One can't just simply observe a quark.)

          • Unam sanctam is not the best statement about the Papacy. It is true because it is protected by the chrism of infallibility. Still that does not mean it is a great way to say something. The church is how God works so even if we are somehow saved without explicitly joining her we must implicitly join her. She is the family of God. Not being part of the family of God is exactly what we are being saved from.

            John 17 does talk about an ultimate unity where "they may be one even as we are one." That is Christians being as united with each other as Jesus is with the Father. I don't think we are there. Yet we are to do the best we can. That begins with embracing God's plan for unity. That plan involves the Catholic Church and the she is indestructible. So anytime we want unity we know where to find it.

            We cannot assume that because we can't obey a command 100% perfectly we can simply ignore it. We know unity is important to Jesus and important to evangelism. Does it matter to us?

            The question of power is interesting. The faith is defined with power. That is we don't have any input into what is or is not part of the one true faith. Yet the faith is not imposed but proposed. We still can say No. Now when we give a mixture of Yes's and No's to the individual articles then we are really saying No to the faith as a whole thing.

            Yet encountering the faith as a bunch of dogmas is only one way to interact with it. It is probably not the best way. It is the way we tend to see it when we come from a Protestant tradition that rejects a few of those dogmas. Still seeing it as a family is more appealing. A family is more than its rules. There will always be rules and traditions and chores and embarrassing moments and all of it. Yet there is a deeper unity. Ultimately it is about love and not about power.

          • Unam sanctam is not the best statement about the Papacy. It is true because it is protected by the chrism of infallibility. Still that does not mean it is a great way to say something.

            I don't understand: infallibility in proclamations can only exist if the sinfulness and ineptitude of human flesh is temporarily bypassed. And yet, what you would then be saying is that God was clumsy.

            LB: There are no "equals" to the following from Pope Boniface VIII: "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Unam sanctam, 1302)

            RG: The church is how God works so even if we are somehow saved without explicitly joining her we must implicitly join her.

            Do you really think that is how that bit from Unam sanctam was intended in 1302? Because what I see there is "submission to the Pope", not "implicitly joined to the Church". So for example, the Eastern Orthodox Church was not—and still is not—submitted to the Pope.

            John 17 does talk about an ultimate unity where "they may be one even as we are one." That is Christians being as united with each other as Jesus is with the Father. I don't think we are there. Yet we are to do the best we can. That begins with embracing God's plan for unity. That plan involves the Catholic Church and the she is indestructible. So anytime we want unity we know where to find it.

            I understand that you have a way to make sense of Jn 17:20–23, but the question is whether a nonbeliever will accept that reasoning or see it as rationalizing. Jesus is very clear that unity of Christians constitutes evidence to "the world". (cf "all people" in 13:34–35) Just how many would accept what you say as reasoning instead of rationalizing?

            We cannot assume that because we can't obey a command 100% perfectly we can simply ignore it.

            Erm, why is the possibility that "we can simply ignore it" on the table in this conversation? Have I said anything which makes that a live option?

            RG: So what is the problem? We like to pick our own doctrines.

            LB: I disagree. That cannot explain the massacring of Protestants by Catholics, Catholics by Protestants, and sometimes same by same during the Thirty Years' War.

            RG: I continue to be uninterested in the what folks thought during the 30 years war. … I am talking about why I resisted uniting myself with the church and why many people I know seem to resist it as well.

            LB: Yes and I have shown your explanation to fall short. When doctrine is defined to have no empirical correlates, then what is believed is purely a function of power. That's what the Thirty Years' War was about: power and control. That's also why you really would require a single human authority: because there is nothing else to decide which doctrine is correct. But we can question whether God actually asks us to believe things that have no empirical correlates, no matter how indirect. (One can't just simply observe a quark.)

            RG: … Yet there is a deeper unity. Ultimately it is about love and not about power.

            How is any of that a defense of your claim that the problem is "We like to pick our own doctrines."? As to your last sentence, it seems contradicted by:

            RG: Was the truth taught? It was. Could it have been taught in a more loving way? Yes. The first part matters more.

            If God is love, then to lack in love is to lack in truth, outside of the kind of truth Satan is quite able to wield. (Satan ignores "love covers a multitude of sins".) Doctrine without empirical correlates is an act of power. One cannot "recognize them by their fruits" if there are no empirical correlates, which explains your adverse reaction to judging trees by their fruit. Jesus judged the thing that best passed for the church in his time and we are told to follow in his footsteps and yet you write "Jesus never commanded us to judge churches." (The obvious implication was that we should not judge churches.)

          • I don't understand: infallibility in proclamations can only exist if the sinfulness and ineptitude of human flesh is temporarily bypassed. And yet, what you would then be saying is that God was clumsy.

            That is not what infallibility is. The pope is protected from teaching falsehood. He is not protected from sin or ineptitude. It is protection only from the worst errors. That is preventing the strongest statement the church can make from being flat out wrong. They can still be uncharitable. They can still be unwise. They can still be unclear.

            Do you really think that is how that bit from Unam sanctam was intended in 1302? Because what I see there is "submission to the Pope", not "implicitly joined to the Church". So for example, the Eastern Orthodox Church was not—and still is not—submitted to the Pope.

            Again, intent is irrelevant. What does the statement actually say? Lots of Christian tradition is accepted by Protestants because the Catholic Church and ultimately the pope handed it to them. That is even more true with the Eastern Orthodox. Even if they deny this is true, the fact that it is true means they are in some way accepting being subject to the pope. I mean if it was not for the Catholic Church nobody would have the bible or have heard the name of Jesus or have the notion of worshipping on Sundays.

            I understand that you have a way to make sense of Jn 17:20–23, but the question is whether a nonbeliever will accept that reasoning or see it as rationalizing. Jesus is very clear that unity of Christians constitutes evidence to "the world". (cf "all people" in 13:34–35) Just how many would accept what you say as reasoning instead of rationalizing?

            The evidence of all people claiming to be Christian is important. That is why Protestantism is such a disaster for the cause of Christ. People can easily miss the beautiful divine revelation in the middle of so many contradictory teachings about Jesus. Yes, there are many good things in Protestantism as well. Still the lack of unity is not a small issue. The good news is that the rock of Peter is still holding firm. People may call it a rationalization but it is a real option because God has miraculously protected His Church.

            If God is love, then to lack in love is to lack in truth

            Not really. If it were then we would not be commanded to speak the truth in love(Eph 4:15). It is possible to speak the truth in a bad way. It is also possible to be very loving and be completely wrong on the facts. Long term the church needs truth. If the church loses the truth it cannot get it back. If the church becomes unloving it can recover because it has the truth and just has to embrace it more fully. This is why the church is protected from losing the truth of the gospel and not protected from unloving leaders. God lets us take the ship off course but He does not let us sink the ship. An off course ship can be fixed. A sunken ship? Not so much.

            Doctrine without empirical correlates is an act of power. One cannot "recognize them by their fruits" if there are no empirical correlates, which explains your adverse reaction to judging trees by their fruit

            No. True doctrine is a gift. The empirical correlates are there. You are determine to deny them. God will not force Himself on you. If you don't want to accept doctrine on faith then He will not impose it with power.

            Jesus judged the thing that best passed for the church in his time and we are told to follow in his footsteps and yet you write "Jesus never commanded us to judge churches." (The obvious implication was that we should not judge churches.)

            There is only one church. That is the way Jesus talked, Mt 16:18, Mt 18:18. We should not judge the church in terms of whether or not to be a part of her. We should be a part of her. When we are there then we can reflect on how we can do a better job of being church. Not by rebelling against the leadership but prayerfully working with the leaders to grow in holiness.

          • RG: First among equals is something Catholics say. It emphasises the idea that the authority the pope has should be used sparingly.

            LB: There are no "equals" to the following from Pope Boniface VIII: "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Unam sanctam, 1302)

            RG: Unam sanctam is not the best statement about the Papacy. It is true because it is protected by the chrism of infallibility. Still that does not mean it is a great way to say something.

            LB: I don't understand: infallibility in proclamations can only exist if the sinfulness and ineptitude of human flesh is temporarily bypassed. And yet, what you would then be saying is that God was clumsy.

            RG: That is not what infallibility is. The pope is protected from teaching falsehood. He is not protected from sin or ineptitude. It is protection only from the worst errors. That is preventing the strongest statement the church can make from being flat out wrong. They can still be uncharitable. They can still be unwise. They can still be unclear.

            How many cardinals do you think believed that Martin Luther might go to heaven when he died? If there were ever a poster child for not being "subject to the Roman Pontiff", it would be Luther. It's hard to see what you're doing here as anything other than 'interpretive olympics'. Pope Boniface VIII's meaning seems quite clear to me. There is difference between being subject to a human and being subject to Jesus. Pope Boniface VIII ≠ Jesus.

            Again, intent is irrelevant. What does the statement actually say?

            Are you going "death of the author" on me? You don't respect apostolic authority if you can reinterpret popes' words in ways that they themselves would condemn. There is simply too much possible variance in meaning of any string of words if you delete the human's intentions. If what the Pope intends today can be arbitrarily overridden/​reinterpreted in 500 years, it means nothing to associate what he says with 'truth'. Liberal Protestants have demonstrated how malleable mere words are, stripped of intent.

            I mean if it was not for the Catholic Church nobody would have the bible or have heard the name of Jesus or have the notion of worshipping on Sundays.

            Given that the Eastern Orthodox had yet to be kicked out of the Church and the Protestants had yet to object vociferously to the Church, it seems rather disingenuous to lay claim for canonization over against both of those groups. I've already pointed out that per an early ecumenical council, which was truly ecumenical—no Unam Sanctam mockery of "first among equals"—the wording of the Nicaean Creed was not to be changed. When the Rome had gained sufficient power, she arrogated to herself the right to not only change the Nicaean Creed, but assert in the excommunication of the East that the East was the group which had altered the Creed! I have no problem with the Church when she was actually ecumenical. Back then, the Holy Spirit did not need to have one man be an authority over all the rest. I am not convinced that ever changed. I do know that the RCC cemented the end to ecumenicism, an end to any sane rendering of "first among equals", in how it treated the East. And now you're telling me that more of the same is the solution to the disunity problem.

            Still the lack of unity is not a small issue.

            You have been extraordinarily inconsistent on this matter, Randy. One way to understand that inconsistency is you having at least two different definitions of 'unity', if not more. What I'm fairly certain of is that the thing Cyprian described (in your excerpt) does not exist right now.

            LB: If God is love, then to lack in love is to lack in truth , outside of the kind of truth Satan is quite able to wield. (Satan ignores "love covers a multitude of sins".)

            RG: Not really. If it were then we would not be commanded to speak the truth in love(Eph 4:15). It is possible to speak the truth in a bad way.

            Erm, how did I not allow for precisely the quibble you just uttered? I included in strikethrough what you omitted.

            LB: Doctrine without empirical correlates is an act of power. One cannot "recognize them by their fruits" if there are no empirical correlates, which explains your adverse reaction to judging trees by their fruit

            RG: No. True doctrine is a gift. The empirical correlates are there.

            I don't know what the underlined means, given the following:

            RG: Can you prove that those who believe in the bible are superior at loving their neighbour? Can you prove it for people who believe in the incarnation or the resurrection? Again, if you demand proof and try and eliminate faith then you end up an atheist.

            The only real empirical correlates you have offered are (1) "It has built Western civilization."; (2) the ≈ 10,000 saints; (3) the 2000-year existence of the institution of the RCC; (4) an unchanging teaching[—a claim I find dubious but have not deemed necessary to really take on except for now]. These are exceedingly vague and do not support any obedience whatsoever to Jesus' words, "You will recognize them by their fruits." We have now that we can't even go by popes' intents behind the words they utter.

            An off course ship can be fixed. A sunken ship? Not so much.

            I worship the God "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist." Jonah in the belly of the whale was pretty sunk and that's the only sign Jesus said he'd give to the Jews.

            God will not force Himself on you. If you don't want to accept doctrine on faith then He will not impose it with power.

            I said nothing about God forcing or imposing anything. When it comes to humans claiming to represent God, we have a statement condemned by Pope Leo X in Exsurge Domine: "That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit." How that squares with the following from 1965 is a mystery:

            Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ. (Dignitatis Humanae)

            To be burned at the stake is to be coerced in civil society, full stop.

            We should not judge the church in terms of whether or not to be a part of her.

            Martin Luther did not set out to schism. The Church decided that unless he recant—was it 100%, including indulgences?—he was not to be a part of them. When it came to the East–West Schism, it was not the East which decided it had enough of the West. If a group of humans had claimed to have the Holy Spirit and yet sought to take my life, I would doubt whether they really have the Holy Spirit. If you want to say this is wrong then go ahead, but I predict you will do damage to your case if you do so. As you yourself have said: "God will not force Himself on you." If an institution has a history of doing precisely that, then the logical conclusion is that God is not particularly influential within that institution.

          • How many cardinals do you think believed that Martin Luther might go to heaven when he died? If there were ever a poster child for not being "subject to the Roman Pontiff", it would be Luther. It's hard to see what you're doing here as anything other than 'interpretive olympics'. Pope Boniface VIII's meaning seems quite clear to me. There is difference between being subject to a human and being subject to Jesus. Pope Boniface VIII ? Jesus.

            Sure. That is why I said Unam Sanctum was an infallible statement but not a particularly good one. It was made rashly in response to King Phillip of France. Yet it was protected from error. It does not require an interpretive olympics.

            Whether Luther is in heaven, hell or purgatory is another question. You seem to assume he is in heaven. That is judging his soul. I won't do that. Still rebelling against God's legitimate authority is gravely evil. If you engage in grave evil freely and knowingly that is what is called mortal sin. If you commit mortal sin and do not repent that will keep you out of heaven.

            Are you going "death of the author" on me? You don't respect apostolic authority if you can reinterpret popes' words in ways that they themselves would condemn. There is simply too much possible variance in meaning of any string of words if you delete the human's intentions. If what the Pope intends today can be arbitrarily overridden/?reinterpreted in 500 years, it means nothing to associate what he says with 'truth'. Liberal Protestants have demonstrated how malleable mere words are, stripped of intent.

            You articulate one of the main reasons Sola Scriptura is deeply flawed. People do what you describe with the words of scripture all the time. The key is it is not always wrong. You need to take some interpretive liberties to resolve conflicts. So saying this is the line and you interpretation crosses it and mine does not is quite weak. The Catholic answer is a living magisterium. The faith can be constantly reinterpreted but we have bishops and a pope to clarify what is legit.

            As far as the filioque goes you might want to read this https://www.catholic.com/tract/filioque , especuially the part about the difference being mostly about semantics and emphasis.

            I have no problem with the Church when she was actually ecumenical. Back then, the Holy Spirit did not need to have one man be an authority over all the rest. I am not convinced that ever changed. I do know that the RCC cemented the end to ecumenicism, an end to any sane rendering of "first among equals", in how it treated the East. And now you're telling me that more of the same is the solution to the disunity problem.

            If you think the church was once the church that Jesus talked about then that raises a question. Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. So this church that you like which existed at some point, is it not the subject of that promise from Jesus? If so, then do you not actually believe the gates of hell have prevailed against it in some significant way?

            I think the Holy Spirit always had one man as an authority. I don't think that has ever changed. The authority was better understood later. It was also more frequently exercised when the church had more resources to do that. Yet the basic doctrine of a Petrine office was there from the beginning.

            The papacy works. It is not a question of can it work. It has worked. It has succeeded where Protestantism has massively failed. It turns out God's idea was better than Man's idea. All it requires is for us th participate in it.

            You have been extraordinarily inconsistent on this matter, Randy. One way to understand that inconsistency is you having at least two different definitions of 'unity', if not more. What I'm fairly certain of is that the thing Cyprian described (in your excerpt) does not exist right now.

            Unity means different things in different contexts. Words are like that. What exists and what should exist are different things. What exists withing Catholicism and what exists in Christendom as a whole are also very different. The point I have been trying to make is that unity that can serve as something that convinces people of the truth of Christianity cannot be found in Protestantism. It largely exists today within Catholicism although there are still some problems. I hope that helps. Sorry for any inconsistency.

            Erm, how did I not allow for precisely the quibble you just uttered? I included in strikethrough what you omitted.

            It is not a quibble. You are trying make an argument. You premise is simply false. You tried a rhetorical trick. I did not fall for it.

            The only real empirical correlates you have offered are (1) "It has built Western civilization."; (2) the ˜ 10,000 saints; (3) the 2000-year existence of the institution of the RCC; (4) an unchanging teaching[—a claim I find dubious but have not deemed necessary to really take on except for now]. These are exceedingly vague and do not support any obedience whatsoever to Jesus' words, "You will recognize them by their fruits." We have now that we can't even go by popes' intents behind the words they utter.

            What are you looking for? I can start telling stories. They exist by the millions. I just notice that you seem to look far and wide for dirt. This is not what Jesus meant by recognize them by their fruits. You can look at the story of Annanias and Saphira in Acts 5 and say the church is about power and murder. Bad fruit. There is some need for charitable interpretation.

            Yes, you do need to interpret even a pope's infallible words in the light of the rest of Catholic tradition. Again the fact that you are so annoyed at that makes me wonder if you are trying to be fair to the church or just looking for a gotcha.

            I am confused by your stuff on religious freedom. Pope Leo said burning heretics at the state was not the will of the Holy Spirit. I checked the link to make sure you had the negation right. Yet it seems you are saying that contradicts more moderns teachings on religious freedom.

            As for the circumstances of the Protestant and Eastern Otthodox schism, they were difficult. If we abandon Christian principles when times get hard then bad things happen. Hard times are precisely when we need to trust God the most. We can learn from their mistakes. Yes, we need to obey God even if it might cost us out lives. That is what Jesus did for us. It is what we are called to do for Him. Does that damage my case? Maybe so.

          • One thing in the below: I would like to know specifics of how I "tried a rhetorical trick". I was actually entirely serious and so I suspect a deep misunderstanding. Given that you imputed an unloving & untruthful attitude to me, I am especially concerned.

            RG: Was the truth taught? It was. Could it have been taught in a more loving way? Yes. The first part matters more.

            LB: If God is love, then to lack in love is to lack in truth, outside of the kind of truth Satan is quite able to wield. (Satan ignores "love covers a multitude of sins".)

            RG: Not really. If it were then we would not be commanded to speak the truth in love(Eph 4:15). It is possible to speak the truth in a bad way.

            LB: Erm, how did I not allow for precisely the quibble you just uttered? I included in strikethrough what you omitted.

            RG: It is not a quibble. You are trying make an argument. You premise is simply false. You tried a rhetorical trick. I did not fall for it.

            Sorry, I was assuming that teaching about "who God is" has truth-content and that what unifies Christians is that they worship the same God. To falsely teach requires falsehood, omission, and/or wrong emphasis. Given that we don't actually communicate the whole shebang at once, we necessarily have to pick and choose—hopefully with loving wisdom.

            If we really need to we can get into the 'convertibility of transcendentals', which should be your bailiwick. Per SEP: Medieval Theories of Transcendentals, we have that "‘being’ has convertible properties, like ‘one’, ‘true’, and ‘good’". But c'mon, how was I engaged in rhetorical trickery?

            Randy, your claim that "[truth being taught] matters more [than in a loving way]" is flagrantly wrong. Jesus said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life."; John said "Whoever does not love abides in death." Omit love and you omit God. Downplay love and you downplay God. You seem to believe that if the truth comes first then love will follow but that's not what we see in Mt 23:13–15; there the purveyors of truth make proselytes who are twice the child of hell as they are!

            We've been talking about unity; I suggest that the following is a central passage:

            For the love of Christ συνέχω us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14–15, NAB)

            The NAB translates συνέχω as 'impels'; some other translations are 'compels', 'controls', 'constraineth', 'rules', 'guides'. I myself think it's obvious that "the love of Christ holds us together". Truth matters, as love without truth is a gelatinous blob. But it's not truth that holds us together. This is why I was immediately skeptical of the following:

            RG: So what is the problem? We like to pick our own doctrines.

            That's just not the problem. You recognized that later:

            RG: Yet there is a deeper unity. Ultimately it is about love and not about power.

            If you aren't playing word games and equating 'truth' ≡ 'love', then I agree with you. On this basis, lack of unity means lack of love. To demonstrate emphasis, I would hazard to say that lack of truth is almost incidental. But from my recollection, the whole thrust of your argumentation has been to push truth more than love. I don't see how you can rescue such an emphasis by calling truth a prerequisite of love. Without the Holy Spirit [being sufficiently active], truth cannot prevent one from abiding in death.

            I will emphasize that Paul's letter to a factious church has near its beginning "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." Contrast this to the RCC pushing the Filioque upon the East when unity was quite iffy. The East and West both agreed that Jesus died for all so that all might live after the pattern of Jesus. Was the next step to add more theology or to better live out the basics in love until more complexity was required for deeper love? Paul writes a little later that he wants the Corinthians "not to go beyond what is written"; the reason is that in their present state, additional learning would cause them to "be puffed up in favor of one against another". More truth was dangerous to them because they had insufficient love for one another.

          • My O my, have we ever stayed from the topic at hand. The reformation was about doctrine. The idea was to sacrifice unity so you could have truth. They ended up with neither. So we were discussing what is reasonable to believe in terms of arriving at true doctrine. Is Sols Scriptura reasonable? Is the Catholic Magisterium credible? Are we left with no reliable source of Christian truth? In that context it is reasonable to say the truth of statements matter more than the love behind them, especially when such statements were made centuries ago. That does not mean that always and everywhere truth matters more than love.

            So before you go on attacking your straw man you might want to stop and admit what you failed to do. You failed to defend Protestant truth claims. You failed to discredit Catholic truth claims. I can understand that you are unable to do those things. I have become convinced Catholicism is simply true so I don't expect you can do those things. Yet you should not lose sight of the significance of that.

            What is the relationship between love and truth? Pope Bendict write an encyclical on the subeject in 2009, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.html . A quote:

            Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space. In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in the God of the Bible, who is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth, Love and Word.

          • My O my, have we ever stayed from the topic at hand. The reformation was about doctrine. The idea was to sacrifice unity so you could have truth. They ended up with neither. So we were discussing what is reasonable to believe in terms of arriving at true doctrine. Is Sols Scriptura reasonable? Is the Catholic Magisterium credible? Are we left with no reliable source of Christian truth? In that context it is reasonable to say the truth of statements matter more than the love behind them, especially when such statements were made centuries ago. That does not mean that always and everywhere truth matters more than love.

            I don't know how you can say the underlined in any context, when we have passages like 1 Cor 13:1–3, 2 Cor 5:14, and 1 Jn 3:14–15. And then there are these words from Jesus: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Switch from love to hate and you get this: "Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness." How much truth does the one in darkness have and for what is that truth good?

            Furthermore, as I just got finished saying, when Paul encountered a factious church he did not insist that they not get every theological detail just right—e.g. the Filioque. No, he did the opposite: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." A Church unified by truth without love is a Church with a unity primed to fracture. "Love covers a multitude of sins." With no love, the slightest perceived error can grow without limit. The result might seem like a disagreement about doctrine, but that's not the heart of the matter.

            So before you go on attacking your straw man you might want to stop and admit what you failed to do. You failed to defend Protestant truth claims.

            Please clarify just what straw man I have attacked, given what I wrote above. Also, please specify exactly which "Protestant truth claims" I am obligated to defend, given what I have said previously.

            You failed to discredit Catholic truth claims.

            Let's take your claim that "[The RCC] has taught a consistent doctrine." Now compare:

            Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ. (Dignitatis Humanae)

            vs.

            In virtue of our pastoral office committed to us by the divine favor we can under no circumstances tolerate or overlook any longer the pernicious poison of the above errors without disgrace to the Christian religion and injury to orthodox faith. Some of these errors we have decided to include in the present document; their substance is as follows:

            20. They are seduced who believe that indulgences are salutary and useful for the fruit of the spirit.

            33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.

            37. Purgatory cannot be proved from Sacred Scripture which is in the canon. (Exsurge Domine)

            (If you get burned at the stake, you get burned in civil society.)

            What is the relationship between love and truth?

            Let's compare Pope Benedict to yours truly:

            Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. (Caritas in Veritate)

            LB: Truth matters, as love without truth is a gelatinous blob.

            That seems to be some agreement?

          • LB: There are no "equals" to the following from Pope Boniface VIII: "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Unam sanctam, 1302)

            LB: How many cardinals do you think believed that Martin Luther might go to heaven when he died?

            RG: Whether Luther is in heaven, hell or purgatory is another question. You seem to assume he is in heaven. That is judging his soul.

            Actually, I'm applying that bit from Unam Sanctam to guess that every single cardinal believed Martin Luther was definitely going to hell, for he obviously wasn't "subject to the Roman Pontiff". What human being was more obviously not "subject to the Roman Pontiff"? Switching focus from the pope to his teachings doesn't help, for Luther's 95 Theses were all about teachings. Luther was not subject to the pope's teachings. If Luther is in heaven, then how does that bit from Unam Sanctam actually mean anything?

            You articulate one of the main reasons Sola Scriptura is deeply flawed. People do what you describe with the words of scripture all the time. The key is it is not always wrong. You need to take some interpretive liberties to resolve conflicts.

            Your first and third sentences contradict. Sola Scriptura merely means that when there's a conflict, you prioritize the scripture part(s). You do not murder the author. Sola Scriptura means non-ecumenical church tradition can always err. (Note that canonization happened under truly ecumenical conditions, when the Pope was "first among equals" in a non-1984-sense.)

            Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church.

            I worship "the God in whom [Abraham] believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist." Death can win the battle but not the war.

            I think the Holy Spirit always had one man as an authority.

            Yes, you have made that rather clear. I see the need for a single human authority as a profound failure mode where most humans want little to do with God, or as a horrid understanding of God whereby he just isn't interested in being close to very many humans. Surely you believe that God could work differently?—say, via agreement in the Spirit instead of obedience to a single human who is ostensibly being guided by God.

            The papacy works.

            Moses' divorce papers "worked". Look what happened to Israel. Look at the Christians who massacred Christians in the Thirty Years' War. God is willing to work within tremendous brokenness. That doesn't mean that the current configuration is anywhere close to optimal. My argument about the paucity of spiritual maturity among Christians is my best example of this. Jesus told the crowds to "recognize them by their fruits" while you say "This is why judging fruit is such a waste of time." You would replace individual spiritual discernment with obedience to a human hierarchy, or at least make the latter a much longer-term prerequisite for the former than I would. (Recall my "Nope; …".)

            Unity means different things in different contexts.

            Our recent discussion has covered that many different contexts when it comes to 'unity'?

            You tried a rhetorical trick.

            I devoted a separate comment to this.

            What are you looking for?

            Most specifically, I want a way to obey Jesus when he said "You will recognize them by their fruits." which doesn't completely reinterpret his words to mean "You will obey your religious leaders." More generally, I want a way to evaluate how well Christians are being trained to make that transition from 'servant' → 'friend' Jesus described, and a way to hold leaders to account when they flub that and instead allow the kind of immaturity to persist which so vexed the author of Heb 5:11–6:3. I do not believe it is at all appropriate to take the least bit of comfort from the maturity level of the ≈ 10,000 saints. Christianity is not an elitist religion.

            An obvious difference between us, Randy, is that you have an almost-unquestioning† stance toward your leaders, while I believe that the OT and NT teach the unambiguous lesson that our spiritual leaders can fail us quite thoroughly. The Pharisees had a well-tuned disciple-making process, churning out disciples who were twice the sons of hell as the Pharisees. Peter, in eating with just the Jews, betrayed a central truth of the gospel—that God is for everyone. Christians who massacred Jews through the ages have spat on God himself. I don't think God needs a continuous Magisterium in order to correct errors; he certainly didn't need that in the OT. The Holy Spirit is rather more able than that.

            † Yes, you can ask arbitrarily many clarifying questions. Yes, there can be "a series of bad popes". But you think the Magisterium's grip on the truth is without error. No fruit can prove otherwise, except contradictions. And yet contradictions can be rendered apparent via "The faith can be constantly reinterpreted". We have a prime example with your treatment of Unam Sanctam.

            I just notice that you seem to look far and wide for dirt.

            Were you to assemble every single piece of "dirt" I have presented, then compare it to the context, do you believe much would actually qualify as "look far and wide"? Comments like this rather frustrate me, so I'm somewhat inclined to ask whether you'd like to stake your entire reputation on your claim here and have me comb through all of our discussion and present the evidence for everyone to judge. (You'd be welcome to pick out "dirt" I omitted.) I myself think I've been consistently on-point, questioning your general claims about the RCC with relevant, specific evidence. I would guess that fewer than 10% of my specific examples would be construed as "look far and wide" by your average reader. BTW, I've long been meaning to write a tool which scrapes Disqus comments and enables nice tagging of sections of comments; I did it before for the Something Awful forums.

            I am confused by your stuff on religious freedom. Pope Leo said burning heretics at the state was not the will of the Holy Spirit.

            Wrong:

            In virtue of our pastoral office committed to us by the divine favor we can under no circumstances tolerate or overlook any longer the pernicious poison of the above errors without disgrace to the Christian religion and injury to orthodox faith. Some of these errors we have decided to include in the present document; their substance is as follows:

            20. They are seduced who believe that indulgences are salutary and useful for the fruit of the spirit.

            33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.

            37. Purgatory cannot be proved from Sacred Scripture which is in the canon. (Exsurge Domine)

            In contrast, the Magisterium believed:

            20.′ Indulgences are salutary and useful for the fruit of the Spirit
            33.′ The will of the Spirit is not known to preclude the burning of heretics.
            37.′ Purgatory can be proved from Sacred Scripture in the canon.

            Note that I didn't run with a stronger version:

            33.″ The will of the Spirit is that [some] heretics be burned.

            Maybe this is what was intended, but I'm working with the minimal possible meaning of rejecting 33. Now 33.′ contradicts the bit I quoted from Dignitatis Humanae and it contradicts your "God will not force Himself on you."—when conjoined with "The Roman Catholic Church sufficiently well-represents God." To burn heretics is to force oneself on them.

            Again the fact that you are so annoyed at that makes me wonder if you are trying to be fair to the church or just looking for a gotcha.

            My annoyance stems from long experience with humans changing the meaning of words under my feet, not infrequently to jerk me around. (But I don't claim you ever intend to do this.) I see as one of the deepest lessons of scripture that humans are very good at slowly morphing the meanings of words; a prime example of this is how 'the temple of the LORD' had changed meaning, in Jeremiah 7:1–15. Where the OT is happy to say "David's murder of Uriah and rape of & adultery with Bathsheba was utterly wrong.", you appear unwilling to say, "Every execution of every heretic by a Christian was utterly wrong." There was a critical error in the heart of King David; according to you there can be no critical error in the heart of the RCC. In the OT, increased understanding of God came amidst honest-to-God sins. When it comes to the Magisterium, increased understanding of God comes via constant reinterpretation ("constantly reinterpreted").

            A major power of Christianity, or so I was taught, is the ability to admit error and the full depth of error. To do this is to expose incredible weakness; it is utterly unnatural. But God works where we are weak—and I'll bet, where we admit we are weak. (For "God will not force Himself on you.") Take for example the scandal of Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church. He could not bring himself to admit his domineering attitude and repent. Yes it would have been rather disgusting to lay bare the full gory details of what he did. But he would have done dignity to those harmed and he would have provided ammunition against himself or others committing the same sin again. He would have empowered the followers to better hold the leaders to account. Is this what the RCC does when its priests are found to be misbehaving? Or is the power of repentance sequestered to behind closed doors? Does hiding it actually deprive it of power and effectiveness?

            By the way, it is especially hard to admit error amongst the immature; they are used to façades of holiness and righteousness. Privately they might know that there are issues, but they want to pretend everything is alright. To publicly proclaim self-error amongst the immature is to risk driving them away, perhaps to charlatans who are happy to feed the holiness façade. Whitewashed tombs are pretty. If your followers are predominantly immature, there are powerful incentives to keep error hidden; the most powerful way to do that is to rationalize/​reinterpret it away. I'm willing to bet that this phenomenon I claim exists has been well-studied by sociologists; I could probably find some scholarship on it if you want.

          • RG:You articulate one of the main reasons Sola Scriptura is deeply flawed. People do what you describe with the words of scripture all the time. The key is it is not always wrong. You need to take some interpretive liberties to resolve conflicts.

            LB:Your first and third sentences contradict. Sola Scriptura merely means that when there's a conflict, you prioritize the scripture part(s). You do not murder the author. Sola Scriptura means non-ecumenical church tradition can always err.

            Not sure you are understanding me here. You eloquently said how people can interpret things to the point another person feels it is just a cheap trick. I get that. Yet that is what people do with scripture. How do you avoid it? Under true Sola Scriptura you can't. Why? Because scripture does contradict scripture on superfical meanings. You need to do some interpretive work to resolve conflicts. The you said "you prioritize the scripture part." The point is both sides are scripture parts. So Sola Scriptura gives you no help. What helps is tradition. It can tell you which scripture needs to be re-interpreted in the light of the other. Scripture alone does not tell you that.

            You seem to ditinguish between ecumenical church tradition and non-ecumenical church tradition. Can you make that more precise? It sounds to me like you are trying to find some authoritative tradition on which to base things like the canon of scripture. Is it just arbitrary or is there a rule? Where do you get the rule? Is it fair to say you are rejecting Sola Scriptura?

            I do want to keep this short but I will respond to one more thing.

            An obvious difference between us, Randy, is that you have an almost-unquestioning stance toward your leaders, while I believe that the OT and NT teach the unambiguous lesson that our spiritual leaders can fail us quite thoroughly.

            It is not unquestioning. It is faith. Faith in God rather than faith in leaders. Faith that Jesus will build His church on the rock of Peter and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Faith basically that God would give us some way of avoiding the doctrinal mess that Protestantism has become. Yes, faith is based on an analysis of history and scripture. Still it is faith because it is not a book that has already been written. That is safe. A living magisterium is not safe because you don't know what it will teach tomorrow. It gives God power over me. Power to tell me things that run counter to my intuition.

            It is precisely because our leaders can and do fail that faith becomes difficult. Yet difficult is better than impossible. Knowing God's word is difficult because you have to obey it. Not knowing it is more difficult if you really want to follow God.

            One more brief comment on religious freedom. A typical papal encyclical is not considered infallible. It is only when when very strong language is used binding the consciences of all Catholics. A list of 41 mistakes of Martin Luther hardly meets that test.

            Anyway, trying to avoid a long thing. God bless you.

          • Because scripture does contradict scripture on superfical meanings.

            What's the best example of this you can think of? I've spent thousands of hours talking to atheists online and I don't remember them offering an interesting contradiction which lasted under at most an hour's inspection. With the additional ammunition of textual variants, Bart Ehrman was unable to fulfill his promises of showing any such contradictions in Misquoting Jesus. So, what am I missing?

            You seem to ditinguish between ecumenical church tradition and non-ecumenical church tradition. Can you make that more precise?

            I'm really talking about the opposite of God speaking through one man and having that be authoritative. Instead, you have representatives of all Christians gather together, praying, reading scripture, and arguing about it. Does the Holy Spirit act to provide sufficient consensus for the next steps forward? (We don't need to agree on everything right now, as if an architect has to think just like an airline pilot.) I would really prefer universal agreement among representatives, but there is that parable of the wheat and tares. Anyhow, as I understand, there were six such meetings before Rome exceeded her 'first among equals' status.

            Is it fair to say you are rejecting Sola Scriptura?

            You would have to show me how I am giving priority to something or someone over scripture. Are you going to argue that canonization itself precludes Sola Scriptura?

            LB: An obvious difference between us, Randy, is that you have an almost-unquestioning stance toward your leaders, while I believe that the OT and NT teach the unambiguous lesson that our spiritual leaders can fail us quite thoroughly.

            RG: It is not unquestioning. It is faith. Faith in God rather than faith in leaders. Faith that Jesus will build His church on the rock of Peter and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Faith basically that God would give us some way of avoiding the doctrinal mess that Protestantism has become.

            How is "an almost-unquestioning stance toward your leaders" incompatible with your belief that God is behind those leaders and preventing them from failing more/as severely as any alternatives? The cause may be different but the effect seems the same. Where skepticism of religious leaders pervades the OT and NT, you think that time has passed.

            As to your focus on "doctrinal mess", I'm not sure what else to say by way of disagreeing that doctrinal unity is the most important thing. Perhaps you are assuming that 'doctrinal unity' means something significantly more than everyone agreeing that they believe some collection of words is "true"? Perhaps, for example, you think that "I believe X" means that "my life is becoming increasingly (if falteringly, with setbacks) more consistent with X". I myself am convinced that disunity of heart can grow while unity of doctrine appears to hold. Crucially, I don't see unity of heart being aided by a single human authority, no matter how much divine help [s]he is getting.

            Still it is faith because it is not a book that has already been written. That is safe. A living magisterium is not safe because you don't know what it will teach tomorrow. It gives God power over me. Power to tell me things that run counter to my intuition.

            How is the Bible "safe"? Let's take Jesus' promise that our prayers in his name will be answered. When I do my best to ignore all the teachings I have heard on how this reconciles with so many prayers [seemingly] going unanswered, it is a very unsafe passage. It produces a question more primitive than theodicy: exactly how much healing & excellence does God want for us? Or let's take what seems to me to be obvious disunity of Christians worldwide, with no special unity which can make me feel better. That disturbs me greatly; it seems to bother you a lot less because you're in the special unified group. I am forced to see myself as being as much of the problem as other Christians; you get to see non-Catholic Christians as more of a problem than you are. Where on earth or in heaven or under the earth is this safety you think I inhabit, Randy?

            It is precisely because our leaders can and do fail that faith becomes difficult.

            Perhaps this is the case for you. And yet, this seems to run counter to your "You judge Basketball by watching Michael Jordan and not the overweight, middle-aged guys at the Y." Perhaps you know that the ≈ 10,000 saints aren't actually there in person to help you out, and thus if your leader fails you, prayers to the saints, Mary, and Jesus still leave you in quite the pickle.

            When my own leaders disappoint me, I work to be reminded of my own flavor of failings. After all, so much of what and who we are comes not from our own choices but those who came before us—this means much will actually be common between you and your leader. One of the most dangerous things to do is to live vicariously through your leader, because you will be severely tempted to overlook his/her faults and thereby allow those faults to grow in size. Living vicariously is easier than the hard work of sanctification and discipline.

            I do see a place for leaders to disappoint the spiritually mature: if one's leaders cannot get something right, one is led to wonder if anyone knows how to get it right and if this persists for long enough, one is led to wonder if it is possible to get it right. So much "I can do it better" is dashed when given the opportunity to try. But how much of that failure is because the realities of the leadership echelon are obscured from the followers? There are strong temptations to hide how the sausage is made; the immature are grossed out by it. Does God like things done in darkness?

          • What's the best example of this you can think of? I've spent thousands of hours talking to atheists online and I don't remember them offering an interesting contradiction which lasted under at most an hour's inspection. With the additional ammunition of textual variants, Bart Ehrman was unable to fulfill his promises of showing any such contradictions in Misquoting Jesus. So, what am I missing?

            Mostly you are missing everything. What interpretive controversies have their been? Arianism vs Trinitarianism. Armeneism vs Calvinism. They can all be supported by scripture on both sides. When you say it does not last an hour of inspection that just means you arrive at an opinion. Contradiction solved, in your mind. What did you do? Often you relied on tradition. We do that subconsciously. One way of interpreting seems obviously right. It is only obvious because we thing a certain way. Yet we don't see it as tradition. We see it as just the clear teaching of scripture. We get confused why folks in other denominations do not see it. Everyone we know sees it like we do because we mostly hang out with folks in the same school of thought as us.

            Understanding how much tradition impacted biblical interpretation was huge for me. You can't avoid it. It is like learning to talk without an accent. I can't be done. Once you get that then the question of how to find the right tradition becomes huge. Catholicism says that God gets that too. He not only gives us the sacred scripture but also gives us the sacred tradition in which to read it.

            I'm really talking about the opposite of God speaking through one man and having that be authoritative. Instead, you have representatives of all Christians gather together, praying, reading scripture, and arguing about it. Does the Holy Spirit act to provide sufficient consensus for the next steps forward? (We don't need to agree on everything right now, as if an architect has to think just like an airline pilot.) I would really prefer universal agreement among representatives, but there is that parable of the wheat and tares. Anyhow, as I understand, there were six such meetings before Rome exceeded her 'first among equals' status.

            You need to understand that when then the teaching was done the way you like it to be done the content of that teaching was not at all Protestant. The increase in the importance of the papacy was not in opposition to the councils but something that grew out of them. When the Tome of Pope Leo the Great was read at the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th century the council said Peter was speaking through Leo. So if councils get things right then you should be thinking they got that right. The first 6 councils existed during a time when Catholic teachings on Mary, the Eucharist, justification, etc. were already quite developed. So if they got things right then Protestants have things wrong.

            You would have to show me how I am giving priority to something or someone over scripture. Are you going to argue that canonization itself precludes Sola Scriptura?

            Sola Scriptora is self-refuting. The canon is one way that can be seen. What I was referring to was your statement that the alleged church before the papacy was trustworthy. If that was true then Sola Scriptura would be false. There would be at least some authoritative tradition.

          • RG: You articulate one of the main reasons Sola Scriptura is deeply flawed. People do what you describe with the words of scripture all the time. The key is it is not always wrong. You need to take some interpretive liberties to resolve conflicts.

            LB: Your first and third sentences contradict. Sola Scriptura merely means that when there's a conflict, you prioritize the scripture part(s). You do not murder the author. Sola Scriptura means non-ecumenical church tradition can always err.

            RG: Not sure you are understanding me here. You eloquently said how people can interpret things to the point another person feels it is just a cheap trick. I get that. Yet that is what people do with scripture. How do you avoid it? Under true Sola Scriptura you can't. Why? Because scripture does contradict scripture on superfical meanings. You need to do some interpretive work to resolve conflicts. The you said "you prioritize the scripture part." The point is both sides are scripture parts. So Sola Scriptura gives you no help. What helps is tradition. It can tell you which scripture needs to be re-interpreted in the light of the other. Scripture alone does not tell you that.

            LB: What's the best example of this you can think of?

            RG: Arianism vs Trinitarianism. Armeneism vs Calvinism.

            I certainly was raised by default to be a Trinitarian, but am I only a Trinitarian because I unquestioningly accept the authority of the First Council of Nicaea? No; unquestioned aspects of one's interpretation are not necessarily unquestionable aspects of one's interpretation. Why am I being more like a Scholastic in carefully analyzing logic than the Catholic in this discussion?

            As to Arminianism vs. Calvinism, that's actually something I have wrestled with for probably thousands of hours in my life; I did not just accept some authoritative statement about it. I do make use of thinking on both sides of the debate; it's not like I throw all the work other Christians have done on the matter in the trash and start over tabula rasa like Descartes thinks he did.

            Unlike many Christians, I'm actually happy to have the fruit of different interpretations be compared. That is because I believe doctrine is meant to matter for this life as well as the next. Doctrine may require several layers of abstraction to connect to empirical reality—just like quarks cannot be connected to particle accelerator results without a massive mathematical, conceptual, and technological edifice. One of the more exciting instances of this I've found is the connection between the Trinity and arbitrarily deep friendship that Alistair McFadyen hints at in The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships. Either difference is ultimately the enemy of difference, or there is a way for them to coexist and be more than they were separately. (Mere coexistance is, as far as I can tell, a pleasant fiction which can survive when there is enough unacknowledged cultural unity.) Whether Jesus could be fully human and fully divine seems to be a question of whether the infinite can dwell with the finite—as well as whether the superior would debase himself.

            It is only obvious because we thing a certain way. Yet we don't see it as tradition. We see it as just the clear teaching of scripture.

            Speak for yourself, sir. Very little is "clear" to me; much more seems "clear" to you. (To Protestant-Randy only or also Catholic-Randy?) My experience is that there is always another layer, more articulation. Formally, the idea is that we all have an unarticulated background which can be further articulated but never exhaustively articulated.

            We get confused why folks in other denominations do not see it. Everyone we know sees it like we do because we mostly hang out with folks in the same school of thought as us.

            Speak for yourself, sir. I have spent tens of thousands of hours talking to atheists not to convert them, but to understand them better and have them force me to understand my own ideas better. Humans are much better at criticizing viewpoints they don't identify with and I try to take advantage of that. I am doing that with you now.

            Understanding how much tradition impacted biblical interpretation was huge for me.

            I suspect this was merely baked into my spiritual DNA from a young age; I recall my parents poking at each other because one really liked J. Vernon McGee and the other found him to often go beyond what scripture itself says. What I was taught without fail is that tradition is not infallible. Everything is open to question, but there is a clear priority to what you question first (yourself) and there is no such thing as a neutral starting point (again, Descartes was horribly wrong about this).

            You need to understand that when then the teaching was done the way you like it to be done the content of that teaching was not at all Protestant.

            Yup. Hence why I said that I would think more on transubstantiation if I were to see an empirical difference between it being one way vs. the other. Perhaps ironically, for it to be important that the Host be Jesus' body is a concern with the empirical, with matter instead of just intellect or spirit. If you could show how belief in the Assumption of Mary can be traced to superior [present!] ability to help the homeless get back on their feet (or some other worthy empirical fruit), I would snap to attention. As it stands, I will focus on other matters which seem more pressing; if God wishes to judge me for that then I'll take it.

            Now, there's a bit of a contradiction in my position: I'm questioning the results of ecumenical teaching (transubstantiation, the Assumption of Mary) in one area while accepting it in another (canonization). The more nuanced version is that there is a precedence in what I will question when there are problems. First myself, then non-ecumenical teaching, then ecumenical teaching, then what is considered canon. We do have to start somewhere, but that somewhere does not have to be error-free unless you exclude God ever again acting in reality not through a human agent.

            What I was referring to was your statement that the alleged church before the papacy was trustworthy.

            As I just noted, I was giving an approximation (virtually everything I say is an approximation). The beauty of ecumenical agreement, especially universal ecumenical agreement, is that it's the most promising way for the majority admit they're wrong and recognize that the minority is right. The most extreme example of this is the execution of Jesus: one man was just while all the rest were unjust—which is directly contrary to how society [universally?] operates. Is it possible for all Catholics to be wrong on some point—the Pope included—except for one child somewhere?

          • I get that you spend a lot of time on this. So do I. That is not normal nor can it be normal. You need to be educated and have the time. Lots of people can't spend 10,000 hours on the question.

            Even if the people who did spend this time mostly ended up in the same place then that might make sense. I don't know that they do. Lots of them end up Catholic but it hard to measure. So you end up with nothing to guide those those who don't spend the 10,000 hours. Even those who do spend the time are forced to face the fact that many who do make the effort will still end up wrong just based on the contradictory places they go.

            So human effort does not lead to truth. GK Chesterton said, "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." Self effort cannot do it. We are always the final judge and our judgement is influenced by the ideas around us in more ways that we can know. We need the grace of God to transcend time and culture. Man cannot do that on his own. The grace comes through the church. It does not just come through infallibility. It comes through connection across time and space with other Christians. Yes, also supernatural connection with God.

            Can you get that outside the church? To some degree you can. You cannot do it as well as the church does. The vast majority of Christians do not do very much at all. You seem to do more than most. That is great. Yet ask yourself deeper questions. If you read some church fathers. Ask why these passages are selected for you to read. Is it because they fit in with Protestant thinking? Try and go deeper and ask what made these guys what they were. They were typically very sacramental and yes they respected authority. I saw that even in prior generations of Protestants. The ancestors of my denomination a few centuries ago had a lot more liturgy and lot more deference to what their church taught. Even my father, when he was ordained, has a much greater sense that they were receiving a tradition that they were to pass on. My brother and sister got ordained in the same church yet had very much a sense of having to make things up on the fly.

            Anyway, liturgy and authority is just one way historical Christianity has succeeded and modern Christianity has failed. My question is how open are you to finding those differences. People can look for common ground with the Fathers and find it. That makes us feel good but it does not really produce growth.

          • So human effort does not lead to truth. GK Chesterton said, "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age."

            Fascinating; my intellectual journey began in earnest after reading After Virtue, which argues that we are trapped in a kind of moral infantilism/​slavery. It became rather famous, at 26,000 'citations'. If I recall correctly, someone on Roger Olson's blog recommended it to me in the context of traditions entering failure modes from which they cannot self-correct. Anyhow, Alasadair MacIntyre was an atheist when he wrote the book. Unless you stretch Chesterton's words like Gumpy, he seems to be flat out wrong. Your supposition that I'm overly formed by Protestant-slanted sources is hereby rendered questionable.

            We need the grace of God to transcend time and culture. Man cannot do that on his own. The grace comes through the church. It does not just come through infallibility. It comes through connection across time and space with other Christians. Yes, also supernatural connection with God.

            Hey, I wrote "I want to be united with all followers of Jesus throughout space–time.", back in November. Where we differ is that I don't think my own group of Christians is nearly as sufficient [in intellect, or anything else] as you believe of the RCC. I think disunity of Christians across space–time is much more harmful than you seem to think—for all Christians and not just their witness. I say history has had its fill of one group of humans claiming to have all† the answers, if only the rest of humans would submit.

            † It need not be 100%: if the RCC were to say it learned one thing from an atheist, that would not defeat the spirit of what I've said. Instead, I'm targeting the attitude that if a Roman Catholic really needs to know something, God will communicate it infallibly through the Pope. What if that's wrong, what if God actually told another follower of Jesus whom the RCC excommunicated? Does not God work through weakness, through the oppressed, through the excluded?

            Anyway, liturgy and authority is just one way historical Christianity has succeeded and modern Christianity has failed.

            How can you characterize the following with "succeeded":

            LB: But if you're going to say that "[The RCC] has taught a consistent doctrine.", we need to know what that means. God certainly could have communicated (II) to Pope Leo X (1513–1521) in an infallible manner. Is it so unreasonable to think that the number dead in the Thirty Years' War would have been appreciably smaller as a result? Is it so unreasonable to think that it would have been harder for people to say the Thirty Years' War was about religion, making the damage done to Christianity less?

            RG: Could Leo X have done better? Sure. He was not a good man. Would that have avoided some of the disaster of the 30 years war? Unlikely. I think we had to do that before we could learn how not to do that.

            ? Just to be clear, 8,000,000 died in the Thirty Years' War. You're saying that after 1600 years of formation, with centuries where the Vatican was exceedingly powerful, Christians in Christendom were so royally screwed up that they could convince themselves that genocide of heretics was a good solution to their problems. Exactly contrary to what you claim, apparently authority had failed terribly.

            That makes us feel good but it does not really produce growth.

            Growth … like in spiritual maturity of more than just the "Michael Jordan[s]"?

          • You do know that Alasadair MacIntyre became Catholic later in life, do you not? I don't see how you can use him as a conter-example if he embraced the church.

            Where we differ is that I don't think my own group of Christians is nearly as sufficient [in intellect, or anything else] as you believe of the RCC. I think disunity of Christians across space–time is much more harmful than you seem to think—for all Christians and not just their witness. I say history has had its fill of one group of humans claiming to have all† the answers, if only the rest of humans would submit.

            I don't believe in the group of people in the RCC. I believe is God and the special grace he gives the RCC. That is the only way Christians can be united across space-time. I have not idea where you got the idea that I feel disunity is not a big deal. It is huge. It is a huge liability for Protestantism and a huge asset for Catholicism.

            We don't have one group of humans claiming to have the answers. We have God claiming to have then answers. Then we have God using humans to communicate said answers. Catholics don't have the truth so much as the Truth has us.

            Did authority fail in the 30 years war? Sure. Not because the Catholic church was teaching anything wrong. That is they key you keep missing. The failure was that people did not obey the authority. Lots of reason for that but one key was that many factions became completely convinced God was on their side. That is not God's fault. It is more the fault of those falsely claiming to speak for God. It is still somewhat the fault of those legitimately speaking for God.

            Yet what is the solution? To reject religion or promise never to really take it seriously? That hardly makes sense. When God establishes a true church you expect eventually the devil will raise up a bunch of counterfeits. Why let the devil win? Stick with the true church and reject the false ones.

          • 1/2 (2/2)

            RG: Anyway, liturgy and authority is just one way historical Christianity has succeeded and modern Christianity has failed.

            LB: How can you characterize the following with "succeeded":

            LB: But if you're going to say that "[The RCC] has taught a consistent doctrine.", we need to know what that means. God certainly could have communicated (II) to Pope Leo X (1513–1521) in an infallible manner. Is it so unreasonable to think that the number dead in the Thirty Years' War would have been appreciably smaller as a result? Is it so unreasonable to think that it would have been harder for people to say the Thirty Years' War was about religion, making the damage done to Christianity less?

            RG: Could Leo X have done better? Sure. He was not a good man. Would that have avoided some of the disaster of the 30 years war? Unlikely. I think we had to do that before we could learn how not to do that.

            ? Just to be clear, 8,000,000 died in the Thirty Years' War. You're saying that after 1600 years of formation, with centuries where the Vatican was exceedingly powerful, Christians in Christendom were so royally screwed up that they could convince themselves that genocide of heretics was a good solution to their problems. Exactly contrary to what you claim, apparently authority had failed terribly.

            RG: Did authority fail in the 30 years war? Sure. Not because the Catholic church was teaching anything wrong. That is they key you keep missing. The failure was that people did not obey the authority. Lots of reason for that but one key was that many factions became completely convinced God was on their side. That is not God's fault. It is more the fault of those falsely claiming to speak for God. It is still somewhat the fault of those legitimately speaking for God.

            I don't know what you mean by "teaching", because Unam Sanctam + Exsurge Domine + Pope Urban II's First Crusade seem to teach the lesson that it's ok to massacre heretics because they're already going to hell. Your response to the first two pitted against Dignitatis Humanae was that I need to distinguish between fallible and infallible teaching. It would appear that very little is actually infallible. If your response is that the murderous people were supposed to nevertheless obey the Magisterium, we can talk about whether God actually permits violence to work that way.

            But there is an even bigger problem, in my opinion. If authority is used to form and shape character which then has its own "inertia", we have to ask why that character would all of a sudden sunder itself from the right authority and how that character would then become so utterly vicious. You don't give little children sharp knives because they don't yet have the ability to wield them safely. You wait until they have developed enough understanding and self-control. Once that happens, they are exceedingly unlikely to turn around and stab their parents. How then did this happen in the Thirty Years' War?

            And yet there is an even more massive problem, in my opinion. That is: the belief that the solution to my problems is to kill those people. That's what the Jews in Jesus' time wanted: a political messiah who would drive out the Roman occupiers and restore the Kingdom of Israel. He taught that the problem is actually sin, enslaving us more thoroughly than Orwell could have ever imagined. How on earth was this not drilled into Christians during Christendom's height? It seems like an incredibly basic lesson. Had this been believed with any force, either the Thirty Years' War would never have happened, or it would have had fewer casualties, or at least it would not be associable with "Christianity".

            If I were completely convinced that God was on my side, I would do my best to act like Jesus did in the Gospels. The most violent I would be is the most violent he was. After all, Jesus was and is "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature". And yet, is that the Jesus which the Roman Catholic Church was teaching in 1517? 1618? Does the RCC teach that Jesus was ok with the labarum? Constantine certainly thought that God was in favor of his battling. Have I inherited a terribly Protestant version of Jesus, when Jesus is sometimes quite willing to spill the blood of nonbelievers and heretics?

          • 2/2 (1/2)

            RG: GK Chesterton said, "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age."

            LB: Fascinating; my intellectual journey began in earnest after reading After Virtue, which argues that we are trapped in a kind of moral infantilism/​slavery. … Alasadair MacIntyre was an atheist when he wrote the book.

            RG: You do know that Alasadair MacIntyre became Catholic later in life, do you not? I don't see how you can use him as a conter-example if he embraced the church.

            I'm sorry, but how did the Catholic Church help Alasdair MacIntyre write After Virtue or develop the ideas therein?

            LB: … I say history has had its fill of one group of humans claiming to have all† the answers, if only the rest of humans would submit.

            RG: I don't believe in the group of people in the RCC. I believe is God and the special grace he gives the RCC. That is the only way Christians can be united across space-time.

            You believe in the Pope and the people he leads, because you think God is present to the Pope in a special way that he refuses to be present to the vast majority of Christians. Because of this, you can say your group has "all† the answers". As far as I've seen, you've never allowed that maybe a Protestant or Eastern Orthodox or Coptic has had something critical to offer Catholicism, something God decided not to reveal directly to the Pope.

            LB: Where we differ is that I don't think my own group of Christians is nearly as sufficient [in intellect, or anything else] as you believe of the RCC. I think disunity of Christians across space–time is much more harmful than you seem to think—for all Christians and not just their witness. I say history has had its fill of one group of humans claiming to have all† the answers, if only the rest of humans would submit.

            RG: I have not idea where you got the idea that I feel disunity is not a big deal. It is huge. It is a huge liability for Protestantism and a huge asset for Catholicism.

            I did not get such an idea. Instead, I invite you to compare & contrast:

                 (I) LB: disunity is a liability for all Christians
                (II) RG: disunity is a liability for Protestants and an asset for Catholics

            If no group has "all† the answers", if instead God distributes gifts and knowledge and wisdom so that all Christians need each other at the deepest level, then disunity is indeed much more harmful than if God always tells the Pope what Christians need to hear.

            Yet what is the solution? To reject religion or promise never to really take it seriously? That hardly makes sense. When God establishes a true church you expect eventually the devil will raise up a bunch of counterfeits. Why let the devil win? Stick with the true church and reject the false ones.

            Randy, do you think I would ever propose that anyone do either of the following:

                 (1) "reject religion"
                 (2) "promise never to really take [religion] seriously"

            ? If your answer is "no", then do you think that the only alternative is:

                 (3) "stick with the true church [= RCC]"

            ? If your answer is "yes", why do you believe that is the only answer? Because I can certainly think of a (4), one which rejects the idea that God's preferred manner of interacting with his people is via a new Moses and a continued (perpetual?) "Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it."

          • I'm sorry, but how did the Catholic Church help Alasdair MacIntyre write After Virtue or develop the ideas therein?

            When somebody comes to faith they can typically see how God was revealing Himself to them for a long time before they actually converted. MacIntyre's journey was intellectual. So he was toying with Catholic ideas for a long time. My understanding is he was drawn to St Thomas Aquinas and other Catholic thinkers long before deciding he needed to be baptized.

            You believe in the Pope and the people he leads, because you think God is present to the Pope in a special way that he refuses to be present to the vast majority of Christians.

            Paul was called to be a missionary to the gentiles. Mother Teresa was called to live with the poor in Calcutta. Does that mean God was refusing to be with other poeple exactly like he was with Paul or Mother Teresa? That is a very weird way to say it. God gives a gift to someone and desires that someone bless the whole church with that gift. Yet God is doing something terrible because not everyone has the gift. So the best strategy is to reject that gift. Whatever.

            Because of this, you can say your group has "all† the answers". As far as I've seen, you've never allowed that maybe a Protestant or Eastern Orthodox or Coptic has had something critical to offer Catholicism, something God decided not to reveal directly to the Pope.

            I actually don't say that. You say that. Very few things are revealed directly to the pope. The pope has a role in reacting to things that come up. Yes they can originate in Eastern Orthodoxy or Protestantism or even Atheism. It often takes a long time for the Papacy to take a firm position. Sometimes they never take one. So they don't have all the answers.

            What they have is some answers. That is something Protestants don't have. They can't affirm a truth and be sure it is really true. They can't reject a heresy and be sure it is really false. All they have is human opinions. Many mountains of human opinions. Popes can say some things with conscience-binding certainty that demand the assent of faith.

            I did not get such an idea. Instead, I invite you to compare & contrast:
            (I) LB: disunity is a liability for all Christians
            (II) RG: disunity is a liability for Protestants and an asset for Catholics

            Disunity is a liability for all Christians. Yet disunity means being separated from the Body of Christ. Catholics at least have a notion of what unity looks like. We have kingly unity through the governance of the church. We have prophetic unity through true doctrines. We have priestly unity from valid sacraments. Is that perfect? No. Yet it is something. We can embrace it and try and perfect it.

            What do Protestants have? Some warm fuzzy feelings? Some speech about how we seem to be divided on every possible issue but deep down we must be united because ... well just because.

            Randy, do you think I would ever propose that anyone do either of the following:
            (1) "reject religion"
            (2) "promise never to really take [religion] seriously"

            I do think that your analysis of the 30 years war leads to atheism rather than to Protestantism. If Protestants and Catholics failed so badly that the church should be rejected then Jesus should be rejected as well. Ultimately it is Jesus who claimed that He would be with us until the end of the age. If the disobedience of the 16th century was so bad it causes us to declare the process a failure then all brands of Christinaity are in the same boat.

            If your answer is "yes", why do you believe that is the only answer? Because I can certainly think of a (4), one which rejects the idea that God's preferred manner of interacting with his people is via a new Moses and a continued (perpetual?) "Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it."

            I guess it is because 4 has been tried and tried and has failed and failed. It is illogical and unblbical and unworkable. Yet people keep trying it.

          • RG: GK Chesterton said, "The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age."

            RG: My understanding is [MacIntyre] was drawn to St Thomas Aquinas and other Catholic thinkers long before deciding he needed to be baptized.

            Umm, he draws more on Aristotle than Aquinas in AV. He actually takes some serious issue with how Aquinas deals with the virtues in AV. In the prologue to the third edition, 25 years after the first, MacIntyre notes that he "became convinced that Aquinas was in some respects a better Aristotelian than Aristotle". (x) GK Chesterton was wrong.

            God gives a gift to someone and desires that someone bless the whole church with that gift. Yet God is doing something terrible because not everyone has the gift. So the best strategy is to reject that gift. Whatever.

            "Gift" is quite the euphemism for "You all must obey me because God wants it so." Now, if that gift had the kind of empirical correlates one would expect from someone having direct access to God, I would feel compelled to accept that God does prefer to do things this way. And yet when you talk of "historical Christianity" being so good and "modern Christianity" being so bad and then I respond with the Thirty Years' War, your answer is … "Satan"?

            LB: … all† the answers …

            † It need not be 100%: if the RCC were to say it learned one thing from an atheist, that would not defeat the spirit of what I've said. Instead, I'm targeting the attitude that if a Roman Catholic really needs to know something, God will communicate it infallibly through the Pope. What if that's wrong, what if God actually told another follower of Jesus whom the RCC excommunicated? Does not God work through weakness, through the oppressed, through the excluded?

            LB: You believe in the Pope and the people he leads, because you think God is present to the Pope in a special way that he refuses to be present to the vast majority of Christians. Because of this, you can say your group has "all† the answers". As far as I've seen, you've never allowed that maybe a Protestant or Eastern Orthodox or Coptic has had something critical to offer Catholicism, something God decided not to reveal directly to the Pope.

            RG: I actually don't say that. You say that. Very few things are revealed directly to the pope. The pope has a role in reacting to things that come up. Yes they can originate in Eastern Orthodoxy or Protestantism or even Atheism. It often takes a long time for the Papacy to take a firm position. Sometimes they never take one. So they don't have all the answers.

            What they have is some answers. That is something Protestants don't have. They can't affirm a truth and be sure it is really true. They can't reject a heresy and be sure it is really false. All they have is human opinions. Many mountains of human opinions. Popes can say some things with conscience-binding certainty that demand the assent of faith.

            (1) You seem to be ignoring my †, so I've included it in the quote chain.

            (2) Your first paragraph contradicts the second: if answers can originate in Protestantism, then Protestantism can have some answers. If Protestantism has no answers, then your "can originate in … Protestantism" is an unrealized possibility and misleading without saying precisely that.

            (3) That "conscience-binding certainty" seemed pretty useless in the Thirty Years' War: "Did authority fail in the 30 years war? Sure." Or perhaps we can say that is why the Thirty Years' War happened: "one key was that many factions became completely convinced God was on their side". As atheists never tire of pointing out, certainty is exceedingly dangerous when it justifies the killing of others. They say that certainty is therefore bad (with certainty, it seems); I say that if you follow Jesus' pattern, you're not going to kill anyone with your certainty. But it seems that in this respect, the Jesus I understand is different from the Jesus the RCC understands? (Plenty of Protestants also think Jesus is going to come back with incredible violence, as if Paul was wrong and the battle is between flesh and blood.)

            Catholics at least have a notion of what unity looks like. We have kingly unity through the governance of the church. We have prophetic unity through true doctrines. We have priestly unity from valid sacraments. Is that perfect? No. Yet it is something. We can embrace it and try and perfect it.

            That all sounds so excellent. And yet, where is the obvious empirical superiority which would be expected from having so many profound advantages? Why, for example, isn't the RCC obviously out-competing all alternative efforts to help the homeless?

            What do Protestants have? Some warm fuzzy feelings? Some speech about how we seem to be divided on every possible issue but deep down we must be united because ... well just because.

            This is not an argument, it is an insult cloaked in a bald claim.

            RG: Yet what is the solution? To reject religion or promise never to really take it seriously? …

            LB: Randy, do you think I would ever propose that anyone do either of the following:

                 (1) "reject religion"
                 (2) "promise never to really take [religion] seriously"

            ?

            RG: I do think that your analysis of the 30 years war leads to atheism rather than to Protestantism. If Protestants and Catholics failed so badly that the church should be rejected then Jesus should be rejected as well. Ultimately it is Jesus who claimed that He would be with us until the end of the age. If the disobedience of the 16th century was so bad it causes us to declare the process a failure then all brands of Christinaity are in the same boat.

            If atheism and the secular world had anything better or equally as good as the ashes (not sure that's the right word) of Christianity left over after the Thirty Years' War, then yes that is where my analysis would lead. When Jesus had given his church shrinkage sermon and asks Peter if he's going to leave as well, Peter responds: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." That is my response to not just the Thirty Years' War but also the status quo. I suspect this must be a little bit of what it was like for Jews in exile, wondering just what it was they did to get conquered and carried off into exile. Others thought that more idol-worship was the answer. (e.g. Jer 44:15–18)

            Your response to both the Thirty Years' War and the present state of Christianity (e.g. that "smaller, purer church") seems to be "more obedience". That is, what the RCC was doing in the centuries leading up to the Thirty Years' War and since then has basically been right. At what point do you "ask yourself deeper questions"? For example, what if your understanding of "authority" simply cannot bear the load you think it can? Now, you can reduce the weight by expecting very little spiritual maturity—except for the "Michael Jordan[s]". But I for one don't see how such low expectations could possibly lead to "For the earth will be filled / with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD / as the waters cover the sea."

            LB: Randy, do you think I would ever propose that anyone do either of the following:

                 (1) "reject religion"
                 (2) "promise never to really take [religion] seriously"

            ? If your answer is "no", then do you think that the only alternative is:

                 (3) "stick with the true church [= RCC]"

            ? If your answer is "yes", why do you believe that is the only answer? Because I can certainly think of a (4), one which rejects the idea that God's preferred manner of interacting with his people is via a new Moses and a continued (perpetual?) "Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it."

            RG: I guess it is because 4 has been tried and tried and has failed and failed. It is illogical and unblbical and unworkable. Yet people keep trying it.

            So having the Pope be "first among equals" instead of "every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff" (Unam Sanctam) was "unworkable" between the start of the Christianity and the East–West Schism?

          • Umm, he draws more on Aristotle than Aquinas in AV. He actually takes some serious issue with how Aquinas deals with the virtues in AV. In the prologue to the third edition, 25 years after the first, MacIntyre notes that he "became convinced that Aquinas was in some respects a better Aristotelian than Aristotle". (x) GK Chesterton was wrong.

            If your best proof that he is wrong used a line of reason very close to Catholic and eventually became Catholic then I am thinking Chesterton is looking pretty good.

            "Gift" is quite the euphemism for "You all must obey me because God wants it so." Now, if that gift had the kind of empirical correlates one would expect from someone having direct access to God, I would feel compelled to accept that God does prefer to do things this way. And yet when you talk of "historical Christianity" being so good and "modern Christianity" being so bad and then I respond with the Thirty Years' War, your answer is … "Satan"?

            So do you want to know God's word? I mean really want to know even if it is hard to obey? Would that be considered a gift or would you think of it as oppressive? I mean what empirical correlates do you expect? Do you expect God's true word would mostly congratulate you for getting so many things right? Are you looking for a God who's ways are so much higher than ours? The Pharisees thought they were looking for the Messiah but they had very firm expectations of what said Messiah would be like. Those expectations were intertwined with their spiritual pride. So much so that when the real Messiah appear in front of them they missed Him. The empirical correlates did not match. Could the true Word of God be like that?

            Modern Christianity is not bad. The modern world is harder to deal with. Could 4th century Christianity deal with a world that has artificial contraception and internet porn and the doctrinal confusion of modern Protestantism? I don't think so. The modern Catholic church is stronger. Partially because she has the wisdom that that 4th century church left her and much more. Still the battles she needs to fight are just a lot harder now. So the empirical correlates are not always great.

            I also thing there is a dying and rising dynamic to the life of the church. In the West she is in the dying part of that cycle. In Africa and Asia she is growing fast. So the picture is complex. When the church is attacked we can stand with her or we can bail. Anyway, that is not the church being bad but rather the church being Christ-like.

            Your first paragraph contradicts the second: if answers can originate in Protestantism, then Protestantism can have some answers. If Protestantism has no answers, then your "can originate in … Protestantism" is an unrealized possibility and misleading without saying precisely that.

            I was talking about something different in the 1st paragraph. Sorry, I should have been more clear. Anyone can originate and ideas. You don't need to be a pope or even a Christian to do that. What nobody can do apart from the pope is raise up a doctrine from the level of human opinion to the level of divine revelation. So Pope Leo can say Jesus Christ is true God and true man. If you don't believe that you are not a Christian. Protestants don't have the ability to do that. They admit that. Still it is almost impossible to believe without knowing which doctrines you should be willing to die for. So they try. We had confessional Christianity for a while where people embraced the Westminster Catechism or the Augsburg Confession or the Heidelberg Catechism or some such thing. Later we had Fundamentalism that tried to define what the fundamentals of the faith were. Ultimately they fail because denying the authority of the pope means denying anyone has authority. Nothing can get raised up as more than just human opinion.

            That "conscience-binding certainty" seemed pretty useless in the Thirty Years' War: "Did authority fail in the 30 years war? Sure." Or perhaps we can say that is why the Thirty Years' War happened: "one key was that many factions became completely convinced God was on their side". As atheists never tire of pointing out, certainty is exceedingly dangerous when it justifies the killing of others. They say that certainty is therefore bad (with certainty, it seems); I say that if you follow Jesus' pattern, you're not going to kill anyone with your certainty. But it seems that in this respect, the Jesus I understand is different from the Jesus the RCC understands?

            Certainty is not the problem. Violence is the problem. When one side or the other sees violence as acceptable then it is hard to keep the peace. That is not an issue with how sure you are. It is an issue with the content of what you believe. There have been plenty of atheists who used violence to advance their beliefs so God is not the problem either. The Catholic church has arrived at a level of certainty that violence is not a way to advance the faith. Can it be used to defend the faithful against violence of others? That is less clear. Still if you look at the church's response to things like the Cristero Rebellion in Mexico the church has been much more willing to venerate those who chose not to respond to violence with violence.

            That all sounds so excellent. And yet, where is the obvious empirical superiority which would be expected from having so many profound advantages? Why, for example, isn't the RCC obviously out-competing all alternative efforts to help the homeless?

            The RCC does shelter more poor people every night than any other organization on earth. So I am not sure what you are looking for. Maybe if you actually looked you would find it. Spend some time with some Franciscans of the Missionaries of Charity before looking down on the RCC's efforts to help the poor.

            This is not an argument, it is an insult cloaked in a bald claim.

            It is insulting. The trouble is it is true. At least it was way to close to the truth for me when I was Protestant. Sorry if I said it so bluntly but sometimes truth needs to be said bluntly even when it hurts.

            If atheism and the secular world had anything better or equally as good as the ashes (not sure that's the right word) of Christianity left over after the Thirty Years' War, then yes that is where my analysis would lead. When Jesus had given his church shrinkage sermon and asks Peter if he's going to leave as well, Peter responds: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." That is my response to not just the Thirty Years' War but also the status quo. I suspect this must be a little bit of what it was like for Jews in exile, wondering just what it was they did to get conquered and carried off into exile. Others thought that more idol-worship was the answer

            The analogy breaks down because Protestants were not exiled. They left. They can come back any time. So you position is not like that of Peter but like that of the disciples who declared the teaching to be hard and left. The analogy is more accurate because Protestants reject transubstantiation.

            BTW, you say you are considering the doctrine of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. One think related to that is the doctrine of the priesthood. When you say something real is happening at the sacrament then there is a clear need to have some sort of special person presiding at the sacrament.

          • LB: You believe in the Pope and the people he leads, because you think God is present to the Pope in a special way that he refuses to be present to the vast majority of Christians.

            RG: Paul was called to be a missionary to the gentiles. Mother Teresa was called to live with the poor in Calcutta. Does that mean God was refusing to be with other poeple exactly like he was with Paul or Mother Teresa? That is a very weird way to say it. God gives a gift to someone and desires that someone bless the whole church with that gift. Yet God is doing something terrible because not everyone has the gift. So the best strategy is to reject that gift. Whatever.

            LB: "Gift" is quite the euphemism for "You all must obey me because God wants it so." Now, if that gift had the kind of empirical correlates one would expect from someone having direct access to God, I would feel compelled to accept that God does prefer to do things this way. And yet when you talk of "historical Christianity" being so good and "modern Christianity" being so bad and then I respond with the Thirty Years' War, your answer is … "Satan"?

            RG: So do you want to know God's word? I mean really want to know even if it is hard to obey? Would that be considered a gift or would you think of it as oppressive? I mean what empirical correlates do you expect? Do you expect God's true word would mostly congratulate you for getting so many things right? Are you looking for a God who's ways are so much higher than ours? The Pharisees thought they were looking for the Messiah but they had very firm expectations of what said Messiah would be like. Those expectations were intertwined with their spiritual pride. So much so that when the real Messiah appear in front of them they missed Him. The empirical correlates did not match. Could the true Word of God be like that?

            I expect that God's word would not congratulate much of anyone currently living on the earth—yours truly very much included. That's actually key to the Pharisees' failure: they externalized their problems. It was Roman occupation which kept the Israelites in bondage, not sin. The Jewish religious elite couldn't possibly be doing anything fatally wrong. I'll bet they had their version of "one pure, spotless bride". But when John the Baptist asked Jesus whether he was the messiah, did Jesus speak merely on his own authority? No:

            And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:22–23)

            This is a clear reference to Isaiah 29:18–19 and Isaiah 35:5–7. (See also the whole chapters.) The Pharisees were looking for other empirical correlates also mentioned by the prophets; perhaps they thought that when every Jew obeyed Torah sufficiently well, "the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you" (Deut 7:15). Well, why did the Pharisees and Sadducees not appreciate Jesus' many healings? Perhaps because Jesus' method involved no "lord it over" / "exercise authority over"?

            In some sense, your question is unanswerable: those who are in full-on rebellion against God really do want empirical correlates—fruit—which are opposed to what God wants. But 'obedience' is not the solution for those people! An infinitely deep metanoia is all that would save them, a conversion based on understanding grace and mercy being infinitely better than power and law. Following Girard, I think God showed his superior way by letting law and power humiliate and crucify his son. What does it mean for everyone who calls himself or herself "a follower of Jesus" to follow that?

            I also thing there is a dying and rising dynamic to the life of the church. In the West she is in the dying part of that cycle. In Africa and Asia she is growing fast. So the picture is complex. When the church is attacked we can stand with her or we can bail. Anyway, that is not the church being bad but rather the church being Christ-like.

            I know there is a standard narrative that in the wealthy West, people are lured away by desire and enticed into sin. If only they would obey their religious authorities, things would be so much better! It is well known that religion thrives among the poor; Jesus himself suggested† it was easier for the poor to enter the kingdom of heaven and James wrote "has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?" There is plenty to go in to here, but there is also Paul's injunction that self-imposed ascetic rules "have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." What the West is doing is recapitulating the pattern in the OT, whereby Israel left God whenever God blessed her materially. Is the problem there merely/​mostly a lack of sufficient obedience? If an explanation doesn't give one power to change things, either God doesn't mean things to be different, or its a bad/​insufficient explanation.

            Characterizing me as having "bailed" on "the church" presupposes that you have correctly analyzed the situation. If your solution doesn't seem to be working all that great in your locale, perhaps it would behoove you to show more humility about whether you actually have the answer. My own growing suspicion is that Christians have no "theology of prosperity" and thereby have not advanced [much] beyond Israel managed to make it in the OT. You will certainly see some Christians pointing to the material wealth of the West in a way reminiscent of the attitude the Israelites were supposed to have in Deut 4:6–10, and yet you and I know the many pathologies which are produced by so much wealth used so poorly. Is the epitome of life this side of heaven what we see in the West? Or are there unimagined vistas which connect better with heaven, which could serve as powerful draws on imagination and action? I certainly don't see any Christians imagining anything very excellent in this realm‡; perhaps I haven't been looking in the right places?

            † Jesus actually said "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."; he didn't say it was easier for the poor to enter, although this has been regularly understood.
            ‡ A tentative hypothesis of mine is that the Enlightenment was in part a reaction to low expectations for material, earthly existence, on the part of the Roman Catholic Church. This isn't to downplay e.g. RCC hospitals and such. Instead, it is a reaction to an overemphasis on the life after. I see much more continuity between actions here and in heaven; many seem to think that we just have to behave according to some set of rules which are kind of arbitrary, and then if we do well enough we'll get into heaven where things are so totally different that any expertise at obeying those rules is obsolete. I know that many profess otherwise, but their actions and overall theology, in expecting so little of this life, seem to better match that description than their own rhetoric. I welcome their rebuttals; this too is only a tentative hypothesis.

            Anyone can originate and ideas. You don't need to be a pope or even a Christian to do that. What nobody can do apart from the pope is raise up a doctrine from the level of human opinion to the level of divine revelation. So Pope Leo can say Jesus Christ is true God and true man. If you don't believe that you are not a Christian. Protestants don't have the ability to do that. They admit that. Still it is almost impossible to believe without knowing which doctrines you should be willing to die for.

            Do you include or exclude "willing to kill for", in your "willing to die for"? The reason I ask is that if we exclude the threat of death in crusade against infidels, I think the matter you raise takes on a very different sense. Also, does it matter if the ones threatening to kill you claim to be representatives of the One True God? (Jesus was executed at the instigation of such people, as were many prophets.) The felt need for infallibly true revelation is a really big topic, so I'd like to narrow it down a bit before saying too much.

            Certainty is not the problem. Violence is the problem. When one side or the other sees violence as acceptable then it is hard to keep the peace. That is not an issue with how sure you are. It is an issue with the content of what you believe.

            I don't know how you can say this with a straight face, in the context of Exsurge Domine, Unam Sanctam, and the Thirty Years' War. Jan Hus' trial took place in a church. Martin Luther feared similar treatment. That Hus' execution was at the hands of the secular authorities is as relevant as Jesus' execution also being at the hands of secular authorities. The church you say to trust is a church which was rather ok with violence when used in the way it dictated.

            The Catholic church has arrived at a level of certainty that violence is not a way to advance the faith.

            Yes, that does seem to be the case. Did God infallibly reveal this to a Pope, or was it the empirical fruit of 8,000,000 dead and the religious consequences which taught the RCC this important lesson? I really want to press you on your claim of God revealing what he thinks is necessary to the Pope; the lesson that "violence is not the way" seems like it would have been really, really helpful for God to infallibly tell the Pope, overriding whatever the Vicar of Christ thought was God's will which was to the contrary.

            Can it be used to defend the faithful against violence of others? That is less clear.

            It is less clear; self-defense is a tricky matter. Do you put the execution of heretics who have not carried out any physical attacks as "defend the faithful against violence of others"?

            The RCC does shelter more poor people every night than any other organization on earth. So I am not sure what you are looking for.

            Do you think it's fair to compare the totality of what the RCC does, estimated at 1.2 billion adherents, to other organizations of humans on a one-by-one basis? Or do you think it's more important to do some sort of per capita comparison which takes account for the resources and skills possessed and how they are employed or not employed? What I'm imagining is a quasi-scientific system of publishing ideas about homelessness and how to fix it, with the ideas which are shown to work empirically being noted as such. There will be some things which are specific to locales, some which generalize to the region, and some which are true everywhere. These publications can be as religious in content as you want. The idea would be that those places which follow the "best practices" are empirically better at helping the homeless than those which pursue "secular" alternatives. How would such a thing not be an awesome witness to Christianity and the RCC?

            Spend some time with some Franciscans of the Missionaries of Charity before looking down on the RCC's efforts to help the poor.

            Randy, would you please stop it with the insinuations that I think Protestants are better than the Roman Catholic Church? It's getting really irritating. If I merely suspect the RCC isn't better, that doesn't mean I'm looking down on it.

            RG: What do Protestants have? Some warm fuzzy feelings? Some speech about how we seem to be divided on every possible issue but deep down we must be united because ... well just because.

            LB: This is not an argument, it is an insult cloaked in a bald claim.

            RG: It is insulting. The trouble is it is true. At least it was way to close to the truth for me when I was Protestant. Sorry if I said it so bluntly but sometimes truth needs to be said bluntly even when it hurts.

            It is insulting for you to project Protestant-Randy onto all Protestants. Here's a question for you: would you be willing to wager your salvation on your belief that Protestants only have "fuzzy feelings"? If your answer is not a firm "No; I would not wager my salvation on such a claim.", then you're projecting and thereby engaged in the very behavior you turn around and condemn others for engaging in.

            RG: Yet what is the solution? To reject religion or promise never to really take it seriously?

            LB: Randy, do you think I would ever propose that anyone do either of the following:

                 (1) "reject religion"
                 (2) "promise never to really take [religion] seriously"

            ?

            RG: I do think that your analysis of the 30 years war leads to atheism rather than to Protestantism. If Protestants and Catholics failed so badly that the church should be rejected then Jesus should be rejected as well. Ultimately it is Jesus who claimed that He would be with us until the end of the age. If the disobedience of the 16th century was so bad it causes us to declare the process a failure then all brands of Christinaity are in the same boat.

            LB: If atheism and the secular world had anything better or equally as good as the ashes (not sure that's the right word) of Christianity left over after the Thirty Years' War, then yes that is where my analysis would lead. When Jesus had given his church shrinkage sermon and asks Peter if he's going to leave as well, Peter responds: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." That is my response to not just the Thirty Years' War but also the status quo. I suspect this must be a little bit of what it was like for Jews in exile, wondering just what it was they did to get conquered and carried off into exile. Others thought that more idol-worship was the answer. (e.g. Jer 44:15–18)

            RG: The analogy breaks down because Protestants were not exiled. They left. They can come back any time. So you position is not like that of Peter but like that of the disciples who declared the teaching to be hard and left. The analogy is more accurate because Protestants reject transubstantiation.

            I was pointing out a suppressed premise which led to the underlined. That suppressed premise is wrong, regardless of how you think my analogy breaks down.

            BTW, you say you are considering the doctrine of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. One think related to that is the doctrine of the priesthood. When you say something real is happening at the sacrament then there is a clear need to have some sort of special person presiding at the sacrament.

            The only special requirement I know of in scripture is that the person be a follower of Jesus Christ and have some semblance of living that out (see e.g. 1 Cor 11:17–34). Anything more than that is to sew back up the veil of the Holy of Holies and declare the New Covenant to be only realizable in the eschaton. We aren't really a nation of priest–rulers (1 Pe 2:9), after the order of Melchizedek. No, we ultimately side with Joshua in Num 11:24–30 when it comes to de facto political power. (The plebes can have the Holy Spirit to help them obey and do other things which don't materially conflict with Magisterial authority.)

            However, if the expectation of the masses is that they are by and large spiritually immature, such that at the level of "[s]trong, holy people" they are still acting "as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ", I can see the need for a system of ordination. But I would expect that system of priests to pass away just like the veil of the Holy of Holies was torn in half. (I utterly disagree with your response that "Veils are a good thing.")

          • Part 2

            Your response to both the Thirty Years' War and the present state of Christianity (e.g. that "smaller, purer church") seems to be "more obedience". That is, what the RCC was doing in the centuries leading up to the Thirty Years' War and since then has basically been right. At what point do you "ask yourself deeper questions"? For example, what if your understanding of "authority" simply cannot bear the load you think it can? Now, you can reduce the weight by expecting very little spiritual maturity—except for the "Michael Jordan[s]". But I for one don't see how such low expectations could possibly lead to "For the earth will be filled / with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD / as the waters cover the sea."

            More obedience is always the answer. God is never the problem. The church is never the problem. It is always us sinners. Was the RCC doing that? To some extent but not nearly enough. We always ask ourselves deeper questions. Catholicism is awesome because it can withstand endless scrutiny. Ask anything. You will be amazed at the answers.

            Can my understanding of authority bear the load. No. It is God's church that can bear the load. My understanding is never going to match what God has designed. You talk of expecting very little spiritual maturity is just nonsense.

            So having the Pope be "first among equals" instead of "every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff" (Unam Sanctam) was "unworkable" between the start of the Christianity and the East–West

            Eastern Orthodoxy is less unworkable. They have not been able to have any councils so long term they have issues. Still they don't split like Protestants. Not even close. They respect their Patriarchs. Of course when their Patriarchs reunited with Rome at the Council of Florence they didn't respect them that much. Still they have validly ordained priests and bishops. They have valid sacraments. Their doctrines are much closer to the truth of Catholicism.

          • More obedience is always the answer. God is never the problem. The church is never the problem. It is always us sinners. Was the RCC doing that? To some extent but not nearly enough. We always ask ourselves deeper questions. Catholicism is awesome because it can withstand endless scrutiny. Ask anything. You will be amazed at the answers.

            So if Jesus were to come again, his primary criticism would be "Y'all just didn't obey me enough."? Did he ask "When the son of man comes, will he find obedience on earth?" Your attitude here reminds me of Romans 9:30–10:13, where Paul talks about how the focused-on-obedience Israelites utterly failed to obtain righteousness. He said they, the humans best at obedience, had totally misunderstood faith.

            I don't know about the RCC's answers, but your answers to two big issues were the opposite of amazing: "I do think your focus on maturity is odd. … It is not a dominant theme of scripture …" + "This is why judging fruit is such a waste of time." I'm trying to understand your constant focus on 'obedience' and I keep coming up against the following: a great scientist is very disciplined, but we do not praise him or her because [s]he is 'obedient'. The obedience is taken for granted and something more/​different is being valued. The quality of difference is something like letter of the law vs. spirit of the law.

            Can my understanding of authority bear the load. No. It is God's church that can bear the load. My understanding is never going to match what God has designed. You talk of expecting very little spiritual maturity is just nonsense.

            Erm, those "Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority." are incredibly immature. They are not acting like God acts when he disagrees with us. It's like they completely misunderstand God's heart. And yet, when I drilled into the maturity issue and whether Catholics show any superiority over Protestants, you wrote:

            RG: The comparisons I make don't impress you. If you want to know about fruits then read about the saints. If you want to judge anything you judge by its best practitioners. You judge Basketball by watching Michael Jordan and not the overweight, middle-aged guys at the Y. Look at Catholic saints. St Augustine, St Patrick, St Thomas Aquinas, St Francis of Assisi. See if there are any impressive papists.

            This is "expecting very little spiritual maturity"—of the vast majority. It's subcontracting out one's holiness and righteousness. I will hazard a guess that God designed authority to break under such conditions. People who are sufficiently immature will either fail to obey much or they will be prone to switch loyalty. Telling them to merely "obey more", I suggest, is designed to fail.

            LB: Randy, do you think I would ever propose that anyone do either of the following:

                 (1) "reject religion"
                 (2) "promise never to really take [religion] seriously"

            ? If your answer is "no", then do you think that the only alternative is:

                 (3) "stick with the true church [= RCC]"

            ? If your answer is "yes", why do you believe that is the only answer? Because I can certainly think of a (4), one which rejects the idea that God's preferred manner of interacting with his people is via a new Moses and a continued (perpetual?) "Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it."

            RG: I guess it is because 4 has been tried and tried and has failed and failed. It is illogical and unblbical and unworkable. Yet people keep trying it.

            LB: So having the Pope be "first among equals" instead of "every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff" (Unam Sanctam) was "unworkable" between the start of the Christianity and the East–West Schism?

            RG: Eastern Orthodoxy is less unworkable. They have not been able to have any councils so long term they have issues. Still they don't split like Protestants. Not even close. They respect their Patriarchs. Of course when their Patriarchs reunited with Rome at the Council of Florence they didn't respect them that much. Still they have validly ordained priests and bishops. They have valid sacraments. Their doctrines are much closer to the truth of Catholicism.

            Slow down: before the East–West Schism, (4) was tried and worked. It was the spirit of "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" which cemented that Schism. This spirit was undoubtedly bequeathed to the Magisterial Protestants. If the Pope exceeding "first among equals" cemented that schism, why should anyone expect that more of the same is the solution?

          • Obedience is where things become visible. Faith we don't see. Love we don't see. What we see is what people do. You go on and on about people killing. The people that did the killing might have seemed like they had great faith and great love for God. Yet we know from their actions that something went very wrong. What would Jesus have said? Likely He would say you did not trust God because you did not trust His church. Even those that remained Catholic did not always trust the church enough. They chose to trust in weapons instead. Why? Hard to know. People are complex. Yet the result is clear at least in hindsight.

            The maturity thing is just so subjective. Really calling someone immature is just another way of saying you disagree with them. It is a rhetorical way of putting yourself in the center of the spiritual universe. This is the essence of Protestantism to put one's own opinion in the center. Of course obeying your own opinion is not much of an obedience.

            Yes, obedience is not the end. If you read the great Christian Mystics they talk about obedience as the purgative stage. That is you allow God to purge your life of the obvious sins. Then you can move on to the illuminative stage and the unitive stage. So great Christians are in a place where obedience is assumed.

            You are right that focusing on the law is not the best. The law tells us how we are doing. It does not do much to help us get there. We need grace for that. The law is like an MRI. It will tell you if you tumor is growing or shrinking but it will not make it do either. Still a bad MRI is something to be concerned about.

            I don't know what you feel worked about the East-West schism or before it. It sounds like something called Ecclesial Deism, http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/ecclesial-deism/ . That is the idea that God created the church and then left it to fend for itself with no real help. Somewhere along the way the church messed up and we are just stuck. We need to just do the best we can and muddle through. It is not biblical and it is not what Christians have historically believed but it does allow you to remain with the church you have invested them most time in.

            I like to ask people to be precise. Exactly when did this lovely church that worked turn into a terrible church that lords it over people? I don't see any sudden turn in the nature of the church or the doctrine of the church so it makes me wonder.

          • Obedience is where things become visible. Faith we don't see. Love we don't see. What we see is what people do.

            Erm, all the way back in the OT, God tells Samuel that he judges by the heart while humankind (including Samuel) judges by appearance. The Pharisees were the best at obedience of pretty much anyone around and we see what Jesus made of them. If your only or best answer is "obedience", then I don't see how you're going to surpass the Pharisees and the pattern of Israel we see in the OT. Jesus says that the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another, not by our obedience.

            You go on and on about people killing. The people that did the killing might have seemed like they had great faith and great love for God. Yet we know from their actions that something went very wrong. What would Jesus have said? Likely He would say you did not trust God because you did not trust His church. Even those that remained Catholic did not always trust the church enough. They chose to trust in weapons instead. Why? Hard to know. People are complex. Yet the result is clear at least in hindsight.

            So all the people who massacred those they deemed 'heretics' should have trusted the Roman Catholic Church to determine who is a 'heretic' and which 'heretics' merit killing? Jesus wouldn't have harshly criticized the Roman Catholic Church for thinking it's ok for them to kill 'heretics'?

            The maturity thing is just so subjective. Really calling someone immature is just another way of saying you disagree with them. It is a rhetorical way of putting yourself in the center of the spiritual universe. This is the essence of Protestantism to put one's own opinion in the center. Of course obeying your own opinion is not much of an obedience.

            It is ironic that you want to give the RCC credit for MacIntyre's After Virtue, when 'virtue' is much closer to 'maturity' than to 'obedience'. MacIntyre offers a profound critique of acting for instrumental reasons, and yet 'obedience' which is not of the Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32-kind has a strong instrumental quality. 'Obedience' which is not self-generated for the right heart-reasons (a central aspect of 'maturity') is not judged well by scripture.

            Your cynicism about the subjectivity of 'maturity' can be similarly targeted at 'obedience'; just question the moral character of those demanding 'obedience'. The execution of heretics is equivalent to having your political opponents killed off†. Furthermore, were the proselytes made "twice the sons of hell [as their disciplers]" in Mt 23:13–15 doing the 'obedience' thing? I don't recall you ever giving me a good answer about how those who were to obey those sitting in Moses' seat were to understand when the Pharisees weren't practicing what they preached. Was Jesus telling them to trust the Pharisees in precisely the way you want people to trust the Church?

            † Here there is an obvious question about OT laws such as Deut 12:32–13:5, where miracle-workers calling the Israelites to follow other gods were to be executed. I have at least two responses to that: Israel was a failed endeavor in some key ways and it is very different if the bounds within which that law are practiced are well-defined so that those who want to follow other gods can travel to somewhere not very far away. Christendom was rather expansive in comparison to Numbers 34.

            Yes, obedience is not the end. If you read the great Christian Mystics they talk about obedience as the purgative stage. That is you allow God to purge your life of the obvious sins. Then you can move on to the illuminative stage and the unitive stage. So great Christians are in a place where obedience is assumed.

            Do you deeply believe that God wants "great Christians" to be so few and far between? Or could it be a profoundly deep sin, to think that only few get to be "great Christians"? I have found that people are good at living up to and down to expectations.

            I don't know what you feel worked about the East-West schism or before it. It sounds like something called Ecclesial Deism. That is the idea that God created the church and then left it to fend for itself with no real help. Somewhere along the way the church messed up and we are just stuck. We need to just do the best we can and muddle through. It is not biblical and it is not what Christians have historically believed but it does allow you to remain with the church you have invested them most time in.

            You have said that the Protestant strategy of letting the Holy Spirit guide believers to ecumenical agreement is a failed strategy, but it worked before the Pope elevated himself above "first among equals". You criticize the Protestants for schisming, when the RCC schismed before, through Cardinal Humbert. The Roman Catholic Church does not get a pass for any action it has taken, by your own logic.

            Your Ecclesial Deism article includes the line "the Church fell into utter apostasy", which is not something I've claimed or entailed. You have repeatedly criticized me for espousing false binary oppositions† and I would ask you to stop that unless you can show that I have not left open a reasonable position in between those binary oppositions, or unless you can show that there exists no reasonable position other than the binary oppositions (that is, you'd be rejecting the "false" description).

            † For example: "To ask that our leaders be 100% Christ-like before we submit to them is just finding excuses." I neither claimed nor entailed that anything like 100% Christ-likeness was required. Another example: "The Holy Spirit does not mean no leadership is required." I neither claimed nor entailed that no leadership is required. I can find even more examples of binary oppositions you have imputed to me or at least [apparently—why else would you present them?] thought I would plausibly endorse, if you'd like.

            I like to ask people to be precise. Exactly when did this lovely church that worked turn into a terrible church that lords it over people? I don't see any sudden turn in the nature of the church or the doctrine of the church so it makes me wonder.

            I'll answer a modified version of your question, which does not falsely attribute† to me the view that "the Church fell into utter apostasy". First, I don't see the early church as quite so "lovely"; I have never advocated a return to how Christians did things in the first century. Second, error often builds up slowly, across multiple generations. That is undoubtedly the pattern of the OT. I stand by what I said earlier:

            LB: One reason I keep referring to the OT is that it records multi-generational and many-generational patterns, which I see as crucial to dealing with the matters we have been discussing. There's so much gradual change; nominalism is a great example.

            I don't see Cardinal Humbert's "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" (you agreed to this characterization) as coming out of nowhere. Recall that I said "The Western Church was not always so authoritarian; Ware briefly argues that it became so because of the barbarian-infested political instability in the West after the fall of Rome, with the Papacy as the most stable element." Jacques Ellul writes in The Subversion of Christianity that many bad steps were taken more to stem badness than to carry out some villainously evil plan; I'm inclined to agree. There are many temptations parents experience to obtain peace in the moment, which are not conducive to their children growing up and maturing in the long term.

            There is a present-day example of "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", and that is Mark Driscoll's leadership at Mars Hill Church. I am sure there were plenty of temptations for him to just insist on his way being executed, with no further questions or debate. The immature are often unwilling to let go of their own plans and let someone else take charge, and it's tempting to tell the immature to thereby shut up and obey. And yet, this easily becomes a self-reinforcing cycle. Unfortunately we might never know how Driscoll got to the position of domineering abuse which got him ultimately ousted, as he did not publicly repent and explain how things gradually got so bad. Protestants and Catholics, it seems, add words to Mt 18:15–17, making it "tell it to the local church leaders". The immature, of course, want the yuck to be handled out of sight of the general population.

            Ok, how about you tell me why there had to be a "sudden turn" in order for my argument to go through? I don't read Jesus' "beware the leaven of the Pharisees" as nearly so stark and obvious. On the contrary, corruption is often insidious. Anyone who, for example, sees Trump or "alternative facts" as new, sudden phenomena are simply immature. They have not yet learned how to judge beyond appearances.

             
            † I'm comfortable saying "falsely attribute" despite your "sounds like", given that I've already rejected such an extreme position:

            RG: The trouble is that the alleged errors that Protestants like to point to can actually be found quite early. So this narrative of the church that grew corrupt and embraced false teachings which the reformers corrected just does not fit the data.

            LB: I have told no such narrative. Unlike you, I do not require [our understanding of] doctrine and/or tradition to be perfect. (You would ostensibly argue that my position collapses if I don't require this.) God works amidst brokenness and incompleteness. At most I have appealed to the OT, which has cycles of corruption and rediscovery of God's intent. I believe that when Paul warned us about recapitulating the errors in the OT, he meant all of the errors, not just certain ones. When Paul says that all scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, I say he meant "all". I doubt he meant "interesting history lesson" to suffice.

          • Erm, all the way back in the OT, God tells Samuel that he judges by the heart while humankind (including Samuel) judges by appearance. The Pharisees were the best at obedience of pretty much anyone around and we see what Jesus made of them. If your only or best answer is "obedience", then I don't see how you're going to surpass the Pharisees and the pattern of Israel we see in the OT. Jesus says that the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another, not by our obedience.

            That is a horrible reading of Samuel. The issue there was not that David's brothers obeyed God and David disobeyed God. The issue was that David was young and less competent by human standards. So it is as different as chalk and cheese.

            My best answer is nor really obedience. Obedience is huge to all Christians. I am surprised you even question that. What is key to the Protestant/Catholic debate is obeying the right leaders. You need to obey leaders God had legitimately ordained. With the Pharisees the issue was whether or not Jesus was legit. With Christians the issue is whether or not the popes and bishops are legit. For Protestant they often struggle with whether their local pastor or whoever else is legitimately speaking for God. Why? Precisely because obedience is so important.

            My question for you is, if you don't obey then why bother with the faith at all? If you are just going to ignore what you religion says and do your own thing anyway then why does any of it matter? I really think downplaying the importance of obedience makes everything you say incoherent. Jesus said if you love me you will obey my commandments. So saying you can love without obeying requires a very different notion of love than Jesus taught.

            So all the people who massacred those they deemed 'heretics' should have trusted the Roman Catholic Church to determine who is a 'heretic' and which 'heretics' merit killing? Jesus wouldn't have harshly criticized the Roman Catholic Church for thinking it's ok for them to kill 'heretics'?

            The first part would have been enough. If would have resolved all the disputes peacefully.

            You have said that the Protestant strategy of letting the Holy Spirit guide believers to ecumenical agreement is a failed strategy, but it worked before the Pope elevated himself above "first among equals". You criticize the Protestants for schisming, when the RCC schismed before, through Cardinal Humbert. The Roman Catholic Church does not get a pass for any action it has taken, by your own logic.

            The Pope was always there from the beginning. The doctrine was not as well understood as it is today but that does not mean it was not working. Christians understood they had to be in unity with the Chair of Peter. The RCC is pretty much by definition those who have not broken communion with the successor of Peter. Still the church does not get a pass when people break from it. Often they could have done more to prevent schism. Still it is the ones who actually leave that bear the greatest responsibility. Bad leaders get replaced. Bad teaching gets corrected. Schism tends to persist for a long, long time.

            Your Ecclesial Deism article includes the line "the Church fell into utter apostasy", which is not something I've claimed or entailed. You have repeatedly criticized me for espousing false binary oppositions† and I would ask you to stop that unless you can show that I have not left open a reasonable position in between those binary oppositions, or unless you can show that there exists no reasonable position other than the binary oppositions (that is, you'd be rejecting the "false" description).

            Protestantism basically claims the church was in utter apostasy. I am not sure how else you can describe it. The papacy is either true or it is a massive error. The Eucharist is either true or it is a massive error. Confession, purgatory, Mary, etc. these are not small issues the Protestants disagree about. If they are wrong they are way wrong. So I am not sure how you can avoid saying the church was in utter apostasy.

            Yes, I do feel you try and take both sides of an argument when it suits you. You say you don't require 100% Christ-like leaders. Yet you point to a single example of a leader doing something you find less that moral as somehow significant. So I do want a binary thing. Either we are expecting perfection or we are not. It is interesting because often Catholics are accused of taking the both/and position when Protestants are saying they need to take the either/or position. Yet on the authority issue I think the Catholics see a number of either/or issues.

            Ok, how about you tell me why there had to be a "sudden turn" in order for my argument to go through? I don't read Jesus' "beware the leaven of the Pharisees" as nearly so stark and obvious. On the contrary, corruption is often insidious. Anyone who, for example, sees Trump or "alternative facts" as new, sudden phenomena are simply immature. They have not yet learned how to judge beyond appearances.

            There has be an ontological change. That is at some point the church that wrote the New Testament needs to be trustworthy. If the church never had the ability to get the faith right then the bible would not be immune from error. Then you have the church that conquered the Roman Empire and dealt with all those Christological heresies. Was the Holy Spirit there? If so, then why does nobody sound the least bit Protestant?

            If you admit Catholicism goes right back to the Apostles then you don't have to find a time when the church came off the rails. Yet it you try and assert that the church was essentially Protestant and then at some point became Catholic then you might be slightly concerned about the lack of evidence for anything of the sort.

          • RG: Obedience is where things become visible. Faith we don't see. Love we don't see. What we see is what people do.

            LB: Erm, all the way back in the OT, God tells Samuel that he judges by the heart while humankind (including Samuel) judges by appearance. The Pharisees were the best at obedience of pretty much anyone around and we see what Jesus made of them. If your only or best answer is "obedience", then I don't see how you're going to surpass the Pharisees and the pattern of Israel we see in the OT. Jesus says that the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another, not by our obedience.

            RG: That is a horrible reading of Samuel. The issue there was not that David's brothers obeyed God and David disobeyed God. The issue was that David was young and less competent by human standards. So it is as different as chalk and cheese.

            (1) What did I say which made you think I was advocating the underlined?

            (2) Where does the OT talk of Samuel judging Saul based on competence?

            (3) Why did Jesus say that the world will know who his disciples are based on their love for one another, instead of based on their obedience to correct authority?

            My best answer is nor really obedience. Obedience is huge to all Christians. I am surprised you even question that. What is key to the Protestant/​Catholic debate is obeying the right leaders.

            Did Jesus endure the cross simply because he was ordered to? Or did he endure the cross "for the joy that was set before him"? I say that followers of Jesus are supposed to follow Jesus.

            With the Pharisees the issue was whether or not Jesus was legit.

            Please say more about this; I've never understood the issue this way. If the Pharisees' father was the devil (John 8), was there ever any possibility of them considering Jesus "legit"?

            For Protestant they often struggle with whether their local pastor or whoever else is legitimately speaking for God. Why? Precisely because obedience is so important.

            Is that Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32-behavior, or Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8-behavior? Can you in good faith describe Paul's overall message to the factious Corinthian church as "You're obeying the wrong authorities!"? If you can, why doesn't Paul ever describe Peter (Cephas) as the final authority?

            My question for you is, if you don't obey then why bother with the faith at all? If you are just going to ignore what you religion says and do your own thing anyway then why does any of it matter? I really think downplaying the importance of obedience makes everything you say incoherent. Jesus said if you love me you will obey my commandments. So saying you can love without obeying requires a very different notion of love than Jesus taught.

            What have I said which makes you think "don't obey" is what I have been advocating? On the contrary, here's what I wrote a few replies upthread:

            LB: I'm trying to understand your constant focus on 'obedience' and I keep coming up against the following: a great scientist is very disciplined, but we do not praise him or her because [s]he is 'obedient'. The obedience is taken for granted and something more/​different is being valued. The quality of difference is something like letter of the law vs. spirit of the law.

            Instead, I have been questioning which is cause and which is effect. Does obedience to the right authority cause one to love Jesus? Or is it that love of Jesus causes you to obey his commandments? If I am to up-play the love of Jesus as of supreme importance, I will of logical necessity down-play obedience. That which causes is greater than that which is caused.

            LB: So all the people who massacred those they deemed 'heretics' should have trusted the Roman Catholic Church to determine who is a 'heretic' and which 'heretics' merit killing? Jesus wouldn't have harshly criticized the Roman Catholic Church for thinking it's ok for them to kill 'heretics'?

            RG: The first part would have been enough. If would have resolved all the disputes peacefully.

            You seem unwilling to consider that maybe God didn't design humans to obey in that way. Basically, I think you're working with a false view of human nature. It's bad empirically and it doesn't match with a comprehensive interpretation of scripture. For example, you have to basically pretend that Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 aren't instances of the Israelites desiring evil things, of them rejecting God. They are an attempt to substitute obedience to correct authority for relationship with God. The resultant history of the OT shows that doesn't work—not in the long term.

            LB: You have said that the Protestant strategy of letting the Holy Spirit guide believers to ecumenical agreement is a failed strategy, but it worked before the Pope elevated himself above "first among equals". You criticize the Protestants for schisming, when the RCC schismed before, through Cardinal Humbert. …

            RG: The Pope was always there from the beginning. The doctrine was not as well understood as it is today but that does not mean it was not working. Christians understood they had to be in unity with the Chair of Peter.

            The change from "first among equals" to Unam Sanctam is a change in kind, not a change in degree. What I said remains true: the kind of ecumenical agreement you say that Protestants cannot possibly obtain is exactly the kind of ecumenical agreement which existed before the Pope decided it was a good idea to "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", through Cardinal Humbert. (That was an obvious tipping point; I suspect the process of getting to that point was rather gradual.) For a contrast, look at the first six ecumenical councils.

            Protestantism basically claims the church was in utter apostasy. I am not sure how else you can describe it. The papacy is either true or it is a massive error. The Eucharist is either true or it is a massive error. Confession, purgatory, Mary, etc. these are not small issues the Protestants disagree about. If they are wrong they are way wrong. So I am not sure how you can avoid saying the church was in utter apostasy.

            When Paul confronted a factious church, with some saying they follow Paul, others Apollos, others Cephas (Peter), and others Christ, did he insist on getting the doctrine of the Eucharist correct? No. He said: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." When he dealt with the Lord's Supper in a letter following his in-person visit, did he focus on transubstantiation? No: he criticized the Corinthian church for making a mockery of it via rank classism.

            If you were to say that Jesus was just a man, or that you have to work to earn salvation, or that not all humans need saving from their sins, I would class that as "utter apostasy". Each of these is a much more basic and insidious error than transubstantiation. One can believe that Jesus freely and gratuitously gave & gives himself to us, without obviously and immediately entailing that the Lord's Supper involves eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood.

            Yes, I do feel you try and take both sides of an argument when it suits you. You say you don't require 100% Christ-like leaders. Yet you point to a single example of a leader doing something you find less that moral as somehow significant. So I do want a binary thing. Either we are expecting perfection or we are not.

            In lieu of you stating exactly what example you are targeting, I'm going to assume you are alluding to my criticism of Pope Leo X for condemning "33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit." (Exsurge Domine) My objection was that this attitude, that maybe Jesus would want us to execute heretics, almost certainly aided or failed to ameliorate both the loss of life in the Thirty Years' War, as well as the smearing of Christianity which resulted. If God really did infallibly reveal to the Pope what was important for Christianity, why on earth did he not reveal that "Executing heretics is against my will, period, end of story, no exceptions."? Does anyone other than you think such a infallible revelation would not have appreciably helped?

            Does it really need to be said that the founder of Christianity was an executed heretic—executed by secular authorities at the instigation of religious authorities? Does it need to be said that Jesus lamented over a Jerusalem which "kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it"? How does insisting on "Don't execute heretics!" get anywhere close to constituting "require 100% Christ-like leaders"? Now if you're talking about something other than Pope Leo X and Exsurge Domine, please be specific.

            LB: Ok, how about you tell me why there had to be a "sudden turn" in order for my argument to go through? I don't read Jesus' "beware the leaven of the Pharisees" as nearly so stark and obvious. On the contrary, corruption is often insidious. Anyone who, for example, sees Trump or "alternative facts" as new, sudden phenomena are simply immature. They have not yet learned how to judge beyond appearances.

            RG: There has be an ontological change. That is at some point the church that wrote the New Testament needs to be trustworthy. If the church never had the ability to get the faith right then the bible would not be immune from error.

            We have already been over this:

            RG: The logical objections start with the canon question. Where did the bible come from if there is no other authority to establish it? When did it become the rule of faith? Who declared that to be the case? …

            LB: It is my understanding that canon was determined largely via what was bearing fruit among Christians represented at the relevant Ecumenical Councils. There was no single person deciding, nor one single geographic region deciding. …

            The best candidate I have for "ontological change" is a transition to "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", epitomized by how Cardinal Humbert excommunicated the East but also exemplified by every single execution of a heretic.

            Then you have the church that conquered the Roman Empire and dealt with all those Christological heresies. Was the Holy Spirit there? If so, then why does nobody sound the least bit Protestant?

            Was it Rome which dealt with "all those Christological heresies", or was it an ecumenical meeting of all Christians (well, their representatives since it was economically impossible for every single one to attend)? Your last question is vague, so I'll ask for specifics: what is the most important way that you think those at the First Council of Nicaea differ from Protestants such that they are more like Catholics?

            If you admit Catholicism goes right back to the Apostles then you don't have to find a time when the church came off the rails. Yet it you try and assert that the church was essentially Protestant and then at some point became Catholic then you might be slightly concerned about the lack of evidence for anything of the sort.

            An ecumenical council where one of the most important aspects of Christianity is not decided by any Pope seems rather un-Catholic to me, understanding 'Catholic' according to Unam Sanctam. I don't know what you mean by "essentially Protestant"; what is most essentially Protestant to me is salvation by faith alone, apart from any works whatsoever.

          • RG: That is a horrible reading of Samuel. The issue there was not that David's brothers obeyed God and David disobeyed God. The issue was that David was young and less competent by human standards. So it is as different as chalk and cheese.
            (1) What did I say which made you think I was advocating the underlined?

            (2) Where does the OT talk of Samuel judging Saul based on competence?

            (3) Why did Jesus say that the world will know who his disciples are based on their love for one another, instead of based on their obedience to correct authority?

            1. You brought up this story in response to a question about the importance of obedience. I was merely pointing out that it was completely irrelevant because lack of obedience was not the issue being referenced when God says He judges the heart.

            2. Again, you brought this up. Yet Saul was chosen more because he had the features the people wanted. He was brave and an imposing presence on the battlefield. So the difference in the way the 2 men are being chosen is emphasized. Sometimes God gives us what we want rather than what we really need.

            3. Look at the state of Christendom. Lack of unity means a lack of love between Christians. That, in turn, leads to a lack of credibility for the cause of Christ in the world. That is precisely what Protestantism has brought us. So the love Jesus is talking about is a love that implies obedience like Jesus said in the next chapter(John 14:15), "“If you love me, keep my commands."

            Instead, I have been questioning which is cause and which is effect. Does obedience to the right authority cause one to love Jesus? Or is it that love of Jesus causes you to obey his commandments? If I am to up-play the love of Jesus as of supreme importance, I will of logical necessity down-play obedience. That which causes is greater than that which is caused.

            The cause and effect are circular. Love leads to obedience. Obedience leads to knowledge and trust. Knowledge and trust deepens our love. On the flip side disobedience leads to ignorance and distrust. That makes our love less authentic. It becomes based on a false concept of who Jesus is. That is the foundational question the church is to answer. Who is Jesus? Lots of wrong opinions are out there but the church's teaching is not from flesh and blood but from the Father.

            So the notion that you and just love Jesus and everything will be fine is just false. We go off course. It gets worse and worse over time. Downplaying obedience is an example of getting further and further from the Truth.

            You seem unwilling to consider that maybe God didn't design humans to obey in that way. Basically, I think you're working with a false view of human nature. It's bad empirically and it doesn't match with a comprehensive interpretation of scripture. For example, you have to basically pretend that Deut 5:22–33 and 1 Sam 8 aren't instances of the Israelites desiring evil things, of them rejecting God. They are an attempt to substitute obedience to correct authority for relationship with God. The resultant history of the OT shows that doesn't work—not in the long term.

            What way? To make up their own reality? To be endlessly divided over theological disputes? No. I think God wants us to embrace His revelation. Obeying is kind of the first level of accepting it. We need to go further. When we do then the authority of the church becomes less difficult. If theoretically your discernment of the Truth is 100% correct then you might not need the church but it should not bother you that she is there. Two true sources of God's truth should not create a problem. It would be a source of joy rather than a source of conflict. The conflict only comes when you assume your discernment is right and the church is wrong.

            Deut 5:22–33 was God's presence being too much for the Israelites. They want the light but too much light is overwhelming. The church is part of God's answer to that. So is the Holy Spirit. We can come close to God and not be overwhelmed. 1 Sam 8 was different because the Israelites wanted to be like other nations. That was a direct slap in the face to God. God had made them His Chosen People. They were saying being your chosen is something we don't want. We want to be like everyone else. What would God have done if they didn't ask that? It is hard to know. The time of the Judges was less than inspiring.

            The change from "first among equals" to Unam Sanctam is a change in kind, not a change in degree. What I said remains true: the kind of ecumenical agreement you say that Protestants cannot possibly obtain is exactly the kind of ecumenical agreement which existed before the Pope decided it was a good idea to "lord it over" / "exercise authority over", through Cardinal Humbert. (That was an obvious tipping point; I suspect the process of getting to that point was rather gradual.) For a contrast, look at the first six ecumenical councils.

            The first sentence is just false but whatever. So what your essentially saying is the church was wrecked. It was not even a Pope that gets blamed but you think an undiplomatic Cardinal can do that. OK. You have nostalgia for some period many centuries ago when Christianity was allegedly ecumenical. What makes you feel that Protestantism can get there?

            Do you feel like this agreement will look doctrinally very similar to what existed in the first 6 ecumenical councils? If you look at the state of Christendom at that time it was very Catholic. Do you think Protestantism will land on some teaching about Mary or the Eucharist or Confession that resembles the church of that period?

            If you feel the right answer on doctrine is more Protestant and is not anywhere near what was widely agreed on in the first 6 councils then you have another problem. The church was already seriously wrong in its teaching while it was still functioning well by your own standards. So this pope-free unity which you crave would not unite around truth? What good is that?

            When Paul confronted a factious church, with some saying they follow Paul, others Apollos, others Cephas (Peter), and others Christ, did he insist on getting the doctrine of the Eucharist correct? No. He said: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." When he dealt with the Lord's Supper in a letter following his in-person visit, did he focus on transubstantiation? No: he criticized the Corinthian church for making a mockery of it via rank classism.

            Actually Paul does teach the doctrine of the Real Presence in I Corinthians. Getting into the exegesis would be quite long. I do want to not that the unity issue in Corinth was different. All the people mentioned were part of the same Catholic church. Really quite a massive difference from Protestantism where they have different doctrines, different governance and different liturgy.

          • LB: You have said that the Protestant strategy of letting the Holy Spirit guide believers to ecumenical agreement is a failed strategy, but it worked before the Pope elevated himself above "first among equals". You criticize the Protestants for schisming, when the RCC schismed before, through Cardinal Humbert. …

            RG: The Pope was always there from the beginning. The doctrine was not as well understood as it is today but that does not mean it was not working. Christians understood they had to be in unity with the Chair of Peter.

            LB: The change from "first among equals" to Unam Sanctam is a change in kind, not a change in degree.

            RG: The first sentence is just false but whatever.

            We've talked about this before:

            RG: First among equals is a valid way to describe things.

            LB: I don't see how that description comes anywhere close to describing anything Catholics would accept, today. There are no "equals" to the Pope.

            RG: First among equals is something Catholics say. It emphasises the idea that the authority the pope has should be used sparingly.

            LB: Then they aren't "equals". See OrthodoxWiki: Primus inter pares. There are no "equals" to the following from Pope Boniface VIII: "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." (Unam sanctam, 1302)

            RG: Unam sanctam is not the best statement about the Papacy. It is true because it is protected by the chrism of infallibility. Still that does not mean it is a great way to say something. The church is how God works so even if we are somehow saved without explicitly joining her we must implicitly join her. She is the family of God.

            Let's see how someone other than the Roman Catholic Church interprets "first among equals". The following is from a 2007 document produced by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church:

            24. A canon accepted in the East as in the West, expresses the relationship between the local Churches of a region: “The bishops of each province (ethnos) must recognize the one who is first (protos) amongst them, and consider him to be their head (kephale), and not do anything important without his consent (gnome); each bishop may only do what concerns his own diocese (paroikia) and its dependent territories. But the first (protos) cannot do anything without the consent of all. For in this way concord (homonoia) will prevail, and God will be praised through the Lord in the Holy Spirit” (Apostolic Canon 34). (Ravenna Document)

            This is utterly different in kind from a Vicar of Christ who must be obeyed, with all questions squashable by him if he so chooses or is so guided from God. (Since he's the only one with the infallible connection to God, nobody else can figure out which is which.) The following is from Timothy Ware, now Bishop Kallistos Ware:

                We have already had occasion to mention the Papacy when speaking of the different political situations in east and west; and we have seen how the centralized and monarchical structure of the western Church was reinforced by the barbarian invasions. Now so long as the Pope claimed an absolute power only in the west, Byzantium raised no objections. The Byzantines did not mind if the western Church was centralized, so long as the Papacy did not interfere in the east. The Pope, however, believed his immediate power of jurisdiction to extend to the east as well as to the west; and as soon as he tried to enforce this claim within the eastern Patriarchates, trouble was bound to arise. The Greeks assigned to the Pope a primacy of honour, but not the universal supremacy which he regarded as his due. The Pope viewed infallibility as his own prerogative; the Greeks held that in matters of the faith the final decision rested not with the Pope alone, but with a Council representing all the bishops of the Church. Here we have two different conceptions of the visible organization of the Church. (The Orthodox Church)

            This is simply different in kind from "I think the Holy Spirit always had one man as an authority." It is Joshua vs. Moses:

                So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.
                Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. (Numbers 11:24–30)

            This is precisely a discussion about authority and whether the ideal end state is where that authority is centralized or distributed. You have chosen the form which existed in Moses' time, one which Joshua preferred but which Moses saw as inferior, suboptimal. Moses looked forward to when all would get voting shares in the Holy Spirit, instead of just one man. These two configurations are different in kind, not degree.

            Now, other times when I've attempted to say that there has been a radical shift in how "first among equals" is understood, or that ecumenical agreement can work instead of a single human authority, you have a tendency to deflect the conversation:

            RG: You articulate one of the main reasons Sola Scriptura is deeply flawed. People do what you describe with the words of scripture all the time. The key is it is not always wrong. You need to take some interpretive liberties to resolve conflicts.

            LB: Your first and third sentences contradict. Sola Scriptura merely means that when there's a conflict, you prioritize the scripture part(s). You do not murder the author. Sola Scriptura means non-ecumenical church tradition can always err. (Note that canonization happened under truly ecumenical conditions, when the Pope was "first among equals" in a non-1984-sense.)

            RG: ⋮
            You seem to ditinguish between ecumenical church tradition and non-ecumenical church tradition. Can you make that more precise? …

            LB: I'm really talking about the opposite of God speaking through one man and having that be authoritative. Instead, you have representatives of all Christians gather together, praying, reading scripture, and arguing about it. Does the Holy Spirit act to provide sufficient consensus for the next steps forward? (We don't need to agree on everything right now, as if an architect has to think just like an airline pilot.) I would really prefer universal agreement among representatives, but there is that parable of the wheat and tares. Anyhow, as I understand, there were six such meetings before Rome exceeded her 'first among equals' status.

            RG: You need to understand that when then the teaching was done the way you like it to be done the content of that teaching was not at all Protestant. The increase in the importance of the papacy was not in opposition to the councils but something that grew out of them. When the Tome of Pope Leo the Great was read at the Council of Chalcedon in the 5th century the council said Peter was speaking through Leo. So if councils get things right then you should be thinking they got that right. The first 6 councils existed during a time when Catholic teachings on Mary, the Eucharist, justification, etc. were already quite developed. So if they got things right then Protestants have things wrong.

            I am happy to talk about the difference between Protestant theology and the theology which came out of the first six ecumenical councils. But I also want to talk about whether a proper history of Christianity shows the following to be true or false (underlined bit my clarification):

            RG: Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common [human] authority.

            If in fact this was false before the East–West Schism, then a change in kind happened between the first six ecumenical councils and Cardinal Humbert's bull of excommunication. It doesn't have to be a sharp change which happened over a few years and there is no requirement that the initial state was perfect. You really have here two fundamentally different kinds of existence: one where the vast majority stay perpetually obedient children, and one where all are expected to grow up, shed childish thinking, and do what is required to have unity without a central human authority.

            The Protestants grew up in a church four and a half centuries after Cardinal Humbert's "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" and two centuries after Pope Boniface VIII's authoritarian Unam Sanctam. Children of parents who do not prepare them for adulthood will exhibit a host of pathologies. They will not understand how to obtain unity without someone giving orders. They might even come to believe that there is no other way to obtain unity. They might pretend this away via an interpretation of "first among equals" which lets them feel good, but deep at their core they will know that one must be more equal than the others. What other way is there to non-fractiously exist?

            Is there another way to exist? The answer of "no" suffuses your writing. What does the history of Christianity say about such a "no"?

          • In the interest of time I will reply with just a few points. First, there is a distinction between doctrine and governance. It makes sense for local church leaders to make decisions in matters of governance. It is called the principle of subsidiary. It is something Catholics support. Doctrine is different. If the question is about who is Jesus is whether this or that is moral or immoral then there is one answer that will apply to all of humanity. A centralized authority makes sense in those cases because multiple answers is incoherent.

            Secondly, the early church did understand the importance of being in union with the Bishop of Rome. We see that in St Irenaeus in the second century and in St Cyprian in the 3rd century and in St Augustine in the 4th century. St Polycarp went to Rome to try and resolve the dispute around the right date for Easter. The Corinthian church appealed to Clement of Rome to resolve a dispute there. The idea that they were living in harmony with no central authority is just false. The logistics were different. The pope could not communicate regularly with all the churches but he did command respect like no other office in the church.

            I think you should read Numbers 16. I think Protestant leadership is a lot more like the rebellion of Korah. Being a leader under a legitimate leader with his blessing is very different from saying this guy is a false leader and I am a true leader.

            You make a lot of excuses for Protestants. What would it take for you to give up on that as an answer. How badly do they have to fail and for how long? Their issues have been getting worse and not better as the centuries go by. In fact the rate of decline has been increasing in recent decades. At what point does it make sense to take a step back and question their basic approach to the faith?

          • RG: Obedience is where things become visible. Faith we don't see. Love we don't see. What we see is what people do.

            LB: Erm, all the way back in the OT, God tells Samuel that he judges by the heart while humankind (including Samuel) judges by appearance. →

            RG: That is a horrible reading of Samuel. The issue there was not that David's brothers obeyed God and David disobeyed God. The issue was that David was young and less competent by human standards. So it is as different as chalk and cheese.

            LB: (1) What did I say which made you think I was advocating the underlined?

            (2) Where does the OT talk of Samuel judging Saul based on competence?

            RG: 1. You brought up this story in response to a question about the importance of obedience. I was merely pointing out that it was completely irrelevant because lack of obedience was not the issue being referenced when God says He judges the heart.

            2. Again, you brought this up. Yet Saul was chosen more because he had the features the people wanted. He was brave and an imposing presence on the battlefield. So the difference in the way the 2 men are being chosen is emphasized. Sometimes God gives us what we want rather than what we really need.

            I was responding to your "visible" and "see". Samuel also went by what he could "see". For that, he was rebuked. I did include more, which probably should have been better separated:

            LB: ← The Pharisees were the best at obedience of pretty much anyone around and we see what Jesus made of them. If your only or best answer is "obedience", then I don't see how you're going to surpass the Pharisees and the pattern of Israel we see in the OT. Jesus says that the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another, not by our obedience.

            If you remember, the Pharisees did what they did to be seen. They were whitewashed (pretty) tombs (centers of death and sources of uncleanness). Their father was Satan, not God, and they did his bidding. They excelled at obedience and being very careful not to alter tradition, and yet were missing something central. Someone central. That someone was not a high priest—they had one of those and God even spoke through him.

            LB: (3) Why did Jesus say that the world will know who his disciples are based on their love for one another, instead of based on their obedience to correct authority?

            RG: 3. Look at the state of Christendom. Lack of unity means a lack of love between Christians. That, in turn, leads to a lack of credibility for the cause of Christ in the world. That is precisely what Protestantism has brought us. So the love Jesus is talking about is a love that implies obedience like Jesus said in the next chapter(John 14:15), "“If you love me, keep my commands."

            You didn't answer my question. Here's another way to put it: do you think there would be zero loss in content had Jesus said, "By your obedience to correct authority, the world will know you are my disciples."?

            The cause and effect are circular. Love leads to obedience. Obedience leads to knowledge and trust. Knowledge and trust deepens our love. On the flip side disobedience leads to ignorance and distrust. That makes our love less authentic. It becomes based on a false concept of who Jesus is.

            But can one start with obedience instead of love? Does love "naturally" develop from obedience? That is neither the pattern I see in scripture, nor the pattern I see in present-day reality, nor the pattern I see in history. Note that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy which was set before him, not merely "because God said so". There is a difference between servants—whose task is obedience—and friends, according to Jesus in John 15:15. And yet, I haven't seen you develop such a difference in your discussion, except maybe possibly with "great Christians".

            So the notion that you and just love Jesus and everything will be fine is just false. We go off course. It gets worse and worse over time. Downplaying obedience is an example of getting further and further from the Truth.

            What have I said which indicates I believe "that you [can] just love Jesus and everything will be fine"? Your answer has to either be consistent with the following, or show how I've said things necessarily inconsistent with the following:

            LB: I'm trying to understand your constant focus on 'obedience' and I keep coming up against the following: a great scientist is very disciplined, but we do not praise him or her because [s]he is 'obedient'. The obedience is taken for granted and something more/​different is being valued. The quality of difference is something like letter of the law vs. spirit of the law.

            If you can't actually fulfill this request (because it is implausible that I believe "that you [can] just love Jesus and everything will be fine"), then why did you leave that as a live possibility in a discussion between you and me?

            LB: You seem unwilling to consider that maybe God didn't design humans to obey in that way. Basically, I think you're working with a false view of human nature. It's bad empirically and it doesn't match with a comprehensive interpretation of scripture.

            RG: What way? To make up their own reality? To be endlessly divided over theological disputes?

            The ecumenical agreements achieved at the first six ecumenical councils demonstrates that the falsity of the dichotomy you threaten to construct.

            Deut 5:22–33 was God's presence being too much for the Israelites. They want the light but too much light is overwhelming. The church is part of God's answer to that. So is the Holy Spirit. We can come close to God and not be overwhelmed.

            Did they want "the light"? We're talking about the people who pressed Aaron to construct a golden calf. We're talking about the people who refused to conquer the Promised Land with the power of a god who defeated the most powerful nation known to exist. I say obedience to a human authority was a way to live up to a lesser standard. It's easier to be a servant who just does what [s]he is told, than to learn the ins and outs of what one's master is doing and then cooperate as a "coworker".

            What I'm suggesting—as I did with the "great scientist" example—is that to stop at obedience or make it the epitome is to settle for something less than God. Anyone who wants to be a great scientist must first submit himself/​herself to a lot of training and discipline, but there comes a time when reality itself informs the person and [s]he can then feed back into the community with the same authority as [s]he submitted to previously.

            1 Sam 8 was different because the Israelites wanted to be like other nations. That was a direct slap in the face to God. God had made them His Chosen People. They were saying being your chosen is something we don't want. We want to be like everyone else. What would God have done if they didn't ask that? It is hard to know. The time of the Judges was less than inspiring.

            In Deut 5:1–21, it's God : people. After Deut 5:22–33, it's God : religious intermediary : people. After 1 Sam 8 , it's God : religious intermediary : political intermediary : people. These are distancing operations and from the people's point of view, there was never an expectation that the intermediaries would go away. The prophets did hope for this, especially in Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32. My question is whether the RCC hopes for this, or whether it expects the intermediaries will always be there—except maybe for "great Christians" / "Michael Jordan[s]". By the way, removing the intermediaries does not mean people are radical individuals, not needing each other in any way. What I wrote much earlier slots in perfectly:

            LB: If we are all truly growing closer to God, would unity not be the inevitable result? Might we find that we can help each other grow closer to God, that perhaps he has given each person unique talents and insights into him and his creation? Were this the case, then Paul's adjuring us to "Outdo one another in showing honor." would take on a newer, more intense meaning. Were this unity to be caused by something other than obedience to a human authority, then it would surely be easier to posit that God was the unifying factor instead of man.

            You described this as "wishful thinking", and yet might this be what existed when the Pope remained "first among equals"?

            LB: The change from "first among equals" to Unam Sanctam is a change in kind, not a change in degree.

            RG: The first sentence is just false but whatever.

            I devoted a comment to this.

            So what your essentially saying is the church was wrecked. It was not even a Pope that gets blamed but you think an undiplomatic Cardinal can do that.

            I'm not going to say much here until you explain how Cardinal Humbert's "lord it over" / "exercise authority over" is well-represented by the term "undiplomatic". I think Jesus meant something rather more profound with those two phrases. Do you? I would also like to ask whether Cardinal Humbert was acting as a Papal legate with contents of the bull of excommunication approved of by the Pope, or whether he was … more autonomous.

            You have nostalgia for some period many centuries ago when Christianity was allegedly ecumenical. What makes you feel that Protestantism can get there?

            Please explain that "allegedly ecumenical". I'm going to ignore the "nostalgia" unless you can demonstrate that the connotation matches what I've actually said, instead of a straw man or Protestant-Randy.

            Do you feel like this agreement will look doctrinally very similar to what existed in the first 6 ecumenical councils?

            The fact that I don't think a single [human] authority will bring unity necessarily means that I cannot give you a good answer to this question; I have nothing like a full sketch of what it would look like. I do think a key element will be "Outdo one another in showing honor."; an example of the opposite is your "I am thinking "take deadly serious" is often meaningless.", in which you take an idea I'm trying to explain and presuppose that it is broken to its core and irredeemable. (I don't think that's too much of an exaggeration?)

            Do you think Protestantism will land on some teaching about Mary or the Eucharist or Confession that resembles the church of that period?

            Maybe. I know very little about the teachings on Mary. I know more about the Eucharist, which we've discussed previously. As to Confession—assuming this is confessing to an ordained person in secret—I would need to know more. Too much sin has been kept too secret by Protestants and Catholics, allowing horrible, perfectly avoidable tragedy to happen.

            RG: Protestantism basically claims the church was in utter apostasy. I am not sure how else you can describe it. The papacy is either true or it is a massive error. The Eucharist is either true or it is a massive error. Confession, purgatory, Mary, etc. these are not small issues the Protestants disagree about. If they are wrong they are way wrong. So I am not sure how you can avoid saying the church was in utter apostasy.

            LB: When Paul confronted a factious church, with some saying they follow Paul, others Apollos, others Cephas (Peter), and others Christ, did he insist on getting the doctrine of the Eucharist correct? No. He said: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." When he dealt with the Lord's Supper in a letter following his in-person visit, did he focus on transubstantiation? No: he criticized the Corinthian church for making a mockery of it via rank classism.

            RG: I do want to not that the unity issue in Corinth was different. All the people mentioned were part of the same Catholic church. Really quite a massive difference from Protestantism where they have different doctrines, different governance and different liturgy.

            Perhaps you disagree, but I think "Jesus Christ and him crucified" is much more important than doctrines about Mary. If someone gets "Jesus Christ and him crucified" right, I would be very reluctant to declare him or her to be "in utter apostasy".

            Actually Paul does teach the doctrine of the Real Presence in I Corinthians. Getting into the exegesis would be quite long.

            You've changed the topic, from what Paul thinks is of first importance for a factious church to know, to what he includes in the letter. If you think that Paul teaches the Real Presence then fine, but he doesn't construe that as a cause of factiousness. At best, you can say that no church denied the Real Presence and so no Epistle had to deal with that issue.

          • If you remember, the Pharisees did what they did to be seen. They were whitewashed (pretty) tombs (centers of death and sources of uncleanness). Their father was Satan, not God, and they did his bidding. They excelled at obedience and being very careful not to alter tradition, and yet were missing something central. Someone central. That someone was not a high priest—they had one of those and God even spoke through him.

            Sure obedience must come from love. Yet that does not mean anything rooted in a warm fuzzy feeling is somehow holy. That is called sentimentalism not Christianity. It is not a coincidence that Christianity, under the influence of Protestantism, has degenerated into sentimentalism for many. This is what happens when you have love but do not have truth. Love can be redefined to mean anything at all.

            You didn't answer my question. Here's another way to put it: do you think there would be zero loss in content had Jesus said, "By your obedience to correct authority, the world will know you are my disciples."?

            Of course there would be huge loss of content. Truth without love is also a problem. You seem to give a false choice. We need to either ditch authority or ditch love. We don't. We need both.

            But can one start with obedience instead of love? Does love "naturally" develop from obedience? That is neither the pattern I see in scripture, nor the pattern I see in present-day reality, nor the pattern I see in history. Note that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy which was set before him, not merely "because God said so". There is a difference between servants—whose task is obedience—and friends, according to Jesus in John 15:15. And yet, I haven't seen you develop such a difference in your discussion, except maybe possibly with "great Christians".

            I do think obedience can come first. People can start going to church again for some reason and that can lead them to grow in love for God and His people. Yes, people should obey for reasons beyond simple obedience. Just like the argument for authority is the weakest argument you can make for truth. The obedience from pure authority is the weakest form of obedience. Yet we need it. We are sinners. We lose track of why we should do something very quickly. If just the goodness of God's ways were enough we would not need the Word of God. God would not have to say, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." We would just know not to do it. Things is better when that is the case but it is not always the case.

            What have I said which indicates I believe "that you [can] just love Jesus and everything will be fine"?

            Because you have taken this position to try and save Protestantism. It is not something you really believe. It is an "any port in a storm" position you have been defending out of necessity. So can you admit that Protestantism's inability to arrive at truth is a fatal flaw? That saying love somehow makes the truth problem less than a show-stopper is just not tenable? I would be happy to do that.

            The ecumenical agreements achieved at the first six ecumenical councils demonstrates that the falsity of the dichotomy you threaten to construct.

            I would say it demonstrates they had something modern Protestantism does not have. It seems clear to me what that is but even if it does not to you the data should show that modern Protestantism is missing a key ingredient.
            Did they want "the light"? We're talking about the people who pressed Aaron to construct a golden calf. We're talking about the people who refused to conquer the Promised Land with the power of a god who defeated the most powerful nation known to exist. I say obedience to a human authority was a way to live up to a lesser standard. It's easier to be a servant who just does what [s]he is told, than to learn the ins and outs of what one's master is doing and then cooperate as a "coworker".

            Actually it is not easy. Ask anyone who takes Catholicism seriously. You just demonstrated the Israelites also failed at it in some major ways. It is easier. Easier than discerning God's truth for ourselves. We think we are above perverting God's word for our own reasons. We are not. So God does give us some help. We need to take it.

            What I'm suggesting—as I did with the "great scientist" example—is that to stop at obedience or make it the epitome is to settle for something less than God. Anyone who wants to be a great scientist must first submit himself/?herself to a lot of training and discipline, but there comes a time when reality itself informs the person and [s]he can then feed back into the community with the same authority as [s]he submitted to previously.

            Sure, but how do you know that is where you are at? You know you are being supra-obedient rather than disobedient because you actually still keep the law. The great saints never rebelled against the church. They obeyed her. Then they went above and beyond and actually led to church to be even more holy. The great scientist is not the one who questions the integrity of other great scientists and say his way is better. He is the one who takes what they have done and raises it up even further. Yes some of the previous understanding will be shown to be incomplete but continuity will be there. He is going further down the same road rather than starting a completely new road.

            In Deut 5:1–21, it's God : people. After Deut 5:22–33, it's God : religious intermediary : people. After 1 Sam 8 , it's God : religious intermediary : political intermediary : people. These are distancing operations and from the people's point of view, there was never an expectation that the intermediaries would go away. The prophets did hope for this, especially in Jer 31:31–34 and Ezek 36:22–32. My question is whether the RCC hopes for this, or whether it expects the intermediaries will always be there—except maybe for "great Christians" / "Michael Jordan[s]". By the way, removing the intermediaries does not mean people are radical individuals, not needing each other in any way.

            The RCC does hope people connect directly with God. The church will still play a role in the sacraments and to keep some of the creative thinking grounded. Still there may be little need basic teaching on faith and morals. This is not just for the greatest few. The church wants us all to be saints. Yes, she even wants us all to be mystical in some way. What we are talking about is the purgative phase of growing in holiness where there is a lot of emphasis on cleaning up your thoughts, words and actions. There is still the illuminative and the unitive stages that focus more on growing beyond obedience. Not leaving obedience behind but using it as a foundation to move higher.

            I devoted a comment to this.

            I will comment on that later.

          • Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. (Unam Sanctam, 1302)

            +

            In virtue of our pastoral office committed to us by the divine favor we can under no circumstances tolerate or overlook any longer the pernicious poison of the above errors without disgrace to the Christian religion and injury to orthodox faith. Some of these errors we have decided to include in the present document; their substance is as follows:

            20. They are seduced who believe that indulgences are salutary and useful for the fruit of the spirit.

            33. That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit.

            37. Purgatory cannot be proved from Sacred Scripture which is in the canon. (Exsurge Domine, 1520)

            +

            Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ. (Dignitatis Humanae, 1965)

            RG: I am confused by your stuff on religious freedom. Pope Leo said burning heretics at the state was not the will of the Holy Spirit.

            LB: Wrong: [see above excerpt from Exsurge Domine]

            RG: One more brief comment on religious freedom. A typical papal encyclical is not considered infallible. It is only when when very strong language is used binding the consciences of all Catholics. A list of 41 mistakes of Martin Luther hardly meets that test.

            So:

                 (I) Either it is sometimes ok to kill
                        those who rebel against the Pope,
                (II) or it is never ok to kill
                        anyone who rebels against the Pope.

            —but we don't know which? I don't know what qualifies as "very strong language"; does Dignitatis Humanae contain "very strong language" in the appropriate places for the bit I quoted to be considered infallible? But let's rewind the tape a bit. You keep telling me that God infallibly reveals to the Pope that which the body of Christians on earth desperately needs to know. I should think that a firm communique of (II) would have appreciably decreased the number of followers of Jesus killed during the Thirty Years' War; Wikipedia estimates 8,000,000 humans dead due to the war.

            Now, I think it is common knowledge that in medieval times, earthly matters were [sometimes] greatly downplayed and eternal salvation was so prioritized that other concerns could pale in comparison. According to Unam Sanctam, the Protestant rebels in the Thirty Years' War were on a trajectory to hell. Without re-pledging their loyalty to the Roman Pontiff, they did not have something "absolutely necessary for salvation". And so threatening to kill a Protestant might be a grace: you force the person to either repent and obey the Vicar of Christ, or go to hell a little sooner than [s]he probably would have gone anyway. The threat of death has a way of clearing one's mind, I'm told. Given your initial response to that bit from Unam Sanctam, I foresee major objections. But you have already demonstrated that you misunderstood Rome's disposition toward heretics in 1520—a point of misunderstanding I would classify as "major". I think it's therefore fair to say that your understanding of Unam Sanctam is open to severe question, when you try to understand how it would have been understood by those in 1302 and those in 1520.

            Now, you might call this all 'academic', given what you wrote a week ago:

            RG: I continue to be uninterested in the what folks thought during the 30 years war. I know that modern Christians don't engage in mass murder so that problem is solved at least for now. I am talking about why I resisted uniting myself with the church and why many people I know seem to resist it as well. I don't think it has anything to do with the 30 years war. Conservatives, like myself, do seem quite attached to certain doctrines. Liberals seem caught up in the sentimentalism of the culture. I don't understand them as well.

            But if you're going to say that "[The RCC] has taught a consistent doctrine.", we need to know what that means. God certainly could have communicated (II) to Pope Leo X (1513–1521) in an infallible manner. Is it so unreasonable to think that the number dead in the Thirty Years' War would have been appreciably smaller as a result? Is it so unreasonable to think that it would have been harder for people to say the Thirty Years' War was about religion, making the damage done to Christianity less?

          • Mark

            >"Christians who massacred Jews through the ages have spat on God himself."

            I don't have any desire to enter into the interesting and fruitful :) dialogue Luke, but that is either purposeful anti-Catholic hyperbolic tripe or ignorance. And not by my standards, by Jewish and protestant scholastics. Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History R. Stark

            Edit: Maybe you're referencing the antisemitic Protestant tradition that started with Luther and the reformation. I assume not. But for clarification I'm guessing you don't want Catholics to be morally coupled with Protestants in such broad sweeping strokes. I'll let you clarify if you feel compelled. Cheers boys!

          • RG: The papacy works.

            LB: An obvious difference between us, Randy, is that you have an almost-unquestioning† stance toward your leaders, while I believe that the OT and NT teach the unambiguous lesson that our spiritual leaders can fail us quite thoroughly. The Pharisees had a well-tuned disciple-making process, churning out disciples who were twice the sons of hell as the Pharisees. Peter, in eating with just the Jews, betrayed a central truth of the gospel—that God is for everyone. Christians who massacred Jews through the ages have spat on God himself. I don't think God needs a continuous Magisterium in order to correct errors; he certainly didn't need that in the OT. The Holy Spirit is rather more able than that.

            M: I don't have any desire to enter into the interesting dialogue Luke, but that is either purposeful anti-catholic hyperbolic tripe or ignorance. And not by my standards, by Jewish and protestant scholastics. Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History R. Stark

            First, thank you for the reference; I read the chapter titled "Sins of Anti-Semitism" and it was helpful. I report my findings below. Second, you mistake my writing if you think I am criticizing Catholics alone; I am targeting Catholics and Protestants. I did not say "Catholics who massacred Jews through the ages have spat on God himself."; I am aware of what Martin Luther wrote later on in life and the influences that had. A consistent theme in my discussion with Randy is that Catholics do not seem to demonstrate superior fruit to Protestants, nor vice versa. All my criticism of lack of spiritual maturity applies quite well to the Rhineland massacres in 1096: that the area lacked political unity and so neither authority nor power could stop the terrible means that only spiritual maturity could have. Well, if the RCC had rested too much on authority structures rather than zealously inculcate spiritual maturity, it would be guilty of sin, but a lesser sin.

             
            Stark writes that there was only one anti-semitic attack between the time decent historical records were kept in 500, and 1096. Then in 1096 all hell broke loose, led by Count Emicho who with his army of 10,000 soldiers massacred Jews in one place after the next, sometimes stopped by bishops and sometimes ignoring them. The context of this was Pope Urban II's First Crusade, ordered in 1095. Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos asked for help and Rome obliged, except that Rome's Crusaders claimed ownership of the conquered land against Byzantium's wishes.

            The distinction that the Church hierarchy tried to make was that it is ok to massacre Muslim infidels, but not Jewish infidels. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said "It is fitting that you go forth against Muslims. However, anyone who attacks a Jew and tries to kill him is as though he attacks Jesus himself." Antisemitism was worst in the Rhineland, which famously lacked political unity and thus it was difficult to use power and authority to stop such things. The worst that we can apparently say of the Church hierarchy is the following:

                But if the Church stood as a barrier to attacks on the Jews of Europe, it did collaborate in many forms of discrimination against them. In most places, the construction of synagogues required permission, there were disputes as to when Passover could be celebrated, and conversion from Christianity to Judaism was strictly forbidden. Many prohibitions were placed on social contacts between Christians and Jews: intermarriage was illegal and so were sexual relations, and Jews could not have Christian servants. Eventually, in most parts of Europe, Jews were required to wear a badge or some other identifying mark. Often, too, Jews were required to live in a special part of town, which came to be known as the ghetto (a corruption of the Italian borghetto, or “little borough”). (Bearing False Witness: Debunking Centuries of Anti-Catholic History, chapter 1)

            Stark goes on to say that "the Jews were the only sizeable, openly nonconformist religious group that survived in Europe until the Lutherans did so by force of arms." This was because Christians at the time believed the NT predicted these Jews would be converted at the Second Coming. According to Stark, no Pope has been credibly linked to attempting to exterminate the Jews.

             
            If we trust Stark's work—and I'm inclined to, despite seeing some criticisms of other work—Roman Catholicism has been blamed for something it never did: massacre Jews. That has to be emphasized. Christians may have massacred Jews, but not Catholicism. I'm quite convinced that the same applies in Nazi Germany when it comes to Protestants: Hitler was an obvious manipulator of Christianity and those who take Gott mit uns too seriously are suspiciously more circumspect when e.g. it is pointed out that "Stalin was an atheist". We must take Roman Catholicism to task for what it did and not engage in hyperbole.

            Pope Urban II did call for Christians to pick up the sword against heretics. Rome had established that only non-Christians could exact usury and apparently the only sizable group that left was the Jews. War is an expensive and risky business and that means borrowing at interest. It was already acceptable to discriminate against Jews; they were a lesser class. Debtors tend to have iffy relationships with their lenders. A toxic stew had been brewed; to what extent can we exonerate the Catholic hierarchy for what was cooked up? Remember that God himself is guiding the Pope and can speak infallibly to the Pope whenever he wants. There are zero consequences that Popes cannot foresee, unless God permits it.

            What happened was less flagrantly horrible than e.g. John Cornwell's [very plausibly] libelous 1999 Hitler's Pope; even Cornwell backed down somewhat in 2004. But how much credit should we give the RCC, if the only reason she did not crush Jewish heretics is because the Bible said they would be converted to Christianity at a later time? Does this capture the heart of God when it comes to those who do not yet know and love Jesus Christ?

          • David Nickol

            LB: "Christians who massacred Jews through the ages have spat on God himself."

            How in the world can that be considered an anti-Catholic statement? Would you say Pope John Paul II was an anti-Catholic? See the article Pope says sorry for sins of church: Sweeping apology for attacks on Jews, women and minorities defies theologians' warnings.

          • There are actually traditional ways of telling infallible statements from non-infallible ones. One is the infallible statements are typically quite narrow. They address contraception or women's ordination or whatever but they don't address many topics briefly. The other is they tend to use certain words. The word "define" is a big one. Anyway, The question of which documents are infallible is a real one but it is not just a matter of each Catholic picking and choosing.

            I do continue to be amazed when a development occurs in an area like religious freedom how we can look back and find that it was not infallibly taught be the church even if it was widely believed. To me it is strong evidence that the Holy Spirit was at work back then in protecting the church from unrecoverable error.

            Could Leo X have done better? Sure. He was not a good man. Would that have avoided some of the disaster of the 30 years war? Unlikely. I think we had to do that before we could learn how not to do that. The truth is we are going back there. Secularism is being imposed as a state religion and getting more violent all the time. The faith will continue to develop and martyrs will continue to play a big role. St Thomas More pray for us.

          • David Nickol

            One is the infallible statements are typically quite narrow. They address contraception or women's ordination or whatever but they don't address many topics briefly.

            There is disagreement as to whether Humanae Vitae is infallible or not. To the best of my knowledge, there is no formal statement by the pope on ordination and gender that is a candidate for being considered infallible. (Interesting that both your examples of possibly infallible statements refer to restrictions on women!)

            It has become kind of a cliche by now, but I think it is still true to say that the only two papal statements universally agreed to be infallibly declared are the ones on the Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

          • Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is the name of the encyclical that infallibly states that the church has no authority to ordain women. I am surprised you are not aware of it. The document and some follow up documents are here http://jimmyakin.com/library/womens-ordination-its-infallible
            It pretty much exactly follows the format for infallibility that is set forth in Vatican I. An amazingly short document considering it was written by St John Paul II. That is typical. He makes no argument because the time for argument is done. Just meets the 4 conditions for infallibility and signs off.

            Humanae Vitae is less clear. Paul VI does make many arguments. He also makes clear he was not trying to make an infallible definition. Still he is very strong. Particularly when he says he want to remove doubt so young couples will know how to order their lives. So it seems to meet the 4 conditions but the conscience-binding one is somewhat debatable.

            If people really don't believe in infallibility yet don't want to admit it they might restrict it to he Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption of Mary. Nobody really disagrees with those. No practical implications. So the doctrine needs a reasonable definition of what is infallible to be meaningful. Vatican I has that.

          • David Nickol

            Overlooking Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was certainly a major blunder on my part. I do confess that I was only dimly aware of it, and it never entered my mind when I was responding to you. I agree that it is very strongly worded, and the other documents referred to make a case that this is a definitive position of the Church (that is, that women cannot be ordained). However, I did run across some very technical analyses of it, and there remains a debate among Catholics as to whether it qualifies as an infallible statement.

            I suspect this will come as a disappointment to all those women readers of Strange Notions who long to be ordained, but I do not find women's ordination to be a particularly interesting topic. I find the arguments against the ordination of women to be very weak, but I have little interest in debating the topic. The whole thing seems to hinge on believing Jesus ordained The Twelve as priests, but I find that hard to believe, since I view the Christian priesthood as something that evolved after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. But, as I say, I am not interested in arguing about it.

            One of the main problems regarding allegedly infallible papal statements is that their infallibility is always open to doubt unless the pope basically says, or at least strongly implies, "I am seeking infallibly here." It seems to me that if a pope believes himself to be speaking infallibly, he ought to come out and state it explicitly. Is there any reason why a pope can't simply say, "I am declaring infallibly that women may not and cannot be ordained"? Why leave wiggle room?

          • Arthur Jeffries

            It seems to me that if a pope believes himself to be speaking infallibly, he ought to come out and state it explicitly.

            That agrees with Section 3 of Canon 749 in the Code of Canon Law, which says: "No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident."

          • Sample1

            Infallibility discussions are distinctions without differences. Distinctions are for theologians and no differences in behaviors for the flock.

            The ordinary Magisterium is expected to be obeyed by the flock regardless of the teaching’s official categorization. All you have to ask yourself is how does one behave any differently to the Magisterium versus an infallible dogma? Now, dogmas are within the Magisterium too so it’s not a true dichotomy. But the point is all infallible dogmas are magisterial but not all magisterial teaching are infallible dogmas yet dissent by the flock isn’t an option for either. Those who say dissent is an option don’t know what they are talking about.

            Personally, I think the infallibility charism was a politically invented concept that wasn’t thoroughly vetted for problems and now they are stuck with it. Catholics have their own ways of doubting my opinion but they aren’t convincing. I’d rather not get too involved in a further discussion about this.

            Mike, former Catholic.
            Edit done.

          • Rob Abney

            Mike, you should make some distinctions maybe.

            Those who say dissent is an option don’t know what they are talking about.

            It is a heresy against the Catholic faith to claim any of the following:

            a) that all teachings of the Magisterium are without error, even the ordinary teachings of the Magisterium
            b) that the ordinary teachings must be adhered to in the same manner as the infallible teachings
            c) that there is no practical difference in the assent required of ordinary teachings versus infallible teachings
            d) that faithful dissent is never possible, as if all dissent were sinful or to be prohibited
            e) that obedience to the teachings of the Church is based solely on authority, and not on truth.
            f) that conscience has a primacy above the infallible teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium

            http://www.catholicplanet.com/TSM/assent-dissent.htm

          • David Nickol

            Correct me if I am wrong here. It is my understanding that Catholics are required to assent to non-infallible (but "official") teachings of the Church, and if personal convictions prevent them from assenting, they are permitted to study and research the issue in good conscience but must nevertheless obey the teaching in question. Consequently, supposing a Catholic married couple (let's assume they both have advanced degrees in theology) does not consider Humanae Vitae infallible and they find fatal flaws in its reasoning. My understanding is that despite their dissenting beliefs, they are nevertheless required to refrain from using any method of artificial contraception.

            Consequently, as Sample1/Mike is implying, it makes no practical difference whether an "official" teaching is infallible or non-infallible. If it is a moral teaching, the dissenter is obliged to make moral decisions as if he or she believed that teaching were true. The exception is if following the doubted teaching were to cause the doubter to commit a sin. Is this not correct?

          • David Nickol

            I don't know this writer's credentials, but he makes a convincing case that backs up Sample 1/Mike (in my opinion).

          • Rob Abney

            In your example the man and woman dissent because of personal conviction and because they find fatal flaws in the reasoning of HV. Personal conviction is not sufficient to dissent. Fatal flaws in reasoning are sufficient. But the fatal flaws must be because there is a contradiction between HV and more authoritative teachings of Tradition, Scripture, or the Magisterium. As far as I know there are no such higher teachings to appeal to.
            So a faithful Catholic will assent despite his/her personal convictions because he/she cannot put forth faithful reasoning to support their personal conviction not because he/she is compelled to or forcefully obligated. To have personal convictions that are unsupported by reasoning is an approach that will cause him/her to have problems in all aspects of life.

          • David Nickol

            I think you have conceded Mike's point. It makes no difference to our hypothetical couple whether HV is infallible or not. They are still obliged to assent.

          • Rob Abney

            You seem to want the couple to make the decision based upon faith alone, “we don’t believe it so we don’t adhere to it”. But I said that they should follow it unless they had a reason that outweighs the teaching. The point being that they should assent unless they can prove it to be wrong. That is an obligation only in the sense that you are obliged to employ your intellect and then follow it.

          • Rob Abney

            the only two papal statements universally agreed to be infallibly declared are the ones on the Immaculate Conception and the Bodily Assumption of Mary.

            Interesting that both of those statements refer to non-restrictions of a woman!

          • Could Leo X have done better? Sure. He was not a good man. Would that have avoided some of the disaster of the 30 years war? Unlikely. I think we had to do that before we could learn how not to do that.

            Hold on a second. Leo X's human fallenness is 100% irrelevant to whatever infallible statements God could have put in his mouth and communicated through him to the Magisterium and through the Magisterium to all obedient Catholics. If the situation were as fragile as you claim, such that this would have broken down within the church hierarchy or upon hitting laypersons, then exactly what was the quality of the church at the time? She had almost 1500 years by the time Luther did his rebelling. If Papal infallibility could not stem the blood spilled by 8,000,000 imago Dei beings nor the horrible smearing Christianity's reputation [rightly!] took, then just how [im]potent is Papal infallibility?

            To me it is strong evidence that the Holy Spirit was at work back then in protecting the church from unrecoverable error.

            I don't understand this "unrecoverable error"; if "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.", then what constitutes "unrecoverable error"? Note that the following does not constitute 'unrecoverable': "He protected the Israelites too but allowed an exile and some periods where the true teaching was all but lost."

            There are actually traditional ways of telling infallible statements from non-infallible ones.

            Does this mean that parts of Unam Sanctam might just be wrong?

          • I do think that something interesting happened in God's plan around 1300. I am not sure whether or not it is relevant that it was about 1000 years after Christianity became legal. Anyway, we had what many see as the pinnacle of Christianity in St Francis of Assisi, St Dominic, St Thomas Aquinas, etc. Then we had a much darker period. We had the black death. We had some bad popes. We had some anti-popes. We had the Avignon papacies. It is like God let Satan have more freedom than he did before.

            I see the reformation as flowing from that, Philosophies like Nominalism played a role. Improvements in printing technology played a role. I see like the sexual revolution. That is man was given more power and therefore more responsibility. When sin abounds grace abounds also. So we were eventually given great mystics like St Francis de Sales and St Ignatius of Loyola and many others.

            Anyway, these are interesting questions, it is just not as simple as saying, "If the church struggles it must be worthless."

          • Anyway, these are interesting questions, it is just not as simple as saying, "If the church struggles it must be worthless."

            Good thing nobody here was saying that! (Seriously, why would you say this?) Likewise, if Protestantism struggles, it is not thereby worthless. Israel of the OT, anyone?

            It is like God let Satan have more freedom than he did before.

            Just what did Satan expose with this freedom? Perhaps a pervasive lack of spiritual maturity?

          • God takes the church on a journey. He protects us from some attacks when we are unable to handle it. Yet eventually He lets us face harder challenges. The challenge of weaker popes combined with better printing press technology for for dissenters to gain a following does make unity more difficult. It is more tempting to follow guys who are gaining a certain critical mass of support. Sure maturity was involved. The immature followed the protestant revolt. The mature stayed with the body of Christ.

            You are very quick to jump to the conclusion that the problem must be with the Catholic system. The system that was there from the beginning is what you want to blame. The Protestant system that was introduced right before the problems showed up somehow gets a pass.

          • God takes the church on a journey. He protects us from some attacks when we are unable to handle it. Yet eventually He lets us face harder challenges.

            8,000,000 dead is something we can "handle", merely a "harder challenge"?

            You are very quick to jump to the conclusion that the problem must be with the Catholic system. The system that was there from the beginning is what you want to blame. The Protestant system that was introduced right before the problems showed up somehow gets a pass.

            Shall I go through our discussion history and enumerate all the places where I lay responsibility at the feet of Catholics and Protestants?

          • We are struggling to handle the harder challenge. It is hard because there are 2 traps. One we fell into quickly. That is to deal with heretics using the power of the state. We have mostly avoided that one since. Sure a lot of people died but that is the way we learn these lessons.

            The other trap is to assume that religious truth is unimportant. That our salvation does not really depend on it. That the good of society does not really depend on it. It does. Yet even today many who deal charitable with religious differences fall into the trap of doctrinal and moral indifference, We must embrace religious freedom without descending to the lowest common denominator which gets lower all the time.

            The dominate human system has typically not treated dissenters well. Whether that is in politics or religion we have used power to force people to accept our ideas. We have killed or imprisoned those who refuse. Christian governments have done less of that than atheist governments or governments of other religions. Yet they need to improve even more.

            Shall I go through our discussion history and enumerate all the places where I lay responsibility at the feet of Catholics and Protestants?

            You say that but then you use it as a reason to reject Catholicism and not as a reason to reject Protestantism.

          • LB: 8,000,000 dead is something we can "handle", merely a "harder challenge"?

            RG: We are struggling to handle the harder challenge. It is hard because there are 2 traps. One we fell into quickly. That is to deal with heretics using the power of the state.

            You didn't answer my question. Remember that you're making some pretty big claims about what God will reveal to the Pope. If God won't tell the Pope that killing heretics is wrong, and Pope Leo X got that exactly wrong ("That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit." is itself an "error"—Exsurge Domine), what else can the RCC be exactly wrong on? The Thirty Years' War might have been the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity and it's hard for me to believe that it would have been nearly so bad for humanity or at least Christianity, if it had been infallibly uttered that God does not desire that Christians kill or advocate for the killing of heretics.

            The other trap is to assume that religious truth is unimportant. That our salvation does not really depend on it. That the good of society does not really depend on it. It does.

            I agree. I've begun to suspect that everyone actually has a theology which is relevant to psychological health and social health.

            RG: You are very quick to jump to the conclusion that the problem must be with the Catholic system. The system that was there from the beginning is what you want to blame. The Protestant system that was introduced right before the problems showed up somehow gets a pass.

            LB: Shall I go through our discussion history and enumerate all the places where I lay responsibility at the feet of Catholics and Protestants?

            RG: You say that but then you use it as a reason to reject Catholicism and not as a reason to reject Protestantism.

            If I think that both Protestantism and Catholicism have serious problems, but that the alternatives have even worse problems, why is it not rational to stick with the thing I've invested the most time in and know best?

          • It is not a question of what the Catholic church can be wrong on. The topic does not matter. What matters is how the teaching was made. Was it made with the highest authority? Errors are OK as long as they can be corrected. If the church were to firmly settle on something wrong that would be devastating for Christendom. God will not let us do that.

            I agree. I've begun to suspect that everyone actually has a theology which is relevant to psychological health and social health.

            People needs truths that they don't question. It is a practical need to do any sort of reason. It is likely a psychological needs as well. We need something solid that we can latch on to emotionally. This is one reason why the Protestant idea of rejecting all tradition does not work. We are just not built that way. The Catholic notion of God preserving one tradition is both biblical and practical.

            If I think that both Protestantism and Catholicism have serious problems, but that the alternatives have even worse problems, why is it not rational to stick with the thing I've invested the most time in and know best?

            What does sticking with Protestantism look like. Picking some thread of thought out of the mess of opinions being thrown around? How can you avoid serious error? It is also something that keeps getting worse as churches change and split.

            Catholicism is a thing that you can follow and get it right. You are at least uniting with the majority of Christians both now and historically. You are also following in the footsteps of some pretty impressive believers. A faith that was good enough for St Augustine and St Francis of Assisi and St Thomas Aquinas is good enough for me.

          • RG: God takes the church on a journey. He protects us from some attacks when we are unable to handle it. Yet eventually He lets us face harder challenges.

            LB: 8,000,000 dead is something we can "handle", merely a "harder challenge"?

            RG: We are struggling to handle the harder challenge. It is hard because there are 2 traps. One we fell into quickly. That is to deal with heretics using the power of the state. We have mostly avoided that one since. Sure a lot of people died but that is the way we learn these lessons.

            LB: You didn't answer my question. Remember that you're making some pretty big claims about what God will reveal to the Pope. If God won't tell the Pope that killing heretics is wrong, and Pope Leo X got that exactly wrong ("That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit." is itself an "error"—Exsurge Domine), what else can the RCC be exactly wrong on? The Thirty Years' War might have been the worst thing that ever happened to Christianity and it's hard for me to believe that it would have been nearly so bad for humanity or at least Christianity, if it had been infallibly uttered that God does not desire that Christians kill or advocate for the killing of heretics.

            RG: It is not a question of what the Catholic church can be wrong on. The topic does not matter. What matters is how the teaching was made. Was it made with the highest authority? Errors are OK as long as they can be corrected. If the church were to firmly settle on something wrong that would be devastating for Christendom. God will not let us do that.

            The Thirty Years' War was not "devastating for Christendom"?

            RG: The other trap is to assume that religious truth is unimportant. That our salvation does not really depend on it. That the good of society does not really depend on it. It does.

            LB: I agree. I've begun to suspect that everyone actually has a theology which is relevant to psychological health and social health.

            RG: People needs truths that they don't question. It is a practical need to do any sort of reason. It is likely a psychological needs as well. We need something solid that we can latch on to emotionally. This is one reason why the Protestant idea of rejecting all tradition does not work. We are just not built that way. The Catholic notion of God preserving one tradition is both biblical and practical.

            It's a little obnoxious that my agreeing with you on a point merely served to give you another way to attack Protestantism. We have enough tangents open; I'm not going to pursue this one further for now.

            RG: You are very quick to jump to the conclusion that the problem must be with the Catholic system. The system that was there from the beginning is what you want to blame. The Protestant system that was introduced right before the problems showed up somehow gets a pass.

            LB: Shall I go through our discussion history and enumerate all the places where I lay responsibility at the feet of Catholics and Protestants?

            RG: You say that but then you use it as a reason to reject Catholicism and not as a reason to reject Protestantism.

            LB: If I think that both Protestantism and Catholicism have serious problems, but that the alternatives have even worse problems, why is it not rational to stick with the thing I've invested the most time in and know best?

            RG: What does sticking with Protestantism look like. Picking some thread of thought out of the mess of opinions being thrown around? How can you avoid serious error? It is also something that keeps getting worse as churches change and split.

            (1) I was born into Protestantism and a particular strain of it which respects both reason and evidence, as well as scripture.

            (2) I do not claim to be free of serious error: I could be doing the moral equivalent of executing heretics or holding slaves. The current scandals plaguing the RCC indicate that it is not free of serious error, either. If you redefine 'serious error' to make that previous sentence false, then I'm not sure I understand the meaning of the term—can you give a rigorous definition of it?

            (3) The best strategy I know of escaping serious error is to take seriously the arguments others offer me and do my best to avoid caricaturing them. Sometimes it takes several rounds of my saying the stupid version and the other person explaining that I'm wrong; I've accepted this as a fact of life if you want to really understand those who differ appreciably from you. (I like Feser's "You’ve got to listen, rather than merely waiting for a pause so that you can insert the response you’d already formulated before he even opened his mouth.") I know that I can only understand what others say through my extant intellectual "grid", but that grid can be corrected and enhanced by conversation.

            (4) My attitude toward church splits is probably comparable to your attitude toward the Thirty Years' War: exceedingly unfortunate, but necessary to learn the lesson, due to the hardness of people's hearts. If you're not willing to say that God could have infallibly and beneficially revealed to Pope Leo X that "executing heretics is wrong", then you're clearly willing a lot of terribleness to happen in order for Christians to learn their lessons. The church split situation is more disastrous for you, since you think that only by obedience to a single human authority can we really solve the problem. I think the fact that you simultaneously think people wouldn't have obeyed Pope Leo X had he infallibly said "God never wants you to execute heretics!" indicates a gaping hole in your reasoning about papal authority.

            Catholicism is a thing that you can follow and get it right. You are at least uniting with the majority of Christians both now and historically. You are also following in the footsteps of some pretty impressive believers. A faith that was good enough for St Augustine and St Francis of Assisi and St Thomas Aquinas is good enough for me.

            I don't live vicariously through ≈ 10,000 saints, through the "Michael Jordan[s]". According to you, about the best the RCC can accomplish with its strategies is precious few who don't act like those "Strong, holy people who disagree will produce bigger fights if they are not submitting to a common authority." The RCC has apparently taught you to say that "I do think your focus on maturity is odd. … It is not a dominant theme of scripture …" Apparently the RCC's mission is different from Paul's:

            [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28–29)

            That is, admittedly, an extremely high bar. Protestants don't seem to be any better at approaching "present everyone mature in Christ". One thing they do have: more ability to "ask deeper questions". They can suggest that Christians' expectations and strategies are woefully insufficient, rather like prophets of old. If God always reveals what Roman Catholics need to hear to the Pope, then Roman Catholicism is by definition free of such error. Or at least, this seems entailed by the following:

            RG: The church is never the problem. It is always us sinners. Was the RCC doing that? To some extent but not nearly enough. We always ask ourselves deeper questions. Catholicism is awesome because it can withstand endless scrutiny. Ask anything. You will be amazed at the answers.

          • I do not claim to be free of serious error: I could be doing the moral equivalent of executing heretics or holding slaves. The current scandals plaguing the RCC indicate that it is not free of serious error, either. If you redefine 'serious error' to make that previous sentence false, then I'm not sure I understand the meaning of the term—can you give a rigorous definition of it?

            I am astounded that you would still not understand my position on this question. A serious error is definitively teaching error. That is declaring, as strongly as one can declare, that something is true when it is false or similarly condemning something as false when it is true. The scandals in the church simply don't factor in. Scandals are expected in every church. They are not the category of error I am thinking about when I say serious error.

            The best strategy I know of escaping serious error is to take seriously the arguments others offer me and do my best to avoid caricaturing them. Sometimes it takes several rounds of my saying the stupid version and the other person explaining that I'm wrong; I've accepted this as a fact of life if you want to really understand those who differ appreciably from you. (I like Feser's "You’ve got to listen, rather than merely waiting for a pause so that you can insert the response you’d already formulated before he even opened his mouth.") I know that I can only understand what others say through my extant intellectual "grid", but that grid can be corrected and enhanced by conversation.

            I agree with all of this but again it is a different category of error than one should look for when discerning divine revelation. It is important to do these things but do they provide any level of certainty that can separate the opinions of man from the word of God. No. The simple answer is if you are look at just those people who are doing things right. That is they are listening well, they are reading their bible, they are praying sincerely, they are humble, they are intelligent, they are doing nothing obviously wrong. If you look at those guys they don't end up largely in agreement. They just don't. So you know these very impressive guys are ending up wrong quite often. I believe you when you say it is the best strategy you know. Yet it is totally inadequate.

            It is also the reason why I spent very little time worrying about Catholics who do not do these obvious things to avoid error. You seem very concerned about them. I asked whether serious Catholics end up in serious disagreement. Not really. They agree on the essential. Not just what the essential are but what the right answer on those questions is. So the system works. Does that mean it is easy? No. It is difficult but it is not impossible. That is what I expect from a God thing. Not something that requires no faith and not something that requires no struggle but something that is logical and biblical and historical.

            My attitude toward church splits is probably comparable to your attitude toward the Thirty Years' War: exceedingly unfortunate, but necessary to learn the lesson, due to the hardness of people's hearts.

            But church splits are not due to hard hearts. They happen when people have honest disagreements. When they are doing nothing wrong. They are following their own conscience and the best lights they have about what God's word says. Yet they disagree strongly with other similarly sincere Christians. It is not that they are not willing to make sacrifices for church unity. They are. There is just no way to know what the right road is. The problem is not their hearts. It is the Sola Scriptura system.

            If you're not willing to say that God could have infallibly and beneficially revealed to Pope Leo X that "executing heretics is wrong", then you're clearly willing a lot of terribleness to happen in order for Christians to learn their lessons. The church split situation is more disastrous for you, since you think that only by obedience to a single human authority can we really solve the problem. I think the fact that you simultaneously think people wouldn't have obeyed Pope Leo X had he infallibly said "God never wants you to execute heretics!" indicates a gaping hole in your reasoning about papal authority.

            I don't think this at all. Pope Leo X could have said killing heretics is wrong and it might have been ignored. Christians of that age had real reason to doubt whether the violence was justified. A papal declaration would have given them more reason. Yet violence is hard to avoid. Hard to know how much difference it would have made. If Pope Leo X had been more charitable and not so corrupt that would have helped as well. Sin happens.

            I can think of a lot of times in history God could have done something that would have avoided some bad event. So what? The simple truth is the reformation led to disunity. Disunity led to violence. That is a natural consequence of sin. The fact that you feel the solution is more sin is a strange way to read history.

            Let's look at Col 1:24-19:

            24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

            28 He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

            The first verse is enough to establish how Catholic Paul really it. St Paul sees his suffering as something that can be united with Christ's suffering and benefit the church. He sees the church as something he servers. Not something he creates or splits or discards as he sees fit. He is claiming authority as a leader in that church. So the source of maturity is embracing the wisdom of the magisterium of which Paul is a member. He is a saint that I venerate. I don't live vicariously through him but do consider him a valued member of the church and someone who can help me in many ways. Yes, it is all about Christ. His suffering connects us with Christ. His office connects us with Christ. His saintly intercession connects us with Christ. This is what the body of Christ did for the Colossians and what it should do for us.

          • I am astounded that you would still not understand my position on this question. A serious error is definitively teaching error. That is declaring, as strongly as one can declare, that something is true when it is false or similarly condemning something as false when it is true. The scandals in the church simply don't factor in. Scandals are expected in every church. They are not the category of error I am thinking about when I say serious error.

            Perhaps it would be helpful for you to give me a definitive list of all teachings which are declared "as strongly as one can declare", indexed by scripture referred to or related. If they are as important as you say they are, surely there is a rather up-to-date, definitive compendium.

            The simple answer is if you are look at just those people who are doing things right. That is they are listening well, they are reading their bible, they are praying sincerely, they are humble, they are intelligent, they are doing nothing obviously wrong. If you look at those guys they don't end up largely in agreement. They just don't. So you know these very impressive guys are ending up wrong quite often. I believe you when you say it is the best strategy you know. Yet it is totally inadequate.

            The Roman Catholic strategy isn't obviously better when measured by empirical fruit; I know it's better in your imagination. You have high hopes if only people would obey, and yet so many are pretty terrible at it. Remind me, have you yet to deal head-on with 1 Cor 3:1–5 seriously, where Paul says that "while there is jealousy and strife among you", the proper descriptors are "people of the flesh" and "infants in Christ"? I've brought it up a number of times.

            I asked whether serious Catholics end up in serious disagreement. Not really. They agree on the essential.

            How is that not true by definition? It gets impressive if the only people who can yield excellent fruit are the ones who "agree on the essential". Otherwise, it ends up being vacuously true.

            But church splits are not due to hard hearts. They happen when people have honest disagreements. When they are doing nothing wrong. They are following their own conscience and the best lights they have about what God's word says. Yet they disagree strongly with other similarly sincere Christians. It is not that they are not willing to make sacrifices for church unity. They are. There is just no way to know what the right road is. The problem is not their hearts. It is the Sola Scriptura system.

            How are such church splitters not being disobedient to scripture? By the way, if beliefs are expected to yield empirical correlates, then different parties can go their ways and test their claims. If beliefs are expected to be pretty much divorced from empirical reality (less connected than quarks are to particle traces), then yes there is the problem you describe. But then wrangling over what to believe becomes solely an indicator of which group you are loyal to.

            Hard to know how much difference it would have made.

            Are you changing your position? I suggest we work [separately] with each of the possibilities you're allowing, to see if your position works with any of them. But it's not clear what precisely you are allowing for; your "Sin happens." seems like a kind of "get out of jail free" card.

            I can think of a lot of times in history God could have done something that would have avoided some bad event. So what? The simple truth is the reformation led to disunity. Disunity led to violence. That is a natural consequence of sin. The fact that you feel the solution is more sin is a strange way to read history.

            You said that "I think we had to do [the Thirty Years' War] before we could learn how not to do that."; how is this not an example of "the solution is more sin"? Surely 8,000,000 dead was "more sin" than what existed before? It seems to me that you are availing yourself of arguments you then go on to deny me.

            The first verse [Col 1:24] is enough to establish how Catholic Paul really it.

            This functions as a distraction from Col 1:28–29, which is just one of the number of passages which refutes your "[Maturity] is not a dominant theme of scripture". I am very curious as to what the RCC has infallibly stated about the relative importance of spiritual maturity in relation to other aspects of the faith.

          • Perhaps it would be helpful for you to give me a definitive list of all teachings which are declared "as strongly as one can declare", indexed by scripture referred to or related. If they are as important as you say they are, surely there is a rather up-to-date, definitive compendium.

            This is like the best one I know of.
            https://www.amazon.com/Fundamentals-Catholic-Dogma-Ludwig-Ott/dp/089555805X

            The Roman Catholic strategy isn't obviously better when measured by empirical fruit; I know it's better in your imagination. You have high hopes if only people would obey, and yet so many are pretty terrible at it. Remind me, have you yet to deal head-on with 1 Cor 3:1–5 seriously, where Paul says that "while there is jealousy and strife among you", the proper descriptors are "people of the flesh" and "infants in Christ"? I've brought it up a number of times.

            This is just changing the subject. You can't defend Protestantism. It is just too incoherent. So you want to measure the Catholic church in a completely different way. A completely subjective way. I say Catholic fruit is better. You say Protestant fruit is better. When we get into details we just start name calling. It is not a profitable exercise. Anyone who sees more jealousy and strife in Catholicism than Protestantism is living in a strange world.

            The Catholic church is the universal church of Christ. That is what the word Catholic means. We have everyone. We have the most mature Christians on the fact of the earth. We also have many immature Christians. So what is your point? Catholic Bishops do what the Catholic Bishop Paul did. That is they teach people at the level they are at. Sometimes they need to tell people who think they are mature that they are really not. Catholicism has leaders who can do that.

            How is that not true by definition? It gets impressive if the only people who can yield excellent fruit are the ones who "agree on the essential". Otherwise, it ends up being vacuously true.

            It is not true of Protestantism because there is no list of essentials in the bible. So assert a list, like the fundamentalist movement did a while back, really violates Sola Scriptura. It is taking the authority to define doctrine when you have denied you have that authority. Yet they recognize that nobody having such authority is creating chaos. So yes, it is true by definition but definition of doctrine is precisely what Protestantism cannot do.

            How are such church splitters not being disobedient to scripture? By the way, if beliefs are expected to yield empirical correlates, then different parties can go their ways and test their claims. If beliefs are expected to be pretty much divorced from empirical reality (less connected than quarks are to particle traces), then yes there is the problem you describe. But then wrangling over what to believe becomes solely an indicator of which group you are loyal to.

            Church splitters are being disobedient to scripture. Sola Scriptura is disobedient to scripture. Following you own opinion first is not a biblical or logical way to follow God. Yet people accept Sola Scriptura uncritically because their tradition tells them to. Protestants are caught in human tradition. Catholics are freed from that trap by Sacred Tradition.

            Empirical correlates do not solve the problem. People are still looking at the data through traditional lenses. For example, I can see empirically that the sexual revolution has been a humanitarian disaster. Divorce, sexual addiction, pornography, abortion, etc. It seems clear to me everything about sex has gotten worse in the last 50-60 years. Yet can a secular person see that? No. No matter how strong the data they just cannot see it. They can't even begin to think about the possibility that such a widely embraced ideology could be wrong.

            Protestants are the same way about Sola Scriptura. It does not matter how bad the data gets. Just thinking the reformation might have been wrong is so hard. I was there. It took me a long time. If I was not married to a Catholic I would likely have walked away from the question rather than convert. These waters run deep. So a few empirical correlates one way or the other are not going to matter much.

            Are you changing your position? I suggest we work [separately] with each of the possibilities you're allowing, to see if your position works with any of them. But it's not clear what precisely you are allowing for; your "Sin happens." seems like a kind of "get out of jail free" card.

            The jail is only in your imagination. None of this effects the credibility of the RCC. We do admit sin happens even in the highest levels of the church. So a holy pope is not a good reason to become Catholic and an unholy pope is not a good reason to not. We have both. That is expected. So you objection never had a chance of succeeding.

            You said that "I think we had to do [the Thirty Years' War] before we could learn how not to do that."; how is this not an example of "the solution is more sin"? Surely 8,000,000 dead was "more sin" than what existed before? It seems to me that you are availing yourself of arguments you then go on to deny me.

            Sure it is more sin. It is the sin of factions and disunity. So the reformation caused a disastrous increase in sin. Yet in your mind that somehow shows it is a good idea.

            This functions as a distraction from Col 1:28–29, which is just one of the number of passages which refutes your "[Maturity] is not a dominant theme of scripture". I am very curious as to what the RCC has infallibly stated about the relative importance of spiritual maturity in relation to other aspects of the faith.

            If all you want to talk about is maturity then the fact that Protestantism cannot make any sense of Col 1:24 is a distraction. It is a bad sign when you must read a passage out of context to make your point.

            Like I said, maturity is super-subjective. It is just a vaguely positive term. What needs to be understood is what maturity looks like. Everybody can have a different picture and we can all call ourselves mature and others immature. You have not shown any way your concept of maturity can get beyond this.

          • 1/2 (2/2)

            LB: Perhaps it would be helpful for you to give me a definitive list of all teachings which are declared "as strongly as one can declare", indexed by scripture referred to or related. If they are as important as you say they are, surely there is a rather up-to-date, definitive compendium.

            RG: This is like the best one I know of.
            [Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma]

            Thanks; I've requested it from my interlibrary loan system. Given how important you say this stuff is, I would expect to find a wonderful site on the internet which has what I described above; do you have any ideas why such a thing doesn't exist? You would think if it were as profoundly important as you claim, it would be available in such a fashion. As it stands, the best thing you can recommend is a translation from the German.

            LB: The Roman Catholic strategy isn't obviously better when measured by empirical fruit; I know it's better in your imagination. You have high hopes if only people would obey, and yet so many are pretty terrible at it. Remind me, have you yet to deal head-on with 1 Cor 3:1–5 seriously, where Paul says that "while there is jealousy and strife among you", the proper descriptors are "people of the flesh" and "infants in Christ"? I've brought it up a number of times.

            RG: This is just changing the subject. You can't defend Protestantism. It is just too incoherent. So you want to measure the Catholic church in a completely different way. A completely subjective way.

            (1) You have focused a great deal on factiousness in Protestantism, and yet a letter addressed to a factious church is "just changing the subject"?!

            (2) When Jesus said "You will recognize them by their fruits.", was he talking of "[a] completely subjective way"?

            I say Catholic fruit is better. You say Protestant fruit is better.

            The underlined is incorrect. We've been over this a number of times; please explain why you keep getting my position wrong.

            When we get into details we just start name calling.

            Where have I called you names? I would like specific examples.

            It is not a profitable exercise.

            So obeying Jesus when he said "You will recognize them by their fruits." is not a profitable exercise?

            The Catholic church is the universal church of Christ. That is what the word Catholic means. We have everyone.

            If Jesus would call Jan Hus his own, then the Roman Catholic Church most definitely does not "have everyone". Rinse & repeat for every heretic executed, including those whom were executed by the secular state, at the behest of the RCC. (That's how Jesus was executed: by a secular state at the behest of religious leaders.)

            It is not true of Protestantism because there is no list of essentials in the bible. So assert a list, like the fundamentalist movement did a while back, really violates Sola Scriptura.

            You problems understanding sola scriptura continue. What it means is that any list of essentials can be questioned by going back to scripture. The list of essentials never gets to be on par with or rise above scripture. Where is the contradiction? If the sola scriptura-affirming fundamentalist goes on to say that anyone who does not agree with his/her list is "not a Christian", then you get self-contradiction.

            Yet they recognize that nobody having such authority is creating chaos.

            God seems to see multiple things as rather worse than chaos. Ever read Habakkuk? Do you think God might prefer "chaos" to pathetically low expectations for what he wants to accomplish in this world?

            Church splitters are being disobedient to scripture. Sola Scriptura is disobedient to scripture. Following you own opinion first is not a biblical or logical way to follow God.

            Which of the founding Protestants believed that sola scriptura means "[f]ollowing your own opinion first"? I would like specific quotations with sources indicated. If in fact you mean to describe subsequent distortions of sola scriptura, you failed to indicate so.

            Empirical correlates do not solve the problem. People are still looking at the data through traditional lenses.

            Empirical correlates are not magic. And yes, tradition can be so sick and ossified that it is incapable of being challenged from the realm of the empirical. Nevertheless, Jesus said "You will recognize them by their fruits."; will you who stress obedience so much declare that it just isn't possible to obey Jesus on this matter? I remind you that you said earlier, "This is why judging fruit is such a waste of time."

            For example, I can see empirically that the sexual revolution has been a humanitarian disaster.

            I agree that bad things have come out of it, but if you fail to recognize any good things (e.g. women getting equal pay for equal work), you're probably going to lose in any argument where you aren't preaching to the choir. I would also want to see if there has been less spousal abuse, including marital rape. If there is less of that under the secular program than under the Roman Catholic program, then some serious judging by fruit will need to happen. (I'm not saying Roman Catholicism would be thereby completely undermined.)

            Protestants are the same way about Sola Scriptura. It does not matter how bad the data gets. Just thinking the reformation might have been wrong is so hard.

            I'm pretty sure that this is true of all humans. Just how helpful is it to be grounded in "Sacred Tradition"? What if we judge by how Catholics behaved during the Thirty Years' War? And it's not like you are any more willing to question now that you're a Catholic; just look at how confident you are that "first among equals" has not changed in kind. (discussion history)

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            LB: If you're not willing to say that God could have infallibly and beneficially revealed to Pope Leo X that "executing heretics is wrong", then you're clearly willing a lot of terribleness to happen in order for Christians to learn their lessons. The church split situation is more disastrous for you, since you think that only by obedience to a single human authority can we really solve the problem. I think the fact that you simultaneously think people wouldn't have obeyed Pope Leo X had he infallibly said "God never wants you to execute heretics!" indicates a gaping hole in your r