Steve Hays: a distorted view of reality and God: to put it very mildly
I must admit that discovering this information today almost literally took my breath away. It's a rare Protestant who will so brazenly defend denominationalism, since they are well aware that it is absent from Scripture. Almost all Protestants I have encountered are deeply uncomfortable and uneasy with regard to denominationalism and sectarianism. That is because they know full well that it is scandalous.
Hence, they will often argue that Luther, Calvin et al never intended for this state of affairs to come about. Luther himself complained bitterly about rampant sectarianism in his own time, that he thoroughly disapproved of. Calvin was quite embarrassed over it, as I have documented from his own letters. More recent Protestants have echoed the troubled, concerned sentiments of the founders of the movement:
Denominationalism . . . is such an unacknowledged hypocrisy. It is a compromise, made far too lightly, between Christianity and the world . . . It represents the accomodation of Christianity to the caste-system of human society . . . The division of the churches closely follows the division of men into the castes of national, racial, and economic groups . . .The domination of class and self-preservative church ethics over the ethics of the gospel must be held responsible for much of the moral ineffectiveness of Christianity in the West.I have demonstrated repeatedly, I think, that the Bible is dead-set against any notion of denominationalism or sectarianism whatsoever. For example:
(H. Richard Niebuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism, New York: Meridian Books, 1929, 6, 21)
There is ample reason to believe that the growing dissension in evangelical ranks has a theological as well as a sociological or cultural basis . . . Old divisions in the evangelical family are reappearing . . . New divisions are beginning to appear . . .In my view, there will never be real evangelical unity, let alone Christian unity, until there is an awakening to the reality of the oneness and catholicity of the church . . . The growing worldliness of the church today perhaps accounts for the fact that so little progress toward church unity is being made.
(Donald Bloesch, The Future of Evangelical Christianity, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983, 56-57, 65)
Compelling Biblical Evidence Against Denominations and "Primary vs. Secondary" DoctrinesSteve Hays thinks rather differently, however, from Holy Scripture and most of his Protestant compatriots. For him, denominations must be God's will because they exist. Profound wisdom there, huh? Hence, he writes in a post from 19 May 2008:
Denominationalism and Sectarianism
I’m not a Protestant because I value freedom of conscience. This is simply a question of how God has chosen to govern his covenant community. When Armstrong sees “20,000 denominations,” he’s aghast. He’s scandalized. He’s horrified.Hays starts out writing:
He’s like a child who disapproves of his parents’ childrearing methods. When he grows up, he’s going to do a better job of raising his own kids. His kids will never bicker with each other.
When I see “20,000 denominations,” I say to myself, I guess God wants a world with 20,000 denominations! And if that’s good enough for God, then that’s good enough for me.
Ultimately, this is God’s world, not mine. It’s none of my business how God conducts his business. If God wants a world with “20,000 denominations,” I’m game with that. Who am I to take issue with God’s administration of the universe? I’m just along for the ride.
Unlike Dave, I don’t think I could to a better job of running the world than the Almighty. I actually think that God has a pretty good idea of why he does what he does. And I don’t think the world would function any better if David Armstrong sat in the big chair for a day. In fact—and forgive me for saying this—but I suspect that things might work out rather less well if Armstrong were God for a day. . . .
How does that pose a dilemma for the Protestant? There were doctrinal disputes in the time of Jesus. It isn’t God’s will to eliminate all these differences. If God had wanted more doctrinal unity, he could jolly well have made a world with more doctrinal unity. He had plenty of possible worlds to choose from. But he chose to create this world. This messy world of ours. God obviously values some things more highly than doctrinal unity. So he created a world to reflect his scale of values. I can live with that. Dave cannot. I think that God got the world he wanted—complete with “20,000 denominations.”
I wouldn’t ordinarily be bothered with Dave Armstrong’s trifles. However, Victor Reppert has plugged one of Armstrong’s articles, so I’ll comment on it, even though Armstrong has nothing original to say on the subject, and I’ve addressed this topic ad nauseum.That's funny. This is exactly how I feel about his writing! And so I won't bother with this critique of one of my articles. I simply want to point out some of the personal attacks in it (to illustrate to the reader how Hays typically proceeds in "argument"):
This is a really stupid statement.Hays also engaged in further personal attack in a combox on Christian philosopher Victor Reppert's blog, and I made a brief clarifying response. Hays' words will be in blue:
If Armstrong lacks confidence in the power of rational persuasion, then why is he a Catholic apologist?
Of course, this is tendentious. . . . he’s generating a specious inconsistency . . .
. . . his tactic is at odds with his own theology. . . . Armstrong is dissembling.
Armstrong is equivocating.
Once again, Armstrong is equivocating.
One of the reasons we needed a Reformation was to emancipate ourselves from this sort of Mickey Mouse prooftexting.
No, it just means that we regard the church as a family, and members of the same family have been known to disagree with one another. Now maybe that’s alien to Armstrong’s personal experience. Maybe he’s the only child of doting parents. Maybe he’s married to a mousey, wallflower wife. But most of us, who grew up in normal families, have learned by common observation that husbands, wives, and siblings occasionally have a difference of opinion. I know that may come as a shock to someone as insulated from reality as dear old Dave, . . .
I prefer a “priesthood of scholars” to a priesthood of charlatans. Not to mention a priesthood of child molesters.
Yes, a majestic church whose glorious membership includes Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Cardinal Law, Cardinal Richelieu, the Mafia, the Borgia papacy, and other luminaries of note.
Papal conclaves are held in secret. How does he verify that a pope is not an antipope? That no voter fraud took place?
The only “irresolvable dilemma” here is the spectacle of a Catholic layman like Armstrong, without a theology degree from any Catholic institution of learning, assailing the right of private judgment.
Huh??!! What in the world does my educational status have to do with whether private judgment is a true principle or not?
If Armstrong imagines he’s qualified to represent Catholic theology,
Any Catholic can correctly state back what the Catholic Church teaches, if they know the right sources to utilize. It ain't rocket science. To defend it is another matter, but folks can learn to do that too.
then his Protestant counterpart is at least equally qualified to represent Biblical theology
What sort of biblical theology? Anyone can make arguments from the text, sure. I have no problem with plain old folks doing exegesis. It's only when they spurn the authority of Church and Tradition that I have a problem. I love scholars but I despise academic snobbery and elitism.
—and without the glaring self-contradiction in David’s case.
No self-contradiction at all. Lay Catholic apologetics has a long history (Chesterton, Sheed et al).
I think the Bible is clear, by and large. I wrote in my paper on perspicuity [that blogmaster Reppert had referred to, thus raising Hays' ire and utter personal contempt for yours truly]:
The Bible is indeed more often than not quite clear when approached open-mindedly and with a moral willingness to accept its teachings. I assume this myself, even as a Catholic.My problem is making sola Scriptura the formal principle, because that necessitates a denial of the infallibility of the Church. That has brought about the organizational chaos and doctrinal relativism that we see in Protestantism.