Sunday, November 30, 2008

Brief Reflection on How to Stop Legal Childkilling

By Dave Armstrong (11-30-08)

Comments about abortion (both from women) on the CHNI board:

We think we are so "enlightened" in this day and age. And yet, that woman is so blind. As you said, how can she not see that those fingers and toes belonged to a person who surely felt fear and pain in their last moments of life? We are blind AND insane.

It is absolutely unfathomable how deceived people can be.

It's precisely because abortion is absolutely insane and irrational and diabolical, that neither science nor philosophy nor reason nor fact nor moral argument (nor photos) have much effect on those who promote the murder.

It has to be stopped by either:
1) Force of Law (some major ruling or law), that in a generation starts to become respectable as a moral guideline, as true law should be.

[not likely in the near future, esp. now with Obama and the Supreme Court possibly lost to the pro-life cause for 10-20 years, after we were right on the verge of a pro-life majority for the first time since 1973. Thanks very much, all you Christian Obama voters!]

2) Spiritual Revival, including personal conversion and transformation and Christians actually having lots of children again, like we used to.

[God determines that in His Providence]

3) Outreach and love shown to women who have also been the victims of abortion.

[we're doing pretty good here, with CPCs, etc.]

4) Appeal to self-interest (health and emotional aftermath factors).

[increasingly being utilized as a pro-life approach to reduce abortions]

#1 and #4 work in a secular context (though #1 would cause a huge uproar in the short term); #2 and #3 are more spiritual and take longer to have a full effect. But it is a combination of all these things, rather than rational argumentation of any sort (which clearly has been ineffective, because we have all the superior arguments), that will make a difference in the long run.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Biblical Evidence Concerning Alleged Marian Excesses of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Devotion and Mary Mediatrix

By Dave Armstrong (11-25-08)

This came about as a result of some questions asked on the CHNI forum, from a few people who are seriously considering conversion to Catholicism.

* * * * *

I struggle with this and don't know what to make of it. I hear or read Catholics make comments or prayers to Mary that seem over the top. I can understand the idea of asking Mary to intercede for us, but sometimes the praise and prayers given to her seem to take the place of God. Things like 'Mary saves us' or when prayer is directed to her saying we give our heart to Mary or asking Mary to do whatever the request is - as though she herself has the power to grant our request. In the past I've put this down to Marian devotion gone wrong, but then I've also read Catholic explanations for these types of prayers or praise along the lines of 'well, that's not really what we mean' - to which I tend to respond 'then say or pray what you mean' - speak & say according to your actual theology. To do otherwise seems like mental gymnastics, or dancing around the issue semantically - and not quite honest. I feel like it's misleading to pray or praise Mary in terms that in a non-Catholic's mind should be reserved for God alone.

This is especially difficult when the comments are from Pope Benedict XVI: "We implore you to have pity today on the nations that have gone astray, on all Europe, on the whole world, that they might repent and return to your heart." It almost seems to undermine the whole persuasive argument for the fullness of truth being found in the Catholic Church. This is a huge stumbling block to me and the last few days has felt like a complete roadblock on the journey I've been on back towards the Catholic faith. I know this may sound angry, but I need some good answers & honesty without someone dancing around this issue with words. Thanks.

Good and fair questions.  I think the main difficulty you are expressing can probably be adequately explained, for the most part, in terms of:
1) Flowery, poetic language that is not intrinsically literal in nature or intent.

2) Interpreting the words in context (especially a Christological context).

3) Taking into account the many less or inadequately educated Catholics who don't understand the fine distinctions in Catholic theology. They aren't helping matters any.

4) Protestants have so minimized and underemphasized Mary and have categorized any devotion to her in terms of rank idolatry, and this has so penetrated the entire Christian community (especially in Protestant-to-the-bone North America), that now virtually any devotion at all can seem to be excessive, because of the stark contrast. We all (bar none) pick up influences from our surroundings.
* * *

Let's not get carried away here, with the "save" terminology. To speak of a human being as participating in "saving" others is perfectly biblical:

1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

[Paul "saves" other people]

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

[ Doesn't Paul know that only God can save??!!!]

Philippians 2:12b-13 . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

[If someone says that God is mentioned in the second part, the Calvinist "monergist" still has to explain how a human being can participate at all in what only God can do (according to the monergist) ]

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it [his many sufferings: 4:8-12,17] is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Ephesians 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you...

Ephesians 4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

[Paul distributes divine grace, just as we believe Mary does, and teaches that others can do the same]

St. Peter also joins in this folly of teaching that Christians can distribute divine grace to each other:

1 Peter 4:8b-10 . . . love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.

Even the angels help to give grace:

Revelation 1:4-5a John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ . . .

[ it was nice of John to add in Jesus Christ at the end, along with his own and the angels' giving of grace, just so we'll remember that there is but one mediator of God's grace. Not a lot of "monergism" there, I reckon . . .]
This is especially difficult when the comments are from Pope Benedict XVI: "We implore you to have pity today on the nations that have gone astray, on all Europe, on the whole world, that they might repent and return to your heart.

There is nothing whatever wrong with this prayer, or the Holy Father's reciting of it. It is perfectly orthodox. I would caution young Catholics and those considering the Church against judging high forms of Catholic pious expression. These things are not simple. It takes years to learn to appreciate them and to spiritually "resonate" with them, so to speak. One cannot do that in a few months' time.
Believe me, I'm still learning lots of things all the time, and I've been a Catholic for 18 years, and defend the Church almost on a daily basis. I consider myself to have a fairly strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin, but there are still some prayers that strike me even now as "excessive."

But the difference is that I recognize the limitation in myself, from years or Protestant and secular thinking (32 years, before I converted). I acknowledge that I am insufficiently Catholic, rather than concluding that the Church is insufficiently correct or biblical. It is because my "lens" through which this material is "filtered" is not yet fully Catholic, or without impurities that blur my vision and reception, that I think any of it is excessive, not because it actually is.

It's fine to say that one doesn't fully understand something, but to start judging popes and the Church when one still personally has a great deal to learn about the faith; that is where it becomes wrong, in my opinion, and presumptuous. It requires a lot of humility to admit to ourselves that there are things we don't yet know: that saints and doctors of the Church have pondered and thought about for centuries.

This is one such instance. This is how a Catholic thinks. He or she bows to the superior wisdom of the Church of the Ages and recognizes that it is Holy Mother Church that determines truth and falsehood in the end, not the lone individual, stock-full of many biases and cultural / philosophical / religious (sometimes ethnic) influences hostile to the Church.

I wouldn't expect a brand-new Catholic who is barely starting to understand Mariology in all its fullness, to grasp a prayer like this. It would be like asking a person who just learned their time tables, to comprehend algebra, or calculus, or trigonometry. Does that make any sense?

Mariology and Marian veneration is a very high level of spirituality. That's precisely why millions of Protestants don't engage in it at all. They have jettisoned this whole aspect of Christianity from their faith, and have never learned about it. Every Protestant has to "unlearn" that built-in hostility and then be willing to learn to think in a very different way: a Catholic, traditional way (that is, when closely examined, more deeply and profoundly "biblical" than any form of Protestantism).

The way to deal with this is not to quickly determine that the pope is wrong, or sinful, or that this is proof that Catholicism isn't perfect (like every other option out there). No; it is a time to dig in and do some serious study, to understand why these expressions are used, and why they seem so foreign and "unbiblical" and "excessive" to us (if that is how we feel about it).

There are reasons for these things. We are what we eat. We take in the philosophy of our surroundings. America was a thoroughly Protestant country, and now is increasingly a secular one. American thought is not exactly renowned for its deep understanding of the Catholic worldview. We all deal with this. It's a constant process. Romans 12:2-3 states:
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.
It's like any debate. We shouldn't feel that we can comment authoritatively on the wrongness of some other position (much less in public!) until we have first learned about that thing inside and out, and know the position as well or even better than our "opponents" who hold it.

Now, as to young Catholics and all aspects of Catholic Mariology; sorry, there are a ton of things that have yet to be learned. But if you already know pretty much that the Catholic Church is the One True Church and the fullness of the faith, then I would strongly urge you to be most reluctant to judge her devotions, no matter how difficult it may be for you at this time to completely understand the basis of them.

In this instance, there is a quick judgment upon a holy person who has been deemed to be "Blessed" by Holy Mother Church (and upon the present Holy Father: who is himself an extraordinary theologian: not all popes are). Does anyone really think that his Mariology would be horrendously heretical, seeing that he has been declared "Blessed"? The Church takes painstaking care to make sure everyone who is being considered for sainthood has orthodox views.

Here, we are talking about Blessed Bartolo Longo (see Wikipedia). His writings are used as part of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.

You can read the original prayer that the Holy Father recited in an article about it. But be prepared to be jolted yet again if you are not familiar with the most florid expressions of Catholic Marian piety. I reiterate what I stated above: if these things trouble you, it is a time for you to start from scratch and learn the basis of this sort of Marian piety in Catholic spirituality. Resolve to learn, not to judge. That is my advice, for whatever it is worth. The newest person on a sports team does not immediately start judging the actions and decisions and rationales of the coach, does he? Is it not his place to be quiet and to learn a bit before taking on the coach (if he ever does so)?

First of all, like all truly authentic Marian piety, this prayer is not without many references to Jesus Christ, Whose ultimate authority as God is always presupposed and deeply ingrained in the consciousness of Catholics who are also devoted to Mary. When one presupposes something they do not always mention it again and again. Outsiders may misunderstand and think that the assumed thing that is not always mentioned in every other sentence, is therefore, denied, but that doesn't follow, logically, at all. That said, here are some references to Jesus in the prayer:
. . . redeemed through the blood of our sweet Jesus . . .
. . . That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. . . . [four times, recurring in the prayer]
. . . we, . . . are the first who crucify Jesus in our hearts . . .
. . . the testament of our dying Redeemer. And this testament of a God, sealed with the blood of a Man-God, appointed thee our Mother, the Mother of sinners. Thus, as our Mother, thou art our Advocate and our Hope.
. . . yet wound the loving heart of thy Son.
Did not Jesus entrust to thy hands all the treasures of his graces and mercies?
The divine Child we behold on thy knees, . . .
Certainly no Protestant could object to any of these references to Jesus. They're in there, and they can't be dismissed and discounted. I can see that probably the most controversial passage in the prayer would be the line:
Thou art almighty by grace, and therefore thou canst save us.
Before anyone drops dead from shock, this is perfectly explainable in an orthodox, biblical sense. The language of "save" is (as I have shown above) perfectly biblical. The Bible teaches that God uses His creatures to distribute His grace, that always originates from Him and He alone. Paul uses the same language.

Catholics believe that God uses Mary in the distribution of grace, even for all graces received (yes, that is firm, longstanding Catholic doctrine, reaffirmed by all recent popes: just not yet defined at the very highest dogmatic level). God can do that if He so chooses. It is neither impossible nor contrary to the Bible, nor denigrating of God. It is, we believe in faith, how God chose to act. Here one who is just starting to explore Catholic Mariology, needs to take a deep breath, relax, and read a few elementary, prerequisite treatments of the topic. 

The definition of the word "almighty" is not limited to reference to God alone, as literally all-powerful. It can also have a second meaning of "great power." For example, Merriam-Webster online, gives as a second definition:
relatively unlimited in power almighty board of directors> b: having or regarded as having great power or importance almighty dollar>
Note that in the prayer, Mary is "almighty by grace," which precisely expresses that whatever power she has comes from God, by grace. God needs no grace; only His creatures do, including Mary, who was saved by her immaculate conception, by the sheer grace of God. God gives her extraordinary grace to be very powerful ("almighty" in the second permitted sense of the word). confirms the above, in its first entry, from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary (2006):

2. having very great power, influence, etc.: The almighty press condemned him without trial.

So this becomes a simple matter of understanding the language, and the permitted latitude in language, according to dictionary definition. But people often see what they want to see, don't they?: according to their predispositions coming in. Many Protestants who see this (already hampered by a highly distorted notion of what Catholics believe about Mary) will immediately conclude that Mary is being equated with God, and given power that only He has (omnipotence). They do the same in how they interpret our asking Mary to pray for us. That is simply not the case. And if they don't give Catholics the least benefit of the doubt, then they will continue on with their distortions and calumnies.

There seems to be some fundamental objection also, to referring to Mary's "heart." But that is derived from the longstanding Catholic pious tradition of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (see the Catholic Encyclopedia article on that), which was highly developed over centuries, from an implicit biblical basis in passages like the following:
Luke 2:16-19 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 

Luke 2:35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul [heart in some translations] also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed." 
Luke 2:51 And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
The devotion is analogous to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (see Catholic Encyclopedia article). St. Paul refers to his own "heart" in similar fashion, in several passages:
Romans 9:2-3 . . . I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race. 

Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.  
2 Corinthians 2:4 For I wrote you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you. 

2 Corinthians 6:11 Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. 

2 Corinthians 7:3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. (cf. Acts 21:13)
Therefore, one could speak of Paul, based on explicit biblical data, in much the same way as Mary, referring to his "saving" of others, and of returning to his "heart" -- that is, to conform to his will, just as he urged his followers to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16; Phil 3:17; 2 Thess 3:7-9), as he imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6).
* * *

All I'm saying, basically, is that someone just coming into a worldview will likely not understand some of its most complex points. That (itself self-evident, I think) would seem to me to call for an approach of a bit more reluctance to make the strong criticisms that we have seen: against the pope, no less. It's okay to not understand and even to disagree at this point, but please understand that these are complex matters and have a full justification from a Catholic perspective. That is the point I was trying to make. Sometimes we apologists gotta say things that are a little difficult for others to hear. Part of the job.

As the "novice" coming in, it is proper, I think, to realize that a person that much more wise would obviously have a good reason for what he says, and we can recognize that we may not yet know or fully understand what that reason would be. The Marian doctrines are all solidly established over many centuries. But the least we owe the Holy Father is to understand why he might say such a thing, and not to presume without any analysis and examination that he was saying or believing some awful, indefensible notion.

It's an issue of where the lines should be drawn, and how to properly disagree, within a Catholic framework. This is stuff where new and prospective Catholics have a lot to learn: quite understandably so. I'm not blaming anyone for being an inexperienced Catholic or insufficiently aware of "Catholic stuff." That would be silly. I'm simply calling for a restraint and a recognizing that this is probably the case: over-dogmatism is not commensurate with being new in any given thing or environment. That was my analogy to a sports coach: saying that the rookie on the team doesn't start telling the coach what to do.

I'm saying that anyone struggling with Catholic Marian doctrines (and they are legion!) should also take the time to learn more about why Catholics use this sort of language about Mary. No one has to be in the dark. There is plenty of material out there. I've tried to do some of that educating in this thread, which is my job. non-Catholics can disagree with it. But those considering conversion need to understand that the prayer is Catholic, and is part of the faith that they would be adopting, should they decide to become Catholic. The Holy Father was not mistaken at all, within the framework of Catholic orthodoxy.

That may bother and offend and alarm some folks; it may even set them back on their journey towards the Catholic Church, for all I know, but I can't sit here and pretend that it is not part of orthodox Catholic faith. It is. I would be negligent of my duty as a Catholic teacher if I denied that. Any possible convert can choose to learn more about it and perhaps be convinced of it or not. They're not obliged to engage in every form of Catholic Marian piety even after they are Catholics, or to say the Rosary, or say any Marian prayer if they don't want to.

Apologists and catechists and priests and anyone who is sharing the Catholic faith are, however, duty-bound to accurately explain what a convert is "in for" once they become Catholic (doctrine-wise). Some things are far more complex and take more time to grasp (Mariology being the classic case) but if we don't try to explain Mariology when questions come up we are guilty of selling someone a bill of goods, when they are considering conversion. I don't see the point of trying to do "Catholic Lite" or "Protestantizing" the faith to make it more palatable to Protestants.

I myself use lots of Scripture in my apologetics because that is what Protestants can relate to, and I love to study the Bible in the first place, but I never attempt to water down the faith or not say what it teaches, if asked. This is one such occasion. And that is because I believe that the entirety of the Catholic faith (not all actions of Catholics for all time) can be reasonably defended, and shown to be completely harmonious with the Bible.

If "checking my mind at the door" had been a requirement of Catholicism, I would never have become Catholic myself. I was quite happy as an evangelical. I think my experience was that of folks like G.K. Chesterton and the vast majority of Catholic converts: we were challenged in our minds far more deeply than we ever were as Protestants. I have learned far more about the depths of Scripture, too, than I ever did as a Protestant. The liberation and the joy (even intellectually) come with the realization that Catholicism is profoundly true. What is true will never shackle the human mind. To the contrary, it liberates and illumines it to the highest degree.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Excessive Abuses in the Use of Lay Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in America

By Dave Armstrong (11-20-08)

It is completely understandable that many people are outraged by abuses in the Mass. When the rubrics are violated it is scandalous and the laity have every right to protest and try to reform the mistaken, erroneous, improper practices.

Lots of things are routinely violated. For example, the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion is supposed to be restricted to, well, "extraordinary" circumstances (hence the name). As we know, that guideline is hardly ever applied. The Vatican document Inaestimabile Donum (1980) stated:
The faithful, whether religious or lay, who are authorized as extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist can distribute Communion only when there is no priest, deacon, or acolyte, when the priest is impeded by illness or advanced age, or when the number of the faithful going to Communion is so large as to make the celebration of the Mass excessively long.

(Instruction Concerning Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, by the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship; Approved and Confirmed by His Holiness Pope John Paul II April 17, 1980; section 10)
This instruction was strongly reiterated in 1987. Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin devotes five pages to the topic (pp. 51-55), nailing down the point repeatedly, in his book Mass Confusion: The Do's and Don'ts of Catholic Worship (San Diego: Catholic Answers, 1999).

Likewise, Fr. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, also a very able and knowledgeable Catholic apologist, is most emphatic about the widespread abuses in this regard:
The Holy Father is most concerned that this permission is improperly used in the United States, indeed that it is grossly abused. . . .

The adjective "extraordinary" sets the tone -- they are to be used in extraordinary circumstances and having them every week or even every day hardly sounds extraordinary . . .

The Holy See views the use of extraordinary ministers as an unusual occurrence, resulting from emergency situations; thus it regards the present American scene as anomalous at best and aberrant at worst. I could not state the case any stronger . . .

I don't know how it is possible to applaud something so blatantly wrong and in violation of all liturgical norms, and done on so grand a scale in our country. In general, I do not think most extraordinary ministers are to blame personally; rather, they have been sold a bill of goods by their priests who, for a variety of reasons, wish to pass off this unique aspect of their ministry to the unordained . . .

What I have said to this point faithfully reflects Church teaching and discipline. Any person of good will can readily perceive that; those of bad will shall not accept it, regardless of how often the case is argued. . . .

This is one of the most serious problems to emerge in the postconciliar Church in America, since it touches on the very heart of Catholic Faith and practice . . .

The improper use of extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist is, of course, a violation of correct liturgical procedure. However, two other serious problems also present themselves: a lost sense of the sacred and a distorted view of the lay apostolate . . .

By permitting nearly anyone at all to distribute the Eucharist, we are communicating a message at the symbolic level that this action is really not all that special . . . Pope John Paul II criticized the abuse of the permission for extraordinary ministers as "reprehensible." . . .

One final area of concern revolves around the significance of the lay apostolate. It never ceases to amaze me as a priest that when I invite people to become active in the work of the Church, almost invariably they volunteer for liturgical ministries. This demonstrates that Vatican II is still not fully understood. The whole point of the council's theology of the laity was that the laity had their own unique role to play in bringing the Gospel to contemporary humanity -- in the world, not in the sanctuary. . . .

The role of the priest is to preach and administer the sacraments, so that the laity can be faithful witnesses in the world, thus inviting people there to follow Christ. . . .

Please note that we are not concerned with heresy here but with an imprudent, unwise liturgical practice, reflective of bad sociology. Like other Americanisms in the Church, this one fails to take a holistic view of reality, neglects long-range implications, and does not take seriously the nonverbal, symbolic power of liturgical communication.

(The Catholic Answer Book, Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 1990, pp. 90-94; from published articles in The Catholic Answer magazine between 1987 and 1990)
Pope John Paul II alluded to the abuses in his encyclical Christifideles Laici (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and the World: 30 December 1988):
In the same Synod Assembly, however, a critical judgment was voiced along with these positive elements, about a too- indiscriminate use of the word "ministry," the confusion and equating of the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood, the lack of observance of ecclesiastical laws and norms, the arbitrary interpretation of the concept of "supply," the tendency toward a "clericalization" of the lay faithful and the risk of creating, in reality, an ecclesial structure of parallel service to that founded on the Sacrament of Orders.

(section 23)
By no means is all concern for a traditional, reverent Mass according to the rubrics that Holy Mother Church has established, of right wing radtrad extremist origin. I am of this thinking myself, and I have very little tolerance for the radical Catholic reactionaries, having written a book critiquing them and also having maintained a web page detailing their errors for many years. No one would ever accuse me of being soft on them!

For further related reading, see:

Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, Peter A. Kwasniewski (The Catholic Faith, Vol. 6, No. 6, November / December 2000)

Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 1997)

The Proper Use of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas (PDF file)

Lay ministers of the Eucharist are supposed to be 'extraordinary', Noelle Hiester

Vatican instruction on the Eucharist to avoid abuses, Francis Cardinal Arinze (23 April 2004; excerpts: see the last section)

Liturgical Roles in the Eucharistic Celebration, Francis Cardinal Arinze (from his book, Celebrating the Holy Eucharist)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reply to C. Michael Patton on "Sola Scriptura", Part Six (Divisions)

By Dave Armstrong (11-19-08)

This paper responds to Part Eight and Part 8B of Michael Patton's multi-part series in defense of sola Scriptura (the last two parts: though he says the series is incomplete, as of this writing). His words will be in blue.

* * * * *

The fifth argument against sola Scriptura:

Without the infallible authority of the Church, the Church would be hopelessly divided on matters of doctrine and morals. This would not be the Church that Christ started.

The idea here is that when doctrine is left to the “private interpretation” of the individual, this leads to doctrinal anarchy. Catholics and Orthodox alike often appeal to the thousands of Protestant denominations as a witness against the doctrine sola Scriptura.

. . . which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, based on the biblical data and what God expected to be the case in His one undivided Church.


There are a few problems that I see with this argument. I will deal with the first two in brief and spend more time on the last one in the post that follows.

Fair enough. Best wishes! I sure wouldn't want to be in a place to have to defend denominationalism.

Problem 1: We don’t advocate “private interpretation”

This argument often assumes that sola Scriptura promotes an unbridled “private interpretation” that gives no authority to tradition. This is not the confession of sola Scriptura, but of nuda Scriptura, which I have spoken about previously.

Correct. As I have pointed out, however, numerous times in these replies and in other ones, the principle of sola Scriptura, however sophisticated is the understanding of one who holds it, still inevitably logically reduces to the individual having the final say. He can bow to some tradition or creed or confession and voluntarily place it in an "advisory" capacity, but because binding, infallible authority is ruled out from the outset, he obviously can change his mind, according to the foundational principles of sola Scriptura: and no Protestant can consistently forbid him from doing so, because in the Protestant system of belief, the individual always has the right to dissent in good conscience, just as Luther did against the Catholic Church.

Every Protestant, in other words, has the "right" to act exactly as Luther did, and to be, in effect, a "mini Luther." If Luther can dissent against much of Catholic tradition, while continuing to abide by other parts of it (and we are constantly told that he respected patristic tradition and much of Catholic tradition and had no desire to rebel or leave, etc.), then any Protestant can dissent against any particular brand of Protestantism: which will always have less rationale than Catholic tradition in the first place, as it is only one of many such Protestant traditions: all arbitrarily begun by some person who claimed an authority that he did not intrinsically possess.

So sure, thoughtful Protestants give some credence and weight to various Christian traditions: some harmonious with Catholic tradition and others not (being late-breaking denominational traditions: often grounded in things other than Holy Scripture). But because they are neither binding nor infallible, he can always consistently dissent and split for another denomination that is more to his personal liking, or else start his own new denomination.

Advocates of sola Scriptura do not believe in this sort of private interpretation. We must interpret the Scriptures along with those who have gone before us, even if we might have warrant to question or disagree with their theology from time to time.

Exactly. The latter loophole is a mile wide and explains much of the difficulty with the Protestant position. It's almost as if it has a "death wish" to destroy itself via the incoherence of its first premises. Protestant history provides ample example of this self-destructive tendency.

Those who read the Scripture, as Alexander Campbell once advocated, “As if no one has read them before” are not following in the tradition of the Reformed view of sola Scriptura. Those must be judged on their own merit without association to the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

True as far as it goes, but it will break down eventually. It just takes a bit longer than in the case of the adherents of solo Scriptura or nuda Scriptura.

Problem 2: Everyone has divisions.

Protestants disagree about what the Scriptures say, Catholics disagree about what the Church says, and (as the saying goes) the Orthodox don’t say enough to disagree! Simply because one is put under a more definite designative umbrella does not make true unity.

That's correct, but unfortunately it misses the essential point. There is a fundamental difference between Catholic divisions on the ground (dissenters, liberals, modernists) and Protestant divisions. The latter achieve a formal status, as indicated by the formation of yet more denominations. And Protestant denominations actually change their doctrines and become more liberal, as we see in the tragic upheavals of Episcopalianism right now, as I write. This is a recurring and constant tendency in Protestantism.

Catholic doctrine, on the other hand, has not changed. So if a Catholic dissents against some Catholic doctrine, he is clearly not acting as a consistent Catholic. Everyone knows what the Catholic doctrines are. They don't change. There will always be some dissenters in any given school of thought (and every such school has to determine how they will be dealt with or censured). But they don't reflect what the school of thought is.

That's not the case in many Protestant denominations (especially over the course of history). If an Episcopalian is in favor of a practicing homosexual bishop, then his denomination now agrees with him, because there was a vote and the practice was adopted as fine and dandy. The Presbyterian Church USA ("PCUSA") recently "nullified proscriptions against sexual behavior outside of marriage and called for a vote to delete the church’s constitutional standard requiring fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness. It also initiated a process that could remove mention of the Bible’s prohibition against homosexuality form the Heidelberg Catechism."

Corporate doctrinal unity in both Protestant and Catholic circles is achieved by doctrinal formulations that are adopted by the communion and regarded as dogma or as the orthodox belief of the group in question. One can only (in the final analysis) go by what those books say. If they change (as in Protestantism), then the dissenters can become the new "orthodox" faction, while the older adherents of what was thought to be denominational orthodoxy and the "mainstream" are now regarded as "fundamentalists" or "fuddy-duds" or "reactionaries" or "hyper-conservatives" or "retrogressive" or "those who are stuck in the past and want to turn back the clock," or whatever the fashionable epithet among the oh-so-relevant liberals may be.

But in the Catholic Church there is an unbroken historical tradition of what is true and untrue: what is orthodox and what is heterodox or heretical. People may be ignorant of these matters (millions are today), or think they have a "right" to openly dissent against what they know to be Catholic teaching, based on a so-called "progressive" or heretical evolutionary understanding of doctrine (where doctrines can actually change over time).

But it is what it is and it has not changed and will not. That is why Catholic teaching has a unity that Protestantism will never have, no matter how many Catholic liberals are running about, complimenting and priding themselves on how relevant and trendy and fashionable they are, or looking down their condescending noses at us low-life orthodox Catholics.

I, for example, have witnessed just as many disagreements among Catholics about what the Church means by “outside the Church there is no salvation” as I have among Protestants about any issue.

Not at all. There is a small faction of so-called Catholic "traditionalists" who don't get this teaching. It is quite clear what it means, according to the mind of the Church.

All one has to do is to go spend some time on the Catholic Answers forum and see that they don’t function with much more unity than a Protestant forum.

This proves absolutely nothing, since it is a bunch of individual lay Catholics. They (speaking of individuals) may be right or wrong, according to the standard of Catholic orthodoxy, or ignorant, or openly dissenting, or "traditionalist" (which is sort of our equivalent of Protestant "fundamentalists"). But Catholic teaching is what it is, and is one, whereas Protestants are all over the ballpark. There is no comparison whatever.

One can point to liberals in either environment, but this poses no problem for the system itself being what it is, as explained above. Protestant liberals (such as Unitarians or Open Theists) no more represent historic Protestant evangelicalism than Catholic liberals represent Catholicism. But evangelicals themselves (not the liberals who infiltrate them) have deep divisions: such as over baptism or the Arminian-Calvinist never-ending divide. These things are never resolved: nor can they be, because the Protestant rule of faith makes it impossible to achieve.

There would seem to be just as many disagreements, differing interpretations, and needless anathematizing among Catholics as among Protestants. The point is that simply because one functions under a unified name or confession does not mean that you have a unified belief.

Dealt with above . . . Michael is laboring under a huge fallacy. I knew this argument would be made, because it is almost always the Protestant recourse when trying to "defend" the scandal of rampant sectarianism. Besides being fallacious, it is yet another version of the "your dad's uglier than mine" mentality. Rather than even attempt to defend the indefensible, the Protestant immediately switches the topic over to Catholics: to a fallacious "immoral equivalence" argument that doesn't fly, as shown above. Even the attempt to divert the topic is fallacious and illogical. Once the false premise involved is exposed, the "argument" collapses. The Protestant still has to defend his own system, whether the Catholic alternative is the most ridiculous and false worldview the world has ever known. No amount of critique of us (fallacious or not) will alleviate their own difficulties.

It is agreed, however, that Protestants tend to have more divisions,

The understatement of the century . . .

but I would not say that this is the case with Evangelicals to the same degree as other Protestant traditions.

They have plenty of internal divisions, too. I mentioned some. There are also factions of fundamentalism, KJV-Only, the hyper-excesses of Churches of Christ and others from the Campbellite theology (who also believe in adult biblical regeneration); there is the division over the charismatic gifts, and the Lordship salvation controversy, and the Emerging church business, and the reconstructionists, and liberal vs. conservative political understanding (after all, most black churches are doctrinally conservative but overwhelmingly liberal politically), divisions over women pastors, over whether a Protestant should be formally anti-Catholic, and hold that Catholicism is not form of Christianity, divisions over whether Scripture is inerrant / infallible. That's just a few major ones . . .

See this article for more on the overstatement of Protestant divisions.

That is from the anti-Catholic apologist Eric Svendsen. On this particular point I actually thought he made a good argument, and I was persuaded by it, as I noted in my paper, "33,000 Protestant Denominations?" It didn't alleviate the Protestant problem, however, since whether the number is in the hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands, it is still scandalous. Hence I wrote in that paper:
I think we can safely refer to "hundreds" of Protestant denominations, using a cogent doctrinal definition, not merely jurisdictional or superficial (though institutional unity is not an unbiblical characteristic, either, if we want to get technical about it). Biblically-speaking, any more than one "denomination" or "Church" is a scandal. The Catholic continues to assert that there is one Church and that the Catholic Church is the fullest institutional expression of that one Church, with other Christians implicitly connected with it to more or less degrees. This (agree or disagree) at least lines up with the biblical witness as to the nature and definition of the Christian Church, rather than being blatantly contrary to the Bible, as the very notion of denominationalism (wholly apart from later disputes about numbers) is.

So, yes, I agree, Svendsen's clarifications of Barrett's meaning and his rebuke are worthwhile, and to be heeded accordingly; it does not follow, however, that the scandal of Protestant denominationalism is therefore alleviated. It is scandalous because it entails a false, unbiblical definition of what the Church is, no matter how many of these sects one arrives at, or by what calculation and criteria.

I, as a Catholic apologist, can easily admit that Svendsen is right about wrongheaded definitions concerning denominations, but that doesn't have any ill effect whatever on the overall Catholic apologetic. On the other hand, Protestant apologists like Svendsen and White (even ecumenical Protestant apologists and other thinkers) have a huge problem trying to biblically justify denominationalism and sectarianism and in determining the internal causes of same (which we Catholics would identify as: sola Scriptura, private judgment, so-called "supremacy of conscience," the sectarian and exclusivistic mindsets, anti-institutionalism, anti-sacerdotalism, rejection of a binding apostolic tradition and Church, and of apostolic succession, episcopacy, even American cultural individualism running rampant within American Protestantism, etc.) that they have by no means ever resolved or even squarely faced.
3. Division is not always a bad thing

I am a Calvinist, others are Arminian. I believe in a premillenial eschatology, others are amillinial. I am a traducianist with regards to the creation of the soul, others are creationists. I believe in inerrancy, others believe that this is an archaic naive doctrine. There are many points of doctrinal division that I am going to have with people, some of which are much more important than others.

Exactly what I was nothing above: and all these further divisions occur within evangelicalismBut we shall see Michael now attempt to rationalize these divisions rather than concede the rather obvious point that they are scandalous, because falsehood is necessarily present where contradictions are: and falsehood is not a good thing, any way one wants to look at it. God likes truth. He wanted His followers to know and identify this truth. Falsehood comes from the devil's domain and helps no one.

Why doesn’t everyone agree with me? Who is causing this disunity in the body of Christ, them or me?

Rather than blame people, it is better to at least recognize the problem and start working towards resolving it.

One of 2000+ articles by Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong. To buy his deep discount e-books ($2.99: ePub or mobi / $1.99: PDF), go to:

Do these division demonstrate the doctrinal bankruptcy of sola Scriptura?

Yes. The more falsehood there is, the more questionable is the system that directly led to it, by philosophical and historical causation.

Should we elect of a Pope of Protestantism?

Luther and Calvin filled those roles, and y'all have been hearkening back to them in various degrees for almost 500 years. But every Protestant is in effect his own pope, anyway and can make doctrinal decisions completely on his own that no pope in his wildest dreams would have dared to implement.

There are a few different ways that I could answer this.
  1. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied deep enough (lack of scholarship).
  2. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied broad enough (lack of perspective).
  3. Others don’t agree with me because they have not studied long enough (lack of wisdom).
  4. Others don’t agree with me because their traditional prejudices have created a learning disability that keeps them from the truth (lack of freedom of thought).
  5. Others don’t agree with me because they have sin in their life that is blinding them to the truth (lack of holiness).
  6. Others don’t agree with me because we don’t have an infallible authoritative interpreter of Scripture that would bring doctrinal unity?
  7. Others don’t agree with me because they are not Christian. If they were, well . . . they would agree with me! (lack of salvation).
Generally speaking, I do not default to these possibilities.

Okay; then I won't interact with them.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all possibilities. It could be that people deny the truth (assuming that my position is such) due to ignorance, lack of perspective or wisdom, traditional bindings, sin, lack of authority, or a presupposition of godlessness.


But I think we need to be careful about any negative prejudgments about people motives and the ultimate reasons for disagreements.

Yes; for purposes of discussion, but it isn't necessary to deny that these factors do cause divisions, to whatever extent.

Here are the considerations that I would aspire to make before I draw upon the former possibilities.

Others don’t agree with me because they are right and I am wrong.

Granted, I am convicted I am right. If this were not the case I would simply change my position. But the possibility always exists that I am the one who is in error, being misinformed, motivated by false pre-understandings, traditionally bound, or lacking perspective. I must consider this with great humility, as hard as it is to do.

And how does one make an objective judgment as to who is right and who, wrong, without a truly authoritative Church and tradition? We've seen that the Bible alone is in no way sufficient to resolve actual differences on the ground in Protestantism, because each side appeals to Scripture. They start with the same premise (biblical infallibility or inerrancy and inspiration), yet arrive at different conclusions based on the biblical data.

The Protestant can, therefore, only fall back on the subjective experience of the Holy Spirit confirming to him that he is right or wrong, which may indeed be a legitimate thing, but as always, the problem comes when two Protestants claim this same confirmation, with the Holy Spirit supposedly verifying two contradictory understandings. Someone is wrong, and the Protestant has no final objective answer to the question of which person is wrong, or in fact, that both of them are and that the actual doctrinal or ethical truth lies outside both alternatives.

There are some things that I am more sure of than others. For example, I am less likely to be wrong about the existence of God than I am about the doctrine of inerrancy.

That's right. One can certainly accept gradations of certainty.

It is much more plausible that there is an error in the Scriptures than it is that God does not exist.

Especially if one grants copyist / manuscript errors that crept into the inspired original manuscripts.

As well, I am humbled by the fact that there are many things that I used to believe that I no longer believe.

Me too! I used to be, for example, an evangelical Protestant. Now I am an evangelical orthodox Catholic.

I held to these former beliefs with (what seems to be) just as much conviction as many of the beliefs that I hold to now.

I did as well. But I changed my principles from sola Scriptura to the acceptance of a tradition far larger than myself: larger than I could ever hope to work out on my own. The apostles and fathers already did that work for me. It's called apostolic tradition. I found it in the Bible and in the fathers, and that was good enough for me.

What do I do with that? In most of those cases, the evidence, or lack there-of, militated against my previous doctrinal commitments forcing me to make hard adjustments. For example, I used to believe that if someone did not accept the doctrine of inerrancy, they were not Christian. This was due to my fundamentalist presuppositions no doubt, but when faced with the evidence that there are many people out there who do not hold to inerrancy, yet loved and trusted the same Christ as me, my position had to either change or slumber in the bedroom of naivety. I still have those decisions to make. It is called learning.

Sure; we all learn and grow, of course.

What I must realize is this: there is not one belief that I hold to which is protected by infallibility.

But this is why Protestants emphasize the infallible Bible. If something is truly taught in this Bible, it can be trusted as infallible and true. The trick, of course, is to determine if it is actually biblical or not. And Protestants can't resolve those differences.

Infallibility is the other side of the coin of absolute certainty. Absolute certainty can only be held by those who have all the information and are interpreting it correctly. To be infallible means that you cannot fail. Since I am not infallible, by definition, I can fail. All of my beliefs are subject to my attribute of fallibility. There is no one who possesses infallibility.

No one possessed inspiration in and of themselves, either, but God somehow used fallible, sinful men to write an inspired Scripture. It's God's work, not ours. If God can do that miracle (which is a far greater one than infallibility), he can protect men in certain circumstances, and churches from error, in order to preserve His truth, that He promised to lead His Church and His disciples into. Truth is not relative. God doesn't look lightly on error. God says we can know the fullness of truth, with the aid of the indwelling Holy Spirit and His grace.

I don't see anywhere indicated in Holy Scripture that only some can know the whole truth of Christian doctrine, or that no one can, or that there are competing schools that contradict each other, rather than one unified Church, or that doctrinal dissensions and disagreements are to be expected and tolerated, let alone praised and glorified as open-mindedness or the status quo, etc. Jesus and the Bible writers (St. John and St. Paul above all) all assume that there is one truth ("the truth"), one tradition, one doctrine: that can be known with God's help, and the Church's guidance:

Luke 1:4 that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. 
John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 
John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 
John 8:31-32 Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." 
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. 
John 15:26 But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; 
John 16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 
John 17:17, 19 Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. . . . And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. 
John 18:37 . . . For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." 

John 19:35 He who saw it has borne witness -- his testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth -- that you also may believe. 
Romans 9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, 
1 Corinthians 2:13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit. 
2 Corinthians 13:8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 

Galatians 5:7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Ephesians 1:13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Ephesians 5:9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),

Ephesians 6:14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Colossians 1:3-10 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing -- so among yourselves, from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth, as you learned it from Ep'aphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

1 Timothy 2:4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

1 Timothy 4:3 . . . those who believe and know the truth.

2 Timothy 1:14 guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

2 Timothy 2:25 God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth,

2 Timothy 3:7-8 who will listen to anybody and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth. As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith;

2 Timothy 4:4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to further the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth which accords with godliness,

Titus 1:14 instead of giving heed to Jewish myths or to commands of men who reject the truth.

Hebrews 10:26 . . . the knowledge of the truth, . . .

James 5:19 My brethren, if any one among you wanders from the truth and some one brings him back,

1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth. . .

2 Peter 1:12 Therefore I intend always to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.

1 John 2:21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and know that no lie is of the truth.

1 John 2:27 but the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.

1 John 3:19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth, and reassure our hearts before him

1 John 4:6 We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 5:7 And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth.

2 John 1:1-2 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth, and not only I but also all who know the truth, because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us for ever:

3 John 1:3-4 For I greatly rejoiced when some of the brethren arrived and testified to the truth of your life, as indeed you do follow the truth. No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth.

3 John 1:12 Deme'trius has testimony from every one, and from the truth itself; I testify to him too, and you know my testimony is true.
That denominationalism is utterly false to the biblical vision, and incommensurate with it, is a truth I have dealt with many times.

Even Roman Catholics, as we have said, who try to alleviate themselves of this reality by trusting in the dictates of an infallible magisterial authority such as the Pope inevitably face the same problem since their own trust in the infallible authority of the Pope is fallible.

This is untrue. I've already demonstrated the biblical teaching of infallibility, as seen in the Jerusalem Council. There are many indications of the authority of Peter and the papacy that Jesus built His Church upon, in the person of Peter (that I've presented in many papers and in books).

The same holds true for Evangelicals and our infallible Bible. Our belief in the Bible is fallible, even if the Bible itself is not.

That's a distinction without a difference, in practice. We can trust what is in the Bible to be God's inspired word. What the epistemological status of that trust may be is another discussion. The fact remains that the Bible is what it is, and that we can trust it to guide us into spiritual and theological truth. The only problem comes in interpreting it. The Catholic believes that God also gave us a Church that He guides and protects form error, to help us in that task. The Protestant is ultimately on his own.

No one can escape their own fallibility. Therefore we all could be wrong. We are left to rely on a process of examining and weighting the evidence and following it wherever it leads. This will often cause us to change our beliefs.

Great. Then Michael might convince me to become a Protestant again (if he ever replies to this series of responses), and I might persuade him to become a Catholic (unless he has ruled that possibility out altogether). Praise God!

Therefore, serious consideration must always be made of the proposition that people don’t agree with me because I am the one who is wrong.

And this wrongness might include the false Protestant principle of sola Scriptura, that leads to many other erroneous conclusions.

Others don’t agree with me because God does not want us to agree, irrespective of who is right.

This may sound odd,

It certainly does, and that is because it is untrue.

but we must consider it. I said earlier that I was a Calvinist. While this does not give me exclusive right to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, it does require me to consider what part it might play in the question Why doesn’t everyone agree with me? What I am really asking is this: Why isn’t everyone unified around the truth?

I believe that it is a real possibility—even likely—that God does not want absolute doctrinal unity.

I submit that there is nothing whatsoever in the Bible that would lead anyone to believe this is the case. Perhaps that is why Michael doesn't educate us with even a single biblical passage in favor of his notion. How odd, that he believes in sola Scriptura, yet here is yet another completely unbiblical, nonbiblical, anti-biblical, man-made doctrine, used to shore up the utterly unbiblical reality of denominational sectarianism. And there is much biblical data to the contrary, as I noted in my brief summary paper on the topic:
Virtually nothing is more strongly and repeatedly condemned in the Bible than divisions, sectarianism, and denominationalism. The Bible teaches that there is one Church only, with one truth and one unified apostolic tradition.

Doctrinal contradiction of any sort is absolutely at odds with biblical teaching, which repeatedly urges unity and forbids divisions of any kind among Christians. Our Lord Jesus prayed at the Last Supper for Christians to be "one even as we [the Father and the son] are one" and "perfectly one" (Jn. 17:22-23) and viewed the Church as being "one flock" with "one shepherd" (Jn. 10:16). St. Luke described the earliest Christians as being "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32). St. Peter warned about "false teachers" among Christians, who would "secretly bring in destructive heresies," which go against "the way of truth" (2 Pet. 2:1-2).

St. Paul, above all, repeatedly condemns "dissensions" and "difficulties" (Rom. 16:17), "quarreling" (1 Cor. 1:11), "jealousy and strife" (1 Cor. 3:3), "divisions" and "factions" (1 Cor. 11:18-19), "discord" (1 Cor. 12:25), "enmity" and "party spirit" (Gal. 5:20), and calls for Christians to be "united in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10; cf. Phil. 2:2). He expressly condemns party affiliations associated with persons (1 Cor. 1:12-13: "Is Christ divided?"; cf. 3:4-7). His strong teaching on this topic is well summed up in the following two passages (emphases added):
1 Timothy 6:3-5: "If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain."

Titus 3:9-11: "But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned." . . .
As to the general notion of "essential" or "central" and "secondary" doctrines, this is an unbiblical distinction. Nowhere in Scripture do we find any implication that some things pertaining to doctrine and theology were optional, while others had to be believed. Jesus urged us to "observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19), without distinguishing between lesser and more central doctrines.

Likewise, St. Paul regards Christian Tradition as of one piece; not an amalgam of permissible competing theories: "the tradition that you received from us" (2 Thess. 3:6); "the truth which has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit" (2 Tim. 1:14); "the doctrine which you have been taught" (Rom. 16:17); "being in full accord and of one mind" (Phil. 2:2); "stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel," (Phil. 1:27). He, like Jesus ties doctrinal unity together with the one God: ". . . maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, . . ." (Eph. 4:3-5).

St. Peter also refers to one, unified "way of righteousness" and "the holy commandment delivered to them" (2 Pet. 2:21), while St. Jude urges us to "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Luke 2:42 casually mentions "the apostles' teaching" without any hint that there were competing interpretations of it, or variations of the teaching. Denominations and all that they entail (particularly, doctrinal contradiction or any sort of theological relativism) are thus clearly ruled out by Scripture.
In fact, practically speaking, I think it would do more harm than good. I believe that doctrinal disagreements are healthy for the church.

That's the exact opposite of the truth, according to the biblical worldview, outlined above.

When there is conflict between opposing options, the issue at hand is understood at a more profound level than is possible in the absence of the conflict. Conflict, in the end, can bring about a deeper conviction of the truth. When there is no conflict, there is no iron sharpening iron.

I agree insofar as this refers to the process of heretics dissenting, and the orthodox Church then clarifying true doctrines, but that is not the sense that Michael means to convey. He wants to justify (or rationalize) divisions as a good thing (his original title for the paper being critiqued was "Doctrinal Disagreement to the Glory of God"), whereas the Catholic would say that it is always bad, but that God can bring good out of the doctrinal clarifications that come as a result of the reiteration of opposition to whatever heresy or falsehood is in play.

Michael is a Calvinist, but John Calvin: the very man who started the school of thought that Michael is part of, wouldn't agree at all with this justifying of division and disagreement. He was referring in the following letter to the disagreement about free will and limited atonement:
. . . But it greatly concerns us to cherish faithfully and constantly to the end the friendship which God has sanctified by the authority of his own name, seeing that herein is involved either great advantage or great loss even to the whole Church. For you see how the eyes of many are turned upon us, so that the wicked take occasion from our dissensions to speak evil, and the weak are only perplexed by our unintelligible disputations. Nor in truth, is it of little importance to prevent the suspicion of any difference having arisen between us from being handed down in any way to posterity; for it is worse than absurd that parties should be found disagreeing on the very principles, after we have been compelled to make our departure from the world. I know and confess, moreover, that we occupy widely different positions; still, because I am not ignorant of the place in his theatre to which God has elevated me, there is no reason for my concealing that our friendship could not be interrupted without great injury to the Church . . .

And surely it is indicative of a marvellous and monstrous insensibility, that we so readily set at nought that sacred unanimity, by which we ought to be bringing back into the world the angels of heaven. Meanwhile, Satan is busy scattering here and there the seeds of discord, and our folly is made to supply much material. At length he has discovered fans of his own, for fanning into a flame the fires of discord. I shall refer to what happened to us in this Church, causing extreme pain to all the godly; and now a whole year has elapsed since we were engaged in these conflicts . . .

[Letter CCCV (305), written to Philip Melanchthon on 28 November 1552; Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters: Letters, Part 2, 1545-1553, vol. 5 of 7; edited by Jules Bonnet, translated by David Constable; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House (a Protestant publisher), 1983, 454 pages; reproduction of Letters of John Calvin, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858); pp. 376-377; the entire letter runs from pages 375-381; bolded emphases added]
I am not in any sense trying to relativize the truth, but to help us to understand that wrong beliefs, even our own, could be serving the purpose of God and bringing Him more honor than we recognize.

God's possibly bringing good out of evil in these Christian divisions (just as he did in the situation of the patriarch Joseph being sold into slavery: Genesis 50:20) does not mean that the bad, evil thing thereby becomes good, or that we should, therefore, justify and promote it.

It is often said that heresy is God’s gift to the church. Why? Because when a false option is presented the truth becomes much clearer. In contrast there is clarity. In clarity there is conviction.

That's true, as I stated above. But in Protestantism, most if not all of the conflicts are never resolved, because they are not able to be resolved by Protestant principles and authority structures. Catholicism resolves these conflicts, but in Protestantism they go on and on forever and are never resolved. People over time then tend to consider the doctrines where there are disputes to be unimportant, whereas from a biblical point of view, all spiritual and theological truth is important.

It is for this reason that we must be continually engaged with alternative options. As hard as it is to engage in beliefs that go against our present convictions, we need to recognize the value of the struggle. Herein lies what I believe to be one of the greatest strengths of the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura—it presents the opportunity to wrestle with the issues at a level that is not allowed for in magisterial based traditions.

I consider this to be justifying a bad thing (doctrinal falsehood) in order to achieve a good thing (doctrinal clarity and reaffirmed orthodoxy), which is situation ethics or relative ethics: "the end justifies the means."

What I am saying is this: it may actually be God’s sovereignty that brings about division over the doctrine of God’s sovereignty!

We have no reason to believe, based on the biblical revelation (at least that I am aware of), that God ever does this. So what is this: another non-biblical tradition of men that we are asked to be excited about and rejoice over?

This does not mean that wrong belief is always justified. Neither does it mean that we need to be content with agnosticism or lessen our conviction about any doctrinal issue. To the contrary. It means that we engage in it more vigorously than we did before, being confident that God has a dignifying reason for conflict resulting from diversity.

Once again: God's sovereignty, which brings good out of evil, does not justify the evil that good was brought out of, in any way, shape, or form. This stuff is utterly foreign to John Calvin, and he was pretty big on God's sovereignty.

We have learned to celebrate diversity in every area of life. We celebrate the diversity of the sexes. Men: We know that we are always right, but can you imagine a world where women did not contribute to a balanced perspective? That is horrifying. Women, can you imagine the opposite (don’t answer that!). Think of the diversity among personalities, nations, political parties, age groups, and cultures. While we may believe that our opinion is correct (and it may be), from a certain perspective we can appreciate the allowance for a dissension in values, beliefs, and practices. Understanding diversity can often cause us to see that the answer to many issues is going to be more of a both/and rather than an either/or. We could both be right and we could both be wrong.

This is exactly how liberals and secularists speak: "diversity," etc., because in their mind that bolsters their false opinions that no truth can be found, or that all opinions are on an equal plane and equally valid, because they are subjective to the person rather than objective. Cultural and ethnic diversity is great. But in matters of theology, it seems utterly clear to me from the Bible that God wants the Church to be completely unified. Truth can be known. The Church can declare on what is true and what is not. But once one eliminates an infallible Church, then no one can definitely resolve the conflicts.

In the end, if God is in control then the answer to my question is relatively simple. Why doesn’t everyone agree with me? Because it is not God’s will for them to. It is to His glory. Why? His will is better accomplished through diversity. In this I think we can learn to celebrate diversity without yielding to the postmodern matrix of relativism or apathy.

This very thought is arguably a caving into the very postmodernism that Michael wishes to oppose. He has been unwittingly influenced by it. The biblical writers or the fathers or great doctors throughout history did not think in these terms. Even Martin Luther and John Calvin did not. This thinking comes from theological liberalism. It has to be weeded out.

Advocates of sola Scriptura appreciate disagreements, but we also need to be careful about making the division created by such too wide.

They have to rationalize somehow the massive disagreements that the principle has caused to come into being. This is one way to do it, but I think it completely fails and falls flat. It can't be justified from the Bible. Michael didn't even try. He couldn't do it even if he did want to try, because it ain't there. What's there is the huge amount of biblical data I have provided: and it confirms Catholicism at every turn, and not Protestantism and sola Scriptura.