By Dave Armstrong (6-3-09)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Definition of Protestant and the True Reformation Heritage
II. The Nature of Christian Unity: Institutional, Spiritual, Theological, All of the Above?
III. Apostolic Succession and Development of Doctrine: Arbitrary Traditions of Men or Divinely Established Criteria of Orthodox Christian Legitimacy?
IV. Presuppositionalism and Logical Circularity: Characteristic of Catholic Apologetics but not Reformed?
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Protestantism, as it exists, goes far beyond "historic, classical Protestantism." This is simply a sociological fact, whether we like it or not. Reformed Protestants pride themselves on uniquely preserving the "Reformation heritage" intact, and indeed, to a very large extent this is true. But that does not mean that they are the lone Protestants out there.
John Wesley (whom I greatly admire) was a Protestant. So was Bonhoeffer and A.W. Tozer, and C. S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers and many others who do not fit in the square circle of Calvinism, the "elite" Protestants; supposedly the only "real" or "consistent" ones. And I deal in reality and not in the internal conflicts of Protestants, by which it follows that even definitional and dogmatic issues of "orthodoxy" are unable to finally be resolved (because there is no real authority to solve the problem).
There are no "official Protestant" positions, simply because there is no institutional way to determine them, or to determine orthodoxy per se! So the Westminster Confession or Calvin's Institutes are cited. Whoop-de-doo! One has to accept them, and there is no way to demand obedience if someone is not in the Reformed denomination to begin with. If they dissent, then they go and join another group or form their own. Or they start to go liberal, as J. Gresham Machen and Francis Schaeffer have documented, with regard to "official" Presbyterianism in particular, during the 20s and 80s, respectively.
The only way to attain real, apostolic authority is to trace it back in an unbroken line to the Apostles and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that is precisely what Protestants cannot do. They cannot show that their peculiar doctrines were present in the early Church. Just today a book by a Southern Baptist (Williams, I think) was mentioned to me, where the author agrees that sola Scriptura could not be found in the early Church (and this is a bedrock principle of all Protestants)! Norman Geisler and Alister McGrath have admitted the same concerning faith alone, or sola fide, the other pillar of Protestantism.
Swaggart's soteriology (as far as I know; unless he has degenerated theologically as much as he has morally) is that of the Assemblies of God, the group which ordained him. This is standard Wesleyan, Arminian soteriology. I used to attend Assemblies of God myself (though I never became a member, because I disagreed with some of their tenets).
The inner logic of the exclusivistic, tunnel-vision hyper-Reformed mindset inevitably leads to equating Arminians (and Catholics) with Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. This does not follow at all. It is very shoddy logic and a slanderous blurring of crucial categorical distinctions. Yet it happens all the time. I don't waste my time running around, defining other Christians out of the category they clearly belong in. That's the anti-Catholic game; it is not the game of the serious historian or sociologist (I happened to major in sociology and have read a great deal of history on my own).
With such tunnel vision and highly exaggerated self-importance as anti-Catholic Reformed thinkers are burdened with, it is predictable that they would class any theological opponent in the same class as the all-horrible Beast of Babylon. This is the black-and-white mentality of self-defined, closed dogmatic systems. There is little understanding of fine distinctions, or of biblical paradox. "Either/or" and unnecessary false dichotomies and fuzzy definitions rule the day.
Why and how is it that a denial of free will, and an acceptance of limited atonement, double predestination, and perseverance is somehow essential for "classic" Protestantism, when even Luther didn't accept all these notions (so I guess he is in bed with Rome), nor did the supposed exemplary precursor St. Augustine (so now he was a Pelagian, even as he fought them!). Only Calvin got it right. Why? Because he said he did! That's what the Reformed argument boils down to. Luther himself is out of the fold, and all non-Reformed Protestants since. Calvin devises in the 1530s the highest version of Christianity known to man -- never known in its fullness by anyone prior to his time -- not Augustine, not any of the Fathers nor the early Councils, etc.
My own overarching definition of Christianity is: 1) those who have been baptized properly, 2) acceptance of the Nicene Creed; particularly trinitarianism and all its defined nuances -- to the extent that the person can grasp the intricacies of it.
I and my Church try to be biblical in our views, rather than according to man-made traditions which endure a few hundred years and then claim to be "respectable" and "Christian alternative ecclesiologies" because they have been around so long. Spiritual and doctrinal unity can only be achieved by a simultaneous institutional unity (especially involving the papacy). History bears this out very well.
But anti-Catholic Protestants have a hard time worshiping with Catholics because they are under the illusion that idolatry is taking place, and an undue sacramental realism, with pagan accretions, superstitions, excessive sacerdotalism, vain repetition, necromancy, a Pelagian soteriology, hyper-authoritarianism, etc., etc. They don't comprehend what has been long since arbitrarily discarded from their religion.
We are amazed that those claiming a common gospel and an alleged commonality in the "basics" or "core beliefs" or "essentials" nevertheless still feel compelled to separate from each other. In a large sense that is even more wicked and sinful than if the splits were over something truly substantial.
On the other hand, anti-Catholics deny the gospel to others in their own group. They unjustly, and absurdly place the Arminians in the Semi-Pelagian camp (along with us) and sometimes even refuse to call them "Protestants." Then they turn around and carp about this semi-mythical "unity" which is always used as an excuse to avoid real, biblical ecclesiology and the obvious superiority and biblical/historical nature of the Catholic system.
Sheer ignorance leads to chaos, but so does an accurate understanding of foundational Protestant principles, because they are self-defeating and unbiblical themselves (except in those parts where they retained the traditional view).
Apostolic succession was not an explicit OT concept, except for the rough analogy of the Jews as Chosen and God's eternal covenant with David. It was much more highly developed in the New Covenant, founded upon the twin gifts of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and infallibility. When Jesus established His Church on Peter as the Rock, this was a new entity altogether. One might cite, however, the OT priestly line, coming from the same tribe as a precursor.
Or, see my two paper refuting William Webster and how he distorts and mangles the teaching of Vatican I with regard to development of doctrine. There is a very good reason why he never counter-replied.
What Webster engages in is what I call "historical eisegesis." He reads into historical sources, Fathers, etc. what he wants to see and presents it without the aggravation of anomalous and contradictory evidence. I don't have to claim this is deliberate. It doesn't have to be. Most people who do this aren't aware of it (like how the major media aren't "liberal," so they tell us; Gore says he doesn't deliberately lie -- I believe him). The bias will produce the desired results.
People like R.C. Sproul -- especially him --, as on his radio show today) pretend that Augustine and Aquinas were these wonderful, spiritual "proto-Protestants" and theological ancestors and overlook the fact that they are in actuality the quintessential Catholics. These are our guys! The whole enterprise is ridiculous, laughable (if it weren't so tragic and aggravating) and fundamentally intellectually dishonest.
Lineal descent" and the historical argument is not only a patristic notion; it is already quite evident and undeniable in, e.g., Luke 1:1-4 (cf. Acts 1:1-3). Paul reiterates the same approach when he repeatedly refers to the "tradition" which is "passed down" and "received." His is a fundamentally historical criterion of Christian truth (see 2 Thess 3:6, 1 Cor 11:23, 15:1-3, Gal 1:9,12, 1 Thess 2:13, 2 Tim 2:2; cf. 2 Pet 2:21, Jude 3). All of this is absolutely obvious and plain in Scripture.
This is Christian epistemology, not the bizarre, utterly implausible scenario of some fool-idiot with delusions of grandeur, who comes around in 1517 claiming that he is God's Man of the Hour and in possession of all theological truth, whereas the whole Church screwed it up for 1500 years (and a second one who calls the first "reformer" a "half-papist" and proceeds to construct his own counter-Church, as if the one established by Jesus were insufficient). I stand with Scripture, Apostles, and Fathers on this one.
Jesus, in His high priestly prayer of John 17 stated that our oneness will show the world that He was Messiah, and that our unity should be like His with His Father (a bit more profound than the ethereal Protestant "unity").
Schism followed from the early Protestants' anarchical principles. They set the wheels in motion. This is what they were so blind to (among many other things). They threw the "glass vase" of Christian unity up into the air, yet they were so shocked that it fell and broke into a million pieces. It has continued to break into even more pieces as the years go by.
Many Protestants seem unable to analyze anything in its own right, from within its own premises and framework (it's called classical, Aristotelian logic). They have to superimpose their own axioms onto whatever they examine. They are like the fish in water, that can't get (or see) beyond it. We can look at all these little man-made systems and point out their internally contradictory and unbiblical natures, without having to first assume Catholic premises to do it.