On Selective Skepticism

Posted by on April 28, 2013 in Apostolicity, Catholicism, Church History, Ecclesiology, Featured, History, Protestantism, Sola Scriptura | 307 comments

So after a few posts and several hundred comments, here’s where we are with respect to the Protestant position on the nature of the church:

Jesus founded a church that had no visible, laying-on-of-hands apostolic succession and no infallibility, but only an invisible succession of apostolic doctrine which was to be fallibly identified and understood.

Now if there had  been a visible episcopal succession that had been protected from error under certain conditions there would also be a way in principle to (1) locate God’s special revelation and (2) interpret its meaning, such that believers would have been able to render the assent of faith to the Church’s authoritative claims  that (1) the New Testament consists of certain books and not others, and that (2) those books teach specific things about God and Christ, and not others. But since, as I said, that is not  the kind of church Jesus founded, therefore we can only have highly educated guesses about those things.

Meanwhile, within less than a century after St. Peter’s death, the believers everywhere had for some unknown reason jettisoned the core ecclesiastical principles that Jesus had established in his church and invented visible apostolic succession and infallibility to replace them, thus both unduly institutionalizing the church as well as making possible the distinction between divine revelation and human opinion in a principled way, thereby creating the possibility for a set canon as well as Trinitarian and Christological dogma.

Protestants accept this set canon and label as “orthodox” the tenets that this Johnny-come-lately Catholic Church used its corrupt and overblown institutionalization to define.

And yet, despite the fact that this somehow universally and uncontroversially accepted idea of apostolic succession and infallibility is precisely what created the context for a set canon and the idea of Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy, those mechanisms were never intended by Jesus because, instead, Jesus originally desired to found a church in which such accomplishments would have been impossible.

For my part, I can’t for the life of me see why the divine Son of God would found the kind of church that a bunch of sinful humans could so drastically improve within a couple generations. And moreover, I can’t figure out why, when visible apostolic succession is an option, Christians wouldn’t opt for it over the alternatives. And if the answer is that the historical record cannot prove apostolic succession, then now what I can’t understand is why these people are Christians at all.

Again, it all comes down to openness of mind and heart. Miracles that are less plausible with less historical attestation will be embraced because they’re in the Bible, while apostolic succession will be dismissed, despite having greater historicity and greater plausibility. The reason for this rejection, I do not hesitate to suggest, is that dismissing apostolic succession leaves one the freedom to continue to be his own final interpretive judge on matters of faith and practice.

What other reason is there for rejecting an ecclesiology that is so clearly superior, that makes the church so much better, and that makes dogma and canon possible? What can be so insidious about an ecclesiology that its detractors would prefer an alternative one in which God doesn’t want us to be certain that he is Triune after all?

I am quite certain that if the Magisterium only taught what Protestants considered biblical, all their skepticism and supposed historical questions would immediately disappear, and apostolic succession would be as believable as the angelic dispute over Moses’ corpse and the raising of Jairus’s daughter.


  1. JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 7:42 am
    De Maria,
    Just to add on 1 Thess 5:21 that it is obvious St Paul wasn’t addressing the Magisterium – it was an epistle to the Church as a whole. So “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” applies to ALL Christians. That by itself excludes the very notion of a Magisterium, i.e. infallible authority in addition to or over Scripture.

    As you said Jason, he was addressing the entire Church. Therefore, that is also applicable to the Magisterium. Indeed, St. Paul is a member of the original Magisterium or Teaching authority of the Church. And the fact that he and all the other authors of the New Testament, wrote the New Testament without any error PROVES the charism of infallibility with which God endowed the Church.


    De Maria

  2. JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 7:50 am
    Scripture also says that we should listen to and obey our Priests:
    Hebrews 13:17
    King James Version (KJV)
    17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
    Yes, the Reformed and Presbyterians speak of ruling and teaching elders. As a Lutheran, we have the minister and the (local) church council. The passage says nothing of a Magisterium.

    Apparently, you don’t know what Magisterium means. Magisterium means Teaching Authority. And this Teaching Authority was given to the Church when Jesus said:
    Matthew 28:19-20
    King James Version (KJV)
    19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

    20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

  3. JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 7:58 am
    Yes, tradition is paradosis, namely the passing down or passing on of the proclamation of the Gospel in Word and Sacraments (confer the Great Commission). The Gospel comes to us in Scripture (“epistle”) and/ or tradition (“word”).

    1st, you didn’t answer my question, I asked you to show me where Scripture says it must be the court of final appeals>

    and, By the very act of passing down the Scriptures it is clear that they are part of the overall Sacred Tradition of the Church. That is why the Catholic Church says:
    83 The Tradition here in question comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit. The first generation of Christians did not yet have a written New Testament, and the New Testament itself demonstrates the process of living Tradition.….

  4. JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 8:04 am
    On 1., on this point we agree. It is Catholic doctrine that Scripture is without error. But this doctrine itself is derived from Scripture

    No. It is taught by Jesus Christ through the Church which He established to pass down His Traditions by Word and Epistle.

    and need no “imprimatur” from the Church. Scripture is after all the Word of GOD.

    It is the Word of God written by the Church.

    The WORD of God – as divine REVELAION – by its very nature *precedes* and therefore naturally and logically assumes priority over the Church.

    The Old Testament precedes the Catholic Church. But the Old Testament was fulfilled and brought to an end by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ then established His Church and commanded His Church to pass down His Revelation by Teaching in. The Church wrote His Traditions down in the book we call the New Testament.

    Thus, the Church is *always* dependent on the Word of God. The notion of a Magisterium contradicts such an obvious pattern.

    You reject and deny Scripture when you say this. It is Jesus who commanded the Church to teach His commandments. (Matt 28:19-20). Therefore, Scripture confirms and substantiates that the Church and the Traditions of Jesus Christ came first and then the written record of His Traditions.

    The New Testament is the collection of the Traditions of Jesus Christ, written by the Church.

  5. De Maria,

    This thread has become quite long. I’m going to leave at that. TQ

  6. JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 8:24 am
    Yes. But where is the Magisterium in view??

    Jesus commanded the Church to teach. Magisterium means Teacher.

    Petrine succession??

    Jesus established the office of Prime Minister and appointed St. Peter to it. The office has thereafter borne that name.

    Our Lord pronounced this to the Church, not only to the apostles, but the other disciples also.
    Verse 20: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Jesus is infallibly present where two or three are gathered in His name. There is nothing on the papacy and the Magisterium.

    Our Lord pronounced it to the Apostles and disciples who were the foundation of the Church.

    Only to be re-created anew by the power of the Word.
    2 Cor 5:17
    “Therefore if any man be IN Christ, he is a NEW creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are BECOME new.”
    Isaiah 55;11
    “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
    Gal 6:15
    “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.”

    You missed the point again. Yes, we are created, new creatures in the water and the word. But the Original Creation is not the re-Creation. That will happen when we go to heaven and the New Jerusalem.

    The Original Creation is the foreshadowing of our conception and birth.
    The New Jerusalem, the New Heaven and Earth, is akin to our being born again.

    JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 8:38 am
    The paradigm of Luther as representing Protestantism follows that of St Paul as proclaimed in Romans 6:
    “1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
    2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
    3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
    4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
    5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
    6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
    7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
    8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
    9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.
    10 For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
    11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
    Death & resurrection …
    The Law kills and the Word makes alive – The Lord destroys and the Lord creates anew …

    The Law kills? Is that in Scripture? The Law is a school master which leads us to Christ. The Law in the Commandments is the Word of God.

    JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 8:40 am
    Ezekiel 37:1-6
    “1The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones,
    2 And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry.
    3 And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.
    4 Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.
    5 Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live:
    6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.”

    Beautiful verse. What’s your point? It is Catholic Doctrine that God can do anything by His Word.

    JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 8:46 am
    The Protestant understanding of infallibility:
    2 Cor 3:4-6
    4And such trust have we through Christ (ALONE) to God-ward:

    You’ve added the word “alone”. Scripture tells us to trust in men which are appointed our leaders. As it is written:
    Hebrews 13:7
    King James Version (KJV)
    7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.

    5 NOT that we are sufficient OF ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God (in Christ ALONE); (This EXCLUDES the very notion of an infallible Magisterium)

    No it doesn’t. It means that their authority comes from Christ. Have you not read in Scripture:
    John 15:4
    King James Version (KJV)
    4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

    Have you not also read in Scripture:
    Matthew 28:17-19
    King James Version (KJV)
    17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

    6 Who also hath made us able MINISTERS of the NEW testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter KILLETH, but the spirit giveth LIFE.”

    Perfect! That is the Magisterium. The able MINISTERS of the NEW Testament. And yes, it is the Catholic Church which teaches the spiritual understanding of the Word. Whereas it is Protestants which teach the letter of the Word.

    The proclamation of the Gospel in Word and Sacraments is the highest authority in the Church because gives life to sinners who are dead in their sins …
    (Contrast this with the Magisterium who binds the conscience of men – requiring the submission of their intellect and will).

    What does the Scripture say?
    Hebrews 13:17
    King James Version (KJV)
    17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

    JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 8:52 am
    1 Samuel 2:6
    “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.”
    This is no mere doctrinal proposition of “divine origin” to be assented to but this is what Lord DOES to sinners in the oral and sacramental proclamation of the Word where the Law is *distinguished* from the Gospel as two words from the Lord – His alien and proper work in time and space in the here and now in the living present.

    I have no idea what you just said. But if you want to go to heaven, you had better keep the Commandments:
    Revelation 22:12-15
    King James Version (KJV)
    12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.

    13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

    14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

    15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

    JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 9:02 am
    Thus, divine omnipotence and immutability, predestination and election, the effective forensic external Word, imputation, ecclesial authority, ecclesial infallibility, the authority and infallibility of Scripture, the eschatological character of proclamation all related to and bound up with the Protestant understanding infallibility in contrast to the RC infallibility of the Magisterium which has all the trappings of glory and honour- that is (contrary to Jason’s claim) by SIGHT, not by faith since faith according to the theology of the cross in in the form of *opposites.* Faith cometh by HEARING and hearing by the proclamation of the Word of God.

    You’re just making noise. Scripture declares the Catholic Church infallible where it says:
    Ephesians 3:10
    King James Version (KJV)
    10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,

    And that makes sense because Jesus Christ established the Church and commanded the Church to Teach His commandments.


    De Maria

  7. JASON LOH May 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm
    De Maria,
    This thread has become quite long. I’m going to leave at that. TQ

    Ok. Thanks for the discussion.


    De Maria


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