John Calvin contrasted with modern Evangelicalism

Here is one person’s understanding of John Calvin (a Protestant reformer) and modern Evangelicalism. Written by a former Evangelical who converted to Catholic, in part due to what he discovered about Calvin:

When I finished seminary, I moved on to Ph.D. studies in Reformation history. My focus was on John Calvin (1509-1564), the French Reformer who made Geneva, Switzerland into a model Protestant city…

john calvin public domain
Protestant Reformer John Calvin.

Calvin shocked me by rejecting key elements of my Evangelical tradition. Born-again spirituality, private interpretation of Scripture, a broad-minded approach to denominations – Calvin opposed them all. I discovered that his concerns were vastly different, more institutional, even more Catholic. Although he rejected the authority of Rome, there were things about the Catholic faith he never thought about leaving. He took for granted that the Church should have an interpretive authority, a sacramental liturgy and a single, unified faith…

In 1551, Bolsec, a physician and convert to Protestantism [and a former Catholic monk], entered Geneva and attended a lecture on theology. The topic was Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, the teaching that God predetermines the eternal fate of every soul. Bolsec, who believed firmly in “Scripture alone” and “faith alone,” did not like what he heard. He thought it made God into a tyrant. When he stood up to challenge Calvin’s views, he was arrested and imprisoned.

What makes Bolsec’s case interesting is that it quickly evolved into a referendum on Church authority and the interpretation of Scripture. Bolsec, just like most Evangelicals today, argued that he was a Christian, that he had the Holy Spirit and that, therefore, he had as much right as Calvin to interpret the Bible. He promised to recant if Calvin would only prove his doctrine from the Scriptures. But Calvin would have none of it. He ridiculed Bolsec as a trouble maker (Bolsec generated a fair amount of public sympathy), rejected his appeal to Scripture, and called on the council to be harsh. He wrote privately to a friend that he wished Bolsec were “rotting in a ditch.”

What most Evangelicals today don’t realize is that Calvin never endorsed private or lay interpretation of the Bible. While he rejected Rome’s claim to authority, he made striking claims for his own authority…

Calvin was part of the problem [of fracturing within Protestantism]. He had insisted on the importance of unity and authority, but had rejected any rational or consistent basis for that authority. He knew that Scripture totally alone, Scripture interpreted by each individual conscience, was a recipe for disaster. But his own claim to authority was perfectly arbitrary. Whenever he was challenged, he simply appealed to his own conscience, or to his subjective experience, but he denied that right to Bolsec and others…

The whole thing is worth reading.

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Acts 15: private judgment and authority, part two (first response to Jesse)

I previously wrote about an exchange I had on a Protestant’s blog. On that same blog, another Protestant named Jesse invited me to respond to his post about private interpretation. My answer was similar to the other answer, but takes a different turn near the end:

council of jerusalen
The Council of Jerusalem from Acts 15

… in Acts 15 those who favored circumcision for new Christians were forced to use their private judgment regarding the verdict of the council. They had to choose to accept the council’s verdict, or their own view of Scripture. In like manner, the Catholic position is that an authoritative council, or the Pope, or all the bishops throughout the world, exercise a magisterium regarding what Scripture means. In just the same way as the council in Acts 15, with respect to all Christian dogma, Christians must accept this human authority on the meaning of Scripture and other matters. We are not free to interpret Scripture in a manner that contradicts the human authority. We certainly can read Scripture ourselves and the Church encourages this. I believe that Catholics can legitimately dissent from certain Catholic teachings (not all, just certain types) but I am not clear on how that works (Google the phrase “faithful dissent” if you want to learn more about it). I do know that the Church teaches that we must follow our conscience even if our conscience is wrong.

Catholics may use private judgment in a limited sense. But when we talk about private judgment, I am not sure that we are talking about the same thing. It seems like Protestants have much wider bounds to their private judgments than Catholics do? For example, I’ve heard of Protestant churches splitting over non-doctrinal issues. If true, that is private judgment going too far, don’t you agree?

You mentioned some limits of private judgment in your post by listing some reasonable sounding criteria, then saying this: “…and by obeying the wisdom of the godly church leaders or instructors who give us the necessary tools for properly understanding the written Word of God.” Aren’t you saying here that Protestants have a magisterium? That’s what it sounds like to me. We need a magisterium! After all, we are sheep, as Jesus said. We are not all able or capable of doing the theological work of discerning dogma, canon, etc. Because we are sheep, we need help, and God has provided it.

Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin (a former Protestant) has pointed out that Protestants inadvertently recreate their own magisteriums because somebody must establish and maintain group cohesion:

The typical Protestant church thus unconsciously reinvents the Catholic [magisterial] system that it consciously scorns. It does this out of necessity, since there is simply no way to maintain an organized, healthy group which works in harmony without having someone with the authority to determine what the group is going to do and to expel those who won’t go along. You cannot have a classroom, a work crew, a social club, or a nation without someone with that kind of authority, and you certainly cannot have a church without one. Someone in any group must be able to say, “This is what the group is going to do” and “If you won’t do it and will continually publicly oppose it, then you cannot be part of the group. You must leave the classroom, work crew, social club, society, or church.”

I think it is very tempting to think that we are absolute individuals, discerning every single dogma on our own with the Holy Spirit. Speaking for myself, I know that I did not discern the dogma of the Trinity on my own, for example. Somebody told me about it and showed me the Scriptures for it. I suspect that is what goes on with everybody.

God in his mercy gave us a magisterium that we can rely upon to help us know His will and His ways.

If you would like to read the exchange, go here.

Image credit: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing

 

Would you choose the old manna or the new? Exodus 16 and John 6

OT manna
Moses and the bread from heaven from Exodus 16

Let’s say that an angel appeared before you. He held out his hands, and in one hand was a piece of manna from the Old Testament, exactly the same manna as what happened in Exodus 16. In the other hand was a piece of bread taken from one of your church services. Which would you choose? (I have left the type of bread open-ended so that any Christian who reads this can insert their own type of bread.)

I would not choose the old manna. I would choose the bread from one of my Church services, which is the Catholic Eucharist. This is because I believe that the new “bread from heaven” is superior to the old.

sheen eucharist
The new bread from heaven is superior to the old

The new “bread from heaven” is the body of Christ, as taught in John 6. The body of Christ is far superior to the old manna. If I had chosen the manna from the OT, let’s consider the ramifications. How is something from the old covenant, that was annulled because of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, more desirable than something from the new covenant? Did Christ institute the new bread from heaven, yet somehow the old bread from heaven is more desirable? How can that be? If I were to choose the old manna over the body of Christ, what would that say about my belief in the new covenant? Wouldn’t it say that I didn’t really believe in the new covenant, or that I believed it was weaker than the old?

Which would you choose, and why?

Acts 15: private judgment and authority, part one

Several days ago I had an exchange on another blog, a Protestant blog. Overall it was a cordial exchange and I think it went well. He made his points, I made mine, and we countered each other in a pleasant way.

I want to post portions of what I wrote there because I think it is important. It has to do with the idea of private judgment, and how private judgment ends at God’s established authority. Catholics often criticize Protestants for exercising an “absolute right to private judgment,” and Protestants will counter by saying that Catholics legitimately exercise private judgment too. But each side does it in a different way, with different limits. Here is what I wrote:

It is accurate to say that I made a private judgment regarding the claims of the Catholic Church. After that, I surrendered it. I do not continue to exercise it on individual doctrines, because I believe that the Church is Christ’s bride, and whoever hears her hears him.

I may be mistaken, but it seems that private judgment means something a little different to Protestants? The Catholic surrenders his private judgment once he becomes Catholic, because God only teaches one truth and the Church is his authority on earth to teach it. I am not certain this is the case with Protestants. I say this because of the different Protestant faith communities that exist. Aren’t they all continuing to exercise private judgment on various matters? I’ve heard of churches splitting over non-doctrinal issues. Wouldn’t they claim they were exercising private judgment? At what point do we surrender our private judgment?

I am completely convinced that God’s mercy is better revealed in and by the Catholic Church than the alternatives. So yes, that is my private judgment on the matter. I don’t think Catholics are being hypocritical to “call out” Protestants for their (seemingly inordinate) use of private judgment, but they might need to do a better job explaining it? It just doesn’t seem like we are talking about exactly the same thing.

I also wrote this:

… let me take an example from the book of Acts to support the idea that Christians need, and actually do have, a final human authority to resolve disputes or contradictions, and that private judgment ends with that authority, not with the Scriptures.

Certain Christians believed that people needed to be circumcised in order to become Christians. Others responded by saying that circumcision was not necessary. Debate ensued. Those who believed in the necessity of circumcision undoubtedly had clear Scripture verses on their side. But what happened? A council was convened, and more debate ensued. Ultimately, the council decided that circumcision was unnecessary. After making their non-scripturally based arguments, they cited one rather weak verse to support their position, a verse that does not even mention circumcision. Those who favored circumcision had to make a private judgment: either comply with the council, or with their own view of the Scriptures.

Given what I know of debates today between Catholics and Protestants, I find this circumstance quite convincing for the Catholic position. Debates today rage on and on over this or that doctrine, and victory is claimed on the strength of the verses presented. Not so in Acts 15. The issue of circumcision was decided by human authority with weak Biblical support.

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Peter’s vision from Acts 10

The issue of circumcision was decided by human authority. Peter had a vision about the gentiles coming into the Church, and there was a lot of debate during the council. Even if I concede that the council was totally following the Scriptures only, and not influenced by Peter’s vision at all (which seems highly unlikely) or anything else, it doesn’t matter. The council decided what the Scriptures meant, and those who disagreed had to make a private judgement: agree with the council about what the Scriptures meant (and change their views), or hold onto their views. They did not get to retain their previous interpretation of Scripture and remain in good standing as Christians.

The council was what enforced the issue, not the Scriptures. It should be obvious that the Scriptures can’t enforce anything. I’ve touched on this idea before here. Similarly, the NT verses discussing church discipline mean nothing if there is no human authority that has the final say.

If you want to see the entire exchange, go here.

On empty rituals

birthday party empty ritual v2
Birthday parties are cultural rituals.

Let’s say you were good friends with your neighbor. She has a young son, and she invites you to his birthday party. You decide to go because you care about your neighbor, but you don’t really want to be there because he’s just a little kid, and a noisy one at that. So you go, but you don’t have a good time. The kids are laughing and having a good time, but you’re not. You notice, however, that other adults are having a good time. They’re smiling and laughing at the kids’ antics. Finally, as soon as you think you can get away, you make an excuse to leave.

Birthday celebrations are rituals. We might say that you experienced an empty birthday party, an empty ritual. What made it empty?

Did the son make it empty? Was it the other kids? The neighbor? The kids’ laughter? The fact that it was a birthday party? Why was it an empty ritual for you but apparently not for the other adults?

It might be that you didn’t fill the ritual with anything. Rituals require faith, hope, and love to see into them, to their meaning. It is possible that bringing faith, hope, and love to the neighbor’s son’s birthday party would have changed the event for you.

If the ritual seems empty, that might not be your fault. It could be that nobody taught you how to fill it, or that you even needed to fill it. I’ve seen that a lot. If you don’t know how to fill the ritual, then look around and see if you know anybody who does. I bet they can help you.

For Reformation Day: Protestantism hurt and confused me

Reposting this from last year. A brief synopsis of my personal experiences within Protestantism.

https://everybodysdaughter.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/protestantism-hurt-and-confused-me/

For Reformation Day: Bible conundrum

I recently had an online disagreement with somebody, a Protestant. I asked her to cite Bible verses to support her position. So she did. I replied I disagreed with her interpretation of those verses. Then I asked her if I had an obligation to accept her interpretation. I also said that if her answer was yes, that I DID have an obligation to accept her interpretation, then to tell me where or from whom she received her authority to impose her interpretation upon me (and presumably upon every other Christian). Then I asked her what we should do if I disagreed with her claim about the source of her authority. Her response was that I was using an ad hominem. I responded by saying that I was not criticising her, but I was criticising her presupposition. So it wasn’t an ad hominem.

Here is the syllogism:

  • Since God is one, He does not change, and He only teaches one truth, there can only be one objectively correct interpretation of Scripture.
  • There is disagreement of what Scripture means between two or more Christians of good will. They all can see this.
  • No parties to the dispute have authority to enforce the correct interpretation, but one or more do not realize this. One or more believes that making better arguments or citing more or better Scripture verses is the way to resolve the dispute. Yet the dispute is never resolved.
  • No agreement is made. Visible fractures develop between Christians, since the parties to the dispute all believe themselves to understand the correct interpretation of Scripture (which is a tacit reinforcement of the first point above).

By what authority may somebody enforce the one and only correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture when there is a disagreement between Christians of good will?

I probably won’t be signing the Nashville Statement, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t

In case you have not heard yet, there is a new statement from prominent Evangelical Christians that got released recently. It is called the Nashville Statement, and it is their attempt to combat certain aspects of the Sexual Revolution by upholding sexual morality from a Biblical perspective. It is not long, and you can read it here.

It is my own personal belief that contraception has been a foundation stone of the Sexual Revolution. Evangelicals as a group have not repudiated contraception, which means that they have accepted a foundational aspect of the Sexual Revolution within their ranks and on an institutional basis. Since the statement neglects contraception, I don’t want to endorse these Evangelical’s neglect of their implicit reliance on an important aspect of the Sexual Revolution. I don’t want to give the impression that this reliance is no big deal and not logically problematic to everything else they oppose about the Sexual Revolution.

The statement does say that marriage is procreative, but that seems ad hoc to me. Why is marriage procreative if contraception is OK? I will continue to say it: a right to pregnancy-free coitus among opposite-sex couples (aka “the contraceptive mentality”) created the “need” for abortion and same-sex marriage, and contributed to the “need” to de-gender our legal code.

The sex with of a “guarantee” of no children is seductive, obviously. This is one aspect of the Sexual Revolution that many otherwise orthodox Christians like. They have participated in redefining the Sixth Commandment, and this is a spiritual and logical obstacle to combating the other sinful and heretical aspects of the Sexual Revolution.

Having said all that, I might change my mind and sign it. We’ll see. I’ll have to work it out in my mind and that might take some time. If I think the benefit of showing support outweighs my reluctance to sign something that I think is logically problematic, I’ll sign it. If I do, I’ll update this post.

1 Cor. 1:12 does not say, “I am of the Scriptures”

Seckau Basilika Engelskapelle Bekehrung des Äthiopiers
The Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip from Acts 8. Credit: Uoaei1 Wikimedia Commons

I wrote this post as a response to an interaction I had earlier today on my blog.

1 Corinthians 1:12 says: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (KJV)

St. Paul is discussing divisions among the Christians. I just thought of something though. None of the examples St. Paul gives are saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” If the “Bible alone” doctrine is true, then this situation would have been a good opportunity for the Holy Spirit to teach it, it seems to me. After all, they certainly had Scriptures at that time, what we now call the Old Testament. And the Scriptures are important. They are the Word of God. Many people say that are the highest or final authority. If that were true, then certainly some of the people St. Paul mentioned would have said, “I am of the Scriptures.” Why would they be saying they were of one person or another if the Scriptures alone were the highest authority?

Today, Christians will often say, “I don’t follow any person. I use the Bible alone as my authority.” This sounds just like saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” Yet there is no Biblical example of somebody identifying with the Scriptures in that way.

The Scriptures are like a Holy Reference Book, to be sure, but it is a two-edged sword and we must be careful when using it.

Deeper issues between Catholics and Protestants

I am mainly posting this here for my own reference.

There are deeper issues between Catholics and Protestants than disagreements about this or that doctrine or dogma. I recommend starting with the bolded part, then reading the whole thing.

Both the Protestant and Catholic positions affirm the authority of Scripture as the divinely inspired (“God-breathed”) written word of God. So the Catholic teaching concerning the authority of Scripture entails that Scripture has authority over the Church, because the Church affirms both that Scripture is God’s word, and that God is the ultimate authority over His Church. Therefore the Protestant-Catholic disagreement concerning Scripture is not as simple as saying that according to one side Scripture has authority over the Church and that according to the other side Scripture does not have authority over the Church. Rather, the actual disagreement regarding Scripture is over four points that are not per se about the divine authority of Scripture. They are: (a) whether Christ also gave teaching authority to men, (b) whether that teaching authority continues through the succession of ordinations, (c) whether that teaching authority includes the authority to determine what is the authentic interpretation of Scripture, so as to determine for the Church what is orthodoxy and what is heresy, and (d) whether the deposit of faith is not limited to what was included in the Scriptures but also includes the Apostolic Tradition which the Apostles preached orally, and is preserved in the Church Fathers. The Catholic position answers yes to each of those four. Protestantism answers no to one or more of these four.

Source: Authentic and Inauthentic Reform