6.06.2012

RESURRECTING A REFORMED CATHOLIK on the SOLA SCRIPTURA ISSUE

Many of us are deeply saddened by Jason Stellman's recent denial of Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura and his apparent departure to Rome or Eastern orthodoxy.  I graduated with Jason at WSCAL, and I always appreciated our friendship.  I have lost lots of sleep over his recent departure, and while I'm thankful for his honesty in stating his position forthrightly, I grieve over the confusion he has caused for so many. What troubles me the most in reading through Jason's reasons for his departure is the underlining assumption that he has come to some kind of dead-end that Protestants have never figured out before. Jason writes,
...unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the “orthodox” understanding of doctrines like the Trinity or the hypostatic union is reduced to mere fallible human opinion. I have searched long and hard, but have found no solution within the Sola Scriptura paradigm to this devastating conclusion. 
I stand a bit aghast at such a statement because it assumes that Protestants have never answered this so-called devasting conclusion.  Jason is asserting that unless "the Church" (assuming the Church of Rome and supposed succession from Peter) is given full power to be protected from error, one can never really be sure his doctrine is true, it's reduced to mere subjective opinion. Said another way,the church must have all supremacy of power and judgment on earth for us to have any kind of certainty of truth from the human opinions of men in their private readings of Scripture.

One of the greatest Protestant apologists, William Perkins, addressed these issues in the Reformed Catholik.  In Point XVIII on Supremacy, Perkins observes that everything Christ does in his mediatorial work is something that originates from the two natures, human and divine, concurring in the same actions. This kind of mediatorial power cannot pass to any created nature. Perkins writes,
  • In Hebrews 7:24 Christ is said to have a priesthood which cannot pass from his person to any other, whence it follows that neither his kingly, nor his prophetical office can pass from him to any creature, either in whole or in part because the three office of mediation in this regard be equal. Nay, it is a needless thing for Christ to have a deputy [vicar] to put in execution any part of his mediatorship, considering a deputy only serves to supply the absence of the principle, whereas Christ is always present with his Church by His Word and Spirit for where two or three are gathered together in his name, he is in the midst among them...
If the three offices of Christ's mediation are equal and originate from the person of Christ, the conclusion is apparent: Christ's medatorial work as our eternal high priest is not passed on to a mere man, Christ's mediatorial work as king is not passed on to a mere man, and Christ's mediatorial work as prophet is not passed on to a mere man.

Additionally, the giving of this infinite power, if possible, would only be needed in the absence of Christ's mediation. But the Scriptures plainly teach that Christ's mediation is something that Christ always lives to accomplish for his church. Christ supplies ministers only as instruments in a representative manner, but Christ himself retains the principle of this mediation.  The idea that Christ has passed on this prophetical power to a pope attributes to him the same infinite power that belongs to the person of Christ. The proposition is impossible, not to mention blasphemous if taken to its logical concusion, for then Christ himself has ceased his mediatorial work on our behalf.

Further support for Sola Scriptura can be addressed by looking at the fruit that has resulted from Rome's position on the authority of the church. Perkins outlines seven sins of the Roman church:
  1. Atheism in making the merit of the works of men to concur with the grace of God thereby overthrowing the grace of God.
  2. Idolatry in the worship of saints and images.
  3. Adultery in the toleration of uncleanness among men and women.
  4. Sorcery through a breaden-God in exocisms over holy bread, holy water, and salt and casting out devils by the sign of the cross, holy water, ringing bells, by relics, etc.,
  5. Perjury as a papist may answer dishonestly against the direct intention of the examiner.
  6. Reversal of God's commandments.
  7. Lying to justify their doctrine. 
The question here is obvious: if Christ passed on his mediatorial work to the Church of Rome to have full supremacy in being protected from all error, how do you explain the gross doctrinal sins and errors that have resulted, especially noted in the head of the church of Rome?  I find no solution in the Roman paradigm to this devastating conclusion. 

Let me summarize the issue plainly. The real issue here is the mediation of Christ and the authority of the Word. What Perkins is saying is no fallible human being is able to exercise this mediatorial function as Rome claims.  This kind of authority belongs to Christ alone as the head of his church.  God's Word created the church, is found in the church, and preached by the church, but the mediatorial function of Christ's prophetical office is not passed to a mere man, it is a work of the Holy Spirit who is given to keep the elect in all truth. In this way Christ remains the head of his church as he governs her by his Word and Spirit.

Jason's conclusions are tragic not only because they ignore God's serious warning against putting our trust in men, all of whom are called liars-Rom. 3:4  (a warning which is validated by a long history of popes and councils which contradict each other), but because such a view robs Christ of his glory as the supreme head of his church.

"What is truth", asked Pilate.  Never did Christ confirm the truth by any doctrine of tradition. Christ plainly responded that his Word is truth, and whoever welcomes Christ's Word not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, is promised by Christ himself that he has already passed from death into life. Whoever turns away from a love of that truth has believed the lie.

p.s. I have a feeling this is just the tip of the iceburg when it comes to defections to Rome.  The strange thing is that William Perkins Workes remain buried in the seventeenth century.  They have never been reprinted.  This is just negligence.  Perkins was a chief Protestant apologist against the errors of Rome. A cry to the publishers: Please get William Perkins Workes published!    

25 comments:

  1. "Jason's conclusions are tragic not only because they ignore God's serious warning against putting our trust in men, all of whom are called liars-Rom. 3:4 (a warning which is validated by a long history of popes and councils which contradict each other), but because such a view robs Christ of his glory as the supreme head of his church. Christ is always present with his church by his Word and Spirit and has promised to protect his elect from anything that would harm their souls. By his Spirit Christ has promised to guide us in all truth."

    Amen. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Didn't Calvin, in the letter that prefaced The Institutes also talk about Elijah and the 7,000 that God had preserved for himself? God always preserved his elect, even when Israel, the people of God at that time, had forsaken God and his Word and turned to the Baals, following false doctrines? Elijah held on to the Word of God and his promises, and 7,000 others had not bent the knee to the Baals. God always preserves and protects his chosen ones, even against the "authorities" of the time.

    Doesn't it also seem that Stellman is taking a really postmodern view of Scripture? He's saying unless the church's authority in interpretation be protected, then we can never truly know what the Bible is saying! Maybe I'm way off on that but that seems to be the implication.

    Thanks again for the post.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sorry to keep commenting, but Stellman's ideas leave no room for us to be Bereans! It totally undercuts the idea of persons examining the Scriptures to see whether what the "authorities" are saying is true!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Chris. I too agree that this is just the tip of the iceberg of defections to Rome. Many might be YRR folk, but there will be a good number who are in the camp of Stellman.

    Now get some sleep! Synod is next week.

    Mark

    ReplyDelete
  5. Excellent comments, Chris, on this awful situation. In Jason's most recent post, http://www.creedcodecult.com/2012/06/evangelium-et-ecclesia.html , the absolute subordination of the individual conscience to the churchly magisterium that Jason apparently now holds to is made exceptionally plain. He seems to be floundering around in some contradictory waters, and doesn't see it - at least that's how I read his most recent words.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mark, you have read it correctly. You're also correct in noting the post-modern problem--Dialogue, reinvention, re-make,etc.--always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.Also, as I stated in the post, I do believe election affords a good answer to this dilemma. Thanks for the comments

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks, Mark. See you in a few! dv Todd, yep, Jason is clear where he has gone. I'm really concerned for him.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Chris,

    You'll be happy to know that a prominent Reformed publisher is working on getting Perkins' works back into print. I, too, think his works are much needed.

    In the meantime, a pdf of his works can be downloaded for free at www.prdl.org (post-Reformation digital library). Just go to the site, search "Perkins" and it should be easy to find.

    Blessings,
    Stefan Lindblad

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hi Stefan, thanks for this, and I am aware of the project. They've been saying it for over four years now :) I am blessed to own an original set, but just trying to put a fire under them to get it done--especially if Jason's departure is at all representative of our future. NIce to hear from you!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Chris,

    Thank you for this timely post. I know there has been an effort to pin this somehow on 2k, but this seems to me to diagnose a lesion and misdiagnose the cancer causing it. Jason has forefitted his confidence in the fundamental doctrines that gave rise to the Reformation (and by extension the recovery of the gospel). I know that many will argue that Christ has never abandoned the church, hence Rome is the true church, however as Mark so aptly points out above, God has always kept a remnant, even when the majority of his people had fallen into idolatrous apostasy. I know there is an impulse to let this rest on a particular school of thought, but the fact is, the depths of darkness in the human heart cannot be known, and we may never know if it was a doctrinal imbalance or something completely otherwise that has lead Jason to leave the fold. Yet, in spite of the blow that this is to Exile Pres., Jason's friends, and many who have followed his ministry, God is where he has always been - on his throne, working all things according to the council of his will. While he may be saddened by Jason's deception, his work will not be impeded by this, and neither the gates of hell, not the false gospel of Rome will not prevail - of this I am sure.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Chris, this is the best blog post I have read on this issue. Believe me I have read every (painful) one. We are all quick to jump to one conclusion or another as to the cause of our friend’s apparent abandonment of the gospel and in most cases seeking to confirm our existing suspicions regarding specific doctrines or institutions. This is a good reminder for all of us what is truly at stake. When we abandon the authority of Christ’s Word we abandon Christ (and his mediatorial work) himself. We also abandon the true Church, which was created by the Word (not vice versa).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is likely to continue as long as an emphasis continues among some self-proclaiming "reformers" on high-church liturgy, weekly communion, un-Reformed views of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, absolution in the worhsip service, mediation of ministers, ministers claiming that the Bible was not intended to be interpreted without ministerial guidance, robes, vestments, over-emphasis on the church fathers, etc., etc. I think a study of John Williamson Nevin and the Mercersberg Theology (which nearly destroyed the RCUS) would be instructive in understanding this phenomenon. Thank God that he kept a remnant from that movement which survives to today. May God have meercy on the Reformed churches.

      Delete
  12. See Carl Trueman's excellent response at
    http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2012/06/thoughts-on-an-impending-conve.php
    Here is a sample: "My concern is that, when ecclesiology and 2K are all some people ever seem to talk about, the gospel is eclipsed or - even worse -- ecclesiology and 2k ideology become not adjuncts to and inferences of the gospel, but the very gospel itself."

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks, Mark. Amen! I agree that we need to stay with the issue, and the consequences, and avoid judging intentions.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Anon, while I thought Trueman made some good points,especially about keeping the gospel the focal point, I didn't find his response all that helpful. He didn't really get to the issue, it was more based on assumptions that may or may not be true of why Jason came to these conclusions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chris,

      Granted - Trueman does make assumptions. Or rather, he is theorizing based upon a knowledge of Stellman's distinctives. When one is so zealous about certain distinctives, to the point of nearly being sectarian, and when these views are so widely promulgated, it is difficult to separate one's motivations from the distinctives. So I think that Trueman meant it as a theory.
      Nevertheless, the most important point was that our emphases, however good, can overshadow the gospel, and can even replace the gospel. I have seen this over and over again in Reformed churches. It is a danger we all face, and it is just as dangerous as the loss of the gospel in some evangelical churches outside the Reformed faith.

      In any event, whatever Stellman's motives, it is clear that he has now abandoned the gospel.

      Thanks

      Delete
    2. Dr. Trueman's response was not at all helpful. He made all sorts of assumptions which Jason has made clear were not based on any knowledge of him. Very disappointing--it's also disappointing to see some of our theonomist friends piling on WSCAL and 2K theology based on Jason's departure from the faith.

      Delete
    3. I think DG Hart's blog on the issue is a good response to Trueman's post and on the issue in general. I didn't find Trueman's post that helpful either. He only made assumptions that I think were ill founded, seeing as he's never met Stellman and his "evidence" was looking at Exile Presbyterian's website and seeing which topic came up first. Is that really good evidence? Not to mention I feel like 2K is the ill founded hobby horse of those who are trying to reason this out.

      Here's Hart's post:
      http://oldlife.org/2012/06/the-hits-keep-coming/

      Pastor Gordon, I'm not sure if I agree with Hart that this has nothing to do with ecclesiology, though I would agree that is has nothing to do with 2K.

      Don't Stellman's ideas about Scripture and interpretation show that this does have something to do with ecclesiology?

      Delete
  15. Thank you for your sharing, I learn a lot from this!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Your bog is meanful, thank you! God bless you!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Rev. Gordon, please check out the profile info on "Vicky" and "Formal Wedding Dresses" -- unless you know these people I'd suggest either removing the links or asking them some questions.

    My guess is your blog has been spammed, but maybe not. I've seen some people with very unusual jobs who are Reformed.

    ReplyDelete
  18. God bless him in his new church. May he be used by God to Strengthen those in their faith in Christ where ever he lands.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thank you for your sharing! I like your posts very much,they are interesting and meaningful!

    ReplyDelete
  20. I'd like to preface this by saying that I am not a Roman Catholic and I am very thankful that I am not. I am also not Reformed, and very thankful that I am not. That being said, I find it quite sad that the following things were re-posted by a different person here on this blog:

    Atheism in making the merit of the works of men to concur with the grace of God thereby overthrowing the grace of God.
    Idolatry in the worship of saints and images.
    Adultery in the toleration of uncleanness among men and women.
    Sorcery through a breaden-God in exocisms over holy bread, holy water, and salt and casting out devils by the sign of the cross, holy water, ringing bells, by relics, etc.,
    Perjury as a papist may answer dishonestly against the direct intention of the examiner.
    Lying to justify their doctrine.

    These assumptions seem to be made on preconceived notions that exist purely from an already assumed negative standpoint of the Roman Catholic Church. How can they be taken seriously? If one would try to understand the church they are judging before making judgments, they would realize that none of these statements are true. And vice versa many times from the Catholic judgments on the Reformed Church.

    Instead of truth, these assumptions are a relative truth based on the current disposition of the person making the judgments, and as Jason Stellman has shown, the disposition of a person can change at any moment, making the truth for that person change along with their disposition, ie relative.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Do I believe the Roman Catholic Church has the absolute, one, and fully true Truth? No, I do not. Do I believe that the Reformed Church established by the views of those wishing to reform the Catholic Church during and after (because the reformations just keep on rolling) the Protestant Reformation have the absolute, one, and fully true Truth? No, I absolutely do not.

    One thing I do know is that all of these different belief systems created by men end up becoming the same old thing. Topics of debate among men. There is no rest, because there's always someone to challenge our views. Always someone to threaten our relative truth. And how can we not defend this truth? Without it, we'd be lost. We are so intimately tied to this relative truth that the mere thought of someone challenging it makes us lose sleep at night and live in a state of unrest because one of our precious friends has chosen a life of “error.”

    The judgments are thrown back and forth, no one ever really understands the other, only through their own fallible eye balls. There is never peace. There is never love that transcends understanding, only love that can't possibly understand and therefore argues that it is love to preach the "truth" to those living in "error."

    Instead, there should be peace. There should be love that does not need to lose sleep over the person who has chosen the “wrong path.” Instead, there should be an increase of prayer and an increase of our own humility. Because if we examine ourselves instead of others, we realize that it is not the other person who is an atheist, idolater, adulterer, sorcerer, and liar — it is me, myself, and I. I am all of these things. And until I have become perfect — I do not intend on spending my life losing sleep over the error of another person. Instead, I pray for our Lord to renew my own soul and cleanse me from my own prideful sin... And pray that others, including those living in utter error and ignorance, would be able to take my seat in the Kingdom, if that seat is even reserved for one as low as me...whether I’ve said a prayer or have been elected or not.

    In peace, let us pray for the world to come to know the real Truth. It is this Truth that transforms not only the way we live, but the way we experience and view life around us. This beautiful Truth can exist even for the blind, deaf, dumb, and autistic man, because it is not based on thoughts or theology that can be debated, but rather the love and depth of profound beauty that is experienced when the soul draws near to Christ in pure humility.

    It is the pure in heart who shall see God... Until we are pure in heart we will continuously come up with our own interpretations of Scripture, to the point that nothing is left of God except letters and punctuation marks.

    ReplyDelete