Monday, October 16, 2006

Paul Owen: Tractarian, not Reformed

I will offer a final response to Paul Owen's confusion on Scripture, Authority, and the views of the Reformers. Owen's statements are in block quotations. I have left all other quotations from writers in regular paragraph format but in quotation marks.

Svendsen is correct in noticing that I do not list the heirs of the Radical Reformation among the congregations of Christ’s visible Catholic Church on earth. Svendsen and his evangelical brethren do indeed have a noble tradition of their own, stemming backwards in time to Smith Wigglesworth, Billy Sunday and Charles Finney, and further still to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Fausto Socinus, Michael Servetus, Caspar Schwenckfeld, Menno Simons, Conrad Grebel, Balthasar Hubmaier and the Zwickau Prophets, and yet beyond to the Montanists, Novatians, Donatists and various Gnostic sects of the early centuries of the Church. But it is a trajectory of figures and movements of varying doctrinal orthodoxy outside the Catholic Church (though of course containing many faithful believers in Jesus within their ranks).
This statement, as much as any other he has issued, succinctly summarizes both Owen’s ignorance of Evangelicalism and its beliefs, and his willful downplaying of his own questionable orthodoxy. I am not an Anabaptist (at least not in its formal sense); and to pile on a mixture of evangelicals and heretical figures in the same list is a gross, gross distortion of what Evangelicalism is. The figures Owen has listed here have no affiliation to each other. Why does he add these (Joseph Smith? Mormonism more approximates Owen's view of authority than my own) while neglecting the more important forerunners—Spurgeon, Edwards, Bunyan, and the like? He apparently (and quite erroneously) thinks “Evangelical” is some kind of “catch-all” phrase that includes everyone not associated with a mainline reformed church. And why does he neglect to mention here that as an anglo-catholic, his forerunners are not Cranmer and Bucer (much less Calvin and Luther), but men like Pusey, Keble and Newman?

Has Owen never read a document like the London Baptist Confession, which outlines in detail orthodox Baptist belief (over against the heretics he has listed)? It is nearly identical in content to the WCF. As difficult as it may be for Owen to conceive of such a thing, there are organized evangelical churches outside the fold of his narrow and idiosyncratic notion of what constitutes a “church,” who uphold orthodoxy more vigorously and repudiate heterodoxy more fervently than he does, and they have been there since the days of the Reformation. In fact the framers of the LBC specifically repudiated the beliefs many of the figures mentioned by Owen above, and I defy Owen or anyone else to find fault with any part of this confession (aside from the normal idiosyncratic convictions). Having 32 articles (or 52 in the case of the 1644 edition) it is just as comprehensive and just as committed to orthodoxy as any Reformed confession of its day, including the Anglicanism that Owen pretends to hold.

The only real difference between us is that I can actually assent to the main tenets of all these confessions, even though the framers of those confessions hold no special authority over me (the confessions, as always, are authoritative insofar as they align with Scripture). By contrast, in spite of Owen’s feigned submission to Anglican authority, he manifestly does not believe in many of the articles of his own religion. I have already cited the relevant portions of the Thirty-nine Articles that Owen could never sign as a statement of faith. Why? Because as a Tractarian (not Reformed as he claims to be) he simply does not believe them. He does not believe of Scripture that “whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” He does not believe that “the visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men.” He does not believe that “things ordained by [ecumenical councils] as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority.” He does not believe that “the Romish doctrine concerning Pugatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saint, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.” He does not believe that it is a “thing plainly repugnant to the word of God and the custom of the primitive Church, to have public prayer in the Church, or to minister the sacraments in a tongue not understood of the people.” He does not believe that Rome’s sacraments are partly a result of “the corrupt following of the Apostles.” He does not believe that Transubstantiation “is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” He does not believe that “the sacrifices of Masses” are “blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits.” As a Tractarian, he is far too busy courting Rome to take the stanch position the Articles take. Indeed, as a Tractarian his primary goal is to show compatibility between Trent and the 39 Articles and to downplay any differences. As such, he is no heir of the Reformation, but rather of the Oxford movement and such stalwart “Reformers” as John Henry Cardinal Newman, Eddy Pusey, and Johnny Keble.

Martin Luther did not exalt his private judgment above the authority of the Church. He was merely echoing a widespread pastoral consensus as to the need for ecclesiastical reform that had been building within the Church for centuries. He is not a prototype of the modern evangelical Bible-onlyist.
No, of course not; here are Luther's own words:

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

No “Bible-onlyism” there, right? Nor can we detect “individualism” or subjectivism” here, can we? And Luther clearly defers to the authority of councils here, doesn’t he; and he does not dare rely on his own contrary understanding of what Scripture teaches, does he? Luther’s Reformation, you see, was done with the pre-consent of his bishop and pope. As it turns out, there was just a huge misunderstanding about that. The pope sent out a mail blast to all the faithful telling them that the coffers were “prime for donation,” and the ink on the page smeared a bit, making it difficult to read. Luther thought it read “time for reformation,” and the rest is history. So you see, Luther didn’t operate on private judgment at all; and the “true heirs” of the Reformation recognize that it was really just much ado about nothing. And as for all those historic differences; well, they were all just silly misunderstandings—semantic, nothing more. In fact, there really aren’t any differences between “true” Protestants and Roman Catholics at all!

I believe Owen has actually convinced himself that his anglo-catholicism is somehow representative of the Reformed. To say it is not is to engage in an understatement.
He believed the proper solution to the Church’s ills was to call a general Church council (in which the Protestants would be included) to resolve the dispute (see the opening comments on this matter in the Smalcald Articles for just one illustration), not simply to go with J. Vernon McGee “back to the Bible.” On Luther’s views, see D.H. Williams, Evangelicals and Tradition, pp. 73-74, 121.
Fine and dandy; who isn’t for general councils in which hope is held out that the other side will be convinced of your arguments so as to preserve unity in the church? That should always be the first step in reformation to prevent splitting a church wide open. But apparently the Roman Catholic side had other ideas. And lest it be assumed that Luther’s goal for such a council was that he might be instructed by the church’s authority through the Roman catholic bishops, we should let him explain it:

“But to return to the subject. I verily desire to see a truly Christian Council [assembled some time], in order that many matters and persons might be helped. Not that we need It, for our churches are now, through God's grace, so enlightened and equipped with the pure Word and right use of the Sacraments, with knowledge of the various callings and of right works, that we on our part ask for no Council, and on such points have nothing better to hope or expect from a Council. But we see in the bishoprics everywhere so many parishes vacant and desolate that one's heart would break, and yet neither the bishops nor canons care how the poor people live or die, for whom nevertheless Christ has died, and who are not permitted to hear Him speak with them as the true Shepherd with His sheep. This causes me to shudder and fear that at some time He may send a council of angels upon Germany utterly destroying us, like Sodom and Gomorrah, because we so wantonly mock Him with the Council.”

Luther's goal for this council was to have the opportunity to reform his superiors; not so that he himself might be convinced of their position. This was not an "ecumentical council" he had in mind, but a debate so that his ideas might win the day.

Svendsen apparently cannot see that his solo Scriptura method is not the view which the Reformers held to.
Cute phrase, but entirely meaningless. There is simply no such thing as “solo scriptura” over against sola scriptura (at least not in the present case). Either one holds to sola scriptura in a responsible way (i.e., in a way that is informed by the larger Christian community), or one does not. In the latter case, sola scriptura is still active; it’s just misinformed. In the former case, one must then decide what constitutes the “Christian community.” For Luther, Owen argues, it was the creeds and councils. Fine; I often refer to those as well when speaking to Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who think the church ceased to exist for 1800 years. As I have mentioned before, I am in fundamental agreement with the conclusions of the creeds and early councils (not necessarily their rationale, language, or side points), and accept them as part of that larger Christian community—but only as a part. The Christian community extends well beyond those councils, both before and after, and I prefer to look at the whole rather than a mere part. At the same time it absolutely excludes those who are wolves among sheep and shepherds who feed only themselves.

Sola Scriptura was not intended by the Reformers to replace the authority of Church Creeds and Councils, though of course Scripture was the supreme and final authority
Here is the precise point at which Owen’s view of this fails on an epistemological level. He wants to argue—simultaneously, no less—that “the authority of Church Creeds and Councils” reigns supreme over the individual, AND that Scripture is “the supreme and final authority.” But how would the latter point ever prevail within the context of a corrupt church, or councils and creeds that are in error? For Martin Luther, a mere individual, the issue was his own understanding of Scripture over against that of the entire Roman Catholic magisterium. If Owen wants to argue, “no, he looked to the creeds and councils,” it changes nothing since it is evident that Luther still exercised his own private judgment and understanding of creeds and councils over against that of the entire Roman Catholic magisterium. There’s simply no way around this. Owen wants to articulate a principle of sola scriptura that is operative for the church but not for the individual. The problem is, Luther appealed to this principle as an individual and against the established church! Hence, Owen’s version of sola scriptura is not only epistemologically impossible, but is in fact a historical novum. All the Reformers, without exception, acted as individuals and trusted their own understanding of Scripture, creeds and councils over against the understanding of the governing church of their day.

Scripture was the supreme and final authority (a view which has always been well-represented even among Roman Catholic theologians).
Notice Owen’s persistent and irresistible Tractarian tendency to sneak Roman Catholic theologians into the camp of the Reformers’ view of Scripture, as though there is no difference between what the Reformers believed about Scripture and what Roman Catholics believe(d). This is classic Tractarian revisionism, not Reformed history.

My appeal to the consensus of the first five centuries is not arbitrary. It was standard among all of the Reformational theologians (like Jewel, Calvin, Bullinger, and Luther)
Standard what? Certainly not the regula fidei, for that category is reserved for “sola Scripture.” If by “standard” Owen intends something like “the Reformers believed that the creeds and councils restate the teaching of Scripture” then fine. If instead he means the Reformers believed that the councils and creeds define orthodoxy and act in addition to Scripture as some separate but unifed regula fidei, then he is sadly mistaken and is engaging in still more revisionism of the Reformers.

From the time of Gregory onwards, it was understood that the first four councils (those of the first five centuries) held pride of place in establishing the foundational boundaries of Christian doctrine. St. Gregory said: “I confess that I receive and revere, as the four books of the Gospel so also the four Councils . . . These with full devotion I embrace, and adhere to with most entire approval; since on them, as on a four-square stone, rises the structure of the holy faith; and whosoever, of whatever life and behavior he may be, holds not fast to their solidity, even though he is seen to be a stone, yet he lies outside the building
Yada, yada, yada. Fine and dandy for “St.” Gregory. Where is a statement from the Reformers that mirrors this sentiment? Here is what Luther says:

“Years ago all the pope's pronouncements were called Christian truth and articles of faith, yet this was simply based on man. And then it happened that people sank into the abyss and lost everything that pertains to the Word of God and Christ. Therefore, we must now declare: 'Pope, council, and doctors, we will not believe you; but we will believe in the Divine Word."

"When anything contrary to Scripture is decreed in a council, we ought to believe Scripture rather than the council. Scripture is our court of appeal and bulwark; with it we can resist even an angel from heaven - as St. Paul commands in Galatians 1(:8) - let alone a pope and a council."

"[As regards the church fathers] I do not reject them. But everyone, indeed, knows that at times they have erred, as men will; therefore, I am ready to trust them only when they give me evidence for their opinions from Scripture, which has never erred"

"A Christian soon smells from afar which is God's and which is human teaching. He sees from afar that the schismatic spirits are speaking their own human mind and opinion. They cannot escape me, Dr. Luther. I can soon judge and say whether their doctrine is of God or of man; for I am doing the will of God, who sent Christ. I have given ear to none but God's Word, and say: 'Dear Lord Christ, I want to be thy pupil, and I believe thy Word. I will close my eyes and surrender to thy Word.' Thus He makes me a free nobleman, yes, a fine doctor and teacher, who is captive to the Word of God, and is able to judge the errors and the faith of the pope, Turks, Jews and Sacramentarians. They must fall, and I tread them underfoot. I have become a doctor and a judge who judges correctly."

As one observer notes: “Luther did believe that much of the conciliar decisions did contain truth, but only in so far as they correspond with the written Word,” and “Luther did indeed accept the creeds, not because the councils of the Church had accepted them, but because he believed they conformed to the teaching of Scripture.” This is very much the Evangelical view of creed, councils, and Scripture, and very far from Owen’s view.

Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are not two religions (as is the case with Anabaptism). It is one thing to say that the Roman Catholic Church needs reform (the Protestant view); it is another thing to say that the Roman Catholic Church needs to be replaced (the Radical Reformation view).
And this is the just kind of misunderstanding for which Owen is notorious. Take for example Owen’s stance on the Reformer’s view of Rome. He goes to great lengths to show that Luther and Calvin still considered the RCC a legitimate church, and on that basis promotes the pope, the RC bishops, and RC priests as brothers in Christ with whom he has some minor disagreements. But the statements from the Reformers that Owen typically cites do not make that point. They are usually sacrament-based statements, not “Christian-brother” based. In other words, for Calvin and Luther the nature of the sacraments forces them to accept RC baptism as valid, even if the minister of that baptism is anti-Christ himself. To be sure, their views on the sacraments would disagree with mine and most of Evangelicalism on that score. But neither Luther nor Calvin took the further step that Owen takes by regarding the pope as a brother in Christ. Far from it; the Reformers uniformly viewed the pope as the anti-Christ. They were much more Evangelical in this regard. This embarrasses Owen immensely, who (as a Tractarian) would rather just downplay those statements, or eliminate them from consideration altogether. But the reason we cannot eliminate them or even downplay them is because they weigh heavily in our understanding of just what the Reformers intended by other statements they make regarding the “papists.” Hence, if some statements of the reformers seem to lend legitimacy to the Roman Catholic Church (such as the baptism statements), we need ever to keep in mind that the Reformers do not intend to imply what Owen and his ilk want to milk out of these statements—namely, that the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Church are one, and there’s really only a dime’s difference between them.

And if Owen really believed what he wrote here, he’d be Roman Catholic. The very fact that he attends an Anglican church and abstains from a Roman Catholic mass indicates clearly that he has indeed “replaced” Rome with Anglicanism. To argue otherwise is to engage in ridiculous double speak.

I am not going to keep vainly repeating myself on the matter of the Articles of Religion (articles 8 and 21). Article 8 (and the Book of Common Prayer in general) gives pride of place to certain Creeds, but nobody in their right mind thinks this means that the Creeds and statements of the early Ecumenical Councils somehow lack binding authority.
At least no one of Owen’s anglo-catholic heritage, whose express purpose it is to promote the authority of creeds and councils. Owen’s “explanation” is baffling. Here again is Article 21: “Wherefore things ordained by [General Councils] as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.”

Here is Owen: “nobody in their right mind thinks this means that the . . . statements of the early Ecumenical Councils somehow lack binding authority.”

Here is Article 21: “Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority.”

Owen: “nobody in their right mind thinks this means that the . . . statements of the early Ecumenical Councils somehow lack binding authority.”

Art. 21: “Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority”

Get it? It is only revisionistic tractarian sophistry that can make article 21 mean the opposite of what it plainly states.

Yes, general councils may err, and many have erred; but general councils is a broad category which embraces more than just the early Catholic Councils. Nowhere will one find in the Anglican sources a claim that Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus or Chalcedon did in fact err in matters pertaining to God (i.e., doctrine as opposed to discipline). Svendsen is so out on a limb with this claim that I am just not going to spend any more time talking about it.
Here again is a case of Owen not reading carefully what I said, nor what Article 21 is asserting. I have not contended that Article 21 teaches that the Nicene council erred in its definitions. I have contended only that Article 21 states that the councils, conducted by mere men, are prone to error, not that they have in fact erred. Because they are prone to err, they “have neither strength nor authority” in matters of definitions necessary to salvation. We may very well conclude they are right—but only because we can see for ourselves that they affirm the teaching of Scripture. That is what Article 21 is getting at.

Finally, Svendsen just does not understand why we need to maintain the supreme human authority (even if supposedly subordinate to God’s word) of Ecumenical councils. He does not understand this because he does not understand the nature of the Church, nor sadly, of the orthodox Christian faith itself. The Church is a visible society on earth, the community of God’s kingdom among his people. We are the eschatological commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:12-13). Because Svendsen simply sees the Church as the collective number of the elect, gathered into local congregations, the idea of an authoritative Catholic Church council simply makes no sense to him.
Owen has already been corrected on this point by one of the contributors on his blog (Peter Escalante), who chimed in on his article and had this to say:

“Your points on catholic continuity are well taken, but when you say of Svendsen that he “simply sees the Church as the collective number of the elect, gathered into local congregations”, it is very difficult for me to see how this differs from the essential points of the Reformers’ doctrine of the church. You may think that they were wrong, of course, but they pretty expressly denied that any of the qualities which were essential to, and definitive of, the invisible church, could be essentially predicated of the visible churches, which latter stand to the former as sign (admittedly, a very robust kind of sign). By the way, this is Hooker’s doctrine of the church as well. Where the folks you’re arguing against, insofar as I understand your representation of their ideas, would differ from Hooker and the Reformers, is not in the central points I just mentioned, but in denying that the true visible church has any real continuity through time, or any ability to authoritatively witness to and pass on true understanding of God’s Word through historically continuous media. But one can affirm these latter points completely, without giving up at all the Reformers’ doctrine of the Church, which makes a strong distinction between the invisibility of the church and its invisibility, and denies that the essential predicates of the invisible church are essential predicates of the visible church. Hooker’s whole argument against the separatists-in whose lineage you situate Svendsen- turns precisely on this point.”

As for the biblical reference Owen cites to support his contention that the church “is a visible society on earth, the community of God’s kingdom among his people [and] the commonwealth of Israel,” if he is somehow under the illusion that Eph. 2:12-13 is a proof text for his view, then let me disabuse him of that. This passage has nothing to do with whether or not “visible church” is to be identified with "invisible church." Paul’s point in this passage is simply that whereas God once worked exclusively with Israel, he has now included the Gentiles as a target of his grace and grafted the two peoples into one in Christ. If Owen thinks this means unbelievers and apostates are included in that grafting then he is sorely mistaken. Nothing could be further from Paul’s mind. Indeed I do see the invisible church as the collective number of the elect; but with the Reformers I also view congregations that faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as manifestations of the visible church. It is not necessary that each member of the visible church be converted for that church to be a legitimate church—only that the gospel and truth are faithfully proclaimed. If Owen thinks differently, shame on him; he has no fellowship with the Reformers on that point. As Calvin once put it: “it is certain that there is no Church where lying and falsehood have usurped the ascendancy.” As for my not understanding the concept of a “catholic church council,” Owen is as badly misinformed on that as he is about almost every other view I hold.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Comprehensive Response to Owen

Taken from the comments section of the previous post:
I do have to say that your post strikes me as overstated. I haven't been receiving some devastating correction at the Reformed Catholicism site. Peter has taken issue with me on several points of minor detail. So what? I've enjoyed the discussion and have a lot I can learn from the likes of himself, William Tighe, Jeffrey Steel, and others. They've forgotten more about the details of historical theology than I will ever hope to know. Thank God for them.
Here is what I wrote: “Presently, I'm just enjoying the responses he's getting from Peter Escalante and Jason Loh (who has also posted a very nice comment on one of the installments to my Cranmer series), both of whom are much more traditional Reformed Anglicans, and both of whom (but especially Escalante) have corrected Owen on his Anglo-Catholic revisionism of Reformation Anglicanism. . . . Cranmer and Owen are miles apart in their view of the church, Scripture, Rome, and authority, in spite of Owen's insistence to the contrary.”

Where exactly is the overstatement? When Owen can cite with approval Trent’s statement regarding Transubstantiation (see his latest article on the Eucharist)--and not some mere side point, but the primary definition of Transubstantiation itself!--is it not self-evident that he and Cranmer (and the Reformation Anglicans) are miles apart? Here is the relevant portion on this issue from the Anglican Thirty-Nine articles:

"Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthrows the nature of a Sacrament, and has given occasion to many superstitions. The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped" (Article 28).

Owen praises and commends Trent (not only here, but in many other places as well); Historic Anglicanism denounce it as “repugnant.” Owen has demonstrated time and again that his view and presentation of the Anglican Reformers is pure revisionism. Where is the overstatement? Owen continues:
As to my being unable to sustain a discussion on the exegetical sorts of questions, I think we both know that is not the case.
Actually, I “know” nothing of the kind. It is a fact that Owen did not bother to engage (exegetically or otherwise) the texts I maintain are contrary to his assertions. Whether he is able to do so, I suppose, remains to be seen. The fact of the matter is, he has thus far shown himself unable to sustain a discussion on it. Where, again, is the overstatement? Owen continues:
I don't know why you would want to give that impression. I think our past discussions have demonstrated that your attempt to get around the plain sense of the NT witness on baptism doesn't hold water (!)
I have provided all links to that discussion in two separate posts below. I’m confident that anyone who reads that discussion from beginning to end will conclude that Owen must have a different dialogue in mind.
the issue of the nature of the gospel remains clear. I don't have to follow your meandering path through a bunch of tangential passages in order to sustain my basic premise.
Hence, my contention that Owen is unable to sustain a discussion on this point is vindicated. Until Owen accounts for my “meandering path through a bunch of tangential passages,” he has not dealt exegetically with this issue. Owen continues:
Nowhere in the NT does Paul define the gospel in such a way as to include the means whereby justification is appropriated.
As usual, mere assertion with no attempt to prove. I have already shown that Paul does indeed include this, as do the other NT writers.

Never does he say that the good news is that justification is received by faith alone, and not faith plus works of merit.
Poppycock! I have shown otherwise.

All that Paul says is that the Good News is that Christ has died and rose from the grave for our justification. God in Christ has done something for us that the Law could not accomplish. THAT is the good news!
Again, poppycock. I have shown that what is included in “the gospel” depends entirely on the context of the passage in which the phrase or concept occurs. Sometimes it is limited to Christ’s death and resurrection; other times it is solely the appropriation of the benefits of that death and resurrection (the latter is merely assumed); still other times it refers to the judgment to come for those who refuse it; sometimes it is a combination of these; and sometimes it is all inclusive. Owen is simply being careless and tendentious in his presentation of this; and his refusal to deal exegetically with this issue is still more proof of that.

The human obligation now is to respond to that good news with faith, and receive the benefits of justification in baptism. In light of that basic fact, you are the one who has some explaining to do, not me.
The human obligation, contrary to Owen’s assertion, is part and parcel of “the gospel” of the New Testament. That is, in fact, the very apex of the gospel in the NT. It is not a mere "add on" as Owen thinks. I'm very sorry if that complicates things for Owen's revisionistic "new perspective" view of the NT and its background. But it is a fact nevertheless.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Upcoming Blog Entries

I'll be waiting until the weekend to post a response to Paul Owen's latest reply. Presently, I'm just enjoying the responses he's getting from Peter Escalante and Jason Loh (who has also posted a very nice comment on one of the installments to my Cranmer series), both of whom are much more traditional Reformed Anglicans, and both of whom (but especially Escalante) have corrected Owen on his Anglo-Catholic revisionism of Reformation Anglicanism. In any case, it's interesting to see the various points of views about what Anglicanism really is; and it has also become clear that if anyone has misunderstood Cranmer, it is Owen. Cranmer and Owen are miles apart in their view of the church, Scripture, Rome, and authority, in spite of Owen's insistence to the contrary.

I can't add anything of value to their points on the history, but I will continue to comment on the biblical and epistemological points Owen raised in his original article but has not been able to sustain in dialogue. This has been my burden all along, and I'm still not satisfied Owen has understood just where his his self-defeating premise falls to the ground.

Oh, and yes, I plan to continue the series in Philippians at some point soon as well.


Monday, October 09, 2006

Cranmer Vindicated: Another Response to Owen

I'm milking this graphic for all its worth. Paul Owen has once again responded to my series on this (for which, see directly below). His points will be in block quotes, followed in each case by my response:

1. Somehow, Svendsen has gotten the idea that article 8 of the Articles of Religion is meant to exclude the Catholic Councils of the first five centuries (including the Nicene and Niceno-Constantinopolitan creeds, and the Christological definitions of Chalcedon and Ephesus) from being viewed as binding and authoritative. It goes without saying that a rejection of these Councils is by no means implied by the wording of article 8, nor is it implied by the wording of article 21 (since it obviously does not attribute error to all general councils). Such a radical position was unheard of among the Reformers, all of whom assumed the authoritative and binding nature of these early Councils and their statements.

First of all, I did not claim that these Articles exclude the creeds. Owen is simply shifting the ground of his argument here in his confusion of creeds and councils. There are many more injunctions and “binding commands” in councils than in the creeds they produced. One can reasonably concede the authority and binding nature of the statements of the creeds insofar as they are summary statements of Scripture (in which case that authority is derived from Scripture) without thereby accepting the authority of the council that composed it., since once one accepts the council itself as authoritative, then all the points of the council are thereby binding and not merely the creeds. Owen originally stated that the councils themselves have binding authority, and then affirmed he does indeed believe the “doctrinal statements” of the councils (distinguished here from the statements of the creeds) have the same authority as the creeds. Once again, the Articles deny this authority, with one exception: “unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.” No one can disagree with this, of course; but then it becomes a matter of whether the other statements are indeed taken from Holy Scripture. In the case of the creeds, they most certainly are derived from Scriptures; but the same cannot be said of many of the other statements made or implied by these councils.

Moreover, recall that Owen originally affirmed that seven creeds (i.e., councils) have binding authority. Here are his words:
The boundaries of the Christian faith are entirely contained in the Bible, and are defined in the Ecumenical Creeds of the early Church. The first four Creeds mark out the limits of the Faith; the fifth and sixth Creeds rule out Nestorian and Monothelite interpretations of the Faith; the seventh Council applies orthodox Christology to a dispute over the use of images in worship.
But clearly the Articles affirm only three; and now that I have raised this point, Owen seems to have capitulated to it. He now states he affirms “one Bible, two testaments, three Creeds, four Councils, five centuries of foundational Tradition.” But “four councils” is a bit misleading since they act merely as the framework for the three creeds. And “five centuries is also a bit misleading since they act as a time marker for when those councils met. In other words, the Owen intends to view these things as separate authorities (“I subscribe to three creeds AND to four councils AND to five centuries of church teaching”), whereas the originally intended meaning is much more likely to be inclusive (“I subscribe to three creeds which are contained within four councils, which are contained within five centuries of the church”). This is easily demonstrated simply by comparing these statements to what the same summary states about Scripture (“one Bible, two Testaments”). The intent of this statement is certainly not “I believe in one Bible AND two Testaments,” but rather “I believe in one Bible comprised of two Testaments.” The entire statement likely means something like, “I believe in one bible, comprised of two Testaments, reliably summarized in three creeds, which were hammered out in four councils, which were held within the first five centuries.”

What other explanation can account for Article XXI’s comparatively negative statement regarding “General Councils”? Owen has stated (in his previous response) that he does not believe the first four councils are to be included in the scope of Article XXI:
I do believe that some councils which have been lawfully called by princes (the so-called general councils) have erred (so art. 21 in the 39 Articles of Religion). I do not believe that this applies to any of the first four Ecumenical Councils which outline the boundaries of the Christian faith. Nor did any of the Reformers (excluding the Radicals) attribute error to those first four councils.
In fact, at least some Anglican scholars do not share Owen’s view that XXI omits the first four councils; others view XXI solely as a response to Trent. There is no unanimous view on which councils are envisaged here. But the fact remains that if the first four councils are not here included, then where is their binding authority included in the Articles? If they are to be excluded from the warning in XXI, and they are not included in the binding authority of VIII, where are they? Here are the Articles in question:

Article VIII: "The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture."

Article XXI: "General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God), they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture."

It is not difficult to see how Article VIII, which is clearly intended to commend the three creeds as faithful expressions of the key teachings of Scripture and therefore binding on the conscience of the believer, combined with Article XXI, which is just as clearly intended to disallow “General Councils” this same authority—and this coupled with the fact that no other Article commends any council in any way (though there is ample opportunity to do so)—supports my contention that the Articles envisage Scripture and the three creeds as marking out the boundaries of the Christian faith. If the framers of the Articles viewed the General Councils themselves as a binding authority, why didn’t they just say so? If they viewed something beyond the Scriptures and the three creeds as binding, did they just forget to include it here? What explains the fact that not only is there a complete absence of any statement in the Articles that would suggest the binding nature of ecumenical councils, but there is a specific warning against viewing them as binding in matters of “things necessary to salvation”? The Articles do add one exception clause to this: “unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.” But this is a qualification that no Evangelical would reject.
I am simply going to assert this, because it is frankly common knowledge, and I would simply encourage Svendsen to investigate this issue more thoroughly. Statements affirming the authority of such Catholic Councils (those of the first five centuries) can be found in the Anglican Homilies (referred to in article 35),
There are twenty-one homilies, and each one is quite extensive. Perhaps Owen can pare down which specific statement(s) in which specific homilies he has in mind here.
Strangely, Svendsen insists that Church councils cannot be binding upon ”the believer’s conscience,” as though the Anglican divines of the 16th century were Baptists, in direct contradiction of article 34 which says: “Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be openly rebuked.”
Not strange at all, since these are apples and oranges. Not only is there a different “doctrinal content” involved, but also a different sense of “binding.” Articles VIII and XXI refer to Theological doctrine, while Article XXXIV (cited by Owen above) refer to “customs” of the church, to wit: “traditions and ceremonies [that are not necessary to] be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners.” The same article continues: “Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.” Clearly this cannot refer to something like the creeds or the doctrinal teaching of Scripture. In fact, scholars believe this Article was written expressly to counter Trent and the spread of the Roman church which was attempting to “bind” local Anglican churches to its own “customs and traditions” (so Wilson and Templeton).

Moreover, when Article VIII insists that the three creeds “ought thoroughly to be received and believed,” and Article VIII insists that “things ordained by [General Councils] . . . have neither strength nor authority,” it is explicitly referring to beliefs that are or are not “necessary to salvation.” Whereas Article XXXIV just as clearly refers instead to “binding” in the sense of a local church custom, which would not necessarily be binding on someone not a part of that particular national church, which may have a different custom. The binding authority in this case has nothing to do with those things that are necessary for salvation.
2. On the gospel, despite his lengthy homiletical excursion, Svendsen is unable to produce a single text in the writings of Paul which defines the gospel itself as the means whereby a sinner appropriates justification, or that maintains that justification is by faith, rather than by faith PLUS works.
My goodness, did he even read my response? I cited a plethora of instances that demonstrate these very points. Instead of responding to them, Owen gratuitously asserts they are not there. Here they are again.
Instead, what one will always find, is that Paul insists on justification by faith, and not justification by works (or sometimes “works of the Law”). I would agree that justification by works, or justification by the Law, as opposed to justification by faith in Christ, would undermine the gospel. . . . I have written an article which is due to be published sometime next year in the Journal of Biblical Literature (on the subject of the phrase “works of the Law” in Paul), in which I argue this case in detail.
Owen persists in his idiosyncratic view that the Galatian Judaizers thought they could somehow be justified by God by works apart from believing in God, but fails to explain why a Jewish atheist would desire to be justified by God in the first place. I look forward to reading Owen’s article in JBL, as well as the ensuing responses.
3. As for the sacrament of baptism, I am more than happy to have readers look back over Svendsen’s attempt to deny that baptism “saves” (1 Peter 3:21), to deny that baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16), and to deny that baptism along with repentance is necessary to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts
Please do; here again are the links for the interested reader: Link 1 ; Link 2 ; Link 3 ; Link 4 ; Link 5 ; Link 6 ; Link 7 ; Link 8 ; Link 9 ; Link 10 ; Link 11 ; Link 12 ; Link 13 ; Link 14 ; Link 15 ; Link 16 ; Link 17 ; Link 18 ; Link 19
4. I am sorry that Svendsen (despite having a Ph.D.) does not understand what it means to have one’s soul nourished through the bread and wine of the Eucharist; and I am sorry he does not understand what it means to feed on Jesus’ body and blood unto eternal life. He sounds frighteningly similar to those described in John
and 60ff. That perhaps is the saddest testimony to the effect of evangelical religion which this exchange has offered thus.
I understand fully the meaning of Jesus’ words in John 6. That has never been an issue. What is at issue is Owen’s understanding of them. Again, he doesn’t bother to attempt an explanation; just gratuitously asserts his position. What is gratuitously asserted, I suppose, may be gratuitously denied.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cranmer Revisited: A Response to Owen

As expected, Paul Owen has responded to my post here. His points will be in block quotes, followed in each case by my response:
1. By “the Church” I do not only mean the medieval and Reformation church. I mean the one, holy, Catholic Church, which has existed since the Day of Pentecost, and continues through today. This Church includes the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Old Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Continental Reformed Catholic (Presbyterian and Lutheran) churches, as well as the faithful believers within the various congregations of Anabaptists (the Baptists, Pentecostals, Mennonites, etc.). I realize that the Church existed in ancient times, and continues to exist today. I also realize that every age of the Church has witnessed a mixture of truth and error. This has nothing to do with the simple fact that the Bible belongs to the Church, not to me or any individual.
Where has Owen given us any evidence that he takes into serious consideration the decisions, beliefs, and cautions of the latter groups he mentions? All we ever read from him is how the “catholics” (however he defines this) are right and the evangelicals and “Baptists” are therefore wrong. How has he demonstrated that these latter groups are part of this “catholic consensus” he promotes? And notice how he puts it; the “church” includes the denominations of “Roman Catholic, Anglican, Old Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Continental Reformed Catholic (Presbyterian and Lutheran,” but only “faithful believers within the various congregations of Anabaptists (the Baptists, Pentecostals, Mennonites.”

The same observation may be made of conservative brands of Presbyterianism. Owen has gone on record chiding these groups and issuing epithets toward them (they are in reality Gnostic Baptists), but I have seen nothing that indicates he has given them due consideration in determining Christian belief. Where has Owen praised any of these groups in the way he, with regularity, praises Roman Catholicism; and where has he commended them as a representative of the regula fide?

I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Owen’s “church” is manifestly the medieval church through the Reformation—or more specifically, the medieval church and the reformation. These are the only sources he cites as having authority. But not all of the Reformation, of course, since he rejects the view of and attitude toward Rome and the Papacy held by the earliest Reformers. And he clearly does not share the same definition of the regula fide as his predecessors inasmuch as he places much more confidence in the councils and teachings of non-reformation groups than they did.
2. I do not believe that each successive manifestation of the Church is called to “cast away” man-made traditions, nor do I believe this is what the Reformers taught. Svendsen is assuming a Radical Reformation paradigm here.
That depends entirely on who we envision doing the calling—the Reformers or God through the Scriptures? Error can creep in during a single generation (Jude 4). If this could happen when the apostles were still on the scene, then “casting away” errors when they creep in is absolutely necessary in every generation of the church to prevent those errors from growing into something that is then held by subsequent generations of the church as some “great tradition.” That is the precedent set for us in the OT via the prophets, and it is just what we are commanded to do by both Jesus and the NT apostles.
The Reformers saw themselves as living in a unique time, when in essence, the lawful courts of the Church had become so corrupt through the illegitimate attribution of autonomous power to the papacy and attendant Magisterium that radical measures had to be taken by faithful pastors of God’s flock.
And who made the decision that those “lawful courts” had become corrupt? Owen, I presume, would commend Luther as that person—or he may now defer to another Reformer; it matters not, each one worked as an individual in this, not as a collective body. Imagine that; a single individual sitting in judgment on the entire church and calling it corrupt. So here is Owen’s principle for reform: If one is living in the sixteenth century, and he suspects the church of the past century has become increasingly corrupted, all he need do is compare his church to the church of the fifth century, and he may objectively and without danger of subjectivism denounce the current church as an error-filled institution that needs to be reformed, create a new denomination based on his personal understanding of Scripture (sola scriptura—where did that source enter the picture? I thought conformity to the fifth-century church was all that was necessary), and be hailed by the “reformed catholics” as a great man. But if one is living in the modern era and he suspects the church of the past century has become increasingly corrupted, and he compares this church to the church of the first century, he is immediately denounced as a Gnostic who is operating on the principles of individualism and subjectivism. One apparently can’t go wrong if he individually decides to look to and adhere to four ecumenical councils (except, of course, that the church Luther and the rest of the Reformers opposed also held to these councils unwaveringly—again, why the need for a Reformation?), but if that same individual looks to Scripture instead; well, he’s just being subjective and individualistic.

Unfortunately for Owen, the matters brought up by the Reformers had little if anything to do with the fifth-century church. Sola fide and sola scriptura were not products of the ecumenical councils—nor were any of the points in his “95 thesis.” So if the “boundaries of the Christian faith” had been defined in the first five centuries of the church, and the Reformers simply wanted the church to return to those boundaries, then where does sola fide and sola scriptura come into play here? The reformation, on that thinking, was completely unwarranted, and Paul Owen should now abandon the schismatic Anglican church he has joined and return to Rome.

Moreover, what makes Owen think the same (or similar) situation that resulted in the Reformation does not prevail to an even greater degree now? In fact, I maintain the situation is just as urgent now as it ever was. It does not take long at all for the seeds of man-made tradition to sprout, and the crawling vines to choke the life out of truth. In the OT, it happened within a generation of Moses and Joshua. Why should we be so surprised that it might have happened to the church just as quickly? How long had the traditions opposed eventually by Luther been allowed to germinate and grow before formal opposition took place? Why the need for the precursor in men like Hus and Wycliffe? Would Owen like to suggest that the Reformers thought men like Wycliffe and Hus were also out of line to attempt reformation in their own day?
They believed that they lived in a unique time, which called for unusual circumstances. They most certainly did not see the need for every generation to undergo such a purging, but rather saw themselves as calling the Church back to the period of pure Catholicity–the first five centuries, when the boundaries of the Faith were defined and clarified.
So . . . now that we in the twenty-first century live in an age of “pure doctrine,” we can forgo any thought that the church might need again to be reformed? And why the arbitrary criteria of the first five centuries? Was that just pulled out of a hat? And who decides that’s “pure doctrine”? Those who agree with it? Those who fall in line because they aren’t capable of evaluating it? Since when did that become the standard of truth? Where has that been revealed by God? To what did the prophets in the OT turn when they wanted to establish the “boundaries of the faith”? Was it the first five centuries of Jewish thought after Moses passed away? If so, they would have been dead wrong. It is extremely telling that the Scriptures do not act as the “boundaries of the faith” for this group.
3. I do not believe that any of the beliefs which were consensual and characteristic of the Church of the first five centuries (the period of anonical definition and Creedal orthodoxy) can be shown to be at odds with the New Testament witness.
How about Arianism, which (with the exception of Athanasius and one or two lesser bishops) prevailed unanimously among the bishops in both east and west for an entire century before finally being put down? How about the exaggerated views of Mary, such as her exalted status, her perpetual virginity, or her sinlessness? I realize that Owen subscribes to at least the status and PV of Mary based on the testimony of the medieval church; but that just serves to illustrate my point about how error-filled traditions that are completely at odds with the NT witness can creep in unchallenged. What about the “conversion theory” of the Eucharist? A magisterial priesthood? Granted, some of these things were not “officially” defined until later. But the fact that they were prevailing beliefs before the end of the fifth century should sufficiently demonstrate the absurdity of the notion there was “pure doctrine” to be had in that day.
These early Fathers did not operate on a model that would allow doctrines to be defined without accountability to Scripture. The later two-source theory of revelation was not characteristic of this period. (See Keith Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura, pp. 19-48, for discussion.)
Then why does Owen insist we look to non-Scriptural authorities to define our own beliefs rather than to the Scriptures themselves?
4. I do believe that some councils which have been lawfully called by princes (the so-called general councils) have erred (so art. 21 in the 39 Articles of Religion). I do not believe that this applies to any of the first four Ecumenical Councils which outline the boundaries of the Christian faith. Nor did any of the Reformers (excluding the Radicals) attribute error to those first four councils.
Once again, if these councils acted as the “boundaries of the Christian faith,” and the sixteenth-century Roman church fully adhered to them (which it did), then what was the need for a Reformation? It is evident by this statement of Owen and other statements like it that he just does not share the same mindset of the early Reformers. I suspect that if Owen had lived in the sixteenth century, he would have opposed the Reformation. How could it be otherwise, given the principle on which he claims to operate?

Even in early Anglicanism; why did the framers of the Thirty-Nine articles disavow as unreliable the same councils Owen now upholds as the regula fide? Why did they insist that only three creeds be held up as reliably representing the teachings of Scripture? Owen persists in being out of step with the Articles of his own denomination, even if individuals of subsequent generations (such as Lancelot Andrewes) add “our councils”to it.
I would also agree that any human council is in principle capable of error, but I do not believe a principle of infallibility is necessary in this connection. It is only necessary that Ecumenical Councils be acknowledged as the highest human court of appeal, much as the Supreme Court functions today.
And why is that arbitrarily necessary? On what basis exactly? Do we find anything like that in Scripture pertaining to post-revelation generations of the people of God? Do we not find rather that these “highest courts of appeal” are routinely in error? It is one thing to compare the conclusions of these councils to Scripture and conclude they were right on many important things based on the fact they were simply affirming the teaching of Scripture. It is quite another thing to uphold their decisions as somehow “authoritative.” Says who exactly? One can be right without being authoritative. What Owen consistently misses in this discussion is a modicum of proof that we are obliged to view these councils as authoritative. He simply assumes and asserts; nothing more.
5. I am not being subjective in determining what my authority will be. I am subject to the same authority which Rome and the Greeks are subject to–the consensus of the undivided Church.
And the consensus of the undivided fourth-century church was that Jesus is not God. And since the church did not officially divide until centuries later, why are we stopping at the fifth century? And, again, who says we are subject to the consensus of the “undivided church”? The very fact that subsequent manifestations of the church can disagree with those decisions proves that it was neither a “consensus” nor an “undivided church” that made that decision. Indeed, if that same principle were applied to the consensus of the “undivided church” of the fourth century, we’d all be Arians today! The moment says, “yes, but the church in the next generation corrected that decision,” one has immediately forfeited his prerogative to argue that subsequent generations of the church are not allowed to call into question any consensus belief of the church of the first five centuries.
I am subjective in determining which church I will attend, but I do not attribute to the Anglican Church any right to define the boundaries of the Faith outside of the context of the undivided Church.
But if this is true, then nothing the Anglicans defined in their Thirty-Nine Articles can be considered significant enough to bind the conscience of the believer. And if it’s not significant enough to do that, the Anglican opposition to Rome was completely unwarranted, and Owen should just return to Rome. It was an unnecessary schism in the first place; so, in the interest of “catholicity,” why be a party to perpetuating it?
And most importantly, I do not claim the right to interpret the Bible for myself outside of that consensus. That is the difference between Anglicanism and Bible-onlyism.
And how, pray tell, did “Anglicanism” ever arrive at the notion that the three creeds represent the teaching of Scripture, but that councils have erred, without interpreting the Bible as individuals and apart from those same creeds and councils? Any denomination that makes a decision about which councils and creeds are right and which are wrong stands in judgment over those councils and creeds to make that decision, and must evaluate them by Scripture alone—they certainly cannot use those same councils and creeds as guides to help them make that decision! The distinction that Owen has made between the way the first Anglicans operated and the way “Bible-onlyists” operate is as absurd as it is impossible.
6. Notice that Svendsen insists that he does not hold to solo Scriptura because unlike “Joe Sixpack,” he and other evangelicals “look to each other” for the authentic interpretation. That sort of makes my point. Svendsen does not feel that the modern evangelical church should be held accountable to any outside standard, whether it be the teachings of the Reformers, or the early Catholic Church consensus first five centuries) which the Reformers appealed to and assumed as a given.
I had a feeling that statement would be misunderstood. In reality, I view the Reformers and the early church as helpful guides in interpretation. But I hold their conclusions loosely and compare them with my own generation of scholars (along with my own understanding of Scripture) because they, too, are subject to error. There are some conclusions they have made that I agree with because they are clearly supported by Scripture. Others of there conclusions I am more tentative about, and some I reject as absolutely foreign to Scripture. The difference between Own and me is that he views these entities as the regula fide, whereas I do not.
7. With regard to the papacy, Svendsen (like others I have seen) continues to ignore the fact that my quote to the effect that we are all “still under the papacy” comes directly out of Luther’s 1528 tract “Concerning Rebaptism” (a polemic against the Anabaptists who threw the Catholic Church out with the bath water).
I’m unconcerned about where it might originate. It was (and is) promoted by Owen, and that’s really all that matters to me in the context of this discussion.
8. The reason that the Anglican Church feels free to reject Rome’s list of sacraments is because there was no defined number of sacraments in the consensus of the first five centuries. The precise number of sacraments was not systematized until the time of Peter Lombard (12th century). Thus, there is room for a variety of interpretations of Holy Scripture on this point. Neither Rome nor Canterbury is heretical. The same principle applies to the Roman doctrines outlined in article 22 of the Articles of Religion.
Why is it the more I read Owen’s explanation, the less he sounds like Cranmer and the other Reformers? After denouncing Roman Catholic doctrine, and just before he was burned at the stake, Cranmer is recorded as having made this statement: “And as for the Pope, I refuse him, as Christ's enemy and Antichrist, with all his false doctrine." Cranmer went to the stake for his belief that Rome’s sacraments are heretical. Owen, on the other hand, won’t even acknowledge that Rome is heretical, but instead insists “there is room” for Rome’s view of the sacraments.
9. On the distinction between Creeds and Councils, while the Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds are given a special place in the Anglican Way, so also are the doctrinal judgments (which I loosely called “creeds”) of the first four Ecumenical Councils (contained in the Nicene Creed, the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Christological definitions outlined by Chalcedon and Ephesus). The standard Anglican summary is: one Bible, two testaments, three Creeds, four Councils, five centuries of foundational Tradition.
Though, of course, not the first Anglican summary, which casts doubt on the reliability of the councils and accepts only the three creeds as reliably affirming biblical truth.

Owen, it seems, has no formal objection to “Bible-onlyism,” as he puts it, because he allows it in the case of the Reformers. He will object that they did not subscribe to “Bible-onlyism” since they also affirmed that the ecumenical councils faithfully reiterated biblical teaching. To which I respond, In order for those Reformers to determine that the councils are faithful to biblical teaching, they must first compare the teachings of those councils with Scripture and render a judgment—which they most certainly did. They rendered a similar judgment against Rome on a number of other issues (sola fide, for one) completely irrespective of those councils, which did not address those issues in any case. Hence, it is entirely inescapable that the Reformers operated on the “subjective and individualistic” principle of “bible-onlyism.”

Hence, Owen does not object to the principle when used by the Reformers—he simply objects to the continuing use of it. Yet he cannot articulate a good, coherent reason for that objection. He has argued “the Reformers saw themselves as living in a unique time.” But so what? How is the way one views himself ever the standard of what principle of authority the Christian can legitimately adopt? If Owen had argued, “I believe it was a movement of God that does not apply to every generation; I can’t prove it from Scripture or reason; I just believe it,” at least there would be coherence to the argument, even if he has to admit subjectivity in his decision to believe it. But Owen has made his case as though it can be proved on objective grounds. It can’t; and Owen has done a good job of illustrating why.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Owen's Eight Theses, Part II

Continuing in our response to Paul Owen’s Eight Theses. Once again, Owen’s statements will be in block quotation, followed by my response.
2. The boundaries of the Christian faith are entirely contained in the Bible, and are defined in the Ecumenical Creeds of the early Church. The first four Creeds mark out the limits of the Faith; the fifth and sixth Creeds rule out Nestorian and Monothelite interpretations of the Faith; the seventh Council applies orthodox Christology to a dispute over the use of images in worship.
This, again, is at odds with the Thirty-Nine Articles of Owen’s denomination, which states that only “three creeds” outline essential beliefs for the Christian, and that nothing beyond these beliefs can be binding on the believer’s conscience; namely, “Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed.” These “ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.” But of ecumenical councils, the Articles (specifically Article XXI as we have already seen) have this to say:

“General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.”
3. The Old Testament Apocryphal books are useful for the promotion of piety in the Church, but are not to be looked to as a Rule of Faith for establishing doctrine.
Since I agree with this point there is no need to comment.

4. The “gospel” is a statement of the good news concerning what has been accomplished for the world through the Passion and the Glory of Christ. It is not to be identified with any particular interpretation of the mechanism whereby the good news is appropriated by believers. Justification by faith alone is a Protestant phrase which was intended to distinguish one interpretation of the meaning of justification from an understanding of the position of Roman Catholicism in the 16th century. Justification by faith alone is not the gospel; in fact, it is not even a part of the gospel, because the content of the gospel is what God has done for us through Christ, not what I must do to receive the benefit.

This is, at best, grossly overstated. The meaning of “gospel” in the New Testament, and all that meaning entails, depends entirely on the context of the passage in which the word occurs. On occasion, it is indeed limited to what Owen suggests above. But that is certainly not all it refers to. And to state categorically that it never refers to the appropriation of the benefits of Christ’s death to the individual is demonstrably wrong. First of all, an issue like this cannot be decided based merely on a bare lexical search of the noun euangelion (“gospel”). The verbal form euangelizo (“to proclaim the good news”) must also be taken into account. For instance, in Acts 14:15 Paul and Barnabas tell the people of Lystra: “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God.” Here the content of the “gospel” is personal appropriation of the death and resurrection of Christ; namely, to turn away from idols and toward God. Similarly, in Rom 10:15 Paul, quoting Isa 52:7 (“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”--euangelizo), connects it directly with the act of believing with the heart and confessing with the mouth that Jesus is Lord (10:9-10). Indeed, this is the very “word of faith” Paul “preached” (10:8); namely, “Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved” (10:13). The very reason evangelists are sent out, according to Paul, is so that individuals can “call on his name and believe” (10:14-15). Far from Owen’s assertion, the act of believing and being saved is very much at the heart of the gospel--in fact, it is its goal.

The remote context in which both words are found must also be considered. According to Acts 15, a controversy had arisen over just how a man is justified before God (viz., whether or not one must be circumcised to be saved). It is in this context that Peter insists the “message of the gospel” was preached to the Gentiles through his own lips. Peter is here referring to the incident recorded in Acts 10 in which he as a Jewish believer had to be convinced by a vision from God that the Gentiles were to be included in God’s plan of salvation. Once he arrives at the house of Cornelius, the “message of the gospel” Peter proclaims to those in Cornelius’ household does indeed include the fact that Christ died and was raised on the third day, but it doesn’t stop there. It also includes the appropriation of that death and resurrection: “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (10:43).

In Acts 16:10, Paul concluded from a vision that God had called him to Macedonia “to preach the gospel to them.” Upon arriving in Macedonia, we find that one of the occasions in which Paul “preaches the gospel” is to the Philippian jailor, in which case the “gospel” is summed up in the simple command, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

When speaking to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20, Paul explicitly states that the ministry he has received from the Lord is “to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:25). Here the content of the “gospel” cannot be limited to the death and resurrection of Christ because it is described as the gospel of grace. The modifier implies that the appropriation of the benefits of Christ's death to individuals is in mind, and not merely a set of historical facts that have been accomplished.

But perhaps the most explicit statement on this score is found in Romans. In Rom 1:15, Paul says to the Romans, “That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” Paul does just this very thing in the ensuing chapters of this letter. Hence, in the broader context of the book of Romans, particularly in chapters 3 and 4, the gospel does indeed include appropriation by faith to the individual: “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (3:22). Indeed, “the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. . . . For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous by faith shall live" (1:16-17). The “gospel,” according to Paul, starts with the “wrath of God” against all mankind (1:18-32), moves to the attendant rendering of all without excuse and the consequent condemnation of all (2:1---3:18), concludes that the law has shut up all in sin and confined all under condemnation and that no one stands right before God no matter what they do (3:19-20), then culminates in the work of God in Christ in propitiating that wrath and providing atonement, and a clear proclamation of of just how that atonement is applied to the individual (3:21-31)—“righteousness through faith for all those who believe” (v. 22), “for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (v. 28), “since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one” (v. 30).

For Paul, the proclamation of the work of God in Christ on the cross is inseparable from the proclamation of how it is applied to the individual--together, they make up the "good news." Hence Paul spends an entire chapter (4) elaborating on that application by appealing to the example of Abraham’s individual justification before God—indeed, not only to the example, but to the “mechanics” of justification (something Owen expressly denies). It is by faith and it excludes works (4:2-5)—that’s justification by faith alone. Any covenant work (in the case of Abraham, circumcision) is something that occurs after justification has taken place and is, for Paul, a sign and seal of something that takes place prior to that sign. That is the "mechanism" of the gospel that Owen denies is there.

Paul sums all this up in 5:1: “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is, in fact, just what the gospel is—the good news that we can have peace with God (cessation of hostilities) through faith in Christ, based entirely on the work of Christ. That is just how Peter characterizes it in Acts 10: "The word which [God] sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace (euangelizo eirenen) through Jesus Christ" (10:34-36; see also Eph 2:17 where Paul uses the same phrase).

In addition to this, Paul is concerned not to “empty the gospel of Christ of its power”; namely, “the power of God” to save us (1 Cor 1:17-18). If the gospel does not include appropriation of the benefits of Christ's death, what exactly is the “power” to which Paul refers? And what exactly does it mean to “hinder the gospel” in 1 Cor 9:12 if not to rob it of its opportunity to convert souls? When Paul proclaims that he does “all things for the sake of the gospel that [he] might become a fellow partaker of it” (1 Cor 9:20), it comes right on the heals of (and is in fact the summation of) his principle of “winning souls” in vv. 19-22, according to which he becomes a Jew to “win” Jews, becomes a Gentile to “win” Gentiles, becomes weak to “win the weak.” It is with this in mind that Paul proclaims he does “all things for the sake of the gospel.” In other words, “winning the weak,” and every soul he can for that matter, is not only included in Paul’s gospel, but is the direct outworking and the very goal of the gospel. Even in 1 Cor 15:1ff, where Paul identifies the elements of his “gospel” (Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised on the third day, and was witnessed among men, vv. 3-5), the stated goal of all this is “by which you are saved” (v. 2).

Moreover, Paul emphasizes appropriation of the benefits of Christ's death in his phrase “the gospel of your salvation” (Eph 1:13), and characterizes it as something in which one actively participates (Phil 1:5). That “gospel” is further said to include as part of its content “the hope that is laid out for you” (Col 1:5). Again, appropriation of the benefits of the work of Christ is in mind here, not bare historic facts. Later on, Paul speaks of “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thes 1:8; cf. 1 Pet 4:17). What exactly is there to “obey” in the gospel if not the command to repent and believe, which is nothing less than appropriation to individuals? Hence, appropriation is part and parcel of the gospel.

Owen continues:
Galatians 1:6-9 does not turn justification by “faith alone” into a statement of the gospel, for Paul’s Judaizing opponents at Galatia did not deny justification by faith “alone.” They denied to faith any role in justification whatsoever, and insisted that it was through the Law, and not through the death of Christ, that justification was received (Gal. 2:16, 21). To deny that Christ has died for our justification would in fact be a denial of the gospel, but no orthodox Christian denies that.
Owen states this as though it is fact, when in fact no NT scholar I'm aware of holds it. I have addressed Owen’s reconstruction of the problem in Galatian vis-à-vis the Judaizers in the past, and will refer the reader there (the links I provide below will introduce it). More to the point, the “gospel” is nothing in Galatians if it is not precisely the mechanics of how a man is justified before God based on Christ's death—something that Owen has denied. Paul takes pains throughout this letter to insist that a man is justified before God by faith apart from works. It is this that he refers to as “the gospel which was preached by me” (1:11). The “different gospel” (1:6) is the addition of works (in this case circumcision) as a prerequisite to justification—which is really not “good news” at all, but is in fact a “distortion” of the gospel (1:7). The true gospel, the one the Galatians first received, is “that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, [and therefore] even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified” (2:16). Of those who would distort this, Paul insists he did not yield to their distortion “for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.”

Hence, to state, as Owen’s does, that (1) the gospel does not include anything about how a man is justified before God, (2) that the gospel does not specify the mechanics of that justification insofar as it is by faith alone to the exclusion of works, (3) that personal appropriation by faith is not part of the gospel, and (4) that Galatians has nothing to say about these questions is unequivocally false.

Owen continues:
5. Baptism by water is ordinarily necessary for salvation (John 3:5; 1 Pet. 3:21). It both conveys and attests to our regeneration and forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Tit. 3:5). It is a sign of our spiritual renewal, and a reminder of God’s promises to all who belong to his family (Acts 2:39). It is the eschatological sign of the Abrahamic covenant which has been effectually ratified through Christ’s blood (Col. 2:11-12). Therefore, the sacrament of baptism should not be denied to the children of Church members (Acts 16:15, 31-33).
I have fully answered this point in a previous I had with Dr. Owen on this very issue. Here are the links:

Link 1 ; Link 2 ; Link 3 ; Link 4 ; Link 5 ; Link 6 ; Link 7 ; Link 8 ; Link 9 ; Link 10 ; Link 11 ; Link 12 ; Link 13 ; Link 14 ; Link 15 ; Link 16 ; Link 17 ; Link 18 ; Link 19

Owen continues:
6. The Eucharist is a covenant meal which is celebrated by members of Christ’s Church in remembrance of the benefits which were secured through the Passion of our Lord (1 Cor. 11:23-26). When the bread and wine are consumed through the mouth, with faith expressed in the heart, the souls of the faithful are nourished by the body and blood of Jesus unto eternal life (John 6:27-29, 35, 53-58).
I confess, I do not know just what this means. Statements like this are usually left vague for a reason. What does “nourished” mean? What does “unto eternal life” mean? Does the “soul of the faithful” forfeit eternal life if he does not partake for whatever reason? Is participation in the Lord’s Table necessary to be saved? Unless and until Owen clarifies what he means by these things, I can neither agree nor disagree with them. As for Owen’s points 7 and 8, I’m not sure my disagreement with him on those points (if there is one) is passionate enough to spend time examining them. I’ll settle for the points I’ve already addressed.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What Fellowship Hath Cranmer with Owen?

It’s been a while since I jumped into the fray of blog debates. But, as I have an upcoming debate in May 2007 (details will be announced here as soon as I receive the “official” announcement from the debate coordinators), I thought it might be beneficial to get back into the swing of things by responding to a recent entry by Paul Owen at Communio Sanctorum. I have been able to conduct calm, cordial debates with Dr. Owen in the past; and since we hold a field of study in common (we both have our Ph.D. in New Testament), there is at least some common ground on which to base an appeal. If Dr. Owen responds, I will respond in turn. But I want to make it very clear from the start that I have absolutely no interest in responding to the musings of the lesser representatives of his viewpoint who co-post at that website. Here is the link to Owen’s article. Dr. Owen’s statements will appear in blocked italic quotations, and my responses will follow:

1. Sola Scriptura is only true if the Bible is viewed as the possession of the Church, and not the possession of the individual. It is the early Church which published the Bible (the same Church which wrote the early Creeds), and therefore it is to that Church that we must first look to guide our understanding of the deposit of faith found in Holy Scripture.

I do not see how any of this follows. Certainly we can agree that the Bible is the “possession of the church, not the individual.” But as we read on, it soon becomes clear that what Owen means by “the church” is something like “the church from medieval times to the Reformation,” and nothing more. He seems unconcerned not only by the fact that much of what was affirmed by the medieval church was explicitly or implicitly denied by the ancient church (and vice versa), but also that much of what was affirmed by the post-Reformation church is a repudiation of what was affirmed by the pre-Reformation church. Moreover, Owen seems to downplay the fact that “the church” exists as much today as it did in medieval and Reformation times, and a persistent failure to acknowledge this point is what drives much of the “reformed catholic” anti-evangelical agenda.

So where does that leave us? Each successive manifestation of the bride of Christ is charged before God to cast away man-made traditions that strive to choke truth like a clinging vine—a principle advocated without exception by all the reformers and reformed movements, including Dr. Owen’s Anglican church—and the challenge and responsibility faced by Luther, Calvin, and the rest of the Reformers in this regard is little different from that faced by all manifestations of the body of Christ in every generation. It is a demonstrable fact that the manifestation of the church that collected the canon differs in its biblical interpretations and theological opinions from both the manifestation of the church that preceded it and the manifestation of the church that succeeded it—just as the biblical interpretations and theological opinions of the manifestation of the people of God who collected the OT canon (in this case, Israel) differed from the beliefs and practices of its preceding and succeeding manifestations. That is why Jesus himself called us to condemn the choking vine of extra-biblical tradition that does not accord with Scripture. Unless one is prepared to argue for some form of ecclesial infallibility (in which case, one has also crossed over to Rome and now has much greater problems), then at the end of the day no belief of “the church,” in whatever manifestation—ancient, medieval church, reformation, or modern—is exempt from biblical examination by the current manifestation of the church.

Moreover, this in large part was the Modus Operandi of all he Reformers and reformed movements. Certainly, some of those ancient beliefs are quite easy to affirm—the deity of Christ, the triune God, etc. (such beliefs are outlined in the early creeds) —because they so readily conform to Scripture and “ring true” in the hearts and minds of the people of God everywhere (the latter test is the direct implication of passages such as 1 John 2:19-27; which, as much as some might dislike it, teaches a decidedly subjective and individual element in determining what to believe and what not to believe as a Christian). Other beliefs (such as the Marian doctrines) of the “early” church (though not the earliest church) are so at odds with the New Testament witness that they must be rejected even if they are affirmed by later manifestations of the church. Even Dr. Owen’s own Anglican Church (in its Thirty-Nine Articles) goes so far as to suggest that the ecumenical councils themselves may have been populated by unregenerate men, and so their decisions cannot be wholly trusted. Owen continues:

Sola Scriptura simply means that the Bible contains the only divinely revealed (and therefore infallible) statement of our Faith, so that public revelation is not to be sought outside of Scripture. It means that the authority of the Church is to be expressed through a reverent submission to Holy Scripture, neither adding to it nor taking from it.
So far so good . . .

But sola Scriptura is a principle for the Church, and not a hermeneutical rule for the individual in his Bible study. For an individual to employ a sola Scriptura principle (I base my belief on the Bible alone) is a sure recipe for subjectivism, heresy and disaster. Such is the heresy of the Radical Reformation and much of today’s “evangelical” Baptistish Bible-onlyism.
Owen has here wedded several issues together that are best treated separately; and there are several errors at play in Owen’s treatment of them. The issues, broadly speaking, are individualism, subjectivism, and the source of authority one decides to adopt. On the one hand, no one can escape the charge of individualism—including Owen—when deciding what his authority will be. I have argued this elsewhere when addressing the epistemological double standard of Roman Catholics (for which see the epistemological section of the Catholic Corner of this website). Owen has decided upon the Church of England as his authority. But why not Rome, or Eastern Orthodoxy? I suspect it’s because, in his “individual and subjective” opinion, Owen has decided that one’s authority should be a combination of the Bible and church history (an individual and subjective opinion in and of itself)—but not just any combination. He did not become Roman Catholic, after all; and he has apparently decided against Eastern Orthodoxy. Both of these groups claim to hold the same combination of authority as Owen (Scripture and the interpretation of Scripture); and with the same exact emphasis, I might add (the Scriptures have formal priority over the church). But both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy reject the very idea of sola Scriptura, while Owen confesses it.

So, then, it becomes evident at the end of the day that what is really at stake here is not simply a bare-bones difference between those who hold to an Evangelical version of sola Scriptura and those who hold to a “reformed catholic” version; or that the former is plagued by “individualism and subjectivism” while the latter is somehow not. Any view of this issue is necessarily “individualistic and subjective”—how could it not be given that the individual must decide among competing options? This is true even for those who claim some combination of Scripture and the historical church’s teaching as their rule of faith, for they must then decide among competing and mutually exclusive options for just what that combination should look like. Will it be the Roman Catholic combination? The Eastern Orthodox combination? The Anglican combination? The Presbyterian combination? The Lutheran combination? Something else? (Arguably, all but the first two formally hold to sola Scriptura). Owen has ended up in the Anglican camp—which incidentally officially repudiates much of what can fairly be considered the long-standing “church’s teaching” in previous generations of the church. Oddly enough, in many cases Owen ends up siding with the teachings of those earlier generations contra the Thirty-Nine Articles which repudiate those same teachings.

So, the issue is not whether one can escape “individual and subjective” judgment in his choice of authority—he can’t, of course, and Owen is no exception. Nor is the issue whether the Evangelical view of sola scriptura operates in an “individual and subjective” vacuum while the other view somehow does not. Owen has terribly mischaracterized the Evangelical situation (or “Baptist” situation, if you wish) of sola scriptura. No responsible Evangelical operates in a vacuum in regard to scriptural interpretation. If that were the case, then why is there so much general agreement among Evangelicals regarding the essentials of the faith? Can it be that each individual opened his own Bible and arrived at these beliefs independently? If so, then that method is vindicated since it has resulted in so much unity of belief, and the question of “private interpretation” becomes moot.

But, of course, that is not how it’s done in Evangelicalism Proper. By and large, Evangelicals are not mavericks in regard to checks and balances of what constitutes acceptable belief, but constantly look to each other for the authentic interpretation of Scripture. I am not here referring to Joe Sixpack in the Evangelical pew (nor would it be fair to include this contingent, since there are equally uneducated laypersons in the pews of every denominational church, and we do not thereby make them the spokespersons for that denomination’s beliefs), but to pastors and scholars. Certainly, some media-induced high-profile Evangelical pastors have decided to operate in a vacuum, and certainly some Evangelical scholars propose questionable interpretations (which denomination’s scholars do not?), but this is not the norm. In no case are these questionable interpretations held out as essential to salvation or binding on the conscience of the believer.

So then, the issue is not whether Evangelicals practice “solo scriptura” over against Owen’ brand of “sola Scriptura.” All but the most backwoods Evangelical would reject the former. The issue is rather which manifestation of the church one looks to for guidance in interpretation. Clearly, Owen dismisses the current manifestation (the Evangelical church) out of hand as that guiding light, and opts instead for the “historic” church. But the options do not stop there; for once Owen chooses the “historic” church as a category, he must then choose not only which manifestation of that historic church is authoritative (it is beyond dispute by all impartial observers that church fathers and councils have contradicted each other), but also which interpretation of that authority should prevail (the Roman Catholics have one interpretation; the Eastern Orthodox have another; and Owen seems to disagree with both of those interpretations).

Further, Owen’s resistance to sola Scriptura conceived apart from the interpretation of “the historic church” fails to account for Luther’s actions in the Reformation, not to mention the actions and decisions of all the Reformers and reformed movements, all of whom repudiated centuries of “the church’s interpretation” in favor of their own. Why does Owen’s standard apply to Evangelicals but not to the Reformers, whose interpretations of Scripture and views of the early church most certainly seemed “individualistic and subjective” to the established church authorities of their day?

Owen’s seemingly constant and unqualified praise of the "historic church"--most particularly in the form of the Roman Church and its pope, even going so far at one point to state in writing that the pope is still the head of the church (as though he ever was)—is completely at odds with not only the views of the Reformers, but also with the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Owen’s own denomination and its Reformers, such as Cranmer. The articles constantly make reference to the teachings of the Roman church and issue unqualified repudiation of them. If the reader has not read these, he may access them here. Notice, for example, how the Articles deal with the sacraments (Article XXV):

"There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord. Those five, commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not the like nature of Sacraments with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God."

The Anglicans reject five acts that had for a long time been assumed to be sacraments by Rome. On what basis did they reject these? Article XX (“On the Authority of the Church”) states:

"The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation."

And on General (Ecumenical) Councils, Article XXI states:

"General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture."

It is on this basis that the Anglican church feels free to reject five of the seven sacraments of Rome, Purgatory, relics and images, the Apocrypha as Scripture, Supererogation of merit, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of the Mass, the sinlessness of Mary, forced celibacy of ministers, justification by works, the Mass conducted in Latin, and the like. But, per Owen’s principle, shouldn’t they have rather deferred to the “teaching of the church” on this? After all, to reject the long-standing teaching of the church is to operate on the principle of “individualism” and subjectivism,” is it not? Owen clarifies his beliefs in his second point: “the boundaries of the Christian faith are entirely contained in the Bible, and are defined in the Ecumenical Creeds of the early Church.” By “creeds,” Owen apparently means “Councils,” since not only does he number them at seven, but (later in the same point) he uses “council” interchangeably with “creed.” But the Thirty-Nine Articles rightly distinguish creeds from councils, commending (in Article VIII) only “three creeds”; namely, “Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed.” These “ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.” But of ecumenical councils, the Articles (as we have already seen) have this to say:

“When they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture.”

This is much different from Owen’s view, who oddly enough professes the Anglican faith. The Anglican church is officially wary of ecumenical councils as a regula fide, opting instead for the three creeds as an expression of the Christian faith and the teaching of the Scriptures. But Owen states that the Ecumenical Councils act as that regula fide, contra the teaching of his own denomination.

How exactly, then, does Anglicanism differ from Evangelicalism in its modus operandi? Certainly, the Anglican church has adopted some beliefs that are at odds with the beliefs of Baptists (particularly with reference to operation of the sacraments); but they claim to do so based on Scripture, not on the commands of councils. So where is Owen’s stated principle operative in all this? Owen wants to argue that when the Anglican church repudiates the long-standing church teaching on transubstantiation, they stand as great Reformers. But when the Evangelical (or, more particularly, Baptist) church repudiates the long-standing church teaching on, say, the veneration of Mary, they are being “individualist and subjective” according to Owen.

Owen’s first principle (which acts as the basis for many of his other points) is unsuccessful due to its self-defeating nature. If it applies to Evangelicals (the manifestation of the body of Christ today) then it also applies to Anglicanism and the other movements that sprang from the Reformation. Indeed, how does Owen justify Luther standing virtually alone in his opposition to the “teaching of the church”? What starker example of “individual subjectivism” could one ask for than Luther, who opposed nearly the entire “Christian” world of his day based solely on the authority of Scripture and his “individual and subjective” assessment of the extent to which councils and creeds lined up with that Scripture—“Here I stand; I can do no other”?

Stay tuned for a response to Owen’s point # 2.