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.