Debate on the Perspicuity (Clarity) of the Bible

Dave Armstrong vs. Timothy G. Enloe (TGENLOE@aol.com)

The following is an exchange initiated by a chance encounter in a chat room on Dr. James White's website. Mr. Enloe is responding to my paper The Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture. His words shall be in blue.

Every webmaster has a certain editorial policy - especially with regard to uploading true dialogues between opponents. My particular philosophical and literary preference in disputation is a back-and-forth Socratic style of debate (as in Plato himself and in many of Peter Kreeft's books). Personally, I think that is much more interesting, readable, and able to be followed by the average reader, in contrast to pages and pages of one side followed by the opposing viewpoint. The drawback is that my opponents' portions get "chopped up" - thus changing the original structural format of their passages. Realizing this, I now have a policy of always linking to the opponents' e-mail address and/or website, so that any inquiring reader can peruse their sections in their original context. Mr. Enloe's paper(s) on this topic can be read at: http://members.aol.com/GracOnly/Armstrong-Perspicuity.html.

Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong believes he has an argument that undeniably disproves the Protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture: namely, the existence of "23,000 denominations" all claiming to have the correct interpretation of Scripture. This paper interacts with his article The Perspicuity ("Clearness") of Scripture.

Not to quibble on minor details, but I don't believe I claimed it was "undeniable." I do, however, contend that there ought to be some criteria for falsifiability with regard to this crucial element of sola Scriptura - itself a pillar of Protestant ecclesiology and its conception of Christian authority. Lacking that, I charged (in my earlier paper) that few things could be conceived as more fatal to the position than thousands of competing, feuding denominations, where - sadly - much error must be present, according to the laws of contradiction. It seems simple enough, to an "outside" observer, I think. If this state of affairs does not cast serious doubt on the principle, what, pray tell, does? Or is it claimed that there is no possible disproof, in which case we are dealing with a pure fideism not amenable to rational examination in the first place (and that would mean, in turn, that this very debate is an exercise in futility on both sides)?

Definition of Perspicuity

Desiring to show "classic Protestant understanding of the perspicuity of Scripture", Armstrong begins with five quotes extracted from Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will. For purposes of conserving space, I will not reproduce those quotes here, but simply summarize their view of Scriptural perspicacity.

Saving space is a good thing, but I would urge readers to look over the excerpts in my other paper, because definitions are very important, and the citations illustrate Luther's understanding, which is supremely important to the subsequent history of Protestant thought in this area. Also, they show that I am quite familiar with the perspective I am critiquing. Mr. Enloe (seemingly a fair-minded sort) has already charged in private correspondence that I don't know what I am talking about (even though I used to hold and defend the view at least as zealously as he now does), and misunderstand the notion of perspicuity to the extent that I am unable to properly and effectively critique it, and am pursuing straw men down rabbit trails. This is a common-enough charge (and indeed often true, as a tendency), but the only way to counter it is to cite originators or authorities (held in esteem by the other person) in relation to the matter disputed, especially on the level of definition.

Although there are some places in Scripture where our ignorance of ancient grammatical conventions and terminology make the mode of expression obscure to "modern" readers, the subject matter of Scripture can, nevertheless, be known. The few acknowledged obscure places do not mean that the actual things of Scripture (e.g, the ideas of Christ's deity, the Trinity, salvation by grace, etc.) are unclear--indeed, to say such is to impiously charge God with the darkness and blindness of the human heart--and the obscure places are offset by more clear places that discuss the same things. There are two ways of speaking of the perspicuity of Scripture: an internal way and an external way. The former involves the heart comprehension of a man, and is limited to those who have the Spirit of God within them. The latter involves "just the text" of Scripture, about which there can be no substantial doubt as to the meaning.

Having given these statements from Luther as representative of the classic Protestant position, Armstrong immediately launches into his polemics. Although Armstrong's paper was not originally written to or for me, the rest of this paper will take the form of a dialogue between myself and Armstrong. His words are in blue; mine are in black.

Well, good! It appears that Mr. Enloe has a like-minded opinion as to the preferred format of a dialogue. But on my web page his words will be in blue . . . :-) - just so there is no confusion. Indented portions will be my own words, taken from the earlier paper. They will be in blue because they were citations in Mr. Enloe's counter-reply.

I for one do not trust your judgment as to what is "absurdly simplistic" and "clearly uncharitable and judgmental". Who made you the judge of these things? Aside from the fact that if an opponent wanted to play the game you here play, he could reasonably charge your own paragraph with the same faults (as my analysis of your argument will soon show), it appears that you are simply making an arbitrary (dare I say ex cathedra?) pronouncement.

You're welcome to your opinion, but I dare say this is no argument, merely a hostile observation. I have the perfect right to hold certain opinions as to the relative invalidity and incorrectness of viewpoints which I reject. In this instance, I was referring to Protestants' severe judging of each other. So I was - ecumenist that I am - defending certain Protestants against the self-serving and frequently unsubstantiated charge (though sometimes indeed true) that they are in error on a given theological point not because of any flaw in the overall Protestant system, but rather, because they are sinners, and because their sin fatally clouded their judgment, thus irreparably messing up the principle of perspicuity, and not affecting the manifest truth of it in the least.

Indeed. Perhaps you are alluding here to the fact that there actually is a distinction between the masses of "Bible-only fundamentalists" and the "classic Protestant" position. At least, I hope that's what you were alluding to, because if it was, there's hope for your apologetic endeavors yet. :-)

Yes, I was. And I'll take any compliments from you that I can get. :-) Sooner or later, you'll catch on that I have a more than adequate knowledge of evangelical Protestantism, having been one for ten years (though James White denies that I was ever a "true" Protestant because I wasn't a Calvinist), and a counter-cult researcher and campus evangelist for nine of those years. I would contend, however, that "the masses of 'Bible-only fundamentalists' " flow from the principles inherent and fundamental to "classic Protestantism" (basically Calvinism, or Lutheranism before Luther died). You, of course, would claim that some of their beliefs are inconsistent with true "Reformational" Protestantism. But I don't see how this can be maintained (as far as their notion of authority and individualism goes), in light of the espousal of private judgment and absolute primacy of conscience as the formal principles in Protestantism.

This is precisely why sects started proliferating wildly - to Luther's great chagrin -, as soon as he set the wheels in motion: some even denigrating him as a traitor, compromiser, "half-papist" (Calvin), etc. He himself despised this tendency, yet (like you) apparently failed to comprehend the organic causal relationship between his sola Scriptura and perspicuity and private judgment and the fruit which they very quickly produced. Such in the blindness of men who will countenance no authorities higher than themselves. Even popes, of course, are altogether subject to received precedent and conciliar consensus, but Luther was truly free to create whatever form of Christianity he so desired - and call it God's will (therefore, not solely his own). Thus, he was a "Super-Pope," a term I like to use to graphically drive this point home. And I mean it quite literally.

Seriously, though, the doctrine you are aiming to critique is more detailed than you here note. Although it is correct for you to say that there is no "absolute necessity for theological teaching, scholarly interpretation, and the authority of the Church (however defined)", the classical Protestant position does not follow the fundamentalists in ignoring Christian historical precedent and denying the institutional Church a role in theological understanding.

Agreed. But in practical terms this is largely a distinction without a difference, since in the final analysis the Protestant individual (no matter how educated, nuanced, sophisticated) is left on his own to determine doctrinal, ecclesiological, liturgical, even moral orthodoxy. He is the final arbiter - by definition. He may be familiar with Church history and proper hermeneutics, and may have read the complete sermons and commentaries of Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon, and James White, but he still is not ultimately subject to any authority higher than himself. He will (no doubt) say, "the Bible is my authority!" But it must immediately be understood that this, in turn, reduces to his interpretation of the Bible. He can disagree with any expositor if he so chooses. He is truly the master of his own destiny. This is Renasissance nominalism and atomistic humanism come to fruition, and Western Civilization has been increasingly reaping the tragic consequences ever since.

Given your Protestant background and your intensive studies since your conversion, you are no doubt aware that the Westminster Confession of Faith, in speaking of the perspicuity of Scriptural teachings, says that "not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them" (1:7),

No doubt the fundamentalists from whom you distance yourself think that Holy Scripture alone is more than enough "ordinary means." Who needs theologians and Church history (so they would opine)? It is highly important that people realize that indeed the "unlearned" are also able to attain "sufficient understanding" in this mythological scenario (Luther's famed "plowboy"). This is the root, in my humble opinion, of the radical individualism, a-historicism and anti-intellectualism which you and I both disdain, wherever it appears.

We are one in detesting these tendencies. Where we differ is in the causes for this state of affairs. You say it is sin (I assume). I say it is sin, yes, but also, the fatal flaws in the principles of Protestantism itself. As (I believe) Francis Schaeffer said (or taught, at any rate): "ideas have consequences." These are some of the consequences of Protestantism. At least you can't blame the Catholic Church for your own problems of rampant sectarianism, disunity, and division: severely condemned in Holy Scripture, and a manifest Achilles' Heel in your beloved system. All you can do is try to prove that such glaring deficiencies neither flow from the system itself, nor prove fatal to it, as a sort of reductio ad absurdum. Yet at every turn, Protestant polemicists (especially of the anti-Catholic variety) will blame the Catholic Church as an institution for the shortcomings of its members and adherents, real, or so-called. That's what I call "log-in-the-eye disease."

and that the Westminster Larger Catechism expands on this by saying "The visible church hath the privilege of being under God's special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, not withstanding the opposition of all enemies;

This merely opens up another huge can of (giant, man-eating) worms for you. What is the "visible church," pray tell? Note that an "invisible church" is not referred to, but a "visible" one. So where is this "church?" Where does it reside? How can it trace itself back to the Apostles, in unbroken succession? Who are its bishops? Obviously, it is preserved from error and cannot defect, so please identify this "church" for me, if you would. Is it Presbyterianism? Which branch, and how does one determine which one? Is it the Reformed Church? Which branch, and how does one determine which one? What is its form of government? What is its view of baptism (I wonder particularly)? On and on I could go. You're digging your own grave with this line of argument.

and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him." (Q 63). The WCF also teaches that there is no "ordinary possibility of salvation" outside the Church (25:2). Of course, the key here is the definition of "the Church".

Yes, you hit the nail on the head, and (to understate it) I don't think you will be able to escape this dilemma if you wish to pursue it further.

The classical Protestant position strikes a careful balance between recognizing that God has, in fact, ordained certain *normal* means for the propagation of the Gospel and also recognizing that He is not bound to those ordinary means. To say that Scripture is clear in all the parts necessary for salvation is just to admit that God *could* successfully communicate saving truth to someone who had nothing but a Bible. Not even you yourself deny this premise, as you make plain later on.

That's right. But such hypotheticals don't solve the internal difficulties of Protestantism or determine the outcome of this debate. This is the material sufficiency of Scripture, which many Catholics hold to. I do myself, following Cardinal Newman in particular. Therefore, it is not at issue between us.

Well, there's the old confusion between "Bible-only fundamentalists" and the "classic Reformation" perspective. The latter does allow that any literate individual can understand the things necessary for salvation in the Bible without the "requisite assistance of an ecclesiastical body" (remember, not even *your* Church says that God is absolutely bound to His own sacraments!), but no classic Protestant in his right mind would just give a Bible to a new convert without making provision for further guidance and supervision. Although there are professing Protestants who do just this, that doesn't mean you or any other Roman apologist is entitled to conclude that such is the normal result of Protestant doctrine.

Then what does cause it; you tell me? It can't be, e.g., merely American rugged individualism or pragmatism, since you have the Anabaptists adopting radical individualism and "civil disobedience" in 16th-century Europe. The inner contradiction of Protestantism was there from the beginning. The heart of it is the disjunction between Luther's "Here I stand (with Bible, conscience and 'plain reason')" and the State Church he set up in reaction to the anarchy of the Peasants' Revolt in 1525, which he himself played a key role in stirring up. Calvin also set up an autocratic State Church. But State Churches do not square with the primacy of the conscience and the individual.

So some Protestants retained the State Church model in some fashion (e.g., Anglicans, European Lutherans, early American Puritans, to a large extent); others rejected it and adopted separationism (Anabaptists, Mennonites, Quakers, Baptists, congregationalists, Methodists and many lesser denominations). You can't dismiss all these historical factors as if they are of no import. Things do not just happen for no reason. You can yell "sin, sin" as the answer-all, but that doesn't easily explain differential histories of diverse groups. One must take into consideration ideas also.

This is where your paper loses all coherence. You gratuitously assume that if the Bible is *really* clear in all its main teachings, then there should be virtually no disagreement as to what those teachings are.

Your inaccurate renderings of my argument are far more incoherent than my argument itself. This paragraph of yours is rife with falsehoods. I never claimed the above, especially not in the sense of "virtually no disagreement." This was how I stated my central thesis later on in my paper:

My argument is essentially one of degree, and of plausibility, and of analogy. It is not anywhere near as simple-minded as you make out, and as you would love it to be for your polemical purposes. I was arguing, in effect, that if it is true, then wouldn't there be any appreciable level of success in creating doctrinal unity? If this is a preferable principle compared to the dogmatic, papal, conciliar authority of the Catholic Church, shouldn't we expect of it some improvement and success in result?

Obviously, Martin Luther himself expected as much, because he was very distraught at the scandalous and ridiculous sectarianism near the end of his life (along with the ever-despairing Melanchthon, very much so). He clearly thought that since he had "brought in the new Evangel," all would be hunky-dory. People - liberated from the "Roman yoke" - would be free to discover all this "new" biblical truth, just as Dr. Luther had. Fat chance . . . Thus Luther shows himself incredibly, extraordinarily naive as to human nature, among many other shortcomings.

Yes, sin is clearly a factor in any human affairs, yet to say it is the main reason for 23,000 denominations (rather than a flaw in principle in whole or in part) is a bit much to take. Conversely, I contended that if 23,000 denominations didn't cause one to be suspicious of this system, then what scenario would do so? That gets back to the issue of falsifiability, briefly alluded to above. It isn't so much that the Bible is unclear per se, or that if largely clear, all differences would vanish. That is too simplistic in the other direction. In the very next sentence I wrote:

Rather, my point was that what I called the "sin argument" was absurdly simplistic as an explanation for the 23,000 denominations and disagreements on several arguably "central" doctrines. And the multiplicity of denominations do indeed render the view highly implausible (if the argument is understood as I intended it, and as I elaborate upon it presently). So, as I hope you and readers can see by now, my reasoning and outlook was much more subtle and multi-faceted than you have supposed.

Having summarily (and unjustifiably) dismissed the idea that sin can cause even Christians to miss biblical truth (remember, you are somehow qualified to pontificate about the moral ghastliness of this idea, saying it is "simplistic as well as clearly uncharitable and judgmental."),

You again caricature my position, so as to belittle a straw man and appear triumphant. In no sense did I ever deny your first proposition above. In fact, I explicitly espoused it, as I have done more than once already in this paper. Secondly, I did not say that this idea (i.e., as you present it) was "simplistic," etc. I maintained, rather, that a specific, sweeping application of it possessed the above characteristics:

you proceed into the standard Catholic Answers-type "apologetic" of milking disagreements among Protestants for all they are worth. Unfortunately, you are making much ado about nothing.

Again, you think it is "nothing" because you have obviously distorted and misinterpreted the nature of my argument, as I have shown repeatedly, especially immediately above. Thus, you also misunderstand all my "standard" polemics about all the Protestant differences. Unless you comprehend my initial thesis as presented, then you won't grasp how all my examples of actual difference and division confirm my thesis. I trust that the fair reader - unhindered by hostile presuppositions and circular reasoning - can do so and come around to my position (i.e., the traditional Christian/Catholic one).

Far from denying that sin has a profound effect on actual beliefs, in my related paper, Dialogues on the Perspicuity (Clearness) of Scripture, - where I lay out my thesis in much greater depth (it is 68K in length) - , I stated:

In the first place, it is highly doubtful that there actually are 23,000 separate Protestant denominations. This figure (which varies depending on the Roman apologist--some say 24,000, some 26,000, some 30,000, etc).

These figures come from several reputable scholarly reference sources - none Catholic. Of course I can't recall a single one at the moment, but I am certain that the 20,000 + figure can be verified apart from "Roman apologetics."

Perhaps if one was to count every single independent church as a "separate denomination" one might get a very large number like this, but this sort of thing is superficial and contributes nothing to meaningful discussion.

Well, in a sense the exact number is unimportant. What is key is to realize that something has gone radically awry in a system which can countenance and rationalize away such astonishing relativism and "ecclesiological anarchy" and pretend that when all is said and done it is still "one" invisible system ("church") of "mere Christianity," and consistent with biblical notions of a hierarchical, indivisible, visible, apostolic Church.

Do you really believe that among the group of all people who call themselves "Protestants" there are anywhere close to 23,000 different views on baptism? (You yourself count only five views in this very paper!)

Of course not. But we did see that there were 200 versions of "This is My Body" within 60 years of the 95 Theses. Imagine even trying to sit under a tree and dreaming up 50 versions, let alone 200! LOL And you call this meaningful discussion? Five major camps, which differ concerning the central rite of initiation into the Christian faith, is quite sufficiently troubling enough. So you simply deny that baptism is "central." But Luther certainly wouldn't have done that. He thought baptism regenerated the person receiving it. And so forth. Lutherans (with Luther and Melanchthon's approval) drowned Anabaptists for denying this, and for not baptizing infants. The system always breaks down irreparably.

The Lord's Supper? The nature of the Gospel? How one appropriates the Gospel? Church government? Eschatology? Surely you know better than this with your great studying! The differences among Protestants are simply not as many or as great as the convenient "23,000 separate denominations" idea implies.

But the exact number doesn't matter; it is the demonstration that the principles underlying the Protestant system clearly haven't worked, and cannot work. There was always supposed to be "one faith, one baptism . . . " Even having two contradictory beliefs on baptism is scandalous and unbiblical already. There was only one received doctrine, or "deposit of faith." Not 2, not 5, not 15, or 24,000. The error starts beyond one. God doesn't like falsehood. This is a no-brainer.

Second, it does not matter one bit to the truth of any Protestant principle (whether perspicuity or Sola Fide or what have you) how many separate visible institutions there are among Protestants.

What about the biblical principle of oneness and unity? Or is that not a Protestant principle from the outset (strange, if it is supposedly the "Bible faith" par excellence)? See the papers:

We simply don't share the naive and unbiblical view of Roman Catholics that "the Church" is mainly a physical, organized hierarchical body united under a single visible head.

It is eminently biblical and historical (see dozens of papers and links on my Church and Papacy index pages). But that veers off into separate territory. Your task is to defend your view without recourse to mine. We are discussing perspicuity, not historic, apostolic, fully-biblical Christianity (i.e., Catholicism). So the Westminster Larger Catechism (which you cited prominently above) uses "visible church" as a synonym for the "invisible church"? Is not "visible" "physical"? You rob Peter to pay Paul . . . And a "disorganized" body is preferable to an "organized" one? Does that not follow from your incoherent expression above?

Unity is much deeper than physical (indeed, Christ's prayer for unity in John 17 would seem to affirm such an idea given that although Christ and the Father have always been "one", they obviously are not physically one). And, of course, many other groups of professing Christians who are apostate (Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc) have a much greater degree of visible and organized "unity" than does even Rome. According to your logic, this should constitute some sort of proof that they have the truth.

This misses the point, which is that, according to the Apostle Paul, there is a visible, institutional, doctrinal unity, and one Church; one received doctrine. So JWs and Mormons claim this, as well as Catholics. One must then consider their competing claims in turn and decide which has the best case. But this is not so much a proof for Catholicism, as it is a disproof of Protestantism (i.e., as superior and more "biblical" than Catholicism). Elsewhere I wrote (opposing comments in brown):

Third, even if a highly detailed analysis of different Protestant denominations--say, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)--revealed such a high degree of unity that made it seemingly incomprehensible to you as a Roman Catholic why they wouldn't join their organizations and decrease the number of denominations by one, it is "uncharitable" and "absurdly simplistic" for you to just assume that this should be done and then pass judgment on the two bodies for not doing so.

It's not up to me; this is a very clear biblical command (see how I believe the Bible is clear in this regard and many others?) - in fact it is simply assumed throughout. Denominationalism is condemned repeatedly, and viewed as a hallmark of the heresies and those outside the true Christian Faith.

Even if Protestants were to have as an ultimate goal the visible unification of all orthodox Protestant bodies, this might be a lot easier said than done. People are sinners (despite your distaste for the "sin explanation") and often times they prefer to cling to what is old and familiar rather than grow beyond that into a deeper understanding of truth. Tradition can be a massive source of inertia, and it might take centuries to slow it down to the point where a different course of action could be pursued. But then, the intractable inertia of "Tradition" is something that you as a Roman Catholic should be quite conversant with. :-)

So Protestants are to pessimistically conclude that the unity which was so important to Jesus and Paul is impossible, because their man-made denominational and doctrinal structures simply will not permit it, given the sinfulness of man and his propensity for clinging to dead, crusty, false traditions of men? This is part and parcel of my argument: if a system produces something which is clearly contrary to Holy Scripture (in fact, blatant, rebellious sin rationalized and justified), then at some point the system itself must be questioned. But the reader will note that you again refuse to do that; you want to place all the blame yet again on man's sin, as if that explains everything. You won't consider at all any critique which casts any doubt whatsoever on the foundational premises of Protestantism. Thus, I must conclude that you hold to those either in sheer blind faith, or because the alternates of Catholicism or Orthodoxy are unthinkable - therefore you cling to Protestantism despite the host of difficulties manifest within it (in all its factions, to more or less degrees).

Fourth, if Protestants are truly united in some way with the Catholic Church (per CCC 818-819), then these 23,000 "Protestant" denominations are really 23,000 "Catholic" denominations, and suddenly the scandal of visible disunity becomes yours! Get your own house in order before you try to tell your neighbor what's wrong with his. Remove the beam from your eye before trying to take the speck out of your brother's.

This is silly indeed. Those two passages in the Catechism refer to that which is true in Protestantism, and the fact that trinitarian baptism makes one a brother in Christ. It does not follow that we would accept an institutional reunion with all the errors of Protestantism left intact (nor do these passages imply such a thing - that would constitute what we call "indifferentism," and what Protestants call "permissible and desirable diversity" :-). CCC 819 states that the "power" of Protestant communities "derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church."

You do? Then perhaps you can tell me why you think having an infallible interpreter is of any help to you? After all, if all you have to do is make sure you have an open mind and a moral willingness to accept the Bible's teachings in order for you to see those teachings (which you just implied are clear in and of themselves!), it would seem that you don't need something external to yourself to tell you "for sure" what Scripture means. Can the Magisterium give you an open mind and a moral willingness to accept the truth? I think not!

The point I was making was that man's sin and rebelliousness make an institutional Church with real, binding authority necessary, in order to maintain the doctrinal oneness and unity which is both commanded and assumed in Holy Scripture. But since you falsely (and foolishly) believe that I don't acknowledge sin itself as a factor in this discussion, you haven't yet comprehended this point of mine, which I already made in the original paper under consideration.

It's very simple: one can often find things in the Bible by oneself, with adequate study aids, and (hopefully) some basic background as to hermeneutics and exegesis. I do this now, and have done it for years. This is, of course, the theme of my website, and my upcoming book (A Biblical Defense of Catholicism). I've never been disappointed or "stumped" when studying Holy Scripture. It is always a glorious shining light, and unambiguous. The difference lies in the ultimate authority, or formal principle of authority. The Catholic, when completing such a study, will want to know if his conclusions are in line with those of the Church, and with what Christians have believed for 2000 years. In this way, doctrinal unity and historical continuity with the Apostles and the Church of the Ages can be maintained, and the relativism and sin-influenced individualism avoided.

So. e.g., take sola fide (faith alone). Even Protestant apologist Norman Geisler admits that this had not been taught from the time of Paul to Luther (Alister McGrath also stated basically the same thing). For the Catholic, that is decisive in and of itself, because there is no lineage or apostolic succession. Thus, it must be a corruption of the apostolic deposit, rather than a legitimate development of doctrine, since God has promised us that the Church can never defect from the faith (Matthew 16:18; implied in many other passages). And of course, we can easily refute the notion from the Bible itself and the interpretation of the Fathers. There are dozens of Protestant beliefs which lack this historical pedigree as well.

To reiterate briefly, then, my thesis: it is not so much that Scripture is so unclear and esoteric that it is an utter mystery and an undecipherable "code" which only Holy Mother Church can break, and which no individual can possibly understand. Rather, the Church is required to speak authoritatively as to what Holy Scripture teaches, just as it spoke authoritatively with regard to what books were to be included in Scripture. In both instances, Holy Scripture is inherently what it is: God's inspired, inerrant, infallible written revelation, but human error, sin, and inability to achieve unity of belief on the basis of individualism made the teaching Church absolutely necessary. It is the principle of private judgment to the exclusion of a necessary, binding, ecclesiastical teaching authority which is radically unbiblical, blatantly contrary to the practice of the Church in the patristic period - all the way up to the Protestant Revolt, and obviously a failure in practice.

Or worse still, once you've used your private judgment to conclude that you need an infallible interpreter in the first place and that Rome is that infallible interpreter, don't you still need an open mind and a moral willingness to accept the truth if you are to understand the teachings of the Magisterium? And if these two conditions don't obtain in your own experience, aren't you in sin? And doesn't your sin prevent you from seeing the truth? But I thought you didn't like the "sin explanation"!

Yes (to the first question); it's like any acceptance of authority: it won't work if we are blinded by a closed mind and a prideful, self-centered will (compounded by the level of individual ignorance or prior misinformation). That is true of any teaching system, including Catholicism. But that doesn't, of course, disprove the Catholic system. It is not private judgment per se which leads one to accept Catholicism; it is precisely the opposite: it is yielding up one's private judgment in the act of recognizing the Church for what it is: the spiritual authority ordained by God. One can do this reasonably by applying historical criteria, just as Christians have always done.

In this respect, apostolic and patristic Christianity was much more analogous to Old Testament Judaism, than to, say, Greek philosophy, with its abstract "epistemology" (and I say this as a Socratic myself; one who loves philosophy). Authority flowed always from commonly-acknowledged miraculous historical events and historical criteria: a sort of "Christian mythology" (i.e., a corporately-preserved story of origins) but what C.S. Lewis would describe as "true mythology."

That "true (verifiable) mythology" is the following: Jesus was the incarnate God, and was a real Person. He performed miracles, and many people observed these. He rose from the dead, and proved the reality of that by appearing to more than 500 people, eating fish, showing that He possessed flesh and bones, etc. This is all historical, and a matter of eyewitness testimony (so one might say it is a historical-legal approach to theological truth). Likewise with the Church. There was one, recognized deposit of faith, passed on from our Lord Jesus to the disciples and Apostles, which Paul repeatedly refers to (see my Biblical Treatise on the Bible and Tradition).

Jesus established a Church, with Peter as the head (Matthew 16:13-20). This Church has definite and discernible characteristics, described in the Bible (see my Biblical Treatise on the Church). There were Apostles, and their successors were and are bishops (see my paper on apostolic succession). There were popes as well, and they exercised authority over the Church Universal (see my Biblical Treatise on the Papacy and Infallibility).

Now, how was this Church identifiable in the early days and in the patristic period? Again, it was the historical criteria of authenticity. The Fathers always appealed to apostolic succession (a demonstrable historical lineage of orthodoxy) and Scripture, not Scripture Alone. The heretics were the ones who adopted Scripture Alone as their principle, because they knew that they couldn't produce the historical lineage (hence an early manifestation of the unChristian and unbiblical a-historicism which has been a dominant flaw of Protestantism ever since its inception). Protestants thus adopted the heretical principle of formal authority, whereas Catholics have consistently adopted apostolic succession as the criteria of Christian truth and legitimate, divinely-ordained authority. The Catholic Church traces itself back to the beginning in an unbroken line, centered in the Roman See and the papacy.

So when someone like me (a very low-church evangelical) becomes convinced of Catholicism, it is not merely another Protestant exercise of private judgment and de facto alleged self-infallibility. It is, to the contrary, the yielding up of private judgment and the acknowledgement of something far greater than oneself: an entity which is "out there;" which has always been there since Christ established it, preserving (only by God's enabling grace and will) apostolic Christian truth in its fullness and undiluted splendor. So one accepts it based on the historical criteria, just as one would accept the historicity of the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth, or the authority of the Bible - itself grounded in historically-verifiable elements (e.g., fulfilled prophecy, the continuance of the Jews, the astounding transformation of the early Christians, etc.). It is on the basis of history (and, of course, faith as well), as opposed to some alleged prideful, illusory, self-infallibility. Popes and Ecumenical Councils are just as bound to the received deposit of faith, as I am.

To learn further about how my own particular spiritual odyssey progressed (for anyone who might be curious), see my paper: How Newman Convinced Me of the Apostolicity of the Catholic Church. Newman himself accepted the Catholic Church based on undeniable historical realities, and thus was able to reject the man-made Anglican edifice of the Via Media. Likewise, I came to see (after also studying the so-called "Reformation") that evangelical Protestantism could not in any way, shape, or form fit the bill of the fullness of apostolic Christianity either. Only Catholicism could do that. And I wanted apostolic, biblical Christianity: the Christianity which Jesus taught the disciples; not man-made variants, each containing maybe a few noble emphases left over from historical, apostolic Christianity, but always in the final analysis grossly-deficient (though also quite beneficial and good insofar as they do contain many valid Christian truths).

Orthodoxy also possesses apostolic succession. I decided between the two options precisely on the same grounds: Orthodoxy had departed from a few universally-held beliefs of early Christian Tradition (namely, the prohibition of divorce and contraception). So history was determinative. This is how it has always been in the Christian faith until Luther brought in the radically subjectivistic notion of faith and authority, thus leading to the present doctrinal relativism, ecclesiological anarchy, and moral chaos of Protestantism.

All of these issues are complex in and of themselves, but that is the Catholic answer: we appeal to the patristic and apostolic (Pauline) methods of determining theological and apostolic truth. The Bible is central in all this as well (absolutely!); it is just not exclusive of Church authority. How can it be? Its very parameters were authoritatively declared by this self-same Church. Before then, various Fathers disagreed somewhat on the canon. Again, it is not a matter solely of sin. Authority was truly needed to settle that issue, just as it is needed to settle theological issues. Scripture Alone will not suffice. See papers:

Besides, Scripture itself points to the teaching authority of the Church, anyway, so it is a false dichotomy from the get-go, to pit the Church against the Bible, as if there is some inherent contradiction or "competition" between them. The Apostles and Fathers saw no such dichotomy. I imitate Paul, just as he imitated Christ (as he commanded me to do). I reject the Johnny-come-lately novel notions of Luther, because they can't be traced back to the Apostles in an unbroken line - thus are corruptions insofar as they differ from Catholic dogma. See my papers:

Yeah, so? The same thing happened all the time in the Apostolic age. Paul warned of people who would arise from within the hierarchy of the Church and who would "speak perverse things to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). Peter told of "false teachers..who will secretly introduce destructive heresies" among the Christians themselves (2 Pet. 2:1) and of "untaught and unstable" persons who distort Paul's teachings the way they do the rest of the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16). The Apostles were always contending with heretics of every stripe, and not once in all their admonitions for believers to be of one mind did they say this process would stop at some time,

So far I agree. Heretics, like the poor, would - unfortunately - always be with us.

or that by clinging to a certain visible organization that called itself "the Church" the average believer could be "sure" he had the truth and not a heresy. So why do you say this?

This is where you start to go off track. I say it because this is precisely what the Apostles and Fathers taught (thus it is biblical as well). That is early, apostolic Christianity, received from Jesus Himself. Why would anyone want anything else? It is an absurd and incredibly arrogant, pompous notion which would have us believe that a person today, 2000 years after Christ, could sit alone with his Bible and come up with all theological truth - i.e., with Christianity just as Jesus would have taught it. No one has ever been able to do that. But a Church established and protected by God can preserve the apostolic deposit.

And please spare me quotations from Ignatius and other early Fathers that speak of the "necessity" of being united to the bishop, because these guys were not speaking theopneustos Scripture, and so cannot be invested with any kind of absolute authority the way the Scriptures can.

Fine; since you insist on being a-historical (itself a radical and thoroughly unChristian, unbiblical notion), I will cite Holy Scripture. I note in passing that Protestant polemicists of your type (e.g., James White, William Webster) love to cite the Fathers when they supposedly back up your viewpoint. When they don't, we get wrongheaded statements like yours above.

It is obvious from the above biblical data that the concepts of tradition, gospel, and word of God (as well as other terms) are essentially synonymous. All are predominantly oral, and all are referred to as being delivered and received:

Now, quite obviously (I think), what Paul is speaking of is not an individualistic thing, kept by each person as an esoteric "secret," as the gnostic heretics would have it. No, it is obviously a corporately-held entity. It is held in common by the Church, as the collectivity of Christians. And as this deposit of faith was one unified teaching, there necessarily had to be one Church which preserved it and promulgated it. We clearly see such a Church in the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. They met together and authoritatively decided on doctrine, even having to do with matters of salvation (Acts 15:2). We also see the institutional, visible Church in the power - granted by Christ - to "bind and loose" and to forgive sins. The following excerpt is from my Biblical Treatise on the Papacy:

Peter's proclamation at Pentecost, for example (Acts 2:14-41) contains a fully authoritative interpretation of Scripture, a doctrinal decision and a disciplinary decree concerning members of the "House of Israel" (2:36) - an example of "binding and loosing."

Additionally, as is the case with anyone living at any time in history, the circumstances they were in oftentimes influenced the views they held in ways they might not have understood as being dangerous or open to future abuses by folks who *would* give their words way too much stock. The situation of intense and protracted persecution they were undergoing made the survival of the Church *seem* to depend on organized unity.

The above biblical citations do not give one the impression that they were only temporary in nature. This was how God intended for His Church to be set up. There is such a thing as a bishop. The office did not cease, as the office of Apostle did. And again, you contradict yourself. You deny the necessary continuance of what the Westminster Catechism described as the "visible church"?

In reality, though, the survival of God's ekklesia ("church", or "called out ones") has never depended on any degree of external unity / organization, as the existence of the 7,000 hidden believers who had not bowed the knee to Baal in Elijah's day well demonstrates (1 Kings 19:18). Visible organization / unity is simply not *essential* to the existence of the Church, although varying degrees of it are *normal*.

This is utterly foreign to Paul's teaching above. There can be no doctrinal unity without institutional unity. The history of Protestantism amply proves this, but then you can always yell "sin!" - your be-all and end-all answer to every problem one might see in your position. The doctrine of the institutional, visible, hierarchical Church is clearly found in Scripture as well (Biblical Treatise on the Church).

On the contrary, doctrinal conflict is often a major way God advances the understanding of the Church as a whole, as is more than adequately demonstrated by not only the writing of the New Testament, but also the history of the ecumenical councils. Paul explicitly tells the Corinthians that "there must be factions [heresies] among you so that the ones who have God's approval will be made manifest." (1 Cor. 11:19, emphasis mine). There is a crucial difference between legitimate doctrinal diversity (some of which is necessarily false because truth cannot contradict itself) that exists as part of the maturing process of the Church and which is to born by all believers in the name of love covering over a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8) and a factional spirit such as the one Rome manifests with its constant claim to everyone else that "I am of Peter and you are not unless you agree with me." (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12).

I disagree that the Bible espouses a notion of allowable doctrinal relativism. Protestantism only adopts that because to not do so would be to self-destruct at the level of foundational premises. The historical and theological failure of the Protestant system thus forces Protestants to ignore or rationalize away clear biblical teaching in this fashion. We are under no such compulsion; we can simply follow the Bible in its entirety, not having to ignore that which contradicts and rebukes our system (as in Protestantism). Again, Paul is very clear:

And this is assuredly not the truncated four-step evangelical "gospel" - it is the entire deposit of apostolic faith, as all the Pauline quotations above make clear. Jesus commanded His disciples to instruct new converts to "obey everything that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:20; NRSV). Not the central doctrines, or TULIP, or the Creeds alone; no, EVERYTHING. God has to use division to teach us things, just as He uses any number of sins to teach a stubborn, prideful, rebellious human race. That doesn't mean He countenances it in His perfect will. That will is expressed in John 17 and many other passages decrying disunity. In fact, Paul, in the context of the verse you cite (1 Cor 11:19), states outright that because of abuses and divisions, he does not "commend" the Corinthians (11:17-18,22). He rebukes the same church in no uncertain terms for divisions in 1 Cor 1:10-13, 3:3 ff., 12:25, and 2 Cor 12:20. You have no case for such permissible doctrinal relativism, pure and simple.

It's interesting that all these examples are speaking of those who are not God's children at all, which would seem to blunt the force of your point here.

In John 16:13, Jesus is speaking to His disciples, at the Last Supper. He said that the Spirit would guide them (by extension, the Church) into "all the truth" - hardly consistent with your position of sanctioned relativism for the purpose of "growth." In 1 Jn 4:6 the Apostle John is teaching that Christians can "know the spirit of truth." Only two of the four passages refer solely to unbelievers. But that doesn't affect my general point that falsehood is harmful; it is harmful to believer and nonbeliever alike.

Be that as it may, I can agree that "all falsehood is harmful"

Good. Yet you won't denounce the glaring shortcomings of the Protestant system, where falsehood necessarily exists, due to ever-present contradictions which are not able to be resolved, and even rationalized away as necessary and even helpful!

without having to follow you and your Church into the uncharitable activity of anathematizing my brothers and sisters who disagree with me on some issue.

In that we merely follow Paul. See Galatians 1:9,12 (cited twice above already), and also 1 Corinthians 5:3-5, 16:22, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 1 Timothy 1:19-20, 2 Timothy 2:14-19, and 4:14-15, as well as our Lord's express injunction in Matthew 18:15-18. See my paper: "Anathema" and Excommunication. So if we are uncharitable, Paul and Jesus are equally so. Besides, no one is more uncharitable than the anti-Catholic brand of Protestant who consign my entire Church and its members (with few exceptions) to hell. That's a far cry from simply maintaining doctrinal integrity and purity, as the Church has always done (and neither anathema nor excommunication are synonyms for "damnation," as many falsely assume). Not to mention grievous Protestant sins in this regard in its early days. See my paper: The Protestant Inquisition ("Reformation" Intolerance & Persecution).

For example, as a Presbyterian, I believe in infant baptism (but not in regeneration by means of the application of H20). I think my Baptist and Lutheran brothers are wrong in some key elements of their baptismal theology (and they think I am wrong). But am I really supposed to believe that their very souls are in danger because they don't believe just as I do on infant baptism?

Not according to your theology. But Luther would have thought so, and he basically created the framework in which you move (particularly in relation to our present topic). You would disagree with Luther on whether baptism was a central doctrine; thus non-negotiable, and that was one of my points. The logic always breaks down, whenever any particular topic is run through the Protestant matrix. And do you count me as a brother, too, I wonder? If not, why?

Is *every* theological issue whatever of precisely the same importance?

Strictly speaking, no. Limbo or Molinism are not on a par with the Resurrection. Yet we are given no reason to believe that whole areas of doctrine can be "up for grabs" - to be determined by the whim and fancy of every individual believer, with perfect disregard for the history of doctrine and practice (I exaggerate somewhat to graphically make my point).

Must I "anathematize" James White and refuse fellowship with him?

No; no more than I don't refuse fellowship with you. But White reads me out of the Christian faith . . . . . Isn't that rather like the "spirit" you detested not far above?

Or should I be charitable and accept him as my brother (because we share the same gospel) and carry on friendly and brotherly discussions about the doctrine of baptism?

Sure; again, just as we are doing here. But we don't say that various issues are unimportant simply because of existing differences which are not easily resolved. And we shouldn't say that this division has no bearing on perspicuity as understood in Protestantism.

Of course, you will mention below that Luther damned his Protestant opponents to hell because they didn't accept his doctrines, but it's ridiculous for you to argue against modern day descendants of the Reformation by prosecuting a case against a dead man who was, in any case, not infallible or sinless.

You miss the point of my argument (as so often). The point was that Luther originated this novel notion of perspicuity, and illustrated in his own life and conflicts the ultimate absurdity and impossibility of it. And it is equally silly for you to pretend that present-day Protestantism has no organic connection to Martin Luther, its very Founder.

Luther now knows better and I'm sure he thanks God every day for covering his sinful talk against his brothers with the Blood of Christ. When he walked this earth, he had just a bit too much of Roman Catholicism in him for the good of the cause of Christian unity.

The usual (grossly inadequate) explanation . . . . Luther's many faults are not due to the novelties he introduced, but rather, they stem from residual Catholicism.

That is, unless one has an open mind and a moral willingness to believe the truth taught by the Scriptures. Like for instance, you do. :-)

But since men don't, and since they divide, an authoritative Church is needed.

Sure, Protestants uphold the freedom of conscience. But so what? So must you in the wake of Vatican II!

Nice try. For the Catholic, conscience must be developed in light of the Catholic Church's teachings, whereas the Protestant accepts the radical ultimate primacy of conscience, over against any Christian church. See:

If I am a "separated brother" why can't you treat me like a brother and stop trying to bully me into seeing things *your* way?

If I am a bully, then so are Paul and all the Fathers who fought valiantly for the Faith "once received." But how am I a "bully" by simply engaging in discourse (in this case largely egged on by you)? I find that to be a very odd comment. The relationship between ecumenism and apologetics is somewhat tricky, but I have attempted to explain this also: Apologetics and Ecumenism: Valid and Complementary Endeavors (particularly with regard to Orthodoxy). The real hypocrisy and absurdity in this vein is Luther and his early Protestant brethren fighting, damning, and killing each other when supposedly they had all adopted the primacy of conscience in a new manner.

A bit of tension going in your position it seems.

No more than in yours, except for the anti-Catholics, who don't regard me as their "brother" in the first place.

What to do when you have a die hard conviction that you have THE truth of God on all these issues but your brothers think you don't. Hmmmm.

Well, you could do what Martin Luther did:

I've got it! Why don't you first ignore the fact that you made a private judgment to follow Rome (in essence acting as if you were your own " Super Pope"),

I've dealt with this above, at some length.

make all kinds of fallible arguments from history and theology to support your position,

No more than the Fathers and early Christians before me did. I merely walk in their hallowed footsteps.

and then expect your brothers to use their own private judgment to conclude your arguments are true while you simultaneously rail against the "anarchy" that is caused by the exercise of private judgment! Your entire epistemological position is incoherent at its root.

No, not my judgment, but that of the unbroken teaching of the apostolic deposit, which can be demonstrated to be continuous, back to the time of Christ. It develops, but its essence has not changed. Both my dialogue partners and myself (hopefully) are appealing to true Christian Tradition, as manifest especially in Holy Scripture. I use Scripture to back up my position at all turns, as any reader of this dialogue can surely see. I have used ten times more Scripture than you have, yet you come from the sola Scriptura viewpoint. How ironic!

To adapt you Kierkegaard / Kant example above, why should I think it is important that you prefer Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy or Protestantism? You haven't escaped the problem you here describe; you've just defined it out of existence with your own ex cathedra pronouncements about where THE truth can be found! My how "arbitrary" you are!

I certainly have escaped the problem, by means of the historical criteria I have taken great pains to describe. But I am fully aware that any Protestant is potentially capable of quixotically dismissing history with a wave of his hand (just as you dismissed any quotes by early Fathers above). And that despite the fact that Christianity itself (like Judaism before it) is a thoroughly historically-oriented and historically-verifiable faith.

[delete lengthy quote from my paper]

Of course, given the principle you set out above about open-mindedness and a moral willingness to accept the truth of Scriptural teaching, I can just as easily say that the early Protestant fragmentation you here describe was the result of a lack of these things among the early Protestants. Can I prove that? No, but you can't disprove it either! This whole bit about early Protestant factionalism is just more proof that Protestants are sinners in need of grace. So what? Was that ever disputed by anyone?

The all-encompassing "sin argument" raises its deluded head again. I am underwhelmed. I again ask: what possible criteria could falsify your beliefs about perspicuity? What possible critique could cause you to question your rock-solid faith in the axiomatic premises of Protestantism? If there are none, why are we dialoguing? If a position is not based at all in reason, reasonable discourse obviously can't dissuade someone from the position.

This is not to mention the fact that it's easy to look back at the attitudes of belivers in the past which appear to our "enlightened" modern eyes as intolerant and say, "Gee, how could they have been so 'unkind'?" What right do you have to castigate Luther for saying his fellow Protestants were "damned" and "out of the Church" when your own precious Church had been doing the exact same thing to all dissenters for centuries? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Because he supposedly changed the principles, and the myth is that the Protestants were so "tolerant" whereas the Catholic Church was not. The whole issue of religious tolerance is very complex. I took a crack at that vexed issue also:

I guess it's just too bad for what you elsewhere call your "passionate commitment to ecumenism" that Boniface VIII didn't have the benefit of Vatican II. And it's too bad for your apologetics that the Council of Constance didn't have Lumen Gentium; if they had, maybe they wouldn't have burned Jan Huss at the stake. It was a different time, as you well know.

Indeed. And that is the key to how one can understand these things. But we stray far from the issue at hand, don't we? For the always-controversial issue of salvation outside the Church, see:

The dogmas (or perceived dogmas) of Christianity were fundamentally wrapped up with the social order; to challenge them was to threaten to overthrow society. Heretics were considered to be "soul murderers". Since souls were "just obviously" more important than bodies and since there was a closer relationship between Church and state than we moderns would be comfortable with, it seemed quite natural to stop the murder of souls by removing the soul murderer from the world with the sword of the civil magistrate.

I agree (well-stated). And that was largely my argument in the papers above, about the Inquisition.

How dare you look back on Luther with modern American eyes jaded with personal freedom of conscience and judge him for not sharing yours and Vatican II's understanding of liberty?

I don't do that, thank you. I judge him by his own supposed principles (insofar as they can be determined at all - the man was so self-contradictory and subject to intense vacillation). Also, when I write about Luther, it is always with the notion in mind that many Protestants have taken in the usual quasi-hagiographical mythology about him, which needs to be disabused, especially as the same people insist on going on and on about the shortcomings of Catholic history. It's what I have coined "the reverse Inquisition argument."

It's interesting how you castigate Protestants who make so much of the Inquisition and the Crusades (your "An Open Letter to Anti-Catholics", point 18) by pointing out "The Protestant Inquisition", and yet here you ignore your own Church's gory hands in the name of making a polemic point about early Protestant inconsistencies.

You guys can analyze our faults if you wish (there are hundreds of such treatments). My purpose was to balance the score a bit, since virtually no Protestants are aware of the skeletons in their own closet. Ultimately, it is an effort to get the discussion onto more constructive, biblically-based issues, rather than trading horror stories. I am not an apologist for the Inquisition or the Crusades. But I do try to understand them from the medieval mindset, as you rightly enjoin above.

Meanwhile, you take the time elsewhere to "write off" past Roman Catholic atrocities by the very "sin explanation" you claim to deplore (your paper "Dialogue: Reflections on the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Slavery", wherein you state that God only has sinful institutions to work with!). You seem to be quite confused about this whole matter of how sin affects people's comprehension of God's truth, now affirming it, now denying it. I wish you'd make up your mind!

I wish you'd figure out my true position (about this "sin" business), as opposed to the cardboard caricature you have been triumphantly lambasting all through this paper. Perhaps now, with this lengthy reply, you can grasp it. The fact that you did at least make a wholehearted attempt to interact with my reasoning is my greatest hope that you can at least come to understand the Catholic position on these matters (I don't expect to convince you, of course).

I find it more likely that what the Protestants you are speaking of meant was that a particular understanding of the Eucharist and baptism is neither primary nor essential, not that the two sacraments themselves are not primary or essential. This is certainly my position regarding my Reformed Baptist and Lutheran brothers, and I have met many such brothers who reciprocate this attitude to me.

More relativism. Scripture is perspicuous, yet it can't settle this issue, with vigorous discussion among "brothers?" And why is that? Because the "other guys" are blinded by sin and denominational bias, whereas we are not! But then this pretty much implodes your whole perspective, since it is allegedly applicable to central docrines. If I understand correctly, you are saying that baptism and Eucharist are "primary" and "essential" doctrines - precisely the sort of beliefs that a perspicuous Scripture is supposed to resolve. Yet they have not been resolved; ergo: this understanding of perspicuity is false. The sin argument is far too simplistic. It will not do. The issues are far more complex than that.

You have multiple parties, all approaching Scripture with open-mindedness and willingness to follow it, and they still disagree nonetheless. As a Catholic, I can freely affirm that Calvin and Luther were both utterly sincere and passionate in their commitment to Holy Scripture as authoritative. Yet they couldn't agree on many fundamental issues. You are the ones who are forced to cast aspersions on others' purity and motives in order to uphold the false belief of a perspicuous Scripture wholly distinct from an authoritative teaching Church.

For instance, I once discussed the doctrine of the covenant and its implications for baptism with James White in his IRC chatroom, and although he vigorously disagreed with me, not once was there any mention by either of us that the other's soul was in danger. No uncharitableness, no restrictions of salvation to our respective denominations, and no anathemas. How is this possible given your jaded understanding of how Protestant principles "really" work out?

Of course cordial discussion is possible! Don't be silly . . . The point is that there is no way to resolve such disputes within Protestantism. The proverbial man on the street cannot achieve any certainty within these presuppositions. Besides, on what grounds can James White say that my soul is in danger? By some supposed Pelagianism or idolatry or the Catholic "Mary"-as-usurper of Jesus Christ, etc. (in other words, falsehoods about my beliefs)?

Dare I suggest that there is much more charity and unity among Protestants than you might be willing to admit? I do so dare!

Go ahead; it is entirely beside the point, and I agree (having experienced it myself many times, during my Protestant years), but if you wish to make yourself look foolish . . . . .

See, we aren't constrained by the type of foolishness you as a Roman Catholic are--we don't have to say that pretty much *every* doctrinal belief has a serious impact on one's standing before God. In other words, we don't confuse personal growth in holiness and comprehension of truth with the basis of our salvation.

I've already argued these points above.

Sure. And you are no doubt aware (since you are so open minded and in possession of a moral willingness to believe the truth of Scripture) that Christ's words in John 6 cannot be legitimately made "literal". It is quite plain from the context that He is deliberately speaking in symbols to confound those who are not of the elect. Verse 35 tells us that the "bread of heaven" that satisfies hunger is "coming to Christ", and implies that what is later called "drinking His blood" is "believing in Him". The ones who interpreted Christ's words "literally" (as you do!) were those who left Him and no longer followed Him because the teaching was too "difficult". Interesting.

I vehemently disagree. And my papers on this topic have not been touched by a single Protestant in nine years. The treatise contains some of the most extensive exegesis of all my papers, and the biblical data (as well as patristic) is very strong in favor of the Catholic belief. See:

[deleted more citations of mine, since Mr. Enloe has decided not to interact with them, as we see below]

So what? Since your entire point against perspicuity is based on a false linkage of the clarity of Scripture to the unity of belief among all people who claim to be following Scripture, this entire catalogue of differences among Protestants is irrelevant.

How convenient. Unfalsifiability again. Nothing can disprove Protestantism in your eyes (or so it seems from this end, anyway).

And this is not even to broach the issue of the many, many disagreements within Roman Catholicism! You might try to downplay these by speaking of how many issues haven't been adjudicated by the Church yet, and so, are justly "up for grabs", but the fact is, there is just as much "disunity" among Roman Catholics as there is among Protestants! Anyone who spends enough time reading Catholic apologetics materials from different sources will soon see that this is the case.

This is a cliched and tired argument, entirely missing the point. In a nutshell, the Catholic Church has a way to authoritatively resolve these disagreements. Protestants do not. So there is no direct analogy at all. I deal with this at length in the following papers:

Well, once again you are reading the de fide belief element of your own system back into the Protestant system. The Bible doesn't teach that one *must* have a correct intellectual understanding of how salvation works in order to be saved, and thus, any Protestant who says a person *must* have a certain intellectual conception of certain doctrines in order to be saved is acting like a Roman Catholic.

You are completely wrong. The point is that your own supposed premises are again shown to be faulty and inadequate. Supposedly the central doctrines can be attained by Scripture Alone, but they clearly have not been, so that the common slogan "we agree on the central doctrines" is bogus and a lie. It is the internal inconsistency I note. It has nothing to do with applying any specifically Catholic notions to your system. That would indeed be foolish and illogical.

The Protestant conception of saving faith *does* have an intellectual element (there are some facts one must know and assent to the truth of), but it is nowhere near as complicated as in your system. The actual doctrinal content that one truly *must* have in one's mind to be saved is quite miniscule, consisting of simple propositions like "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God", "Christ died for the ungodly", "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved", "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved", etc.

That's right. Salvation in large portions of Protestantism is simply a matter of repeating a single Bible verse. But in a way, our system is not too different, in practical terms. One can go to confession to rid themselves of sin and get in right relationship with God (just as a Protestant would confess to a good friend or God, in order to unburden himself - albeit with no relation at all to their salvation or state of grace). They need not have an exhaustive knowledge of theology (God help most Catholics if that were a requirement! LOLOL).

All of the marvelous and clever things that Christian theologians have learned to describe over the centuries (like the hypostatic union, the definition of Chalcedon, prevenient grace, effectual calling, the preceptive and decretive wills of God, and even the precisely formulated idea of justification sola fide just to name a few) simply are not absolute *requirements* for salvation. God hasn't given us a list of complex doctrines which we have to memorize as a prerequisite for getting saved. All this stuff about having correct de fide theories on dozens or hundreds of different matters in one's head ("faith" in your system) is a bunch of godless nonsense designed to give "the Church" the power to dispense and withhold salvation depending on the individual's level of conformity to the system.

I see. Well, this is largely a caricature; unworthy of a response, so I desist. I should hope that you would at least come out in favor of a knowledgeable faith, if at all possible.

[deleted more non sequiturs. I'm getting quite tired of them at this point, after two solid nights' work on this]

Again we see the confusion of importing into the Protestant situation the Roman Catholic idea of believing intellectual de fide dogmas as "necessary prerequistes for salvation".

I'm amazed that - having adopted the "sin argument" over and over again, for lack of a cogent defense of the Protestant system, now you are glorying in ignorance, as if "ignorance is holiness/salvation" rather than "bliss." :-) How you get to your point from mine I know not. But my argument was that Protestants cannot deny an organic connection with Luther. And they cannot dismiss him as "half-papist" on the one hand, while he is the great anti-Catholic hero on the other hand, depending on the purpose and whims of the moment.

[deleted another of my citations]

Since the doctrine of the perspicuity of the Bible doesn't claim that it will produce uniformity of belief, your whole point here is fundamentally flawed. Just because people who have astigmatism can't clearly make out the details of a room illuminated by a sufficient light source doesn't mean that the details of the room are "unclear" in and of themselves. There is nothing "arrogant" at all about saying that sin often blinds even believers to the truth of God's Word. Was Paul "arrogant" for teaching that "we all see through a glass darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12)? The Bible, as God's Word, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It is illogical to claim that the light source is unclear just because someone can't see the things it illuminates.

Again, it is not unclear per se (as I myself believe), but it sure doesn't work as a principle of unity. That being the case, do you have any suggestions for achieving unity of doctrine, apart from Scripture Alone?

[deleted more silly non sequitur arguments, based on the same old misunderstanding of my position. Sorry . . . . Readers can look them up by following the link to Mr. Enloe's paper if they wish. I think I've written enough on this topic as it is]

I suspect that you, like many of your fellow apologists, converted to the relative stability of Roman Catholicism from the relative instability of "Bible-only Fundamentalist" groups,

I was never a "fundamentalist." I was of the more intellectual/apologetic post-WWII school of evangelicalism; highly-influenced by people such as Lewis, Schaeffer, Walter Martin, Sproul, McDowell, Ramm, Geisler, Colson, and many others in that general line of thinking.

who specialize in acting like the medieval Roman Catholics they claim to hate so much by doing everything short of anathematizing (and sometimes actually going to anathematization!) all persons / groups who do not agree with them on whatever issue they perceive as being "the issue of the day". This is a sad thing, I grant, but it is not the norm.

I was the furthest thing from this mindset. I was ecumenical then, and familiar with the different schools of thought, as I am now. You are the one who is unecumenical (e.g., the citation which was at the end of your critique), so why don't you apply this to yourself?

And even if it were the norm, it would not demonstrate the necessary link between the doctrine of perspicuity and endless schism which your paper has continuously implied exists. Plenty of Protestants from different denominations are able to maintain the distinctives they think are important without engaging in virtual "war" with their brothers in the denomination across the street.

But that has nothing to do with my argument, of course. It is not about petty rivalries and quarrels, but about doctrinal disagreement, and how to resolve it.

In other words, there will be lots of counter-examples of "love covering over a multitude of sins" for every example of "boiling cauldrons" you can bring up.

Again, this is irrelevant. The more "minimalistic" and "mere" one's Christianity is, the easier it is to get along with those who differ. That's why the most liberal denominations merge - they no longer have enough distinctiveness to justify remaining separate, even under Protestant individualistic premises.

[deleted my citation]

More pretty rhetoric, but it's not as impressive as you probably think it is. For one thing, there aren't that many issues that Protestants think are legitimately "up for grabs and at the mercy of the 'priesthood of scholars' and the individual's private judgment". Every Protestant body takes a stand on every issue it considers to be important (this is most easily seen in the confessional Protestant bodies, but it can also be seen in the "non-confessional" ones, albeit with a bit more effort).

Why don't you furnish me with a list of the doctrines "up for grabs," then?

[deleted critiques of the Catholic Church already partially dealt with, and off-topic anyway]

. . . And, sadly, for the masses who devour your papers as if they were gospel truth,

And how would you know this is the case? Catholics know that I am not the magisterium (though I subordinate myself to it).

your oversimplifications, false premises, convoluted syllogisms, and just plain silly rhetorical "slams" do wonders for making sure that the real issues never get discussed.

Does anyone seriously believe I haven't dealt with "real issues" in this paper? Enough said . . .

[deleted more slams at the Catholic Church already dealt with]

But since I'm a Protestant, I prefer not to waste my time and that of my readers by pretending to have "certainty" that a particular and quite parochial visible institution has an absolute corner on all divine truth, and I don't create real schisms in the Body of Christ by uncharitably refusing to overlook the sins of my brothers as if I myself have reached a level of "purity" they can't hope to touch until they join my denomination.

Symptomatic of the emotional hostility against Catholicism and Catholics, leading to ridiculous and slanderous utterances . . .

And so I conclude this interaction with your paper by noting how amazing it is that in the course of your argument, you have both affirmed and denied the legitimacy of "the sin explanation"!

You wish. But it ain't so (sad to inform you). Since this seems to be your central thesis in reply, and since it is based on an utterly inaccurate understanding of my position, your paper hardly succeeds in its purpose of refuting mine. That being the case, your seeming confidence in your having "won" this debate is all the more unbecoming and ridiculous.

So much for the perspicuity of Dave Armstrong's apologetics! Perhaps I need an infallible interpreter to tell me what you "really" meant, so that I can be "sure" I know the truth.

Maybe not infallible, but an aide to assist you in truly trying to grasp an opponents' argument might come in handy (and would save me a lot of time and effort). In any event, I do thank you for the mental stimulation and the chance to clarify my position, and that of the Catholic Church.

I shall end by citing a well-known Protestant theologian, G.C. Berkouwer, who is candid enough to acknowledge as quite legitimate and troubling many of the objections I have been raising:

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Written on 10 February 2000 by Dave Armstrong (with Tim Enloe's replies).