Response to Tim Enloe's Counter-Reply on the Matter of Private Judgment

Dave Armstrong vs. Tim Enloe

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  Tim Enloe is a Protestant (Reformed) apologist. Several of my discussions with him are posted on my website. His essay, Private Judgment--A Summary Response to Dave Armstrong's Claims, was a reply to my paper, Dialogue: Catholic vs. Protestant Conceptions of the Meaning and Consequences of Private Judgment. The present paper is an answer to that response of his. Tim's words will be in blue.

. . . Dave was consistently using a different definition of "private judgment" than I was. As this sort of thing is the root of much misunderstanding between Roman Catholics and Protestants, I attempted to clarify the point of definition. My definition of "private judgment" was the subjective element of "the faculty of choosing itself combined with the responsibility before God for the choices one makes with that judgment" coupled with the objective element of Church authority administering conflicts between different interpretations of Scripture.

I understand this. My overall point was that the Protestant use of the term inevitably (and naturally) involves the formal system of sola Scriptura. This necessarily affects the definition or interpretation of the final clause about "Church authority," because in Protestantism -- in the final analysis -- no matter how much Tim vainly protests -- no church or ecclesiastical authority can override the individual's own biblical interpretation if the latter deems the authority to be inconsistent with Scripture (since according to sola Scriptura, Scripture itself is regarded as the ultimate authority over against any church; whereas the Catholic refuses to accept such a dichotomy, believing that Scripture and Church teaching are preserved in harmony by the Holy Spirit).

Martin Luther made all this possible at the Diet of Worms when he basically originated the new formal principle of the supremacy of individual conscience and private judgment over against Ecumenical Councils and popes (that is, conciliar or church infallibility, and papal infallibility). At that point, he could have theoretically and self-consistently even renounced, e.g., the christological pronouncements of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which -- thankfully -- virtually all Protestants accept. His followers (i.e., Protestants as a group) have stretched his new principle about as far as it can conceivably go (though degrees of application differ widely, as Tim correctly notes), and have found no way to prevent further doctrinal distortions as a result of the initial false principle.

So sure, there is church authority in Protestantism to some extent -- especially in Reformed circles. I've never denied this, as it is self-evident, and I lived under it myself (at considerable personal cost in some cases, I might add). But there are issues that Protestants cannot resolve amongst themselves (indeed, perhaps cannot possibly resolve, given their first principles), and so there must be sectarian division, and a watering-down of proper, biblical, binding church authority (as seen in, e.g., the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15). Therefore, the very definition Tim gives above is necessarily embroiled in further definitional difficulties, entailed by what "Church authority" must mean within Protestant premises and presuppositions. The definition is, therefore, far too broad and nebulous, and hence is not particularly helpful for our present dispute.

This deeper aspect, which directly flows logically from the baldly-stated principle, is precisely what I was examining, but Tim doesn't seem to be willing or able to recognize these distinctions, and so has resorted to the time-worn unworthy method of accusing his opponent of misrepresentation. He thinks I am utilizing (maybe even deliberate) distortion of the Protestant position(s). I, in turn, contend that he only dimly understands my point in the first place. He thinks he understands what I am arguing, but in fact, he does not, as he continually proves in his own words, the more he writes about this: which state of affairs I will illustrate throughout the course of this reply.

The Catholic, however, is truly bound to Church teaching and Tradition, as well as to the Scripture which he believes in faith is entirely consistent with both the Catholic Church and apostolic Tradition, passed-down and uniquely preserved in its fullness by that Church. This is the key distinction. In other words, the Protestant use of private judgment is inextricably bound up with his formal principle of sola Scriptura, whereas the Catholic sense of the term is understood within the paradigm of the three-legged stool of Catholic authority: Scripture + Church +Tradition. As the systems are fundamentally different, so the use of private judgment as a description or exercise of the will and mind must (at least upon close scrutiny and examination) be different, not identical, as Tim is trying to assert.

. . . Dave persists in eisegeting the Protestant sources which he quotes in defense of his definition of "private judgment",

This is sheer nonsense, as I will proceed to demonstrate. Tim wishes very badly that this is true, so that he can uphold his position, and blithely dismiss mine, but unfortunately it is not.

and he is not content to apply his criticisms of "private judgment" so defined to the camp they are properly applicable to--the so-called "Radical Reformation" (which even the Reformers themselves fought vigorously against) and its ideological descendants, modern day professing Protestants who revel in every opportunity to declare their autonomous "freedom" from all external constraints.

This is an endless, droning theme in Tim's analyses of larger Protestantism, particularly in his Internet forum postings. The Arminians and "radicals" and non-denominational low-church types and pentecostals (even if professed evangelicals) are outside the fold of the classic, "Reformational" Calvinist mainstream; the barbarians outside the gate, etc. As he makes this distinction himself, he expects others to, as well, and when he observes them failing to do so, he gets quite exasperated and makes his same old point yet again. It actually has much validity in its own way. Tim's mistake with regard to our dispute, however, is that he constantly accuses me of not making these crucial distinctions, when in fact I have done so all along, in my own apologetics. I may not state it at every turn (so that Tim can look at my words and conveniently presume that I have not taken this into account), but it certainly underlies my analyses.

Tim has even, on occasion, publicly admitted as much on the Steve Ray bulletin board where we had these exchanges. I posted old material showing how I clearly distinguished between mainstream definitions of sola Scriptura (Sproul, Hodge, Berkouwer, et al) and "Anabaptist" distortions, and Tim acknowledged that I understood the differences. But when it suits his fancy, he will use this rhetorical pot-shot of his against me, to paint with a broad brush, as if my view is indistinguishable from that of a hundred amateur, less-experienced "Catholic apologists" (I've been doing Catholic apologetics for eleven years, and evangelical apologetics for another nine before that) which so annoy Tim to no end. But the charge sounds impressive, arousing the indignation of the true believers, so Tim makes it.

Over and over again Dave blurs crucial logical and historical distinctions in order to tie the whole broad spectrum of theological / philosophical movements away from late medieval Roman Catholicism into one monolithic heretical impulse governed by a "formal principle" of absolute, unrestrained private judgment.

I submit that the "blurring" here is, rather, in Tim's typical rhetorical bombast, whereby he makes extreme, exaggerated (hence, distorted) either/or comparisons ("absolute, unrestrained") in an attempt to belittle and dismiss an opponent's view. It was Luther who established the new formal principle, not I. If I am to catch misery and Tim's ire for merely pointing this out, then so be it.

It seems that to Dave's mind Luther and Muentzer, Calvin and Servetus, Zwingli and Socinus (and perhaps even Tim Enloe and Nutcase Televangelist Joe Blow) are all are cut from the same rebellious cloth--just with varying degrees of "consistency" to the heretical root principle.

Case in point. Note the bizarre, absurd comparisons, as if this were my view (Servetus was a pantheist, Muentzer a rabble-rousing violent fanatic). It is indeed true that people can follow the same principle with differing levels of consistency, but that is a serious, quite-involved discussion in and of itself, not one which ought to be immediately dismissed and subjected to sophomoric jibes such as this, which are -- sadly -- all too common in Tim's contra-Catholic polemics, and unworthy of his obviously able intellect. I could spend many days and nights responding to such essentially silly and overblown rhetoric, which pervades Tim's writings, so I will try to restrain myself and stick to substantive points of disagreement. Readers will easily be able to detect further instances without much commentary on my part. Yet Luther was bad enough. Here is what he stated, in one of his own writings:

Inasmuch as I know for certain that I am right, I will be judge above you and above all the angels, as St. Paul says, that whoever does not accept my doctrine cannot be saved. For it is the doctrine of God, and not my doctrine; therefore my judgment also is God's and not mine . . . It would be better that all bishops were murdered, and all abbeys and cloisters razed to the ground, than that one soul should perish . . . If they will not listen to God's Word . . . what can more justly befall them than a violent upheaval which shall root them out of the earth? And we would smile did it happen. All who contribute body, goods . . . that the rule of the bishops may be destroyed are God's dear children and true Christians.
(Against the Falsely So-Called Spiritual Estate of the Pope and Bishops, July 1522; emphasis mine)

Yet Tim stated in our dialogue: "You're in the same boat as Luther was, but you just refuse to see it."

But such simplistic analysis simply will not do.

It sure won't, so I wish Tim would desist from it.

Dave defines "private judgment" in a way that cannot help but offend any thoughtful, historically-minded Christian--a way which is guaranteed to get the maximum rhetorical bang-for-the-buck and ensure that the Reformation is painted in the worst possible light from the beginning.

I guess that is Tim's fanciful, self-serving interpretation of simply citing two prominent Calvinists, as I did.

Worse yet, Dave consistently warps the words of prominent Protestants both past and present so that despite his professed wish to be fair, his polemic agenda ends up controlling his interpretation of Protestant principles.  This will be painstakingly detailed below from one of Dave's most recent additions to his website--an essay which resulted from his discussions with me.

The only warping here is Tim's: of my own position and modus operandi.

Thus, the battle continues because Dave's misrepresentations continue.  It would be one thing if he simply posited his definition and remained content to apply it to its proper objects.  But because he writes voluminously--and falsely--about the supposed "internal dynamic" and "logical results" of private judgment and because his website is one of the most popular Roman Catholic apologetics sources on the Internet, it is important that the record be set straight.

The definitional dispute and the issue of internal consistency are two different things (and Tim often confuses this distinction in his analysis of my observations on Protestantism). Definitions are usually fairly easy to ascertain, with the proper research. Reasonable men can differ on analyses of what a particular position entails, logically: or what flows from a given premise, without recourse to charges of wanton misrepresentation. Not every disagreement is proof positive of ill will, bad faith, or the deliberate setting-up of straw men. Most are just -- well -- honest disagreements . . . But when polemics is unnecessarily placed in the center of a dispute, then such charges, which kill constructive and mutually-respectful discourse, abound.

That Dave is, in fact, promoting a prejudicial view and not the true one can be easily seen by examining Reformational source documents and contrasting them to Dave's summaries of what the principles contained therein allegedly reduce to.  I have compiled a somewhat lengthy dossier of quotations from the leading Reformers and some of their doctrinal heirs . . .

I'm sure Tim learned a lot about his own Reformed Christian heritage in compiling this material, but it has nothing to do with my analysis whatsoever, as I have always readily acknowledged that the Founders of Protestantism urged conformity to the various ecclesiastical institutions they set up. That is not at issue. None of the citations Tim offered in his companion-paper denied sola Scriptura. None, therefore, are at all inconsistent with the analysis of the Protestant use of private judgment which I have utilized. All Tim is left with, then, is a caricatured view of my own position, whereby I supposedly "blur" all distinctions whatsoever between Protestant parties, so that I can champion my "prejudicial view" and pretend that all Protestants are Anabaptists, or Unitarians, or Church of Christ, or what-have-you.

When I proceed to examine (in Socratic fashion) whether certain theories and theologies and historical results consistently flow from stated premises, and agreed-upon definitions, we are on altogether different ground. But Tim -- times without number -- confuses that sort of analysis from me with the definitions and self-understandings that men such as Luther and Calvin would themselves offer. This is simply "apples and oranges," but it makes for great rhetorical effect.

Whether or not Tim realizes he is doing this, I do not speculate upon (I would suspect not). That he does it, however, is beyond all doubt. I always presume ignorance on the part of my opponents as much more likely than deliberate distortion. When an opponent doesn't understand or comprehend a contrary position, or the logical progression of his counterpart's reasoning, then his replies may appear to be twistings and distortions, when in fact, they are merely misguided and misinformed. The latter is a constant motif in this "rebuttal" of Tim's, which is why I didn't respond to it for many months -- I was devoting myself to far more serious matters.

In the analyses that follow, it is important to remember that Dave has one all-important and overriding point to make about private judgment--that regardless of how the principle itself is formally stated or explained, the actual practice of most of its adherents is schismatic and destructive of the well-being of Christ's Church because the principle itself cannot help but lead in this direction.

That was not my "one all-important and overriding point." It was a point that I threw in as a bonus, for no extra cost. :-) Here again is the distinction between definition and proposed logical results from that definition. Tim collapses them into one thing and pretends that I was doing the same thing. The main object of the paper was to demonstrate that the definition of private judgment that I have used was not the sole property of "Catholic apologists" who distort it for their own ends, but in use by Calvinists as well. One can read my paper to see how this was shown.

Tim has not overthrown my contention at all. At best he has simply shown other aspects of Pink's and Bruce's teaching which are beside the point of the discussion and which by no means contradict my point of view (I understood and assumed them from the outset). Tim only thinks they do. His continued mistaken insinuation of my gross ignorance of Calvinist and Protestant thinking serves to make his argument foolish, simple-minded, and quixotic. He can do much better than this.

Dave has misconstrued the issue of Pink's separatism. Dave maintains that Pink's "obscurity and separatism" (the reviewer's words) were the direct result of his teachings on private judgment.  But if one reads the context of the remarks Dave reproduces, one discovers that Arthur Pink tended to avoid all organized churches in his later life because of his own personality  foibles and the belief that he was being persecuted by all organized churches.

So what? Why can't both sets of factors conceivably be true? Ideas have consequences. The behavior of all of us is affected by the beliefs we holdas well as by various personality or temperamental aspects. We are complex, multi-faceted creatures. One need not posit another either/or false dichotomy as you do here. I readily grant that Pink was a rather eccentric fellow . . . but that has little to do with a consistent acting-out of his ideas.

Now it is true that Pink's foibles and persecution complex are tangentially related to the issue of
private judgment.  For instance, Pink obviously used private judgment--his "right of forming his own
conceptions" (as he defined it) not only of the teachings of Scripture but also of the external factors involved in his ecclesiastical conflicts--to conclude that every church was persecuting him and that he was the one in the right.  Further, he exercised the very moral and civil liberty he himself had written about in his chapter on private judgment to avoid associating with such churches.


Dave takes this data and posits an "internal dynamic" of private judgment--a necessary logic
inherent in the principle which causes all who consistently follow the principle to hive off into separate groups organized around their own preferred teachings.

Why is it inherently impermissible or excessive to posit such a connection (the history of endless, incessant Protestant sectarianism and division certainly is no great disproof of it)? I don't see why this is so controversial, except under an assumption that one must defend their viewpoint at all costs, and never grant the legitimacy of an honest difference of opinion for a moment. Again, reasonable men of good will can differ on these things. In fact, Tim's fellow Calvinists (obviously the cream of the crop and the elite amongst Protestants, in their own eyes) do the exact same thing with regard to their analyses of Catholicism. They extrapolate from a belief (just as I am doing) the supposed logical consequences of it.

They say that free will leads to a denial of God's sovereignty and foreknowledge and predestination. They say that sacraments (in a certain sense, and as Catholics define them) detract from the grace of God. They claim that the Mass is a form of sorcery or magic (Calvin held that every Mass was a blasphemous idolatry and abomination), or that the communion of saints makes men gods and idols, or that the papacy entails a sort of spiritual slavery to a man, or that asking Mary to intercede makes her an omniscient goddess, or that various Catholic rituals are warmed-over pagan practice. All of these are logical deductions or analyses of Catholic doctrines. So this sort of thing is done all the time. Yet when a Catholic dares to apply the same approch to Protestant distinctives, all of a sudden we hear impassioned cries of "foul" and of hitting below the belt, and of an altogether improper methodology, as if this were the most novel and odd thing in world history.

. . . the reviewer attributes Pink's separatism to his eccentricities and persecution complex, not to his belief that he had the right to form his own conceptions about the teaching of Scripture.

Again, so what? Are we to believe that everyone must accept a monolithic explanation of one biographer as to the underlying causes and contributing factors as to a person's behavior and beliefs? That is obviously false.

Furthermore, there is nothing in Pink's article about private judgment that would allow Dave to draw his conclusion about the "internal dynamic".  In fact, in several passages that Dave himself quotes, Pink explicitly provides the counterbalances to an anarchistic use of private judgment:

This is deliciously ironic. Throughout, Tim accuses me of presenting a warped, one-sided portrayal; misrepresentations brought about by my Catholic biases. Yet when I include in my citations such factors as these, precisely to acknowledge that these folks were not anarchists, Tim doesn't notice that, in his rush to assume that I am collapsing all Protestants into a single mold of my own making. The issue is not anarchy or absolute libertinism in the first place. It is, rather, the principle of sola Scriptura and what it entails vs. the opposing formal principle of binding apostolic Tradition, a Magisterium, Councils, an authoritative papacy and infallible, dogmatic church authority, and what private judgment means within both systems.

Although the conscience of an individual is not to be (and indeed, cannot be) held captive to the external dictates of any organized body (whether religious or civil), this does not entail an absolutely unrestricted right to publicize the contents of one's conscience. What necessarily obtains internally to the person is not the same thing as what necessarily must be observed externally by the person.

But of course. The sad thing is that Tim thinks I don't agree with this (and his subsequent related comments), in his utter confusion as to my actual point of view.

But Pink offers another statement of the limitations of private judgment:

It scarcely needs to be said that the right of private judgment certainly does not mean that we are at liberty to bring the Word of God to the bar of human reason and sentiment, so that we may reject whatever does not commend itself to our intelligence or appeal to our inclinations. The Bible does not submit itself unto our opinion or give us the option of picking and choosing from its contents: rather is it our critic (Heb. 4:12). The Law of the Lord is perfect and, the best of us being very imperfect, it is madness to criticize it. But when we hear preaching from it, we must try what is said whether or not it accords with the Word, and whether the interpretation be valid or strained . . .
Again, I am fully aware that this is the standard Reformed position. It has no bearing whatever on my analysis, because it is not the "bull in a china shop" dopey caricature that Tim has made it out to be. Note that the last sentence is the result of the system of sola Scriptura: the individual judges the preacher or the Church or the Council if needs be ("we must try what is said . . . "). And that is what private judgment boils down to in a Protestant context (Pink staes at the top what he is talking about). It can be qualified, nuanced, made complex and sophisticated until the cows come home, but in the end, the Protestant individual is permitted to make such judgments. That is the gist of what I have been saying. And from that supposed "right" (i.e., when it is at all in conflict with received apostolic Tradition) many negative, destructive ramifications logically flow, and have indeed come about in fact, down through history, because ideas have consequences.

A.W. Pink proves my contention many times over. I shall cite a few things he said (the sources are in my earlier paper). As is so often the case in dialogue with Protestants, what they bring to bear is entirely consistent with our analysis, whereas our points logically conflict with, and cannot co-exist with theirs. I can easily synthesize Tim's "counter-examples" with my contentions as to what Pink believed, because no logical inconsistency is involved. But Tim must ignore my counter-examples for his perspective to stand (who is doing the ignoring here?):

. . . Having shown the very real need there is for each person to form his own judgment of what God�s Word teaches, we now turn to consider his God-given right to do so.

. . .  every Christian has the God-given right to think for himself, to form his own opinion of what Scripture teaches, and to decide what he considers is most pleasing and honoring unto God.

. . . Now this right of private judgment, and the duty of each person to determine for himself what God�s Word teaches, is categorically denied by Rome, which avers that "ignorance is the mother of devotion," and that the highest form of service is that of "blind obedience" . . .

. . . Not only is private judgment a right which God has conferred upon each of His children, but it is their bounden duty to exercise the same . . .  Not only are we responsible to reject all erroneous teaching, but we are not to be the serfs of any ecclesiastical tyranny. "Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven" (Matt. 23:8, 9).

This, too, is a crucial premise in the overall Protestant doctrine of private judgment.   Dave seems oddly recalcitrant to admit that on Protestant principles, it is a fact that Scripture speaks for itself.

This is -- far from a reluctant, begrudging admission -- a central premise of my entire analysis!

Its words mean definite things and cannot be legitimately twisted so as to mean anything any particular reader wishes they meant, or thinks they "literally" mean.

Yes; yet when all is said and done, the multiplicity of Protestant interpretations on a host of issues where differences exist, all appeal to the Scripture. So Tim looks at abstracts and wishes; I am looking at realities and actual resulting doctrinal relativism and historical fact.

. . .  there is no logical necessity of separating from visible church bodies--no "internal dynamic" of schism--in the mere idea that each man is responsible for God for what he believes and that he has the right to form his own conceptions about what Scripture teaches. Such separatistic attitudes mayaccompany the use of private judgment or they may not.  But they are not intrinsically a part of private judgment.

One can't absolutely prove a "logical necessity." One can only reason and speculate on such things. But what one can demonstrate factually is the actual history of scandalous, tragic Protestant sectarianism. Now, it stands to reason that there must be some cause for this. Things do not happen by accident. That being the case, I say that it is as plausible as any other explanation to suggest that the internal dynamic of private interpretation, private judgment, and sola Scriptura are significant causes of the course of Protestant divisions. Tim is welcome to posit some other more important factor. I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to see a connection here between formal principles of authority and the ascertaining of truth, and individual and denominational and movement-wide behavior.

Tim's subsequent examination of Archibald Bruce offers the same fatally-flawed and misguided analysis of my alleged "distortion" of his thinking for my own purposes. It is characterized by such sarcastic, vacuous, entirely beside-the-point statements as the following:

We note that Bruce, like Pink, carefully distinguishes between liberty (private judgment) and license (private fancy), and observes the undeniable fact that maintaining an "adjustment" between them is ever a difficult thing to do.  Such a frank acknowledgement of the human condition is far from the perfectionistic spirit of Rome and her apologists, who would have it that simple and unswerving submission to "the Church" (with the corresponding implicit assumptions of Churchly perspicuity and the individual Roman Catholic's use of his own judgment in understanding the Church's teachings) is a magic cure for all ills.

At length, Tim finally moves on to something of some interest and semi-relevance:

As even the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges, "Conscience is man's most secret core, and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." (Paragraph 1795, emphasis mine).  This being the case, the Word of God speaking directly to the heart of the Christian is the only thing which can command his implicit faith.  Or, as the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, "God alone is the Lord of the conscience..." (20.2)

Correct. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church also (shall I accuse Tim of selective presentation, too?) presupposes that conscience is informed in good faith and in accordance with the moral law and with the utmost respect for Church authority. In #1785 it stresses that conscience must be "guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church." And in #1792, the Catechism speaks disapprovingly of "erroneous judgment" for reasons of "a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church's authority and her teaching . . . "

This principle, of course, raises the issue of the location of the Word of God.  If God alone is the Lord of the conscience, where can the voice of God be heard so that the conscience may sumbit to its lordship?

One need not create a dichotomy between the Church and the Bible (no one is arguing whether Scripture is inspired). This is not itself a distinction that the Bible itself woulf make, so it is unbiblical, and therefore untrue, by Tim's own Bible Alone criteria of authority.

Now, even on Roman Catholic criteria, the words of the Church are not revelation--that is, not the directly inspired words of God--but simply divinely protected explanations of that Word.

If they are indeed divinely-protected, then they are binding, whether inspired or not, as authority and inspiration are two distinct entities.

Ex cathedra statements of the Pope or moral unanimities of the bishops in union with the Pope are, at their best, posited to be Spirit-guided human explications of Spirit-inspired teachings. The words of the Church cannot command the implicit assent of the conscience precisely because they are not the direct words of God--and no one pretends that they are.

Then why did Luther make his own words the equivalent of God's?:

Inasmuch as I know for certain that I am right, I will be judge above you and above all the angels, as St. Paul says, that whoever does not accept my doctrine cannot be saved. For it is the doctrine of God, and not my doctrine; therefore my judgment also is God's and not mine . . .
Man, if that is Protestant authority in 1522, a mere year after "Here I stand" and the confrontation at Worms, and the escape from the intolerable, stifling "yoke of Rome," then the world is a strange place indeed. Luther was free from the horrible spiritual bondage of Rome, but it seems that he didn't regard his own followers as quite so free in conscience, if they dared to differ with him on any doctrine. For how can one disagree with God's Prophet and Man of the Hour; the restorer of the Gospel, no less? Thus anyone who did disagree with Dr. Luther (e.g., Zwingli) was inevitably consigned to hell and accused of the most base motives and stiff-necked heretical intransigence. Once again, then, we observe that ideas have consequences.

Tim takes several more pot shots in this section (along with a ton of non sequitur quotes from Bruce), ending with the triumphalistic declaration:

Private judgment, properly understood, is inescapable fact of our existence.  Though Roman apologists such as Dave Armstrong cartoonishly pervert it, and though great masses of modern-day Protestants forget the crucial delimiters provided above by Arthur Pink and Archibald Bruce, the
principle stands undefeated.

He goes on to try to cite Vatican II, the Catechism, and John Henry Cardinal Newman against me:

Given the virulence of Dave's polemic against private judgment, it seems fitting to close this essay by reminding him of his own Church's teachings about the freedom of conscience of individuals and their corresponding right to private judgment within bounds not destructive to society.  The reader is invited to note the numerous similarities of language between these official Roman Catholic sources and Calvinists Arthur Pink and Archibald Bruce, and apply this fact to the manner in which Dave interpreted Pink and Bruce.  Also of note are several paragraphs by Dave's hero, John Henry Newman.

We have seen above how Tim selectively cited the Catechism,  neglecting the absolutely crucial portion describing the relationship of conscience to Church authority. When I don't cite practically the entirety of huge excerpts from Pink and Bruce, I am savaged as thoroughly biased and conveniently selective. But when Tim cites portions of Vatican II, the Catechism, and Newman which agree in part (and only to an extent) with his points, yet for some inexplicable reason ignores other portions which expressly contradict his argument and support mine, that is perfectly okay. Fortunately, with the freedom of conscience I have as a Catholic to write and express my opinions, I can take advantage of this present opportunity to use the modern means of communication, the Internet (see the Vatican II document Inter mirifica) to expose Tim's "methodological hypocrisy" and double standards.

Tim cites the glorious Vatican II document Dignitatis Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty), speaking of conscience, and finds it remarkable that there is so much agreement with his views. I need not cite any of those portions, as we are in full agreement. He gets as far as section 11 (of 15) in his citations, but apparently he stopped reading at that point (the entire document is only thirteen pages). For if he had read the whole thing, surely he would have noticed these words in section 14:

However, in forming their consciences the faithful must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself.
So is the teaching of the Catholic Church on conscience and private judgment identical with that of the Calvinist? Let's take the beginning of the above paragraph, modify it a little, so as to pretend that it would apply to a Protestant, as well as to a Catholic, who is solemnly bound to accept Vatican II in its entirety:
However, in forming their consciences the Calvinists must pay careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Catholic Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth . . .
Does this sound like the sort of "conscience" Pink and Bruce would abide by? Then Tim cites Cardinal Newman. After loudly complaining that I tried to re-make Pink and Bruce in the image of my Catholic views, he then proceeds to do precisely that with Newman!:
Conscience is a law of the mind; yet [Christians] would not grant that it is nothing more...[Conscience] is a messenger of him, who, both in nature and in grace, speaks to us behind a veil, and teaches and rules us by his representatives. Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. [Quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Paragraph 1782]
Actually it is #1778 in my copy; from Newman's Letter to the Duke of Norfolk.
Now, if a man is in a state of trial, and his trial lies in the general exercise of the will, and the choice of religion is an exercise of will, and always implies an act of individual judgment, it follows that such acts are in the number of those by which he is tried, and for which he is to give account hereafter. So far, all parties must be agreed, that without private judgment there is no responsibility; and that in matter of fact, a man's own mind, and nothing else, is the cause of his believing or not believing, and of his acting or not acting upon his belief. [Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), p. 157]
This is all fine and dandy, and perfectly in accord with Catholic teaching, of course. But from that same book of Newman, his classic Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, are found the following comments (emphases added):

     . . . no dead-lock, such as is implied in the objection which I am answering, can take place
     between conscience and the Pope.

     But, of course, I have to say again, lest I should be misunderstood, that when I speak of
     Conscience, I mean conscience truly so called. When it has the right of opposing the supreme,
     though not infallible Authority of the Pope, it must be something more than that miserable
     counterfeit which, as I have said above, now goes by the name. If in a particular case it is to
     be taken as a sacred and sovereign monitor, its dictate, in order to prevail against the voice of
     the Pope, must follow upon serious thought, prayer, and all available means of arriving at a
     right judgment on the matter in question. And further, obedience to the Pope is what is called
     "in possession"; that is, the onus probandi of establishing a case against him lies, as in all cases
     of exception, on the side of conscience. Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the
     Presence of God, that he must not, and dare not, act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to
     obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it. Prima facie it is his bounden duty, even
     from a sentiment of loyalty, to believe the Pope right and to act accordingly. He must vanquish
     that mean, ungenerous, selfish, vulgar spirit of his nature, which, at the very first rumour of a
     command, places itself in opposition to the Superior who gives it, asks itself whether he is not
     exceeding his right, and rejoices, in a moral and practical matter to commence with
     scepticism. He must have no wilful determination to exercise a right of thinking, saying, doing
     just what he pleases, the question of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, the duty if possible
     of obedience, the love of speaking as his Head speaks, and of standing in all cases on his
     Head's side, being simply discarded.

     If this necessary rule were observed, collisions between the Pope's authority and the
     authority of conscience would be very rare.

Furthermore, Newman is even more explicit and crystal-clear in his sermon "Faith and Private Judgement" from Discourses Addressed to Mixed Congregations (1849):

Men were told to submit their reason to a living authority. Moreover, whatever an Apostle said, his converts were bound to believe; when they entered the Church, they entered it in order to learn. The Church was their teacher; they did not come to argue, to examine, to pick and choose, but to accept whatever was put before them. No one doubts, no one can doubt this, of those primitive times. A Christian was bound to take without doubting all that the Apostles declared to be revealed; if the Apostles spoke, he had to yield an internal assent of his mind; it would not be enough to keep silence, it would not be enough not to oppose it: it was not allowable to credit in a measure; it was not allowable to doubt.

No; if a convert had his own private thoughts of what was said, and only kept them to himself, if he made some secret opposition to the teaching, if he waited for further proof before he believed it, this would be a proof that he did not think the Apostles were sent from God to reveal His will; it would be a proof that he did not in any true sense believe at all. Immediate, implicit submission of the mind was, in the lifetime of the Apostles, the only, the necessary token of faith; then there was no room whatever for what is now called private judgement. No one could say: "I will choose my religion for myself, I will believe this, I will not believe that; I
will pledge myself to nothing; I will believe just as long as I please, and no longer; what I believe to-day I will reject tomorrow, if I choose. I will believe what the Apostles have as yet said, but I will not believe what they shall say in time to come."

No; either the Apostles were from God, or they were not; if they were, everything
that they preached was to be believed by their hearers; if they were not, there was nothing for their hearers to believe. To believe a little, to believe more or less, was impossible; it contradicted the very notion of believing: if one part was to be believed; it was an absurdity to believe one thing and not another; for the word of the Apostles, which made the one true, made the other true too; they were nothing in themselves, they were all things, they were an infallible authority, as coming from God. The world had either to become Christian, or to let it alone; there was no room for private tastes and fancies, no room for private judgement.

. . .  Now, my dear brethren, consider, are not these two states or acts of mind quite distinct from each other;--to believe simply what a living authority tells you, and to take a book such as Scripture, and to use it as you please, to master it, that is, to make yourself the master of it, to interpret it for yourself, and to admit just what you choose to see in it, and nothing more? Are not these two procedures distinct in this, that in the former you submit, in the latter you judge? At this moment I am not asking you which is the better, I am
not asking whether this or that is practicable now, but are they not two ways of taking up a doctrine, and not one? is not submission quite contrary to judging? Now, is it not certain that faith in the time of the Apostles consisted in submitting? and is it not certain that it did not consist in judging for one's self? It is in vain to say that
the man who judges from the Apostle's writings, does submit to those writings in the first instance, and therefore has faith in them; else why should he refer to them at all? There is, I repeat, an essential difference between the act of submitting to a living oracle, and to his written words; in the former case there is no appeal from the speaker, in the latter the final decision remains with the reader.

. . . I think I may assume that this virtue, which was exercised by the first Christians, is not known at all among Protestants now; or at least if there are instances of it, it is exercised towards those, I mean their own teachers and divines, who expressly disclaim that they are fit objects of it, and who exhort their people to judge themselves . . .

. . . Since men now-a-days deduce from Scripture, instead of believing a teacher, you
may expect to see them waver about; they will feel the force of their own deductions more strongly at one time than at another, they will change their minds about them, or perhaps deny them altogether; whereas this cannot be, while a man has faith, that is, belief that what a preacher says to him comes from God. This is what St. Paul
especially insists on, telling us that Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, are given us that 'we may all attain to unity of faith,' and, on the contrary, in order 'that we be NOT as children tossed to and fro, and carried about by every gale of doctrine'. Now, in matter of fact, do not men in this day change about in their religious opinions without any limit? Is not this, then, proof that they have not that faith which the Apostles demanded of their converts? If they had faith, they would not change. Once believe that God has spoken, and you are sure He cannot unsay what He has already said; He cannot deceive; He cannot change; you have received it once for all; you will believe it ever.

Such is the only rational, consistent account of faith; but so far are Protestants from professing it, that they laugh at the very notion of it. They laugh at the very notion itself of men pinning their faith (as they express themselves) upon Pope or Council; they think it simply superstitious and narrow-minded, to profess to believe just what the Church believes, and to assent to whatever she will say in time to come on matters of doctrine. That is, they laugh at the bare notion of doing what Christians undeniably did in the time of the Apostles. Observe, they do not merely ask whether the Catholic Church has a claim to teach, has authority, has the gifts;--this is a reasonable question;--no, they think that the very state of mind which such a claim involves in those who admit it, namely, the disposition to accept without reserve or question, that THIS is slavish.

They call it priestcraft to insist on this surrender of the reason, and
superstition to make it. That is, they quarrel with the very state of mind which all Christians had in the age of the Apostles; nor is there any doubt (who will deny it?) that those who thus boast of not being led blindfold, of judging for themselves, of believing just as much and just as little as they please, of hating dictation, and so forth, would have found it an extreme difficultly to hang on the lips of the Apostles, had they lived at their date, or rather would have simply resisted the sacrifice of their own liberty of thought, would have thought life eternal too dearly purchased at such a price, and would of died in their unbelief. And they would have defended themselves on the plea that it was absurd and childish to ask them to believe without proof, to bid them to give up their education, and their intelligence, and their science, and in spite of all those difficulties which reason and sense find in the Christian doctrine, in spite of its mysteriousness, its obscurity, its strangeness, its unacceptableness, its severity, to require surrender themselves to the teaching of a few unlettered Galilaeans, or a learned indeed but fanatical Pharisee. This is what they would have said then; and if so, is it wonderful they do not become Catholics
now? The simple account of their remaining as they are, is, that they lack one thing,--they have not faith; it is a state of mind, it is a virtue, which they do not recognise to be praiseworthy, which they do not aim at possessing . . .

In the Apostles' days the peculiarity of faith was submission to a living authority; that is what made it so distinctive; this is what made it an act of submission at all; this is what destroyed private judgement in matters of religion. If you will not look out for a living authority, and will bargain for private judgement, then say at once that you have not the Apostolic faith.

And this is how I have used the term private judgment. Tim can believe whatever he likes. But it would be nice if he tried a little harder to comprehend the beliefs of those with different persuasions, instead of repeatedly displaying a remarkably suspicious and hyper-polemical mindset  in his treatment of those who honestly differ from his own views.

Tim has consistently accused me of trying to smuggle in a Catholic definition of private judgment and applying this to Protestantism. This is simply not the case. Previously, I provided support for my view of what this term means in both Protestantism and Catholicism, from Calvinists A.W. Pink and Archibald Bruce. Now I bring to the table Charles Hodge, an American Calvinist Presbyterian of the 19th century, who is very highly-regarded in Reformed circles.

I find especially interesting (and relevant to our dispute) Hodge's placement and titling of private judgment within the overall context of his Systematic Theology. Tim has maintained that private judgment is essentially the same as "use of the critical faculties of the mind to ascertain truth." My contention has been that it is a corollary of sola Scriptura and perspicuity of Scripture: in other words, it is part of the Protestant formal system of authority, over against the Catholic. Pink uses it in this way, and so does John Henry Cardinal Newman, on the Catholic side. And so does Hodge; very much so.

I am citing his words from his Systematic Theology (Abridged edition; edited by Edward N. Gross, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988 [orig. 1872], 92-95,66):

Hodge has a section in his book concerning epistemology and the use of reason in theology (where Tim would like to categorize or classify private judgment). In his Introduction, he has the sections I. "On Method", and III. "Rationalism". The latter sub-section contains the chapters, "Proper Office of Reason in Matters of Religion," "Relation of Philosophy and Revelation," and "Office of the Senses in Matters of Faith." It seems to me that if Tim's theory is correct, Hodge would have placed the question of private judgment within one of these sections. But he does not.

Following the next section IV, "Mysticism," Hodge presents V. "Roman Catholic Doctrine Concerning the Rule of Faith." In that portion he examines Catholic doctrine concerning Scriptures, Tradition, and the authoritative function of the Church (precisely as I have in contradistinction to Private Judgment as a Protestant principle). His methodology and categorization is, then, precisely as mine. The only difference is that he accepts the notion of Private Judgment and I do not. But as to its nature, definition, and relationship with other tenets, Hodge and I are one, and in disagreement with Tim's portrayal of the "epistemology" of religious belief.

Now; Hodge's next section (VI.) is "The Protestant Rule of Faith." The six chapters of this section are:

1. Statement of the Doctrine
2. The Scriptures Are Infallible, i.e., Given by Inspiration of God
3. Adverse Theories
4. The Completeness of the Scriptures
5. Perspicuity of the Scriptures. The Right of Private Judgment
6. Rules of Interpretation
Therefore, we observe that Hodge places the question right smack in the middle of a discussion of Scripture: its inspiration, authority, and interpretation - exactly where I put it: within a framework of sola Scriptura and specifically, perspicuity. Most striking is the fact that he has perspicuity and private judgment in the very same section. This couldn't be any stronger confirmation of my entire argument on this than it is.

Now I shall cite Hodge's own definition and description of Private Judgment, from chapters 5 and 6 above (emphases added), and an earlier remark in his "Mysticism" section:

5. Perspicuity of the Scriptures. The Right of Private Judgment

The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people. And they have the right and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves, so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures and not on that of the Church. Such is the doctrine of Protestants on this subject.

It is not denied that the Scriptures contain many things hard to understand, thatthey require diligent study, that all men need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to come to right knowledge and true faith. But it is maintained that in all things necessary to salvation they are sufficiently plain to be understood even by the unlearned . . . [break in original]

If the Scriptures be a plain book, and the Spirit performs the function of a teacher to all the children of God, it follows inevitably that they must agree in all essential matters in their interpretation of the Bible. And from that fact it follows that for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the universal Church (i.e., the body of true believers) is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves.

What Protestants deny on this subject is that Christ has appointed any officer, or class of officers, in His Church to whose interpretations of the Scriptures the people are bound to submit as of final authority. What they affirm is that He has made it obligatory upon every man to search the Scriptures for himself and determine on his own discretion what they require him to believe and to do . . .  [break in original]

The most obvious reasons in support of the right of private judgment are:

(1) The obligations to faith and obedience are personal. Every man is responsible for his religious faith and moral conduct. He cannot transfer that responsibility to others, nor can others assume it in his stead. He must answer for himself; and if he must answer for himself, he must judge for himself . . .

(2) The Scriptures are everywhere addressed to the people and not to the officers of the Church either exclusively or specially . . . To forbid the people to read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves is, therefore, not only to deprive the people of a divine right, but to interpose between them and God, and to prevent their hearing His voice, that they may listen to the words of men.

(3) [cites John 5:39, 2 Tim 3:15, Gal 1:8-9, and Deut 13:1-3] . . . This again assumes that the people had the ability and the right to judge, and that they had an infallible rule of judgment. It implies, moreover, that their salvation depended on their judging rightly . . .

(4) It need hardly be remarked that this right of private judgment is the great safeguard of civil and religious liberty . . . [break in original]

6. Rules of Interpretation

If every man has the right and is bound to read the Scriptures and to judge for himself what they teach, he must have certain rules to guide him in the exercise of this privilege and duty. These rules are not arbitrary. They are not imposed by human authority. They have no binding force which does not flow from their own intrinsic truth and propriety. They are few and simple . . . .

[his rules are: a) plain historical sense; b) self-consistency and Scripture interprets Scripture; c) guidance by the Holy Spirit and necessity of being "spiritually minded" to properly interpret]

The fact that all the true people of God in every age and in every part of the Church, in the exercise of their private judgment, in accordance with the simple rules stated above, agree as to the meaning of Scripture in all things necessary either in faith or in practice, is a decisive proof of the perspicuity of the Bible and of the safety of allowing the people the enjoyment of the divine right of private judgment.

I could have a field day with this; write for days about the fallacies and absurdities and unproven axioms contained within it, but that is not my present purpose.
. . . the right of private judgment. This, as understood by the Reformers, is the right of every man to decide what a revelation made by God to him requires him to believe. It was a protest against the authority assumed by the Church (i.e., the bishops) of deciding for the people what they were to believe. It was very natural that the fanatical, in rejecting the authority of the Church, should reject all external authority in matters of religion. They understood by the right of private judgment the right of every man to determine what he should believe from the operations of his own mind and from his own inward experience, independently of the Scriptures . . .
James Henley Thornwell, 19th-century American Reformed theologian:

          To abandon the exercise of private judgement, and intrust the understanding to
          the guidance of teachers arrogant enough to claim infallibility without producing
          the credentials of a Divine commission, is to encourage a despotism which none
          can sanction without the express authority of God. Private judgement, indeed, can
          never be wholly set aside; the pretensions of an infallible instructor must be
          submitted to the understandings of men, and finally determined by each man's
          convictions of truth and justice.

[J.H.Thornwell, The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, III. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1875/1976), 493]

All of this really started with Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521 ("here I stand . . . "). He raised his private judgment to a principle of authority, over above Councils and popes, even (in fact) Sacred Apostolic Tradition. I've found at least one in-depth Calvinist paper which expressly admits that the principle began at Worms. See:

Faith in Focus:  The Right of Private Judgement
(, by Gary Milne, of the New Zealand Reformed Church. He cites portions of Hodge.

To me this has been self-evident since 1990 and my conversion. I think it is utterly obvious that Luther was bringing in a radically new principle of formal authority. He later contradicted himself (with the State Church, etc.) yet the primal principle he asserted at Worms remains the inspiration for much later Protestant thinking on authority and sola Scriptura.

Thinking that you misrepresented the two sources you cited in your paper and saying that you did so because you were trying to make them fit your preexisting idea does NOT equate to saying you are "ignorant" (per your [words] below) . . . It's merely my opinion based on my reading of your paper and the research I did to answer it.  I'm entitled to my opinion about the quality of your dealings with Pink and Bruce, aren't I?

Well, I am glad to hear this.

I haven't read the Hodge stuff yet, but let's again try to get something straight, Dave.  The claim in my essay that you eisegeted your Protestant sources is neither "silly" nor "groundless."  I backed up my claims by citing portions of Pink and Bruce that you either did not cite or that you did cite but obviously ignored the implications of.  I backed my claims up, so they are neither "silly" nor "groundless".

Well, that gets to the dispute itself and can't be resolved by merely describing what happened, because we all will favor our own side, as a natural tendency of human nature. I say that if indeed I was guilty of this, then you certainly did the same with regard to Newman, the Catechism, and Vatican II, because I demonstrated with all three that you were every bit as "selective" (if not more so) as I was with Pink and Bruce. That would take us back to square one and the definition itself.

Their articles were long (I think one may have actually been an entire book, as I recall). I never intended an exhaustive treatment of either. That being the case, it is almost inevitable that one's opponent charges them with out-of-context or insufficient quoting.

And whatever you think you've found in Charles Hodge does not eliminate my criticisms of the way you treated Arthur Pink and Archibald Bruce.

Strictly speaking, no, but I am simply trying to get to the bottom of this definitional dispute. It's amazing to me that there doesn't seem to be a way to resolve this. Why do you think there is such a dispute over a mere definition? It is silly, even beyond the particulars of the argument on either side, that it can't be resolved, so we can all move on to more interesting and stimulating things.

My paper focused on them and how you treated their words, not on anything else you might have said elsewhere.

Yes, but underneath all that is the remaining dispute as to the definition. We interpret them differently based on our prior notions of what the definition of private judgment is - so they merely serve as a test case in that regard (just as my Hodge and Newman quotes do). Hodge is a highly-regarded Calvinist, too, so you can't put him in the despised "Arminian" or "Anabaptist" camps and dismiss him as an advocate of what you call "private fancy." :-)

No, but just because you might find one Calvinist saying goofy things (assuming I would think Hodge's words on private judgment were goofy--but again, I haven't yet read them) doesn't mean you are entitled to construct a grand, sweeping "Formal Authority System" that you think all the Reformed must be either tacitly or openly following.

I think most Calvinists would think it was "goofy" if you characterized Charles Hodge's teaching on a highly important manner as "goofy." That surprised me. I didn't think you would be so cavalier with him.

What I think is going on here is the same thing that Greg Krehbiel [a Catholic writer] chided you for months ago--speaking of your reliance on Newman's absurd idea that Calvinism develops into Unitarianism,

It's not absurd at all if you understand what Newman was hypothesizing (that a false principle underlying Calvinism can lead - and has led historically - to Unitarianism). I cited the expert on Puritan history Perry Miller in basic agreement (on at least the facts of history). I think it is proper to analyze the course of doctrinal evolution (or development, as the case may be).

Things (even Christian doctrinal modifications) don't happen for no reason, so if you don't like this theory, then you are welcome to at least propose an alternate one. If you have none, then it seems to me that you should be a little slower to judge the "absurdity" of a theory of ideas and doctrinal history which at least takes a stab at explaining this curious quirk of New England Christian history. Such theories are highly subjective by their nature.

Greg pointed out that there's something really weird about thinking you can sit in your armchair and do the whole intellectual development of some idea in the abstract and think it necessarily conforms to the concrete.

The whole point of Newman and my espousal of that theory is to try to explain the history and why this happened. I believe this would be a brand of "philosophy of history" - a mode of thought which is quite respectable and not at all "really weird." It goes back to St. Augustine's City of God. If I and Newman are "weird" for thinking in such terms, then we are in mighty good company (Aquinas treated development in his writings too; I just added a link to my site about that). Calvinists love Augustine as much as Catholics do - even claiming him as one of their own. That is what is "really weird" if anything here is.

I have no desire to spend my one precious week of break between terms once again exchanging 80 KB salvos in this "war".  I don't have time to discuss this issue with you, Dave.  But having read your shorter posts and seen the way you are once again painting me and my arguments in a most unfair light, I took these 10 minutes to write this.

I think that's a shame, and it's too bad we can't resolve this once and for all, or at least come to a mutually-respectful "agreement to honestly disagree." In any event, I'll be posting the latest round, because my paper was a reply to your charges. Of course, if you change your mind and continue with this, then your words will be in the new paper, too, and that will be in your interest, to "set the record straight" from your point of view. I am happy to present opposing views on my site, so that readers can make up their own minds. I hope you do enjoy your break, whether or not you answer me. My biggest "vacation" this year was four days long. I could sure use another one. The "starving writer" routine can get very stressful.

Just did a word search on my essay and the word "ignorance" does not appear in it at all, much less the "charge" that you have "woeful ignorance."  I do believe you misrepresented Pink and Bruce, but I did not say you are "ignorant".  Just a minor clarification.

Tim, Tim. Do you think one must use the exact word to say essentially the same thing? As you know, "Trinity" isn't in the Bible. That doesn't mean that the concept isn't there. Here are some things you said which might lead a reasonable person to conclude that you thought I was weighed down by some indeterminate amount of "ignorance":

1) "Over and over again Dave blurs crucial logical and historical distinctions . . . "

2) "Such simplistic analysis simply will not do."

3) "Dave defines "private judgment" in a way that cannot help but offend any thoughtful, historically-minded Christian . . . "

4) "Worse yet, Dave consistently warps the words of prominent Protestants both past and present . . . "

5) "Thus, the battle continues because Dave's misrepresentations continue."

6) ". . .  Dave is, in fact, promoting a prejudicial view and not the true one . . . "

7) "Dave seems oddly recalcitrant to admit that on Protestant principles, it is a fact that Scripture speaks for itself."

8) "Such a frank acknowledgement of the human condition is far from the perfectionistic spirit of Rome and her apologists, who would have it that simple and
unswerving submission to "the Church" (with the corresponding implicit assumptions of Churchly perspicuity and the individual Roman Catholic's use of his own judgment in understanding the Church's teachings) is a magic cure for all ills."

9) ". . . Roman apologists such as Dave Armstrong cartoonishly pervert [private judgment] . . . "

Now, I submit that if an objective third party saw such terms and descriptions being tossed about, they would agree with me that they imply a certain level of ignorance on the part of the recipient (I say - if English is English - that they imply a highly ignorant, misinformed state).

I really did mean what I said--I am not going to spend my break from school engaging Dave in another long winded dialogue (we are both long winded writers, as our various opponents can attest).  Nevertheless, because Dave posted notification of his latest paper several times over the last few days and made it out to be decisive refutation of my presentation of the Reformed teaching on private judgment (and because some of you think Dave just does a smashing job of refuting Protestants), I took a little  bit of time to write the [words] below. That's all I'm going to say on the matter for a while . . . I am truly not interested in further engaging Dave right now on the issue of private judgment.  But I didn't want it to be said that I could not or would not even take notice of his remarks and therefore he must have hit some nails on their heads.  He didn't.  But he did made some rather impressive dents in the wood around the nails.  :)

 Why do I think there is such a dispute over a mere definition?  Doesn't
 it take two to argue about something?  Seems like you also think there is a
 great dispute over a "mere definition."

 And actually, we are both right.  The way the term "private judgment" is defined
 makes all the difference in the world to the way the subject of authority in the
 Christian religion (particularly in Protestantism) is discussed.  The way you
 define "private judgment" and its relationship to what you define as
 "Protestantism" is guaranteed by the definitions themselves to create a
 certain attitude on the part of Roman apologists, and guaranteed to make all who
 claim the name "Protestant" look rather goofy and irrational whilst making Roman
 Catholics look quite rational and even purely common-sensical by contrast.

 However, it is just plain wrongheaded and unfair, and creates warped impressions
 of Protestantism that are then often shored up by pointing out the goofiness of
 modern Evangelicals, who never met a schism they didn't like.  People like you,
 who generally understand the difference between modern Evangelicalism and the
 faith which comes from the Reformation, nevertheless often fail to keep crucial
 qualifiers in mind and so all you achieve is giving the same warmed-over
 misrepresentations a veneer of respectability ("Look here, I am quoting Charles
 Hodge, who is not an Arminian goofball").  My response is justifiably, "Yeah, so
 what?", and here's why.

 If you're going to quote "non-Magisterial" Reformed sources like Pink, Bruce,
 and Hodge on a subject, at least quote them properly, such as giving the
 qualifiers they give and trying to fairly interact with those rather than simply
 taking the stuff you think fits your theory and spinning it into a grand "formal
 authority system".  The simple fact is that in your initial paper you did not
 deal with Pink and Bruce properly and fairly, but absolutely mangled  what
 they said.  Then you added insult to injury by making me out to be an oddly
 recalcitrant Calvinist who is going against my own system, which you seemingly
 understand far better than I do and can demonstrate merely by (mis)quoting some
 "non-Magisterial" Reformed sources.

 But there's the real rub with your presentations, Dave.  You start from the
 premise that individual Reformed theologians are the arbiters of what
 "private judgment" means and then go from there.  Small wonder that having begun
 with individuals you wind up concluding that the Reformed system is all about
 the individual!  Your logic is consistent, but because your premise is wrong
 your conclusion is wrong as well.

 You may not quote non-Magisterial Reformation sources (we have our "private
 theologians" too) and use them to build up a picture of what the Magisterial
 Reformation teaches on a subject.  In the final analysis I don't care if Pink,
 Bruce, and Hodge actually do teach what you say they teach because no Reformed
 Confession of Faith or catechism teaches what you say the Reformed believe about
 "private judgment".  No official, binding statement of the Reformed faith
 teaches that individuals and individuals alone may decide what constitutes sound
 doctrine and then use their own decision as the basis to hive off into separate
 groups.  There most certainly IS a "formal authority system" taught by the
 Reformed, but it is not found in the writings of "private theologians", however
 great their overall stature amongst the Reformed masses.

 So even if you could prove that Pink, Bruce, and Hodge say what you say they
 say, I will gladly and justifiably pit Calvin's teaching in Book IV of the
 Institutes against them, for it expresses the same limitations on "private
 judgment" as do the binding Confessions.  Charles Hodge's Systematic
 Theology is not binding in a Reformed Presbyterian Church, but the Westminster Confession,
 20.4 is.  Other Reformed bodies would point to such things as chapters 28, 30, and 31 of
 the Belgic Confession and chapter 28 of the Second Helvetic Confession.  The
 Anglicans might point to Article 34 of the Thirty-Nine Articles.  All of these
 documents explicitly limit the "authority" of individuals as individuals
 to decide matters of truth and speak very highly of the authority of the Church
 under the supreme voice of the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture.

 Therefore, if you maintain that the Reformed teach a "formal authority system"
 that makes each individual all by himself the supreme arbiter of Christian
 truth, you are simply and absolutely wrong.  Write gigabytes of stuff if
 you want about Reformed people who are inconsistent to the Reformed system as
 set out in the Confessions and Catechisms, but don't pretend you've done
 anything that should make a knowledgeable Reformed person have second thoughts
 about authority.

Belgic Confession (1561)

My comments will be in brackets [ ] :

Article 29: The Marks of the True Church

     We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God,

[Who is to discern? The individual? Seems like it to me]

     what is the true church-- for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of "the

[Okay, there is a true Church . . . good. Now let's see what it is, and how one finds it]

     We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the
     church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we
     are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that
     call themselves "the church."

[So far so good, though there is much biblical indication that the wheat and tares grow up together in the one true Church. I'll let that slide for the moment]

     The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the
     pure preaching of the gospel;

[What is the Gospel? What is pure preaching of it? How many errors are allowed? E.g., Luther's baptismal regeneration is anathema to the Reformed, so is his Gospel not a pure one; thus Lutherans - and many Anglicans and Methodists, etc. - are not in the true Church; therefore not Christians? What about the Reformed Baptists who don't baptize infants  -some or many of whom would even deny that baptism is a sacrament at all? If the gospel is defined as TULIP or suchlike, then this is circular reasoning (the gospel is merely what these folks say it is, on the basis of their own unproven and unsupported axioms). The Bible, which is supposedly the criteria of truthfulness here, does no such thing. It defines the gospel as the birth (incarnation), life (with all its miracles and teaching), death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, not as some technical theory of soteriology and justification. One can certainly deduce some theory of soteriology from it, but my point is that this is not what the Bible describes as "the gospel"]

     it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;

[How did Christ institute them? We have seen the differences concerning baptism above. So are Lutherans and Reformed Baptists and other sorts of Baptists out of the fold? As to the Eucharist, similarly serious differences arise. Lutherans believe in consubstantiation; so their belief here is not "pure." And of course, if we look to the early Church Fathers, they unanimously accepted the Real Presence, so that one must believe that the apostasy of the early Church on this score was well-nigh universal, and that only in the 16th century was true eucharistic belief restored, and even then not by Luther (or for that matter, Zwingli), but by Calvin. Now, what authority does he have? Certainly not apostolic authority, nor the prestige of passed-down apostolic Tradition, as his view is a novelty and an innovation. So there are a host of difficulties in almost every sentence here. They may sound great and highfalutin', but they conceal myriad historical and biblical problems and contradictions, as clearly seen in this merely brief, cursory treatment]

     it practices church discipline for correcting faults.

[Sure, then when someone disagrees, he simply goes to another sect, on the basis of his own judgment as to what the pure church is, based on the Word of God  (first sentence above). He applies the same criteria stated here to go somewhere else, because the final authority must reside in the individual, due to unresolvable difficulties and contradictions among the various sects. These appeared at the beginning of the Protestant Revolt (inevitably) and will always remain, because of this flawed principle of how one determines theological truth. If in fact there had always been one Protestant Church and one only, then these axioms might hold at least some water, but as this has never been the case, the whole edifice collapses in a heap of self-contradictions and woeful inability to consistently apply these nebulous, ethereal standards to the real world]

     In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it
     and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head.

[This all sounds fine and dandy, noble and glorious, etc., but it is not nearly this simple, because there were and are foundational differences on almost every issue where Protestantism is to be distinguished from Catholicism in the first place. Until these can be resolved, then such talk within the Protestant paradigm is a pipe-dream of the most illusory sort]

     By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be
     separated from it.

[The only self-consistent, historically-demonstrable way to establish this is by apostolic succession and an examination of history (as the Fathers taught). No Protestant sect can pass this test. But even using their own stated criteria of authenticity above, no one can figure out which sect is the true one, because the doctrinal disagreements run too deep and are too serious]

     As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks
     of Christians: namely by faith,

[What is faith? Protestants disagree on this, too. How does regeneration and election relate to personal faith? How is one assured of saving faith? Can one lose that and fall away?, etc.]

     and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and
     only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the
     right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

[This sounds great, too, but it has never occurred in an entire group. Since sin is present in all professed Christian groups, the absence of it can hardly be the "proof" of the authenticity of one sect over another]

     Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their
     lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in
     whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.

[Virtually all Christian groups would adhere to this notion, so it is of no help for our task, either]

     As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word
     of God;

[And what would the Word of God teach about that, pray tell?]

     it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ;

[What does this mean?]

     it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them
     or subtracts from them as it pleases;

[The problems in this statement were already discussed. One can either appeal to the constant Tradition throughout the ages and apostolic succession, or else choose one of a host of Protestant options, all themselves ultimately arbitrary and man-centered and unable to be supported by Church history]

     it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ;

[No Christian system is more man-centered than Protestantism, where a single man's word (Calvin, Luther, Fox et al) has the greatest authority, far greater than any pope ever dreamt of. Any local pastor has far more influence or effect on the lives of his congregation than the pope has on a Catholic, in a practical, everyday sense. That's why Protestant congregations often split in two merely because a popular pastor felt called to move on to another assembly]

     it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its
     faults, greed, and idolatry.

[We know what they are talking about, but the sin argument resolves nothing. Protestants were at least as intolerant in the 16th century as Catholics - arguably far more, especially in light of their supposed principles of tolerance and supremacy of the individual conscience]

     These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.

[Not quite. Until Protestants can answer the difficulties I raised above, and many more brought about by their utter inability to resolve their own internal squabbles, any claim to a true Church in their ranks, of whatever character, visible or invisible, institutional, creedal, confessional, or metaphysical, over against the Catholic Church, is self-defeating and unable to be taken seriously, upon close scrutiny. A bucket with 1000 holes in it cain't hold no water . . . ]

The Westminster Confession (1646)

This document faces the same insuperable difficulties. 20.4 speaks of Church authority, but the underlying premises of the nature of the Church and how one identifies it remain unsolved. The same generalized, pious, ethereal language is of little effect unless the more fundamental questions are dealt with. 20.2 states (complete citation):

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith and worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.
Now, the problem here is obvious. If God is the Lord of the conscience and no man is, then I wish whoever believes the above would explain to me how this statement would preclude a Reformed individual, based on intense, sincere, Spirit-led Bible study (with the highest principles of hermeneutics and exegesis applied) from concluding that certain Reformed tenets are merely "the doctrines and commandments of men" rather than of God  (and therefore becoming an Arminian or Wesleyan or a Catholic or a Lutheran)?

Obviously, the individual Protestant either accepts the authority of a particular Protestant denomination or uses their own private judgment to dissent from it. If the former, then it seems to me quite conceivable that the charge of "absolute and blind obedience" could be true of one of these institutions just as easily as Reformed love to apply it to Rome. Certainly both the beliefs and behavior of Luther and Calvin do not at all disabuse one from this sort of critique. They were quite autocratic and intolerant of any dissent from their opinions.

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566)

Chapter 2 - Of Interpreting the Holy Scriptures; and of Fathers,
Councils, and Traditions (complete; my comments in brackets [ ] )

The True Interpretation of Scripture. The apostle Peter has said that the Holy
Scriptures are not of private interpretation (II Peter 1:20), and thus we do not allow all
possible interpretations.

[How many do you allow then?]

Nor consequently do we acknowledge as the true or genuine interpretation of the Scriptures what is called the conception of the Roman Church, that is, what the defenders of the Roman Church plainly maintain should be thrust upon all for acceptance.

[Of course not, having enthroned private judgment of individuals and traditions of men in its place]

But we hold that interpretation of the Scripture to be orthodox and genuine
which is gleaned from the Scriptures themselves (from the nature of the language in
which they were written, likewise according to the circumstances in which they were set
down, and expounded in the light of like and unlike passages and of many and clearer
passages) and which agree with the rule of faith and love, and contributes much to the
glory of God and man's salvation.

[typical high-sounding, pious, noble language with little concrete or particular content. This assumes (quite absurdly) that Protestants are in sole possession of these hermeneutical tools, and that one "true" teaching on any topic will appear and be evident to all true followers of Christ. These are pipe dreams, children's fantasies and old wives' tales . . . ]

Interpretations of the Holy Fathers. Wherefore we do not despise the interpretations
of the holy Greek and Latin fathers, nor reject their disputations and treatises concerning
sacred matters as far as they agree with the Scriptures;

[Who decides where they agree or disagree? There are a host of doctrines where the Fathers en masse contradict Reformed Christianity]

but we modestly dissent from them when they are found to set down things differing from, or altogether contrary to, the Scriptures.

[Who decides what the Scriptures teach? A panel of venerable, grey-bearded Reformed worthies, assembled in 1566?]

Neither do we think that we do them any wrong in this matter; seeing that
they all, with one consent, will not have their writings equated with the canonical
Scriptures, but command us to prove how far they agree or disagree with them, and to
accept what is in agreement and to reject what is in disagreement.

[Yes, as judged by the apostolic Church and its authoritative Councils, and its popes, not by individuals 7,8,9,10 centuries later who count the noses of their comrades in some given sect and conclude that the majority opinion is therefore the "biblical" one]

Councils. And in the same order also we place the decrees and canons of councils.
Wherefore we do not permit ourselves, in controversies about religion or matters of
faith, to urge our case with only the opinions of the fathers or decrees of councils; much
less by received customs, or by the large number who share the same opinion, or by the
prescription of a long time. Who is the judge? Therefore, we do not admit any other
judge than God himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false,
what is to be followed, or what to be avoided.

[But of course! God will settle all the issues!!!!!!! Who could argue with that? But as we are not God, but mere men - and prophets are a relatively rare occurrence - , there must be some human Christian authority as well - binding in some sense; to some degree. One can, then, either believe that God promised to guide His Church and preserve it free from error, under a properly unified authority, with Councils and Bishops and a gift of infallibility (as Catholics believe) or that individuals ULTIMATELY decide what is or what is not true, dissenting from Councils, Tradition, the Fathers, and apostolic succession alike if needs be. These are given lip-service above and elsewhere in silmilar Protestant statements, but it is obvious that the individual retains the right to dissent from all of this ecclesiastical authority, since his conscience is supreme. It all began with Luther at Worms]

So we do assent to the judgments of spiritual men which are drawn from the Word of God. Certainly Jeremiah and other prophets vehemently condemned the assemblies of priests which were set up against the law of God; and diligently admonished us that we should not listen to the fathers, or tread in their path who, walking in their own inventions, swerved from the law of God.

[This is precisely why I became a Catholic: because Protestant innovations were merely the inventions of men. They had no pedigree in Church history, and thus, no reason to be accepted. The Catholic believes that just as the Holy Spirit can teach people today, that He could do so in the past - that Christian history of thought means something]

Traditions of Men. Likewise we reject human traditions, even if they be adorned with
high-sounding titles, as though they were divine and apostolical, delivered to the Church
by the living voice of the apostles, and, as it were, through the hands of apostolical men
to succeeding bishops which, when compared with the Scriptures, disagree with them;
and by their disagreement show that they are not apostolic at all. For as the apostles did
not contradict themselves in doctrine, so the apostolic men did not set forth things
contrary to the apostles. On the contrary, it would be wicked to assert that the apostles
by a living voice delivered anything contrary to their writings. Paul affirms expressly that
he taught the same things in all churches (1 Cor. 4:17). And, again, "For we write you
nothing but what you can read and understand." (2 Cor. 1:13). Also, in another place, he
testifies that he and his disciples--that is, apostolic men--walked in the same way, and
jointly by the same Spirit did all things (2 Cor. 12:18). Moreover, the Jews in former
times had the traditions of their elders; but these traditions were severely rejected by the
Lord, indicating that the keeping of them hinders God's law, and that God is worshipped
in vain by such traditions (Matt. 15:1ff.; Mark 7:1 ff.).

[Who determines which teachings are "traditions of men" and how?]

The Thirty-Nine Articles (1563)

This Anglican document suffers from the same deficiencies, as all these Protestant Creeds and Confessions do. Tim cited Article 34, "Of the Traditions of the Church." Indeed, it does condemn the sort of "private judgment" which "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 . . . " This seems to refer mainly to liturgical matters, which have indeed "been divers, and may be changed . . . " as the Article states. The Catholic has no great argument with this, as far as it goes. The problem is how to determine what is "repugnant to the Word of God" - which brings us back to the same old Protestant conundrum of inevitable theological and hermeneutic relativism and ecclesiological semi-anarchy.

So, e.g., Article 20, "Of the Authority of the Church," informs us that "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written . . . " Well, who would disagree with that? It resolves absolutely nothing with regard to how one discerns true from false doctrine. Is one simply to accept what the Anglicans say? Then they are open to the same charge of blind, gullible faith that Catholics routinely receive. So Protestant relativism, brought on inevitably by the so-called perspicuity (evident clearness) of Scripture "in the main" and private judgment and the absolute supremacy of individual conscience, will always come back to haunt them, in matters of ascertaining truth and discerning error, scriptural and otherwise.

The folks who wrote this creed felt themselves superior to the Fathers and the great Catholic theologians thoughout history. In Article 28, "On the Lord's Supper," they state that "Transubstantiation . . . can not be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture . . . The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner . . . "

Now, why should I or anyone else believe them rather than the Fathers, who universally accepted the Real Bodily Presence, or Substantial Presence, of Jesus in the consecrated host? Why should I believe that these guys know what is "plain" or not plain in Scripture, whilst St. Ignatius of Antioch (d.c.110) or St. Irenaeus (d.c.202) or St. Augustine (d. 430) or St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) were so ignorant and brainwashed and unspiritual (along with all the Fathers) that they couldn't figure out that the Eucharist was a spiritual undertaking only and not a matter of the elements actually becoming the literal Body and Blood of Christ?

For that matter, Luther himself believed in a form of the Real Presence (consubstantiation), which is why Calvin derisively referred to him as "half-papist." But no, Calvin and his merry band of rebels know more than all these precursors. They deliver up to us - at long last - the "truth" and the "plain and evident meaning of Scripture" which virtually no one up to that time could discern. Yeah, right . . . The absurdity and massive arrogance and tunnel vision of this state of affairs is utterly evident.

So if Tim wants to claim that these Confessions support his contentions with regard to the definition of "private judgment," I think he has merely created more (and more thorny) difficulties for himself (as outlined above). If he wants to argue over and over, ad nauseum, that various Protestant groups and Confessions urge the obedience and non-rebellion of their adherents, I readily agree, and have never disagreed. That's irrelevant to this discussion, as far as I am concerned.

But if he wants to examine and scrutinize the premises of Protestant authority and sola Scriptura more deeply, then that's where this dialogue could produce some fruit and have some constructive value. As it is, I highly doubt that Tim is able to step out of his own presuppositions. Little he has written has shown me that he is capable of that. This is common for Christians of all stripes. But it is a bit more aggravating to observe in Tim because he is so very quick to accuse Catholics of being unable to comprehend or understand Protestant and Reformed distinctives and rationales and doctrines.

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Uploaded on 23 October 2001, from public list discussions, by Dave Armstrong.