Tuesday, February 19, 2019

A Short And Sweet Refutation Of The Roman Catholic History Argument

          The Roman Catholic Church is known for making claims of possessing the fullness of God given truth, beginning with the Lord Jesus Christ bestowing the authority of the keys exclusively to the Apostle Peter. He allegedly carried that on in a chain of apostolic successors. These bishops are said to have preserved inspired oral tradition for the past 2,000 years. It is oftentimes claimed by apologists for Rome that the church fathers were unanimous in their acceptance of various distinctive Roman Catholic dogmas. Following are a number of points to keep in mind when confronted by such assertions:

           1.) Church history offers descriptions of what people have done in the past. Its purpose is not to prescribe what our beliefs ought to be. The only kind of apostolic tradition that has been reliably preserved for us is that recorded in the New Testament. Further, it is improper to view church history in a monolithic way. Historical data is subject to interpretation. Church history contains all sorts of theological developments, schisms, and reforms; it all contributes to the richness and diversity of thought within Christian tradition. 

           2.) Longevity does not prove truth. Do Buddhism and Hinduism contain more truth than Christianity just because they are older religions? The fact that an institution has been around for a long time does not make its claims more valid or truthful. It can still be questioned. Heresy is still heresy, even if it was introduced early in church history or believed by a majority of professing Christians.

           3.) Even if we unanimously agreed to accept Papal authority, that would only eliminate doctrinal conflict in a question begging, tautological sense. That would still not reveal to us whether we should be in communion with Rome (i.e. whether we are right or wrong in our decision making). A case for Roman Catholicism would still need to be made.

            4.) Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches make identical claims of having been established directly by Jesus Christ, but maintain contradictory teachings. They dispute each other's claims to authority. In fact, not a single known patristic author can be cited as agreeing with every uniquely Roman Catholic dogma.

            5.) The church fathers sometimes contradicted each other, and even themselves. Therefore, we have reason to not put them on par with the authority of divine Scripture. These men, no matter how godly or theologically gifted, were not inspired by God. Sometimes church fathers made factual errors. Irenaeus, for example, taught that Jesus Christ lived to be more than fifty years of age, even though gospel tradition indicates otherwise (John 8:57). Another weakness of patristic analysis of biblical passages was their pagan background (i.e. converts to Christianity) and a lack of familiarity with the Jewish context of the New Testament.

           6.) Divine revelation exists independently of the writings of church fathers. They are not to be treated as a smokescreen to bypass exegetical questions. We do not have to accept everything that patristic authors taught without reservation. There is also the issue of who specifically gets to determine which early writers were actually church fathers? Whose writings are more authoritative than others on what topics? Who gets to decide what "tradition" is?

           7.) Heresy was present among the people of God even during the first century (Acts 20:28-32; 1 John 4:1-4). Even people taught directly by the apostles sometimes abandoned the faith (2 Timothy 4:14). So the argument that we should trust the church fathers because they lived closer to the time of Christ is a false one. Scripture is the only safe and reliable guide existing for the development of doctrine.

           8.) We do not have every document written by each church father on every subject. Neither were we present in the early church to take surveys of what everybody believed. Our knowledge of this period is fragmantary. This point alone demonstrates the Roman Catholic claim of unanimous consensus in early church history to be vacuous.

            9.) Being deep in history can also reinforce Protestant beliefs. Protestantism itself arose from a historical context where the Reformers sought to address what they perceived to be deviations from the teachings of Jesus and the early Church. They emphasized direct access to the Scriptures, the priesthood of all believers, and justification by faith alone.

1 comment:

Russell said...

Well said, Jesse!