Auctoritas Ecclesiae

Here follows part two of my 5 reasons I’m not in Rome or Byzantium posts, which began way back in August.

I am not Romish or Greek because my view of Church Authority is too high.

This connects to my previous post on the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. When you start confessing the existence of such a Church you immediately have a problem. If the church is a physical, organizational reality, if there really is a Holy Catholic Church, which one is it? In my last post I asserted that there were many denominations and groups that are part of the Church. But who is to say, and how are we to judge who is in and who is out? This is, in essence, to say that we have a problem with the Visible Church in the post-Reformation world.

The first thing that must be said is that the church is not to be judged by individual believers. Every believer doesn’t get to decide for himself who is and isn’t the Church. The key to this dilemma is submission to Church authority. The Church judges the Church.

Many people who go to Rome or Byzantium want to invoke Church authority. They believe too strongly in Church authority to remain in a Protestant church. But how did they come to this view? They have heard the arguments from the other side, have weighed them, and have made their own decision contrary to what their pastors would counsel them to do. In other words, they value their private judgments over the judgments of the men whom God, in His providence, has placed over them. It’s like a woman who divorces her diligent, but perhaps a bit bland, husband so she can marry the new guy she just met with the brawny shoulders and square jaw. “I just think a woman ought to respect her husband,” she says. “So I went and found a husband I could really respect.” This doesn’t make her a more faithful Christian. Obviously, she should have respected the husband she had rather than the one she fancifully wished she had. The same can be said of those who leave their churches for Rome. They should have obeyed the authority they had, not the authority they wished they had.

The objection to this way of thinking is “What about cults?” and “What if the church you go to is in error?” The answer is that when the Church begins to obviously and egregiously distort Scripture and teach false doctrine, individual Christians may and must speak out against such abuses.

To see how this works, let me offer the analogy of patriotism. I am bound patriotically to support the United States of America, uphold her laws, and support her continued welfare because this is where I was born. But if our government is involved in a wicked enterprise or is overstepping its bounds, then it is my duty as a faithful son of America to speak out against such wickedness. If I become an expatriate in the process it will be because I love America, not because I hate her. And this is true of any form of government anywhere. To paraphrase Chesterton, I wouldn’t say “my country right or wrong” any more than I would say “my mother, drunk or sober.”

This is the essence of what happened in the Reformation. Mother got drunk and wrecked Father’s car. The son said, “Mom, you’ve had too much to drink. Let’s get you to bed and tomorrow we’ll fix the car.” Whereupon, Mother pulled out a shotgun and began shooting. The only thing for the son to do was to leave home. Thus the next generation owed its primary obedience not to drunk grandma, but to their own Mothers (Which were all manifestations of the One Holy Catholic Church.) Thus we should earnestly desire reconciliation with our cousins across the river. But we cannot allow our ancestors to be condemned as schismatics for fleeing a bloody and Saturnalian mother.

Finally I wish to answer one last objection often made against Protestantism in this area, and so tie together these first two posts in my series. Often it is said that if Protestants believe in the Holy Catholic Church of the creed, they must be only be thinking of a vague, spiritual collection of all believers everywhere. They believe in an Invisible Church, not a Visible Church. However, there is no compelling reason to say that we who devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer must somehow deny the physical/organizational reality of the Church. The Church is sundered because of sin, but certainly not invisible for all that. I don’t go to an invisible building to hear an invisible pastor and receive an invisible Eucharist. We are a covenantal community of flesh and blood, established by and partaking of His flesh and blood Who gave Himself to be the propitiation of our sins and the sins of the world. And thus I must be faithful to the Church authority over me, which means embracing the Biblical truth that I am taught and rejecting errors that I am warned against.

Comments

Xindaeltal said…
Many people who go to Rome or Byzantium want to invoke Church authority. They believe too strongly in Church authority to remain in a Protestant church. But how did they come to this view? They have heard the arguments from the other side, have weighed them, and have made their own decision contrary to what their pastors would counsel them to do. In other words, they value their private judgments over the judgments of the men whom God, in His providence, has placed over them."

God has placed the Holy Tradition of the Church over all of Christendom, the Protestant Church broke away from that Tradition and reinvented their own because Rome was in violation of Holy Tradition. The modern pastors are the heirs of The Reformation. These are men who still rail against Holy Tradition. The person who leaves Protestantism, for Catholicism or Orthodoxy is not valuing his private judgments over and against those whom God has placed over them, he is valuing the judgement of the Church Fathers over the judgment of lesser authorities who are at best misguided.

It’s like a woman who divorces her diligent, but perhaps a bit bland, husband so she can marry the new guy she just met with the brawny shoulders and square jaw. “I just think a woman ought to respect her husband,” she says. “So I went and found a husband I could really respect.” This doesn’t make her a more faithful Christian. Obviously, she should have respected the husband she had rather than the one she fancifully wished she had. The same can be said of those who leave their churches for Rome. They should have obeyed the authority they had, not the authority they wished they had.

This analogy reeks of ad homenim. You leave at door of these converts the charge that they are unfaithful, rebellious or schimatic, when really they are actually trying to be faithful, obedient and conducive to unity. Further a woman who does this does this out of her fallenness, not out of a desire to be faithful, the people who leave Protestantism do this out of a desire to be faithful and not out of their fallenness.

I realize I'm a bit late in leaving this comment, I'm not quick witted and it takes me a while to think about these things, but you have my answer.
Jnorm888 said…
How did the signers of the creed of 381A.D. understand the word "Church", "Catholic", and "Apostolic".


This is what you should ask yourself






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