Friday, February 25, 2011

Christianity Prior to the 16th Century

Since I responded to Dominic Bnonn-Tennant's article which was basically a tag-a-long to the one below, I figured I should respond to this one as well.
A Catholic correspondent emailed me after reading my recent ‘Fallout’ article:
I am genuinely puzzled by your statement that neither the Orthodox nor Catholic Churches are Christian, but false churches … I really would like to know the answer: when were these false churches established? Who were the Christians up to the time of the Reformation?
To my mind, this question seems calculated to embarrass away my view of Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. It implies the following about my position, and its consequences:
  1. The Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches became (”were established” as) false churches at discrete and measurable points in time;
  2. These points must have been prior to the Reformation;
  3. Therefore, for some time before the Reformation, there was no genuine Christian Church;
  4. Therefore, for some time before the Reformation, there were no genuine Christians;
  5. This is untenable and should not be believed (presumably because of Jesus’s promise in Matthew 16:18).
Lemme take a crack at these.

1. The Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches became false churches at discrete, measurable points in time

I’m not a historical theologian, so frankly I can’t comment.
Dominic says he cannot comment... then does...
Perhaps there are specific points in time at which both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches accreted so much false doctrine that they ceased to be genuine Christian institutions. But who could say? Perhaps there is a discrete point in time at which the grains of sand I keep dropping on the ground become a pile. But why does it matter that I can identify that point? Once a certain amount of sand has accumulated, it’s indisputable that there is a pile. And once a certain number of false teachings about the doctrine of justification are accumulated (for example), it’s indisputable that there is no gospel any longer. A church without the biblical doctrine of justification is preaching a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9; 2:16,21; 3:1-3).
Clearly Dominic believes both Catholicism and Orthodoxy are false churches which teach a false gospel, but the person who asked this question wanted to get him to commit to when (either precisely or even approximately) these churches, in his view, could be called heretical and no longer "Christian."  Dominic leaves this question unanswered and it would seem that if he's going to put forth the assertion that he would do the research necessary to substantiate his position and not cop-out with "I'm not a historical theologian, so frankly I can't comment."  Thus the question of when Catholicism and/or Orthodoxy became "unChristian" is a very important one to the subject matter here.

2. These points of apostasy must have been prior to the Reformation

I tend to agree. I’m not very familiar with Eastern Orthodoxy, but it seems to me that both the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches had fully vacated the gospel of grace by the time of the Reformation, teaching instead a gospel of works.
Neither Catholicism nor Orthodoxy teaches a "gospel of works."  That being said, works cannot be avoided!  Faith which has no works is a "dead faith" and such a faith is incapable of saving someone (James 2).  It seems to me that many Protestants seeking to distance themselves from Catholicism (and/or Orthodoxy) too quickly read St. Paul's words and end up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  To believe there are NO works in the economy of salvation is just as anti-scriptural as a "works-salvation" theology.  Getting so focused on works that one excludes ALL works of having any merit or necessity is not a Christian approach to the Gospel.  

3. Therefore, for some time before the Reformation, there was no genuine Christian Church

This seems to presuppose a rather tendentious view of ecclesiology. I don’t grant that “the Church” is contiguous with a monolithic religious institution. The Bible doesn’t use the word that way. It mostly speaks of individual churches.
How about answering THIS question?  When Jesus promised He would build His Church, speaking quite singularly, and that His Church would be built upon "this rock," and in that same context had just given Simon Bar-Jonah the masculine form of the word "rock" in the Greek, as would be appropriate in a male's name, however Jesus likely was speaking Aramaic/Hebrew when in private with His Apostles, as that was their native tongue - AND we have testimony that the Book of Matthew was originally in the Hebrew tongue.  In the Aramaic the name given to Simon was "Kepha" or "Cephas" and we see that Aramaic form of his name used in several places throughout the New Testament - even in books which the earliest copies we have are in Greek, and these Greek texts use the Aramaic name untranslated!  (See: John 1:42; 1 Cor. 3:22 and Gal. 2:9).
I think individual churches could be genuinely Christian, even if technically under the authority of a non-Christian ecclesiastical institution. Of course, I also think it’s not particularly likely that they would be.
And Catholicism has the teaching on "Invincible Ignorance" (which is not a defined teaching and can even be denied by faithful Catholics) which does not apply to individual churches, but to individuals - period.  If one remains outside the Catholic Faith "through no fault of their own" then they MAY not be held culpable for doing so.  The ultimate decision is left to our Sovereign God.
On the other hand, if we take “the Church” to be a spiritual entity rather than a physical one, (3) is obviously false. Inasmuch as there were still Christians prior to the Reformation (see below), there was still an invisible church comprising all those believers—even if it never met together.
This concept of an "invisible church" is not scriptural.  It is wholly the rationalization of those who wish to deny the visible Church which Jesus Christ most certainly fulfilled His promise in building it.  The desire of God is that we be ONE, just as the Father and the Son are One (John 17:20-23).  To endorse the anarchy of Protestantism through this, again unscriptural, concept of "invisible church" is again nothing more than rationalizing their way around the Truth.

4. Therefore, for some time before the Reformation, there were no genuine Christians

This premise, of course, only highlights how false the Catholic gospel is. Unless I’m much mistaken, I glimpse the hidden assumption that salvation is through the sacraments, and so without a “true church” to belong to, you can’t be saved.
But of course, salvation is not through the sacraments; it’s through faith in God’s promise that your sins are dealt with by the atoning work of Christ. And that promise is something not particularly hard to come by, even in the most hopelessly lost church. You can accumulate an awful lot of useless baggage in your beliefs, but still be counted among the sheep if you’re trusting exclusively in the work of Christ for your salvation.
Well Dominic is "much mistaken."  The Sacraments are given to us, by Christ, as a MEANS of Grace - if God chooses to save someone outside those means, that's completely left to God and His sovereignty.  
Now, it goes without saying...
If "it goes without saying..." then why go on to say it?
...that most adherents to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are not trusting exclusively in the work of Christ. That would have been especially so among the laity of the middle ages and Renaissance, who had no access to the Bible, and who therefore had to simply trust what their priests told them about the means of salvation—which of course was that they had to perform certain works.
I must repeat that the Sacraments ARE the work of Christ!  He gives us the Sacraments specifically so that we might attain actual grace.  The point here, I believe, is that to be a Catholic then one must participate in the Sacraments - and that is true!  So if Jesus built His Church AND that Church includes the Sacraments which Jesus Himself established/endorsed, then these Sacraments are necessary. 
To a large extent, that situation continues. From the evidence I’ve seen, Catholicism has not improved since then (again, I know little of Eastern Orthodoxy).
Again, if the Catholic Church IS that Church which Jesus Christ built, as we believe it IS, then YES!  The Sacraments SHOULD continue!  How does one "improve" upon that which Jesus did and provided for us?
Its adherents, especially in countries like Italy, Spain and the Latin Americas, are highly indoctrinated in all manner of superstitions and practices by which they hope to be saved. In fairness, much of this is not directly from the Church. But in equal fairness it’s the natural extension of what the Church teaches; and the Church certainly does nothing to discourage or correct it. It makes my blood boil just to think on it, that Roman Catholicism is actively encouraging such rank idolatry and “Christianized” paganism, leading these poor ignorant, lost souls straight into hell.
Dominic gives us no documentation of actual examples here, only empty assertions of "idolatry and 'Christianized' paganism."  I will not try to assume to know what he means here.  If he wishes to discuss specific examples, I would be all ears/eyes to such.  
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
From my position those words are aptly applied to one like Mr. Bnonn-Tennant!
Be that as it may, I don’t think there were no genuine Christians prior to the Reformation. I have no doubt that God continued to gather his elect, even out of the grim sludge of false doctrine that would, without his grace, have drowned them.
LIkewise, I do not believe that God cannot or will not save some caught up in Protestantism.  Those, who through no fault of their own, remain outside the Catholic Church - but are serving the Lord the best way they know how MAY indeed be saved according to His sovereignty and grace as HE chooses.

The above premises are untenable and should not be believed

I actually do think it’s untenable to claim there were no Christians for some time prior to the Reformation.
Yes, it would be quite untenable to believe that Jesus waited over 1500 years to build His Church!  It is just as untenable to believe the churches which have popped up since the 16th century are, by some means of invisibility that One Church - especially when they are visibly separated. 
But I don’t think it’s untenable to believe that the number of those whom God saved during the middle ages dwindled because the gospel was largely obviated by an increasingly apostate and politically-motivated “church”.
More empty, unsubstantiated claims of apostasy.  Were there political issues going on in the Middle Ages?  No doubt, but politics does not give one grounds for leaving the One, True Church which Jesus Christ Himself built upon Kepha.
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. But the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Yes, I agree!  Compared to the whole world - Catholicism may be numbered among "the few."  Yes, Catholicism is the single largest group of Christians, but Christianity is far outnumbered by Hindu, Buddhism and Islam.  Yes, the many are called - but of those only few are chosen, Matt. 22:14 (so much for Calvinistic predestination!).  

I believe Mr. Bnonn-Tennant does not fully understand that which he is attacking and has bought into the propaganda of anti-Catholics.  I have not had much dealing with him, as yet, but I hope our exchange can and will broaden his understanding of the Catholic Faith - and of course it is my prayer that he will one day join me in this Faith.  



  1. I've read Dominic's post and IMHO it's intellectually vacous. He makes bold assertions, but he fails to back them up with any solid proof.
    He claims the Roman and EO Churches became false churches, but he doesn't say why and when this happened. This is true of all his claims, no definite date or time is ever mentioned.
    He says we vacated the gospel. Has this fellow ever read the Gospels? Has he ever read any Catholic literature? If he has, he's dumb, deaf, and blind for he shows no familiarity with what Jesus and the Church always taught. As you pointed out, we don't believe in works only salvation. We believe if you have saving faith you should have works. Because of his faith alone blinders, it's impossible for him to see that. He needs to read want Jesus said, especially in Matt 25, before he reads Paul's "hard to understand" epistles.
    I'll pray for this poor confused fellow. He needs to take off his blinders of Protestant presuppositions, and read what's actually in the text. Let's hope that he'll run into brick wall ihis Protestantism that will force him to start thinking otside the box, and swim the Tiber.

  2. Good words scotju. I have been trying to post over on Dominic's blog that my response is here, but every time I do, even from different browsers, it just hangs my browser. I don't like to just respond without letting the person I'm responding to know that I have done so (unlike some who have "responded" to me and I only find out months, if not years later because I happen to stumble across it).

    Yes, let us hope that Dominic will take an objective look at what has been said - and perhaps live up to his very Catholic name.

    In JMJ,


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