Archive for the ‘Church Government’ Category

I was rappin’ with one particular Roman Catholic feller a few months ago. He was gloating that his church was catholic (universal), and thus was called Catholic. He said his church was in every country and every city around the world. Then he asked how “catholic” my church was. He asked how extensive it was. There are a few things that come to my mind as I recall that conversation.

First, for a Roman Catholic, he was being very, VERY generous in calling my church (the Bible Presbyterian Church) a church. It’s quite evident that he wasn’t particularly well acquainted with his own tradition’s terminology at this point. The Roman Catholic church has never admitted that Protestant churches are churches. In fact, those who hold classical Protestant positions (e.g., justification by faith alone) are called accursed of God (anathema). The most favorable terminology used of Protestants was by the 2nd Vatican Council, wherein we were called “separated brethren.” So, individually, we might be separated brethren, but our churches are NOT churches, for there is only one Church, the one headed on earth by the Bishop of Rome. That is the catholicity of the Roman Catholic church. Doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see that the universality of the Roman communion is quite limited (and, therefore, not catholic). That truth is quite evident in the most common name of the communion: the Roman Catholic church – a name more oxymoronic than “turbo diesel.”

The fundamental reality, here, is that the name “Catholic” doesn’t make the Roman Catholic church catholic. The Orthodox church is no more orthodox (at all points) than the Roman Catholic church is catholic. Neither are the Protestant churches unceasingly protesting.

The point is that the unity of the church is to be sought in her risen and reigning Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. “And he [the Father] put all things under his [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-3). Again, “the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church, and he is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). There is ONE head to the ONE body. That head is simply not on earth; he is in heaven, reigning at the right hand of his Father. The unity of the body is found in her spiritual relation to her head (and in him, to each other), not in some organizational affiliation or other. Thus, there are many churches (even as the body has many members), but one Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. That Church is catholic and orthodox (in her Head), and has, at opportune times, protested.

I, therefore, consider myself a Protestant who is both catholic and orthodox.

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With a view to make us more familiar with our people, this is a glance at the second century. These stories are your stories.


Ignatius of Antioch


I. Roman persecution in the second century – sporadic and mostly provincial. Christianity still an illegal religion (religio illicita) according to Rome. Pliny the Younger (the governor of Bithynia) and Emperor Trajan famously corresponded regarding the growing problem of Christianity ca. AD 111-113. Pliny wrote that both torture and capital punishment were applied to Christians, but that if they would “curse Christ,” that would prove their loyalty to the Emperor. Trajan replied that Christians should be examined, but not sought out. If someone were accused of being a Christian, they should be brought before the court and, if the accusation proved to be true, executed. Such was the policy of Rome.

II. The Apostolic Fathers (ca. 100-150) are certainly worth knowing. All these men reported to have had personal contact with apostles. They were not Apostles, but were the first generation after them. Their writings were informal, simple statements of Christian piety, but not theological or philosophical. There is a marked and evident change from the authoritative, theological, ethical writings of the Apostles to the simple, informal writings of the Apostolic Fathers. Here are some of their names and dates:  Clement of Rome, (d. ca. 100); Papias (ca. 60-140); Ignatius (d. 110); Polycarp (ca. 70-156). You had better know these on test day. Their writings have been categorized into three groups: 1) Epistles – e.g., I Clement & the Letters of Ignatius; 2) Apocalyptical – Shepherd of Hermas & writings of Papias (clearly premillennial); and 3) Catechetical – Didache­ (the “Teaching” of the Twelve). The writings of the Apostolic Fathers are quite accessible in the first volume of the Ante-Nicene Fathers Set (don’t buy just those 10 volumes, buy the whole 38-vol set used somewhere. Or, just read it all online for free.

III. The development of the Bishop as a distinct office from that of the Elder – in NT, “bishop” and “elder” are synonymous. I have made a case for that over here. The Bishopric or Episcopate (the rule of the Bishop) developed in two ways: 1) over the elders of a single congregation, and 2) over a regional group of churches, like in a large city. The Episcopate developed late in first century – probably based on organizational needs, partially due to persecution. The Roman Catholic church CANNOT show that the Episcopate is extant in the NT. Their entire hierarchical system began to develop after the NT.

IV. The growth of heresies – The heresies of the early church had some roots in first century, an incubation period in second, and a loathsome flowering in the third and fourth. A couple worth knowing:

-Gnosticism – Salvation is imparted via a special knowledge (gnosis – hence, the name); physical/matter is essentially evil (thus, denial of the Incarnation called Docetism); and other goofy things, too, like Demiurges.

-Montanism (after Montanus [fl. ca. 150]) – opposed worldliness; acetic and ecstatic tendencies; opposed by the catholic church; the most famous proponent of Montanism was Tertullian (160-220).


St. Irenaeus of Lyons


V. The Apologists – These Christian scholars combated external opposition to Christianity. First, against the Jews. Their defense was formidable, as they appealed to the same authoritative text as the Jews, the Old Testament. They argued for much continuity from the OT to the NT (especially moral continuity). They argued that the OT points to the NT, specifically that the OT predicts the suffering of Messiah. Against the accusation that the divinity of Jesus contradicts the unity of God and is blasphemous, they argued that the OT speaks of God in the plural and that theophanies are sometimes in three, and that the Messianic Psalms ascribe divinity to Messiah. The Apologists also wrote against Paganism (or the ancient but waning religions practices throughout the Roman Empire) and defended Christianity against charges of novelty, claiming that Moses and much of the OT were older than most of Paganism. Finally, they attacked Paganism, accusing it of being unworthy, contradictory, and absurd. There’s a good deal more to be said about these fellers, but this post is getting too long. See you next century.

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I’m pleased to pass along a short article on the early church at Rome from John Bugay at Beggars All. Pastor Lane Keister mentioned this over at Green Baggins, which I appreciate. Thanks, Pastor. Here’s Bugay’s summary statement:

I believe that every Christian who cares about the historical nature of his faith ought to be extremely grateful for the detailed picture of early Christian worship in the city of Rome, through a network of house churches, [secretive to evade persecution], without the leadership of single leader or publicly known bishop, naming only Christ as their Shepherd.

Give ‘er a read. It will help you see that the Roman Catholic claims of an early bishopric of Peter are suspect at very best. Bugay also comments that the early churches in Rome were patterned closely on the inherited synagogue model, which is something akin to what I’ve argued as well. Go and check it out… good stuff.

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Friends, loved ones, bitter enemies:

Below is my summary statement of the discussion I’ve been having with Tim Troutman, a Roman Catholic over at Called to Communion, an apologetic site for Roman Catholicism against the Reformation. In addition to seeing how he handles Scripture in his article (part III specifically), I invite you to read through the comments. I think you’ll find them interesting. I hope to move the discussion along to part IV of his article next week… we’ll see. In any event, here’s my summary:

I’ll be brief and keep it to the main point. Discussions like this tend to go 20 different directions and get caught up in a bunch of sub-points. Basically, I want to summarize what’s gone on so far in our interactions.

You affirm that the monepiscopacy is of apostolic origin, but you cannot prove it. You can show that the basic notions of your system are there early in church history, but you cannot show that from the writings of the apostles themselves, that is, from the NT. (This, incidentally, is quite strange. Since so much hangs on this point, don’t you think the NT would be crystal clear on such a key point of polity?) In other words, you’ve shown no *necessary* connection, but only a historical connect to them. Further, you cannot even show from the NT that the bishop is a distinct office from the elder, let alone showing that it’s a higher office. You can appeal to church history and find support for your suppositions there, but you cannot draw your conclusions from the preserved (unchanged) teachings of the apostles – the teachings they committed to writing, that is, the inspired Word of God.

Rather than show your doctrine is from the apostolic writings of the NT, you have tried to show that the NT is not at odds with (or, using your terminology, does not contradict) the RC doctrine of monepiscopacy. I have offered counter evidence from the NT. I’ve attempted to show that, since “bishop” and “elder” refer to the same office, the distinction and elevation of the “bishop” in your system is actually at odds with the NT. To defend against my counter-arguments, you’ve consistently appealed to the lack of technicalization in the NT, and thus blurred the NT language to the point where NT language could not possibly contradiction to the RC doctrine.

So much for my view of the summary. I am excited to read the part of your article on ordination and especially the sacrificial priesthood. So far (even if the feeling’s not entirely shared, Tim), I’ve appreciated our interactions, and I’ve learned a great deal. I’ll cross signals with you next week. Happy Independence Day to you and all the Americans here at CtC. Non-Americans are welcome to have a happy Independence Day, too… I don’t want to limit that. 🙂

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Response to Holy Orders – Part 3B: A Consideration of the NT Data

This is a continuation of the third part of my review of Tim Troutman’s article on Holy Orders over at Called to Communion.

To my readers: I know this interchange can be a bit tedious (and I freely admit that this post is too long, especially for a blog), but I think it is worth your time. If nothing else, this article in particular will make manifest the way a very serious Roman Catholic handles Scripture. Tim is a serious man and his writings should be respected. Further, he’s published “Holy Orders” in part as a proselytizing apologetic against Reformed theology and those who hold to it. The reason I’ve engaged him is not that I’m any kind of specialist, but because I am very interested in knowing how a serious Roman Catholic thinker challenges Reformed thought and also how the same thinker reads Scripture. This post, after some brief introductory thoughts,  will examine the NT texts that Tim brings up and will also make a case that “bishop” and “elder” refer to the same office in the NT.

First, I sincerely hope my reader will go and read Tim’s article, specifically Part III. As I mentioned in my last post, I think that my reader will learn a great deal simply by seeing for himself how Tim handles the text of Scripture. His reader will soon find that Tim’s authority really is not the sacred Word. In fact, Tim spends most of his energy explaining away the text to make room for later developments. I have no doubt that he will object to this comment, but the truth of it seems quite evident to me. Let our readers judge. Specifically, Tim makes use of two defensive tactics in his handling of the text of Scripture. 1) He posits verbal confusion in the NT, and 2) he generates historical confusion.  First, the verbal confusion: Tim says no less than five times (in as many paragraphs) that the terminology is “not technically specific,” “as yet non-technical,” and “in an early stage of development.” While just about everyone grants that a more technical usage of NT words developed in the early church, it does not follow that the NT terminology is not clear, meaningful and, itself, technical. We’ll flesh this out more as we deal with the text, but do note this particular defensive tactic. Second, historical confusion: Tim offers a good deal of historical conjecture in his article. We read numerous phrases such as “we would expect,” “it would be natural to expect,” “it is entirely possible,” and “there could have been” throughout the whole of the portion wherein he examines the NT data. These same conjectures are conspicuously missing from the part where he examines the development of the early church. Historical conjecture is often of interest and thought-provoking, but it is inappropriate if used as a basis on which to interpret the text of the Bible. Again, more on this below. As a final introductory comment, Tim brings up only four texts of the NT. This is quite astounding to me. I understand that his purpose is merely to show that the episcopacy of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is not at odds with the NT, but I wonder who his intended audience is. Called to Communion is clearly a site where erstwhile Reformed folk attempt to show the deficiencies of Reformed theology and, by contrast, show how the RCC fills the bill. Reformed people are bound to the Scripture – the Holy Spirit speaking in it is our final authority. If Tim wants to hit his mark of demonstrating that the RCC really does hold to the true apostolic tradition, and thus convince cheerful Reformed folks like me that Reformed Protestantism has missed the mark, then he needs to spend far more time and energy in the Scripture.

Bishop's Mitre

The first text Tim addresses is Acts 1:20. Tim says, “The Episcopal ministry, or “bishoprick” as the King James Version translates it, of the Apostles is explicitly stated in Acts 1:20 concerning the replacement of Judas Iscariot.” Most modern translations use the term “office” in this verse, but it is literally “overseeing,” or even “episcopal ministry” as Tim has it. This particular term (Gk.: episcope) is used of the office of the bishop only in 1 Tim. 3 and possibly here. (See the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology [NIDNTT], 1:190-191.) I think that Tim brings this text up in an attempt to show that the Apostles were “bishops” and, further, that they had the authority to appoint bishops (in the Episcopal/prelatic sense of that word). We happily admit that the Apostles were bishops, but we hold that “bishop” and “elder” are interchangeable and refer to the same single office in the NT. We shall substantiate that second claim below, but for now we agree that the Twelve were overseers of the flock. I would like to draw attention to the fact that there’s a great deal inimical to Roman Catholic, top-down prelacy in Acts 1, something I’ve already commented on here.

The second text is 1 Peter 5:1 – Tim’s comments:

Peter refers to himself as a “fellow elder” in 1 Peter 5:1. But this apparent interchangeability should not be understood as a denial of any possible distinction within the clergy. This passage is not problematic for the monepiscopal system because the language was not technically specific during that early stage of development. Furthermore, like bishops, whatever elders have is received from the Apostles; thus an Apostle is clearly eligible to be called an elder.

Neither the NT nor Reformed Protestants, so far as I’m aware, say that “elder” and “apostle” are interchangeable. We assert that “elder” and “bishop” are interchangeable, because that’s exactly the way that the NT uses those terms. Reformed exegetes have no issue making a clear distinction between the apostolic college and the office of elder. More positively, however, Peter certainly occupied an exalted position as an Apostle and it was with much humility that he conjoined himself with the elders of the church. This does not just show the humble nature of the apostle, but is also shows the exalted nature of the elders of the church of Christ. The elders are such that the apostles number themselves to be among them, to be co-elders. “It is true that the apostle is here setting himself alongside the presbyters with emphatic modesty. It is also true, however, that he is setting them alongside himself” (TDNT: 6:666).

I’d like to take a moment to explore something of a positive tangent based upon Peter’s linking himself with the elders. What is very clear from the NT is that the Apostles linked themselves to the body of elders (1 Pet 5:1; Acts 15; 2 John 1; 3 John 1). The idea is that the Apostolate was a temporary office in the NT. Paul refers to the Apostles and Prophets (both NT giftings/offices) as being foundational to the broader work of the church building (Eph 2:20), which was to be carried on by the permanent officers of the church. The pastor/teacher function (Eph 4:11) refers to the elder/bishop (Acts 20:28 – pastors; 1 Tim 3:1-2; Titus 1:9 – able to teach). Further, Paul was quite eager to get the churches in order, under the rule of elders/bishops before he died, which is evident from the Pastoral epistles. This is the clear movement of rule in the NT, from the Apostles (a temporary office) to elders (a permanent office). I think we will end up getting to this down the road, but we don’t see the Apostles setting up prelatic bishopricks, but presbyteries (pluralities of elders in every town/church). We see the Apostles linking themselves with the local elders, not to a level of officers above the elders that rule them. We see the apostles elevating the elders, not putting them beneath their successors, the Bishops.

Tim moves on to Phil 1:1, his third text and the one on which he spends the great bulk of his time. The text reads, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ – To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons…”  Overseers is a translation of the Greek episcopoi, which is also translated “bishops.” In this and the texts below, most modern English translations use the term “overseer,” not bishop, but there is no biblical reason to jettison the term bishop. The face-value reading of this text would indicate that the churches (likely more than one) in Philippi have two leadership offices: bishops and deacons. Now, this text poses quite a problem for Tim’s monepiscopacy, which holds that there is only one bishop per city. If Tim would just affirm that the monepiscopacy was a later development, there would be no argument. Rather, he holds that the monepiscopacy is of apostolic origin. Phil 1:1 is a problem text for this position, to which Tim responds in two ways. First, he reminds his reader that the NT terminology is “in a stage of early development” and then posits that “bishops” probably means “presbytery” or “elders,” but not bishop in the technical sense (the prelatic sense, in which bishops are distinct from and rule over the elders). Second, he argues that even if “bishops” meant what the term came mean (that is, prelatic bishops), that “there could have been some towns” that were under a mobile bishop for a short period of time.

The Agora of Miletus

Before addressing Tim’s arguments specifically, I first want to show that it is evident that the terms “bishop” and “elder” in the NT refer to the same office. In Acts 20:17-18, Paul summons the “elders” of the Ephesian church to him at Miletus and mentions to them to care for the flock over whom the Holy Spirit has made them bishops (vs. 28) and to feed them. Incidentally, Peter admonishes the same thing of the elder/overseers/shepherd in 1 Peter 5:1. In Titus 1:5-9, Paul says,

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—  if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Paul says there should be elders in every town (which was also Paul’s practice – Acts 14:23), and then moves on to describe the qualifications of an elder, which he calls a bishop in vs. 7. The list of qualifications for the elder/bishop here in Titus 1 is reproduced by Paul over in 1 Timothy 3. In Timothy, Paul simply lists the qualifications for bishops and then deacons. It is quite evident from these passages that the terms elder and bishop are interchangeable and refer to the same office, which office is often coupled with the office of deacon. Tim’s assertion that Paul has a distinction between elders and bishops is not only unusual but also lacks scholarly credibility: “It is thus natural to suppose that the offices [of elder and bishop -TP] are one and the same in the Pastorals. Only thus can one explain the fact that just after Titus is told to appoint elders (1:5) the portrait of a bishop is given (vv. 7 ff.)” (TDNT 6:667). The NT sees no distinction of office between “elder” and “bishop.” That the early church made a distinction between those words and developed the office of the bishop is without question. But that was not of apostolic origin. Thus, the case that the monepiscopacy is of apostolic origins lacks NT basis and, what’s more, is clearly incongruent with the text of the apostolic writings, the infallible word of God.

Now, what Tim sees as undeveloped and non-technical language, I see as language that is clear, technical, and binding on the church. (Incidentally, the term “elder” is technical enough in the NT to have the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [something of a gold standard for word studies in the NT, even though it is, in the main, lamentably liberal] call it a technical term [see TDNT, 6:666]. So, even Tim’s supposition that the NT language is undeveloped and non-technical is highly suspect.) The binding and clear language of the NT need not be simply mimicked or parroted by the church. (Verbal correspondence is not important.) Fidelity, however, to the substance and intended meaning of the Word of God should be of the utmost importance to the church. Since the NT does not make another office of the bishop (above that of the elder) and the early church did, we judge that the early church was unfaithful to the Word of God. Instead of admitting this, Tim would rather assert that the Bible is unclear, or simply non-technical.

Tim’s second argument makes use of the second tactic mentioned above, which is to assert that there might have been roving prelatic bishops for a time, and that Paul would thus have been addressing them. Assuming for the sake of argument that the NT did distinguish bishops from elders, small towns certainly would not have had a bishop. The problem is that Philippi was not one of those small towns. Paul addressed the “bishops and deacons” of the church of Philippi. Tim’s hypothesis of the mobile bishop both fails to deal with the issue of multiple bishops in Philippi and is mere historical conjecture. As regards Phil 1:1, the text itself stands as clear evidence that elders and bishops were the same office in the NT.

Tim’s final text is Titus 1, which I have already addressed. His comments are:

St. Paul speaks to St. Titus, clearly a bishop, and instructs him to appoint elders in every town. Verses 6 and 7 show that there is already some distinction between the terms ‘elder’ and ‘overseer,’ because St. Paul lists them both. If they were identical in St. Paul’s mind, then the reference in verse 7 would be redundant. This passage also shows that, as the Church has always believed, the fundamental distinction in power between a presbyter and bishop is that only the latter could ordain.

Tim’s analysis of this text is quite unusual and, I think, clearly incorrect. Paul’s supposed “redundancy” is no more than in Acts 20, when Luke says that Paul called the elders together and then tells them that the Holy Spirit had made them “bishops.” Was Paul addressing two different groups in Acts 20? In any event, in this text, there simply is no redundancy. Paul says that he left Titus in Crete, in part, to appoint a session or presbytery (elders) in every town.  Then he goes on to detail the qualifications, not of the local session as a body, but of individual bishops that constitute it. So, there is a narrowing of focus from the presbyteriate to the presbyter/overseer, not shift from one office to another. Further substantiation of this interpretation is that vs. 7 further explains vs. 6. Vs. 6 says, “If anyone is above reproach…” and vs. 7 picks that up with an explanation: “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.” Tim’s reading of Titus 1 is manifestly unnatural and highly unusual.

This exhausts Tim’s exegetical work. Evidently, he thinks that he’s established a firm basis that the episcopal hierarchy of the early church is in harmony with the text of Scripture. I assert that he’s failed to establish this, as he has not adequately reckoned with the NT terminology, which is inimical to the rule of bishops. What’s more important for our readers, again, is to understand Tim’s agenda as he comes to the text of holy Scripture. Do you think he approaches God’s inerrant, infallible Word to understand it and have it guide him? Do you think that he seeks the mind of God in the text of Scripture? Will God’s Word rule Tim and the church, or will the church rule the Word of God?

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Jewish Background to the Polity of the Christian Church

This is the first section of my review of the third part of Tim Troutman’s article on Holy Orders over at Called to Communion. I would encourage my readers to read Tim’s article, especially this third part. It will be more enlightening to see how he handles the intertestamental history and especially the NT data (which, D.V., I’ll review within the next week in a separate article) than it will be to read me talking about how he does it. Please go read him, then come back and read this. That said, this post will be a clear (if cursory) look at the Jewish background to the polity (government) of the NT church. (more…)

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This is a continuation of my response to Mr. Tim A. Troutman’s article on Holy Orders over at Called to Communion, as Catholic site which dialogues with cheerful Reformed folks like me. We try to convert each other. We’re largely unsuccessful, but God’s gracious and I think there’s a good deal everyone can learn from these discussion. This part of my response will cover the second part of Tim’s article: “There is a Distinction between the Clergy and the Laity.”

I’d like to start with a note of commendation to Tim Troutman (I’m review his article on Holy Orders). First, he affirms that both clergy and laity are essential to the church. I’ll give Tim the coveted “Hubba! Hubba!” on this one. He’s right on. Second, he rightly sees egalitarianism as poison. While every rose has it’s thorn, egalitarianism is one big thorn with no rose at all. I don’t think he’s rightly applied modern egalitarian notions to Luther and the Reformation, but he’s dead on when (quoting Augustine) he says, “order is ‘the distribution which allots things equal and unequal, each to its own place.’” Equality need not extend into all areas. People are ontologically equal, but that doesn’t mean they’re all equally skilled, empowered of God, or have the same purposes. In any event, these are just some of the things that I appreciated in this part of Tim’s article.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Onto a point of clarification: Historic Protestant (certainly Reformed) polity is not egalitarian, nor does it place no “real distinction” between officers and saints. (I think this “real distinction” along with [or maybe including] “supernatural authorization” and “supernatural equipping” constitutes what Tim calls “hierarchy,” a term which Tim employs with regularity, but without much in the way of definition.) In any event, we joyfully affirm that the Bible teaches that church officers are really distinct from the people they serve, and that the men filling the divinely-sanctioned offices do so only by supernatural authorization and are equipped to fill those offices by God. I’ll be very brief here, but it’s worth running through this, as it seems a good deal of Tim’s critiques are unfounded, at least when applied to the Reformed / Presbyterian conception of church government.

The offices and gifting are specifically given to the church by Christ (Eph 4:11), which is a singular distinction. Further, the NT phase of the church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets (Eph 2:20). Even the Apostles were set apart for their work (Acts 13:2), which is another clear distinction. Elders, in particular, are distinguished from the laity by honor and function (1 Tim 5:17), and part of the function is ruling over (as servants) the saints with real authority (Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:3) and keeping watch over the flock to protect them from distortions of God’s truth and from schism (Acts 20:28-29). Well, so much for the notion that Protestants are egalitarian and have no distinction between office bearers and laity.

The remained of this post will be comments on Tim’s handling of Holy Scripture. His stated purpose, as it comes to the text of God’s Word, is simply to “demonstrate that the concept of Holy Orders is consistent with the biblical evidence.”  Passing by Tim’s lack of definition of the phrase “Holy Orders,” and consequential lack of clarity as to the consistency of it with the biblical evidence, the statement itself is telling. Tim spends some time on the text of Scripture, but it appears that his interests really lay elsewhere. Mere consistency is his aim. Discovering and obeying what God’s Word teaches and requires regarding the government of Christ’s church is not Tim’s aim. This will become apparent below, but even more so as we (in the next post) examine the third part of his article.

St. James the Just

After arguing that the Apostles were given actual authority in the church (a thing with which we agree), Tim goes on to say that “the New Testament data culminates with the Jerusalem Council where the Apostles convened to make a binding decision on the entire universal Church.” Now, Tim is correct to point us to Acts 15, but upon inspection we see that Tim offers a distorted reading of the text. First, Tim says that “the Apostles convened to make a binding decision….” The text, however, says, “The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter [of Mosaic Law and the Gentile converts]” (vs. 6). Again, the letter generated by the Council was address from “the brothers, both the apostles and the elders” (vs. 23). Further, it was decided not just by the Apostles and the Elders, but also by “the whole church” that is was good “to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.” Finally, taking the chapter as a whole, we see that Paul and Barnabas were appointed (vs. 2) and sent (vs. 3) by the gathered (14:27) church of Antioch to Jerusalem to meet and consider this matter (vs. 6). Later, the whole church (vs. 22) at Jerusalem send Paul and Barnabas and others back to Antioch, from which the others were sent in peace back to Jerusalem (vs. 33). All this is a far cry from “the Apostles convening together to make a binding decision on the entire universal Church.” What’s more, we find much inimical to Tim’s supposition in this text, including support for congregational and presbyterial authority.

Tim moves on to consider the Apostles’ authority to delegate their authority. Positively, we affirm that the Apostles possessed the divine command and attendant authority to appoint elders and even to create an office to fill a need (Acts 6:1-6). Our affirmation is quite different from the proposal of Tim: “That the Apostles believed themselves to possess the power to delegate their authority by establishing Church leaders is shown by the replacement of Judas.” First, notice that the text of Acts 1:12-26 that there is no indication whatever of the Apostles “delegating their authority.” What we see in the texts of God’s Word is quite different from what Tim supposes to be there. There are three things in particular stand out in the text that are troublesome, if not detrimental to Episcopal-style church government. First, the Holy Spirit speaking in the text of Scripture (vs. 20) led the Apostles to fill the empty apostolic position. The Apostles were not acting on their own authority, nor were they delegating their authority. In obedience to Scripture, they were filling the place of the Apostle who fell. Second, the whole assembly of one hundred twenty disciples of Christ (whom Peter was addressing – vv. 15-16) put forward or nominated the two men, Justus and Matthias (vs. 23), prayed for them and cast lots to determine which one would be included among the eleven Apostles (vs. 26). Even with the Apostles still operating, they did not simply impose their will upon the people, but included them in the decision-making/nominating process. This combination of top-down and bottom-up authority is a hallmark, not of Prelacy, (nor of Congregationalism) but of Presbyterianism. Finally, even after the “brothers” put forward the two candidates, the Apostles did not simply appoint one of them. Rather, they seem to have led the whole body in prayer and the casting of lots to determine which one God had chosen. Acts 1 does not demonstrate what Tim wants it to, but in fact presents a few serious problems for the rule-by-Bishop system of authority that developed after the times of the New Testament.

Finally, Tim offers this conclusion of the passages he surveyed (he drew from more passages than I responded to above): “These passages show that the Apostles believed themselves to possess authority in the church and the power to confer that same authority upon others.” We have no problem, as mentioned above, with the Apostles being possessed of real ecclesiastical authority, but we do have a problem with Tim’s final assertion. Not only has Tim not proved that the Apostles had the power to confer their same authority upon others, but it would appear he didn’t even try to prove it. When it comes to handling the biblical data, Tim’s article (thus far) is full of “proof texts,” but does not interact with the text or even really seek to understand it. It appears that he’s far more eager to move onto what the church has to say. I suspect that a great deal of our disagreement really stems from this: my authority is the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture and Tim’s is something different. I will not presume to speak for him, to specify his authority, but I think he’d agree that our concepts of authority differ. Because our authorities differ, our doctrine differs.

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A number of months ago, I happened upon a very high quality web site named Called to Communion. The men that publish at this site all (so far as I know) used to be Reformed / Presbyterian and have converted to the Roman Catholic Church. Called to Communion is a site engineered as an apologetical site to win Reformed folks to Rome. I know there’s been some good conversation between some of the guys from Called to Communion (CTC) and some Reformed fellers over at Green Baggins, a very worthy site in its own right.

The men at CTC seem to be sharp, honest, and diligent. I appreciate their scholarship and their willingness to engage in meaningful conversation. One of those fine men, Mr. Tim A. Troutman, has posted an article on Holy Orders, in which he set out to prove four claims: “The hierarchical difference between the clergy and the laity was ordained by God and is supported by the Biblical data. The distinction between presbyters and bishops existed from apostolic times and was intended by Christ. Christian ministers are ordained into a visible priesthood that is distinct from the general priesthood of all believers. Finally, Holy Orders is a sacrament.” I hope to work my way through this lengthy, well-written article and interact with Tim. Hopefully, in the Lord’s grace, we’ll be of benefit to one another. In this post, I want briefly to respond to his first section, Introductory Notes.

Tim’s essay is of significant length and is quite detailed. The reason I want to start slowly is that so often things are assumed at the beginning that lead to certain conclusions toward the end. Tim’s article, I think, does just that in the section where he sets out definitions for various terms (deacon, presbyter/elder, bishop, priest, and their etymological roots). Tim asserts that “to understand the development of language, especially theological language, one needs to understand the concept of terminological technicalization, i.e., the process that occurs when the common usage of a term changes from a non-specialized sense to a more technical and specific sense.” Tim seems to assume that the development (or terminological technicalization) is founded or true. That is, he assumes that the usage of these terms in the NT is undeveloped and incomplete. He silently supposes that the church needs to fine-tune the language of the Bible. Now, when one’s starting point is the Scripture, Tim’s assumption lacks all power. If, for example, in the NT the terms elder and bishop are synonymous (Tim grants that the two words were used interchangeably in the NT), then why is the NT usage not the standard and the terminological technicalization a perversion of what was established by Christ and the Apostles?

A word of clarification: I don’t mean to affirm that the Bible has every doctrine and all theological terminology fully developed and crystallized. For example, the doctrines (and the terminology surrounding them) of the Trinity and of Christology were developed by the church. Further, we’re not limited to the Bible’s terminology. We Protestants receive the ecclesiastical thought and development of doctrine, so long as it is faithful to the data of the Bible. The classical formulations of the Trinity and the dual natures of Christ are biblical in their content, even if they’re more finely tuned and technical than the biblical language. With the offices of the church, we find that the Roman hierarchy didn’t simply extend terminology into a more technical usage, but actually changed the terms, redefined them and developed other terms, the substance/meaning of which does not match the biblical substance/meaning.

The easiest example of this is the use of bishop and elder (D.V., we’ll examine the use of “priest” later on). In the NT, the two words refer to the same group of people. They’re synonymous and interchangeable. Paul speaks of elders in Titus 1:5 and begins to detail the qualifications for that office. He refers to the same office in verse 7 and continues the qualifications, but he uses the term bishop (cf. 1 Tim 3:1-7). Again, in Acts 20:17, Paul calls the “elders” of the church to come to him at Miletus. Addressing that group in verse 28, Paul says that the Holy Spirit has made them bishops, to shepherd God’s church. These two examples are enough to show that bishop and elder refer to the same group of people, the same office.

Now, I’m no authority on Roman Catholic polity (I hope Tim’s article will be something of an education to me personally), but it’s quite clear that fairly early in church history (to the best of my knowledge by the early second century), the bishops were elevated over the presbyters. That is, a unified office in the NT, was developed and made into two offices. What that means is that the Apostolic traditions that were handed down (clearly articulated in the Apostolic writings) have been changed; they have become different traditions. That’s a big problem for me.

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