Monday, August 29, 2011

Selective Reformation pt. 4

Catholic ecclesiology says that the church is Catholic. You can pick your jaw off the floor now. But the church isn't Catholic. Catholicism invented Catholicism. Here's the Catholic definition from a Catholic catechism:

To believe that the Church is "holy" and "catholic," and that she is "one" and "apostolic" (as the Nicene Creed adds), is inseparable from belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the Apostles' Creed we profess "one Holy Church" (Credo . . . Ecclesiam), and not to believe in the Church, so as not to confuse God with his works and to attribute clearly to God's goodness all the gifts he has bestowed on his Church.

The catechism continues:

In Christian usage, the word "church" designates the liturgical assembly, but also the local community or the whole universal community of believers.

The Catholic teaching about "church" doesn't seem that much different than many evangelical and fundamentalist definitions. The Catholic catechism uses the following references to buttress its "universal community" part of the definition---1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6---which read in that order:

For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.

Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

All three are singular, articular usages of "church" in the context of Paul's pre-conversion persecution. None of them reveal the church as a "universal community." The use of these texts as proof, however, manifests the faulty hermeneutic employed to reach the Roman Catholic understanding of the nature of the church. The trajectory of Roman Catholic ecclesiology did not begin with the words of Scripture, but with ideas powerful men thought might work to their advantage. For instance, men thought that it might be easier for individual churches to survive persecution in the Roman Empire if they started banding together into one institution. This happened also to agree with popular Platonic philosophy. These combined as a means to divert from a scriptural ecclesiology.

The Bible is what it says. The meaning of the Bible isn't ambiguous, but the meaning of certain words aren't as clear in certain contexts as they are in others. Overall, it's easy to understand what "church" is. As in the usage of many other words, the less plain instances should be understood in light of the plain. An overwhelming number of the usages of ekklesia ("church") are plain. The few less plain usages of "church" wouldn't even be ambiguous at all if the faulty ecclesiology itself did not exist to influence their interpretation.

In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul mentions "rightly dividing the word of truth." When a man made tents, he cut each piece according to the whole. The size and shape of the whole must be considered for the dimension of the individual parts. All of this encompassed "rightly dividing." The meaning of an individual word fits within all of its usages. An alternative to this practice, which is in error, is the strategy of concluding a teaching from all of the usages combined. Thomas and Alexander Campbell, founders of the Church of Christ, made this error with certain baptism texts (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16) in order to "find" baptismal regeneration in the New Testament. Instead of comparing those few passages with all of the teaching of the New Testament on baptism, fitting the individual pieces into the whole, they combined them with the other passages to come cumulatively to their doctrine.

Men have followed this same above approach to the church. To start, for instance consider just the usages of "church" (ekklesia) by only the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus used the term ekklesia 22 times (3 times in Matthew and 19 in Revelation). All 19 times in Revelation are plain and unambiguous usages. In each instance, they are speaking of an institution that is local. The two in Matthew 18:17 are also very plainly local. In those 21 instances, "church" is plainly local only. Only one usage of the Lord Jesus Himself, Matthew 16:18, might be considered to be unclear, and mainly because of previous distortion of this doctrine. Matthew 16:18 is the only one that might be in question, so it should be understood in light of the 21 other usages of ekklesia by the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was local only in His ecclesiology.

Matthew 16:18 reads:

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The Lord Jesus Christ uses a singular noun ("church") with a singular, personal possessive pronoun ("my"). The singular noun can either be a particular place, person, or thing, or a generic place, person, or thing. This singular noun does not plainly refer to any particular church. It could be the Jerusalem church, but it seems that the simpler answer is that Jesus incorporates the generic singular usage. In all language, a singular is either particular or generic. There is no other usage of the singular. For instance, there is no platonic or spiritual or allegorical usage of the singular noun in any language. It is either a particular church to which Jesus refers in Matthew 16:18, or it is a generic church. In both cases, it is still the same thing, a church, an assembly. The generic usage of the singular noun does not turn the noun into something other than what it is. A church is an assembly. Ironically, the previous sentence uses the term "church" in a generic fashion. It is still an assembly even if used in a generic way.

When Jesus says "my," He differentiates His assembly, always a local one, from other governing institutions, including from the nation state Israel and the Greek city state, which was called an ekklesia. If Jesus' assembly is a local one, which is all an assembly could be, then it can't too or simultaneously be a universal one. That's not how He is using ekklesia in Matthew 16:18, but rather in a generic fashion.

Do you think that Matthew 16:18 should be interpreted according to the other 21 usages of Jesus? Or do you think that the other 21 usages should be interpreted in light of Matthew 16:18? Should we not understand the less plain in light of the plain? And should we not confine ourselves to the only two usages of the singular noun or make up an entirely new usage, not found in any language in the history of mankind, in order to read a universal church into the text?

More to Come.

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