Wednesday, February 2, 2005

It's not unity if you're not right

I was reading this week's Christian Carnival, and an article by Jay of DeoOmnisGloria entitled Is it ever okay to "split off" from your current church? cought my eye. Jay argues that unity is important, and that disunity is evidence of a lack of the Holy Spirit. In principle, I agree completely with this idea. As an adherant to Restoration philosophy, there is too much intentional disunity within the Church as a whole. If this was the whole of Jay's argument, I would have little problem. Unfortunately, Jay procedes to make a serious error in his interpretations of the scriptures presented.

Jay argues that, since the Bible (rightly) adjures us to be in submission to our elders, and since the Bible gives no explicit method by which we can seperate a local congregation, we are therefore (under sola scriptura) always obligated to follow the dictates of the elders. Since the Catholic Church is the original church, all Christians are obligated to be in submission to the Pope. There are several logical problems in Jay's argument, so I'll try to deal with each portion of Jay's argument individually.

Jay first quotes Hebrews 13:17, and correctly observes that we are to be in submission to the leaders of the congregation. We are to do this, just as in Romans 13:1-2:

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

The falacy here is that, in isolation, Romans 13 would imply that Christians have no power to disobey an unjust ruler who commands contrary to God's will. Hebrews 13:17 equally commits us to obeying Godly leaders acting in the will of the Spirit, but doesn't act in isolation from our obligation to judge Christian leaders.

Jay's quotation of Jude is a bit confusing, but not wrong. The apostles prophesied: "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their ungodly desires.". Jude himself continues: "These are men who will divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit." As I am a firm believer that these are the last times presently (a belief that I thought the Catholic Church does not share), I believe that Jude is talking about now. Jay also correctly quotes Ephesians 3:4-7.

Jay then commits a serious logical error: he makes absence of evidence into evidence of absence. Just because there isn't an explicit "schism verse" doesn't mean that there isn't a very Biblical method of dealing with issues of heretical schisms. Time and again (1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 1 (even Paul is not exempt from being tested!), 1 Timothy 1 and 3, etc.) the members of the congregation are told that they have the authority and the obligation to punish false teachers. The resolution is a Biblical one: first, private one-on-one talks. Then, private consultations with serveral witnesses. Finally, open rebuke in front of the congregation and, if needed, expulsion of the wrongdoers.

It is clear that many denominational groups have formed over theological points that have no real relevance to salvation. It is also clear that many groups, such as the portions of the Episcopal Church in the US supporting Gene Robinson, are not in the Spirit and it is the obligation of a believer to "shake the sand from their feet" over such a church.

I won't go into detail on dealing with Jay's final assertion that the Catholic Church was the original church, except to point out that the other "original" churches (Orthodox, Armenian, Etheopian, Coptics, etc.) have just as much a claim to that title than the Catholic Church. Moreover, with its historical and modern doctrinal problems, it's arguable that it's the Catholic Church that did the drifting, and the Protestants are in the right. (If Jay can just assert, then so can I. :) )

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