Sola Scriptura’s Black Hole: A Little Bigger Than Before

Mr. Enloe, a Reformed Apologist, offered his critique of an earlier article John Pacheco had written on the inherent difficulties of Sola Scriptura. Below is John’s response to Mr. Enloe’s critique.

Mr. Enloe’s comments are in red. Pacheco’s comments are in blue.


With all deference to the laudable goal of spreading and defending truth, we have to say that Mr. Pacheco’s most recent attempt to educate both his own co-religionists and Protestants as to the real meaning and implications of Sola Scriptura spectacularly fails.

It is edifying to know that my efforts were “spectacular”. Mr. Enloe will have to allow the readers of this discussion to determine whether I “spectacularly” failed. If, however, I am successful, I hope Mr. Enloe will be gracious enough to keep the adverb in front of the final result.

Like many Roman Catholic epologists, Pacheco imagines that Sola Scriptura is a neat, tidy equation that allows for pat, black-and-white refutation. He wants it to be sufficiently vague as to allow great hay to be made out of all the division that exists among Protestants, yet focused enough to allow for simplistic (and quite loaded) contrasts with Roman Catholicism.

Sola Scriptura is nothing like a neat, tidy equation. An equation, for instance, invariably leads to an answer – something missing in the system discussed here. Sola Scriptura is actually quite messy and complicated. The latter status, however, does not make its refutation any more difficult than the former.

Before going farther, a brief word about terminology is needed. The meanings of the terms “Sola Scriptura” and “perspicuity” will be covered in some detail below, but because the term “Protestant” appears so many times I have not qualified it in every instance to avoid tedious repetition. The reader needs to bear in mind that the term “Protestant” throughout this essay refers only to those denominations that adhere to the central doctrines of the Reformation.

Now, isn’t this quite amusing? Who, our readers are wondering, endowed Mr. Enloe with the exclusive right to bestow the name “Protestant”, a name, by the way, that only has significance in relation to Catholicism, on those Christians separated from the Catholic Church? Was it because that hard Protestantism’s representatives, Luther and Calvin, were the first Reformers on the block? Or was it because these particular men were closer to the Apostolic witness than later reformers who just happened to reject Calvin’s view of predestination, for instance? One has to wonder why a Protestant Apologist would want to implicitly appeal to such a ruinous criteria for his position. Mr. Enloe seems to speak of the “central doctrines of the Reformation” like they were some kind of prima facie truths which are above reproach and criticism from subsequent reformers no less! – reformers, it must be said, which merely utilized the same model and rule which was propagated by their older brethren. It smacks of a certain self-serving invective for Mr. Enloe to deny them the very means that his forefathers established and which, he must surely admit, cannot be expropriated by any human authority.

If Mr. Enloe wants to play the semantic game by plucking the name tag “Protestant” off of Joe Methodist or Peter Pentecostal, that’s fine with me – although, I dare say, we shall have to be good Christians about it, apologize for our rudeness in the matter, and replace their name tags with something else. In the meantime, what Mr. Enloe cannot escape is that many of the impure “former Protestants” still believe in the bible alone. And that, Mr. Enloe, is something you really cannot deny (and what really counts to be truthful) – unless, of course, you want to engage in some kind of silly obfuscation. Whether he is a pure Protestant or a stripped one (courtesy of Mr. Enloe), the fact remains he still believes in the bible alone.

–which are usually summed up in terms of five broad themes: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. It excludes denominations that do not believe in such critical Reformation principles as the bondage of the human will to sin, monergistic regeneration, and the complete sovereignty of God in salvation. In other words, all denominations that can be classified as “liberal” or “Arminian” are excluded from the definition of “Protestant”.

While we appreciate Mr. Enloe’s continued attempts at synthesizing the issue for us so that we may have a clear picture of the ‘pure’ contestants in this game, justice is still reminding us to ask the $100,000 question: Pray, from whence did Mr. Enloe receive his bishopric to bind us to his definition of a “Protestant”? And even if it were binding and true, how does that definition impact those ‘non-Protestant’ denominations who still hold the bible as the sole infallible rule of faith? One has to speculate as to whether Mr. Enloe’s position is even further weakened by his own definition: is he really better off by having a pure Protestant group of Sola Scripturists and another non-Protestant group of Sola Scripturists? Methinks our Reformed friend is still in a veritable mess as far as the problem of Sola Scriptura goes. All Mr. Enloe has succeeded in doing (quite marvelously I might add) is creating yet another division within the chameleon of Sola Scriptura: a Protestant group and a non-Protestant group!

Mr. Enloe’s attempts to reserve Protestant for Calvinist-leaning theology is not unlike a child who, rebelling against his mother’s maternal directions, climbs up on the counter top, grabs the cookie jar, and thrusts it to the floor. Hearing the sound of the jar smashing on the floor, his younger siblings come running into the kitchen wishing to share in their elder brother’s ill gotten gain. Much to their chagrin, they soon discover that their elder brother is not as co-operative as they were hoping – he is unwilling, you see, to share his great bounty with his brothers. After some fruitless discussion as to who has the rightful claim on their Mother’s cookies, all hell breaks loose and they start to kick the living bajeebers out of one another. Their mother, horrified at what has just transpired, gives them the ultimatum to apologize and put the cookies back. She tries to explain to them that not one of them can claim any exclusive right to the cookies. Some relent in their rebellion; others do not. For the sake of peace and truth in the home, the Mother boots out the obstinate until they repent.

This is as it should be, for despite their differences all the Reformers agreed upon at least the above items and all who wish to claim the terms that were originally used to describe them (“Evangelical” / “Protestant”) must be willing to let those terms mean what they meant then. .

Mr. Enloe’s attempt to harmonize even “pure” Protestants is fraught with many difficulties. Here is a couple of citations from “pure” Protestants:

“A Christian or one baptized…can never, even though he wants to, forfeit his salvation even through so many sins, unless he decide not to believe.” (Luther’s Works, 6:529:11)

The Augsburg Confession stated: “Rejected here are those who teach that persons who have once become godly cannot fall again.” (Art. XII,9)

Perhaps Mr. Enloe would like to explain the words from the FIRST Reformer, and reconcile it to his view of eternal and irrevocable security? Which is it, Mr. Enloe? Eternal security no matter what or eternal security provided you have “faith” (which according to Luther you can lose)? It cannot be both.

Mr. Enloe seems to suffer from some kind of convenient form of selected amnesia because the Catholic Church was way down on the list as far as creating problems for Reformed theology. The real problems came from within their OWN camp; most notably Osiander and the proverbial Reformed rag doll, Jacobus Arminius.

“Osiander laughs at those men who teach that ‘to be justified’ is a legal term; because we must actually be justified by free imputation….Osiander objects that it would be insulting to God and contrary to his nature that he should justify those who actually remain wicked.” (Calvin’s Institutes, 3:11:11)

Here is an excerpt from this very revealing Reformed website on poor old Jacobus. (If you thought the Catholic Church used a heavy hand at times, the aforementioned page will quickly put things into their proper perspective.):

“In 1588, Arminius entered a pastorate in Amsterdam, winning distinction as a preacher and pastor. Later he was chosen to succeed Franz Junius as professor of theology in Leyden, where he remained till his death. Dirk Koornhert, a scholarly layman, who wrote against Beza and all strict predestinarians, rejected the notion of predestination, demanding a revision of the Belgic Confession (the Netherlands’ own reformed confession, similar to Westminster Confession). Arminius, who was known as a strict Calvinist and an apt scholar, was called to reply to Koornhert and to defend the supralapsarian position. As he studied the problem, Arminius came to doubt the whole doctrine of unconditional predestination and to ascribe to man a freedom which, however congenial to Melanchthon (a disciple of Martin Luther) had no place in pure Calvinism. The essential dispute that Arminius had with Calvinism was regarding the doctrine of predestination. He did not deny predestination altogether, but denied that predestination was unconditional. A bitter controversy sprang up between Arminius and his supralapsarian colleague at the University of Leyden, Franz Gomarus, who was later the leading spokesman for the Calvinists at the Synod of Dort. The conflict between the two men resulted in a schism affecting the whole church of Holland.”

Now, let us reflect carefully on poor old Jacobus’ situation and think clearly for a moment. Do we see a similarity here with what transpired with Luther and Calvin versus the Catholic Church? Yes, it is as plain as day. Jacobus breaks off from Calvinism. What ontological claim, therefore, does Calvinism have for its validity over and above Arminianism? Was it because the original doctrine of unconditional predestination was the first one presented? Was it because Jacobus was a secessionist from the “true” doctrine? You see, dear reader, any way Mr. Enloe seeks to establish Calvinism’s pure doctrines over the doctrines of his rebellious brothers, he ends up undercutting his own relative position vs. the Catholic Church. He has no ontological or substantial basis to nullify his own camp’s “heresy” that cannot ALSO be applied against Calvin (and Luther’s) break from the Catholic Church.

There is no profit–or honesty–in portraying “Protestantism” as a hodge-podge of Reformation and non-Reformation doctrines. If a word is to mean something definite, it must not be allowed to mean anything at all.

I agree that it is useless to treat Protestantism as a “hodge-podge”, but that is what Protestantism is by its very own mechanisms and instruments which it seeks to employ. If Mr. Enloe does not like the instrument being shared (i.e. Sola Scriptura) and the music emanating therefrom, then I would advise him to change the instrument. And while I appreciate Mr. Enloe’s effort to define the parameters of Protestantism for us in order to speak coherently about such a topic, he just does not seem to understand my problem with his attempts to do so. He simply has no objective and ontological basis for such a restriction. He just wants to ensure, understandably enough, that Protestantism must mean something definite. The problem is…the bible alone won’t let him do it and his opposing co-religionists won’t allow it. As I said in my original piece: in order for him to state something unequivocally and definitely, he must have something that his co-religionist does not have. The question is: what is it?

Pacheco opens his article by attempting to contrast the Protestant and Roman Catholic authority schemes, and in so doing he commits the first of his many fallacies–the Fallacy of False Contrast. Pacheco states that authority in the Roman Catholic system is “centralized and unified”, but he fails to note that this is only the case because Rome is a single denomination. Every single denomination has a “centralized and unified” authority; there is nothing special about Rome over against other Christian denominations at this point.

There are a few of points to address here. First, it is false to equate judicial authority under the Catholic sense with the Protestant idea of it. The Magisterium’s Authority is binding and decisive on doctrinal and moral questions. No “traditional” Protestant denomination would or even could bind its members to any human authority. Their job is simply to offer their interpretation of the Scriptures, and hope everyone agrees with it. They can provide guidance and direction, but in the end, the believer is allowed to make his own decision according to what “the bible ALONE teaches”. How in heaven’s name does Mr. Enloe believe that Mr. Arminius, the bane of Reformed Theology, and “the liberals” even got a hearing in the Reformed Protestant world in the first place? By claiming some kind of teaching authority? Nonsense. They used the same means the original reformers said they could: the bible ALONE and APART from ANY MAN’S theology.

Second, notice Mr. Enloe’s assertion regarding “every single denomination [having] a ‘centralized and unified’ authority”. Let the reader understand that this is problematic at best and a distortion at worst. If we are speaking of a “centralized and unified authority” over the course of 1 year, 2 years, or even 20 years, then obviously Mr. Enloe might be correct – my disputation regarding his notion of authority notwithstanding. However, if we simply stretch this time period over 5 centuries, we can see, quite clearly, that the one “centralized and unified” authority in the sixteenth century has fractured into thousands of “centralized and unified” authorityies. Anticipating Mr. Enloe’s objection, I will also hasten to add that while the fracture, in itself, is not the central problem, the fracture in relation to its previous communion is. This is a critical distinction that must be made. A Catholic cannot argue that the fracture perpetrated by a former member itself disqualifies the “denomination” since, admittedly, Luther himself was a Catholic monk. The argument only has validity when the fracture is understood in relation to what existed before the fracture. Protestantism is a break from both the Catholic Church and a break from Protestantism itself. Hence, while the fracture cannot impugn the validity of the existing denomination’s claims, it does impugn the succeeding secessionist’s claims. Once we can appreciate this, we can quickly see that Luther and all subsequent reformers’ claims are invalid NOT BECAUSE a secessionist left their communion, but BECAUSE they themselves are secessionists who have broken their previous communion. If this rule is applied, we can quickly see that the Catholic Church escapes the indictment that is levied against all of the Reformers – whether pure or not so pure.

Thirdly, with all deference to Mr. Enloe, I do not believe he has understood my point – perhaps because I was not clear enough. In regards to denominational authority, granted, by definition, every denomination is “centralized and unified” (unless, of course you are a Unitarian, but that is another story), but I was not talking about every denomination but rather the system which they subscribe to. (Mr. Enloe, himself, if he were the only member of his own newly formed Reformed denomination would be “centralized and unified”.) The system of Sola Scriptura precludes a centralized and unified authority, by the very definition of its ecclesiology. And that was precisely what I was addressing. I started my piece by stipulating “under the Roman Catholic system” to stress that I was primarily addressing the systems – and not its participants. While these were used for illustration, they were merely incidental to my thesis.

Having thrown out his ill-qualified point about “centralized and unified” authority, Pacheco then sets that against two instances of Protestant division (justification by works and necessity of baptism) in order to show that the method of Sola Scriptura is deficient. Now it is not fallacious merely to contrast the application of given principle 1 (the principle of Scripture plus an infallible interpreter) with the application of given principle 2 (Sola Scriptura)–after all, a contrast is expressly designed to highlight dissimilarities. A correct contrast would simply set out the two principles and note the differences between them. But Mr. Pacheco, like many Roman epologists today, turns the legitimate art of contrast into a fallacy by implying that the contrast all by itself is favorable to Roman Catholicism and unfavorable to Protestantism. He notes that the Roman Catholic principle produces unity around definitive judgments, but then asserts that the Protestant principle produces disunity because there are no definitive judgments. It would be more reasonable and helpful to contrast two groups using standard 1 (Roman Catholicism, Watchtower Society) with two groups using standard 2 (Presbyterians, Reformed Baptists).

And here we have the crucible where everything gets collected. Mr. Enloe and his Sola Scriptura co-religionists just do not seem to understand that it is precisely because we cannot contrast the claimants of both “standards” that we have this unsatisfactory connubiality in the first place. I would love to compare the contestants of “Standard 1” to “Standard 2”. Believe me, I would have a wonderful time doing it. The problem is that the system of Sola Scriptura ruthlessly attacks me and throws me to the ground every time I attempt to do so. It is vigilant to ensure that no one attempt to foist any binding or defining authority on any of Standard 2’s adherents. If Mr. Enloe wants to fairly compare the contestants between the two standards, he should tell us how he endeavors to do so when they fundamentally disagree on which standard should be adopted. That is why my central approach to the question was on critiquing and comparing the systems and not (primarily at least) the contestants across systems. (The reader should well note that I included the other alleged infallible authorities within the “Ecclesia Dei” system.) More on this later…

The unity that exists between Roman Catholicism and the Watchtower Society would then be contrasted with the unity that exists between the Presbyterians and the Reformed Baptists. On the level of united organizational structure, both sides of the contrast would fail, but on the level of doctrinal agreement, the Presbyterians / Reformed Baptists would come out decidedly ahead of the Roman Catholicism / Watchtower Society. There is far, far greater unity between Presbyterians and Reformed Baptists than between Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

This, of course, is not at all relevant to the issue at hand. Both of us could propose contestants whose creeds within our respective systems approximate our own. We could also demonstrate the wide divergence of belief in the contestants of the other’s system. This proves very little, and it does not address the issue.

The issue here is simply that the system of Sola Scriptura will never allow one of its adherents – who ever that may be – to speak for the whole. Its fundamental premise rejects that even as an option. Mr. Enloe cannot speak as a representative of the system because the Arminian’s claim to authority, the bible, is the sameas Mr. Enloe’s. In the case of a Roman Catholic and a Jehovah Witness, however, the system of Ecclesia Dei allows each to speak because the claim to authority is neither the same nor is it shared. The Roman Catholic claims authority from Apostolic succession; the Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot and do not make that claim. They make another claim – something I think about miracle wheat and togos. It is up to the inquirer to assess the relative strength of each claim.

The fallacy thus rests on the incoherent implication that “Protestantism” is simultaneously both a single, unified organizational structure (like Rome is) and a conflicting mass of many organizations. Pacheco next writes:

But our Protestant opponent will insist that this is not a valid objection to the system of Sola Scriptura since there might be one (or many) particular denominations within Protestantism which are truly upholding the Scriptures as the sole infallible authority.

Actually, Pacheco incorrectly identifies the Protestant response to his objection. We grant that various Protestant denominations do assert that they uphold the teaching of the Scriptures on issues they dispute with other denominations. We grant, therefore, that there are multiple competing interpretations of Scripture within Protestantism. However, we do not grant the assertion that the Protestant must hold that there are only some (or many) denominations within Protestantism “which are truly upholding the Scriptures as the sole infallible authority”. On the contrary, all Protestant denominations truly uphold the Scriptures as the sole infallible authority precisely because that–and not Pacheco’s zero-sum game idea–is the definition of Sola Scriptura. The mere fact that the various denominations disagree at some points on the interpretation of Scripture does not mean that some of them are not truly upholding the Scriptures as the sole infallible rule of faith.

But that was really my whole point by inserting ‘truly’ into ‘upholding the Scriptures as the sole infallible authority’. I can see, however, how my statement can be understood in Mr. Enloe’s more restricted sense. My point was simply this: if one is truly (in every sense of the word) upholding the Scriptures as the Sole Infallible Rule of Faith, then one must arrive at the same creed. This follows from the very definition of ‘truly’ – applied universally and comprehensively. Since the Scriptures are infallible and if indeed one is truly upholding them and only them, then one must necessarily arrive at the same, non-contradictory conclusion on doctrinal questions.

It merely means what it has always meant throughout Church history–although Christians are enjoined to be of one mind (cf. John 17, Eph. 4:13, Col. 3:14), this is oftentimes not an easy task. We all have our traditions and none of us can see our own blind spots. The Roman Catholic is no different (and is certainly not in a better position!) than the Protestant on this point.

Well, it is a real eye-opener to see a Protestant admitting that they have their own traditions. For this, Mr. Enloe must be commended for his honesty and forthrightness. Having said that, however, I can hardly agree with his statement about the Roman Catholic not being in a better position. I think this is quite ridiculous. It is analogous to saying that a Constitutional Democracy with Judicial, Legislative, and Executive Branches is no better off than a society without these binding branches of government. It does no good for Mr. Enloe to claim that individual Protestant denominations have similar models. What we are talking about here is eternal consequences to the binding decisions each leadership makes. As a Roman Catholic, if you reject Rome’s definitive teaching, all things being equal, there’s a good chance you’ll go to hell. If you reject your local Baptist Fundamentalist pastor’s view, you simply go down the street to the local Methodist Church. Your position in regards to the bible is unchanged since you still uphold its singularity. The church you attend, on the other hand, is expendable and transparent in the system of Sola Scriptura, and hence any decision rendered by a Protestant leadership of that church is impotent – including, I must stress, Mr. Enloe’s pretensions over the annexation of the title of ‘Protestant’.

Pacheco writes:

The fact that those who follow Sola Scriptura all claim to be “bible aloners” and the fact that they disagree on many essential doctrines indicates that the Scriptures are not clear to everyone as a whole within this system. If it were ‘clear’, there would be no disagreement, by definition.

Here Pacheco commits a basic and widespread blunder of “Roman Catholic Apologetics 101”–what might be called the Fallacy of the Begged Definition. As a species of the logical fallacy known as ipse dixit (“he himself says”) this fallacy attempts to force the Protestant to agree from the outset with the Roman Catholic definition of the key terms (or what is alleged to be undeniably inferred from the “clear” definition of the key terms), so that he will then be forced into picking one of two horns of a neat, tidy dilemma constructed by the Roman apologist.

I do not think I have unnecessarily restricted the definition of ‘clear’ at all. Many Protestants believe that the bible is clear to all who search for its essential truths. That is why they reject the necessity of third-party interpreter. If something is ‘clear’, you need not anyone else clearing up any ambiguity or possible misapplication. Now, admittedly, Mr. Enloe may seek to further refine and delineate what ‘clear’ means to us, but the fact remains that this argument is often advanced by his co-religionists. We shall see shortly how Mr. Enloe attempts to elucidate what ‘clear’ really means.

Incidentally, it is deliciously ironic that Mr. Enloe accuses me of “begging the definition” with ‘clear’- as if there does not exist a warranted assumption present with such a simple and straight forward word – but then casually forgets that he attempted to do the same thing (with a much harder sell in my humble opinion) with the word Protestant earlier in his rebuttal. Just in case it escaped our readers notice, here it is again:

“The reader needs to bear in mind that the term “Protestant” throughout this essay refers only to those denominations that adhere to the central doctrines of the Reformation–which are usually summed up in terms of five broad themes: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. It excludes denominations that do not believe in such critical Reformation principles…”

Indeed, Mr. Enloe. Indeed.

For instance, according to the popular Roman polemic, the term “Sola Scriptura” means “Scripture is the only rule of faith, period”–a definition which quite obviously flies not only in the face of Scripture’s own notices about tradition (1 Cor. 11:2; II Thess. 3:6), but also in the face of the mere fact that all Protestant denominations have doctrinal standards (whether formal or not) which they consider to be the correct representation of Scripture’s teachings. On this definition of “Sola Scriptura“, then, the Protestant is placed under the unreasonable demand that he accept either Scripture’s own teachings about authorities outside of itself or a position that violates his own standard and thus shows it to be self-contradictory.

Mr. Enloe has opened the proverbial can of worms with his above argument. (I cannot really believe my eyes in reading his argument since he has basically conceded defeat.) In the first place, as already discussed, the Protestant view of authority is quite unlike the Catholic and biblical model. No Protestant is bound by the decrees of any confessional creed drafted by men – including, it should be noted, the decisions of Acts 15 if they were not recorded in the bible. That is the bottom line.

Here is another analogy that might serve our purpose well. Two Catholic lawyers present their case to the Judge. The judge rules in favor of Lawyer A. Lawyer B is bound by that decision. He must accept it. There is no way out for him. Just down the hall, in another courtroom, two Protestant lawyers present their respective cases to their judge. The judge hands down the decision in favor of Lawyer A. Lawyer B does not like the decision so he picks up his briefcase and leaves to go to another courtroom with a more sympathetic judge. As he starts to leave, the bailiff goes to restrain him, but remembers that he cannot do so since the judge had previously instructed him that his (the judge’s) decision is not binding on any lawyer. (If Mr. Enloe would like to suggest that the Council of Jerusalem’s decrees in Acts 15 were not binding on the Pharisee-Christians, I would much enjoy reading his rationale for it.)

The second point that I wish to address relates to Mr. Enloe’s apparent appeal to ‘tradition’ (1 Cor 11:2, 2 Thess 3:6). Now Mr. Enloe has taken the view that we are indeed to accept oral ‘tradition’, but what he does not tell us is: Where do we find this “Tradition”, and more importantly who has it? For presumably, like the written tradition, it is at least somewhat concrete, and can be located with some group. 2 Thess 3:6 says this tradition was passed down. To whom was it passed down and by what medium, Mr. Enloe?

Here’s another point I wish to stress. Notice that Mr. Enloe’s references (and one of my own) listed below do not distinguish between the relative weight or strength of AUTHORITY between the written tradition and the oral tradition! There is no text in the whole bible that separates and subjugates one medium of transmission to another. Yet, that is what Mr. Enloe is implying since he tries to augment the written tradition with the oral one. As a Protestant, he cannot elevate the authority of the latter to the former, but he does have the integrity to admit that oral tradition plays a part in the biblical witness to this issue. So what he tries to do is simply accept tradition as a secondary, subordinate instrument in relaying the Gospel. The huge problem for Mr. Enloe, however, is that the SCRIPTURES DO NOT SUBORDINATE ORAL TRADITION TO WRITTEN TRADITION but treat them equally:

“I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.” (1 Cor 11:2)

“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.” (2 Thess 3:6)

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thess 2:15)

Notice, for instance, how the teachings in 2 Thess 2:15 are derived from ONE SOURCE – the Apostolic witness – but transmitted by two distinct yet EQUALLY authoritative ways.

In the case of the argument against perspicuity that we are considering here, the dilemma is presented as: either the Protestant chooses to believe in the perspicuity of Scripture or he chooses to believe that some sort of external authority structure is needed to clarify Scripture and bring an end to all disagreements. It is vitally important to see that this is the “subtext” of Pacheco’s argument. Thus he writes, “If [Scripture] were ‘clear’, there would be no disagreement, by definition”. But by what authority, the Protestant rightly asks, is the definition of “perspicuity” said to be the quality of a document that ensures no one will ever misinterpret it?

By the very fact, the Catholic retorts, that the Protestant himself says the Scriptures themselves are perspicuous. Now the question is: what does this mean? If I were say to you, “such and such a text is clear”, would you not assume that the person who was advancing such a claim meant that the text was unambiguous, not likely to be subject to misinterpretation, and whose true meaning would be accessible to all those who read it? I think a reasonable person could certainly come to that conclusion. Conversely, if I were to say to you that “such and such a text is not clear”, would you not naturally assume that, based on this person’s allegation, the text might be prone to misapplication? Of course you would for that is the very meaning of perspicuity:

1. Transparency, translucency.

2. Clearness of statement or exposition; freedom from obscurity; lucidity.

3. Distinctness to the sight; conspicuousness

        – Oxford English Dictionary.

This is not how the Church Fathers or the Reformers spoke of Scripture’s clarity, so why should today’s Protestant do so? The polemic needs of Roman Catholic apologists are not the standard for the definition of terms used by Protestant theology. The Protestant idea of the perspicuity of Scripture, following many Fathers, but summing up in the words of Augustine, is that:

Consider, moreover, the style in which Sacred Scripture is composed,–how accessible it is to all men, though its deeper mysteries are penetrable to very few. The plain truths which it contains it declares in the artless language of familiar friendship to the hearts both of the unlearned and of the learned; but even the truths which it veils in symbols it does not set forth in stiff and stately sentences, which a mind somewhat sluggish and uneducated might shrink from approaching, as a poor man shrinks from the presence of the rich; but, by the condescension of its style, it invites all not only to be fed with the truth which is plain, but also to be exercised by the truth which is concealed, having both in its simple and in its obscure portions the same truth. Lest what is easily understood should beget satiety in the reader, the same truth being in another place more obscurely expressed becomes again desired, and, being desired, is somehow invested with a new attractiveness, and thus is received with pleasure into the heart. By these means wayward minds are corrected, weak minds are nourished, and strong minds are filled with pleasure, in such a way as is profitable to all. This doctrine has no enemy but the man who, being in error, is ignorant of its incomparable usefulness, or, being spiritually diseased, is averse to its healing power. [NPNF1: Vol. I, Letters of St. Augustine, Letter 137, Chapter 5, §18]

I fail to see how this citation from St. Augustine favors Mr. Enloe’s position more than it does mine. No one is disputing that the Scriptures are indeed very clear in many parts, but as St. Augustine also says there are “truths which are veiled”. Our Great Doctor, therefore, admits of both a “plain truth” and a “concealed truth”. Yet if is a “concealed truth”; it cannot be a “plain truth” – otherwise there would be no point in contrasting them. In the end, however, the “plain truth” and the “concealed truth” are in complete harmony. One more little thing. Notice what St. Augustine says in the first sentence: “Consider, moreover, the style in which Sacred Scripture is composed,–how accessible it is to all men, though its deeper mysteries are penetrable to very few.” If, as the good Catholic bishop says, the deeper mysteries are penetrable to the “very few” how is it that Mr. Enloe can say that these mysteries are definitely not essential to the Gospel?

But here is something. In the preface to his discourse “On Christian Doctrine” Augustine makes these very interesting remarks:

2. Others, again, will think that I have spent my labor to no purpose, because, though they understand the rules, yet in their attempts to apply them and to interpret Scripture by them, they have failed to clear up the point they wish cleared up; and these, because they have received no assistance from this work themselves, will give it as their opinion that it can be of no use to anybody. There is a third class of objectors who either really do understand Scripture well, or think they do, and who, because they know (or imagine) that they have attained a certain power of interpreting the sacred books without reading any directions of the kind that I propose to lay down here, will cry out that such rules are not necessary for any one, but that everything rightly done towards clearing up the obscurities of Scripture could be better done by the unassisted grace of God.

8. In the last place, every one who boasts that he, through divine illumination, understands the obscurities of Scripture, though not instructed in any rules of interpretation, at the same time believes, and rightly believes, that this power is not his own, in the sense of originating with himself, but is the gift of God. For so he seeks God’s glory, not his own. But reading and understanding, as he does, without the aid of any human interpreter, why does he himself undertake to interpret for others? Why does he not rather send them direct to God, that they too may learn by the inward teaching of the Spirit without the help of man? The truth is, he fears to incur the reproach: “Thou wicked and slothful servant thou oughtest to have put my money to the exchangers.” Seeing, then, that these men teach others, either through speech or writing, what they understand, surely they cannot blame me if I likewise teach not only what they understand, but also the rules of interpretation they follow. For no one ought to consider anything as his own, except perhaps what is false. All truth is of Him who says, “I am the truth.” For what have we that we did not receive? and if we have received it, why do we glory, as if we had not received it?

And then there is this contribution:

1. ENOUGH, probably, has been done in our other books in the way of answering the ignorant and profane attacks which the Manichaeans make on the law, which is called the Old Testament, in a spirit of vainglorious boasting, and with the approval of the uninstructed. Here, too, I may shortly touch upon the subject. For every one with average intelligence can easily see that the explanation of the Scriptures should be sought for from those who are the professed teachers of the Scriptures; and that it may happen, and indeed always happens, that many things seem absurd to the ignorant, which, when they are explained by the learned, appear all the more excellent, and are received in the explanation with the greater pleasure on account of the obstructions which made it difficult to reach the meaning. [OF THE MORALS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. [DE MORIBUS ECCLESIAE CATHOLICAE] CHAP. I.–HOW THE PRETENSIONS OF THE MANICHAEANS ARE TO BE REFUTED. TWO MANICHAEAN FALSEHOODS. A.D. 388.]

It seems to me that Mr. Enloe will have a difficult time reconciling St. Augustine’s comments above with the idea of “the bible ALONE”.

Here Pacheco indulges in the usual Roman polemic about the supposed incredible volume of disagreement among Protestants. Contrary to this view, there is actually a rather large amount of agreement among Protestants. Lurking in the background of Pacheco’s argument here is another fallacy–the Fallacy of the Fissiparous Nature of Protestantism. This fallacy attempts to show by a mere numerical recitation of the organizational and doctrinal differences among Protestants3 that “Protestantism” is hopelessly divided in a manner that is fatal to its overall truth claims. Although he himself does not invoke the infamous “30,000 denominations” form of this argument, it is clear that his statement that no consensus can be found among Protestants is based on such logic.

This statement is quite astounding. Does it matter that two Protestant denominations, for instance, agree with one another on most things, yet are fundamentally divided on one central core belief? Yes it does matter quite a bit. That’s the whole point. These denominations have seen fit or necessary to break off communion with one another because of a major disagreement over a doctrinal or moral issue. A Catholic must accept all defined dogmas of the Catholic Church. To withhold assent to even one is to break communion – regardless if the others are still held. Perhaps Mr. Enloe should review St. James’ warning concerning all the truth and nothing but the truth: “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:8-10)

Some questions are in order here. Does Mr. Pacheco really believe that among Protestants no consensus can be found at all? Don’t all Protestants agree that there are only two observances established by the Lord as expressions of faith (baptism and the Lord’s Supper)? Don’t all Protestants agree as to the basic theological method of Sola Scriptura? Don’t all Protestants believe that we are justified through grace alone by faith alone? Don’t all Protestants believe that Christ is very God of very God? Aren’t all Protestants Trinitarians? Don’t all Protestants think that the only head of the Church is Christ and that no single, supreme earthly head is needed?

Notice that Mr. Enloe treats Protestantism (not the definition that Mr. Enloe hoped to annex to the Purists earlier on, but rather all those Christians who hold to Sola Scriptura) as speaking coherently with one voice, referring to Protestantism’s “overall truth claims”. Which claims might they be? There are no claims to speak of since those who subscribe to Sola Scriptura cannot speak for other adherents of it. Notice for instance that he does not tell you about the Church of Christ and the Lutheran Church’s views of baptism which are far different from his own. Nor does he get into the problem of the lots of new kids on the block who reject the Trinity – so-called Oneness Pentecostals, to cite one case. Justification? You must be joking, right? Ask a Free Methodist what he thinks of sola fide. Do all Protestants believe that Christ is the very God of very God? No. They do not. The Moderator of the largest Protestant Church in Canada, the United Church, is quite open about his denial of the Divinity of Christ. Mr. Enloe’s last objection is rather humorous since it is more of a demonstration of Catholic unity than anything else. I would compare Mr. Enloe’s claim of Protestant unity against Papal authority to the unity which exists between a Fundamentalist and a Muslim over the issue of abortion. They agree to fight a common enemy, but would hardly be considered in communion with one another.

If any Protestant were to open his mouth, the others, feeling rightfully indignant, would do the same. Soon you would have a lovely cacophony singing the song of Babel. This is why, dear reader, Mr. Enloe tried to hijack the term “Protestant” earlier in his rebuttal and pack it in on his Reformed boat. He wants to veil the anarchy that exists before your eyes by essentially telling you that all of those Arminians are really not Protestants at all! Yet even that does not help him in the slightest since those dirty little Arminians (God Bless ’em) with their diametrically opposed teaching STILL subscribe to Sola Scriptura!!!!.

Part of the problem here is that the Roman Catholic mind is locked up inside the idea that the doctrinal aspect of “faith” is so rigid that divergence at any point makes the entire Christian system fall apart.

Of course, there is a range of divergence in Catholicism. Good grief, no Catholic has ever suggested that there was not. This is not the ultimate issue. The key point which seems to escape Mr. Enloe time and time and time again is that there is a BOUNDARY to this divergence in Catholicism while there is not, nor could there ever be, such a boundary in the system of Sola Scriptura. It is not unlike a large playground in a school yard. The Principal lays down the boundaries of the playground according to the bylaws of the school, outside of which the children may not go without being susceptible to danger. True Protestantism, not the model which Mr. Enloe has tried to advance, has the playground but not the Principal. If not the Principal, then no boundary either.

Lest a distorted view of the Catholic binding mechanism survive this discussion, however, it is good and proper to consider the other side of the coin. While the binding mechanism is obviously used, there are also (obviously) more times and circumstances where the Catholic Church does not utilize her authority to bind. This means that, ironically, where a Protestant pastor might seek to “bind” his congregation on some issue because the “bible teaches it”, a Catholic may hold to either of the competing views because Rome allows it. This highlights another issue: the Magisterium of the Catholic Church instructs the faithful as to what is essential to the Gospel and what is not; a Protestant pastor is really left wondering if a particular issue is indeed central to the Gospel. A good example of this concerns “moral life issues”, especially Satan’s BIG contraceptive lie. Ask ten Protestant pastors whether the issue of contraception has a direct bearing on the Gospel message – regardless whether they agree with it or not. The results would be very revealing indeed.

But it is not Protestants who think of faith as assent to de fide dogmas (or as submission of heart and mind in whatever the Church “infallibly” says) and so it is not Protestants who have to answer why they do not agree on all matters. Rather, such questions are incumbent on all who accept the authority scheme of “Scripture plus an infallible interpreter”.

The Catholic Church definitively teaches, for instance, that faith alone does not justify, and that, among other things, the traditional Protestant “forensic” formula is simply a legal fiction. Those who subscribe to Sola Scriptura, on the other hand, (to placate my opponent, please note that I have not used “Protestant”) hold mutually exclusive and contradictory answers to this question. Now, I ask you: is that a cogent system? The Church as a body speaks with one voice when and if necessary. The Sola Scripturists cannot speak because it is not a body in the first place; a more apt description would be scattered limbs of a body.

If anything should produce unanimous agreement, it should be a method that theoretically can eliminate all misunderstanding simply by issuing new de fide dogmas. Yet, ironically, historically speaking this method has produced nothing but division at the very point which Roman Catholics feel they are the strongest in unity–institutional.

In regards to Ecclesia Dei being a method which “theoretically can eliminate all misunderstanding” [but does not], what makes Mr. Enloe think that the misunderstanding has not been eliminated? The mere fact that some obstinate heretics refuse to accept the Church’s decision and instead choose to divorce themselves from the body of Christ does not detract from the Church’s unity. But wait, I can almost hear the indignant complaints coming from my opponent: how, he rightly will ask, can a Catholic then complain about Protestants separating from one another when Catholics have been doing it since the early years of the Church?

Instead of presenting an argument in the abstract, I will do so using Acts 15:

Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question.

After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up: “Brothers, listen to me. Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

“‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages. “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul– men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of s trangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.

The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the brothers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

Now then, I have a question for Mr. Enloe: After the Council of Jerusalem’s decision regarding the law of Moses, and supposing that “some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees” did not accept this decision, tell me Mr. Enloe, if, after their rejection of the Council’s decision, you consider the Church to be united or divided?

The split with the East in 1054. The split with the Reformers in the 1500’s. The split with the Old Catholics in 1870. And these examples are just within the Christian world. What of all the disagreements Rome has with other groups that promote the same “Scripture plus an infallible interpreter” scheme? Roman Catholic “unity”–especially as set against Protestant “anarchy”–is a figment of the Roman Catholic apologetic mind.

Well, we could go on at length talking about the splits from the Catholic Church, but as I have already explained, this does not detract one little jot from the Church’s claim of unity, much like, as I have already hinted at above, there would be no adverse impact on her unity after the Council of Jerusalem’s controversy in Acts 15.

But, as to not disappoint our readers, I will offer these comments by the good Doctor Aurelius whose opinion we have found useful in our discussions to date. I believe he sums up wonderfully why our “denomination” is on solid ground regarding those who split from her:

For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: “Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!” The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these: — Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Iginus, Anicetus, Pius, Soter, Eleutherius, Victor, Zephirinus, Calixtus, Urbanus, Pontianus, Antherus, Fabianus, Cornelius, Lucius, Stephanus, Xystus, Dionysius, Felix, Eutychianus, Gaius, Marcellinus, Marcellus, Eusebius, Miltiades, Sylvester, Marcus, Julius, Liberius, Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is found. – Letter From Augustine, Fortunatus, and Alypius to Generosus (53,1,2, 400A.D)

To conclude this section, disagreement about the meaning of a text does not prove that the text itself is not clear. Ironically (given the Roman Catholic reliance upon a “Tradition” that comes from outside the biblical text), the best that such disagreement proves is that we all read Scripture through our traditions and it is oftentimes very difficult to see beyond those traditions and allow Scripture to correct us where we err.

Now here is something very revealing. Mr. Enloe has informed us that “we all read Scripture through our traditions” and it is “difficult to see beyond those traditions and allow Scripture to correct us where we err.” Tell us, Mr. Enloe, just exactly how do we discard our existing tradition without embracing some other kind of tradition? It seems to me that we are stuck with a “tradition” and how we see the Scriptures whether we like it or not. Maybe the real issue is choosing the historic, authentic, and valid tradition from the many competing ones – the same authentic tradition that St. Paul commanded you to embrace.

Pacheco continues:

Our Protestant opponent will simply argue that the divisions in Protestantism only indicate that there are true Sola Scripturists and there are false Sola Scripturists. Normally, the Roman Catholic would then ask the inevitable question: without claiming an authority outside of Scripture, how do you identify who is the true Sola Scripturist and who are the false ones?

As we saw above, Pacheco misidentifies the question, and so gives a false answer. The question at hand is not “Which Protestants are ‘true Sola Scripturists’?” All Protestants are true Sola Scripturists. The question is really not even “Which Protestants are most closely following Sola Scriptura by most consistently bringing their extra-biblical traditions to the bar of Scripture?” The answer to that is a relative judgment call that each group will naturally make for itself (just as Rome and the East make relative judgments calls in their own favor against each other), and must be seen in the light of the fact that Protestant groups are always talking to each other about their shared Scriptures, always working towards reaching common understanding. Rather, the question is why do Roman Catholic epologists think that “unity” is a simple matter of mere definitions? Why do they treat it as a black-and-white-no-exceptions-no-qualifications-only-one-Organization-reality-in-the-here-and-now? Such is an extremely unreasonable and unbiblical mode of thinking, and again, Rome fails the test as well since her exercise of her authority so frequently leads to schism.

It truly is an extraordinary thing. How someone could read chapters like Acts 1 and 15 and come to a model other than something like the Ecclesia Dei model (even if one does not identify with the Catholic Church per se) is indeed a great puzzlement. The Apostles were united in the Faith and because of that they were able to present a cogent, authoritative, and decisive message to the faithful and pagans alike about moral or doctrinal matters. There were no “denominations” approved by the Church back then (Cf. 1 Cor 1:10). Such a system, begotten by Sola Scriptura, is the very antithesis of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:22. That visible, authoritative, and definitive Church still exists today. Despite Mr. Enloe’s very capable attempts to deflect the real issue, he still has to answer a very simple question which is posed to the capable and the modest alike:

Where is this unified, visible, authoritative,

and definitive New Testament Church today?

Hint: No Church who subscribes to Sola Scriptura can even qualify – not because they came 1500 years later, but because their very ecclesiology does not allow it.

It cannot be emphasized enough that Protestants simply are not bound to think of authority matters in the same rigid, deductive, rationalistic way that Roman Catholic epologists do. We are not bound to think in terms of dichotomies such as “Either the Church is infallible or there is no Church and Christ lied”, “Either you have ‘Tradition’ or you have each man alone with his own Bible”, “Either accept all of ‘Tradition’ or chunk it all in the name of your own authority”, and so forth–all very common dichotomies that Roman epologists try to force on Protestants. This rationalism should not be capitulated to, but resisted with every ounce of strength one has.

In the fullness of time, God the Father sent his only begotten Son in the Person of Jesus Christ, the second Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity, to assume created flesh from the Virgin Mary. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus, the one mediator and redeemer of mankind, was able to reconcile and restore, through His suffering and death on the cross, man’s relationship with God. He chose to do this, in his incomprehensible and unfathomable ways, through the Incarnation, the pinnacle and apex of God’s love for man. His Church is the extension of this Incarnation: when She speaks, He speaks. He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.(Luke 10:16) Yet, we find that, based on his comments throughout this discussion, Mr. Enloe refuses to acknowledge that JESUS SPEAKS through His Church, and because He does do so, the Church cannot err because the Holy Spirit who guides the Church cannot err (Cf. Matthew 16:18-19; John 14:25-26). Mr. Enloe’s problem is not with the Catholic Church per se. That is merely an incidental consequent of his creed. His real difficulty, as with most Protestants, is with the doctrine of the Incarnation and the Body of Christ in this world.

Thus, when Pacheco writes:

Although there might be a true Sola Scripturist, there can be no way of identifying them. In fact, there might not even be one person who has all the truth necessary for salvation. In essence, under the Sola Scriptura system, God has set up a true Sola Scriptura group (or various individuals known only to God or no one at all) with no way of identifying who they are (if they do exist). Yet, curiously, if the true Sola Scripturists were correct and all others false, then they would be essentially replacing Rome with themselves as the true proclaimers of the Gospel.

So, in other words, the Sola Scriptura system cannot even attempt to identify and sift who are the true Sola Scripturists and who are the false Sola Scripturists since, as we have already seen, the ecclesiology of Sola Scriptura – being confined to the Scriptures – traps anyone who seeks to do so. If only Scripture has the authority to determine the truth, then no individual Sola Scripturist can categorically reject another Sola Scripturist‘s theology – since he has no authority to do so. He cannot point to a mechanism of resolution that his co-religionist cannot also claim, which by definition, is the bible alone. In effect, there is a stalemate with no possibility of resolution.

We reply that he is talking about something that does not even remotely engage Sola Scriptura or any of its practitioners. Rather, he is operating on the false definition of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture is the only rule of faith, period”) that is common to Roman epologists. While it certainly is true that many Fundamentalist denominations portray authority matters in just this way, reflection soon dispels the illusion. There is no such thing as a “no tradition” position, for such a view amounts to saying “We don’t believe in tradition; it’s contrary to our traditional position”. Any way of doing things that is more than five minutes old is a tradition, and everyone has these. All surface denials to the contrary, every organized group of Christians has a theological structure–a tradition–within which it reads the Bible and tries to live out what it sees there. As well, each group speaks authoritatively against the traditions of all the others. Protestants are no different than Roman Catholics at this point.

Although I have addressed this before, I will simply add one comment. Mr. Enloe has made a rather remarkable statement. He stated that “each group speaks authoritatively against the traditions of all the others.” Mr. Enloe, our reading audience would like to know how one Protestant denomination can speak with “authority” against another denomination? The whole notion of authority is that some have it while others do not. On what basis, Mr. Enloe, can one Protestant denomination speak “authoritatively” against another Protestant denomination? Through the system of the bible ALONE? Mr. Enloe, let us be frank with one another. You have been trying to straddle the fence here somewhat between Scripture ALONE and some kind of half baked idea of a semi-authoritative Protestant tradition. But this tradition, however you want to massage it, is not comparable to the Catholic and biblical notion. The bottom line is that the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has no equal in the Sola Scriptura world, and no Protestant would ever claim that it has. You might claim some kind of tradition within a particular denomination, but it hardly has the same “teeth” with the same “bite” which the Catholic one does. All, of this, of course still begs the question: from whence did these groups get their authority, Mr. Enloe? The bible? Martin Luther? John Calvin?

Pacheco next opines:

Under the Sola Scriptura system, anyone can apply their own authority, which is non-binding and therefore useless, in arriving at a moral or doctrinal decision. Yet, if anyone can apply the authority of Scripture licitly – yet in opposite moral or doctrinal directions – then there exists no real, relevant or binding authority in Scripture. The authority is certainly there, but there is no way of using or applying that authority to the faithful when a conflict arises. Under the Sola Scriptura system, there can be no definitive, universal, and binding settlement over those who do not share any particular Sola Scripturist‘s view (unless there exists an authority outside of Scripture to apply its view). In essence, if you cannot appropriate the authority of Scripture to yourself to the exclusion of someone else, then that other person has the same ‘right’ and ‘power’ to wield the authority of that same Scripture against you.

Let’s take this a sentence at a time.

First, under the Sola Scriptura system, the authority of the visible church is, in fact, binding. As a general rule, Protestants do take seriously the Scriptural injunctions about obeying those in authority over them (such as Hebrews 13:17). One suspects that Mr. Pacheco’s criticism is based on making volatile, separatist Fundamentalist groups the norm for all of Protestantism.

Not at all, Mr. Enloe. I am addressing your particular ecclesiology. Let’s consider your biblical reference, Hebrews 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

There is a proviso, here, for Mr. Enloe which is recorded no where in the bible, ironically enough for him. He “obeys” only when his understanding of Scripture is not contradicted. However, when that point comes (and it certainly has come thousands of time in the Protestant world), his obedience ends. Of course, a Roman Catholic does not end his obedience but maintains it just like the bible commands him to do. In fact, it is a misnomer to say that Protestants “obey”. Some certainly do, but many do not. The latter simply “associate” with one another as long as their theology is not contradicted by their current pastor. A Protestant’s ecclesiology allows for perpetual personal popery.

Second, the notion that because different people can apply Scripture in “opposite moral or doctrinal directions” means “there exists no real, relevant or binding authority in Scripture” is simply false. The matter of a given person or group’s (possible) misunderstanding of Scripture is not relevant to the matter of Scripture’s intrinsic authority. The facts are that (1) in a normally functioning Protestant church resolution of conflicts by application of Scripture is the universally accepted norm and (2) that all parties in disputes among Protestants believe they are bowing to the authority of Scripture even when they disagree as to Scripture’s meaning.

If Protestants really believed that they were bowing to the authority of Scriptures and did not separate when they disagreed, they would remain united since no Protestant would nullify the authority of Scripture. The truth, however, does not reflect Mr. Enloe’s claim. Protestants (and everyone else for that matter) know very well that when there is a question on a doctrinal issue, it is the authority of those who are imposing Scripture’s application that is being bowed down to. That, dear readers, is why they can justify their rebellion against the last “administration”. No Protestant would go against the authority of the Scriptures themselves.

Third, while it is true to say that “there can be no definitive, universal, and binding settlement over those who do not share any particular Sola Scripturist‘s view” (emphasis here mine), it does not follow from this that there is no definitive and binding settlement at all. At the very least, the decisions of a given Reformed Baptist eldership are definitive and binding for that particular congregation of Reformed Baptists, just as the decisions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America are definitive and binding on all members of the Presbyterian Church in America. Pacheco’s criticism here operates on the bare assumption that his own Church is the Universal Church, whose decrees bind all Christians everywhere. Certainly he may assume this as part of defining his position over against the Protestant one, but when the assumption then causes him to make bad apologetic arguments he should expect opposition. The Roman Catholic position on the nature and identity of “the Church” simply is not obvious. The arguments for it are highly challengeable and in some cases (as has already been shown) reversible.

I simply cannot understand how Mr. Enloe, the competent apologist that he is, cannot see the manifest defect in his argument. He states, for instance, “the decisions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America are definitive and binding on all members of the Presbyterian Church in America.” Really? Very well then, let us turn to this particular denomination’s recent deliberations as a demonstration of how lucid Mr. Enloe’s contention is.

The PCA has recently debated and (presumably) passed a resolution to allow openly gay militants to become ordained ministers of its denomination. (Readers can quickly peruse CAI’s commentary on this blasphemy here.) Now, then, Mr. Enloe, explain to us just how “definitive and binding” this decision is on those unfortunate Godly souls of this particular denomination? No doubt there will be yet another rift in this denomination, as the more Godly members will not be able to stomach this decision.

My point, here, however, is not to point out another rift in Protestantism. No, my point is simply this: there is no such thing as a “binding decision” in Protestantism. Any Protestant conventional/concilliar decision is only binding if one continues to be a member of that particular denomination. You are not bound, by almighty God, to be held accountable for leaving that denomination. You are only accountable to what the bible teaches, and not man’s traditions. Hence, there is absolutely no binding mechanism that can reach OUTSIDE of the denominational structure – leaving the whole purpose of a binding mechanism rather impotent. Please recall the example of the Protestant lawyers and Protestant judge: it would not be unlike telling a judge that you will be seeking another verdict from a different judge by simply stepping outside of his jurisdiction! What kind of society (and the Christian Church is a society) is supposed to work on that kind of model?

Contrast this unsatisfactory scenario with what the Catholic Church teaches about “binding” a believer: no matter where you go or what you become, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim – it matters not. You are bound, as a baptized Catholic, to submit to the teaching. Period. The consequences of not doing so are the same as opposing what one believes the bible teaches.

Fourth, the idea that “if you cannot appropriate the authority of Scripture to yourself to the exclusion of someone else, then that other person has the same ‘right’ and ‘power’ to wield the authority of that same Scripture against you” is useless precisely because the authority of Pacheco’s Church to “appropriate the authority of Scripture to [itself] to the exclusion of [everyone] else” is not accepted by all parties. The Reformation can and does “wield the authority of that same Scripture” that the Roman Catholic Church wields–and in “opposite moral or doctrinal directions”. Rome’s wielding of Scripture authority on the function of Peter in the Church does not impress the Eastern Orthodox, who equally wield the same Scripture authority against Rome. Pacheco’s argument implies the naive idea that simply because Rome claims a grand Apostolic authority that goes back for millennia, it must be so. Once more it must be noted that Rome’s genealogical claims simply are not impressive to anyone who does not already accept her authority for more basic, personal reasons.

Mr. Enloe states that my exclusive idea of authority (rather comical, in my opinion, since authority is exclusive by its very nature) is “useless” precisely because the authority of my Church is “not accepted by all parties”. What?! What kind of argument is that? Please do not confuse democratic authority which can be conferred or revoked by man with Godly authority which can never be revoked except by God Himself. Those who try and play Korah end up suffering the consequences (Cf. Numbers 26:11; Jude 1:11). This appears to be the underlying premise of Mr. Enloe’s rejection. One has to wonder if Mr. Enloe would subject the bible to such a poor litmus test as he has done with Tradition. Tell us, Mr. Enloe, if pagans reject the bible as authoritative, then does that mean its claims are irrelevant? We are beginning to see how Mr. Enloe’s view of authority is shaped by public consensus. Authority is ultimately given by God, Mr. Enloe. It does not depend upon man’s consensus.

Further, contrary to Pacheco’s assertion Protestants do, in fact, have a mechanism for resolving disagreements. Most frequently this method operates on the level of local churches, and looks remarkably the same across denominations. Questions arise within a given church and the leadership of that church handles them to the best of its ability. The only real differences arise on matters of the particular polity of each church and in how many levels of judicial authority each has (e.g., independent churches have no levels beyond the eldership of their own body whereas churches that follow a generally presbyterian model have several levels above the local church). The mere fact that this method doesn’t look like the Roman Catholic one does not entail that it is wrong or even that it fails.

It is not a matter of mere look, Mr. Enloe. We are not talking about the mere decisions of various church councils. Obviously each denomination must grapple with moral and theological questions and arrive at a decision. No one is disputing that. What I am trying to communicate to you is simply that the biblical model of a “binding decision” is far different than the one held by Protestant denominationalism. The “Christian party of the Pharisees” did not have the licit option of breaking from the Apostles after the Council of Jerusalem. But, according to the model which you subscribe to, they not only have that right but are encouraged to do so if their reading of Scripture is at variance with the Apostles and elders! I ask Mr. Enloe, for the sake of his own salvation and out of genuine Christian charity, to please re-visit his notion of a “binding decision”.

Indeed, the only way the Roman Catholic can say this Protestant method “fails” is to use a purely pragmatic criterion of truth, wherein the truth is found by seeing what “works” in relation to some pre-set goal. Now the chief bane of pragmatism has always been that one position that uses the method cannot effectively defend it’s [sic] claims against another position that also uses that criterion. If one party refuses to accept the pre-set goal of the other, the pragmatic test cannot even get started. Thus, since Protestants deny the Roman Catholic view of conflict resolution, where does that leave the Roman Catholic epologist’s claims? Ipse dixit and petitio principii raise their heads again.

This is hardly a matter of having “pre-set goals”. The Catholic Faith is merely the only possible and coherent conclusion one can come to within the Christian worldview. Pragmatism is not the foundation of Catholicism but is something which all Christians must face in some degree. As Mr. Enloe reminded us earlier on, we live in the REAL world, with real people, and real difficulties. Hence, the Lord has provided for a REAL mechanism to deal with this. Our Lord Jesus Christ solemnly appointed pastors to fulfill their offices and gave them the definitive and binding means to do so. He did not have in His mind the idea of denominationalism which would circumvent and render useless His command: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven (Matthew 18:18). Notice, Mr. Enloe, that He did not say “whatever you bind in your denomination only will be bound in heaven”.

This is the most interesting section of Pacheco’s article. Above we mentioned the obvious criticism of the “Scripture plus an infallible interpreter” scheme that the Roman Catholic Church utilizes, pointing out that there are other groups that claim the same. We said that since this is the case, then if “unity” is the defining mark of whether an authority scheme works, the Roman Catholic system fails its own test. Pacheco seems sensitive to this criticism, for he writes that:

But cannot the same objection be raised against the Catholic Church? Just because it claims to be infallible and escape the Sola Scriptura trap, it still has to prove that it alone is infallible while the other claimants are not. This is true. But, the question then has fundamentally shifted from between systems to within systems. This is the first issue which must be appreciated. The question regarding who represents the true voice of the Gospel is, on a fundamental level, substantially different from evaluating the systems themselves.

Essentially, Pacheco is reversing the question with which he closed the last section. There he stated that “if you cannot appropriate the authority of Scripture to yourself to the exclusion of someone else, then that other person has the same ‘right’ and ‘power’ to wield the authority of that same Scripture against you”. Here he is attempting to anticipate the Protestant reversal of his argument: “if you cannot appropriate the authority of the Church to yourself to the exclusion of someone else, then that other person has the same ‘right’ and ‘power’ to wield the authority of that same Church against you”. Pacheco subsequently asserts: pointing to the

(a) difficulty in identifying who is the true voice among competing claims (which the Sola Scripturist cannot even do) does not represent the same task as

(b) assessing the internal strength of the system itself

As mentioned above, the idea that the Sola Scripturist cannot identify “the true voice” among competing claims is false. In principle, that identification can be made as all the groups work towards reaching common understandings of the passages they dispute. The method proceeds by exegesis of the text and constant back-and-forth dialogue about the traditions that all bring to their reading of Scripture. To say that the mere existence of disagreement among advocates of Sola Scriptura means that resolution of the disagreement cannot occur is simply a non sequitur.

No, Mr. Enloe, it is not non sequitur but rather quite historical and self-evident and logical. As I have stated repeatedly here, resolution of a conflict ultimately entails coming before some higher authority to put an end to the squabbling. Perhaps Mr. Enloe would like to offer a biblical precedence for his view of “dialogue without an ultimate human authority.” Even our own natural sensibilities recognize the disastrous result of this view if applied to society at large. Mr. Enloe surely recognizes that two groups can and do remain intransigent in their position despite all of the dialoguing in the world. We would not be having this discussion if the opposite were true. In fact, Christianity, as a whole, is a wonderful example of how dialogue by itself does not ultimately resolve disputes. There must be some instrument, despite our differences, of i) submitting to the truth while ii) remaining one body and iii) professing the same creed. The Catholic way has such an instrument; Mr. Enloe’s way does not. His system cannot hold to these three biblical mandates at the same time.

Every Protestant believes his understanding of Scripture is true, and therefore, by holding to the view he holds he believes he is submitting to the authority of Scripture. Scripture binds his conscience, just as the premises of the Sola Scriptura view say it does. In much the same epistemological manner, each advocate of the “Ecclesia Dei” system believes his identification of “the Church” is correct, and therefore, by holding to what that “the Church” teaches he believes he is submitting to “the Church”. The net effect is that we agree with Pacheco’s distinction while noting that the parenthetical “which Sola Scriptura cannot even do” is not a part of the logic, but merely an extraneous comment thrown in for a polemic purpose.

While there is a certain superficial truth to Mr. Enloe’s contention, there is also an enormous deficiency in it. First, on a fundamental level, no adherent of Sola Scriptura has any binding authority on any of the other adherents of it. Each of these competing adherents nullify any claim on the truth the others might claim since they all share the same authority. So, while one of them may indeed theoretically have the complete truth, there is no objective mechanism for everyone else to know or even acknowledge it. In order to demonstrate one has the truth, there must be some distinguishing instrumental element that separates the adherent’s claim. With Sola Scriptura, the system itself does not permit ANY other binding authority to be assumed by its adherents. On that basis alone, Sola Scriptura is disqualified from competition. Each adherent of Ecclesia Dei, on the other hand, can and do bind all adherents of all systems of all religions.

Second, let the reader note Mr. Enloe’s fallacious construction of the issue. He presents the Catholic and the Protestant as being in the same position in regards to an infallible source. The question for Mr. Enloe is: what is the infallible source? Your model says it is the bible alone apart from the Church. However, if the Church is also infallible, then we are obviously not in the same position, epistemologically speaking, since you deny an infallible instrument of divine revelation. You end up accepting one source without acknowledging the other. It would be tantamount to accepting one Scriptural passage which suits your tastes while denying another one which you find unpalatable. Hence, if the Ecclesia Dei model is correct, you cannot even be said to hold to an infallible source since the other one you reject contradicts your theology – unless of course, you want to maintain that two infallible sources can contradict one another. (Conversely, if the Ecclesia Deimodel is not correct, then the Catholic is accepting an instrument which is not infallible. This still means, however, regardless of who is correct on ED, the epistemological position of the two groups is hardly the same.)

Pacheco continues:

Our Protestant opponents like to jump to (a) without addressing (b) first.

The first exercise is to identify the internal sustainability of each system. Then and only then, do we concern ourselves with further claims within each system. We have discovered that the Sola Scriptura system is epistemologically flawed, and so it must be likewise rejected as an untenable ecclesiology.

Of course, as we saw above, Pacheco has not shown that the Sola Scriptura system is epistemologically flawed. His case was built on generalizations, begged definitions, false contrasts, and reversible logic. But let us see how he defends the internal sustainability of the Ecclesia Dei system. He gives us a visual aid:

ECCLESIA DEI

S O L A
S C R I
P T U R
A . . .

He explains that:

The bible is (at least) a source of each system. The above diagrams represent a visual aid to capture the challenge which each system faces. The outer boundary of each system represents the means by which the Gospel is communicated. Under Sola Scriptura, the outer boundary cannot sustain itself since the means of ultimate communication – the denominational filter – is fractured and divided. The boundary starts to disintegrate because of all of the opposing voices (represented by the smaller squares) and the absence of an adhesive to keep them together. These voices unrestrainedly pull the boundary in opposite directions, causing the whole system’s internal demolition. Thus, while the source of the system (the bible) is not affected, the Sola Scriptura system itself collapses since it cannot speak cohesively for the source.

What is wrong with this picture (literally)? For one thing, the premise that drives it is that each “opposing voice” in the smaller squares teaches a completely contradictory system to the ones in all the other boxes. But this premise can only be defended by another commonplace of Roman polemics–making the most out of Protestant disagreement while downplaying Protestant agreement. If Pacheco was to fill in those small squares with actual Protestant denominations (randomly selected, even!) and then allow a detailed comparison of their teachings to be done, the picture that would emerge would be quite different from the one he conveys by keeping the diagram abstract.

Well, that would indeed be an interesting exercise I do not doubt. Boy, would I love to see that! My bookie says that Mr. Enloe and an Arminian (from any host of Sola Scriptura denominations) could not stay in the same room for more than 15 minutes. Any takers? There ain’t nothin’ to talk about, folks. They both understand each other’s position on justification, for instance; however, no amount of dialogue would change their view of their opponent’s position. James White and Norman Geisler should be able to educate Mr. Enloe on the progress they have made on predestination using the bible alone. The reality is simply an ugly one that Mr. Enloe fiercely refuses to acknowledge. The Calvinist and the Arminian, who both hold the bible to be the only infallible means of understanding the truth, simply reject each other’s creed. Period. Now, what is there left to do under Sola Scriptura? Stick around and babble on endlessly at one another, educating the other as to “what the bible teaches”?

Let us just take one issue. Contrary to Pacheco’s assertion, the “outer boundary”, “the means by which the Gospel is communicated”, is precisely the same in all Protestant denominations–the preaching of the Word of God.

Of course. Someone must speak. But, the problem which Mr. Enloe fails to appreciate is that “all Protestant denominations”(read “Sola Scripturists”) do not speak with one voice even though they claim the same basis for their authority. As I have tried to impress on Mr. Enloe, obviously unsuccessfully, in order to elevate his gospel over another’s gospel, he must have something his co-religionist does not have. As soon as he opens his mouth to preach his gospel, after everyone else has had their opportunity, the objective and dispassionate observer asks a very reasonable question: “Which gospel do I believe?”

Remember that all Protestant denominations hold to Sola Scriptura as the method of discovering divine truth. Now ask the question that Pacheco’s own presentation implies: How much real difference (much less outright contradiction) actually exists between Protestant denominations regarding “the Gospel”? One acid test for this is to find out how many of the denominations anathematize all the others for teaching “false Gospels”. I am not personally aware of any that do this, although growing up a Fundamentalist I did see my fair share of volatile, sectarian, independent small town churches that split apart over such issues as internal politics between the pastor and deacons, decoration of the sanctuary, the style of the pastor’s sermons, and so forth. I recall pastors in these sorts of churches making derogatory (and at the time, humorous to me) remarks about some of the beliefs of other denominations, but I cannot recall any invocations of damnation upon them for teaching “false Gospels”.

Is this supposed to impress me? That Protestant denominations do not issue any invocations of damnation against one another? I suspect that such denunciations are much more common (and not at all restricted to “Fundamentalists”) than Mr. Enloe is leading us to believe. A quick little peak into James White’s bookstore will reveal a very different story than the one Mr. Enloe is telling.

Again we see a common problem that Roman epologists have–reading into the Protestant system their own understanding of the doctrinal element of faith as assent to a tightly woven, comprehensive set of de fide dogmas. It is Rome that damns other Christian groups for holding “false Gospels” by rejecting such abstruse, highly nuanced things as the Marian dogmas, transubstantiation, and the decrees of the Council of Trent.

No, Mr. Enloe, the Catholic Church damns no one. Obviously, you have misunderstood the Catholic Church’s teaching. It merely condemns the error and preserves the truth. Whether someone culpably rejects the Church’s teaching is not a matter for the Church to decide. That is between God and the person. As far as “false gospels” go, God damns no one is who is genuinely using their God-given conscience to seek His truth:

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4)

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. (Acts 10:34-35)

This means that, for instance, an ignorant “Joe Fundy” can find salvation if he is genuinely ignorant of any truth the Church has proclaimed. He is not saved apart from the Catholic Church but through her in a mystical and mysterious way. Unlike Calvinism, the Catholic faith is about not only justice but mercy and hope. Mr. Enloe, on the other hand, is in a comparatively worse position than Joe Fundy. Since he has been exposed to the truth, his culpability before God’s throne is much higher. He has the great privilege of hearing and understanding the true Gospel which can become a source of eternal life for him, but should he remain obstinate and culpable (only God knows that) in his rejection of the Faith, then he has denied the truth and will find himself with the damned. I sincerely hope and pray that he turns from his course.

It is Rome that dares to say one must give religious assent of the mind to whatever the Church says in order to be saved. It is Rome who treats virtually every aspect of Christian doctrine as fundamental to “the Gospel”, and thus, Rome which ends up saying that if you do not agree with her on Item X, you hold “a different Gospel”.

This is false. There are many, many aspects and nuances of the Church’s teaching which are not defined. As such her children are free to hold competing views of these questions. In fact, there are probably even some theological issues which Mr. Enloe and I would agree on – whose position would be against some Catholics!

By contrast, all the Protestant denominations hold that “the Gospel” is simply the message of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ which saves us when we simply believe apart from works (sola fide). All Protestants agree on “the Gospel”, which, recalling the discussion above about the meaning of “perspicuity”, is a synonym for “the things necessary for salvation”. Thus, to borrow the fascinating terms of another Roman epologist’s article on the amazing degree of disagreement that exists among Roman Catholics, “Protestants agree on everything. It’s everything else we disagree on”.

I think the above illustration of what “all Protestants hold” is somewhat optimistic.

Pacheco then exposits the (supposed) merits of the Ecclesia Dei system over against the (supposed) deficiencies of the Sola Scriptura system:

Under the ED model, however, there is no such internal collapse since the ‘ecclesiastical office’ is the only voice which can definitively speak on a doctrinal or moral issue. While differing factions within the ecclesiastical community(ies) may seek to explode the boundary (much as in the same way as under the Sola Scripturamodel), the internal unity of the system and cohesiveness of the message are ultimately preserved because of the centrality and authority of the ‘ecclesiastical office’ within each community.

Our opponent may simply then point out that there are many ‘ecclesiastical offices’ to choose from (i.e. Rome, Brooklyn, Salt Lake City, etc.) so there is really no difference from the Protestant denominational problem. However, this is a deficient analysis of the question since here we are talking about the system itself, not the legitimacy of the contestants within the system. The key is to appreciate that the Sola Scriptura does not put a judicial weight on a denomination’s authority while the ED does. That is an enormous but subtle distinction. The system of Sola Scriptura cannot come to a resolution on doctrinal matters while the system of ED can and does do so.

Pacheco speaks grandly of the “deficient analysis of the question” that Protestants supposedly use, but on closer inspection we see that the deficiency is entirely Pacheco’s. Again we suspect that Pacheco’s experience of “Protestantism” is largely with loose-knit, highly informal Fundamentalist bodies which tend to downplay the matters of authority that they, like all organized bodies, are simply unable to function without. The simple fact is that even in loosely-knit, highly informal Fundamentalist bodies–even ones that make the incorrect claim that they have “no creed but Christ”–conflict resolution is thought of in a “judicial” manner. No human society whatever, much less any society of Christians, can get along without some conception of internal governance that all the members respect. Problems in informal Fundamentalist groups are handled by discussions between the laity and the leadership, and the decisions of the leadership do stand as binding upon the laity. Church splits, the very phenomenon that Roman epologists love to highlight, are proof that when the leadership of a given body of Christians decides something, those on the losing side understand that they have lost the battle to promote their ideas within that body. Whether judicial language is invoked or not is irrelevant to the fact that a judicial proceeding has taken place and a definitive judgment has been reached. The same thing occurs (but with decidedly more visibility, formality, and organization) in non-Fundamentalist, confessional groups such as Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian ones.

Mr. Enloe, I am rather shocked. I could not have said it better myself. I concede almost everything you have said — except two little sentences:

#1 – “Problems in informal Fundamentalist groups…and the decisions of the leadership do stand as binding upon the laity.”

They do? Then tell me why your very noble, biblical, logical, and correct rule did not apply to the original reformers? In order to save your system, Mr. Enloe, I think you will have to legitimately refine your assertion above to be “binding upon the laity unless the leadership’s decision is ‘unbiblical'” – which means you are back to square 1 with no real binding authority to speak of.

#2- “Church splits…those on the losing side understand that they have lost the battle to promote their ideas within that body.” (emphasis mine)

Which body, Mr. Enloe? Failing to have their views endorsed by THAT body, they simply move on to ANOTHER body. Yet, the Scriptures teach that they cannot move on to another body, Mr. Enloe:

There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Pacheco’s “enormous but subtle distinction” between the supposed lack of “judicial weight” in Sola Scriptura denominations’ authority and the presence of such in Ecclesia Dei systems is at best uninformed and at worst overly simplistic and distorted. Put simply, there is zero difference between the way that judicial authority functions in the two systems. A group of laymen disputes certain decisions of the leadership of the Second Street Independent Baptist Church and leaves that body to form another one. A group of concerned Roman Catholics led largely by towering intellects in the field of Church history disputes a highly controversial decision of the Magisterium and leaves that body to form the “Old Catholics”. A group of conservative Presbyterians wages a long and bitter battle with modernistic forces in their denomination and eventually decides to withdraw to form a better, more faithful body. A group of Roman Catholic priests disputes certain decisions of the Magisterium and forms a special society dedicated to maintaining “true Catholic teaching” and “the true Mass”. In all these cases (and many more) the principles at work are the same. The authority structure of the “parent” group makes a judicial, binding decision, some people understand that they have lost the judicial battle, and, feeling that they cannot live with the authority structure’s decision they act accordingly. There is zero difference between the Sola Scriptura system and the Ecclesia Dei system at this point. Pacheco’s “enormous and subtle” distinction cannot stand when it is forced to apply itself to real world situations rather than abstract theorizing done from the comfort of the study and the impersonal word processor.

Oh, but there is a difference, Mr. Enloe. All of those scenarios above only seek to highlight it. In the case of a Protestant body, the secessionist does not worry about his salvation because he is merely abiding by the Scriptures. At the end of the day, the Church he attends and the bodies that regulate him are merely transparent and disposable – if push comes to shove. In the case of the Old Catholics and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), their case is very different. While they both recognize the binding decrees of the Church in principle, they simply choose to exempt themselves from those decrees for their own pet reasons – not unlike Luther’s public, feigned loyalty to the Pope in the early days of his revolt. The Catholic Church, after all, did not leave the Old Catholics or the Society of Saint Pius X. The Protestant secessionist, on the other hand, does not recognize the Church’s authority over him EVEN IN PRINCIPLE.

Pacheco is, perhaps, not entirely blind to this danger of disconnecting logic from reality (even though his entire article does just this). He closes his article with an illustration that is highly revealing as to the depth of his misunderstanding of the epistemological issues. He writes:

Perhaps at this stage an illustration would be helpful to bring the issue down from the abstract to the concrete. Let us propose a doctrinal question and pose it to representatives of each system. Let us say that “Jack” wants to know what the truth is concerning the necessity of water baptism and what its significance is in salvation.

The representatives are…

Representing the Sola Scriptura system:
Paul, the Protestant

Representing the ED system:
Charlie, the Catholic
Mark, the Mormon
Joe, the Jehovah’s Witness.

We note in passing that it is interesting to see (at last!) a Roman Catholic epologist admitting what Eric Svendsen has been pointing out for several years now–that the system of authority that Roman Catholicism uses is precisely the same as the one used by various non-Christian cults. Pacheco recognizes that the system of “Scripture plus an infallible interpreter” is equally amenable to the (supposed) “One True Church that Christ founded” and to heretical and apostate groups. This point is very telling, especially given the common Roman epologist polemic that Sola Scriptura is a method that both orthodox Protestants and unorthodox heretics can use.

Agreed — with the proviso that these heretical groups who claim infallibility do not typically come directly from the Catholic Church or even a few generations removed from Her. Rather, they typically come from a 19th-20th century Protestant denomination who holds to Sola Scriptura. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, for instance, are nineteenth century sects splitting off from Sola Scriptura denominations.

Obviously Pacheco would agree that “Mark the Mormon” and “Joe the Jehovah’s Witness” are misusing the Ecclesia Dei system by misidentifying the Ecclesia. This being the case, his earlier arguments against the perspicuity of Scripture and Sola Scriptura as a whole is once again shown to be deficient. His own inevitable arguments against “Mark” and “Joe” as to the correct identity of the Ecclesia would be exactly the same sort of argument that a Reformed Baptist might make against a Presbyterian as to the meaning of some disputed passage of Scripture. In both cases, all the disputed parties share a commitment to the same authority system, but this neither produces the sort of rigid, institutional unity that the Roman epologist insists is an essential mark of the True Church nor ends all disputes. Just as within the Sola Scriptura system no mere pronouncement about infant baptism from a Presbyterian General Assembly makes all Reformed Baptists submit to the Presbyterian Church, so too no mere papal ex cathedra statement makes Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses submit to the Roman Church. What this fact does to Pacheco’s neat little diagram above is very telling.

Well, again, Mr. Enloe misses the mark rather badly with his observations above. Once we are outside of the bible trap, we can look at all those groups claiming infallibility and find out from whence they came, and just exactly what precise authority they are claiming. If Mr. Enloe wants to seriously suggest that the historic and logical claims of binding authority of the Mormons and Witnesses are comparable to the Catholic Church’s claims, then I would be glad to engage him on it. My advice would be for him to stick with the solas.

But let us return to his closing illustration.

Paul steps up first. But there is a problem. Since Paul represents a number of competing factions within his system (Sola Scriptura) with none having authority over the other, he cannot give a coherent or cogent answer. Therefore, in answer to the question, he simply says: “I can’t answer the question.” Now the other three guys have their turn. Since their system (ED) recognizes an authority outside of the bible, they are not neutralized by the others’ opinion of the bible. (Under the Sola Scriptura system, recall that Paul could not speak since all of the factions he represented had equal weight and authority.) Charlie, Mark, and Joe, however, are free to voice an opinion on the question based on the alleged authority they have outside of the bible. Of course, after hearing the answers, Jack will want to know which is the legitimate authority, but at that point, the question then changes from between systems (SS vs. ED) to within the systems – namely, within the ED system (Roman Catholic, JW, Mormon). And that is all the proponents of the ED system have to do; namely, to prove that Sola Scriptura cannot work and that ED does work – which we have just demonstrated. Discovering which contestant in the ED system is the legitimate one is another question entirely.

This illustration does not require much to show it’s fallacious nature. Building on what we have already noted throughout this paper, the answer to Pacheco here is (dare I say?) quite perspicuous. Recall that Pacheco’s point is that Protestantism is a “box” made up of many competing squares. How then can he here propose to represent all of Protestantism by a single person (“Paul”)? Since Pacheco wants to capitalize on Protestant divisions, we have to ask him, “Is Paul a Baptist or a Presbyterian?” He cannot be simply a “generic Protestant” representing all Protestants, since not all Protestants agree on the answer to the question of baptism.

Exactly! He cannot be a “generic Protestant”, but he should be!

Because Pacheco allows three representatives of the Ecclesia Dei system, to be fair he must allow three representatives of the Sola Scriptura system. If we were to rename his single Protestant character “Paul the Presbyterian” and then introduce two other characters, “Bob the Baptist” and “Luke the Lutheran”, suddenly the entire contrast (weighing supposed differences) would become a comparison (weighing similarities).

Again, Mr. Enloe fails to understand my point (not that this is entirely his fault, mind you, since my article was not really comprehensive and detailed). My point was simply to show that the basis for speaking authoritatively could not be the system of Sola Scriptura since all of its adherents could not “elect” a spokesperson to do so. In the case of Ecclesia Dei, each participant draws on their own claim to authority existing outside of a common source, the bible, which, presumably, none of the others share.

The scenario thus altered dramatically in the direction of fairness, we would soon discover that the Sola Scriptura representatives would be exactly what Pacheco says of his Ecclesia Dei representatives: “free to voice an opinion on the question based on the alleged authority they have outside of the bible”. Because all Christians have extra-biblical traditions, all the parties on both sides would do the same thing in defining their particular beliefs. Charlie the Catholic would invoke the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Mark the Mormon would invoke the Book of Mormon, and Joe the Jehovah’s Witness would invoke the Watchtower Society. Paul the Presbyterian would invoke the Westminster Confession of Faith, Bob the Baptist would invoke the 1689 London Baptist Confession, and Luke the Lutheran would invoke the Augsburg Confession. We see then, that on the level of bare principle that Pacheco wishes to treat the authority issues, the Sola Scripturasystem practically functions in exactly the same way as the Ecclesia Dei system.

I guess Mr. Enloe just does not get it. Protestant Creeds and those who draft them are not on par with the authority of the Scriptures. Catholic ones are!

The real difference between the systems is, of course, that the former does not rest infallibility in the extra-biblical traditions, but strives to always bring those traditions to the bar of the ultimate authority, the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture.

Just curious, Mr. Enloe, why cannot the same Holy Spirit who speaks through Scripture protect any particular “denomination” from error, especially in light of John 14:25-26?

Although we cannot go into this here, we note also that Pacheco’s presentation of Sola Scriptura relies tacitly on the skeptical notion that truth cannot be derived from texts apart from “infallible interpretation”.

No. I would not say that. I believe that someone can certainly come to the truth regarding certain elements of the true faith. I simply deny that they will be able to come to all of them without the concrete help of those already grounded in the faith.

Pacheco concludes: “The bottom line here, folks, is that the Sola Scriptura is a trap. You can’t win and you can’t get out”. On the contrary, the real bottom line is that Pacheco’s article is just one more example of the typical Roman Catholic epologist reliance on abstract analyses and vaguely defined principles worked out to their bitter, cold, end by the unforgiving canons of logic divorced from all context and completely detached from the real world of flesh-and-blood people and all the decidedly illogical messiness that such a state entails. Not understanding that logic itself is contentless, the epologists [sic] attempt to make finding truth a simple, uncritical function of analyzing axioms and promulgating indubitable conclusions drawn therefrom. Logic alone is, at best, a negative test for truth–it can do little more than expose fallacious reasoning and indicate that if certain forms are followed and if all the items plugged into the form are actually true, then the conclusion is true (on a purely intellectual level, but not necessarily on a practical one). Logic alone cannot reveal or establish truth, for it is merely a tool to examine the formal relationships of ideas. One can make arguments that are entirely “logical” but which have no connection to reality and thus, are simply pretty words and fun intellectual games. Ideas are a dime a dozen and must always be set within their proper contexts, not to mention always exposed to critical examination.

Mr. Enloe, having failed at convincing his audience of his position, resorts to the old “cold heartless logic” of Catholicism. Yes, it is sad but true. He talks about the real world, but fails to see that his ecclesiology would never function in the real world and, in fact, does not! It only functions in his head. He sees, first hand, what Sola Scriptura has wrought, not only from a historical perspective of five centuries, but during his own life experiences as well. Does he not stop to think to himself: Can this system, born in rebellion and contempt, producing so much pain, anguish, and divorce, really be what Jesus had in mind when He established that visible, united, and authoritative Church, giving Her the keys to the kingdom and binding His followers to His bride? No, Sola Scriptura is not that bride, but rather mistress who seduces men into becoming their own gods, subjecting their ideas and human philosophies ostensibly to the bible but in reality to no one but themselves.

The problem is (as we have shown by means of Pacheco’s axiomatic definitions of “perspicuity” and “Sola Scriptura“) that Roman Catholic epologists as a general rule simply do not bother to think through the axioms they put out for everyone’s consideration, but merely expect their followers and their opponents to “just see” the self-evident truth of the axioms and then “follow the yellow brick road” of Pure Logic to the Wonderful Wizard of Rome. But when their arguments are forced to come down out of the apologetic ivory tower into the real world of what they are critiquing, they are seen to be fallacious and self-serving. The epistemological “Road to Rome” is not only full of massive potholes, but in the end, it goes nowhere.

We shall let our readers decide that, Mr. Enloe. I believe I have presented a coherent and strong rebuttal to your arguments. You simply have not answered any of the difficulties which are inherent in Sola Scriptura. Pity. You are a smart guy. I would much prefer you on the winning side rather than on the losing one.

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
March 1, 2002

 

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