January 16, 2008

Ecumenism

What is it?

It means
church unity. It is a broad word that can be a specific as cooperation between denominations or as wide as unity of all faiths into one religion. For this blog post it will not refer to the unity of all religions but the unity of Christianity.

Why is it important?

The church in the New Testament is talked about as something whole made up of many different parts. From the very beginning the church suffered from factions and splitting, something Paul was very adamant in combating. Unity brings authority, it cultivates self sacrifice and accountability, it provides world wide fellowship and love of our brothers and sisters. It is important to face the world and our enemies with a united front.

Most importantly, we stand as one before Christ, as His bride and His body. In Hosea, Israel is described as a wife who is repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, with her husband showing her repeated grace. I believe this metaphor extends to the church as well. While it is important to pursue Truth and to stand for righteousness, we must also be willing to show one another, especially our brothers, grace just as Christ is showing us as a body grace.
Psalm 133
John 17:20–23
Acts 17:26–28
Romans 12
1 Corinthians 12
Galatians 3:27, 29
Ephesians 2:14–22
Ephesians 4:1–16
Colossians 3:10–15

What are the arguments/reservations against it?

Many people are apprehensive of any ecumenical movement. Mostly this comes from the fear that in order to achieve unity, strong doctrinal standards must be laid aside. Truth must be compromised and watered down. This is a valid concern, but in the very least it shouldn’t stop us from trying to find a way to bridge gaps instead of creating them.
Luke 16:13
2 Cor. 6:14-15
Invalid concerns:
A historical rivalry, feud, or grudge (which is at best immature)
The notion that unity ultimately means a path towards
the antichrist (which is at best stupid)

How has it been approached historically?

Historically unity has been approached two ways. The first was to hold ecumenical councils in which representatives from the entire known church would come together to work out a particular issue, decide on how it was to be looked at, and declare anyone who held the opposing view to be heretical, or outside of the Christian church. This worked for small disagreements or when the issue seemed pretty clear. In fact this is how we came to our current understanding of
the Trinity. But it couldn’t deal with the growing differences between the east and west. Later it wouldn’t work with the protestant reform. In fact, it ended up creating a much wider gap.

The second way it has been approached is trying to find a common ground theologically. This has been done in the past century to varying effects, the most significant moment being
Vatican 2. While this method is much better than the first (in how the current church body exists) it is either very limited in how much unity it can reach or how many different denominations it can affect. For example, the Anglican and the Catholic church can achieve a fair amount of unity but when Pentecostals are added in there is very little everyone can agree on theologically.

Why hasn’t this worked?

In my own opinion, it hasn’t worked because most ecumenical movements have focused on theological doctrine which is the very thing that is strengthened by individual interpretation and tradition. In other words, theology is what divides, it is its nature to place boundaries on interpretation and declare singular authority. Theology will never unite. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means that it shouldn’t be used as a uniting method.

What are other options?

Besides Theology there should be much more that defines a church. Things like how fellowship is done, how service is done, and the fact that we are all baptized in Christ’s name. My thesis project for my masters dealt with the unified service efforts of the different campus ministries at UTA. At the very least there should be acknowledgement of a larger body.

What is the ultimate goal?

The end product, as I see it, would be a single body by the acknowledgement and fellowship with one another, with a diverse set of theology just as every church rests in a different community with different traditions and cultures. In my mind there doesn’t need to be an ultimate authority over everybody, as long as individual congregations have some denominational authority and accountability over them. I would trust the Sovereignty of God to hold His church together in the name of His Son through His Spirit. But then again I am already trusting that is happening. I just wish we acted like it more.

10 comments:

Joshua said...

"In my own opinion, it hasn’t worked because most ecumenical movements have focused on theological doctrine which is the very thing that is strengthened by individual interpretation and tradition. In other words, theology is what divides, it is its nature to place boundaries on interpretation and declare singular authority. Theology will never unite. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it just means that it shouldn’t be used as a uniting method."

I think you are reading history one-sidedly if you conclude that theology never unites. I would argue that theology is precisely what unites the true Church together against heresy. You cite the council that formulated our understanding of the Trinity. That is an example of how theology united the Church, while also seeking to eliminate the Church of heresy. In a modern context, I would say that the debate over justification is uniting the true Church under a Biblical theology of salvation over and against a false theology of human merit. I think "ecumenical" is a word that ought to be carefully defined. Certainly there is room for theological diversity, but there are certain things (as you indicate) that cannot be compromised for unity. My point is simply that it isn't always theology that fails to unite (consider how diverse Luther and Calvin were, and yet it was fundamentally theology that made them counterparts in the Reformation).

"The end product, as I see it, would be a single body by the acknowledgement and fellowship with one another, with a diverse set of theology just as every church rests in a different community with different traditions and cultures. In my mind there doesn’t need to be an ultimate authority over everybody, as long as individual congregations have some denominational authority and accountability over them."

Apart from staunch Roman Catholics, theological liberals, and uber-Fundamentalists, I'm not sure that most of the Church isn't already under your definition. At least that would be the case for "Evangelicals."

My own view of ecumenicism it must be holy and therefore it is being brought about eschatologically, as the Spirit works in the hearts of men to regenerate them and grow them into Christlikeness, which is willing obedience to God's Law. God's Law is supreme, it is the expression of His character, and when it reigns in the hearts of men, they will be united under the Law according to the work of the Holy Spirit.

Amillennials and Premillennials (Dispensational and Historic) can at best only have an ecumenicism that is a bare unity rather than a robust one, or else they view it as arriving only after the parousia, or second coming of Christ. Postmillennials, on the other hand, understand that as the Spirit manifests its power in the hearts of believers, the Church, their minds and, subsequently, their actions, will be conformed to the image of God in Christ--i.e. there will be widespread obedience to the Law in word and deed.

Ecumenicism, the unity of the Church, is only accomplished in spirit and truth, which come from God alone. If we would wish to see the Church united, we would do well to know God's Law-Word and to apply it to every aspect of our lives.

Jacob Haynes said...

Josh, I first want to thank you for constantly reading and commenting on my theological ramblings. I don’t know if I would read it myself if I hadn’t written it. And as usual I find that we agree for the most part but we always have interesting differences.

“Ecumenicism, the unity of the Church, is only accomplished in spirit and truth, which come from God alone. If we would wish to see the Church united, we would do well to know God's Law-Word and to apply it to every aspect of our lives.”

I understand holding to Truth. If we hierarchically hold unity above Truth, we will start to fall into a watered down universalism. Still we cannot hold Truth above unity because you cannot have Truth without unity. They go together. God gives us this diversity of the body in order to hold His entire Truth. No one man can contain God (save Christ), so can no one denomination.

“I would say that the debate over justification is uniting the true Church under a Biblical theology of salvation over and against a false theology of human merit.”

Let us take Justification as an example. As a Theological principle it unites most traditional reformed Protestants in some form or another. This is good, but it still divides Catholics (and probably even most evangelicals) from Protestants. In a bigger sense what makes it important enough to define the Church, even if it is truth? It might correctly define an aspect of Christianity, but it can not cover it all. Justification is a good example because it is a broad foundational doctrine so it will unite a large portion of the church. But even though it may look like it to some it is not the entirety of Christianity.

Consider the Catholic point of view. The Theology of the Eucharist is very foundational and important, but we disagree with them. What if they’re right, in their view it will separate us from God.

I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. I think Theology can unite but it will never wholly unite, it will never bring the entire church body together.

Joshua said...

You are most welcome for my posts! I am thankful that you spend time thinking about things for me to respond to! It is much easier to respond than to come up with something interesting to say all by oneself. So kudos for having an active mind and sharing it with us!

I have a few more responses to your responses:

Jacob said:
"Still we cannot hold Truth above unity because you cannot have Truth without unity. They go together. God gives us this diversity of the body in order to hold His entire Truth. No one man can contain God (save Christ), so can no one denomination."

Joshua says:
The question is: what kind of unity? What kind of unity does the Bible indicate that Christ brings about in His Body? What is it that the Bible says we ought to agree upon without budge? I agree that there is unity in Truth, but the Truth also divides from error. Unity is not universalism, as you admit, so what is it that we unify around, if not those beliefs which must be common to Scripture as essentials. I think we probably agree on this point. What we may disagree about is what is essential.

Jacob said:
"Let us take Justification as an example. As a Theological principle it unites most traditional reformed Protestants in some form or another. This is good, but it still divides Catholics (and probably even most evangelicals) from Protestants."

Joshua says:
This goes to the point about what should be united and what should be cut off.

Jacob said:
"In a bigger sense what makes it important enough to define the Church, even if it is truth? It might correctly define an aspect of Christianity, but it can not cover it all. Justification is a good example because it is a broad foundational doctrine so it will unite a large portion of the church. But even though it may look like it to some it is not the entirety of Christianity."

Joshua says:
I don't think that justification defines truth, but it is the case that the Truth of Christianity is not without a definite conclusion regarding our justification before God. You make the mistake of taking the part for the whole, which is not my point. My point is that every aspect of the entire Truth is inseparable from every other aspect. Some parts are more central, and therefore impact more of the others. Justification is a central doctrine for it impacts what we understand about the work of Christ, the requirement of God's Law and righteousness, the character of God that is implied by that requirement, and the relationship between Christ and humanity, both in his own nature and in his relationship to every believer. These are hardly matters than have no impact on one's faith and practice. They touch nearly every part.

Jacob said:
"Consider the Catholic point of view. The Theology of the Eucharist is very foundational and important, but we disagree with them. What if they’re right, in their view it will separate us from God."

Joshua says:
The matter isn't specifically what differences there are, since many Protestants disagree about what the Eucharist is and how important it should be (Lutherans consider it consubstantiatial, Presbyterians consider it a real spiritual presence, and Baptists consider it a symbolic memorial). Where Protestants differ from Catholics regards the means of satisfaction with God. Catholics believe that the Eucharist removes certain sins from the communicant. Thus, it becomes a means by which our sins are justified.

But Scripture rightly indicates that it is not the sacrament that justifies (any more than the sacrament of baptism justifies), but Christ alone on the cross, through the imputation of his righteousness and his obedience. That is why justification is a great example, because it ties into things like the Eucharist and Baptism.

We should seek to be united as a Church, but not at the sacrifice of what Scripture clearly indicates. The Roman Catholic doctrines that I have mentioned are not derived from Scripture, but from a synthesis of Scriptural statements filtered through the lens of Aristotelian metaphysics. Clearly the Church cannot unite in such a way that makes unScriptural conclusions equal to the Divine Word?

Rather, if a brother has a belief that separates him from me, let us come together and reason with the Word of God, and if after we have laid our hearts bare before God's holy Word, and if we find no defect in our thinking, that is, if we discover that no foreign thought is imputed into the Scripture read by itself, for itself, through itself--then we may depart in unity and disagreement.

The discussion, as I said before, really comes down to what kind of unity we are supposed to have. Certainly not even all the elect are in full agreement on all matters of doctrine, but just as certainly all the elect are to agree on what Scripture makes clear. Wasn't Paul's charge to Timothy to keep the commandment pure and free from reproach and to live in righteousness? Paul did not have a problem with ousting false teachers from the Church, though they would call themselves Christians and members of the Body. We should not be less willing to be instruments of pruning in God's hands where it is logically incontrovertible that true doctrine is being polluted with error.

Even the Reformation began as an attempt to bring the Roman Catholic Church into agreement with Scripture rather than to break with them entirely. That sort of ecumenicism is what I believe is true and worthy of our efforts.

Brian said...

I got on to leave you a comment, Jacob, but I found this discussion already happening. So, for now, I'm just going to keep up with you two. You're asking talking about the questions I was going to raise, particularly the question of which doctrines get to be central/defining, and which aren't.

While I'm on it, one question I had dealt with your original comment on baptism as a possible point of unity. I have two observations:

1. Thinking of baptism (or anything else) as something to define us as unified, is in itself, a theological doctrine. It's less conceptual than something like justification, but it's still a piece of doctrine that you've chosen.

2. How can baptism unite if two (not to mention dozens) people disagree fundamentally on what baptism is and does? Again, like Josh's mention of Communion, the divide seems pretty substantial to me. While Protestants have MANY divergent opinions on baptism, they all believe that is a sign of a Christian's outward obedience and God's presence and favor. Catholics, however, believe that baptism imputes a measure of salvation to the person receiving it (which goes back to the justification issue). I'm truly not trying to dichotomize to sharply, but it seems to come down to this, at least on this issue.

Jacob Haynes said...

God and His will are whole, authoritative, without defect, and in all aspects True. Whether because of the Fall or just because we are limited creations, this Truth is indiscernible to us. We cannot see the world from God’s perspective. He helps us out by not just giving us indirect methods of revelation (creation, reason, etc.), and not just direct revelation (Scripture), but also direct contact with our spirit through His Spirit. But even through all these means His Truth is still too large for any one particular to grasp (be that an individual or and individual denomination).

It is my belief that a comprehensive systematic theology can’t be written because we cannot hold all of His Truth together in one place at one time. The diversity in the church body reflects this. The church doesn’t need to endorse heresy but it needs to understand that it will always have a little heresy within it because it cannot fully grasp Truth by way of Theology. But the church is more than Theology. It is a body, chosen and redeemed by God. I can’t separate Theology from the church but we need to understand that it is only one way of understanding His Truth.

The definition of the church is hard. It needs to be diverse but it needs to be one. In order to stand strong on doctrines we need to be limited and narrow in our view. But we need to make sure that we aren’t being too narrow, lest we cut off important branches just because they are seeing the same Truth form a different perspective. Yes the Catholic approach justification from a completely different angle, but they arrive at a place that is very similar. But even if they are fundamentally wrong on this issue, there is more to Rome then this doctrine and more to Christianity then Rome or justification. Heresies and false teachings are very specific, and the pruning approach doesn’t apply to major branches.

But I am back to trying to force Theology into a hole it was never meant for. It is still my view that in order to see the entire church, you cannot do it through theology, faith (that God will keep and sustain His church even through disobedience) and humility (that we might be the part of the church that is in most need of His grace) provide much better glasses.

“Rather, if a brother has a belief that separates him from me, let us come together and reason with the Word of God, and if after we have laid our hearts bare before God's holy Word, and if we find no defect in our thinking, that is, if we discover that no foreign thought is imputed into the Scripture read by itself, for itself, through itself--then we may depart in unity and disagreement.”

My point is that this isn’t possible. Not just because we live in a Fallen world where we will never find no defect in our thinking. The Universal of the Truth of God manifested through different particular viewpoints will look a little different. You are approaching this with too much reason (better too much than not enough), Scripture has much more Truth in it then can be simply defined in our rational with one another. If we focus on one thing we have to neglect another.

Brian, when I mentioned baptism earlier, I was referring to the act itself not the theology behind it. I am not trying to completely separate the two because if it is just the physical getting wet in front of an audience then it is nothing. But every Christian holds to some sort of Baptism even if they disagree what that baptism does or means. It is the act that unifies us and the Theology that divides us.

To me there seems to be at least two parts to baptism, its theological reasons and the step of obedience taken by Christians for two thousand years. Is there a right way to theologically view baptism, most certainly. But is it this theology, the correct understanding of baptism by the administer and/or the one receiving, that makes it valid. I would say not, because there is more to baptism then a correct view of it. Though I would still say that we should be striving for the correct view.

Joshua said...

Jacob, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with most of your latest post.

It is not necessary to know the mind of God comprehensively to understand the difference between something that is true and something that is false. Yes, Truth is a whole, but in recognizing that, you ought to also recognize that all its parts are interconnected, touching every aspect of another, such that false doctrines always have an impact on our obedience to God.

I must also point out that not once have I argued that one denomination has as a comprehensive grasp of the Truth. There are several things in the PCA, of which I am a member, that I consider to be falsely understood, and there are many more things that ministers and congregations falsely apply or do not apply at all, yet affirm to be true!

The point that is being made is that the only thing that unifies is the Truth. Error is not unity, it is division from God. The blood of Jesus has brought us near and covered our sins, but that does not (as you will agree) give us license to believe whatever we will. Our minds are to be in conformity with Christ's mind, and the only way to judge that to be true or false is to examine ourselves and others against what is clearly indicated in Scripture.

You mention faith and humility being better approaches than reason. I agree. I believe that faith is the ground of reason, for unless one submits his reason to the epistemological authority of God's Word, reason arrives at autonomy and error. But faith and humility are not contentless, and the only content that can be true or false are propositions, i.e. reasoning. Something cannot be true at the same time and in the same way as its contrary. This is a test of reason that we apply without fail each day, and it does not fail us if we apply it correctly to God's Word in submission to its authority, that is, without importing propositions that are not justified by God's Word itself.

Jacob, you said:
"Yes the Catholic approach justification from a completely different angle, but they arrive at a place that is very similar. But even if they are fundamentally wrong on this issue, there is more to Rome then this doctrine and more to Christianity then Rome or justification. Heresies and false teachings are very specific, and the pruning approach doesn’t apply to major branches."

It would be good for you to demonstrate how the Catholic doctrine of justification arrives at a similar place to justification by faith alone. If they were really so similar why would the Catholic Church have expended so much effort to quell the doctrine it did not agree with? Why would men die to uphold it? But beyond these minor manners, how can you justify the contrary propositions contained in these two opposing doctrines?

Also, while I agree that there is more to Roman Catholicism than justification, and while I also agree that there are many doctrine upon which Catholics and Protestant may agree, it does not follow from this that justification does not influence the entire theological system of Roman Catholicism, or that it does not amount to serious error and disobedience.

You also make a mistake in saying that "we" should not prune one branch or another. I am not sure who is included in your "we," but what I will say is that any church can only prune those members who wilfully submit to their authority, unless of course the State is an arm of a particular denomination. We are not fighting flesh and blood, but spirit, that is, truth. If the PCA were to toss out a fundamental doctrine, let us say they denied the Trinity, it would be my duty as a Christian to point out their error, and if they were not repentant, it would be my duty to remove myself from under their authority. Not every matter of doctrine is worth breaking fellowship over, but there must be some, justification being one of those worth breaking fellowship, which can be clearly demonstrated in Paul's epistles, most significantly Galatians, where Paul repudiates all notions of justification by works of the law, which includes any standard of merit whatsoever.

As for baptism, I wonder if you can articulate how belief does not play the chief part in the meaning and accomplishment of baptism? If it is antithetical to Scripture to believe that baptism is regenerative, then of what worth is the act of baptism under such belief? God was unwilling to accept the sacrifices of the Israelites because, although the form was correct, their hearts did not truly repent, that is, they did not have correct belief (and belief is nothing else but faith).

Finally, you deny the possibility of reconciling doctrine through appeal to God's Word and examining one another's hearts according to its clear statements. You consider our Fallen nature to be partially causal, and multiple perspectives of the truth to also be causal. To the first I would say, yes, our sin constrains our ability to see the Truth clearly, but I reply that the Spirit is every bit capable of revealing the Truth to us when we seek it, and indeed God has promised as much in His Word. To deny the possibility outright is to deny that promise. As for multiple perspectives, you are confusing the matter. A doctrine can be understood in a simple proposition, for example, "Jesus is fully God and fully Man." This proposition is either true or false and no perspective of it changes that two-fold requirement. The statement "Baptism regenerates the person who receives it" is either true or false. "Mary was without sin" is either true or false. These simple statement reflect beliefs that ought be examined against the propositions of Scripture to see if those propositions confirm them or deny them. There is no ethnic, cultural, personal, or otherwise perspective that alters the fundamental truth or falsity of any doctrine. No one, you nor I nor anyone else, brings anything to a proposition that changes its truth or falsity as stated.

"Jacob is Joshua's friend" is either true or false, pending a fixed definition of friend and the assent or denial of the persons indicated (i.e. you and me). Whether or not we qualify the level of our friendship, its duration, distance, or any other matter of perspective does not alter its truth or falsity once we have determined the definition and assent.

Is this making sense?

Jacob Haynes said...

“I must also point out that not once have I argued that one denomination has as a comprehensive grasp of the Truth.”

Sorry if I stated or implied this.

“Our minds are to be in conformity with Christ's mind, and the only way to judge that to be true or false is to examine ourselves and others against what is clearly indicated in Scripture.”

But even doctrines such as justification are not “clearly indicated in Scripture”, they require some level of basic interpretation, which requires some level of authority or cooperation or rational. I think the conformity to Christ’s mind is definitely a good thing but there are multiple areas in which we are to imitate Him, and I doubt if this conformity looks the same in every individual or every denomination.

“This is a test of reason that we apply without fail each day, and it does not fail us if we apply it correctly to God's Word in submission to its authority, that is, without importing propositions that are not justified by God's Word itself.”

I am not saying that reasoning is absent but just that it is not the sole authority on which Christianity is based. It will ultimately fail you, you can’t become righteous by way of reason. But why can’t we? If God is Truth and we have access to this Truth (through the Spirit) why can’t we slowly assemble an entire theological system that anyone could read and directly comprehend the Will of God (not particular Will but the grand total of the reason for everything)? God cannot be contained within the reason and logic even though He has given us these tools. Again, please don’t throw reason out, but if you use it to support your entire belief system, to become your sole authority, it will become your god. Again you probably agree with this.

“It would be good for you to demonstrate how the Catholic doctrine of justification arrives at a similar place to justification by faith alone.”

Sorry that I got into Theological areas where I really can’t stand on my own. I would need my wife or one of her friends to explain Catholic theology.

I can justify the contrary propositions because as I have heard it explained from Scripture both sides can make valid arguments (I happen to find the Protestant side more in line with my understanding of Scripture). My biggest point with justification is that even though Catholics might be wrong, it doesn’t exclude them from the church. How does “serious error and disobedience” equal not our brothers? Again removing yourself from a branches authority doesn’t mean they are cut off from the body, no matter how many people remove themselves. The question is how do you as a particular view a branch that has, in your opinion, a serious theological issue. Would you still serve with them, fellowship with them, even though you found them lacking in Truth?

How much does it take before a branch become so heretical that the rest of the body has the authority to lop it off? The early councils approached problems early and dealt with them with the authority of the body. I don’t think we have that luxury anymore because our authority has been fractured along side doctrine.

“As for baptism, I wonder if you can articulate how belief does not play the chief part in the meaning and accomplishment of baptism? If it is antithetical to Scripture to believe that baptism is regenerative, then of what worth is the act of baptism under such belief? God was unwilling to accept the sacrifices of the Israelites because, although the form was correct, their hearts did not truly repent, that is, they did not have correct belief (and belief is nothing else but faith).”

I would argue that theology is tied up in form not in heart. A repentant heart willing to follow God cares not if it is God using the baptism to save or God that saves and that is followed by baptism. “truly repent” does not equal “correct belief” They did not truly repent and they did not have the correct belief is how I would phrase it. The two things might have influenced one another but they are distinctive in my mind.

“There is no ethnic, cultural, personal, or otherwise perspective that alters the fundamental truth or falsity of any doctrine. No one, you nor I nor anyone else, brings anything to a proposition that changes its truth or falsity as stated.”

You’re right but different perspective can bring out different aspects or different levels of Truth. This is an observational/communicative idea, not a reality altering idea.

There is a lot of epistemology here going in a lot of different directions. We must distinguish between something holding to logical truth and something’s existence defining its truth and how all this truth gets communicated.

When we talk of Truth (capital), I think we are on the same page with the understanding that this is God’s will, perspective, and existence. Hopefully truth (lower) ties into this larger idea whether it is logic or existence.

Truth incorporates all level of meaning and connection. Rationality opens us up to the idea of consistency but it cannot ultimately bind every connection. God’s point of view will always be wider than ours is even built to comprehend. I don’t know if this will be fixed with our new bodies or if we will just accept our limitations in the end.

By the way, I have found it hard to argue against reason with reason. If you don’t find this too tiring, please keep after me. Hopefully some measure of truth will emerge.

Joshua said...

Jacob, it may be one of those times when speaking in person will bring about more fruitful pathways than going back and forth online. But there is still profit to be made in this medium, so I'll venture some more comments.

There are several key issues that we have to resolve before getting back to the topic at hand. You mentioned epistemology and that indeed is central. We also seem to have a different definition of Truth.

You make a distinction between "Truth" and "truth." Am I right to conclude that by the first you mean something to the effect of, "all the knowledge contained in God" and by the second you mean "logically certain conclusions?"

To put my cards on the table, I do not think that logic is simply a tool in the hands of human beings. I believe that logic is the structure of God's mind. But I'm not talking about modern theories of logics, but rather the law of contradiction, identification, etc., which are not subject to variation or change.

You also talked about aspects or levels of Truth. That phrase is too vague for me to draw conclusions about. By levels of Truth do you mean a certain set of true propositions in God's mind, but not the whole set, or do you mean something else entirely?

I'm not sure what you mean by the difference between observational/communication ideas and reality altering ideas. As I understand it, observations and communication that advance propositions are making statements about reality, i.e. about what is true or is not true (since all propositions are either true or false). If you are merely talking about opinions that have no bearing, then your point is trivial to the discussion of Truth or truth, both of which are not assailed, conditioned, or altered in any way by opinion.

I would also like to know how you distinguish "truly repent" from "right belief." Can one truly repent according to a false belief? To admit as much is to accept universalism by implication, insofar as "truly repent" is simply a matter of sincerity of feeling without any true content. However, if you admit true content, then you must also admit true belief, and not as a separate consideration.

As for the Church, Scripture is clear that the Church are those who persevere in faith until the end. Those who persevere are the elect, the chosen of God. You are correct that our faith is not given to us by God according to our reason, but it does not follow that once we have faith our reason cannot act in accord with faith to arrive at true propositions regarding who God is, what He desires of us, and other doctrines revealed in Scripture. I am confident that there are only two reasons why men have false beliefs: (1) They are ignorant of their error and need to be shown the contradiction in their thinking and (2) They are unwilling to repent of their sinful beliefs and cling to the wisdom of men rather than submitting to the wisdom of God.

Now neither of these two things automatically indicates that someone does not have saving faith, since all of us to some degree or another are ignorant and cling to sinful beliefs. However, it does not follow from these two conditions that we cannot arrive at truth and defend it against error, and discipline those who persist in rebellion (including me!).

Finally, I am certain that Paul had a definite idea of Justification when he wrote his epistle to the Romans, and I am also certain that he communicated it, according to the Holy Spirit, that we might submit ourselves to its truthfulness. If you reflect upon the implications of many of the things you have posted heretofore, I think you will see that you have opened the door for a completely subjective understanding of Christianity, while making the caveat that God is objective so therefore Truth is objective. However, if God is unwilling (or unable) to communicate His truth without error to us, then there is no objectivity possible, and indeed we reach a moral deficiency or lack of ability in the character of God.

Jacob Haynes said...

Josh, sorry for the delay, the weekend got in the way.

To the important things first. I believe God has provided everything available for us to know for certain what we need to know. But it does not follow in my mind that He is morally obliged to reveal to us everything in His reality, or even create our minds to be able to comprehend the fullness of His reality. For example, take time. God made us to function in a causal reality with our perception viewing a past, present, and future. But as I understand it, time is an unmoving object from a perspective outside of it, compared to a movie reel that simulates motion by rapidly viewing a series of unmoving pictures. Time is a created reality just as physical space is a created reality. How can logic reconcile linear time and Universal time? And if you would say that logic would state that we are seeing an untrue version of reality (with God’s perspective being Truth), why are we made to see(operate in) time in the manner deemed to be untrue?

What I am meaning by “different levels” is that reality can be viewed from an individual’s perspective (say the choice to eat Subway today at lunch) or from God’s perspective (I was eating Subway at lunch from the moment He created me). God’s perspective doesn’t override my experience; it is just a higher level of reality.

This is why I don’t like relying on logic. God gives us enough capacity and information to be able to understand a higher perspective but not enough to reconcile this higher perspective together with our lower one. Logic works within systems but can’t get bigger and overarching without a bigger perspective. For logic to work on the level of complete Truth requires the complete perspective of God; something I don’t think He is required to give us. As a side note: I am definitely interested in your theory of the logical God, which will have to wait for another day (though you can post about it).

I haven’t been as clear as I hoped with a lot of my arguments or with my overall train of thought. I’ll leave a lot of the Theological questions for now and try to arrive at some clarity at a later date. I agree that we probably need to end this particular discussion as an online discourse, as I have completely got off track of my original topic. I wish we had the time and the placement to talk more in person, though I don’t know if it would help that much seeing as I get even more tangled in verbal dialogue.

Joshua said...

I'm not sure we wouldn't get lost in face-to-face conversation either, but it would be more enjoyable to be sure!

I think you are misunderstanding my interest in logic. I am not inclined to believe that an application of logic to the Word of God will ever lead us to understanding things that God has not intended to reveal to us. One of the most frequent and unanswerable of those things is why God would choose to regenerate me and adopt me into His family when He otherwise could have prepared me for the wrath I deserved in my state of rebellion.

But beyond these sort of speculative questions, which cannot be answered by logic or feeling, or whatever, there is a definite necessity for logic in understanding what has been given for us to know with certainty. When the Bible speaks about the necessity of Christ's death and the work of the Spirit and of God's predestining the works we will work so that we might walk in them, these are things we are meant to understand without error.

This is why I don't think levels of reality are helpful. There is one reality, God's own, and we are given to understand those parts of it He wills us to know. We shall never understand all of reality, for as you say, we are not omnipotent. However, it would be foolish to think that what God has given us to know is something that we cannot know. The content of what has been given us to know is where you and I will find further discussion profitable.

As for relying upon logic, you may not think that you rely upon logic, but it is indeed indispensable to anything you know whatsoever. When you say that you do not rely upon logic you are in fact relying upon logic. Why? Because you either are or are not doing what you say you are doing, which is a proposition that is either true or false with certainty. Logic is what allows us to understand language and communication. Why? Because it would be meaningless for me to understand from your phrase, "I do not rely upon logic" that you both rely upon logic and do not rely upon logic in the same way and at the same time. Without logic everything is reduced to meaningless babble.

Arguing logic in this way does not make our use of it infallible, nor does it give us the ability to answer questions whose truth has been concealed by God's withholding the necessary premises for our understanding.

Many today condemn logic because modernists of the past few hundred years believed that reason unaccompanied by revelation could arrive at certain truth. The lie of trusting in unaided reason does not imply that logic is what is flawed. It is our minds that fail us, not logic. In truth, logic applied without error leads only to the ends that are determined by the first premise(s) one chooses to begin working with. If one takes autonomous man free from all constraints there is no hope that logic will sustain his false premise. Even the most elaborate system constructed without internal contradictions cannot be true unless its foundational premises are true.

Thus, the vital decision that sustains all other decisions in the faith and practice of all human beings is upon what authority shall thinking be grounded? If the answer is not God's revelation found in Scripture then no implications from that point forward will lead to truth.

As complicated as that may sound, it is really quite simple. Everyone has to justify their claims to knowledge at the last. Logic cannot be an epistemological foundation, but it is the indispensable tool for thinking from whatever foundation one chooses.