Monthly Archives: July 2012

Reply to Ligonier Ministries on the Marks of the Church

An article on R. C. Sproul’s ministry website, Ligonier Ministries, asks the question: “How then can we tell when a church in name is also a church in reality?”  The article answers this question with two criteria: the word and the sacraments.

The Word

In regards to the word, the article reads:

“1. The Word — there is no true church without the right proclamation of the Word of God. In other words, a group that denies any of the essential truths of the Christian faith is not a church. The essential truths of Christianity are clearly taught in Scripture, and the Nicene Creed is one document that helpfully summarizes them. A truth like justification by faith alone is included in this list even though it is not specifically mentioned in the creed, because Paul lists it as a defining mark of the Gospel (Gal. 1:6–92:15–16), and it is a necessary deduction from the creed’s emphasis on salvation through Christ alone.”

From a Catholic perspective the answer that the “right proclamation of the Word of God” is a criteria by which one determines whether a church is a true church seems to beg the question: how does one determine what is the right proclamation of the Word of God?  Wouldn’t an Arian or a Donatist, or even a Jehovah’s Witness claim that their view is the right proclamation of the Word of God?  These kinds of answers seem to ignore that every heretic believes their own interpretation of Scripture is the right proclamation of the Word of God.  Such an answer fails to provide a helpful solution to the question: what is a true church?

The response “In other words, a group that denies any of the essential truths of the Christian faith is not a church” likewise begs the question: which doctrines are essential truths of the Christian faith and which doctrines are not?  Wouldn’t Luther and some Protestants claim the doctrine that Christians are justified by an alien righteousness is an essential doctrine while other Protestants would disagree?  Wouldn’t some Protestants, like Calvin, say that a right understanding of the Eucharist is necessary for salvation while other Protestants would not hold to such an opinion?  Of course, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and Evangelicals would all have some major disagreements with each other and some of these groups would say the others have denied essential truths of the Christian faith.  Who then has the authority to determine what is and what is not an essential doctrine?  Such questions must be answered by those that claim the Word of God is one of two criteria that determine what is a true church.

The article continues “The essential truths of Christianity are clearly taught in Scripture”

If the essential truths of Christianity are clearly taught in Scripture, why is it that so many Christians are not able to agree on which doctrines are essential and which are not?  How does one reconcile this with St. Peter’s words “There are some things in them [St. Paul’s writings] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures”? (2 Peter 3:16)  Furthermore, how can this be reconciled with the response of the Ethiopian eunuch “How can I, unless someone guides me” (Acts 8:31) to Philip’s question “Do you understand what you are reading” (Acts 8:30)?  St. Vincent of Lerins long ago in the fifth century recognized that the Scriptures can be very complex and are not always clear to the individual interpreter and wrote:

“But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation? For this reason,—because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters. For Novation expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Appolinarus, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another. Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.”

The article also writes “the Nicene Creed is one document that helpfully summarizes them [essential doctrines].”  How does one know the Nicene Creed is any more authoritative than an Arian creed produced by an Arian council?  Additionally, is it not the case that many Protestants reject the part of the creed which teaches baptismal regeneration (“We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins”)?  Does one include the Filioque in the creed or not?  Is it an essential doctrine?  Clearly the suggestion that the Nicene Creed is a good standard to judge what is essential while completely rejecting the authority of the church that defined the creed is not a good, or even consistent, answer.

The article goes on:

“A truth like justification by faith alone is included in this list even though it is not specifically mentioned in the creed, because Paul lists it as a defining mark of the Gospel (Gal. 1:6–92:15–16), and it is a necessary deduction from the creed’s emphasis on salvation through Christ alone.”

Where does Paul teach justification by faith alone as to mean that one is justified solely by the imputation of an alien righteousness?  How is this a “deduction from the creed’s emphasis on salvation through Christ alone” when Catholics can affirm that salvation comes from none other than Christ yet reject the doctrine of the imputation of an alien righteousness?  Such questions must be answered before one can embrace the said doctrine, especially if it is going to be embraced as an essential doctrine.

The Sacraments

The second criteria the article provides is the sacraments.  Concerning this criteria the article says:

2. The Sacraments — a true church rightly celebrates the Lord’s Supper and baptism. That is, the sacraments must be conducted in line with Scripture’s clear teaching, and we must allow for latitude where such things are not so plain. For example, the biblical instruction on the mode of baptism is not as clear as we might like; thus, we cannot anathematize those who disagree with us in this specific area. Celebrating the sacraments correctly also involves keeping unrepentant sinners from partaking in these means of grace (church discipline). Though inseparably linked to the sacraments, sometimes we make special mention of church discipline as the third mark of the church (1 Cor. 5).”

Naturally, the claim that ” a true church rightly celebrates the Lord’s Supper and baptism” begs the question: what is the right celebration of the Lord’s Supper and baptism?  Wouldn’t Luther say the right celebration of the Lord’s Supper includes the doctrine of consubstantiation, while other Protestants would not?  Wouldn’t some like Luther and Calvin claim God regenerates in baptism, while other Protestants would not?

The article reads: “That is, the sacraments must be conducted in line with Scripture’s clear teaching, and we must allow for latitude where such things are not so plain”

Catholics would say the Scriptures clearly teach that Christ is really present in the Eucharist (John 6) and that the mass is a true sacrifice (Malachi 1:11), while only some Protestants would accept the former and most would reject the latter.  Who has the authority to determine who is correct as to what the Scriptures clearly teach since there are so many views as to what the Scriptures clearly teach?

How do Catholics Answer the Question?

The article says Catholics answer the question by saying “the bishop is the mark of the church, that is, the true church is present when you have a duly consecrated bishop who is part of a line of succession going back to the apostles. Ultimately, a bishop is a true bishop only if he submits to the pope; thus, in Roman Catholicism only Roman Catholic parishes constitute the true church.”

This representation of the Catholic perspective is somewhat accurate and somewhat inaccurate.  The Catholic view is that a local church is a true local church if it’s Bishop has been validly ordained by another Bishop with Apostolic succession.  However, it is not true that a Bishop is only a true Bishop if he submits to the Pope.  A validly ordained Bishop with Apostolic succession who is not in communion with the Bishop of Rome is still a true Bishop and the churches in his diocese are still true local churches.  These true local churches, due to their Bishop’s lack of communion with the Bishop of Rome, are not part of the Universal Church, however.  In order to be part of the Universal Church, a local Church must be in communion, through their Bishop, with the Bishop of Rome.

A Voice from the Past Speaks

St. Ignatius of Antioch, the disciple of the Apostle John, confirms the Catholic view that a local church is a true church if it is in communion with the Bishop, as he wrote:

“In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. Concerning all this, I am persuaded that you are of the same opinion. For I have received the manifestation of your love, and still have it with me, in your bishop, whose very appearance is highly instructive, and his meekness of itself a power; whom I imagine even the ungodly must reverence, seeing they are also pleased that I do not spare myself.” (Epistle to the Trallians, Chapter 3)

And in his Epistle to the Philadelphians, chapter 3, he wrote:

“Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ.].”

Clearly, in the mind of the Apostle John’s disciple, to be in schism with the Bishop is to be outside the church and to be in communion with the Bishop is to be in communion with Christ.  In chapter 4 of the same epistle, St. Ignatius wrote:

“Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.”

We see that the Apostle John’s disciple placed a great emphasis on a local church’s unity with the Bishop in order to be a true church.

In light of Apostolic Tradition on the office of Bishop, which is witnessed to in St. Ignatius’s epistles, the Catholic Church seems to offer a much better answer to the question: “How then can we tell when a church in name is also a church in reality” than the Protestant answers which simply beg more questions.   The Catholic answer is that a local church is a church in reality if it is in communion with the local Bishop with Apostolic succession.  The local churches whose Bishop is in communion with the Bishop of Rome are part of the Universal Church.  It is this church that has the authority to determine what are the essentials and it is this Church that Christ Himself established in His earthly ministry.


Did Christ Establish a Living Magisterium That Continues to the Present?

In this article I will seek to answer the question: did Christ establish a living magisterium, an authoritative teaching body that continues to this day?  Appeals will be made primarily to Scripture and Church history.

Appeal to Scripture

The Chain of Command

The New Testament canon, the one which Catholics and most Protestants agree to be the canon, teaches that authority first comes from God the Father and was given to Christ.  This can be found, for example, in 1 Corinthians 15:27 which reads “[f]or ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ ” Matthew 28:18 confirms that Christ was given such authority, as it reads “[a]ll power in heaven and on earth has been given to me [Jesus]”.

The Scriptures then testify that this authority did not cease with Christ but was given to the Apostles.  Jesus said to the Apostles “[a]s the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)  Elsewhere Jesus said to the Apostles “[w]hoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)  Additionally, the Apostles were given the authority to teach others about Christ and His commands, as Christ said in Matthew 28:19-20 “[g]o therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  This means the Lord Jesus established the Apostles as a magisterium, an authoritative teaching body in the church.

This authority did not die with the Apostles but the Apostles chose successors to carry out their office whenever an Apostle died.  When Judas killed himself, the Apostles did not let his office perish but assembled together and determined based on Psalm 109 that his office was to be given to another, as St. Peter said in Acts 1:20 “[f]or it is written in the Book of Psalms, ‘May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it’; and ‘Let another take his office.’ ” It should be noted that the term “office” in the Greek is ἐπισκοπὴν which can also be translated bishopric.  This demonstrates that the Apostles themselves believed that their authoritative office would not cease with their death but would, in part, pass on to successors, the Bishops of the church.  A number of other Scriptures demonstrate the Apostles passed on their authority to successors.  For example, St. Paul in 2 Timothy 1:6 tells Timothy “[f]or this reason, I am reminding you to fan into flames the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”  From this passage, we learn that St. Paul ordained Timothy and by laying his hands on Timothy he passed on to him a special gift or charism that he wished for him to use.    This gift was the gift of “priestly ministry” as noted in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament (p. 397) which includes the authority to teach God’s word (1 Tim. 4:2).

There is no indication that Paul, or the rest of the Apostles, believed the authority and charism given in ordination would cease.  In fact, Paul tells Timothy “[a]nd what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well.” (2 Timothy 2:2)  From this we see that the Apostles appointed successors as they were still alive and wished for these successors to in turn pass the teachings of Christ and the charism given through the laying on of hands to other faithful men.  There is no indication they believed this should ever cease to be the practice of the Church.  In a previous letter to Timothy, St. Paul wrote “[d]o not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Timothy 5:22), and from this we gather that Paul believed Timothy was capable of passing on his office to successors and was not to be hasty in doing so.  Paul also commissions Titus to pass on his authority to successors, as he wrote “[f]or this reason I left you in Crete so that you might . . . appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you.” (Titus 1:5)” Elsewhere we read this authority was passed along to presbyters “in each church.” (Acts 14:23.  As a side note, the terms bishop and presbyter were often used in the first century as synonyms and seem to be first used more distinctly in the writings of St. Ignatius in the beginning of the second century).

There is no indication in Scripture that this authority would cease with the first Bishops appointed by the Apostles, and in fact, Paul tells Timothy and Titus to appoint other successors after them.  Therefore, it stands to reason that this authority would continue to the present in the Bishops of the Church and this body of successors, like the Apostles, would be an authoritative teaching body, a magisterium.  This is one of the reasons why Catholics believe the authority of the Apostles has been passed down, in part, from the Bishops ordained by the Apostles in an unbroken chain of succession all the way to the present day Catholic Bishops, which make up the magisterium.  If this is true, then that would mean there is an unbroken chain of authority beginning with God the Father which has been passed on all the way to the present day Catholic Bishops, the living magisterium.  As demonstrated by the Scriptures above, apostolic succession is clearly already present in the New Testament, but apostolic succession throughout church history will be addressed below in order to demonstrate that present day Catholic Bishops are the successors of the Apostles and are therefore the living magisterium.

What Kind of Authority Were the Apostles Given?

Before this is established, it is first necessary to address what kind of authority Christ gave to the Apostles in order that one might know what kind of authority present day Catholic Bishops maintain if they truly are the successors of the Apostles.

The authority given by Christ to the Apostles included the authority to bind and loose, as Christ said “[t]ruly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)  Some Protestants interpret these terms, outside of their historical context, to mean that Christ gave the Apostles the authority to proclaim the Gospel.  Catholic Answers Apologist, Jimmy Akin, notes, “[t]his theory does [sic] not work, for one reason, because the power of ‘loosing’ is paired with the power of binding. If loosing were interpreted to mean the right to preach the gospel and admit new ethnic groups to the Church, then Peter would also have the right to refuse to preach the gospel and refuse to let certain ethnic groups into the Church.”  As can be seen in rabbinic literature, the terms binding and loosing are not ambiguous terms without a known meaning. Akin notes that these are rabbinic terms which mean:

“[t]he ability to make, modify, and abolish authoritative rules of conduct for the community…Under Queen Alexandra the Pharisees, says Josephus (Wars of the Jews 1:5:2), ‘became the administrators of all public affairs so as to be empowered to banish and readmit whom they pleased, as well as to loose and to bind.’ . . . The various schools had the power ‘to bind and to loose’; that is, to forbid and to permit (Talmud: Chagigah 3b); and they could also bind any day by declaring it a fast-day ( . . . Talmud: Ta’anit 12a . . . ).This power and authority, vested in the rabbinical body of each age of the Sanhedrin, received its ratification and final sanction from the celestial court of justice (Sifra, Emor, 9; Talmud: Makkot 23b).”

Christ gave the Apostles the authority to accurately interpret His word and to make definitive judgments about God’s revelation.  Whenever the circumcision controversy (the issue of whether gentiles had to become Jews before they could become Christians) erupted between Paul and the Judaizers, the matter was not settled by Scripture alone (the canon of the Old Testament wasn’t definitively established and the New Testament Scriptures were still being written).  Instead of the Apostles relying on some notion of Sola Scriptura, the Apostles and elders assembled in council and made a definitive declaration, guided by the Holy Spirit, based on the events of the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:12) and Peter’s vision in Acts 10:44-48 (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament, p. 232).  Peter’s decision was confirmed by James who saw this view as consistent the prophets.  This was an unprecedented view because prior to the coming of Christ, a person had to be circumcised in order to become a member of the covenant community (Genesis 17).  However, since the coming of Christ who fulfilled the works of the law, the Apostles determined that it was no longer necessary, and in fact impossible, to keep the works of the law.  Therefore, they determined that the gentiles would not be saved by the works of the law, since by the works of the law no one will be justified, but by faith in Christ.   Furthermore, since the Jerusalem council was guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28) the decision of the Apostles bound all Christians to uphold this dogma as can be seen in the writings of St. Paul who notes in Galatians that if anyone teaches another gospel than this one (that gentiles do not have to become Jews first in order to become Christians) then they are anathema (Galatians 1:8).

Christ also gave the Apostles the authority to forgive sins.  This is partly contained in the terms bind and loose in Matthew 18:18 but it is explicitly seen in John 20:23 where Christ told the Apostles “[i]f you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  This shows the Apostles, and their successors, have Christ’s authority to forgive sins or to retain sins, which may have been an expansion of the role of the priests in the Old Testament as described in Leviticus 5:5-6.

This demonstrates that the magisterium in the days of the Apostles had the authority to teach others everything Christ taught them and to bind and loose, which included making authoritative decisions and forgiving sins, among other things.  If apostolic succession is true, then it follows that present day Catholic Bishops, the magisterium, have the same authority as the magisterium in the days of the Apostles.

The Unique Role of Peter in the Magisterium

One more topic must be addressed before it will be demonstrated that the present day Catholic Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, and that is the unique role of Peter in the magisterium.  Christ not only established a magisterium with the authority to teach and to bind and loose but Christ also established a unique position in the magisterium, and that position is the papacy.  In Matthew 16:18-19 we read Jesus told Peter “[a]nd I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Scott Hahn articulates the common Protestant understanding of these verses well, as he says:

“non-Catholics frequently claim that it’s Peter’s faith that Jesus is speaking of, or Peter’s confession that Jesus is speaking of when He says, “this rock.” Or other Protestants object and say, “No, Jesus says, ‘And you are petros.'” You are petros, you are rock, and on this petra, the Greek word for large rock, “I will build my Church.” So some Protestants object to the Catholic view and say, “What Jesus is really saying is. ‘You’re a little pebble and on this rock, namely Christ, the Rock, (1 Corinthians, 10:4 and so on) I will build my Church.”

It is true that at one point in the Greek language there was such a distinction between the words petra and petros but this was no longer the case by the time of Christ. For example, the famous Protestant scholar D.A. Carson notes:

“Although it is true that petros and petra can mean ‘stone’ and ‘rock’ respectively in earlier Greek, the distinction is largely confined to poetry. Moreover, the underlying Aramaic is in this case unquestionable; and most probably kepha was used in both clauses (‘you are kepha‘ and ‘on this kepha‘), since the word was used both for a name and for a ‘rock.’ The Peshitta (written in Syriac, a language cognate with Aramaic) makes no distinction between the words in the two clauses. The Greek makes the distinction between petros and petra simply because it is trying to preserve the pun, and in Greek the feminine petra could not very well serve as a masculine name.” (Carson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary [Zondervan, 1984], volume 8, page 368, as cited in Butler/Dahlgren/Hess, page 17-18)

Now that it has been established what these verses do not mean, it is time to establish what they do mean.  Christ declared Peter to be the rock upon which He would build His church, since this is how it would have been understood in Aramaic, and He gave Peter the keys of the kingdom.  The term keys of the kingdom  is understood in light of Isaiah 22:20-22 which reads:

“In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.”

The famous Protestant scholar F. F. Bruce comments on this passage saying:

“And what about the ‘keys of the kingdom’? The keys of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward or major domo; he carried them on his shoulder in earlier times, and there they served as a badge of the authority entrusted to him. About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim: ‘I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open’ (Isa. 22:22). So in the new community which Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. In the early chapters of Acts Peter is seen exercising this responsibility in the primitive church. He acts as chairman of the group of disciples in Jerusalem even before the coming of the Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 1:15-26); on the day of Pentecost it is he who preaches the gospel so effectively that three thousand hearers believe the message and are incorporated in the church (Acts 2:14-41); some time later it is he who first preaches the gospel to a Gentile audience and thus ‘opens a door of faiths to Gentiles as well as Jews (Acts 10:34-48).” (F. F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, as quoted here

As Bruce notes, the reference to the keys of the kingdom in Matthew 16:18-19 hearkens back to Isaiah 22 where Eliakim was given the key to the house of David, with the authority to open and shut or to bind and loose as in Matthew 16:18-19.  In the same way that Eliakim was the king’s chief steward in his absence, so it is that Peter was made King Jesus’s chief steward in His physical absence and in the same way Eliakim was given the authority to open and shut over everyone else in David’s kingdom, so was Peter given the authority to bind and loose over everyone else in Christ’s kingdom.  In the same way that the king of the house of David had other stewards but one chief steward, so it is that Christ appointed other stewards, the Apostles, but one chief steward, Peter.  In the same way that Eliakim was made to be a father like figure to Jerusalem, so it is that Peter was made to be a father like figure to the church.

Some may ask: if Peter was given such authority by Christ, where did he exercise such authority in the Bible?  The famous Protestant historian J. N. D. Kelly gave a few examples where Peter exercised his authority, as he wrote:

“[In the first half of Acts]…Peter was the undisputed leader of the youthful church. It was he who presided over the choice of a successor to Judas (1:15-26), who explained to the crowd the meaning of Pentecost (2:14-40), who healed the lame beggar at the Temple (3:1-10), who pronounced sentence on Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11), and who opened the church to Gentiles by having Cornelius baptized without undergoing circumcision (10:9-48). He was to the fore in preaching, defending the new movement, working miracles of healing, and visiting newly established Christian communities..” (J.N.D. Kelly The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (1986) under Peter, St, Apostle (page 5-6), as quoted here

As can be seen by these passages, and many others, Peter had a unique role among the Apostles.  But did this authority cease upon Peter’s death?  Since Christ parallels Peter’s office based on Eliakims office, the answer will be found in asking the question: did the office of chief steward in Isaiah 22:20-22 cease upon the death of the steward?  The answer is no, it was a successive office and upon the death of the chief steward, the office and authority passed on to another.  Likewise, Peter’s authority was not to cease with him but was to pass on to other successors, which agrees with the pattern set by the Apostles in Acts 1 where Judas’s office was given to another upon his death.

Appeal to Church History

At this point, by quoting a number of Church Fathers and others, I would like to examine the historical view regarding whether or not the authority of the Bishops the Apostles appointed ceased with these Apostles or whether this authority was passed down to other Bishops in a continuous chain of succession down to the present Catholic Bishops.  I will also examine whether or not Peter’s office ceased with Peter or if his office and authority was passed on to successors.

Did the Apostles appoint successors who in turn themselves appointed successors with the intention of this continuing until the present?  Below are a number of quotes from various Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers ranging from 80 A.D. to 397 A.D. which comment on apostolic succession.

Pope Clement I

“Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).


“When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the law, the prophets, and the Lord” (Memoirs, cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4:22 [A.D. 180]).


“It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

“But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (ibid., 3:3:2).

“Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time” (ibid., 3:3:4).

“Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth, so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. . . . For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient churches with which the apostles held constant conversation, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?” (ibid., 3:4:1).

“[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth” (ibid., 4:26:2).

“The true knowledge is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which succession the bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere” (ibid., 4:33:8).


“[The apostles] founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive Church, [founded] by the apostles, from which they all [spring]. In this way, all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one in unity” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 20 [A.D. 200]).

“[W]hat it was which Christ revealed to them [the apostles] can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves . . . If then these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches—those molds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, [and] Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savors of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood” (ibid., 21).

“But if there be any [heresies] which are bold enough to plant [their origin] in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter” (ibid., 32).

“But should they even effect the contrivance [of composing a succession list for themselves], they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles [as contained in other churches], will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory” (ibid.).

“Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic Church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith” (ibid.).

Cyprian of Carthage

“[T]he Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with [the heretic] Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop [of Rome], Fabian, by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way” (Letters 69[75]:3 [A.D. 253]).


“Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians” (Letters 14:8 [A.D. 396]).


“[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 4:5 [A.D. 397]).

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The early Christians clearly believed the Apostles appointed successors who had the authority to carry out their mission and to appoint successors after them.  The earliest Christians also believed that Peter’s office and authority did not cease with Peter but passed on to the Bishop of Rome.  Below are a number of quotes by various Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers from 189 A.D. until 451 A.D. which comment on Peter’s successors.


“The blessed apostles [Peter and Paul], having founded and built up the church [of Rome] . . . handed over the office of the episcopate to Linus” (Against Heresies 3:3:3 [A.D. 189]).


“[T]his is the way in which the apostolic churches transmit their lists: like the church of the Smyrneans, which records that Polycarp was placed there by John, like the church of the Romans, where Clement was ordained by Peter” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 32:2 [A.D. 200]).

The Little Labyrinth

“Victor . . . was the thirteenth bishop of Rome from Peter” (The Little Labyrinth [A.D. 211], in Eusebius, Church History 5:28:3).

Cyprian of Carthage

“The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. … ’ [Matt. 16:18]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. . . . If someone [today] does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; first edition [A.D. 251]).

“Cornelius was made bishop by the decision of God and of his Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the applause of the people then present, by the college of venerable priests and good men, at a time when no one had been made [bishop] before him—when the place of [Pope] Fabian, which is the place of Peter, the dignity of the sacerdotal chair, was vacant. Since it has been occupied both at the will of God and with the ratified consent of all of us, whoever now wishes to become bishop must do so outside. For he cannot have ecclesiastical rank who does not hold to the unity of the Church” (Letters 55:[52]):8 [A.D. 253]).

“With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and b.asphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal church [at Rome], in which sacerdotal unity has its source” (ibid., 59:14).

Eusebius of Caesarea

“Paul testifies that Crescens was sent to Gaul [2 Tim. 4:10], but Linus, whom he mentions in the Second Epistle to Timothy [2 Tim. 4:21] as his companion at Rome, was Peter’s successor in the episcopate of the church there, as has already been shown. Clement also, who was appointed third bishop of the church at Rome, was, as Paul testifies, his co-laborer and fellow-soldier [Phil. 4:3]” (Church History 3:4:9–10 [A.D. 312]).

Pope Julius I

“[The] judgment [against Athanasius] ought to have been made, not as it was, but according to the ecclesiastical canon. . . . Are you ignorant that the custom has been to write first to us and then for a just decision to be passed from this place [Rome]? If, then, any such suspicion rested upon the bishop there [Athanasius of Alexandria], notice of it ought to have been written to the church here. But now, after having done as they pleased, they want to obtain our concurrence, although we never condemned him. Not thus are the constitutions of Paul, not thus the traditions of the Fathers. This is another form of procedure, and a novel practice. . . . What I write about this is for the common good. For what we have heard from the blessed apostle Peter, these things I signify to you” (Letter on Behalf of Athanasius [A.D. 341], contained in Athanasius, Apology Against the Arians 20–35).

Council of Sardica

“[I]f any bishop loses the judgment in some case [decided by his fellow bishops] and still believes that he has not a bad but a good case, in order that the case may be judged anew . . . let us honor the memory of the apostle Peter by having those who have given the judgment write to Julius, bishop of Rome, so that if it seem proper he may himself send arbiters and the judgment may be made again by the bishops of a neighboring province” (Canon 3 [A.D. 342]).


“You cannot deny that you are aware that in the city of Rome the episcopal chair was given first to Peter; the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head—that is why he is also called Cephas [‘Rock’]—of all the apostles; the one chair in which unity is maintained by all” (The Schism of the Donatists 2:2 [A.D. 367]).

Epiphanius of Salamis

“At Rome the first apostles and bishops were Peter and Paul, then Linus, then Cletus, then Clement, the contemporary of Peter and Paul” (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 27:6 [A.D. 375]).

Pope Damasus I

“Likewise it is decreed: . . . [W]e have considered that it ought to be announced that . . . the holy Roman Church has been placed at the forefront not by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you shall have bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall have loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. The first see [today], therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it” (Decree of Damasus 3 [A.D. 382]).


“[Pope] Stephen . . . was the blessed Peter’s twenty-second successor in the See of Rome” (Against the Luciferians 23 [A.D. 383]).

“Clement, of whom the apostle Paul writing to the Philippians says ‘With Clement and others of my fellow-workers whose names are written in the book of life,’ the fourth bishop of Rome after Peter, if indeed the second was Linus and the third Anacletus, although most of the Latins think that Clement was second after the apostle” (Lives of Illustrious Men 15 [A.D. 396]).

“Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord . . . I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church [Rome] whose faith has been praised by Paul [Rom. 1:8]. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. . . . Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact” (Letters 15:1 [A.D. 396]).

“I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails” (ibid., 15:2).

“The church here is split into three parts, each eager to seize me for its own. . . . Meanwhile I keep crying, ‘He that is joined to the chair of Peter is accepted by me!’ . . . Therefore, I implore your blessedness [Pope Damasus I] . . . tell me by letter with whom it is that I should communicate in Syria” (ibid., 16:2).

Ambrose of Milan

“[T]hey [the Novatian heretics] have not the succession of Peter, who hold not the chair of Peter, which they rend by wicked schism; and this, too, they do, wickedly denying that sins can be forgiven [by the sacrament of confession] even in the Church, whereas it was said to Peter: ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven’[Matt. 16:19]” (Penance 1:7:33 [A.D. 388]).


“If all men throughout the world were such as you most vainly accuse them of having been, what has the chair of the Roman church done to you, in which Peter sat, and in which Anastasius sits today?” (Against the Letters of Petilani 2:118 [A.D. 402]).

“If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church’ . . . [Matt. 16:18]. Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement, Clement by Anacletus, Anacletus by Evaristus . . . ” (Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412]).

Council of Ephesus

“Philip the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors. The holy and most blessed pope Celestine, according to due order, is his successor and holds his place, and us he sent to supply his place in this holy synod’” (Acts of the Council, session 3 [A.D. 431]).

Pope Leo I

“As for the resolution of the bishops which is contrary to the Nicene decree, in union with your faithful piety, I declare it to be invalid and annul it by the authority of the holy apostle Peter” (Letters 110 [A.D. 445]).

“Whereupon the blessed Peter, as inspired by God, and about to benefit all nations by his confession, said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Not undeservedly, therefore, was he pronounced blessed by the Lord, and derived from the original Rock that solidity which belonged both to his virtue and to his name [Peter]” (The Tome of Leo [A.D. 449]).

Peter Chrysologus

“We exhort you in every respect, honorable brother, to heed obediently what has been written by the most blessed pope of the city of Rome, for blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own see, provides the truth of faith to those who seek it. For we, by reason of our pursuit of peace and faith, cannot try cases on the faith without the consent of the bishop of Rome” (Letters 25:2 [A.D. 449]).

Council of Chalcedon

“After the reading of the foregoing epistle [The Tome of Leo], the most reverend bishops cried out: ‘This is the faith of the fathers! This is the faith of the apostles! So we all believe! Thus the orthodox believe! Anathema to him who does not thus believe! Peter has spoken thus through Leo! . . . This is the true faith! Those of us who are orthodox thus believe! This is the faith of the Fathers!’” (Acts of the Council, session 2 [A.D. 451]).

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How does one know the Catholic Bishops of the present trace back to the Apostles?  The answer is quite simple, since the Papacy can be traced from Peter to the present Pope through Papal succession lists, then all one has to do is look to the Bishops that are in communion with the Bishop of Rome to find the Bishops whose succession trace back to the Apostles.  How  so?  The fact that there is no evidence Apostolic succession ever ceased to be practiced by the papacy indicates that those Bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome would never have been allowed to be in communion with the papacy if they did not have valid apostolic succession.  Therefore, those Bishops who are in communion with the Bishop of Rome still maintain succession from the Apostles in an unbroken chain.  Thus, it would seem Christ established a living magisteirum beginning with the Apostles and continuing to this day in the Bishops of the Catholic Church with the Bishop of Rome being the visible head of the church.

For more recommended articles on the Magisterium, see  For recommended articles on the Papacy see this article and this article

Determining the Essentials: A Critique of Kevin DeYoung’s Article Entitled Where and How Do we Draw the Line

An Appreciation for Christians Like DeYoung is Warranted

Kevin DeYoung, the senior pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, recently contributed an article to the July 1st, 2012 edition of Tabletalk Magazine entitled Where and How Do We Draw the Line found here, which attempts to lay out a set of guidelines that will enable one to determine what are the essentials and non-essentials of the Christian faith.  Before I became Catholic, when I was a Reformed Protestant, the question concerning what are the essentials in order to determine which groups with whom one should fellowship and which groups with whom one should not fellowship was one of the most important questions for me, especially since I greatly desired to see unity among the various Protestant denominations.  I saw some Protestants who claimed other groups were “sending people to hell” while other Protestants claimed that same group was not doing anything of the sort, and both Protestant groups appealed to the Scriptures as their ultimate authority in their assessment of the other group.  I knew that both groups could not be right and one of them was misinterpreting the Scriptures, but I did not know definitively which group was the one that misinterpreted Scripture because my decision would also be based on my own subjective interpretation of Scripture.   For this reason,  I must say I appreciate Protestants who attempt to answer the question of what are the essentials and non-essentials of the Christian faith,  in order that there might be greater unity in the Church.

DeYoung’s Suggestions for How to Determine the Essentials and Non-Essentials

DeYoung’s first suggestion is to “[e]stablish the essentials of the faith” in order to determine the core of the Christian faith.  He suggests that one examine the Pastoral Epistles, especially the “trustworthy sayings”, the different creeds Paul quotes, which doctrines Paul claimed were false teachings, and which doctrines are linked to the Gospel.   This is definitely a good start in determining the essentials and the non-essentials.  The trustworthy sayings, various creeds, and doctrines Paul identifies as the Gospel definitely help to determine the essentials and the teachings that Paul identifies as false teachings are helpful in determining the essentials and non-essentials.  As DeYoung notes, they enable us to determine that “God is glorious; we are sinners; and Jesus Christ is our Savior and God. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and God in the flesh; He died and rose again; He ascended into heaven; He is coming again. Salvation is by sovereign grace, according to the converting power of the Holy Spirit, through faith, not according to our works.”  However, the standards DeYoung suggests do not identify all of the essentials and non-essentials of the Christian faith nor are they explicitly clear on some of the doctrines in the Pastoral Epistles.  For example, do the Pastoral Epistles, or the rest of Scripture, determine whether or not baptismal regeneration and infant baptism are essential to or contrary to the Christian faith?  Lutherans believe that an infant is regenerated in the waters of baptism, but there are other Protestants that believe such a view is contrary to the essential doctrine of justification by faith alone.  How does one determine which group is correct, especially when Christians such as Calvin believed “infants cannot be deprived of it [baptism] without open violation of the will of God” (Inst.4, 16, 8), while many Protestants would disagree?  Is there any indication that the Pastoral Epistles, or the rest of Scripture, determine that the Eucharistic sacrifice of the early Christians was a non-essential or even worse, contrary to the Gospel?  Catholics maintain this doctrine is essential and can be found in the Old and New Testaments, while most Protestants would view this doctrine as contrary to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and many would conclude that this doctrine makes the Catholic gospel a false gospel.  Do the Pastoral Epistles or the rest of Scripture, affirm Calvin’s view that a right understanding of the Eucharist is essential for salvation? (Petit traicté de la Sainte Cène, 1541)  Some Protestants such as Lutherans and Anglicans believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist, while Baptists and Charismatics do not.  Do the Pastoral Epistles, or the rest of Scripture, determine which books belong in the canon of Scripture in order to determine which teachings are essential and which are non-essential?  Catholic maintain the deuterocanonicals are Scripture, while most Protestants do not.  Depending on which books belong in the canon will determine which teachings are essential and non-essential.  For example, if one only includes the Pentateuch in the canon of Scripture, then the fact that Christ is fully God and fully man and consubstantial with the Father, will be pretty hard to determine and probably wouldn’t make the list of essentials.  Whereas, if one includes the books in the Protestant canon then they will be much more likely to define Christ’s deity and humanity as an essential doctrine.  DeYoung himself notes “If we get that doctrine wrong [the doctrine of Scripture], we are bound to mess up everything else.”  This is a trustworthy saying and makes the question of which books belong in the canon essential before DeYoung can determine which doctrines are essential and non-essential.

Does the New Testament itself suggest that any and every Joe Blow is able to simply open up the Bible (once the canon is determined) and determine which doctrines are essential and non-essential?  If so, why does Peter say “There are some things in them [Paul’s writings’]that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures”?  Does one have to be very well educated in Greek and Hebrew before they are able to determine the answer?  Does one have to have an incredible amount of knowledge of which manuscripts and variant readings in the textual tradition of the New Testament are the readings of the autographs in order to determine the essentials?  Does one first have to determine which books belong in the canon and whose interpretation of these books are correct before they are able to determine the essentials and the non-essentials?  These are all questions that must be answered before one can know that their answers to which doctrines are essential and non-essential are sound.

DeYoung’s second suggestion is to “[l]isten to the communion of the Saints.”  However, he is quick to add that “Tradition must never trump Scripture.”  One wonders if DeYoung is referring to Apostolic Tradition, that is tradition that is of Apostolic origin, or tradition with a small “t”, that is traditions that are not of Apostolic origin.  If it is the former, why would tradition that is of Apostolic origin be made subordinate to Scripture when even Scripture itself binds Christians to follow it (2 Thess. 2:15)?  If it is the latter, then what are the “traditions” in 2 Thess. 2:15 a Christian must follow and why did the early Christians believe these traditions were not passed on, at least not explicitly, in the Bible (see St. Chrysostom’s comment on 2 Thess. 2:15)?

Aside from the issue of whether or not Apostolic Tradition is synonymous with Scripture and if not, if it is of equal or less authority than Scripture, DeYoung’s second suggestion is a very interesting suggestion since a study of Christianity prior to the Protestant Rebellion yields a different understanding of Christian doctrine and essentials.  For example, most Christians prior to the Protestant Rebellion believed in baptismal regeneration and the Eucharist as a real sacrifice (I am not aware of any denying this doctrine but just in case a few can be found I used the words “most Christians”).  DeYoung notes that “we should be extra cautious before believing something almost no Christians have believed before…and extremely hesitant before rejecting something almost every church has accepted.”  One must wonder why he has chosen to reject baptismal regeneration and the Eucharist as a real sacrifice in light of the fact that these doctrines have been maintained by most Christians prior to the Protestant Revolution.

DeYoung notes the value of the creeds of Nicaea and Chalcedon but he must determine why these creeds have value while other ecumenical councils are outright rejected by many Protestants as contrary to the Christian faith (for example, Nicaea II).  DeYoung must also demonstrate why he would affirm the creeds of these councils yet reject many of the doctrines these councils took for granted (the papacy, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the intercession of the Saints, merit, a distinct Christian priesthood, Bishops, apostolic succession, etc.)  Since most Christians prior to the Protestant Revolution believed these doctrines, one struggles to see DeYoung’s consistency in affirming some widely held doctrines of antiquity, while rejecting others, in affirming some ecumenical councils, while rejecting others.  One even struggles to see why DeYoung seems to pick and choose which parts of an ecumenical council he desires to believe.  For example, DeYoung values the creed of Chalcedon but he rejects the very foundation for the creed, which was the authority of the Pope Leo, “Peter has spoken thus through Leo”!

DeYoung’s third suggestion is to “[d]istinguish between landing theology and launching theology”, that is a distinction between doctrines which Christians start with the same premises but come to different conclusions and doctrines which Christians do not start with the same presuppositions and come to different conclusions.  Again, one fails to see the consistency here.  Isn’t the difference between the Catholic doctrine of justification and the Protestant doctrine of justification a matter of “landing theology”?  If landing theology, in this matter touches on an essential doctrine, yet landing theology in matters such as amillenialism and postmillennialism touch on non-essentials, isn’t this argument inconsistent and begs the question: how does one determine which doctrines of landing theology are essential and which are non-essential?

DeYoung’s fourth suggestion is to “[d]istinguish between the explicit teaching of Scripture and the application of scriptural principles.”  This seems to be a problematic criteria for determining the essentials and non-essentials since Christians for example believe baptismal regeneration is explicit in Scripture and not just an application of scriptural principles.  They would ask is the “washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5 merely an application of a scriptural principle or is it explicitly teaching that regeneration occurs in the washing of the baptismal waters?  How does one determine which view is correct if two Christians with differing views on this matter appeal to Scripture?  It should be noted that Luther believed the words “hoc est corups meum” (This is my body, Luke 22:19) explicitly teaches that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist and not just symbolically, and Calvin, as noted above, believed a proper view of the Eucharist was essential for salvation, while others Protestants would say Christ is not present in the Eucharist and the issue of the real presence isn’t an essential doctrine because, so they would say, it isn’t explicitly taught in Scripture.

DeYoung’s fifth suggestion is to “[d]istinguish between church existence and church health”, meaning there are some doctrines that are essential for the existence of the church, while there are other doctrines that are not essential for the existence of the church, but are merely important for the health of the church.  Yet, this begs the question, how does one distinguish between the two?  Some Protestants, based on their understanding of the Scripture, would argue that a certain understanding of justification by faith alone is essential for  church existence.  For example, R.C. Sproul, sees Luther’s view of justification by faith alone as essential for church existence while other Protestants such as Alister McGrath see Luther’s view of justification by faith alone as a “theological novum” (Alister E. McGrath, Iustitia Dei, pages 184, 186-187), arguing that Luther’s view cannot be found in church history prior to Luther.  If this is true then the church did not exist prior to Luther, if it is not true then it at least demonstrates that well educated Protestants cannot agree on something so important as justification by faith alone and whether or not it is essential for the existence of the church.

DeYoung’s sixth suggestion is to “[a]void foolish controversies” because some doctrines are not worth disputing.  Though it is true we should avoid disputing over some doctrines, since this is what St. Paul tells us in the New Testament, there are some doctrines worth disputing, as can be seen by St. Paul himself who in Acts 17:17 disputed with the Jews in the synagogue.  Now, the question: how do we know which doctrines are worth disputing and which doctrines are not worth disputing, is a worthy question and must be answered.  Are the differences between Catholics and Protestants worth disputing?  If so, how do we know this?  If not, why should Catholics and Protestants remain outside of communion with one another, especially in light of St. Paul’s admonition that there be no schisms among us (1 Cor. 1:10)?

DeYoung’s seventh suggestion is “[a]llow for areas of disagreement, especially regarding “conversion baggage.”  This suggestion is problematic for the same reasons as the previous suggestion, who determines which doctrines are “conversion baggage” and which doctrines are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Concluding Thoughts

DeYoung should be given credit for attempting to lay out some suggestions for how to determine what are essential doctrines and what are non-essential doctrines.  He should also be given credit for his desire to answer these questions for God’s glory and for our good.  However, his attempt does not seem to answer a great number of questions that need to be answered before one could seriously begin to determine the essentials and non-essentials.  Perhaps DeYoung should not be faulted for this because he does note that “I can’t begin to do all the necessary biblical, theological, historical, and practical exploration in this article” but he at least believes that he has possibly laid out “an outline of some important considerations.”  Some of his suggestions such as the first suggestion, help to a certain extent, but at the end of the day his first suggestion, like the rest of his suggestions, leave one with more questions than answers.

For an alternative way of determining the essentials and non-essentials of the Christian faith, it is suggested that one considers the Catholic position of authority.  A couple introductory articles on who has the authority to determine the essentials and non-essentials from the Catholic perspective can be found here and here.

Ad Gloriam Ecclesiae!