14 January 2007

Another Papal Goodie

"What makes the Church the Church, accordingly, are those elements that do not derive from merely human activity. They alone distinguish the Church from all other communal groupings and accord her the quality of being unique, being irreplaceable. Division within the Church thus consists of a split in the confession of faith, the creed, and the administration of the sacraments themselves; all other differences do not ultimately count: there can be no objection to them; they do not divide us in the heart of the Church. Division within the central sphere, on the other hand, threatens the very real reason for the Church's existence, her very being.

From this basic understanding of unity arose two tasks for ecumenism. It had first of all to distinguish purely human divisions from the real theological divides. Purely human divisions, in particular, like to give themselves the importance of something essential; they hide themselves, so to speak, behind this: what is human, what we have made for ourselves, is declared obligatory, as being divine. The silent divinization of what is our own, which is the everlasting temptation for man, easily spreads. In a high proportion of church schisms, such divinizing of what is ours, the self-assertion of some human or cultural form, has played a significant role. Ecumenism demanded, and still demands, the attempt to free ourselves from which distortions, which are often subtle. Then it follows that the variety by no means needs to disappear, because it does not detract from the nature of the Church; this can be special in some way and that can be different, but these things do not have to compulsory for everyone. A tolerance for different things had to arroused, not founded on indifference concerning the truth, but on the distinction between truth and mere human tradition." [Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, p. 255]

Thus far Benedict XVI. What I find very interesting in his observation here is that it is this precise distinction which the Lutherans sought to make during the Reformation. Why, it could be taken as a paraphrase of AC VII almost! Our Churches saw, for example, in the elevation of the post-Biblical distinction between presbyter and episcopus to the status of a divinely instituted order upon which the very existence of the Church's sacramental life was built exactly the dangerous divinization of what was, in point of fact, merely human. Our Churches were all for keeping canonical order, of course, [sadly historical circumstance prevented this] but as a human tradition, not as something laid down for us in the "faith once delivered to the saints." This explains why there are Lutheran Churches with episcopal succession and Lutheran churches without it in complete Eucharistic fellowship. To us, it can never be more than a venerable human tradition. There were other examples, but that one comes to mind given the discussion under the other quote from Benedict.


Past Elder said...

As it was taught to me in the pre Vatican II days, there is a sense in which one could agree about the post Biblical priest/bishop distinction.

I was taught that the priestly office of Christ is one office, transmitted among men fully only in the bishop. The priest does not have a separate office from the bishop but rather represents and executes his bishop's authority on a limited basis. Sacramentally, he may baptise and officiate at marriages (though anyone can baptise and the ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the couple), administer Extreme Unction (the anointing of the extremities in the "Last Rites") and hear Confession and say Mass, but he may not ordain or confirm. Only the bishop can do this himself, and the priest may as it were stand in for him in the other five sacraments. The priest is then not a separate office but an extension of the episcopal office.

Benedict is arguing for, in Roman terms, a distinction between tradition and Tradition -- between human custom however venerable and what has been handed on from the Apostles.

So there can be an equally valid Roman Rite liturgy and Rite of St John Chrysostom liturgy which does not divide the church at all. But take away the valid orders in succession from the Apostles and you have churches that properly cannot be called churches at all since they lack an essential element given by Christ to His Church.

When I was younger, in the days of Vatican II, the joke among RC "conservatives" was the council would have been much shorter had it just issued a single statement, Luther was right, and went home. Which is why many who adhere to traditional Roman Catholicism do so in an uneasy relationship with the current Roman authorities, the Society of St Pius X for example. As long as they ordained only priests, they were an irritation that would probably wither once Lefebvre died. But when they ordained bishops Rome went nuts, because these would be valid bishops.

Benedict is not a bad man and will make a good pope as popes go. But no real Lutheran will ever see even in the Brave New Church created at Vatican II anything like evidence that it now thinks Luther was right. Now if only we'd quit abandoning the liturgy for a Lutheran version of the novus ordo missae created by the Brave New Church to suit its purposes!

William Weedon said...

Interesting, Pastelder. I should also have noted that the primacy of the Peter and the Roman See was also granted in exactly the same manner: a human tradition, observed for the sake of holy love, but not to be accepted when it was insisted upon as divine.

Past Elder said...

You know what really bothers me about this stuff?

I live in two worlds. I'm a layman. Most of the people I deal with day in and day out are lay people in the broadest sense. I'm also a one time would be RC seminarian and Benedictine, a PhD in another discipline, and have served as an elder in my former synod WELS. So I can hang with you guys to an extent though I've never been to Ft Wayne and the last time I was in St Louis the arch wasn't finished, and I also get what my fellow layman next to me in the pew is about -- well next to my sons who are usually next to me.

The conditions Luther describes in the Preface to the LC are as current now as in his time. You can take your average layman from either a Lutheran or a Roman parish, put him in the other one, and he'll think hey, we're not really all that different! All based on similarity in human tradition, and in absolute ignorance of substantial differences in what in Roman parlance is Tradition, the apostolic faith that comes to us from the Apostles.

If you'll pardon me another vintage joke, another one that was common in the ecumenical euphoria after Vatican II was, I don't know why we ever thought there was much difference between Catholics and Lutherans, the first thing either one of us does going someplace new is set up a brewery.

My point being, I love blogging and the fact that the bloggers I encounter with the same beliefs I hold are overwhelmingly LCMS was no small part in my being LCMS now. But man, we've got to get this stuff taught and preached to the laity. How far we are still from the place also described in the Preface to the LC where the laity will of their own accord and without any laws from Rome or anywhere else demand of our churches and pastors the Sacrament, and the whole Biblical faith accurately presented in our Confessions!

William Weedon said...

What can I say to that, Pastelder, but to sing the three-fold "Amen"? The catechetical challenge is as pressing today as it ever was in those years. "Was ist das?" remains the question.

Fr. Hank said...

Frank Senn has some timly essays in Lutheran Forum over the last year or two on how Lutherans can relate to Rome, and JPII and B16 in particular.
Good grist for the mill.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Weedon,

post-Biblical distinction

I don't think this phrase stands up to historical and theological scrutiny. I think "pre-Biblical distinction" would be at least as justified, if not more so.

The New Testament is not a constitution for the Church, prescribing the details of polity, any more than it is a service-book, prescribing the details of our worship. The New Testament books presuppose, and are addressed to, an existing community with an existing order of worship and an existing polity. The details of polity are only referred to, not defined, in the New Testament. The essentials of polity, like the lex orandi, come to us through a Tradition which is co-eval with Scripture.

For this reason, the fact that the terminology used in the New Testament to denote the Apostolic ministry is somewhat fluid does not mean that the episcopate is not "the essential ministry" (to use Dix's language). The patristic, liturgical, and canonical witness serves to clarify the New Testament's somewhat ambiguous usage.

We can regard the presbyterate and the episcopate as being essentially the same office only if we assume that the episcopate arose by raising some presbyters above the others in a purely human administrative arrangement. But the historical record suggests otherwise: that the presbyterate was always a subordinate and supporting office to the episcopate, and that the presbyter's presidency of the liturgical assembly in the parish arose by delegation from the bishop (when the geographical dispersion and the sheer numbers of the Church made it impossible for the bishop to preside over all the Christians in the city in a single liturgical assembly).

As I have often said, our Lutheran fathers' take on this point is understandable, given the defective tradition that they received. But that does not make it correct.

William Weedon said...


As indicated on the other thread, I think it is the understanding you have put forth which does not stand up to history. St. Jerome clearly implies that the episcopate in the city of Alexandria was precisely the elevation of one of the presbyters for the sake of administration. St. Isidore of Seville apparently taught the same, for in his *De Ecclesiasticis officiis* he sees the authority to ordain and consecrate reserved to bishops "to prevent a challenge to the discipline of the church." In the time of the undivided Church, we have St. Willehad and St. Liudiger ordain presbyters while they themselves were in the rank of presbyter. In Canon 13 of the Council of Ancyra, approved by St. Leo IV, bishop of Rome from 847 to 855, we have the statement that neither chorepiscopoi *nor city presbyters* may ordain presbyters or deacons outside their own parochia, unless the bishop has granted permission. [Piepkorn notes that the texts of the actual canons of the council are uncertain, but finds it very significant that the translation offered here is the form they were received by said Pope some centuries later, and no one thought that an odd provision - see *The Church*, p. 80]. St. John Cassian says that the Egyptian presbyter-abbot Paphnutius ordained his successor, the abbot Daniel, to both the diaconate and presbyterate. (Conferences IV.1). Hugo of Pisa and many medieval canonists took the position that a simple presbyter had the power to ordain, if the pope empowered him to do so. This fits with the fact that the bulls Sacrae religionis and Gerentes ad vos, both permitted Abbots in presbyteral orders to ordain in their monasteries. Thus, it is by no means any sort of an "open and shut" case historically that the Church NEVER had presbyters ordain.

All the above is from the Piepkorn volume, which if you don't have it, is very worth obtaining. *The Church: Selected Writings of Arthur Carl Piepkorn.* ALPB 2006

Chris Jones said...


I suppose I should hardly be surprised that we disagree on this point. It is, thankfully, one of the few points of disagreement between us.

The history you cite from Piepkorn is precisely what I was referring to when I used the term "defective tradition". I believe Jerome was mistaken and that the Papal dispensations that allowed presbyteral ordinations were uncanonical.

I am an admirer of Piepkorn, but I should caution you against basing your view on a point like this on a single source. As a counterpoint, I recommend the anthology The Apostolic Ministry edited by K. E. Kirk (bishop of Oxford in the mid-twentieth century), especially the essay "The Parity of Ministers" by the Revd. T. G. Jalland, which goes into the history of the idea of the equality of the presbyterate and the episcopate in considerable depth.

(My copy of the Kirk volume is from that inexhaustible source of theological literature, the indispensible Dr Tighe. Perhaps Bill has another copy he could spare for you; or, if you are interested in reading it, I should be glad to lend you mine.)

In my view, our Lutheran fathers' only justification for presbyteral ordination was as an emergency measure. The emergency is over.

William Weedon said...


I agree, of course, that it is highly desireable to return to the canonical polity which our Reformation fathers were unable to keep in German lands, but as a venerable and valuable human tradition, and not as something that is of the esse of the Church itself (in the way that the Predigtamt is).


William Weedon said...


I did mean to say I'll check out the book - I'm sure the St. Louis sem has it. But meanwhile, how it could possibly explain away the words of Cassian in Conferences 4:1; the words of Canon 13 of Ancyra; the words of St. Jerome in numerous spots, most famously: "bishops should know that they are greater than presbyters more through custom than through the verity of an ordinance of the Lord"; the actions of St. Willehad and St. Liudger; and the fact that it was an open question in the medieval canonists... well, it's beyond me. Again, not meaning any of this as an attack on canonical polity per se, but certainly in vehement disagreement that it can be regarded as "the verity of an ordinance of the Lord." FWIW.

Past Elder said...

IMHO, the bottom line to both this and the other thread that started with a quotation from Cardinal Ratzinger is -- is sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone, I may not be a graduate of anyone's seminary but I took enough Latin in the pre Vatican II RC church to know an ablative of means when I see one!)a valid doctrinal norm or not.

Chris Jones states exactly the grounds on which I was taught as an RC that the answer is not. I remember as an exercise going through each of the Pauline Epistles finding a passage referring the reader to a prior oral message to that community -- letters addressed to a community that already had the message preached to them, not a comprehensive delivery of the message.

The church preceded the Bible, the church produced the Bible. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus promise more books, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus tell anyone to write more books, so if the Bible is normative, by what authority does anyone presume to write more Scripture since none is commanded? By the Church.

My former synod turns cartwheels to prove this is not so, that the Bible, like the Koran, preceeded the religion. But you know what? Ain't so. We're not TV mega churches or Willow Creek (though it would seem some among us would have it so), and we're not Baptists or evangelicals in the American sense either. I never understood this until I read the Book of Concord myself, not at sem but between my first son's overnight feedings until 0200 hours, my "shift".

Luther knew it ain't so too, I saw. He knew where the Bible came from really. He didn't set the Bible before or against the Church or take it as an ecclesiastical or liturgical textbook. If you'll permit me a home spun paraphrase (and I promise not to crack another Vatican II era joke)he said of course the Church preceded the Bible, of course the Church produced the Bible. That's the whole point! We said, at a time when a good deal more than The DaVinci Code had currency, here are the books you can rely on, here are the books inspired by God and without error presenting His revealed truth -- and then we quit relying on them, even to the point of doing things that contradict them!

So far from being a "if it ain't in the New Testament we ain't doing it" Protestant, Luther's call in sola Scriptura is simply to recall the church to fidelity to its own book! Which is why we are no new teaching or new church. Which is why our reforms were not to take the Bible as a textbook or a presciption, rejecting anything that isn't specifically in there, but rather to reject only what contradicts or is contradicted by what is in there. We Lutherans then have nothing to fear from tradition or Tradition, venerable human custom and Apostolic teaching. We simply do as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church does, rely on what we ourselves said could be relied on.

Or did I get this all wrong?

Schütz said...

I wrote a very long blog for the other stream this afternoon, and lost it when I came to the log-in part. You live and learn. Anyway, the guts of it was basically what Chris and Past Elder are arguing here, and, with respect, Pastor Weedon, I think they both have a better grasp on the history of the sacrament of orders and the proper understanding of Catholic theology than you do. Past Elder's point about the relationship between the Church and the bible is equally correct. What should concern you is not whether the distinction between bishop and presbyter arose "after the bible", but that such a distinction arose "after Christ's institution of the ministry". In fact, we have recorded in the bible the very first distinction to arise within the sacrament of orders, the institution of the special group of Hellenist "ministers" in Acts 6. There is a lot of debate today about the fact that Sacred Tradition has always identified this as the institution of the diaconate. We won't go there just now. What is interesting is that the Apostles themselves "sub-contract" as it were a share in their ministry to a lower rank of ordained ministers. And this within the apostolic period. As past elder points out, the gradual development of the presbyterate as a subordinate ministry to the full ministry of the episcopus had itself fully transpired by the time the Canon of the NT was settled, and evidence for the seeds of this development are already apparent in the NT itself. The fact that until the Reformation there was not one single Church on the face of the earth that did not have the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest and deacon, surely points to the fact that the Lutherans were the innovaters here, and not the historical Church that produced the scriptures and which developed in direct continuity from the apostles.

I am going to blog on my own site (www.cumecclesia.blogspot.com) about the issue of Authority, Authenticity and Continuity in the Church.

William Weedon said...


Sorry to hear about your post vanishing! I have had that happen before and it is very frustrating. Let me be clear: I am no church historian, just a simple parish pastor. What I don't know about Church history could fill volumes, which is why I am always eager to learnn more.

What always fascinates me about history, though, are the anomalies; the stuff that just doesn't fit with the standard explanations. And that's why I asked about the specific presbyteral ordinations performed by these saints of the undivided church, about the 13th canon of Ancyra, and about the words of St. Jerome.

Understand, please, that I do not for a moment dispute that the norm rapidly became episocpal ordination. But the question is how the Church herself understood that. As a divinely mandated practice? Or as a venerable practice but of human origin, that could be dispensed with at need? It seems to me that St. Jerome is very clear that it is a human custom and the saints who ordained while presbyters seem to point to the possibility of dispensing with it at need.

I am not at all ashamed to say that the Lutheran Church has been weakened by the loss of this venerable polity - particularly the form of the Lutheran Church in which I live. We are in need of bishops who will indeed superintendent the doctrine and the practice of our parishes and lead us in good works, prayer, and love. There is great wisdom in the way the Church established this.

But note that at the Reformation in the West, the bishops were largely not superintending the churches at all. Just think about Albrecht of Mainz! It was an abuse, and I really don't know many Roman Catholics who would defend these secular Princes who also had office in the Church. To keep the title and vacate its meaning? That's what was going on.

Thanks for the conversation. May the Lord of the Church bring us all to unity by His grace!

E Pfar said...

This thread has raised in my mind regarding church government/structure, “How do we best proclaim Christ’s Gospel?” What form of ministry serves It best especially within our own particular context(s)?

The ELCA adopted a form of the historic episcopate (HE) in order, at least in its stated opinion, to better serve the Gospel with one of its full communion partners, TEC. It may or may not have been a good choice. It was, I think, a charitable act on the ELCA’s part since Anglicans view HE as normative--it removed a barrier between the two churches. And while the ELCA has adopted this form of ministry, it does not require any of the Reformed churches or other Lutheran churches w/ which it is in full communion to do so. It even allows for exceptions to episcopal ordinations of its own candidates—for now at least.

One thing is clear ministry must go on—“Proclaim and Baptize” but how to get that done? For the Reformers the HE hampered the necessary proclamation of the Gospel thus necessitating a change in form. Good things resulted and less than good things resulted.

For those who long for a return to the HE within the LCMS the one question should be will it benefit the proclamation of the Gospel? If it is thought that the Gospel can be better served through the HE than the way Synod currently operates, why not. If not, is there perhaps a better structure than either the current one or the HE? I may be way off but in a way, is this not what the then Cardinal Ratzinger was asking?

William Weedon said...

Good insights, E Pfar[rer], and how utterly at the heart of things to be concerned with the ongoing task of bringing about the obedience of faith through the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of Christ's holy sacraments.

As to what really is preferred in the Lutheran Church, don't you think that Luther's words just nail it? I'm referring to SA II, IV, 9:

"The Church cannot be better governed and preserved than if we all live under one head, Christ. All the bishops should be equal in office (although they may be unequal in gifts). They should be diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer, works of love, and such. According to St. Jerome, that is how the pirests at Alexandria governed the churches, together and in common. So did the apostles and, afterward, all bishops throughout all Christendom, until the pope raised his head above all."

Schütz said...

Dear Pastor,

A couple of comments before I get down to doing some work today.

1) There is an old saying that "the exception proves the rule". That is certainly the case in the examples you cite. Lutherans have made the exception the rule.

2) It is possible that at points in history, bishops may have granted what equates to a dispensation to presbyters in exceptional situations to ordain on their behalf. (You cited the case of an Abbot who was granted this dispensation, but later the dispensation was not recognised by the wider church). That does not equate to the presbyterate having an inherant authority to ordain.

3) St Jerome's opinion, cited by Luther and beloved by Lutherans ever since, was never condoned by the wider Church. It never became "Tradition". Not everything opinion of a saint, even a Father of the Church, is Gospel truth! Such opinions need to find their place in the wider tradition in order to become authoritative.

4) Granted that both Catholic and Lutheran historians recognise a two-fold ministry in the NT (episcopus/presbyter and deacon), there is disagreement about how to interpret what happened next. Lutherans generally talk about the presbyter/bishops establishing a separate higher order of bishops for the bene esse of the Church (e Pfar's argument), whereas Catholics talk about the bishop/presbyters delegating some authority for ministry to the separate lower order of presbyter. In the latter case, the ministry of the Bishop remains of the "esse" of the Church, and not just the bene esse. Thus, the Church did not at some point "establish bishops" in the way that it "established deacons" in the Apostolic period. The first leaders of the Church to succeed the apostles WERE BISHOPS, not PRESBYTERS, in Catholic understanding.

5) Thus we come to the question of whether ordination by bishops is of human or divine origin. If we take the Lutheran position in point (4) above, then it is understandable to believe (as Jerome did) that the Presbyters acted on human authority to establish the order of Bishops, that the Presbyters decided on human authority to cede their inherant authority to ordain to the bishops, and that should at any stage the bishops stop acting as bishops (as you point out was the case at the time of the Reformation) the presbyters could reclaim their inherant right and power to ordain that they originally ceded to the bishops all those centuries ago. But if the Catholic interpretation is correct, then the right of ordaining belongs inherantly and by divine right to the bishops, since theirs is and always has been the fullness of the sacrament of order (the office of the ministry in Lutheran parlance). In this view, it was to them that Christ gave the authority to ordain successors and co-workers in the Ministry, and when they followed the guidance of the spirit in establishing the presbyterate they did not cede this authority to these presbyters. The reason for this is quite plain: the business of ordaining other men to the ministry directly affects the unity of the Church. For this very reason, three bishops are canonically required to ordain a new bishop. Even were the office of bishop to be held by sinful men who failed in their pastoral calling, nevertheless, the kingdom of God and the authority of his Christ cannot be wrenched from those to whom it was given by violence (cf. Matt 11:12b). As we have seen, by the act of presbyteral ordination, the Lutheran Church entered into schism with the Catholic Church.

6) As for Luther's comments in SA II, IV, 9, I have always had a bit of a chuckle over this one. We will leave aside the matter that it was not the pope, but the Ecumenical Councils of the Church that first distinguished between the honour accorded to the Patriarchs (and that for reason of the very unity that Luther so desired). The fact is that there is an ecclesial communion which does have the sort of policy that Luther describes here: the Anglican Communion. In the Anglican Communion, "All the bishops [are] equal in office (although they may be unequal in gifts)". In Anglican ecclesiology, all their bishops "should be diligently joined in unity of doctrine, faith, sacraments, prayer, works of love, and such." Yeah, right. You see what happens when all are "equal" and when there is no central ministry of unity? For this reason Christ established the ministry of Peter, and said to him "Strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32). But at least the Anglicans are trying. Lutheran pastors and bishops don't even have an ecclesiology of communion with one another to begin with.

William Weedon said...

Dear Schütz,

Just a few comments. You have very fairly lined up the different approaches to the question. Obviously I continue as a Lutheran because I do not hold the Roman position to be tenable, and you likewise became Roman because you were convinced the Lutheran position untenable. But together we may pray that the Lord of the Church would heal the wounds of His body and unite all the baptized at one altar once again.

About your comment on the last paragraph, I've always taken that paragraph of Luther's to describe rather accurately the Eastern Church's polity. I'm not sure, though, what you mean by Lutherans not having an ecclesiology of communion with one another. If we didn't have such an ecclesiology I would be offering the Holy Eucharist indiscriminately at St. Paul's altar. As it is, we offer the Eucharist only to those in the communion fellowship of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod or to those from churches with which the Synod is in communion. It's true that not all Lutherans are in communion with each other, but that remains a problem that requires ongoing prayer, work, and conversation; as does indeed the fact that Rome and the Church of the Augsburg Confession remain apart.

Past Elder said...

I still say, the prior issue is not this or that about orders, but, is sola Scriptura valid or not? The flip side of which is, whatever one's answer, what authority did Christ give to his church anyway? If there is not something of some sort that in some sort of way is necessary to the ordained public ministry of the church, then it just doesn't matter whether it is communicated through priests or only bishops. These I think are the questions that must be resolved first. What is a bishop anyway. Can you get them if you want them by starting to call District Presidents bishops and passing out mitres and crosiers?

The Roman position on all this is clear. Apart from liberals -- which is a good place to be -- the question isn't what is the position, but does it derive from Christ or is it an aberration to protect a power structure of human origin? Our (Lutheran) position is, well, less than clear. For example, in my former synod, what derives from Christ is the call, and the specific form of it derives from the church. As the pastor (WELS) with whom I served explained, there is no difference at all in my call to be an elder and his call to be pastor, only in the scope determined by the church. Which remains one of the major sticking points between WELS and LCMS, the one seeing it as the long held position finally clarified by the Wauwatosa theologians, the other seeing a departure from the long held position by them.

In the Brave New Church created at Vatican II (which, dear Schuetz, I see as a new church, not the Roman Catholic Church which struggles against it to exist at all in such things as SSPX) I have seen priests confirm with episcopal approbation, though priests cannot confirm nor ordain. So, can the power to confirm or ordain be delegated like the power to say Mass or hear Confession? RCs such as I used to be (warning, vintage Vatican II joke ahead) used to say of the Council, the Rhine has finally polluted the Tiber, with German monkish squabbles right and left, historical-critical and Lutheran, assaulting the true episcopate and priesthood and the Mass itself. Yet I doubt any Lutheran would see much difference at all.

So I say, we (Lutherans) need to back up a step in our apologetics. What authority has Christ given to his church anyway? We need to remember we are not Protestants -- at my first real rite of passage as a Lutheran, a pot luck, the regular coffee was labelled "Lutheran" and the decaf "Protestant" -- in the American sense, we do not need to prove something is "in" the Bible but that it does not contradict the Bible. And we need to preach and teach, so that the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments properly administered not because we went to Rome or Constantinople or a District President kicked some butt or the right guys prevail in the next convention, but because the people are constrained of themselves to demand it from us! (Well, you.)

Drew said...

You guys might want to check this out:


Chris Jones said...


I read Chris Atwood's post when he first posted it. I wasn't persuaded by it then, and I'm not persuaded by it now.

Chris's argument is, it seems to me, predicated on the notion that the New Testament does, in fact, serve as a constitution for the Church; which it was never intended to do. And he puts far too much weight on the fact that episkopos and presbuteros were used imprecisely in the NT; he concludes from that imprecision that the two terms (and therefore the offices to which they refer) were synonymous.

There is a bit of presumption there that things in the Church went south as soon as the ink was dry on the NT; whereas I have the attitude that the consistent practice of the sub-apostolic and ante-Nicene Church serves to give context to the NT writings and helps us to resolve the ambiguities. I don't think Chris Atwood subscribes to the "Regulative Principle" when it comes to worship; so I don't think he ought to adopt a similar principle with respect to polity. And I think that is what he is doing in that post.

William Weedon said...


I agree that the NT is not give us to be a constitution for the Church, but it is also given us as the sure foundation and touchstone upon which the doctrine of the Church is to be built. And thus, to have a *doctrine* that presbyers differ from bishops by divine right and that presbyters cannot ordain by divine right is the problem. The NT clearly teaches that they are the same and that St. Timothy was ordained by the presbyters.

Now, of course the Church can order her ministry as she sees fit, and if by human custom the Church wishes to restrict ordination to bishops, she certainly can. But what she cannot do is pretend that this restriction is a God-given, God-mandated restriction.

There's no sense in which this denies that the Spirit guides the Church into an ever deeper apprehension of the truth; but it is surely the case that such an apprehension, if it is indeed truth, will not contradict, but confirm the NT witness.

Drew said...


'And he puts far too much weight on the fact that episkopos and presbuteros were used imprecisely in the NT; he concludes from that imprecision that the two terms (and therefore the offices to which they refer) were synonymous.'

If episcopal ecclesiastical order was of divine origin, why would there be any 'imprecision' whatsoever in the New Testament? It seems so very odd to me that this matter, which some (you know who they are!) contend is absolutely crucial to the very existence of the Church, would be treated so loosely in the Apostolic Scriptures, even if they weren't intended to serve as a 'constitution for the Church'.

'consistent practice of the sub-apostolic and ante-Nicene Church serves to give context to the NT writings'

I take it then that you don't buy his reading of Clement or the Didache. Are these then more examples of 'imprecision' in the early Church?