21 February 2008

A logical error: "Because the members of the Church can err, therefore the Church can err."

Consider a whole, x, made up of many parts a, b, c etc.
Suppose that each of those parts have a feature y.
It does not necessarily follow that the whole has that same feature.

The Church, the body of Christ, is made up of many members.
Each of those members is sinful and may fall into error from time to time--for example, I Cor 5.
Even groups of them may be sinful and may fall into error--for example, the Galatians.

From this it does not follow that the Church is sinful, or that the Church may fall into error.

Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church.
St. Paul called the Church "the pillar and foundation of the Truth."
He called her the Bride of Christ, "without spot or blemish or any such thing."

In all these ways, the New Testament demonstrates that the Church cannot fall into any error. To deny them is to deny the witness of the holy apostle, and the voice of enfleshed God.

These promises and descriptions were not given concerning any individual or subgroup, but concerning the Church. Thus, Peter might err, the Galatians might err, but the Church cannot err.

These promises and descriptions were not given to an invisible entity, but a visible one. (The matter of the "invisible church" requires a longer post, which I will address at another time.)

One can show the same conclusion in another way. Any act of communication requires three elements: (1)the speaker, (2)the word, and (3)the audience. Break any link in this chain, and you no longer have a communication. Let the television station broadcast ever so clearly; let the program content be ever so good--if no receiver receives the message, it does not communicate anything.

(1) God the Holy Spirit speaks by (2) the Scriptures (3) to the Church. If the entire Church as Church has misheard the voice of the Holy Spirit, then God the Holy Spirit has not communicated the fullness of the Truth. An infallible communication requires an infallible speaker, speaking an infallible word to an infallible audience. Break any of those links, and the communication of God is nullified.


For now, let this suffice:

From the fact that the Church's members can and do fall into sin and error, it is false to conclude that the Church herself falls into error.

13 comments:

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

In another post you said to me: "Perhaps you'd like to address the ecclesial/existential nature of the crisis confronting the west."

Here's a related thought experiment:

What if the Church today is as "infallible" as it was in the days of the Kings, the intertestimental period, and during the time of Jesus?

Not terribly comforting, but even then, I believe, the gates of hell did not conquer the people of God...

Nathan said...

Just some related food for thought:

http://upstatelutheran.blogspot.com/2007/02/from-fallible-intermediaries-to.html

Nathan said...

Definitely related!:

http://upstatelutheran.blogspot.com/2007/01/church-cannot-err.html

Ed is terrific.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

If you think the Church today is just like it was in the days of the Old Testament, then I've got some wonderful news for you. The Messiah has come. He has given the Church a promise that the Jews never had: that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. His servant Paul taught that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Think about what a pillar or foundation does. Tear down the foundation and you destroy the Truth--which, in this case, can never be!

With regard to the blog you cite, you'll note that most of his appeal, like yours, is to the OT. (The Bereans heard the truth from St. Paul, an infallible interpreter of it.) He should come to hear the same good news I've just shared with you.

Finally, consider the statement "There is no infallible interpreter." Is it being made by an infallible interpreter, or not? If it is, then there is an infallible interpreter. If it isn't, he may well be wrong about what he says. I'll stick with the Scriptures, thanks, which teach that the Church is the foundation of truth, against which the gates of hell will not prevail.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory

Ignatius said...

Greetings in Christ,

My dearest and beloved Fr. Gregory why is it the western mind finds it so hard to believe that God inflesh would return to His Father in heaven without leaving us a pillar of truth. Is it not He who hung the earth upon the water, that hung upon the tree. Is not this the God of our OT fathers who even provided a pillar of fire in the desert to guide and protect Isreal into freedom. Before the God Man's victory over death,and before the new covenant in His blood for the new Isreal(Christians). Our father in heaven continuesly offered His infallible guidance, even though old Isreal was allways rebellious and full of sin, there was no error in in the commandments of God givien to Moses as there was no sin in the manah from heaven. If God did not leave the jews with nothing but there own ambigious reasoning before His coming into flesh. Then it is silly to believe He would leave us with nothing but an errant broken "invisible" church until His second coming...

I look forward to blogging with you in the future.

Ignatius

Nathan said...

Father Gregory,

I have no difficulty with the Church being the ground and pillar of truth, I just think that it has always been Lutheran.  It – the true believers in it – have always been the pillar of fire. I read the fathers not to analyze them, but because they are my spiritual forefathers. (Of course, *I can’t help but on occasion to question* - which I am commanded to do – this or that aspect of this or that father, seeing as how there are things in which they differ). This means, simply that the faithful have always been able to *recognize* which words were words against that which they had previously received and which gave them faith – and they were the ones who cared enough to preserve those words and compile them. The written word, or tradition, simply sums up the oral word, or tradition, and hence it makes sense to test everything we hear vs. that written word (chickens and eggs don’t bother me here). While not indwelt with the Spirit like those at Pentecost, the Spirit was nevertheless working though the Word.

Regarding the gates of hell not overcoming the Church, I think you would place a heavy emphasis on the confession “You are the Messiah” while not minimizing the person speaking it (though not making Him Pope either). I happen to think that Genesis 3:15 is a similar promise, and given that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, I’d say it’s a safe bet that the gates of hell have *always* been unable to prevail against the Church, even though this was not given to believers in such explicit form, until the Messiah came, the Pillar of Fire (we are the pillar of fire).

The words “infallible interpreter” seem to me very loaded and unnecessarily philosophical words, lacking humility and given to a “theology of glory”, I think. I see no examples of persons in Scripture describing “infallible charisms” in regards to the messenger bringing God’s proclamation or the receiver’s interpretation of it, just a straightforward delivery of the message, by men who often doubted the message they gave (see Jeremiah). The speakers themselves certainly never claimed such a thing. No, it seems to me that we simply humbly listen and repeat His words back to Him and our neighbor, as *is appropriate to children more concerned with revering their father rather than contemplating their own infallibility*.

And I believe that the Church has always been preserved by God and has been without spot or blemish in His eyes. And even if it does error (where does the Scripture – the New Testament – specifically say that the Church will not error? – again, what of the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, speaking vs. the whole Church?), God preserves it *tacitly* through the Gospel, narrowly defined. This has not always been articulated though.

So, to paraphrase Ed, “*it is my humble belief* that there is no infallible interpreter”. It seems to me that your logic is out of place here. Besides, if the Church as a whole is the infallible interpreter, how can you speak of any one individual, like Paul, being infallible, as you do?

As I said to you before:

“Finally – I also find it frustrating that while you seem – in my accounting of things – to be mitigating the words “know you have eternal life*, you do not appear to have the same difficulty when it comes to “knowing that you have the right Church”. This, it seems, cannot be doubted the least!”

And in light of my reading of the fathers, this seems so wrong!

And I think that I, too, have the Spirit of God (notice I say this not so much to bolster my own case, but to prominently set forth Paul’s humble approach of delivering what he had receive).

Father Gregory, rest assured I am interested in learning and not just arguing. To be honest though, no one has ever been able to answer the questions that are embedded in my argumentation above. Please know also though, I feel I am greatly privileged to diaglogue with you and don’t want to be a nuisance – especially with your father’s health fading. Saying that, I will simply remain silent from now on regarding this post.

Ignatius said...

Nathan,

I am not sure if you are currently a spirtual sojourner, if you are it would be interesting to know why, or what it is that motivates you to add such content to this blog... It has been my experience as an Orthodox Christian that even behind the most arduous arguments against the one ancient undivided church,there is an unsatisfied questioning christian. From the orthodox purspective we do not have a mass exodus of faithfull sojourning and church shopping. This is not a charicteristic of orthodox chrisitans. If you are not arguing for the sake of arguing and are willing to open your heart and mind to obtain knowledge about the body of Christ, then it would be sad if you were to remain silent at this point. There is so much to comprehend about our faith but there is more to experience. Often some western/Latin paradymes get in the way of finding the fullness of Christ, which can only be found in the undivided old testement church. Again much of this has to be experienced in the life and worship of the church. If you are truly open to dilogue regarding the faith of the church fathers, you are well on your way to sharing in this experience that all orthodox christians do so cherish.

You said...

"And I believe that the Church has always been preserved by God and has been without spot or blemish in His eyes."

Here is an example of the first and one of the most important paradymes you will have to overcome, and that is your idea of what the church is... If you agree that the church was established by Christ on earth in His apostles we have a good start...Now the church being the literal body of Christ menas it can not be seperated from Christ, and this is most evident in the eucharist, the communion of saints, or rather heaven on earth. There is an incoruptable element to that manfestation of Christ in His body undivide on earth. I leave you with one question.

Can Christ be divided?

Keep in mind the oneness of God and the emphasis on unity...Division is not the fruit of the spirit, it is the work of the evil one.

Blessings,
Ignatius

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan, I'm having a bit of difficulty replying to your last post, for several reasons.

1. You're changing the terms of the discussion--e.g. from 'pillar and foundation of the Truth' to 'pillar of fire.' No profitable discussion can occur when the terms of the discussion keep changing.
2. I'm finding it hard even to understand what you're saying in some places: e.g. "While not indwelt with the Spirit like those at Pentecost, the Spirit was nevertheless working though the Word." I don't know what that means.
3. Such arguments as might be there are qualified by phrases like "I think" and "seem to me" and "I'd say." Who am I or anyone else to dispute that you say or think x?

Perhaps this discussion can continue; but I'm thick, and old, and will need some help with the issues I cite above.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory

Nathan said...

Ignatius,

Perhaps I am deceived (though I am unconvinced of this due to what I consider a lack of evidence), but I believe that I participate in blog posts such as this one in order to know the truth. I want to better understand the Orthodox apologetic – and I pray that God would help me to know His Church (as well as His Son) and that it may all be one.

I find it interesting that it is your perception that not many Orthodox are “unsatisfied questioning Christians”. I think that means something, but I am not sure what. Perhaps we Westerners are just have too much baggage to have such little doubt. You are right – I question everything. I’ve been that way since I was a boy. Sometimes this bothers me about me, but sometimes I see it as a good thing too.

Well, if I were to remain silent at this point, it would not be because I don’t genuinely want to understand Orthodoxy more, it would be because I am busy and struggle to balance many things, so please assume that if you do not hear from me again. I spend time in “virtual worlds” but like you my family and other others who are in my immediate field of vision are going to get the majority of my attention (yes, I know you are real too! :) )

I understand why you would promote experience, and I have taken time to go to Orthodox liturgies (quite a few recently), but of course you would not promote persons embracing whatever experience they find satisfying at that moment either I am sure (and I really love and appreciate your liturgies). That said, I understand that it is your presupposition that you are, without doubt, the undivided old testament church. You are not willing to suspend that belief, perhaps, as I am, but I am finding out that my Lutheranism seems to be getting stronger when I do this. In other words, I don’t think I have much to fear from the truth (so perhaps I won’t be exploring Orthodoxy so much, in say, 5 years).

“Keep in mind the oneness of God and the emphasis on unity...Division is not the fruit of the spirit, it is the work of the evil one.”

I tend to go with Paul, who when speaking to the body of Christ at Corinth said that there must be divisions among them to show which of them had God’s approval. I don’t think that those who truly trust in Christ for the forgiveness of those things God calls sins can (this, I think, is the ground of the Christian “faith of the community”) be divided from Him, no. If you dispute my going to the “spiritual” (hidden) now, do you believe it possible for there to be members of an Orthodox church who commune and are nevertheless not united to Christ in faith?

Father Gregory,

I thought Ignatius’ words were good and that they merged with my point well so seized upon them. In my mind, the “pillar and foundation of the Truth” and “pillar of fire” would be more or less synonymous in the context of our discussion. I’m sorry, I thought that it would be pretty clear what I was saying.

"While not indwelt with the Spirit like those at Pentecost, the Spirit was nevertheless working though the Word."

Should have said,

"While [believers were] not *indwelt* with the Spirit like those at Pentecost, the Spirit was nevertheless working [in and with them] though the Word."

FG: 3. Such arguments as might be there are qualified by phrases like "I think" and "seem to me" and "I'd say." Who am I or anyone else to dispute that you say or think x?

Well, I think all that we can do as human beings is trust, say, and think, and I try to view my whole approach as one of humbly speaking the Word of God as it has been delivered to me (contra forms of infallibility). Now of course, If I am to speak of God “reconciling the world to Himself in Christ” I will not qualify it, as the statement is a fact from Scripture. However, when one takes the various facts of Scripture and the historical facts of the world and one’s experience and tries to paint a picture of what they all mean together, we must make decisions about what Scriptural passages are controlling for our frameworks and what not, and here things get a little bit more crazy (therefore, the Fathers will often be quite different in how they handle this or that particular issue no doubt due to their varying internal mental maps [systematic theo]), even if our flesh would like to flatten out all the differences with fuzzy talk about “consensus” and the like. This is why I use qualifying words here, where I won’t if I simply quote Ephesians 2:8-10 to you which I’m sure you think is said just fine on the face of it as well :) Finally, I think this process of actively reflecting on our faith is deeply involved with our liturgical experiences as Christians, as those who are part of a community (Church and family) that has received God’s Word and responded down through the ages.

Nathan said...

I went back and re-read my previous post, where I said: "Saying that, I will simply remain silent from now on regarding this post".

OK, looks like I didn't keep my word. At the same time, it seems that you wanted me to continue engaging, to clarify and more. I hope I have your forgiveness.

I will stop when you tell me that you think it would be appropriate for me to be silent though. I think what I have said already is quite a lot.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Nathan, you wrote:

I thought Ignatius’ words were good and that they merged with my point well so seized upon them. In my mind, the “pillar and foundation of the Truth” and “pillar of fire” would be more or less synonymous in the context of our discussion. I’m sorry, I thought that it would be pretty clear what I was saying.

Rx: I think it best to stick with one text at a time; hence, I'll forgo mixing the two (as intriguing as the idea might be to me).

Nathan:
"While not indwelt with the Spirit like those at Pentecost, the Spirit was nevertheless working though the Word."

Should have said,

"While [believers were] not *indwelt* with the Spirit like those at Pentecost, the Spirit was nevertheless working [in and with them] though the Word."

Rx:
The point remains the same. You draw together what Christ himself distinguishes when he told his apostles of "the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."


Nathan: ...However, when one takes the various facts of Scripture and the historical facts of the world and one’s experience and tries to paint a picture of what they all mean together, we must make decisions about what Scriptural passages are controlling for our frameworks and what not, and here things get a little bit more crazy (therefore, the Fathers will often be quite different in how they handle this or that particular issue no doubt due to their varying internal mental maps [systematic theo]), even if our flesh would like to flatten out all the differences with fuzzy talk about “consensus” and the like.

Rx: Here you accurately and admirably portray a "bottom-up" epistemology, which fits hand-in-glove with a "bottom-up" ecclesiology. Such is not the practice of the Church, which begins her pronouncements with "following the holy fathers, we teach..." and "let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in essence and undivided."

Ignatius said...

Nathan,

I must admit it is an interesting challenge following your responses, though it seems your comments come quick to resolution, I have no doubt you are genuinely in search of truth. However, after looking at your previous posts it seems that you are spending more time looking under rocks. I understand skeptical procedure is necessary while exploring and investigating the unknown, although it is dangerous if it is your only method because you are never looking upward. You must look upward to find heaven so you do not miss what illuminates the darkness. I guarantee you will undoubtedly find only that that seeks darkness under the rock.

Forgive me if I had made it sound as if the Eastern Orthodox Church was without sinners, and those who have departed/fallen from the church. In fact there are times, as a sinner myself, where I have strayed from the bosom of mother church. It is also true, just as the Vandals spitefully snuck into the Latin Masses to partake of communion; the Eastern Church has had the same problem over the ages with Muslims. What is important to understand about these individuals, in relationship to the Orthodox Church, is the dreadful onus falls upon them. We repentfully pray in each Divine Liturgy before receiving the body and blood of our Lord, "please do not let these Holy gifts be unto my condemnation". As the late Metropolitan Anthony Bloom states about prayer, "we should approach God in prayer as we would approach a consuming fire", we too in this way should approach the Church and her Sacraments, that is, in fear and trembling, so as to not be consumed. Yes I am certain there are Orthodox Christians who have become confused by the influences of the world, and have not lived there lives as a Christian should. (Stay with me here because this is important) The difference between the Orthodox Church and those in the west is that it does not change to incorporate those fallen and lost individuals back into its fold. When these Christians repent and come back to the church they come back to the same church. The mystery of Christian orthodoxy remaining constant through the ages stands as continues testimony to, not only those searching, but also to the orthodox as well. I return to my statement about mass exoduses of “church shoppers”, and I stand by it, this phenomenon is NOT characteristic in Orthodox parishes and in my experience is exclusive to the west. My wife and I have travelled and visited many Orthodox communities and not once have I come across a parish where orthodox Christians are frustrated with dramatically changing worship and pastors coming with innovative theology.

If you are looking for a Church without sinners you are not going to find one. If you are looking for a Church that is not a moving target, so sinners know where to return home, there is only one.

As far as my previous correlation between the pillar of fire in the Old Testament and the New Testament church "Pillar of Truth". Try not to make any more out of it other than they both are completely of God and infallibly lead and protect the people of God. We are the new Israel. Fr. Gregory may enlighten us better as to why the lineage of Christ is so important even to the gentile Christian. Understanding the importance of this Christian genealogy helps us understand why Christ cannot be divided and why the Christian church cannot be divided.

It sounds though you are convinced by your own convincing and are satisfied and stronger in your Lutheranism. As a past Lutheran, I certainly understand, and maybe it's a necessary process that you will have to go through. I hope I have not sounded brash or abrasive for that has not been my intent. I am simply attempting to communicate as plainly and clearly as possible. An orthodox Christian cannot offer up anything about the church other than what it truly is and I hope that you will eventually see that I am not so delusional about the faith of our fathers.

God be with you,
Ignatius

Nathan said...

Ignatius,

Thank you for the kind post.

If you want to continue this, I have posted here as well:

http://frgregory.blogspot.com/2008/02/is-church-institution.html

~Nathan