Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Disappearing Distinctions

Over at Called to Communion there is an ongoing discussion over whether there is a distinction between Solo Sciptura and Sola Scriptura. Keith Mathison has observed that Catholics seem unable to see the distinction but protestants are well able to see it. He has tried to, as charitably as possible, suggest that there is something about Catholicism that poisons the mind and makes it incapable of seeing obvious distinctions. But there is another possibility that the Catholics have been too charitable to suggest. That maybe it is sin.

We all understand how we make distinctions between sins we commit and sins other people commit. They are not logically coherent distinctions. They are rooted in pride. I drink and occasionally I overdo it but I am not like so and so. He has a real problem. I swear once in a while when I really get mad but I am not like the guys at work. They totally disrespect holy things.

We do this all the time. We look at our own sin and we look at somebody else who commits the same sin with a bit more frequency and intensity and we can't see ourselves. I don't do that. That is so wrong. What I do is different. Sure it is. But is there a principled difference? Is there really a moral line they have crossed and you have not or is it just a matter of degree?

One of the real tests for that kind of thinking is to get advise from fellow Christians who don't struggle as much with that sin. Those Christians in the same boat as you will see the same distinctions. But if those who are not personally involved don't see any principled distinction then the odds are you have imagined one to rationalize your own behavior.

So it is with the sin of dissenting from church teachings. People who do it in a limited way see a huge difference between what they do and those that have drifted off into a faith that is nothing like historical Christianity. What you are seeing there is exactly what you would expect. People who are engaging in the sin look at those who have taken the same sin a little further and cannot see themselves. Certainly what I do is very different from what a Jehovah's Witness does. There must be some principled difference. The truth of it is hard to face.

Then they can't explain why orthodox Catholics can't see the difference. Because they are precisely those Christians who are not struggling so much with this sin. They have no personal pride to protect so they can analyze the situation accurately.

So if you see dissent from the church as sin then everything is quite explainable. You don't have to come up with a new class of mental defect as Mathison seems to be doing. People who are in sin tend to rationalize the sin. That is a well understood human defect. So there is no surprise that Mathison and his fellow protestants would see distinctions where there are none. That those distinctions would exonerate their behavior while condemning similar behavior in others. People do that with every sin. Smart people are actually more prone to do it. They also tend to get together and rationalize as a group so they can convince each other how strong their position is. There is nothing new or remarkable about that.

What is new and remarkable to protestants is to view all this scholarship and theological argument as rationalization for sin. For them this is the height of revelation. Solid reformed thinkers analyzing a problem in the light of scripture. That is where truth comes from. Sure they recognize them as fallible but just barely. They are the best minds in the reformed world so a lot is expected from them. To think that sin can skew their thinking as a group is hard to wrap your mind around.


  1. Hi Randy,

    Not sure how a link to your post wound up on my desk, but anyway...

    Dissent from the teaching of Rome is only a sin if Rome is who she claims to be.

    So again, it all boils down to the veracity of Rome's claims. All else is secondary.


    Keith Mathison

  2. I am not sure how it got there either but welcome. Does it all boil down to he veracity of Rome's claims? Yes and No. One could have an Eastern Orthodox view of church and see the same issues. Rome does not own the teachings. They are generically Christian. Rome embraces them because they are Christian and defines them because she really is who she claims. But supposing it was possible to ignore the Catholic church you could still see dissent from traditional Christianity as sin.

    So I would say Rome's claims can be separated in one step of the process. There would always have to be step 2 where you have to deal with those claims in the light of Christian tradition however you have defined it. Questions like, "What is the traditional Christian understanding of ecumenical councils?" can lead a person to Rome. In fact, most definitions of Christian tradition will lead you to Rome if you apply them consistently.