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  • Writer's pictureFr. Paul A. F. Castellano

Make a Better Argument

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

The reason this week’s blog has taken so long to post is that I have been mulling over what and how I wanted to approach this topic. If you know me or have followed me for any length of time you know that one of my primary concerns and something that I emphasize in all of my teaching and discussions is how arguments are structured.

It's one thing to have a particular position you’d like to argue, it’s still another thing to present that argument in such a manner that oversights, mistakes, or genuine errors are made.


For years I’ve bemoaned the state of so-called scholarship within academia in general, but Christian scholarship in particular. In my 30-plus years in academics I have been disheartened by well-meaning, but lazy, sloppy, or just intellectually uninformed argumentation.


Sometimes this is purely “accidental” in nature. Other times it appears intentional. I’m going to discuss 3 recent posts I’ve encountered and show how well-meaning, academically “trained” men, make one or more of the above complaints. I am not going to name anyone because my intention is not to defame or insult anyone. I simply want to point out the errors that some men commit when they’re trying to make a point.


Each of the posts I’m going to engage was presented by men with whom I’m familiar. They are solidly orthodox, biblically conservative, passionate for all things Christian, and have a heart for evangelism. Two have or are currently teaching in a Christian institution. Yet all three make errors that affect the outcome of what they’re attempting to convey in their argument.


Post #1:


A well-known and respected seminary professor recently posted section vi of chapter 25 from the Westminster Confession on the Church. That section reads:


vi. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.


Technically, I’m taking issue with the Westminster Confession at this juncture, but since this professor cited it, I’ll use his usage as an example of the deficiency of this type of statement.


This chapter in the WCF is very clear in its discussion of the meaning of “catholic,” “visible” and “invisible” church; in general, the overall statement concerning the church is unremarkable in historical context.


However, if one looks closely at the above-cited section a problem arises that could’ve been bypassed completely by the addition of a simple, brief phrase.


When one analyzes section vi as is, it leads to an unfortunate difficulty in the church. If you consider every single denomination that currently exists in Protestantism, and you follow their respective forms of church government to their logical conclusion, you’ll find, at the end of that exercise, 1 person in charge of the church. In other words, when all is said and done, every denomination has one person over, at least, the administrative function of the church. Whether they are a “president,” “elder,” etc., there is, in the final analysis, a place where the buck stops at one man. Every church has this setting. It is not unique to Rome.


Now, immediately there will be pushback of the kind that says, “well, it’s not the same thing.” True, it is not the same thing, exactly. Rome has claimed papal infallibility since 1870. HOWEVER, the practical essence and outworking is functionally similar. What is being asserted is, at the end of the day, 1 person gets to make the final adjudication in ecclesiastical matters.


Now we can go back and forth and quibble about how precisely the parallel obtains, but there is a simple fix to all of this that would make further discussion unnecessary. All that needed to be added was the phrase, “only absolute and infallible” to the 'head of the church. '


That simple addition resolves the issue so that the first clause in section vi would then read as follows: ” There is only and no other absolute and infallible head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ;…”


Left as presented it opens up a virtual pandora’s box of difficulties, the most prominent and readily seen in today’s church is the idea that, I don’t need someone in the church telling me what to do, I can go straight to Jesus because He’s the only head of the Church.


Again, my point is not to malign anyone but to concentrate on how arguments are presented and show what happens when they aren’t presented as precisely as they could and should be.


Post #2:


The second post is related to the first. It involves a quote, from a Puritan Bishop no-less, involving apostolic succession. The post quoted Bishop Hopper’s statement:


“As concerning the ministers of the Church, I believe that the Church is bound to no sort of people or any sort of succession of Bishops, Cardinals, or such like, but unto the only Word of God…if he that knoweth least teach Christ after [according to] the Holy Scriptures he is to be accepted; and if he that knoweth most teacheth Christ contrary or any other ways than the Holy Scriptures teach, he is to be refused.”

John Hopper


This quote presents a number of problems but they are all related to the similar theme of the first post, that is of authority. I’m not going to rehash the argument for apostolic succession. If one is interested in my arguments in favor of apostolic succession, at least from an Anglican position, they can find it in my book, “As it is in Heaven,”[1] chapters 7 & 9.

The difficulty with this quote (and the next one) is there is no discussion of the context in which this quote was made. In fact, in the majority (and I’m being politely conservative here) every post that references anything from the Reformation period (16th – 17th centuries), never discusses the context of the quotes. They are cited as almost absolute dicta!


The reason for such quotes being made during that time period is in direct response to perceived abuses. It is important to identify said abuses, but it is also important to determine whether the solution offered to the alleged abuse is either in portion to the abuse or even correct and accurate in and of itself! This is never done!


These types of citations, especially as they are usually want to derive from Puritans, invariably are a knee-jerk reaction to Rome’s abuses and wind up throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. It is critical, not only for a proper understanding of such doctrines but for the effect it has on the entire church, to make sure one distinguishes between the abuse of something and its inherent unacceptability.


Apostolic succession IS a Biblical belief and practice that derives from an understanding of the connection between the old and new covenants. Therefore, to reject it based purely or merely upon abuse is not only wrong, but it is also dangerous and, quite frankly, intellectually unsatisfying.


Post #3:


The third and final post I want to address is tangentially related to the first two but has a slight difference. If the two previous assessments of the posts presented didn’t raise an eyebrow, I think my comments on this post certainly will. Here is the post to which I’m referring:


“We do not propose any novelty, but have rather returned to the fountainhead of pure and Apostolic teaching…maintaining continuity, communion, and fellowship with all the Holy Fathers and Bishops who were truly orthodox…we have not rejected the Church but returned to it.”

Peter Martyr Vermilgi


There are a number of points that I could make in regard to this comment by Vermigli, but I will concentrate on one particular assertion. And again, my point is to address the deficiency in the argument and that, a poor argument doesn’t aid the discussion but only creates confusion and factions which dig in their proverbial heels. For a more complete (though not exhaustive) critique of this assertion again, see my book.


Vermigli – and I love my Italian reformers such as Vermigli, Zanchi, et al – makes the claim that the Protestant church didn’t create a “new” church but simply returned to the ancient church. This has been the position of the Protestant Reformation and her churches since the 16th century.


But is this accurate? Vermigli doesn’t state to which reformation church he is referring. Now the immediate reply might be, “well it’s clear he’s speaking of the Presbyterian church.” Possibly. Maybe. Most likely. But what about the Lutheran church on the continent? Or the German Reformed Church in Southern Germany and Switzerland? They have differences among them and are not the same. Have they all, with their respective differences, returned to the ancient church? Was the ancient church so dissimilar from synagogue to synagogue? This is where the so-called, “house” churches arose.


However, even besides the relative differences among the Protestant churches during the reformation, there is one truly glaring error in Vermigli’s statement – there is no interaction with the existence of episcopacy which was (and has been) the church's position and report for thousands of years.


The 3 fold nature of the clerical offices was defined in the O.T., continued into the N.T., and then consistently carried out by the church (with the exception of heretical deviations) right up until the Reformation. How can anyone then, assert in the 16th century, that they haven’t created a “new” church but returned to the ancient church when the ancient church was episcopal in nature and the 16th-century iteration isn’t?


If one truly was going to assert that a Protestant Reformation church returned to the ancient church it wouldn’t be Presbyterianism, Puritanism, Anabaptism, or even Lutheranism; it would only be Anglicanism.


Anglicanism maintained the biblical form of clerical orders from the ancient church while correcting the abuses of the right-wing conservative expression of the church (Rome) and Left Wing movement (Presbyterian, Puritan, etc.) And note, by “right” and “left” I’m not invoking political meanings. Rome was conservative in that it wanted to “keep things as they are;” the converse is to “change” things and there is no doubt the Presbyterians “changed” what they viewed as Roman errors. Unfortunately, it went too far.


The reason Vermigli (and others) made this claim was because they saw in the O.T. and especially the synagogue structure, a concept of government that never existed – so-called, “elder rule.” I deal with this in chapter 9 of my book.


There is nowhere in the O.T. where, when addressing liturgical worship, i.e., atoning sacrifices and the sacrificial system – the so-called “elders” (as understood in the Presbyterian sense of the 16th century) participated (it is critical to keep and maintain this qualifier in mind).


This was performed by the 3 orders of the Tabernacle/Temple – High Priests, Priests, and Levites (which the church immediately implemented in the ancient church as Bishops, Priests, and Deacons). This understanding was read back into the early church by those advocating “elder rule.” The “rule” of elders was essentially “administrative. Once more, I go into more detail in my book.


The idea that the Protestant Reformation didn’t create a new church(es), is historically false. Save Anglicanism, no other Reformation church can claim to have preserved:

1. the absolute and infallible authority of Christ while ordaining an earthly, fallible representative for His church;

2. maintained that authority through the apostolic succession of bishops;

3. continued the catholic (not Roman) faith and corrected abuses, both concurrent to their historical context and ancient, in the church.


Let the blood-letting begin.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1627878440/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_tpbk_p1_i0

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