3. The question of the validity of ordination. A key argument by Rome is that in order for any minister to be “legitimately” ordained, he must be installed by a bishop (thereby asserting that Episcopalian government is the only true, valid form of church government). Boetttner debunks this: “We are inclined to believe that the early church was neither Episcopal, nor Presbyterian, nor Congregationalist, but a combination of all three, and that churches then as now may have differed considerably in their manner of government.”
Considering the fact that A. not a word is spoken about apostolic succession in the New Testament and B. no form of church government is sanctioned above all others in the New Testament, Boettner makes a strong point.
4. Showing that Protestantism is rooted in the early, apostolic Church, and is not a medieval innovation. Boettner repeatedly argues that the first centuries of the church were marked by commitment to the gospel. What seemed to cause the shift away from the gospel was the Christianizing of the Roman Empire, which led to a syncretistic church in which many pagan practices were altered slightly and adopted by the church. The dogmas that distinguish Rome from Protestants are not in the mouths of the apostles—they are, instead, to be found much, much later.
5. The papacy Christendom’s greatest obstacle to unity. Boettner acknowledges the papacy as being the greatest cause of divisions among Christians since the beginning. Though technical theological issues were at stake between the East and West in 1054, that, more than anything else, was about authority. The Western Church had changed the wording of the Nicene Creed. The Eastern Church said that the creed couldn’t be changed without the sanction of an ecumenical council.
The Western Church, led by the pope, said it had the prerogative to make such changes, indicating an air of superiority over their Eastern brethren. In the 16th century, this was really the key debate as well. When Luther and his fellow reformers read the New Testament and saw a very different gospel there compared to what Rome was teaching, the Church’s attitude, in summary, was: “You can’t be right if your interpretation contradicts the pope’s because the pope can’t be wrong.”
As Boettner says: “The Roman Church today can become a truly catholic church by renouncing popery and those dogmas and practices which are contrary to the Word of God and holding fast to its primitive foundations, on which bases the reunion of all Christian churches could be realized.” Amen.
All of that being said, there are occasions where Boettner mis-states, or at least, over-states his case. Most concerning is his seeming lack of concern over division of Christians.
1. Vagueness about what it means for the early church to have been guided by the Scriptures alone. More clarity is needed regarding the timeframe of when the New Testament Scriptures were written. At one point, Boettner quotes Rev. Stephen Testa, founder of the Scripture Truth Society, a former Roman Catholic himself, as saying, “The Lord Jesus Christ founded his church, which was evangelical Christian. He was to be the head, the Holy Spirit the Guide, and the Bible the only rule of faith and practice.”
Elsewhere Boettner says the church in the first century was absolutely dependant on the Word of God for its existence. This is true, but it must be pointed out that, at that time, the Scripture itself was still a work in progress. Let us not walk away with the misconception that the Church began at Pentecost with a completed Old and New Testament canon as we have today. When Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed”, he would’ve been referring primarily to the Old Testament.
In the first generation, the teaching of the apostles was regarded as the Church’s rule of faith and practice; yet their message wasn’t immediately written down. Some of the epistles were written several decades after the birth of the Church at Pentecost. Does this mean that the early Christians were guided by something other than God’s Word? No, it’s just to clarify that God’s Word (in the form of the canon we have today) wasn’t systematized (officially) until much later, in the 4th century.
* Mississippi Presbyterian Cursillo is already planning MPC #7 for April 27-May 1, 2011. To learn more about this retreat and how you can involved, click here.