James Farrar's appeal to "church history" to prop up the deacon teaching

in #theology6 years ago

Brother James has replied thusly on his Facebook page to my previous rebuttal to his article on the office of deacon:

I think that perhaps you have missed my overall argument. The point is that the early witnesses were very much closer to the original writing of the text and the practice of the apostles. The fact that this office was clearly a part of the Church in this time shows that the Church today is justified in holding to the same practices. As I also said, or I believe that I said, in my post, citing early witnesses was not to endorse their particular ecclesiology, but rather to demonstrate that such an office was common practice in the Church of that day. Considering Church history, a common hermeutical principle is that if a practice is widely employed among various groups who all understood the text to read a particular way, that reading is to be preferred over and against a novel reading. We are, after all, nearly 2000 years removed from from the original writing, culture, and language. The case that you present is, in fact, a novel reading of the text that virtually no early witness, not to mention the almost unanimous testimony of current scholarship, contests. That is not to say that it is necessarily in error, but it is to say that yours is an uphill battle to say the least, and the argument that you have presented simply does not stand in the face of these things. The primary reason being is that even if we do apply a uniform English translation, that still would not negate the possibility of a deacon office. And given the rather strangeness of some texts that would result, I see no reason to prefer such a translation.

Btw, you would benefit greatly from a reading of the Church fathers rather than simply dismissing them based on the 'you don't know' arguments. A more in depth study of Church history would greatly enhance your interaction with the text. In any case, if you read beyond the short quotations that I mention you would notice that the assumption of both deacons and elders as an office is so ubiquitous that to take the time to cite them all would have been far beyond the scope of a simple blog post.

I reply:
I don't get the feeling that Brother James has moved beyond a surface-level understanding of how one must read "church history". He shows no indication of having interacted seriously with the fact that (((the extant manuscript tradition of))) Irenaeus' "Against Heresies" asserts with a straight face that Jesus died at age 50. And if you think that's bad, consider the other bizarre and often heretical teachings that (((the extant manuscript tradition of))) "Church Fathers" (read: early 1st-millennim AD authors who claimed Christ) taught. Let's start with more Irenaeus, quotations (((from his extant manuscript tradition))) in which apostolic succession is taught pointedly:

It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about (Against Heresies, 3:3:1).

But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition (Against Heresies, 3:3:2).

And in which transsubstantiation is taught:
He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him? (Against Heresies, 5:2)

Let not brother James push back against us now from taking on the papist doctrines of apostolic succession and transsubstantiation of the Eucharist, as he himself has told us that "the early witnesses were very much closer to the original writing of the text and the practice of the apostles". After all, "the fact that this (practice) was clearly a part of the Church in this time shows that the Church today is justified in holding to the same practices."

Examples could be multiplied in the dozens and dozens. Brother James is functionally denying Sola Scriptura, and I can only declare my appreciation that he has enunciated such thoughts out loud so that we may all know how seriously to take his teachings. Now, don't forget my not-qualification qualification - citing early witnesses was not to endorse their particular ecclesiology, but rather to demonstrate that ideas of apostolic succession was common practice in the Church of that day. Citing early witnesses was not to endorse their particular doctrine of the Mass, but rather to demonstrate that transsubstantiation was common belief in the Church of that day.

Finally, brother James says:
a common hermeneutical principle is that if a practice is widely employed

This claim begs the question - the ubiquity of the practice is what I am challenging. What is the evidence, and if "Irenaeus or someone said it existed" is evidence, then apostolic succession and transsubstantiation.

It usually doesn't take long before those who hold to ecclesiology that I would describe as well-nigh papist reveal that they actually do hold quite a bit more papist beliefs than is immediately evident. You just have to know what questions to ask. Brother James has not interacted with almost any of my arguments. If he thinks the case is made for the office of deacon, I can only sit back satisfied that the truth has been seen clearly.

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