Where Was Our Church Before Luther And Zwingli? (9)

From the conformity of our church to the primitive apostolic Church. For since no one can deny that the primitive church was instituted by Christ and the apostles neither can it be denied that our church, if it is conformed that both in faith and in worship, was even then in it. Now it is easy to prove that it is conformed if we approach the examination of doctrine, as we so often desire. From this it will appear that nothing is received by us to be believed or done which was not delivered by Christ and the apostles; and whatever is rejected by us has no foundation in the writings, but is beyond what is written (par ho gegraphtai) And beyond that gospel which they preached (Gal 1:8). Nor is it to be said here that the ancient church cannot be said to be the same with ours because it did not reject the papacy, as we have done. (a) Faith and religion by themselves (and essentially) are not negative, but positive, since a negation or a rejection of error is by accident and positive faith suffices for the essential unity of the church. (b) if it did not reject explicitly (because the papacy had not yet sprung up), it rejected it implicitly and virtually by teaching such things as are incompatible (asystata) with it (in which way the scripture is said by the positing of the truth to reject errors not yet arisen, but only about to arise in the in the progress of time).

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 18.10.19.


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  1. Scott — I love this series. I think the most important thing we can all do is to work to trace some of the “steps away from” “what is written” — Have you read Allen Brent’s work on Ignatius? He discusses Ignatius’s initial use of the word “catholic”, which derives from “the Second Sophistic”, which was an attempt by city-based Greeks to retain their Greek identity while attempting not to be threatening to their Roman masters.

    I actually believe this is a point of tension for the Reformed who choose to use the word “catholic” of themselves, because, while Ignatius meant well (no doubt), this was the beginning of the slippery slope which saw the church adopting all sorts of cultural things (and eventually making them dogma).

    I don’t know what the solution to that is — I lean towards “get rid of the word ‘catholic'” — and that’s what I mean about tracing the “steps away from” “what is written”. Katholikos was not in the New Testament, except in concept form. But it is the foundation for Ratzinger’s version of the papacy, for example. That “ontologically, the universal church came before any local church”. See his interactions with Walter Kasper on this.

    • John,

      The Reformed have never been radicals. The notion that because a word was used by non-Christians before it was used by Christians we can’t use it makes no sense to me. The word logos was used by non-Christian philosophers for a long time before the apostle John used it in John 1:1. That history didn’t stop him from redefining it and using it to his own ends.

      The word catholic is simply Greek for universal. That is all we mean by it. That is why we have always said to Rome that she is not catholic. She is a sect. This was William Perkins’ argument.

      I am quite unwilling to give up the word catholic simply because it was abused by Rome. On that theory of usage we would have very few words left to us to use. Underlying such a theory is a kind of radicalism or primitivism that Reformed people must reject.

      • Scott, I just had a long discussion with someone on “logos” — yes, it was a Greek word, but John filled that word with Hebrew concepts of “the Word of God”. Paul did a similar thing with “grace”. Torrance, however (and Cullmann following him) traced a faulty understanding of “grace” through the Apostolic fathers (which was, thankfully, corrected as the concept of “oral tradition” was superceded by the written NT canon).

        John and Paul were apostles, and what they wrote is par ho gegraphtai. What others wrote following them must absolutely be pegged to the Scriptures. At a very minimum we must go into deeper explanations of words like catholic and explain the meaning, because we have to be prepared to draw lines with Roman Catholics who equate “development of ‘Trinity'” with “development of ‘Papacy'”. That is a difficult distinction to make when talking with people of good faith; when having that discussion with Roman Catholics, it’s just almost completely lost.

        Turretin simply did not know what Allen Brent has uncovered about “the Second Sophistic”. And if you start wholesale adopting Greek culture and language, without making adequate distinctions, then, where do you draw the line for those who say “it’s ok for the church to have adopted the whole Roman pantheon in the name of “the ongoing incarnation”?

        • John,

          First you must prove the very existence of such things as “Hebrew” concepts. That way of analyzing language has been in doubt for a long time. It’s certainly been the vehicle for a lot of mischief.

          Why can’t we simply say that the Apostle John re-defined it? The Hebrew Scriptures make use of lots of concepts from the ANE.

          If one is not a biblicist it isn’t a problem!

          Of course Christians mustn’t adopt pagan ideas! But we’ve been using secular/pagan terms to express Christian ideas for a very long time. What we need is a more sophisticated understanding of the way this happens. See my discussion of the orthodox Reformed appropriation of Aristotle in my book on Olevianus. Muller’s been discussing this for years.

          Ongoing incarnation? Pantheon? It’s not as if the Scriptures are not perspicuous. It’s not as if the catholic creeds and Reformed confessions don’t exist. I don’t understand this concern at all. We know what God’s Word says. We confess God’s Word against all the Roman errors but we don’t need to cut ourselves off from the Fathers and the medievals in order to do that. Biblicism is just as big a trap as traditionalism. See the discussion of both in RRC.

          • I agree “we need a more sophisticated way of understanding” how secular/pagan terms express Christian ideas. But that doesn’t cohere with your notion to say the Apostle John “simply re-defined” Logos. We must say precisely how. Carson’s treatment goes into quite a bit of detail; he says “precisely how”, and so far as I can tell, his way of analyzing language has not “been in doubt” (and if you want to say so, you can point to specific examples of where this method leads to mischief”).

            I’ve said many times that I love and revere the confessions, but I don’t see holding on to 16th century concepts when our 21st century enables our understanding to go beyond what the 16th century writers were saying. However, calling this “radicalism or primitivism” or biblicism is not appropriate.

            I’m all for understanding what Olevianus says about “the Reformed appropriation of Aristotle” (I’ve not read your work on that but I know I need to do that). One of the most profitable things I’ve read in a while is Van Asselt’s work “Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism”. But before we can start introducing “Reformed Scholasticism” is to a broader audience, we first have to explain what “Scholasticism” is in the first place, and before we can do that, we have to locate Scholasticism within the broader scope of Christian history.

            And aside from that, we do need to understand the Hebrew concepts and not simply dismiss what Carson said because “he’s a Biblicist” — without addressing the so-called “mischief” in such a way that goes beyond the mere label or even name-calling. There is a lot that’s not healthy in modern evangelicalism, but there’s a lot that would enrich the Reformed churches as well, and I think that opening up the dialog is what’s called for, rather than shutting it down.

            • John,

              The sort of mischief I have in mind is the liberal juxtaposition of a “dynamic” “Hebrew” conception of God over against an allegedly “static” Greek view of God. This way of talking has been shown to be inadequate for decades. I’m thinking of Barr’s critique but even before that, there was a prof at Dropsie (c. 1964) who critiqued this sort of argument. I can never remember his name. Another way this approach leads to mischief is Open Theism. This is one of the principal arguments they use to prop up their biblicism.

              Anyway, I do know what scholasticism is: it’s nothing more than academic theology. It’s not what Olevianus says about Aristotle that matters it’s the pattern of what the Protestants and Reformed orthodox did with Aristotle that matters. They were intelligent, critical, and careful in the way they appropriated his categories and vocabulary. In other words, they weren’t stupid about it. They weren’t dupes and neither were the Fathers or the medievals. We need to banish that notion.

              How did John re-define “Logos”? Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Was he influenced by what he knew of the Hebrews Scriptures, yes, but what we have is his and the rest of the NT’s use of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which adds a layer of complication to talking about “Hebrew” concepts.

              There’s no reason to adopt a radical approach to the history of the church (e.g., to stop speaking of the catholic faith). That’s why it was called a “Reformation” and not a “Deconstruction.” We didn’t start from scratch. We preserved what was good and sound.

              We have a long pattern of using extra-biblical words to confess our faith. Start with homoousios, which was at least as problematic as John’s use of “logos.”

              • I don’t claim to have all the answers. But as wise and careful as the reformers and Reformed scholastics were, philosophy has moved well beyond Aristotle, and linguistical study of the NT (and OT) has moved far beyond Barr. I am not aware of anyone who thinks Carson’s treatment is lacking – and in fact, I found it very useful in interacting with an advocate of the Bauer/Ehrman line of thinking.

  2. I know who this is off the beaten trail, but I have a question for you Dr. Scott. Passenger with Bible translations which translation can be trusted the new King James or the New American Standard, The NIV so forth and so on. What I’m looking for the translation Word for Word accuracy and readability the new American Standard is Choppy at places in it’s Readability. The question I’m trying to ask is if I read any of this translation’s will it take away from the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. I know no English translation is going to be 100% accurate but in your opinion which translation should I avoid the most in English translations.

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