A very dear Protestant friend of mine sent me a link today to a short article by John Piper, a prominent Baptist pastor – see http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/dont-equate-historically-early-with-theologically-accurate or simply view the article (which I have copied and pasted) below:“Beware of imputing advantage to antiquity. Seventy years after the death of Jesus the churches had neither the collected New Testament nor a living apostle. It was a precarious and embattled time.
"Neither the experiences nor the teachers of the first 300 years of the church are as reliable as the finished New Testament. The church did not rescue the New Testament from neglect and abuse. The New Testament rescued the early church from instability and error.
"We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300. They had only parts of the New Testament rather than the collected whole. That’s how valuable the fullness of revelation is in the finished Bible. Beware of idealizing the early church. She did not have your advantages!”
I have a lot of respect for my Baptist friend who sent me the link – he is a far better Christian than I could ever hope to be. But I was really surprised that this was the best John Piper could come up with. There were more holes in Piper’s argument than in a block of Swiss cheese.
Anyway, here is the response that I sent to my dear friend. Some of it is tongue in cheek – but I couldn’t help it...
Long time no speak...I trust that the Lord is keeping you well. Anyway, thanks for sharing that with me...I am always grateful when the Lord gives me an opportunity to share my Catholic Faith...so here goes...
I think that Piper is being quite presumptuous to say the least...but I can see why he feels the need to say what he says. He has to disagree with the Early Church Fathers on numerous points in order for his own theological position to stand. As soon as he agrees with the Fathers, he has a problem because he will need to start agreeing with the Catholic Church on those doctrines that are distinctly Catholic.
I have provided some of my own brief thoughts on Piper’s short article for your digestion below. A lot is tongue in cheek, but I really couldn’t help it – especially with something that is so poorly argued. I am by no means a seasoned apologist...and this was easy to pull apart even for one as uneducated as me.
“Beware of imputing advantage to antiquity.”
Of course he would say this...he would rather we imputed advantage to his views.
“Seventy years after the death of Jesus the churches had neither the collected New Testament nor a living apostle.”
True enough...but does he think that after the Apostles the Church all of a sudden went into a theological vacuum? The Apostles left successors to tend to the flock of the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. Acts 20:28; 2 Tim 2:2; Tit 1:5).
“It was a precarious and embattled time.”
It certainly was...but not in the way that Piper thinks. It was a time in which Christians were being martyred for their faith...a faith which was founded upon the written AND oral traditions of the of the Apostles (see 1 Thess 2:15). What is interesting is that the faith of these martyrs was Catholic, as is so clearly demonstrated by the writings of the Early Church Fathers.
“Neither the experiences nor the teachers of the first 300 years of the church are as reliable as the finished New Testament.”
Of course not. The Scriptures are infallible because they are inspired by God Himself. But that doesn’t mean that the Church Fathers were all wrong either. On the contrary, their faith from the earliest times was a common faith, a Catholic faith...which unfortunately for Piper does not gel with his own private interpretations.
Also, remember that the New Testament does not contain everything that there is to know about the life and teachings of our Lord (Jn 20:30-31), much less His Apostles.
“The church did not rescue the New Testament from neglect and abuse. The New Testament rescued the early church from instability and error.”
Says Piper. Piper only says this because his own interpretation of Scripture disagrees with that of the Early Church.
Another thing that Piper is not acknowledging is that it was the Church that gave us the New Testament Canon. The Church existed before the New Testament. And the Church existed before any Apostle even wrote the first word of the New Testament.
If you were to work Piper’s position to its logical conclusion, you would have to say that he thinks Jesus Christ was a liar – because Piper believes that Jesus did not lead His Church into ALL the truth as He promised (Jn 16:13). In fact, he had no sooner said that He would never leave His Church, then He left it for 300 years before giving it the New Testament (Note: Which NT Jesus never actually promised to give). And as if His infidelity was not enough...he waited another 1300 years before He gave anyone that would actually guide Christians into a correct interpretation of that New Testament. This infidelity continues today because our Lord has actually now allowed every man and his dog to hold a different interpretation. And so we see, Piper must think that Jesus Christ was a liar because the Holy Spirit certainly hasn’t guided the Church into ALL truth...
...unless Piper is wrong...
Ah...and there is the beauty of the Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ who truly is led by the Holy Spirit, the pillar and foundation of truth. And not just today, but ever since the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles on that Pentecost Sunday so many centuries ago.
“We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300.”
Wow! That is a pretty bold statement to make. Of course, Piper MUST be correct since we are in such a great position today that Christians of various denominations always agree on all the most important doctrines...like Baptism and Eucharist. Wait a second...no they don’t. Silly me!
Piper is mistaken. Has he forgotten that the Early Church Fathers were actually taught by the Apostles themselves? Given that they were far closer to the events of Christ’s Life, Passion, and Resurrection; and the Apostles, Piper’s comment is actually quite absurd. How could anyone even begin to think that we (removed by almost 2,000 years) are actually better equipped to know what the Apostles meant by their teaching than those that they actually taught.
“They had only parts of the New Testament rather than the collected whole.”
So is Piper admitting here that the Early Church did not in fact practice Sola Scriptura? Hmmm...interesting...
I wonder when Piper thinks Sola Scriptura actually developed. It certainly couldn’t have been the first 300 years of the Church, because they didn’t have a complete NT Canon. And it couldn’t have been for many centuries following the Canon either – because the writings of the Fathers after the Council of Carthage are clearly for reading Scripture in light of Catholic Tradition.
“That’s how valuable the fullness of revelation is in the finished Bible. Beware of idealizing the early church. She did not have your advantages!”
I’d say that Piper needs to be careful to so easily neglect the Early Church...because we today do not have her advantages.
Anyway brother, I hope the above comments help you work through the various issues. I hope the “tongue-in-cheekedness” doesn’t come across the wrong way – I just can’t believe that such a highly regarded Protestant theologian has managed to put together such a weak argument.
May God richly bless you as you seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.