Monday, February 11, 2008

Augustine Ain't God

As I have been working through the letters of Augustine, I have been very pleased to see how much truth of the Scriptures was settled so early on in the life of the Church. Some modern Christians try to harken back to those early fathers as if that was the pure Church from which no error emanated. While I think nearness to the apostles can provide clarity on many issues and practices, it by no means is a sure bet on being free from all error.

As Reformed Christians, we beleive in the idea that God will continue to reveal truth to His Church. This is not New Truth. We are not expecting new revelation in terms of a new Word from God. The Canon is complete. God has spoken. But we do intend to have a greater understanding of His Word as the Church marches triumphantly forward.

Reading Augustine has been encouraging for several reasons. One, that he got so much right. Two, the Reformers, and particularly John Calvin, went back to Augustine to find those things that were right that the Church had lost and needed to learn anew. And three, I am encouraged that those things that Augustine and the early church got wrong, are for the most part, clearly seen and articulated by Christ's Church today.

Two examples will suffice at this point.

The early church had a strange reverance for Virgins. Granted, this idea and practice grew out of a reverance for The Virgin Mary. But the veneration of virgins as holy women simply because of their virginity caused a heap of grief in the life of the church for many hundreds of years. It created a wrong view of marriage and sex, even advocating and encouraging celibate marriage relationships, led to the so-called celibate priesthood and eventually worked itself into full blown Mariolotry.

The second example is the early Church's teaching on unbaptized infants. Augustine states, "this one thing I profess as my deliberate conviction, that the opinion which is true (about the creation of souls) does not conflict with the most firm and well grounded artcle in the faith of the Church of Christ, that infant children, even when they are newly born, can be delivered from perdition in no other way than through the grace of Christ's name, which He has given in His sacraments."

He has been arguing that unbaptized babies go to perdition, even unbaptized babies of Christians. Some might call this a high view of the Sacraments. And, indeed it is. But it is also inconsistent with the testimony of Scripture, God's covenantal dealings with His people and Jesus's actions towards infants. I am not sure of the Roman Catholic position on this, currently. But the Universal position of the Protestant Church is that unbaptized children of believers are holy. The Reformed Church, since the time of the Reformation, has been unwilling to pronounce on the fate of unbaptized children of unbelievers. But has offered nothing but hope and solace to parents of children that die in utero or shortly after birth and before Baptism. This is good, right and Biblical.

So, I am thankful for Augustine. He was a truly amazing man and an incredible theologian. But I am also thankful that the Church of Christ has continued to grow in her Biblical and Theological understanding in these last 1600 years. And we look for even greater understanding of God's revelation to us in His Word in the next 1600 years!

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