Thursday, April 5, 2012

Does the Letter of 3rd John refute Protestantism?

The 3rd Letter of John is one of those interesting books of the Bible that everyone knows is there but pays little attention to. Being the shortest book of the Bible (with only 219 Greek words; 2nd John having 245, and Philemon having 335), one can wonder how much significance it has. Glossing over it, you see the standard stuff found in the rest of the New Testament, but since it's so brief it naturally it gets neglected. But could 3rd John actually contain information that knocks-out Protestantism in one punch? I believe so.

In verses 9-10 of the Letter we read,
I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.
Here we see John, having already written to this local congregation, was ignored and mocked by Diotrephes. To add to these sins, Diotrephes also refuses to receive certain brethren and expels those believers who don't agree with his policies. Some might be wondering: how does this refute Protestantism? My argument is that it refutes Protestantism by proving there is a hierarchy within the Church that cannot be simply overturned, even if those in authority are acting in an unjust manner.

Diotrephes only appears once in the New Testament, so these two verses are all we have to go by, but I believe they contain enough data to make my argument. Clearly, Diotrephes is in a position of ecclesial power, which includes the authority to excommunicate. But it is undeniable that John's authority is greater, indicating another level of hierarchy that even Diotrephes must submit to.

Reformed Protestant scholar Dr Daniel Wallace gives this summary: "The occasion for 3 John does not at all seem to be an issue of heresy, but one of pride. There is no real evidence that Diotrephes was a heretic."  I would agree with this. The data suggests Diotrephes was prideful (i.e. "loves to be first") and insubordinate (to John), but that's distinct from heresy. (But even if Diotrephes was guilt of heresy, there is still no indication he lost his authority.) Thus, the situation here is one of schism, which is an impossible status in Protestantism since their is no central authority to 'break off' from.

Of course, Protestants must come up with an alternate explanation for this, since it refutes their very foundation, which is that of esselecial self-appointment and autonomy. The most important objection the Protestant must make is that Diotrephes was not a ecclesial minister, but rather a very influential layman, such as a wealthy politician. The problem with this is that the very functions Diotrephes was exercising were precisely that of an ecclesiastic. He is said to have loved being "first among them," meaning being prideful of his leadership position within the body, refusing entrance to outsiders, and excommunicating others. (No mention is made of him merely encouraging the true ministers of that congregation to do these things.) Further, there is no indication that Diotrephes had no such authority, else he could have been easily dealt with, such as John rebuking the true clergy or simply telling the local congregation to ignore this (lay) madman.

This Catholic argument can also be proven by showing the absurdity of the contrary position: if Protestantism were true, then Diotrephes's actions are perfectly justified. He would simply be his own, self-appointed Lone Ranger minister who could run his congregation as he pleased, and any outside interference would hold no weight. He would be in charge of his own self-made store. It would be absurd for John to write to this store in the first place and it would be absurd to worry about not receiving travelers. And, of course, it would be of no consequence if a believer was excommunicated from this store. Think about how Protestantism has always operated. Nobody tells another store what to do, and if someone is unhappy in one store they leave for another store.


Drake Shelton said...


Who ordained Cyprian and Ambrose amalgamting them into the hierarchy of being?

Drake Shelton said...

Second, it is irrelevant that when "those in authority are acting in an unjust manner" that we cannot simply on that basis separate from them. That's not Protestantism's argument. The argument is the degree of that unjustness. The unjustness of Rome was that it was forcing people to sin by their unjustness. They were forcing Christians to commit blatant idolatry when the Priest holds up a piece of bread and declares that this piece of bread is their God. Even being int he presence of idolatry is a sin because remaining silent among an idoltarous ecclesiastical body is not simply onlooking it is communion, it is participation.

Samuel Rutherford says,

"If the wickedness of a Church has such a influence as to pollute the public worship, and to defile these that communicate in the worship, so as they must separate therefrom, and if the unconverted preacher is not to be heard, as a lawful pastor, then also we can communicate in no Church, where there are lurking hypocrites. But both these are against the Word of God, Ergo, separation from the Church in that kind must be against the Word of God also. The proposition is clear: if the sins of these that hear, and communicate with me, defile the worship to me, they defile it whether I know their sins or not. If a pest[ilence infected] man eating with me, defiles my meat, the meat is infected to me, whether I know it or not. And if I be obliged to know it, and know it not, my ignorance is sinful, and does not excuse me. Now certainly no believer is obliged to know the latent hypocrite. It was no sin in the eleven apostles that they knew not Judas to be the traitor [until] God discovered him. The assumption I prove, an unconverted man may be a called pastor, whom we may lawfully hear, as Judas was a chosen apostle [AND JUST IKE YOUR DIOTREPHES EXAMPLE-DS] (Matt. 7:22, 23; Phil. 1:16-18). Also it were lawful to be a member of no visible Church, if the sins of unknown hypocrites should defile the worship; because in the net and barn floor there are always bad fish and chaff.”

Nick said...

Hello Drake,

I don't know who specifically ordained St Cyprian or St Ambrose, but I'm pretty sure they teach on Apostolic Sucession.

As for your second comment: I should clarify that if a superior is acting unjustly, that doesn't make it ok to follow them into sin, though they can command certain things that are not sin but yet very uncomfortable. But none of this in and of itself causes a loss of office.

The ecclesiology that Luther and the rest established was one in which there was no such hierarchy at all. If they truly believed adoring the Host was idolatry, at most that would mean they are in a false church and thus their bishops didn't have authority in the first place. But that still doesn't explain how Protestant ecclesiology can square with 3John9f.

I don't think your (Samuel's) Judas example fits either, for there is (a) no indication he was never a valid apostle and (b) no indication people withdrew from the rest of the 12 and appointed their own leadership. This is where exegesis is truly important, both for Judas and 3rd John.

Drake Shelton said...

Well i seriously suggest you study that topic because they were not ordained by anyone one the hierarchy. Their people ordained them. That's a serious problem for you.

You completely avoided the point. The point in 3 John 9, says nothing of anything participatory that Diotrephes was subjecting other Christians to.

"The ecclesiology that Luther and the rest established was one in which there was no such hierarchy at all."

As was the case with Cyprian and Ambrose at least at their ordination.

Second, your argument that John was in some hierarchical position higher than a normal elder is refuted because both John and Peter were bishops yet John refers to himself as an elder (2Jo 1:1 The elder unto the elect) as does Peter (1Pe 5:1 The elders among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder).

"for there is (a) no indication he was never a valid apostle"

When did Rutherford say that Judas was not a valid apostle? Are you even understanding what you are arguing against Nick?

costrowski said...

Hi Drake,
You said that neither Ambrose nor Cyprian was ordained by anyone. I don’t think that’s correct. I wonder if you’re conflating their popular election to the office with episcopal ordination. A person can be elected to the office and administer it before he received proper espicopal ordination. Anyhow, here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says regarding Ambrose.

“[The Emperor] Valentinian, who was proud that his favourable opinion of Ambrose had been so fully ratified by the voice of clergy and people, confirmed the election and pronounced severe penalties against all who should abet him in his attempt to conceal himself. The Saint finally acquiesced, received baptism at the hands of a Catholic bishop, and eight day later, 7 December 374, the day on which East and West annually honour his memory, after the necessary preliminary degrees was consecrated bishop.”

In fact, Henry Chadwick regards Ambrose’ Letter 14 as defending the validity of his ordination. Chadwick states:

“Ambrose’s ordination at 374 in Milan had been controversial, and the ‘Homoean’ faction was not reluctant to question the propriety of elevating a provincial governor to be bishop with such rapidity. In a letter he defended it by the example of Nectarius of Constantinople (ep. extra. coll. 14 = M63. 65), though he had serious doubts about Nectarius’ ordination.”
(East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church, p. 131)

History has regarded the controversy over Ambrose’s election to the episcopate in terms of its rapidity and not its continuity by way of apostolic ordination. Chadwick comments on this when he says in regards to the Photian Schism:

“The Council in Trullo had included no ruling on the subject of not ***consecrating laymen to be bishops per saltum.*** Moreover, at Constantinople there were potent precedents for such ***consecrations*** in Nectarius, Tarasius, and Nicephorus. Past papal decretals were simply not available at Constantinople. And how could [Pope] Nicholas complain when a notorious instance of a layman so promoted was Ambrose of Milan? Nicholas could defend Ambrose’s elevation only by claiming that the act had been done in answer to a divine sign…”
(East and West: The Making of a Rift in the Church, p. 136)

So, the case of Ambrose presents no problem to the continuity of apostolic succession and nor to Nick's argument.

Drake Shelton said...


"You said that neither Ambrose nor Cyprian was ordained by anyone. I don’t think that’s correct. I wonder if you’re conflating their popular election to the office with episcopal ordination. A person can be elected to the office and administer it before he received proper espicopal ordination. Anyhow, here is what the Catholic Encyclopedia says regarding Ambrose."

My statement comes from Luther's An open letter to the Christian nobility of the German nation, pg. 67-68

"To make it still clearer. If a little group of pious Christian laymen were taken captive and set down in a wilderness, and had among them no priest consecrated by a bishop, and if there in the wilderness they were to agree in choosing one of themselves, married or unmarried, and were to charge him with the office of baptising, saying mass, absolving and preaching, such a man would be as truly a priest as though all bishops and popes had consecrated him. That is why in cases of necessity any one can baptise and give absolution,which would be impossible unless we were all priests. This great grace and power of baptism and of the Christian Estate they have well-nigh destroyed and caused us to forget through the canon law. It was the manner aforesaid that Christians in olden days chose from their number bishops and priests, who were afterwards confirmed by other bishops, without all the show which now obtains. It was thus that St. Augustine, Ambrose and Cyprian became bishops...[FN]Ambrose, bishop of Milan from 374-307, had not yet been baptised at the time of his election to the episcopate, which was forced upon him by the unanimous voice of the people of the city...Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, 247-258, is said to have consented to accept the office only when the congregation surrounded his house and besought him to yield to their entreaties."

If grace is mediated only through the hierarchy, how could these men administer their office without being in the hierarchy? Therefore So, the case of Ambrose presents a serious problem to the continuity of apostolic succession and to Nick's argument.

costrowski said...

I don't agree with Luther on most things, but even he says here that Ambrose and Cyprian were "afterwards confirmed by other bishops". I think your premise that grace is mediated through the hierarchy is a bit off and thus results in an even further off conclusion. Anyhow, your own quote confirmed that Ambrose and Cyprian received episcopal ordination and thus enjoyed apostolic succession. Moreover, whatever Luther said, Ambrose himself said that he didn't practice any innovations in regards to his ordination.

Nick said...


I also don't agree with Luther's remarks; he seems to be making his own rules. I agree with costrowski here because I have heard and read in ancient documents that there were certain customs where the faithful would pick a *candidate* by popular vote but the candidate still had to receive ordination from a bishop/patriarch.

You said:
"You completely avoided the point. The point in 3 John 9, says nothing of anything participatory that Diotrephes was subjecting other Christians to."

I don't understand what you are saying here. Diotrephes was forbidding his flock from (a) hearing Letters from St John and (b) taking in missionaries.

As for your contention that John was merely an elder, how does that square with the fact the Apostles were seen an acted as higher ranking than others? Why would John need to even confront Diotrephes if they were equals?

Lastly, my point about Judas is that it is impossible to suggest Judas was unregenerate/unconverted while also being an Apostle. The office is falsely held if the person isn't a Christian.

Drake Shelton said...

John of Damascus on Holy Images Refuted Part 1

David Rudel said...

Hi Nick,
I'm just getting back into the Christian Theology Blog surfing and thought I'd drop by. (I've also posted a few times recently on my own and hope to keep it up now that I have some time.)

Question: In your discussion here are you more leaning on the historical action of separating from the Catholic church and ex-communicating the pope, or are you instead using III John to point out a basic flaw in how Protestantism is structured?

It sounds like you are doing the latter, in which case I would point out that there are certainly some protestant churches who accept a hierarchy within (their) church.

If you are alluding to the former, I think there is a basic difference between the situation surrounding III John and the context of the Reformation. In the early church, there was not a single terrestrial leader, but many apostles. This allowed correction within that group (e.g., when Paul opposed Peter "to his face" for his behavior). Later, in the Catholic regime, there was only a single Pope. One could say it had gone from a "Supreme Court" situation where there could be debate among equals, to a Monarchy where a single person could, if he were very wrong and very stubborn, inexorably turn the church away from the truth.

Of course, I'm quite ignorant about the specifics of Catholic power struggles, but I hope you get what I am trying to say here.

Nick said...

Hello David!
Long time no talk.

My argument is basically that the ecclesiology modeled in 3rd John does not fit with Protestant ecclesiology. Now there really isn't an ecclesiology in Protestantism to being with, but none of the various forms fit 3rd John anyway.

It is not simply a matter of accepting hierarchy - though that is critical - as it is the question of is there an objective hierarchy or is all ecclesial office self-appointed. In other words, if a pastor has true authority over you, then you shouldn't be able to overturn his authority.

Luther basically set the precedent that nobody can be a church authority unless someone voluntarily subjects themselves, and as soon as they disagree with their pastor they are free to leave (and even start their own church).

Russell said...

Hello Nick,

You said just above:

“Lastly, my point about Judas is that it is impossible to suggest Judas was unregenerate/unconverted while also being an Apostle. THE OFFICE IS FALSELY HELD IF THE PERSON ISN’T A CHRISTIAN.” (My Emphasis)

I couldn’t agree with you more, Nick. I don’t want to get off topic, but does this statement also apply to all popes? If not, why not?

In His Name,

Nick said...

Hello Russell,

I'm confused as to why you'd admit my point, since it refutes Eternal Security.

As to your question: it does not apply to the Popes, since the Popes were not unregenerate.

Russell said...


I don’t believe in unconditional eternal security. The Bible is too full of warnings to CHRISTIANS (even leaders) to “take heed,” “maintain the faith,” to “continue in the faith,” to be careful of “falling away,” being “severed from Christ,” or being an “apostate,” etc., etc.

Concerning the popes (all?) being regenerate, I certainly beg to differ. Are you saying that there were no corrupt popes? No popes who committed simony (i.e., bought or sold their “God-ordained” office)? None who acquired their office by the workings of influential prostitutes? Or who obtained the office by force? None who lived openly in sexual sin, or had illegitimate children? Many, if not most, Catholic apologists will admit this kind of corruption in the papacy, especially during the reign of the Borgia popes.

I think we can safely say that those who lived in this type of debauchery (openly, no less) were NOT regenerate. As you said, their office is indeed falsely held and cannot be legitimate if they were not Christians.

But this causes some serious problems with the issue of a “lawful,” “unbroken,” and “uninterrupted” chain of legitimate bishops (popes), a concept that Catholics call “Apostolic Succession.” See this article:

Again, I am not meaning to get too far off the topic.


costrowski said...

Hello Russell,
It seems as though you and Nick are operating off of two different definitions of regeneration likely brought on by different understandings of the means of it. Nick holds the Catholic view which teaches that baptism brings about regeneration, but since Catholic teaching doesn't hold that regeneration precludes a person from committing all the sins you mentioned his statement regarding the papacy is perfectly consistent with his Catholic understanding of regeneration and your objections don't present any problem to it.

Just to be clear, I'm a Catholic who holds the same views as Nick.

Nick said...

Well, that's news to me (unless you told me a long time back and I forgot). If you don't believe in Eternal Security, then I don't see how you could hold to Reformed theology.

I agree that there have been many Popes who did not live up to their vows, but that doesn't mean they were never Christian in the first place. That's the key here.

For you, it's all-or-nothing, either the person is regenerate and would never sin again, or they are unregenerate and cannot do anything except sin. For Catholics, if one validly receives the Sacrament of Baptism, they're Christian, and from there they can either live faithfully and get to Heaven or live in sin and be damned.

Russell said...

Hi Costrowski,

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, there certainly is a difference in our views on certain aspects of regeneration, but I think that both you and Nick are missing my point. Nick made a statement earlier to the effect that a person who is not a Christian should not hold a Christian office, to which I heartily agreed. Now, I know that all Christians occasionally fall into sin. But to consistently live in open sin (as some of the popes did) tells me that they lost their Christianity (if they ever even had it in the first place).

Jesus said that we would know them by their fruit. Pope or not, if a man is consistently showing evidence of being a non-Christian, then he should be removed from his ecclesiastical office.

The question must be asked: Why were these corrupt popes never made to step down from their office? Would we not expect a deacon, priest or bishop to lose his position if he did the things that some of the popes did? I would certainly hope so. Why should popes be LESS accountable to God and His people than other office holders in the Catholic Church? The bar for him should be much higher, shouldn’t it?

But, as far as those who actually ACQUIRED THEIR POSITION through simony, fornication or force, etc., they were never legitimate holders of the office in the first place. So, the Catholic version of Apostolic Succession, with its “unbroken chain” of legitimate popes, is non-existent.


First, I don’t know where you got this “all or nothing” idea about me, but I never, ever told you that Christians never sin. You are seriously misrepresenting me here.

Second, your original statement (“The office is falsely held if the person isn't a Christian”) is true, but you turn around and deny this same statement when it comes to the popes.

Sinlessness is not the issue. We are all sinners. The point I’ve been trying to make is that these particular popes would not just occasionally fall into sin (like we all do), but were obviously UNregenerate (or apostate) and therefore, could no longer claim to be a legitimate pope.

costrowski said...

Hi Russell,
I think I understood your point pretty well in that it is the result of a sixteenth century understanding of things. The point is that sin doesn't stop someone from being a Christian unless they committ apostasty. I don't think you can point to any certain evidence that any popes committed apostasty. But even if you could they would not mean that they never recieved apostolic succession by the laying of of episcopal hands, but that's what your comment implies. It either implies that or it operates under the protestant view of apostolic succession which is only that one holds to correct apostolic teaching (meaning protestant teaching).

I think this latest comment of yours reveals that you are operating on at least two sixteenth century concepts and trying to force them back into history, namely your views of regeneration and apostolic succession.

Nick said...

The way I see this, we're talking past eachother here.

(A) If a Pope starts off as a (genuine) Christian and then later falls into serious sin and remains there, it would be proper for him to resign.

(B) But if a man was never Christian in the first place, he could never be Pope, even if he went through all the ceremonies and sat in the Papal Chair. That's because he was never ingrafted into Christ in the first place and is merely wearing Papal vestments.

You are focused on (A), while I'm focused on (B) and applying (B) to Judas.

Anonymous said...

All Popes are unregenerate, Hellbound antichrists, deceivers, idolaters and the successors of PAGAN ROMAN EMPERORS. This whole blog is pointless since it ASSUMES Popery has always existed and Protestants broke away.

ITS THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Popery is an APOSTASY that developed over centuries in Rome. Rome is the GREAT FALLING AWAY prophecied by Paul, and Mystery Babylon of revelation 17. I used to be a strict catholic, so I understand the pride and delusion of people like Nick. Nick needs to repent, believe on Christ and get saved and filled with the Holy Ghost, experienced the grace of God, and then He will IMMEDIATELY UNDERSTAND what I did when I got saved--that Romanism is an OBVIOUS, BLATANT PAGAN SYSTEM OF IDOLATRY AND LIES.

Jim Paton said...

"This whole blog is pointless since it ASSUMES Popery has always existed and Protestants broke away.


So the Popes broke away from Protestantism. Hmm, Mum, what have I told you about blogging?

AntiSatan said...

It's very important to understanding the underlying mentality/psychology of Calvinists and other similar Protestant ideologies. They are sociopathic ideologies. They further use ego defense mechanisms (ex. projection, denial, etc.) to create doctrines which justify their ongoing evil behavior and suppressing the need to turn away from their sin. Such ideologies create dead consciences in people and make them into sociopaths. Satan (the father of narcissism and sociopathy) has infiltrated and created his own spiritual clones through humans- to destroy and discredit Christianity. Sociopaths rarely change and you have to be very careful interacting with them. If interested, refer to my posts: