Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Excellent Post concerning "returning" to Rome and Sola Scriptura


Pastor Jay Bennett's blog alerted me to a very insightful critique of Francis Beckwith's recent book about his "return" to the Roman Catholic Church from a Baptist/Evangelical affiliation (he was president of Evangelical Theological Society). It deals with the matter of Sola Scriptura that is so often discussed here. A sample excerpt from the Guy Davies post:


Increasingly Beckwith struggled with the Protestant teaching of sola scriptura, finding the Catholic teaching where God reveals himself through Holy Scripture and the traditions of the Church more appealing. Of course, if Church teaching is a source of continuing revelation alongside Scripture, then it doesn't matter that certain Catholic dogmas can't be found in the Bible. On that basis the primacy of the Pope, purgatory, the Marian doctrines and so on may be accepted simply as the authoritative dogmas of the Church. The fact that they have no evident biblical foundation is besides the point. The Church has infallibly pronounced that these dogmas must be accepted by the faithful and that's that. However, it might be objected that Beckwith has not properly understood what the Reformers meant by sola scriptura. He seems to have had a rather biblicist understanding of the doctrine that excludes the role of the church as reader and teacher of Holy Scripture. By sola scriptura, the Reformers did not mean to separate the Bible from the Church. Rather they insisted that the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture is the supreme authority in the Church. The Church has ministerial authority to interpret and bear witness to the message of the Bible, but the Church and her traditions remain under the critical authority of God's written Word. The Church may restate the teaching of Scripture using other than biblical language in order to make its message plain, but she cannot add to God's self-revelation in Holy Scripture.

32 comments:

Brother Titus said...

Yeah, unfortunately, that's a bigger problem going around than people realize. Some people who become born again somehow get deluded into thinking that "sola scriptura" isn't enough. So they move into the realm of RC for the communion and, "hail marys," or whatever. A few years ago, I'd heard about a number of people who'd "chucked" their Christian faith for the RC "ball-and-chain." The Pop singer Dion (And the Belmonts) ("Run-Around Sue") did that. He'd gotten saved. Then, years later I'd seen him on a talkshow with other guests talking about how he'd rediscovered his Catholic "faith." What a letdown that news was.

Woody Woodward said...

The more I read and study God’s Word the more convinced of the total and complete, inerrancy of Scripture. It is beyond my imagination how today, our pulpits are exploding with pastors, who instead of “rightly handling the Word of Truth,” allowing the Holy Spirit to convict, and transform, will preach a sermon that vaguely resembles one single passage of Scripture, then remake, remold, redefine and apologize, so as not to offend. To sum it up, if you love people…. you tell them the truth. I never will understand why or how preachers think, in order to build and grow a church, they need to apologize for preaching and teaching truth? Thanks be unto the Lord that for our Pastors, TRUTH must be proclaimed and not shamed.

tom kessler said...

"The Church has ministerial authority to interpret and bear witness to the message of the Bible, but the Church and her traditions remain under the critical authority of God's written Word."

Amen!

Zach said...

Interesting post -- how can I resist? Dr. Beckwith and I were co-bloggers at the group blog www.southernappeal.org both before and after his return to Rome, so I've been a long-time follower of his journey.

I don't think Beckwith misunderstands the framework of "church authority" that Reformed folk attempt to graft onto the side of Sola Scriptura, rather he correctly sees that the framework is an illusory abstraction.

For example, Davies writes: "The Church has ministerial authority to interpret and bear witness to the message of the Bible, but the Church and her traditions remain under the critical authority of God's written Word."

This is a lovely exercise in begging the question. No one is under any doubt that the Scriptures are God's authoritative word. What everyone disagrees about is precisely which interpretations of those Scriptures are true. To say that one's interpretation of the Bible is true because it is faithful to the Bible is merely talking in circles. Everyone thinks his interpretation is faithful to the Scriptures, but not everyone can be right. The question is how do we know which interpretations are faithful, and this is where the Protestant experiment has failed 100%.

As an example (there are hundreds): Should I have my newborn son baptized? Let me go to the Scriptures. Hmmm. I can't find one concrete example of an infant baptism being performed or commanded. Next, I look to the various denominations for guidance. They all exercise their "ministerial authority" to interpret the Scriptures in concert with the Holy Spirit and . . . come back with different, contradictory, but really convincing answers.

Some aren't all that self-assured -- they say something like, "Well, this is my opinion, but I could be wrong, and I respect those who disagree." Others insist that theirs is the only correct interpretation -- and that failure to abide by it is willful disobedience against God. Some even point to the Scriptures and (quite convincingly) interpret them as saying that, on an issue as important as baptism, getting it wrong can impact one's salvation.

So remind me again, which church can speak authoritatively? Oh yes, how silly of me, the one whose interpretation is faithful to Scripture! That's easy enough. How could I forget? So let me ask again, "Which one of you denominations is faithful to Scripture?" All of you are?

Hmmm. That can't be right. Let me then figure it out for myself, and I'll put myself under a church authority that agrees with me. That's the ticket!

So, I ask you, not to put to fine a point on it, but what good is the Protestant conception of church authority? It has led to less certainty, more division, and a diminished sense that there is unambiguous eternal truth. That's what Beckwith saw -- and saw correctly.

Reepicheep said...

Zach, it seems that God has ordained an element of human weakness in the structure of His Church, so it is true there are varied positions on various biblical issues.

The Roman Church may be considered nothing more than another denomination in Christendom whether you want to admit it or not. So her interpretation is no more valid than the Reformed Church, etc.

Herein is probably the real point of divide we have. We define the "Church" differently. I think Scripture defines the Church as the WCF has so wonderfuly put it in it's 25 chapter. Very simply

"The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation"

Further, and to the point of this discussion:

"Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto."

So, God grants to His Church (as defined above and indeed very diverse in her expressions) the disernment necessary to call the Elect to Salvation.

God in His wisdom has not seen fit to give us perfect undestanding of His Word, probably to keep us dependent upon His grace continually.

You want someone to declare all the details unto you with authority. That person doesn't exist Zach. The Word of God by the Spirit of God makes effective that which needs to be effective. For the vast majority of what we need for faith and life, the Church (with all its foibles) has done a good job. Lots more to be understood in heaven.

You can keep claiming Rome and the Magesterium, but dude, they're no better at interpreting (I'd say worse). You seem to find some security in Rome no matter what they say. My road was the exact opposite.

I'm truly glad you're at peace with where you are. I just have no idea how having been there.

Jim said...

Ironic how modern RC apologists identify with the doctrines of the most sophomoric of deconstructionists, arguing that texts -- specifically Biblical texts -- are radically indeterminate (i.e., texts are only and just what the individual makes of them).

You'd think that they'd recognize that if texts are only what one projects upon them, then their ostensible "tradition" is also nothing more than the projection of the individual reader as well, and that would be true even if the pope were standing next to them at each moment in time instructing them, i.e., textifying.

Rick Calohan said...

Zach,

Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Lord! Amen.

Three questions and a statement to you:


"How do you know that your private interpretation of Roman documents is correct over against the private interpretation of other Roman Catholics?"

"How can you be certain that you are in the truth since all you have to go on is your own fallible private judgment that Rome is right?"

"How do you know you've picked the right infallible interpreter?"

Roman Catholic apologist insists that the principle of Sola Scriptura has resulted in 25,000 denominations, however I suggest the principle of Scripture plus an infallible interpreter has resulted in an even greater number of religious cults.

A once Heretic-Schismatic but by the grace of Vatican II Separated Brethren (So much for Papal Infallibility)

In His Grace, for His Glory,


Rick

Woody Woodward said...

Great Posts and some mighty powerful points, all spoken in love. I chuckle when I think of the clever/probing truism spoken forth from the great Christian apologist, Doctor Norman Geisler. "Even the greatest of theologians theology is only 80% correct. The problem is they don't know which 20% is wrong."

Zach said...

Guys,

I didn't say anything about Rome's meeting the need for authority -- I was simply defending Beckwith's assertion that Protestantism clearly fails in that regard.

You seem to think it's unreasonable for me to expect someone to give me the answers. What's the alternative? Ours is a revealed religion, after all. I don't want to be guessing or making stuff up. And I don't buy it that God somehow wants to keep us in the dark, that He has only revealed the bare minimum necessary for our salvation, and that "we'll understand it better, by and by."

Should I baptize my infant son? May I divorce and remarry? Is it a sin to contracept? What is the nature of the Eucharist? What is the proper understanding of the Trinity? What books should be in the Bible?

Can you imagine Ignatius, Irenaeus, Chrysostom, or Augustine saying, "God has built weakness into the church, and we just can't know for certain what the answers to these questions are. Here's what I think, but others may disagree, and that's okay, because the church as done a pretty good job defending the really important stuff."

These are super-duper important questions that touch upon salvation, and the Protestant model of church authority plus Sola Scriptura offers zero help in arriving at reliable answers.

Zach said...

Jim,

I'm not identifying with the deconstructionists. I'm merely looking at the myriad interpretations of various texts in the Scriptures offered by various Protestant denominations and concluding that the system of authority doesn't work.

The buck has to stop with someone. Can you imagine a school in which everyone was a teacher and no one a pupil? Taken to its logical conclusion, that's essentially the Protestant model. And yes, the same goes for interpreting Sacred Tradition.

Reepicheep said...

Zach,

"the Protestant model of church authority plus Sola Scriptura offers zero help in arriving at reliable answers".

This is a MASSIVE overstatement.

The Scriptures with the ministry of the Holy Spirit are wholly able to give reliable answers on the essential issues of the faith.

You over-emphasize the diversity in Protestantism without acknowledging the vast diversity among those who call themselves RC. So what if the Pope and Magesterium make an authoritative statement on this or that doctrinal matter (something that is very hard to discern for the average joe) if no one in the Church is aware of it.

There is way more that could be said on all this but I maintain the basic dividing point we have by putting it another way- I think Scripture defines the Church and guide her (with the ministry of the Holy Spirit). You think the Church defines Scripture and essentially has the power to keep speaking in a revelatory (extra-scriptural) way.

I don't see us convincing each other on this point. You think I/we should have a sense of insecurity about our authority structure. I think you should be scared to death by your loyalty to the Pope. What else can we say?

Roger Mann said...

“Since then your serene majesty and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, not embellished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand. May God help me, Amen” (Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, April 18, 1521).

As was often the case, Luther cut right to the heart of the issue, and destroyed Rome’s position in one sentence. It’s much safer to entrust one’s soul to the Holy Spirit speaking through God’s inerrant and non-contradictory Word than to popes and councils -- “since it is well known that they have often erred and contradict themselves.” Submit to them at your own peril!

The true and only authority by which we are to judge any doctrine is the written Word of God! The Bereans were commended, not for blindly following the Apostle Paul and accepting his teaching as true, but for “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). That’s why the WCF rightly declares:

“The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” (1.10)

The blasphemous notion that Scripture is unclear and esoteric -- unveiled exclusively to Rome and the Magisterium -- is once again demolished by the God given wisdom of Martin Luther:

“The profoundest mysteries of the supreme Majesty are no more hidden away, but are now brought out of doors and displayed to public view. Christ has opened our understanding, that we might understand the Scriptures, and the Gospel is preached to every creature. ‘Their sound is gone out into all the lands’ (Ps. 19.4). ‘All things that are written, are written for our instruction’ (Rom. 15:4). Again, ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for instruction’ (2 Tim. 3.16). Come forward then, you, and all the Sophists with you, and cite a single mystery which is still obscure in the Scripture. I know that to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness, in that they make no effort to see truth which, in itself, could not be plainer. As Paul said of the Jews in 2 Cor. 4: ‘The veil remains on their heart’ (2 Cor. 3.15); and again, ‘If our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, whose heart the god of this world hath blinded’ (2 Cor. 4.3-4). They are like men who cover their eyes, or go from daylight into darkness, and hide there, and then blame the sun, or the darkness of the day, for their inability to see. So let wretched men abjure that blasphemous perversity which would blame the darkness of their own hearts on to the plain Scriptures of God!” (The Bondage of the Will, p. 72)

Zach said...

Tony,

I'm really not trying to bash Protestantism. It has alot of strengths. Providing a workable system of authority is just not one of them.

And I'm not overstating the insufficiency of the Protestant system of authority for three primary reasons (all of which I'm sure you've heard, but I see no way around them):

1. Sola Scriptura is inherently self-defeating because the canon of Scripture is itself an extra-biblical tradition. It is meaningless to affirm the infallibility of the "Scriptures", without acknowledging the infallibility of the extra-biblical Table of Contents. And if you acknowledge the infallibility of the latter, you've rejected Sola Scriptura.

2. Sola Scriptura itself is a highly debatable inference from Scripture that should be at the tippety-top of your list of Scriptural vagaries over which Christians may have legitimate disagreement. Nowhere in Scripture is this teaching explicit, there are numerous Scriptures that seem to contradict it, and it has no basis in Christian tradition.

3. Sola Scriptura doesn't leave room for an authority that can actually define anything. If there's ever a dispute over the meaning of Scripture (and there have been a couple), there's never a resolution--only opinions.

Reepicheep said...

Zach,

Honestly, do you think Rome and her Pope have actually resolved matters for the Church? As to Luther's point in Roger's quote, Pope's and councils have erred and contradicted themselves numerous times...just like Protestantism does also...in the end, Scripture is the arbitrator. The Holy Spirit guides, just as our Lord promised.

Will this mean absolute unity for the Church? No. Not until Glory.

Zach said...

Roger quoted Luther: I know that to many people a great deal remains obscure; but that is due, not to any lack of clarity in Scripture, but to their own blindness and dullness, in that they make no effort to see truth which, in itself, could not be plainer.

Now then, Roger, are you really prepared to say that Baptists have "made no effort" to understand that infants should be baptized? Or that those who maintain the Scriptural teaching (affirmed by the Reformers) that contraception is gravely sinful have done so because they are "dull and blind"?

And, while you're at it, I'd love to know, since Luther and Calvin differed so strenuously on the nature of the Eucharist, which one was willfully persevering in obduracy--and made no effort to see the plain truth?

Silly me, I just thought these seemingly good faith disagreements offered support for the words of the Ethiopian Eunuch, who upon being asked whether he understood the Scriptures, humbly replied: "How can I, except some man should guide me?" (Acts 26:31)

Zach said...

Tony,

Yes, I think the Catholic Church resolves the authority issue, and I'd love to go round-and-round on that topic, but I think it's outside the scope of this discussion, which is centered on whether the Protestant notion of Sola Scriptura provides the authority required by the church.

I've laid out several reasons why it means very little to say that "Scripture is the arbiter", but I haven't really seen them addressed. It's all fine and good to say that Scripture is the arbiter, but if we have no sure way of knowing what Scripture means, we don't have all we need. To counter Luther, here's a quote from St. Francis de Sales:

To the Scripture, say they. But what shall I, poor man, do, for it is precisely about the Scripture that my difficulty lies. I am not in doubt whether I must believe the Scripture or not; for who knows not that it is the Word of Truth? What keeps me in anxiety is the understanding of this Scripture, is the conclusions to be drawn from it, which are innumerable and diverse and opposite on the same subject; and everybody takes his view, one this, another that, though out of all there is but one which is sound:----Ah! who will give me to know the good among so many bad? who will tell me the
real verity through so many specious and masked vanities. Everybody would embark on the ship of the Holy Spirit; there is but one, and only that one shall reach the port, all the rest are on their way to shipwreck. Ah! what danger am I in of erring! All shout out their claims with equal assurance and thus deceive the greater part, for all boast that theirs is the ship. Whoever says that our Master has not left us guides in so dangerous and difficult away, says that he wishes us to perish. Whoever says that he has put us aboard at the mercy of wind and tide, without giving us a skillful pilot able to use properly his compass and chart, says that the Saviour is wanting in foresight. Whoever says that this good Father has sent us into this school of the Church, knowing that error was taught there, says that he intended to foster our vice and our ignorance.

tom kessler said...

I am amazed - read the post - stepped out into society a few hours later and had an unintended conversation about RC & Protestant until somebody shows up and says "whats the big deal, we are all praying to the same individual anyway." Talk about an immediate diversion from the original topic. I think the person wishes he had never interjected his idea into the conversation.

Is it better to be in an organization that is not 100% correct and have a Saving Grace even though the organization attempts to dilute it with works or be a lost sole praying to all the gods except the One True God?

I am so thankful that I am able to attend (less than I like) Redeemer.

Reepicheep said...

Zach,

The Scriptures attended by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (which is manifold in relationship to the Scriptures) is enough to guide the Church (keeping in mind the already mentioned biblical definition of the Church).

As God's people read His word, truth is discerned by the ministry of the Spirit working in the regenerate. I don't mean to say there are no people specially gifted to teach, preach, and minister, on the contrary, the Scriptures guide us with outlining church government by appointing of elders, etc.

We see the Scriptures as sole arbiter most vividly in the reference Roger sited earlier-The Bereans compared the words of Paul to the words of Scripture, and were then able to better assess the validity of what he was preaching to them. Remarkable- people with the Word able to check an Apostle!! Good precedent I would say.

Paul's apostolic authority depended on his alignment with Scripture,etc.

I'm not suggesting this is an easy concept or that it doesn't evoke some of the questions you raise. God, in His wisdom, ordains the diversity we see manifested as a way of keeping us broken and contrite, I suspect.

The gathering and keeping of His Church is wholly the supernatural work of God through His Word and Spirit. We pastors are undershepherds of the Great Shepherd. We are ministers of His grace, not priestly sacrificers. But I digress...

M. Jay Bennett said...

With regard to Zach's comment, I would make this comment:

While Roman Catholicism may assert its own ecclesiological unity, and may indeed have some kind of unity, its basis is false and therefore its unity is too. In other words, because Roman Catholicism asserts the primacy of the Petrine ministry as its basis of unity and Reformed Catholcism asserts doctrinal purity as its basis, Rome is without true unity ipso facto. Roman Catholicism may be something, but it is not the church.

And related to this I would ask:

For the postlapsarian theist, does the quest for religious certainty overrule the quest for religious truth?

If one answers yes, then by all means, unless he's persuaded by the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, he should simply submit his conscience to the authority of a man or, if he's not so inclined to feign humility, himself. That is the surest way to certainty.

But if one answers no, then he should never submit his conscience to any man. Instead, he should be guided by his own free conscience as well as the multitude of others who have wrestled with God's special revelation throughout history. That is the means God has ordained by which we might have the blessing of understanding religious truth with certainty.

Defaulting to the authority of a single man may be the easiest way to attain certainty, but it is a false certainty. The more difficult and only true path is to search the Scriptures for oneself in concert with the historic search of the catholic church. The church may hobble a bit after all these years of wrestling with God's Word, just as each believer does if he's honest with himself, but she is blessed because of it.

Roger Mann said...

Now then, Roger, are you really prepared to say that Baptists have "made no effort" to understand that infants should be baptized? Or that those who maintain the Scriptural teaching (affirmed by the Reformers) that contraception is gravely sinful have done so because they are "dull and blind"?

Of course not…and neither would Luther. In context, he’s referring to unbelievers who reject the gospel outright (e.g., 2 Cor 3:15; 4:3-4), not to genuine believers who have doctrinal disagreements over non-essential issues. Scripture itself recognizes that there will be doctrinal disagreements among believers over non-essential issues (e.g., Rom 14). So to point out that Protestants often disagree over secondary issues hardly argues against the principle of Sola Scriptura. Moreover, Luther wasn’t stupid enough to deny that some portions of Scripture are more difficult to understand than others. He also wrote:

“You see, then, that the entire content of the Scriptures has now been brought to light, even though some passages which contain unknown words remain obscure. Thus it is unintelligent, and ungodly too, when you know that the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of those few obscure words. If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another. What God has so plainly declared to the world is in some parts of Scripture stated in plain words, while in other parts it still lies hidden under obscure words. But when something stands in broad daylight, and a mass of evidence for it is in broad daylight also, it does not matter whether there is any evidence for it in the dark. Who will maintain that the town fountain does not stand in the light because the people down some ally cannot see it, while everyone in the square can see it?” (The Bondage of the Will, p. 71-72)

Luther’s entire point is that Scripture is perspicuous. God has spoken to us in His Word in a manner that is clear and comprehensible. He has spoken to us in His word in order to be understood. This agrees with the Westminster Confession, which states:

“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear to all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.” (WCF, 1.7)

Doctrinal errors arise due to our dullness and sinfulness, not due to any lack of clarity on the part of Scripture. That’s why popes and councils “have often erred and contradict themselves” on essential matters of the faith, and cannot be relied upon to accurately dispense the truth! And that’s why we reject them as “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13) when they blatantly distort the gospel of Christ and anathematize the clear Scriptural teaching of justification by faith alone -- apart from works of any kind. As I said before, submit to them at your own peril!

Zach said...

M. Jay,

I gotta tell ya, when you write that one who is seeking religious truth ". . . should never submit his conscience to any man", you seem to be confirming my worst suspicions about the radically individualistic nature of modern Protestantism.

I'm really curious to see how far you're willing to take this vision of the supremacy of the individual's conscience.

For starters, I'm certain that you would not withhold submitting your conscience to the man Jesus Christ, but what about those to whom He personally and immediately gave authority? If, for instance, you were living as a Christian in 50 AD, would you submit your conscience to the teaching of the Apostle Paul? If he said to you, "Look, M. Jay, your conception of the Eucharist is not quite right. Here, let me explain to you the authentic doctrine decided by the Church." Would you submit to the teaching of this man -- even if it caused you to go against your deeply-held convictions?

I mean, you're a really smart guy, and your idea of the Eucharist might be really good -- a thing of beauty, in fact! How can you forsake your conscience -- what you truly believe? Perhaps, however, a different part of your conscience would feel a prick as you recall the words of our Savior to the seventy, "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me." (Lk 10:16)

Again, you might have heard (since you wouldn't yet have a copy of the New Testament) our Lord's instructions on how to resolve thorny intra-faith disputes: ". . . tell it unto the church". And His subsequent words to the Apostles: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Mt 18:17-18)

Perhaps, in your contemplation of these passages, you might realize that Our Lord did not establish church authority merely to provide the individual Christian with a learned sounding board off of which to bounce his personal opinions -- before ultimately coming to his own inviolate conclusions. Or maybe not -- that's what I'm wondering.

Now, what if you were living 50 years after that in Antioch, under the authority of Ignatius, one of those "faithful men" to whom the original Apostles had bequeathed their authority "to teach others also". (2 Tim 2:2) Would you submit your conscience to his authority?

Woody Woodward said...

Hats off to every poster! This indeed has been a lively and most stimulating discussion! But as for me and my house, I will place my faith in the Word of God, not in any man.

Zach said...

Roger,

It's really quite incredible to me that anyone can look at the modern state of Protestantism and maintain that the Scriptures are perspicuous.

Perhaps Luther can be excused for claiming it. He was, after all, at the very beginning of the Protestant experiment and never had a chance to see the staggering spectacle of division that is the predictable fruit of Sola Scriptura.

And the claim that Protestants only disagree about the relatively unimportant stuff is stupefying, as well, as there's really very little that Protestants don't disagree about. I can only conclude that you consider teachings concerning baptism, holy communion, marriage, church government, sexual morality, ecclesiology, liturgy, eschatology, justification, and so on to be secondary. These are, after all, points of great dissension among Protestants.

I may be overly-simplistic, but it seems that any doctrine over which sincere Protestants disagree is automatically whisked away onto the "secondary issues" pile. I almost wonder if that's because keeping it in the "primary issues" pile would require you to either accuse your fellow Christians of willful ignorance or admit that the Scriptures are not meant to be perspicuous in the way demanded by Sola Scriptura.

And that's an important point. I don't say that God couldn't have made the Scriptures perfectly perspicuous, rather He had no need to do so because he delivered them to mankind through, in, and with a robust, authoritative Church that was well over 300 years old before there was even a defined set of Scriptures to look at. There was no thought of the Rogers or Zachs of the day needing to understand the Scriptures on their own. For starters, they likely wouldn't have been able to read. Even if they could read, a hand-copied set of Scriptures would have been beyond their means. And most importantly, why would they need to figure out the Scriptures on their own? God gave them His bride, the Church.

Jim said...

Zach,

I know you're not identifying yourself with deconstructionism. But my argument isn't that you're identifying with them, it's that your arguments on the indeterminancy of text draw on the same assumptions and entail the same implications.

Your argument for radical indeterimancy undermines every claim to authority -- a papacy and tradition cannot save you from the implications of your own argument.

It's a real bore to have to point it out.

M. Jay Bennett said...

Zach,

You are a skilled rhetorician, turning phrases with great skill. But your wandering has left me wondering.

Why would you quote Scripture in order to oppose the doctrine of Liberty of Conscience? In doing so, you just dug the dirt from under your own foundation. You should be quoting the Roman Magisterium, particularly the pope. Hasn't he officially ruled on this issue? If so, 'nuff said, right? Be careful lest St. Peter's takes a tumble.

I think you've misunderstood the doctrine of liberty of conscience. Liberty of conscience is not supremacy of conscience. I refer you to the Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 20 section 2 for understanding:

"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience: and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."

On to your questions:

You asked if I would submit my conscience to the teaching of the man Christ Jesus? Answer: Yes, because he is the God-man.

You asked if I would submit my conscience to the teaching of the Apostles had I lived at the time? Answer: That depends. If the teaching was inspired (i.e. "God-breathed") Scripture, then yes. If the teaching was not, then no. I would, by God's grace, test the teaching against the Scriptures to see if what they were saying was true like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). I am so very thankful Paul did not submit his conscience to Peter (the bearer of the keys???), when Peter's actions betrayed the truth of the Gospel (Gal. 2:11-14).

You asked if I would submit my conscience to the seventy who were sent out by Jesus had I lived at the time? Answer: No. But I cannot find that submitting one's conscience to them was expected. Is that how you interpret "not receiving." I would question that interpretation. One can surely receive men and there teaching without submitting his conscience to them. I do it every Sunday when I receive the Word preached by my Pastor.

You asked if I would submit my conscience to Ignatius or another church father had I lived at the time? Answer: No. I would would regard them no higher than the Apostles themselves (see above). Although, I would receive them and love them as God's precious gifts to his church, as those who teach God's Word.

On Matt. 18, although for the life of me I can't understand why you would quote Scripture in defense of the pope's authority (seems a bit counterproductive to me), I would ask that you consider interpreting the passage in context. The issue at hand there is not liberty of conscience nor does it relate to it. The issue is church discipline, "if your brother sins against you," not the submitting of one's conscience to an authority. By the way, I find it interesting that Jesus moves from one person, to a few more persons, to the the whole church community. If the Roman system of church gov't is true, why would he teach the disciples to make the final court the church community rather than the Magisterium?

Zach said...

Jim,

Sorry to bore you, brother! I don't spend much time reading the deconstructionists, but I must say that I do think a reliance on Sola Scriptura leaves the faith very vulnerable to modernism. Look at the state of the oldest mainline denominations, which have been subject to the erosive forces of Sola Scriptura the longest. So, I'm just looking at the evidence.

It's really not a hard scenario to predict. If Luther had come up to you way-back-when and told you what he had in mind, how long would it have taken you to predict the current disunity in Protestantism? "Um, Marty, not everyone is going to agree with your interpretations of Scripture, but they are going to adopt your Sola Scriptura paradigm to start a bajillion new churches."

And pointing out that the Good Lord never intended for the Holy Scriptures to stand alone as some kind of all-encompassing Catechism or Instruction Manual for the Christian faith does not "undermine every claim to authority". Rather, it speaks precisely to the absolute need for an authority to clarify the issues over which disputes arise.

Does the fact that a Calculus textbook is not perspicuous to the students undermine the authority of the professor to explicate it?

Rick Calohan said...

It is better to be divided by truth than to be united by error.

Martin Luther

Roger Mann said...

Zach wrote,

It's really quite incredible to me that anyone can look at the modern state of Protestantism and maintain that the Scriptures are perspicuous.

What is “quite incredible” is that you blasphemously stand in judgment of Scripture on the basis of your own subjective observation of the state of “Protestantism.” Rather than submit to the authority of Scripture, you denigrate and dismiss it as unintelligible and incomprehensible nonsense -- hidden knowledge revealed only to an elite few in Rome! Yet Paul tells Timothy that even “from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Amazing! The incomprehensible Scriptures were known by Timothy from childhood! And Jesus told the Jews who rejected Him: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me: for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46-47). The problem wasn’t that Moses’ “writings” were unclear; the problem was that they refused to believe what was clearly written in the Scriptures! I would say that you are suffering from the same malady.

And the claim that Protestants only disagree about the relatively unimportant stuff is stupefying, as well, as there's really very little that Protestants don't disagree about.

As I mentioned before, doctrinal errors arise due to our dullness and sinfulness, not due to any lack of clarity on the part of Scripture. The essential doctrines of the faith are plainly revealed in Scripture and are fully capable of being understood by all genuine believers:

“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear to all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.” (WCF, 1.7)

If this weren’t true, then Jesus’ statement above (John 5:46-47) would be false, and the unbelieving Jews would be excused for innocently misunderstanding the incomprehensible writings of Moses. But that was hardly the case! The established Church of that day was guilty of rejecting the clear testimony of Scripture, and relying instead upon her phony man-made traditions and deceitful twisting of God’s Word by her priests, lawyers, and theologians -- just as the Roman Catholic Church does today. Note that Christ never appealed to tradition as authoritative; He never appealed to the Church as authoritative; and every time He mentioned tradition, it was only to denounce it. Simply stated, there is no authority higher than God’s Word (Heb 6:13; John 8:14). The Word of God must be our axiomatic starting point; everything else leads only to bondage, deception, and death. Case in point: You continue to place your trust in popes and councils, even though it is undeniable that they “have often erred and contradict themselves.” What could be more foolish than that? They have even led you to slander God’s Word as being unintelligible and incomprehensible nonsense to all but an elite few in Rome! I pray that you will repent before it’s too late.

Roger Mann said...

Zach wrote,

I don't say that God couldn't have made the Scriptures perfectly perspicuous, rather He had no need to do so because he delivered them to mankind through, in, and with a robust, authoritative Church that was well over 300 years old before there was even a defined set of Scriptures to look at.

Well, then, the Apostle Paul must have been an ignorant and foolish man! For in the first century he wrote that God’s written Word was fully authoritative and comprehensible:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom 15:4)

Silly Paul! He must not have known that average believers couldn’t understand Scripture, and that an authoritative “defined set of Scriptures” wouldn’t even exist for them to look at for another 300 years! And if Paul was mistaken, Jesus must have been doubly mistaken! For our Lord Himself enjoins us to “search the Scriptures” (John 5:39). Didn’t Jesus realize that searching the Scriptures -- as the Bereans did in order to confirm Paul’s message (Acts 17:11) -- would be in vain? Why “search the Scriptures” if they are unintelligible and incomprehensible? And why hold unbelievers accountable for disbelieving the Scriptures when they are incapable of understanding them to begin with?

Contrary to Romanism’s unjustified assertion, one does not need a priest, a bishop, or a pope to tell him what the Bible means. Moreover, if Peter was the first and greatest pope, as Rome alleges, why do we need another and lesser pope to interpret him? Or do we need popes to interpret popes, ad infinitum? And since popes “have often erred and contradict themselves,” what kind of a fool would base his eternal destiny upon their “interpretation” of Scripture anyway?

Woody Woodward said...

Run the race Roger! Roger for President!
Sure a lot of strong meat here for spiritual digestion.

Zach said...

Roger,

In the course of working yourself into a righteous froth, you've begun to stuff your Catholic straw man with some falsehoods -- and I have to call you on it.

Never did I "denigrate and dismiss [the Scriptures] as unintelligible and incomprehensible nonsense", and for you to insinuate that I did--and then to repeat that mantra throughout your subsequent arguments as if it were my position--is calumniatory in the extreme.

I have never (and would never) denigrate the Word of God, and I affirm and rejoice that it is abundantly clear on a great many issues. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures." (CCC 107)

What I also affirm, however, is that God never intended the Scriptures to exist in a vacuum. He delivered them to us through the ministry of the Church, and He intended for us to read the Scriptures within the heart of the Church, which is, after all, the "pillar and ground of the truth." (1 Tim 3:15)

Anyone can look at the multifarious state of modern-day Protestantism and see that there are a great many doctrines over which seemingly smart, godly, prayerful, well-intentioned Christians who all affirm Sola Scriptura disagree. There are only a few explanations for this:

1. The doctrines over which they disagree aren't that important. This is surely the case in some instances, but many others seem far too central to dismiss in this way. And if they are of such little importance, then why is the multiplicity of denominations really necessary?

2. The disagreement is due to some personal failing on the part of one or more of the parties -- stupidity, sinfulness, pride, etc. This seems attractive, especially to "old school" guys like us, but personal experience will reveal that the Baptist who eschews infant baptism does so out of a learned, humble, prayerful conviction that the Scriptures themselves require him to do so. I won't accuse him of stupidity or sinfulness over his reading of Scripture -- will you?

3. The Scriptures are not perspicuous in the sense demanded by Sola Scriptura. In other words, in inspiring the Holy Scriptures, God did not intend them as documents to be interpreted by individuals without reference to Sacred Tradition or the teaching authority of His Church. And, in practice, you manifestly acknowledge this. Many of your cherished interpretations of Scripture are implicitly built upon the foundation of the Church's traditions, so this really shouldn't be problematic for you. Let's stick with infant baptism. The Scriptures nowhere explicitly describe or command infant baptism, so where did you get the notion to baptize your children? Because it is the holy tradition of the Church. Yes, you can (and should) look to the Scriptures to affirm the rightness of the Tradition, but even then, you're looking at books whose canonicity we accept solely based on the Tradition and Authority of the Church--two sources of authority that you disdain. There's no getting around that, my friend.

Zach said...

And, Roger, I'm a bit perplexed by your attempt to read Sola Scriptura into the various Scripture passages you adduce. In most of these cases, if you take them to prove Sola Scriptura, they prove too much.

Jesus' admonition to the Jews that in rejecting Him, they are rejecting the Old Testament Scriptures is an attempt to convince non-Christians to believe in Him by appealing to a source of authority that He and they hold in common. What could be more logical? Surely you aren't implying that, in referring the Jews to the Scriptures, Jesus is somehow rejecting or subverting His own personal authority in matters of religion? Of course not, but that is the logical conclusion if, as you seem to be arguing, Our Lord Himself must operate within the constraints of Sola Scriptura. Note also, there's no immplication that, if the Jews are converted through their reading of the OT Scriptures, they will be able to (or should) construct the entire edifice of their new faith by continuing to consult the OT.

Likewise, the oft-referenced story of the Bereans speaks not a whit to Sola Scriptura. Again, Paul is speaking to non-believers, attempting to convince them of the truth of the gospel by appealing to a source of authority (the OT) that they held in common. Should we imagine that, once they were converted, he told them to continue consulting the Jewish Scriptures as their sole authoritative rule of faith--and to thereby evaluate the details of their new Christian faith? If that's the process, what would the outcome have been if Paul later told them (as he did the Galatians) "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value"? Seems like the Jewish Scriptures would take a rather dim view of such a teaching, and our Sola Scriptura Bereans would have their own Diet of Worms moment.

Or maybe Paul told the newly-converted Bereans to sit tight for a few decades until the documents that would much later become the NT Scriptures were composed -- after which point the noble Bereans could examine the Jewish Scriptures daily and determine for themselves (each according to his own conscience) which of these new Christian documents were worthy of being included in the NT Scriptures. Then, based on their own custom Bibles, they could figure out the details of the Christian faith.

Moving on, you write that, in 2 Tim 3:16-17, Paul claims that the Scriptures are "fully authoritative and comprehensible". Really? Yes, he claims that they are fully authoritative. By all means, he writes that they are fully profitable. But Paul nowhere implies that they are fully comprehensible. And again, if this verse proves Sola Scriptura, it proves too much, as Paul is clearly referencing the OT, so if the OT is all the believer needs to be "complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work", why would we need the NT?

Additionally, you inexplicably seem to take every positive intra-scriptural mention of the Scriptures as evidence of Sola Scriptura. As if it's impossible to love and esteem the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God without espousing Sola Scriptura. It just ain't so.

This has been a fun and useful discussion. Many thanks to you all.