Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Was (or is) the Reformation Necessary? An examination of Protestantism’s doctrinal Pillars: Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide -- 1

Sola Scriptura--Part 1

Here is the debate from To Die Is Gain on the Pillars of the Reformation. The original title, by Jacob, is "Why the Reformation Was and Still Is Necessary." However, I take an opposing view to that title, thus my more neutral title for this blog post. The title still seems a bit misleading. Yes, a Reformation was needed in the Church. No, the "Protestant Reformation" was not that needed Reformation. The Church had been reforming itself long before the advent of Martin Luther, and finalised the correction of error at the Council of Trent, known to Catholics as "The Catholic Reformation". So yes, a Reformation was necessary. And in truth, since we are the Body of Christ, we must always be in a state of growth and renewal. As such, even as late as the 1960s, at the Second Vatican Council, the Church underwent another huge surface renewal.

However, what is typically meant by "the Reformation" is that movement in Church History known as Protestantism. The question being asked by Jacob in this debate was whether Martin Luther was right to reform the Church based on the doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. If you want a brief description of those concepts, read the post beneath this one.

Well, I figure the best way (possibly the only way) to do this discussion is to point-by-point reply to Jacob's comments, and then afterward to add my own further comments. I like point-by-pointing so that no one can accuse me of ignoring or hiding from an argument. So without further ado (Jacob's words are in black. Mine are in the default blue.):

Matthew 15:1-9

"Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."
[Jacob quoted this text to begin his argument. I bolded the bold portions.]

First thing I'd like to say is Amen! I believe this Scripture, too! In fact, I believe all of Scripture 100%. What's more, I believe that no Scripture contradicts Catholic teaching--so it might be a little awkward to prove your point by quoting Scripture--but we'll see how that goes.

Next thing to note was that this text confronts "the tradition of the elders," as I bold above. Specifically, it is rebuking man-made tradition, and not even all man-made tradition, but specifically that which contradicts Scripture. The Key Question is, is Jesus condemning all traditions or simply their tradition? To answer that, you have to ask whether tradition is ever viewed positively in the New Testament, and even endorsed--and if so, how do we recognise what is a good and true tradition?

Jesus was continually chastising the pharisees for their wrong motives, intentions, and hearts.

Yes, and that's a major key in knowing true traditions from false. The Corban rule that's cited here stems from false pretense and greedy motives, not out of a sincere God-serving desire.

We see here that Jesus rightfully accuses the pharisees for honoring God with what they say, but not with their hearts. He says that this kind of worship is in vain. Why? Because they are teaching as doctrines (things that are supposedly scriptural) that are in reality man made commandments.

How do we know that they are manmade? Because they contradict the teaching of Scripture. Catholic Doctrine does not set itself up as "supposedly Scriptural" but as authoritative and true in its own right. That's a key distinction regarding your presuppositions.

Specifically what the Jews had done is this, they made commentaries on the law and scriptures (what we would now refer to as the Old Testament). These commentaries carry a similar idea to them as what we call commentaries now. The idea is that a commentary is written to help explain the scripture. This is all good and well, the problem is what the Jews (namely the pharisees) began to do with the commentaries. The pharisees (who by the way were the dominant religious leaders of the Jews at the time)

I was with you up until that last line. The Pharisees in fact were not the dominant sect at the time. The Sadducees in fact were, and were the ones who held the key seats in the Sanhedrin at the time. The Pharisees were simply the more pompous and obvious and noisy group.

started to hold the commentaries as equal to the scripture. In fact that is what Jesus is calling them out on in Matthew 15:1-9.

Actually, that's not true either. Jesus is calling them out on the fact that they place two contradicting ideas as having equal authority--and that if there is a contradiction, there is of necessity an error. As such, the error is not with the Law, but with the interpretation, and therefore that interpretation cannot be construed as equal to the Law.

While the pharisees were complaining about Jesus' followers not practicing the tradition of ceremonially washing their hands before they eat. Jesus in turn responds with a question to them, asking why they ignore the law for their tradition.

Yes, their tradition.

Jesus cites one of the ten commandments, honor your father and mother. (Exodus 20:12) And then goes on to show how their tradition allows for a person to not follow this commandment. The idea given here is that according to Jewish tradition that a person can "dedicate" their possessions to the Lord and therefore if their father or mother comes to them in need, they can simply tell them that what they have is the Lord's and ignore the need of their parents.

Yada yada yada...

This clearly is in contrast to the Law of God, clearly in opposition to the scripture, but because the pharisees had placed tradition in such an equal place with scripture, this kind of thing was going on.

This is a fallacy. Because, as stated above, the pharisees' motives were impure, the tradition which they invented contradicted Scripture. This says nothing about someone with pure motives and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

This is just one example of how the pharisees were placing tradition over scripture. Now, why have I gone to such an extent talking about what the pharisees had done?

Good question.

Because it is the same thing that Roman Catholics have done.

Actually, it's not.

I believe that understanding this is the first part of answering the challenge given to me by my friend Gregory, I quote him from a comment left on my first post about the reformation part 1:

"...The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate
a) that Sola Scriptura is actually taught in the Bible,
b) why the Church somehow missed this teaching for nearly 1500 years, if indeed it is so clear in the Bible,
and c) that it is in fact a workable theory in the promotion of Christian truth and unity, despite the glaring evidences to the contrary."
[This thesis statement was part of my reply to the original "Part 1" of this debate, which was accidentally erased, along with the original incarnation of Jacob's blog, in a tragic accident. Thus, this part 1 is actually part 2, and so on...But that's immaterial. I just thought I'd mention how I could have already contributed to the first part of a debate that I didn't begin...Anyway, on with the show.]

So I assume you are dealing with "A". Makes sense. If you can't prove that, no point moving on to B and C. Of course, I'm still waiting for you to prove A: that Sola Scriptura is actually taught in the Bible...

Here in Matthew 15:1-9 I believe is Jesus (God Himself) telling the pharisees that it's scripture alone that is authoritative, not tradition.

I don't see that borne out in the text, as explained above. Jesus is condemning corrupt traditions created by men with impure motives--not traditions in general. Since Catholic Tradition (Apostolic Tradition) never contradicts Scripture, it is quite a different thing. Moreover, Jesus believed in much Pharisaical tradition that other Jewish schools of thought (like the Sadducees) disagreed with--Resurrection of the dead, for example, or the Scriptural authority of the entire Old Testament rather than just the Torah.

In fact, if Tradition is ever, at all, viewed in the New Testament as a good and positive thing, then I think that Sola Scriptura is a wash. That, added to the fact that the Bible nowhere says that the Bible alone is our rule of faith. But anyway...

(I know their is a third leg of the stool dealing with the magisterium, I will get to that)

indeed...

Also let us look at Colossians 2:8-10,

"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority."

[Again, his citation, my bolding.]

Is all tradition "human tradition" or is there, biblically speaking, a tradition that is spirit-guided and true and authoritative? I think St. Paul, who wrote this passage in Colossians, would say that there is such a Tradition.

Once again we are warned to be watchful so that we are not taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit that comes from what? Human tradition.

Amen!

My contention is simply that Sola Scriptura itself is just such a human tradition.

Now I can imagine a retort to these scriptures might be 2 Thessalonians 2:15,

"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter."


See, now you're doing my job for me.

One might say "see not all tradition is bad or wrong, in fact it looks like Paul is saying to hold to tradition as authoritative!" Well yes it does appear that way, in fact that is just exactly what He is saying.

Okay, so I win then, because I simply needed to demonstrate that the Bible itself refers to Tradition that is extra-biblical, but still binding and authoritative, to show that Sola Scriptura is not taught in Scripture. But for argument's sake, let's see how this progresses.

However let me highlight something here. Paul says "hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter."

Uhm...yeah...?

You see the key words? The tradition that is to be kept has been delivered to them by the apostles whether the people heard it come from their mouth or whether it was given in a letter for instruction. These teachings/traditions came from those whom God gave authority to write scripture.

Amazing! Could that possibly be why we call it "Apostolic Tradition"?

Now I contend that when the last apostle died, that was the close of God revealing scripture.

Amen!

Here is where the debate will have to turn toward the Roman Catholics claim to continuing apostolic authority. Which I will contend there is nothing in scripture that points to that as a possibility.

Do I actually have to go through the abundance of Scriptural evidence, or will a few key passages suffice for now? Let's try, for starters, Acts 1:15-26, where the Apostles pick a successor for Judas, and 2 Timothy 2:1-2, where Paul not only tells Timothy to teach the traditions that Paul preached to him, but to in turn pass those on to faithful teachers as well!

So this posting is at least an initial argument for scripture being authoritative and not tradition. There is a real possibility that more will need to be written once the comments start flowing in.

I'd say so.

But I ask that to this point we keep the debate here and once we have delved deeply here we will move on to the issue of the magisterium, perhaps next week.

Deal.

Of course I do realize that these things all intertwine so we may be forced to get into them sooner than later. If that be the case, than so be it.

I think I stayed in this realm fairly easily--although admittedly you opened the door with your apostolic succession reference, which is by definition the Magesterium. You really can't have one without the other. At any rate, I didn't dive too deeply into A.S. right now. We'll wait on that.

In Christ Jesus
-Jacob Allee

2 Timothy 3:16-17 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."

PS. Might I point out that the scripture can equip for (every) good work. Nothing else is needed.


2 Timothy 3:16-17 proves too little and too much:

On the one hand, the passage never says "Only Scripture is God-breathed" or "Only Scripture is useful." On the other hand, when Paul wrote this, the only recognised Scripture was the Old Testament. Therefore Paul must be saying, if "Sola Scriptura" is true, that the OT and only the OT is necessary for our faith formation, and that the Christian does not need the New Testament! We can explore that more if you want.

Further thoughts before I go:

Tradition is often referred to in the New Testament as good and necessary: 2 Thess 2:15 (which you were kind enough to point out); 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; and many more, but I don't have time today...I'll wait for your reply.

Scripture itself is a product of Apostolic Tradition. It was orally transmitted for the 20-30 years before it began to be written down. Once completed (60-70 years later), it was preserved by the Church, but not as a body as we know it today, but as individual letters that were read in various churches and regarded variously as inspired Scripture or not, and by others as suspect--along with many other documents as well, such as The Shepherd of Hermas and the Didache. It was not for another 300 years that we get the 27 books of the New Testament--and that was decreed by the Magesterium of the Church, the definers and defenders of the deposit of faith (Jude 3)--The Word of God--that consists of Scripture and Tradition.

Apostolic Tradition is vastly different from human traditions, and unlike the example of Matt. 15, never contradicts Sacred Scripture.

I have a lot more to say on that, but you'll have to wait a few days, as I won't see my computer again until about Thursday.

God bless.
Gregory


Some further comments from Jacob’s blog that I thought were noteworthy:

Jacob said...
Good stuff Gregory. I think you've definently challenged me (not persuaded however). I have plenty to say in response but it may be a few days before I have time to sit down and get to it. I do appreciate the kind and respectful manner that our debate has held to, let us continue in that spirit.

God Bless.


Gregory said...
I also appreciate the respect and charity of our dialogues. It can be a rare thing on the internet!

There are times when I might sound somewhat sarcastic or maybe a bit harsh, even in the above...I assure you any time I do that, I mean no offence, but rather try to take it as a tongue-in-cheek joke. I tend to write short comments like I talk (though longer paragraphs tend to sound more formal)--but the lack of emotion in text can make getting the spirit behind the words tricky.

I'm glad that in the end, neither your post nor my response was actually lost...even if the rest regrettably was. You had a lot of good stuff to say.

I too will not add anything to the debate tonight, since I have Bible Study to finish preparing for. I might add some thoughts (or possibly just links) tomorrow, if I have time. Hopefully I'll get my desk from my old bedroom this weekend and move it to my new apartment, so that my wife and I can set up our computer, and I can blog from home!

In any case, God bless!
Gregory

A guy posting by the name of "DOGpreacher" said...
Well...in regards to the post...

Someone told me the other day he was a 'Reformed Baptist', and I suggested he try 'ReformING Baptist', just so some one (like himself) didn't get to thinking he had "attained" something!

As you can see, I'm not subtle...and yet I pray that I "speak the truth in love" so as to prune, NOT to wound.

Luther didn't come all the way out, so the 'reformation' BETTER be ongoing!

grateful for grace,
The DOGpreacher


risen_soul said...
Yeah, I agree Luther got the ball rolling but we have to keep it going. Otherwise new heresies (or at least revamped old ones) will slide back into the church. Of course that's already going on, just look at people like Robert Schueler, and countless other "Christian leaders" in the spotlight.

Just to clarify however, I wouldn't call myself reformed. I've yet to label myself with one of the many titles out there. So far I'm just a Jesus loving freak that praises His name by the proclamation of scripture and the gospel and the defense there of. Amen!


Gregory said...
Of course, from my perspective, the "reformation" certainly is ongoing--and yet, with each new change, it is a new, novel teaching--a corruption of the historical faith. Luther's interpretations were novel doctrines never taught in Church History until he showed up. Taking his kernel ideas farther doesn't strike me as a particularly good thing, or an avoidance of heresy...

But then, I'm Catholic. What do I know? ;)

Nice to make your acquaintance, Dogpreacher.

God bless!

PostScript
Throughout this debate, I ask the reader to pay careful attention to the arguments, and judge with as open a mind as he or she can muster. Remember what Jacob has to prove in order to make his case:
"...The burden of proof is on you to demonstrate
a) that Sola Scriptura is actually taught in the Bible,
b) why the Church somehow missed this teaching for nearly 1500 years, if indeed it is so clear in the Bible,
and c) that it is in fact a workable theory in the promotion of Christian truth and unity, despite the glaring evidences to the contrary."
Prayerfully consider the evidence of both positions, and research the issue yourself.


God bless,
Gregory

(Round 2 of the debate is finished as well, at Jacob's blog, and I just need to edit and colour-code it for here. It should be up later this afternoon.)

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