3/13/2007

On Scripture and Authority, or J. K. goes off the deep end again

Partly out of a new found interest in the Emergent Church Conversation, I have spent much time of late studying, thinking and praying about the relationship of The Bible and church tradition. I find many of the perspectives in the Emergent Conversation to be troubling.

The novel ideas and teachings tend toward, or even cross the line into, false teaching. This is done in two primary ways. Tradition is sometimes seen as authoritative above or beyond the Bible. Or, traditional interpretations of the Bible are ignored in favor of new insights developed by a group of believers during a discussion.

I select The Bible as the sole authority for faith and life because I believe it contains the teachings of the Apostles. It expresses them in truth, with no mixture of error.

It is logical. Christ, the Son of God, promised the Holy Spirit to the Apostle’s to bring His teaching to remembrance (John 14:26). The apostles’ teaching was written down, either by them or by those close to them (Luke 1:1-3; 2 Peter 1:16). These accurate historical renderings of events and teachings were regarded by the apostles as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). They were held as true (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20-21). This becomes the authoritative teaching that the church relies on.

I may be the only engineering student in the history of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville to almost flunk out of school because he spent too much time in the library reading theology books. I spend hours sitting at a table in the back poring over them. It just seemed to be the thing to do at the time.

The book-shelves contained the Yale Edition of the Works of Jonathan Edwards, Luther’s Works, Calvin’s Institutes, and another set of books that I learned about in a peculiar way: Lightfoot’s edition of the Early Church Fathers’ writings. The works of the early church fathers are books written in the first few hundred years after Christ’s death by church leaders. They are often quoted as an authority by those from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths, especially with regard to their view of church authority vs. the authority of Scripture.

What was the unusual way I learned of them? I learned about them from reading John Calvin’s books. That’s right, one of the key leaders of the Protestant Reformation quoted extensively from the Early Church Fathers (Luther did too).

The early leaders of the Christian Church did not find a contradiction between the traditions they received and the Bible. Further, they based their traditions on Scripture. As Dr. W. Robert Godfrey expresses it, “Usually, in the ancient fathers of the church, the word “tradition” refers to the standard interpretation of the Bible among them. And we Protestants value such traditions.”

Only God knows what Calvin would say if he were alive today, but I have a hunch he would respond to the Emergent Conversation by quoting the Fathers. Here’s what some of them said:

But there is no evidence of this, because Scripture says nothing ... The Scripture says nothing of this, although it is not in other instances silent ...I do not admit what you advance of your own apart from Scripture. (Tertullian, in about 200 A. D., The Flesh of Christ)

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. (Irenaeus, writing in
about 150 A. D., Against Heresies)

But those who are ready to toil in the most excellent pursuits will not desist from the search after truth, till they get the demonstration from the Scriptures themselves. (Clement of Alexandria, wiring in about 180 A. D., Scripture the
Criterion by Which Truth and Heresy are Distinguished)
For holy Scripture setteth a rule to our teaching, that we dare not "be wise more than it behoveth to be wise;" but be wise, as himself saith, "unto soberness, according as unto each God hath allotted the measure of faith." (Augustine, writing in about 425 A. D., On the Good of Widowhood)


Our conversations must not elevate our own ideas above the traditional interpretations of the Bible. Our conversation must include the writings of the Christians who have gone before us in history.

Beyond that, we must keep going back to the Scriptures to establish true teaching. The testimony of the church as to the Bible’s meaning and content is very important, but not without the possibility of error. The saying goes like this: “If it’s true, it’s not new; and if it’s new, it’s not true.”

We should greatly respect the early church fathers. We should greatly respect the Apostle’s Creed and other expressions of the faith. We should value the interpretations of our brothers and sisters in Christ, from our own church and even those from other faith traditions. (I have benefited extensively from talking to Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians and others.)

But only the Bible provides a completely accurate version of the Apostles’ teaching to inform our faith. We must base our theology on the Bible, not on our own traditions or our own insights and intuitions.Many have attempted to address these issues in a scholarly way, well beyond what an engineer like me is capable of doing. I would highly recommend The Shape of Sola Scriptura by Keith A. Mathison.

1 comment:

L P Cruz said...

Dear J.K,

I am glad you dropped by blog and left a comment. This is one way the Internet is useful, it is able to gather together like minded brothers and sisters in Christ.

I like what you wrote about when you were a student spending more time in theology rather than on your major, it is a distraction isn't ;-)?

I offer a prayer of blessing also to you as I write this comment.

The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you,

Lito

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