Friday 13 August 2010

And now for something completely different!

On a subject I've not blogged about, my wife and I were talking to visitors at a Christian conference yesterday, when I suddenly saw a familiar face in the crowd. It was my old friend Robert.

Many years ago, Robert had an evangelical conversion but because of divisions in the evangelical world he became a Roman Catholic and now sees his mission as one of bringing the light of the one true Church to his separated brethren.

There he was, merrily mingling with the crowd, distributing photocopied articles about the evils of birth control and a booklet on the error of the doctrine of “Scripture alone”. I immediately headed him off at the pass and we talked for while. He gave me the article on contraception and the booklet Scripture Alone? by RC theologian and apologist Joel Peters. I read the booklet late last night and responded to Robert. You might find the letter interesting and perhaps helpful.

Dear Robert,

It was a very pleasant surprise to meet you at the Conference yesterday.

Thank you for the essay on birth control and Joel Peters’ booklet Scripture Alone?I don’t have the time to deal with it at length but I will say the booklet is well written and has some helpful and challenging points to make. In places he powerfully challenges Protestant assumptions about the meaning of familiar biblical passages and anything that challenges our sloppy thinking is to be welcomed. Having said that, although the booklet appears to be well-reasoned, it is deeply flawed.

As a primary observation, I noted that throughout the booklet, Peters has to appeal to Scripture to prove the Church is above Scripture.

Joel Peters starts on page 1 by claiming the Roman Catholic Church has an “Oral Tradition”. In this sense, Roman Catholicism is identical to Rabbinic Judaism. In post-biblical Judaism, the rabbis claim to be the heirs to an “Oral Tradition”: The Jewish Pirke Avot begins by saying: “Moses received the [Oral] Torah from Sinai, and passed it on to Joshua; and Joshua to the elders, and the elders to the prophets; and the prophets passed it on to the men of the Great Assembly.
In Catholicism, it seems, Peter received the Gospel from Christ, Peter passed it on to the Popes, and the Popes…”

Also on page 1, Peters sets up a straw man by misrepresenting the Lutheran/Reformed position on Sola Scriptura. His definition of the doctrine is:

… the Bible – as interpreted by the individual believer – is the only source of religious authority and is the Christians sole rule of faith or criterion regarding what is the be believed. (Sola Scriptura? page. 1)

If that is the doctrine of “Scripture alone”, it is self-contradictory for, as Peters states it, the doctrine is in fact Scripture plus individual interpretation of Scripture.

The principle of Sola Scriptura is that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for Christian faith, and that it contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Interpretation by Church or Individual has never been part of that doctrine. Once individual interpretation is introduced to the definition, “Scripture alone” disappears.

If Peters’ definition of the principle of Sola Scriptura is correct, then he is right to conclude, as he does on page 53, that “Each Protestant thus becomes his own final authority—or, if you will, his own ‘pope’.” If the individual is the final authority you have spiritual anarchy but, by the same token, if the Church or Pope alone claims the right to interpret the Bible correctly, the result (as amply demonstrated by history) is spiritual fascism.

When the inspired apostle Paul preached in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-3), “as was his custom”, he “reasoned from the Scriptures” to prove Jesus was the Messiah. He did not declare on the basis of his own infallible, apostolic authority that Jesus was the Messiah.

When he confronted the Roman governor Felix (Acts 24:25ff), he “reasoned about “righteousness, self-control and judgement to come”. In other words, Paul appealed to the minds of the Thessalonian Jews and the Roman governor Felix.

Nevertheless, he appealed to their reason on the basis of Scripture alone. All of us have the right and duty to check against Scripture, which is why the Berean Jews are commended in Acts 17.

The evidence for “Scripture alone” is to be found in places other than the traditional proof texts with which Joel Peters grapples. For example, throughout the book of Acts the apostles appeal to the reason of their hearers by quoting Scripture. Their message is to be believed because it is according to Scripture. In 1 Corinthians 15:1ff, Paul affirms the basis of his gospel preaching: “For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: and that he was buried: and that he rose again according to the scriptures…” (Douay-Rheims Version)

In Acts 17, the Berean Jews were commended for searching those Scriptures daily to see if what the inspired apostle Paul taught was true. They did not simply accept his authority nor does it look as though he demanded that they believe him on the basis that he was Messiah’s chosen vessel.

Act 17:10f “But the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea. Who, when they were come thither, went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, who received the word with all eagerness, daily searching the scriptures, whether these things were so.” (Douay-Rheims Version)

I think it would be helpful if 2 Timothy 3:16 was translated simply as “All God-breathed writing is profitable for teaching…” We have treated the word “scripture” as though it refers only to the Bible, when in fact the Greek word graphe just means “writing”. What separates the Bible from other writings is that the writings in it are God-breathed writings.

I was particularly interested to see the way Joel Peters interprets 1 Timothy 3:15 on page 15: “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

When Peters tackles 2 Timothy 3:16f, he refers to the Greek original throughout but when dealing with 1 Timothy 3:15, he studiously avoids the original language. He is quoting from the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Version but if he had examined the verse in the light of the original Greek it would have blown his argument out of the water.

According to Paul, in this verse, “the church of the living God” is “the bulwark and pillar of the truth”, not “the pillar and ground of the truth”, as translated in the Douay-Rheims Version. If the church was the ground of the truth, it would be the foundation of the truth, not the support of it.

In this crucial verse, Paul teaches that the Church is the hedraioma (bulwark/support) and the stulos (pillar) of the truth. He does not say the church is the themelios (foundation/ground) and the stulos of the truth. The Church is built on the truth and serves as the support of the Truth. If any organisation claims to be the foundation of the truth – the ground on which truth is built – by its own admission it has ceased to be the support of the truth. It has usurped the place of truth and therefore cannot be the Church.

I could go on but I have a lot of other work to get through.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Best wishes,

1 comment:

  1. Just found this on the web. However Mike you fail to avoid the issue of authority.

    I became a Catholic not because of Evangelical division, but because of the isssue behind it, that is authority. Disunity is just a manifestation of that wrong perception and understanding of authority. that Evangelicalsism has in the doctrine of sola scriptura.

    Evangelicalsism is like Rabbinic Judaism.. in that it cannot come to a definitive understanding....the issue of the state of Israel etc.

    Much of your missionary finanacial support comes from the Outer hebridees....staunch belivers in child baptism...and you can't see it in Scripture as a Baptist..

    Enough said.....and by the way it is not " old " Robert.. I am a good deal younger than you!