Saturday, December 14, 2013

The sources of sola Scriptura. . .

From time to time Luther and the Lutherans who take their Lutheranism seriously are ridiculed for sola Scriptura.  Though part of this comes from a true misunderstanding of the sola and an abuse of that sola by making it a naked or nuda Scriptura, some Lutherans actually talk as if sola means nuda.  I have long debated in this blog that no Lutheran means a naked Scripture and Luther never operates as if Scripture were a vacuum.  Scripture is that which norms our belief and it is the font and source of all doctrine.  While some have made out as if this were something new from Luther, the truth is that this is the ancient faith.  Nothing can attest to the antiquity of this Reformation sola than some words from St. Cryil of Jerusalem (313-386).


“No doctrine concerning the divine and saving mysteries of the faith, however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the holy Scriptures. We must not let ourselves be drawn aside by mere persuasion and cleverness of speech. Do not even give absolute belief to me, the one who tells you these things, unless you receive proof from the divine Scriptures of what I teach. For the faith that brings us salvation acquires its force, not from fallible reasonings, but from what can be proved out of the holy Scriptures.”  Catechetical Lectures 4:17.

The Reformation sola insisted that the all doctrine, the church and its traditions are to be subject to Scripture, and not the other way around.  Far from being a radical invention, in the earliest days of the written canon, this was already what was believed and confessed -- Scripture is the norma normans.  Scripture sits in judgement over that which can or must be believed.  This is the ancient position of catholicity and not some modern idea at all.

What is the great and grave temptation, however, is to violate the Reformation and Lutheran understanding of tradition and to go beyond the distinction of Scripture's position over tradition to make Scripture an enemy of tradition. It is less Scripture plus tradition than it is Scripture, surrounded always by a believing community who passed down to their children orthodox ears to hear the Word of the Lord.

 

32 comments:

Unknown said...

Sigh. Another lame attempt to justify that the Holy Fathers were somehow Lutheran. Look, Father, the Holy Fathers would never have been Lutheran; there's no way. The problem is a problem because Orthodox and Catholics (to an extent) have a far different concept as to what constitutes the Scriptures versus the Lutherans.

Here's the main issue: Scripture does not equal Bible. IF you read any of the Holy Fathers, none of them, not one insists that Scriptures are exactly, 1:1 the same as what we know of as the Bible. For in Cyril's, the Bible hadn't even taken shape yet. For the Holy Fathers, the Scriptures referred to the whole of Holy Tradition, both written in what would later be the canonical books, but also what was in the Liturgy, the prayers, the canons, the creeds and even the icons (Gospels for the illiterate). We Orthodox would gladly accept sola scriptura if it weren't so limited.

An ancillary issue then becomes why didn't Christ give authority to the Scriptures. He gave authority to his Apostles to bind and loose and to the Church which is responsible for safeguarding the truth as it was revealed to them. That doesn't and didn't give the apostles leeway to start inventing doctrine (and they didn't).

Another ancillary issue is the mistaken belief that the literacy standards of the 16th century were the same as the 1st century which they clearly weren't. Books were NOT in heavy supply and accessible. And because a text was written only means that it could not be changed hence to be etched in stone. It is the witness of the church which protects against heresy NOT the Bible. Heretics quoted Scripture all the time. They were rebuffed by the Fathers and the Church not because of some innovative doctrine of Scripture interpreting Scripture.

Look, believe what you want. If you want to base your doctrine off on the written word exclusively, fine, but don't go around and twist history of the Christian Church so that everyone believes the same with you. It won't happen.

Gary said...

I would bet that Lutherans would be willing to accept your position if we all would limit our beliefs to the teachings of the Church Fathers in the first four centuries.

If Rome and Constantinople had done this, we would not have needed a Reformation.

I'm talking about:

1. Using the Blessed Virgin Mary as an intercessor to God, instead of honoring her as the most Blessed Mother of God as did the Early Fathers.

2. Purgatory. No SPECIFIC mention of this limbo state is mentioned by the early Church Fathers. It was invented as a "big stick" to threaten the laity and keep them in line.

3. Justification assisted by good works, instead of Justification by Christ alone followed by good works out of love for our Father, and the necessity of perseverance in the faith, lest our salvation be lost due to willful, ongoing sin. Salvation can be lost by willful sin or neglect, but it cannot be earned.

If Rome and Constantinople will agree to return to these teachings of the Early Church, Lutherans will accept your traditions as the teachings of the Apostles.

thecurulechair said...

No one is trying to "prove" that the Fathers were Lutheran - mainly because the Fathers don't fit ANY of our current confessional stances: Lutheran, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed, etc. They were individual theologians with individual opinions on a wide variety of issues. We as Lutherans value their perspective when it accords with the faith as passed on in the Scriptures; we (respectfully) dissent from them when they diverge from this opinion. All Pastor Peters is doing is demonstrating that sola scriptura is not a pure innovation, but that some/many of the Fathers held to it.

Can we get some source quotes on the idea that the Fathers considered "Scripture" to be "the whole of Holy Tradition"?

Christ did not stand before His disciples and say, "These are the 66 books which you must believe are the only rule for faith and life." Christ did, however, say, "My Word is truth," and "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." We have clear and certain promises that Jesus' words are God's own truth. Likewise, Jesus gave commands and promises concerning the Apostles: "He who hears you hears me," "Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to keep all that I commanded you." He did not, however, give any promises regarding tradition, the liturgy, the canons, etc. Those things are valuable *insofar as* they conform to the words of Christ and His Apostles - and since we do not have the Apostles with us in our midst today, we have only their writings as records of their inspired words. Because Jesus gave commands and promises regarding His words and the words of His Apostles and Prophets, we cling to those words as inspired truth; because He did not give commands or promises regarding other sources of revelation, we regard tradition as a valuable *witness* to the truths of Scripture.

The Fathers very frequently use the Scriptures to argue for the truth. Athanasius does so in "On the Incarnation." Justin Martyr does so in his dialogue with Trypho. Irenaeus, in the third book of Against Heresies, equates tradition with the Scriptures, and sugggests that the content of both is one and the same.

To summarize: no one is arguing that the Fathers were proto-Lutherans. We value and receive their words when they accord with Scripture, and we disagree with them when they don't. Jesus promised us that the Word would stand against all error, but gave no such promises regarding tradition, liturgy, icons, etc. The Fathers frequently make use of Scripture as a defense against heresy, and don't just rely on tradition or the nude authority of the Church.

William Tighe said...
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William Tighe said...

Well, what about such Lutheran "distinctives" as:

1. "lay celebration" of the Eucharist? (I know that, despite Luther's personal opinion on this subject, Reformation-era Lutheran churches did not adopt this custom, but it seems that virtually all Lutheran bodies, from the most liberal to the most conservative/confessionalist, do, or at least have, authorized this practice.)

1. the "one office" view of the ordained ministry or "pastoral office?" (The only "Church Father" that seems* to endorse such an opinion is St. Jerome; it was also propounded by the obscure Constantinopoltan Arian named Aerius who wrote ca. 360.)

* "seemed," but cf.:

http://thewellofquestions.wordpress.com/2009/01/18/jerome-on-the-tri-fold-ministry/

On Aerius, see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerius_of_Sebaste

Janis Williams said...

May I comment that St. Paul spoke of Scripture as "the writings" to Timothy? Also, the Jews certainly had lots of Tradition in addition to the Scripture, but wasn't that part of what Jesus condemned?

I think the real problem here is not infighting amongst those who would look to the Church Fathers. Instead, the real tragedy is the Evangelical pastor who lives in a "tradition" he denies. It is when these men (and - sigh - women) have a blessed thought and twist the Holy Scriptures to allow them to ride their hobbyhorse.

Gary said...

I asked a Baptist on another blog conversation how he knew that his interpretation of Scripture is correct. This was his response:

—-“How do you know that your doctrine is an accurate reflection of the Apostles teachings.”

One looks in the Bible.—-

In these days of the internet and the Information Age, how can anyone continue to believe their nonsense, knowing that there is ZERO evidence of the existence of Baptist-like believers in the Early Church.

Chris Jones said...

This is an argument which quickly becomes tiresome, for a couple of reasons: first, a widespread misunderstanding of the Lutheran understanding of the authority of Scripture (for which Sola Scriptura is an unfortunate and somewhat misleading moniker); and second, a tendency of Catholics and Orthodox to minimize the authority of Scripture that is witnessed to by the Fathers.

The Lutheran insistence on the supreme authority of Scripture does not mean that the other witnesses to the Church's Tradition are of no authority whatsoever, nor does it mean that it is necessary, desirable, or even possible to read and understand the Holy Scriptures apart from those other witnesses to the Tradition, or outside the context of the ongoing liturgical life of the Church. The Lutheran understanding of the authority of Scripture is that, within the context of the ongoing life of the Church, and among all of the various witnesses to the Church's Tradition, the Holy Scriptures are of supreme authority.

I believe that this was what Fr Peters was at pains to say.

As to the second point, I yield to no man in my insistence that the Holy Tradition of the Apostolic Church is the reliable means by which we receive saving truth. But that very Tradition itself witnesses to the centrality of Holy Scriptures among the various witnesses to the Tradition. The testimony of the Fathers to the supreme authority of Scripture (so often cited by Lutherans) is authentic and cannot be gainsaid. The Fathers' testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture. Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme -- but within which Scripture must be read.

When I was Orthodox, Dr Golitzin (now Bishop Alexander of Toledo) taught us that the Holy Scriptures are "the pre-eminent and normative witness to the Apostolic Tradition." I have no qualms about affirming that statement as a Lutheran. And I fear that some of my Catholic and Orthodox friends tend to minimize the word "normative" in that quotation.

Chris Jones said...

Gary,

... if we all would limit our beliefs to the teachings of the Church Fathers in the first four centuries.

I think it rather arbitrary to set a limit of four centuries on the testimony of the Fathers. On what basis do you find the Fathers before AD 400 reliable, and the Fathers after AD 400 unreliable?

To paraphrase Metr Kallistos Ware, to say that there could be no more reliable Fathers after AD 400, is to say that the Holy Spirit abandoned the Church at that date.

Chris Jones said...

Bill,

Lay celebration is not a "Lutheran distinctive" (and I think you know that). It is an abandonment by modern Lutheran denominations of the clear teaching of the Augsburg Confession. As you know, that is why the late Dr Marquart of CTS-Fort Wayne described the authorization of lay celebration by the LCMS as the "Wichita Amendment" to the Augsburg Confession.

I think you also know that the view that the episcopate and presbyterate were essentially one office, distinguished only by the canonical (not essential) authority to ordain, was a commonly held view in the late mediaeval period. In this scheme the three "major orders" were held to be subdiaconate, diaconate, and presbyterate/episcopate (not diaconate, presbyterate, and episcopate as we now account them).

I believe that this view is historically and theologically mistaken, but it was inherited by the Lutheran reformers from their mediaeval forebears and so was honestly held. To cast aspersions on it as a "Lutheran distinctive" as if the Reformers had made it up out of whole cloth is historically untenable.

Gary said...

When do you believe that the Fathers began to teach Works Righteousness, Purgatory, Mary as as an intercessor? I used the end of the fourth century arbitrarily. If you have a more specific date when these heresies became established in the Church, let me know.

Chris Jones said...

Gary,

If you have a more specific date when these heresies became established in the Church, let me know.

I'm not going to do your historical homework for you. If you are going to make a historical claim, it is up to you to show that it's historically supported. If you are going to admit (as you have) that your historical claim was arbitrary, then your historical conclusion remains untenable.

"Works righteousness" is a vague and tendentious term. The more specific teaching that it is necessary to cooperate with grace after baptism is taught by the Fathers both before and after AD 400, because it is Biblical (and of course it is taught in the Lutheran Confessions as well).

"Mary as an intercessor" is not a heresy, because it is not a doctrine. It is a practice -- not a doctrine -- of personal and liturgical piety which is based on, and is an expression of, the orthodox doctrine of the communion of saints, which is part of the Lutheran Confessions because it is part of the Apostles' Creed. The veneration of saints was over-emphasized in the mediaeval period and the Reformers were perhaps justified in de-emphasizing it. But as a result of their outright suppression of the practice, the doctrine of the communion of saints has no expression in Lutheran piety and is all but a dead letter in our living faith. One may well ask whether correcting the abuses of the veneration of saints with such a blunt instrument was altogether a good idea.

As for purgatory, it was an understandable speculation growing out of the salutary practice of prayer for the faithful departed (itself another expression in piety of the doctrine of the communion of saints); but the developed Western form of purgatory went beyond what was actually contained in the Apostolic deposit of faith, and thus the Orthodox were right to reject it (as our Lutheran fathers were right as well).

Pastor Peters said...

Gone for a few days and a dozen comments!

Scripture is Scripture -- not Scripture and... but on the other hand Scripture has never been alone, naked, or an orphan, but always surrounded by a community of faith that was called and created and gathered by its efficacious Word and within that community the Word and Sacraments lived out in worship, confession, witness, and service (tradition). Lutherans have no interest in placing Scripture in solitary confinement but neither do we place Scripture as one of several equal witnesses.

The early fathers were "Lutheran" in the sense that Lutherans confess the evangelical and catholic faith which knows no era or epoch but it where the Gospel is purely proclaimed and the sacraments rightly administered.

Error does not negate this evangelical and catholic identity as long as the confession remains true but when the confession is tainted, the error is institutionalized. Lutherans have practice issues but our Confessions are faithful and true, Tradition in the best sense. So I would not list errors like lay celebration unless we are willing to list all errors of all those folks listed in these posts. As I say, errors of practice have different consequence than errors of confession -- not less serious but significantly different and easier to reform as long as the confession remains true.

Gary said...

Chris,

It is my understanding that the Lutheran Church holds to the first six Church Councils, which would mean the first SIX centuries, not four.

Nathan Rinne said...

Chris Jones,

I really appreciated this comment:

"The Lutheran insistence on the supreme authority of Scripture does not mean that the other witnesses to the Church's Tradition are of no authority whatsoever, nor does it mean that it is necessary, desirable, or even possible to read and understand the Holy Scriptures apart from those other witnesses to the Tradition, or outside the context of the ongoing liturgical life of the Church. The Lutheran understanding of the authority of Scripture is that, within the context of the ongoing life of the Church, and among all of the various witnesses to the Church's Tradition, the Holy Scriptures are of supreme authority.

....

As to the second point, I yield to no man in my insistence that the Holy Tradition of the Apostolic Church is the reliable means by which we receive saving truth. But that very Tradition itself witnesses to the centrality of Holy Scriptures among the various witnesses to the Tradition. The testimony of the Fathers to the supreme authority of Scripture (so often cited by Lutherans) is authentic and cannot be gainsaid. The Fathers' testimony to the authority of Tradition cannot be pitted against their testimony to the authority of Scripture. Instead their testimony to the authority of Tradition must be understood as defining the context within which Scripture is supreme -- but within which Scripture must be read.

When I was Orthodox, Dr Golitzin (now Bishop Alexander of Toledo) taught us that the Holy Scriptures are "the pre-eminent and normative witness to the Apostolic Tradition." I have no qualms about affirming that statement as a Lutheran. And I fear that some of my Catholic and Orthodox friends tend to minimize the word "normative" in that quotation."

I am wondering if you would be OK with me making a blog post out of it at some point. I know there are some Orthodox persons who read my blog and I think your words are very well-chosen and clear.

If you could, let me know if you are comfortable with that.

+Nathan

Pastor Peters said...

Cross post as you will... make sure to note these comments are my own feeble meandering thoughts... and pray charity on the part of the reader...

William Tighe said...

"It is my understanding that the Lutheran Church holds to the first six Church Councils, which would mean the first SIX centuries, not four."

If this be the case, Gary, then certainly #1 and #3 which you list in your first comment above would not be errors, but part of "the deposit of faith." And, besides, it's not any more clear to me that Lutherans reject the Seventh Council (Nicaea II, 787 AD) than that they accept it.

Chris Jones said...

There is nothing in the authoritative Lutheran Confessions (to the best of my knowledge) indicating how many -- if any -- of the ecumenical councils the Lutheran Church accepts. There is a general statement in the Augsburg Confession that our doctrine does not differ from that of the Church Catholic, but no specific acceptance or rejection of any particular councils or other landmarks of the Tradition (not even any statement of the canon of Scripture, interestingly and significantly).

That silence applies to Nicaea II just as much as to any other council; but it is clear from Lutheran practice that we are not iconoclasts.

Chris Jones said...

Gary,

My learned friend Dr Tighe writes this:

If this be the case[viz. that the Lutheran Church accepts six councils], Gary, then certainly #1 and #3 which you list in your first comment above would not be errors, but part of "the deposit of faith."

He is right, of course, but I would differ from him if he means that it is only at the fifth and sixth councils that your #1 (at least) is witnessed to by the councils. The Nestorian controversy dealt with by the third council (Ephesus) was occasioned by Nestorius's objection to the use of the title "Theotokos" in popular and liturgical piety; which means that "Theotokos" was being used not as a descriptive term in theological writing, but as a title of address in devotion to the Virgin.

And note well that it was not the practice of devotion to the Virgin that Nestorius attacked and Cyril defended; it was the propriety of the particular title "Theotokos" that was at issue. Nestorius preferred "Christotokos" to "Theotokos" because his Christology was heterodox, but he made no objection to the popular devotion in which either title was used to address the Virgin.

Magisterial Protestants who accept the Christology of the Council of Ephesus, and would never want to be called Nestorian, are in the curious position of drawing their orthodox Christology out of a controversy over which term to use in the "heretical" practice of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin.

Gary said...

On the subject of Mary veneration Pastor Peters,

Is the belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary an acceptable belief among Lutherans, in particular, within the LCMS?

I had always thought that the IC was condemned by Lutherans. I have recently learned, however, that Martin Luther believed in the IC and that the Lutheran Confessions are silent on the issue.

What is the official position of the LCMS or is there even one?

Pastor Peters said...

There are many of these beliefs (semper virgo, immaculate conception of Mary, assumption, etc) about which no fixed position can be taken (though, it is true that some try to nail everything down) and of these open questions there may be disagreement without the unity of the faith being tested or broken. Yes, Luther, like nearly every Christian theologian up till the 17th & 18th centuries believed in the ever virginity of Mary, her sinlessness, and perhaps her assumption... so Luther and those who hold with him are in good company even if dogmatic insistence cannot be made one way or the other...

Gary said...

Does the LCMS have a stated position on this issue?

By what you just said, it sounds as if a Luther pastor would not be out of bounds to teach the Immaculate Conception as an acceptable, but not mandatory, Lutheran teaching.

Gary said...

Does anyone have an answer to this question? Is it ok to teach the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary as an acceptable, but not mandatory, belief for an LCMS Lutheran?

Chris Jones said...

In principle, the Immaculate Conception would be permissible as a personal theological opinion. As a practical matter, I think that any LCMS pastor who included the Immaculate Conception in his public teaching -- even as an "optional" thing -- would be on very thin ice.

The LCMS does not police the personal beliefs of lay Lutherans, but LCMS pastors are supposed to teach publicly from the Scriptures and the Confessions. I do not believe that the Immaculate Conception would be regarded as acceptable by that standard. These days, even the perpetual virginity is considered suspect by many, even though it is explicitly in the Confessions and not only Luther affirmed it, but also Walther and Pieper in our own Synod.

Gary said...

Thank you, Chris.

I thought as such.

Does anyone know of a written statement on this issue from the LCMS?

I will bet that this is how "Mary worship" started: "Pious opinion" based on well-meaning assumptions slowly turning into defacto worship as co-redeemer.

I believe in honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, as probably the most incredible human being who ever lived. But once honoring turns into veneration, I have a problem.

I do not believe that it is proper to state or insinuate that it is acceptable within confessional Lutheranism to believe that:

1. The Blessed Virgin was born sinless (Immaculate Conception).

2. I do not believe that any veneration (respectful devotion)should be given to her. "Devotion" to Mary, takes away from devotion to Christ. Honor Mary, give devotion only to your Redeemer.

3. I do not believe that the "Hail Mary Prayer" should be prayed in a Lutheran church or printed in a Lutheran bulletin or newsletter, even without the ending "pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death", as Luther seemed to endorse and encourage.

I am a very pro-liturgy, high-Church Lutheran but I am not a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. I believe that all liturgical, confessional/orthodox Lutherans should guard against creeping Romanism in our churches.

Any way think that I am over-reacting?

Chris Jones said...

Gary,

Any way think that I am over-reacting?

Maybe a little.

There is a difference between "worship" and "veneration." "Veneration" is more or less synonymous with "honor," and both are quite different from "worship." If you object to veneration of anyone but God, you should never call a minister of the Gospel "Reverend," since "Reverend" is a Latin word meaning "worthy of veneration."

de facto worship as co-redeemer

To be fair to the Roman Catholics, while there are some who are lobbying for a declaration that Mary is "co-redeemer," the Roman Catholic Church has never taught that, and I do not believe that a dogma of "co-redeemer" will ever be defined by Rome. (That's the trouble with Rome, though; you never know what new doctrine they might define.)

Mary ... probably the most incredible human being who ever lived

Strictly speaking, that would be Jesus Christ, the One who defines for us what it means to be truly human. But I get what you mean.

creeping Romanism in our churches

In my experience, "Romanism" is not a problem in our churches. Neglect or rejection of what is truly Lutheran out of a misplaced fear of "Romanism" is far more common.

I am not a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox

But Catholicism and Orthodoxy are not at all the same thing. In particular, it is important to realize that the Orthodox Church, for all its devotion to the Blessed Virgin, rejects the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.




Gary said...

I get your point, Chris.

The definition of veneration can simply be "to hold in deep respect", but it can also mean, "to respect so highly as to give devotion".

It is the second definition that I have a problem with, not the first. My wife is Roman Catholic and is from Latin America. Whenever we visit her country and her hometown RCC church, it is the Virgin Mary who is the focus of devotion. A massive statue of Mary sits at the front of the church above the altar, not a crucifix. I had to look hard to find a crucifix. It was way above Mary, off to the side of her structural inset in the front wall of the church, and very small in comparison.

Gary said...
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Gary said...

Chris,

Don't the Orthodox believe that Mary became sinless with CHRIST'S conception and remained sinless until her death?

Chris Jones said...

Gary,

If you are concerned about the orthodoxy of your pastor, the proper thing to do is to bring your concerns to the pastor himself. If he is not able to allay your concerns, you can bring it to the attention of the elders and/or the district president.

This is not something which would concern me, but if it bothers you, you have every right to pursue it.

Gary said...
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Gary said...
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