Sunday, February 12, 2023

Circular reasoning. . .

There are those who complain that sola Scriptura is circular reasoning.  It presumes an authority in Scripture which is established and normed by that very Scripture.  To a certain extent, there is truth to this.  Scripture is its own authority and we do not grant to the Word of God authority.  If we did, Scripture's authority would be derived either from the Church or another circular source like Tradition or from the individual who reads and decides what it says.  Except, however, for the catholic principle.  Scripture is not a book of many truths but of one truth that is Christ.  Christ is the Word that spoke Scripture and He is both the object and end of its speaking.  Not to mention that Scripture itself insists that it does not speak one thing at one time and another at another time.  Just as Christ is yesterday, today, and forever the same, so His Word remains a changeless revelation amid a changing world.

That, however, is not quite my point.  When reading a Roman Catholic blogger, I was told We know the Church is infallible by faith.  Now there is a statement.  We know it and accept it by faith -- in other words it is just as circular as sola Scriptura is claimed to be.  In fact, it is even more convoluted.  The books of Scripture are pretty solid and have been since the earliest of days.  The canon of the Old Testament was received from the Jews and the New Testament consolidated before there was a council or pope to decide its content.  As far as the Apocrypha is concerned, the Lutherans rightly esteem highly these books without granting them equal status with the Old and New Testaments.  It seems we get it pretty solid with such figures as Jerome and others who, in the earlier centuries of Christianity, were already dealing with the status of the Apocrypha.  The Church, on the other hand, is not so clearly defined.  What is meant by the Church is the first question even before you get to infallibility.

Is the Church the sum of the councils and, if so, which?  Is the Church the papacy and, if so, how can Orthodoxy be anything but apostate?  Is the Church the teaching magisterium and, if so, which teachers and who?  It would seem that this statement would have to be taken by faith since there is no uniform or united understanding of the teachings and the teachers anymore than there is a clear definition of who is meant here by the Church.  The problem with Rome is that this issue has gotten increasingly complex after Vatican I and its apparent declaration of an imperial papacy, at least in regard to doctrine and practice.  The collegiate nature of the episcopacy has been eroded both by the differences among the bishops and the strong arm of the papacy, in particular and most recently, the central control of Francis over every aspect of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Lutherans have always posited Scripture as the norming norm of everything in the Church -- from the doctrine confessed to the practices that flow from that doctrine.  Lutherans have never placed Scripture into a bubble, a naked Scripture detached from the body of believers and faithful teachers.  If we do not have a third leg for Tradition, we at least have tradition viewed as an authority though not equal to Scripture.  Of course, we have our problems.  Look at the mess among Lutherans today.  But that is more because Lutherans have increasingly distanced themselves both from their Confessions and their identity and not because Lutherans have pushed their formal principle to the limit only to see it fragment and fall apart.  We are inconsistent even if our Confessions are not.

If you ask me, it comes down to a real question.  Is the Church the infallible authority or the Scriptures?  When I look at things historically and when I view the state of affairs among the churches today, it seems pretty clear to me that the most faithful option is to have the Scriptures be infallible and not the Church or a church or an office or a history of councils (some not universally recognized and some clearly at odds with the orthodox faith).  Maybe they are both somewhat circular but if you are going to circle around something, the Scriptures are the thing to circle and not the papacy or a jurisdiction or a manufactured history.

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