Friday, December 8, 2023

Scripture and tradition. . .

Although the assaults of Roman apologists upon sola Scriptura are sometimes quaint and laughable about how little they know of what it means, the Protestants who beat their chest in defense of the same are equally as obnoxious.  I frankly do not know what Protestants mean when they say sola Scriptura but I know that Lutherans do NOT mean a naked book, stripped from its context, and set apart from the living community of faith that is gathered by that Word.  Lutherans are not shy about confessing the apostolic tradition that Scripture creates and that is passed on with the Word so that each generation does not begin at square one to decide what the Word really says.  If you read our Confessions you see the ample and abundant quotes from the fathers to show that what we confess is neither new or novel but what has always and everywhere been believed.

For this reason, I find myself more and more adding the words and the apostolic tradition to references of Scripture.  This is not because I have changed my thinking or that Lutherans have.  It is because I fear it is not quite precise enough in our age of confusion to fail to include it.  The issue for sola Scriptura was not whether there was a living tradition that was created by surrounded the Word but authority.  Rome has abundant authorities.  From council to papacy to tradition to Scripture, Rome appeals to a series authorities which conflict and contradict each other.  Luther was absolutely correct here.  But the Lutherans did not dismiss these things in their entirety.  Scripture is our highest authority.  The Word of the Lord endures forever, long after everything else has passed away.  I do not understand how you can mistake this.  The Bible is clear.  There are abundant warnings about adding to the Word and taking away from it.  

Yet the Bible does not belong to the individual -- it is the Church's book.  You do not get to sit alone with your Bible and decide on what it means in what it says.  If that is true, then we have traded a single papacy for a popes as many as their are believers and Scripture ends up saying nothing at all.  We live within the legacy of the faithful who have gone before us.  Really, it is not that hard.  Sure, there are those in every generation who have some unique, weird, strange, and stupid ideas about what Scripture means when it says something.  But even more true is the fact that there is great consistency of belief through the ages so that we are not left to guess or decide for ourselves what the Word of God means in what it says.  This apostolic tradition that lives through its passing down through the generations is certainly not an independent authority nor does it compete with Scripture.  But it does complement the Scripture and it norms our questions just as it does our confession.  The Lutheran Confessions do just that.  They do not impose upon Scripture an alien voice but echo from Scripture what is good, right, true, and faithful.  Creeds and confessions are always normed by the Scriptures but in their faithfulness they also norm what we believe, teach, and confess.

A while ago I lamented that there is precedent for every screwball teaching, error, and heresy.  Of course there is.  There is nothing new under the sun (I read that somewhere).  But we do not live by the precedent of the fringe.  We live by the faithfulness of those in the way, who in their own time proved faithful in words and works and whose witness is added to the living witness of those who believed, believe, and will believe.  So it matters not if some teacher of the past wandered off into the rough places of error or apostasy.  It does not matter even if they were not the first to go there.  The way is narrow.  That must also refer to the width of orthodoxy as much as it refers to Christ alone.  Why can't we just say that?  Why does Rome try to laugh off sola Scriptura when its house is filled with contradiction by the authorities it claims to be guardians of the truth?  Why do Lutherans act as if the apostolic tradition is suspect and if everyone would read Scripture alone they would end up believing as we do?  We don't have to play that game.  Rome is still in a quest for true authority to govern and preserve the faith and the current pope is not fairing well in that game.  Lutherans are not like the Protestants who wave their big floppy Bibles and thus proclaim themselves the true visible sect on earth.  But the games go on.  This Lutheran is tired of the game.  Our first Confession said it best.  We confess the catholic doctrine and abide by the catholic practice and if we are wrong we will change.  That is the Augustana principle through which all our confessional documents must be read.  In it we practice a healthy view of apostolic tradition that gives a context to sola Scriptura which should distance us from Christians who think they have a pipeline to the Holy Spirit and an infallible understanding of what Scripture says (even if they are alone in confessing it).

1 comment:

Wurmbrand said...

The Church is the pillar and bulwark of the true faith. She teaches and demonstrates the apostolicity of her doctrine by binding on the consciences of the Faithful only those things that are demonstrably Biblical. The Church is pastoral. Her concern is always that the sheep may be fed. She loves them and so she passes on, generation by generation, the truth, of which she is custodian, and she does this through the Word of the Living God.

Dale Nelson