Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sola Scriptura is Dead

Dear friends,

I have been nagged by a feeling of slight disingenuity (which some of you have no doubt perceived) regarding the depth of my "Protestantism". I am a PCA member, and have made my doubts known to my Pastor, so that I can be properly under my elders' rule and discipline. However, the time has come where I must recognize, and admit to anyone reading my thoughts on this blog, that sola Scriptura has, to me, finally died.

My church teaches that, "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God. (WCOF, Chapter 1, Section IV)"

Further, "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly. (WCOF, Chapter 1, Section IX)"

Finally worth noting presently, "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture. (WCOF, Chapter 1, Section X)"

I can no longer make these confessions. Taking these three sections in order:

1) Identifying which books are Holy Scripture is a prerequisite to obeying their inherent authority. I believe that we certainly rely on the testimony of the ancient church, and the testimony continuing through to the present, to know which books are Holy Scripture. While the spoken Word of God is authoritative because of its source, and without the approval of men, this Word is not self-authenticating. To say that the Holy Scriptures are self-authenticating is novel to the Reformation (later than Luther, even), and is an extra-biblical rule.

2) I believe that the rule of 'scripture interprets scripture; clear text interprets vague' has failed. It was a theory novel to the Reformation, to counter claims that a Church is needed to interpret Scripture. Who decides which passages are clear, and which are vague? Do the vague passages carry less truth than do the purportedly clear? Why would the God-breathed Word given to be our sole rule be so vague in the first place? The Holy Scriptures are no Constitution, and they are no Catechism. They are a collection of sacred and ancient writings. To interpret vague text by clear is an extra-biblical rule.

3) I do not believe that the Holy Spirit solely speaking in Scriptures is the sole judge of all councils, doctrines, and judgments of men. That the Holy Spirit can guide and judge in no other way is in clear tension with the practice of the early Church as noted in Holy Scriptures. Judas was replaced by the casting of lots, done in faith that the Holy Spirit would judge who was the most fit replacement. Paul was called on the Road to Damascus not by Scripture, but by Christ's immediate appearance. Peter called the Council of Jerusalem to set doctrine and settle dispute. That the Holy Spirit could teach in no way other than through the finite and particular word of Holy Scripture is to limit His ability to respond to prayer and work through the Sacraments of the Church. I believe that the Word is our ultimate authority, but the Word is bigger than the text of the words in Holy Scripture. That the Holy Spirit is so contained is a teaching novel to the time of the Reformation, and is an extra-Biblical rule.

I do confess that I don't know where to go from here. I'm in a ghastly no-man's land, truly a citizen neither of the World, nor of the Church. I do not mean in any way to disparage the Holy Scriptures, but only to point out that man's extra-biblical rules of interpretaion are no longer persuasive. If the Reformation was right, surely we can do better!


Joseph said...

My dear Thos,

You are in a very peculiar position at this moment. I do not envy your struggle in the least. I was not intending to go to Mass today, but now I feel compelled to. I will pray fervently for you at the Altar of God: that He will come to your immediate aid; that the Blessed Virgin and all of the Angels, Saints, and Martyrs will intercede for you this day and during this crucial moment in your life. I mean that with all sincerity and without any presumption whatsoever. Though I have been through a similar experience, there is no way that I can equate mine to yours.

This battle that we are engaged in is not a battle against theologies, politics, and personal opinions. Our enemies, that are unseen, are attacking us constantly. They have no remorse, they have no mercy, they will tear at our flesh and eat us alive. We have until our last breath to fight valiantly for God, by His grace. This is our reality. The devil is not resting, he is not asleep, he is assaulting us day by day, minute by minute. Understand this as you move forward from here. Cry to God for protection and lean on Him. Don't think for a second that you are stronger or smarter than an enemy that knows well the weaknesses of even the strongest men. This is a desperate time now. Thrust yourself into the arms of Our Loving Saviour. My dear Thos, I will continue to pray for you.

Whatever path you decide to take from here, I hope to God that it is the best one and that you seek peace in your soul.

Thos said...


Thank you for your prayers. I hope to not just receive kind words (though they're welcome), but perhaps catch some people who feel similarly situated. A primary source of frustration is that the very pastors I would normally turn to with a life struggle (say, if I had doubts about God, marital problems, vocational concerns, etc) are essentially unavailable in this context. Such is my Walk, I guess.

Joseph said...


My soul aches for you, brother.

Jim said...

I don't know, I guess I'd just suggest relaxing a little bit.

Yep, the Scriptures did not come to us like the Book of Mormon ostensibly came to Joeseph Smith -- being brought by an angel directly from heaven.

But I don't understand what's wrong with the basic story, as suggested by Irenaeus, for example: The apostles taught about Jesus, and wrote down what they taught (or their fellow travelers wrote it down).

It seems pretty obvious what most of those books are, although there was some dispute about some of them. Big whoop. The church lived with that situation for over 300 years, and prospered like she has at almost no other time.

Because these books are contain what the apostles taught, and that's what we want to believe, therefore doctrines and practices need to be consistent with apostolic teaching.

This does not entail that there are not matters of adiaphora, nor that getting groups of churchmen together to aggregate their Spirit-led wisdom is a bad thing. But sort of like Chevy Chase's old SNL introduction ("Hello, I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not"), when we have the Apostles on one side and saintly wisdom on the other, and there's a disagreement, what can we do other than say, "Hello, they're apostles, and you're not."

So I guess I just don't understand what the big deal's about. Yes, the Scriptures did not come to us like Athena came out of Zeus's head, all grown up and fully developed. That's never been a secret, even if some Christians want it wrapped up tidier than that.

Thos said...


Thanks for your view, it's very appealing. I've toyed around with it for a while (my wife has expressed this view in the past), but can't make it work in the end.

First, I tried to show in my post that I belong to a Confessional church, and I no longer feel that I can confess to their confession. That's a big deal. By anology, I'm also a commissioned U.S. Officer, and it would be problematic if I didn't really agree to support and defend the Constitution.

While the PCA allows membership without agreeing to all of the confession, and allows ordination of people who do not agree to certain "non-essentials" of the confession, for me sola Scriptura is an essential point of faith.

Second, while I am confident that reading my Bible is fruitful, and that it can be a source of stregnth to me right now, the death of sola Scriptura requires a sea change in my understanding of church polity and authority - indeed, of "church" itself.

If I buy into popular sola Scriptura, I can confidently have my wife use the birth control pill, be sterilized, etc. I can get divorced if I feel that I have been emotionally abandoned (see my post on the Pauline Privilege). If I don't buy into it, and thus tuck myself under Orthodox or Catholic authority, the rules on these things change by 180 degrees. It suddenly becomes a big deal.

Finally, if I have been wrong as a Presbyterian about the sacraments, it matters very much. Unspeakably much. The Orthodox and Catholics believe that particular grace is conferred in the SEVEN sacraments (not two), and that unity with the Church through the Sacraments is essential to salvation. Now that matters about as much as anything else I do between my birth and the day on which I die.

I appreciate your objective thoughts, and look forward to hearing more from you.

Peace in Christ,

Bob said...

I do confess that I don't know where to go from here. I'm in a ghastly no-man's land, truly a citizen neither of the World, nor of the Church. I do not mean in any way to disparage the Holy Scriptures, but only to point out that man's extra-biblical rules of interpretaion are no longer persuasive. If the Reformation was right, surely we can do better!

If you are baptized, you are a member of the Church, even though you may be in imperfect communion with the Church. It seems to me that you are wrestling whether to join the Orthodox or Catholic Church. Again it seems to me, those are the two most rational choices you have. Both claim apostolic authority.

I know it seems dark right now, but you have made an important step toward the light.

Today I was grousing with other Catholics about the state of the Church. It is amazing that the Church has survived despite the sinners and gross incompetence. Of course, we all can take hope in Christ's promise that the gates of hell will not prevail. My complaints are small in comparison.

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt 16:13-19)

I also take comfort that this is one of the passages that points to the authority of Peter's chair. But both this and that Christ and His Church will prevail doesn't directly address your current predicament. For that, I offer you my prayers.

Peace be with you,

P.S. I will be away for the rest of the weekend, but I'll keep you in my prayers. By then, I hope to have a better contribution than what I've quickly offered here.

Thos said...


You're very thoughtful, and, believing in the efficacy of prayer as I do, you're too kind to pray for me. Thanks for your point about baptism.

The journey never ceases to be fascinating.

Mike Spreng said...

Have you considered an Anglican communion?

Jim said...


I have nothing vested in you staying in the PCA or not. But it doesn't seem to me that you answered my point (not that you have to answer it, of course). It's simply this: The apostles wrote down what they taught in the Scriptures. That's what Ireneaus says.

Luther, for example, agrees that Christians can believe lots of things -- that Mary was ever Virgin (something Luther believed), that there are more than two sacraments (Lutheranism does not require two sacraments), the papacy, etc. His only point was that they cannot be required as matters of faith. (Luther said at one point he would freely recognize the authority of the Pope, as long as Rome did not insist on that recognition as a matter of faith, i.e., as a matter that dictated whether you were in or out of the church.)

Let's use your oath as a soldier to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

What if you received an order directly from the president that clearly violated the Constitution?

Is your oath to the president, or to the Constitution? If it is in fact to the Constitution, then you've sworn that as a higher law than the command of the president. You must obey the Constitution rather than the president. (It might cost you your life, but I don't see how a man of conscience could ignore his oath to uphold the Constitution simply because he feared for his life.)

So what if Rome infallibly says X but the apostles say Y? God help me, with the apostles, we must obey God rather than men (a statement made to the Sanhedrin, incidentally, despite their being "in the seat of Moses).

To be sure, there are very practical questions here -- are you sure you're obeying God, or is it your own will that you are obeying? The wisdom and practice of the fathers is not something to be lightly rejected. But, ultimately, the apostles are the apostles, and the fathers aren't.

Submission to what the apostles taught may mean that we must disobey a human dictate at odds with the apostolic teaching.

Incidentally, I thought it a bit odd that you rendered the WCF's teaching as that the Holy Spirit teaches "solely" through the Scriptures, when the WCF actually says that the Holy Spirit teaching in the Scriptures in the "supreme" authority.

There's a big difference between something being a "sole" authority and something being a "supreme" authority.

To use your example again: If the Constitution were your "sole" authority, then ordinary laws enacted by Congress, and the orders of your commanders, could not supplement the dictates of the Constitution.

But if the Constitution were your "supreme" authority, then laws and commands consistent with that authority must be obeyed, even if the Constitution itself does not order them.

"Sola scriptura" is a pithy slogan. But it evinces intellectual immaturity to take a marketing slogan, deduce a straw man out of it, and then trick a crisis of conscience out of the result.

My recommendation: Submit to the leadership of your current church, at least for the time being, settle down and take a few breaths, get a few good night's sleep, and wait for your thoughts to form into a considered judgment.


Thos said...

Mike Spreng,

Thanks for the question. I have considered Anglicanism at various points, but the idea never got much traction. I'll tell you where I stopped, and please feel free to educate me on why Anglicanism is a better deal than I have given it credit. I have a hard time giving the Communion much credibility when I consider the history of its origins (I'm a big fan of "A Man For All Seasons", to give you an idea). I believe Henry VIII had all serious dissidents killed (which would have included the Bishops that wouldn't separate from the Catholic Church to form his church). So what Bishops did that leave the Anglicans with? Henry pronounced himself Supreme Head of the church (the title changed in time, but the principle of state governing church is still there). Also, probably easy to guess, I have considered the turmoil today's Communion is in. I've looked into the Reformed Episcopals and some of the African Bishoprics that have gathered in The Fall's Church and the like - but they strike me as remarkably similar to Protestants. I do not understand how a local church is able to choose a new Bishop when they do not approve of their own, but I'll have to read up on that.

Peace in Christ,

Principium unitatis said...


The apostles wrote down what they taught in the Scriptures.

Catholics and Orthodox also believe that what the apostles wrote is what they taught. But your statement is not the same as saying "Everything that the apostles taught they wrote in the Scriptures." St. Ireneaus does not say that, nor even imply it. Nor does the Scripture itself say it.

[Luther's] only point was that they cannot be required as matters of faith.

By what authority did Luther claim this? His own?

I think the Constitution/President example gets right to the heart of the issue. As St. Augustine says, "For my part, I should not believe the Gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church." And Tertullian shows that the fundamental question in these debates concerns who has sacramental magisterial authority, because as St. Vincent of Lerins points out, all the heretics quote Scripture. It is quite possible to make it seem as though Scripture itself opposes the sacramental magisterial authority, when it is only one's own interpretation of Scripture that is opposing the sacramental magisterium. The allegiance of the early Christians to what the Apostles wrote was derived from their allegiance to the authority of the Apostles themselves. In order to follow Christ, they had to listen to living persons (Apostles), the sacramental magisterial authority of the Church. That didn't change when the Apostles appointed bishops and gave them the authority to say, teach, and determine for the next generation of Christians what is the Gospel, and what the Apostles meant in their writings, etc. And through Apostolic succession, that situation has never changed.

Thos, you will be in my prayers at mass today.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Thos said...


If your point is that the Apostles wrote down what they taught in Scriptures, I have no problem with your point. I do not divine from this point that what they wrote is the “Supreme” authority of the Church. They themselves note repeatedly in Scripture the transmission of other (oral) teaching. This is a later novelty. My church does not hold that the measure of N.T. canonicity is Apostolic authorship, but I agree with your point nonetheless.

So Luther believed there should be liberties in what we believe before excommunication is an appropriate act, including the sacraments and governance of the church. My point to this was already made – ex arguendo, if the Catholics are right, and the consequence of knowingly separating from the one visible church may be damnation, then Luther’s advocacy for liberty is small comfort to me.

You said, “So what if Rome infallibly says X but the apostles say Y?” Please name one instance. No doubt you can name many. I used to, but then came to realize that Rome can make a legitimate (and often vigorous) rebuttal to all of them. I agree with you 100% that we must obey God rather than men. Luther was a man, and he placed his judgment above that of the Church, as it was in his day. Right or wrong, it was his interpretation that he went with – his conscience – so he obeyed men.

You asked if I was following God or my own will, and then noted that the Fathers have value, but the Apostles are of ultimate value. Was not Luther following his own will? What’s the difference between will and conscience? Is the claim that what became his conscience was his will shaped by God? How do we know it was not shaped by some other force? I love the Apostles and the Fathers. None of them tell me that the Bible is my sole authority. None of them tell me that the canon is as it is represented in my NIV Bible. Many of them mentioned submission to human authority and the authority of overseers.

I employed the Constitutional oath analogy to note that it does matter if I am in a confessional church and cannot make the right confessions. To follow in your direction though, I have elsewhere noted that the Constitution stands in stark contrast to the Bible as viewed by the doctrine of sola scriptura. The Constitution identifies the structures it creates (executive, judiciary, etc.). Its authority is underpinned by the sovereign colonies (states) that created it. Their authority is underpinned by their constituents, the ultimate sovereign in our system of government. The Constitution is not the Supreme Authority, but only the Supreme Law. The Authorities can amend it at any time (the states). If the Bible was meant to be both the Supreme Law and the Supreme Authority, to the exclusion of all others (the Church), then it is oddly written. It is a collection of letters, historical accounts, and the like. Even in matters of salvation, there is ambiguity (cf. John 3:16 and James 2:24). The Constitution requires that Officers of the U.S. take an oath to support IT. IT sets up the Command in Chief is my Authority. I do what the President says, and would not disobey an order as unconstitutional. Indeed, nothing is “unconstitutional” until it has been fully adjudicated as being such (by the Supreme Court). There is no private interpretation of the Constitution allowed. There are those who argue now that our war in Iraq is an “illegal” war – under certain notions of International Law. The Geneva Convention incorporates some of these notions, and it is a treaty we have ratified. The Constitution expressly makes treaties, along with itself, the “supreme law of the land.” Should soldiers follow their conscience and refuse to return to duty there, if they think the war is “unconstitutional?” Followed to its conclusion, this leads to anarchy.

The Confession does teach that the Scriptures are the Supreme Authority, not the sole. I did not word that well, I confess. It does not say (and I did not say) that the Holy Spirit teaches solely through them though. I said that the Holy Spirit SOLELY SPEAKING through Scripture is the JUDGE of all councils, doctrines, etc. The Supreme Judge is, according to the confession, the Holy Spirit speaking in Holy Scripture. The Confession elsewhere in that Chapter explicitly rejects any ongoing revelation. So you are right that there’s a difference between “Supreme” and “Sole”, but when all other forms of revelation have been eliminated, my “Sole” was not incorrect, though a poor word choice nonetheless. We allow no other divine rule-making process. No other rule is binding. All are free to disregard what is not in scripture. A non-binding rule is no rule at all. Therefore, the SOLE rule is Scripture.

You said, “"Sola scriptura" is a pithy slogan. But it evinces intellectual immaturity to take a marketing slogan, deduce a straw man out of it, and then trick a crisis of conscience out of the result.” Do you believe this to be a charitable statement? I do not. Pithy it may be, but you will be kind to note that I did not trick a crisis of conscience out of some personal definition of this hallmark of the Reformation. I went to the part of my church’s confession that addresses the doctrine, and described my problems with those statements. I may have made a straw man of three sections of the Westminster, but did not make one of this pithy Lutheran slogan.

You said, “My recommendation: Submit to the leadership of your current church, at least for the time being, settle down and take a few breaths, get a few good night's sleep, and wait for your thoughts to form into a considered judgment.” I stated explicitly in my post that I have submitted to my church’s leadership. Of course, in your view, this is only “submission” so long as they are in accord with my personal interpretation of what the Apostles have taught. You believe my thoughts are not formed into a considered judgment. Very well. I have wrestled with Scripture being a sole rule of faith for about three years. If I have not informed my judgment at this point, then God has certainly chosen to not bless me with a mind that is capable of properly abiding in His Church.

Gil Garza said...

Your journey beyond your past prejudices can be a very scary one. You have, no doubt, put your destiny into the hands of our Savior, who can assuage your fears.

Many have taken the path you are now taking. Frank Beckwith, former President of the Evangelical Theological Society, is one of the most recent. You may find solace in reading about their struggles.

Once you encounter Christ in the Sacraments, your intimacy with Him will grow beyond what you can imagine, now.

Once you encounter Christ in the Truth proclaimed by His Church, not just in centuries past, but, today, you will grow in holiness beyond what you can imagine, now.

You remain in our prayers.

Mike Spreng said...


It is a common beliefe that the Anglican church began with Henry VIII, But the truth is that the C of E was around much longer than that, all the wa back to the Celts. I have a timline on my blog if you would like to check it out.

I am a Postulant with the REC and am very content with them. We live in sort of "the days of Elijah," where the prophetic ministry of the contunium is hoped to one day set thing right.

The Roman Catholic Church, with the SPPX and SSPV (Sedavacantism), is in just as an apostate state as any other denomination.

Jim said...


Actually, as best I'm able to read Ireneaus's argument, he does say that. Tradition is for the illiterate barbarian who cannot read. The content of Scripture and the content of Tradition is precisely concurrent. His chiastic argument spans chs 1-5, which must be taken as a section. He invokes tradition against the heretics only in order to establish Scripture as the common measure.

I'm no scholar, and don't pretend to be, but I've blogged on what I took Irenaeus's argument to be, even before I knew about the importance of the beginning of Bk 3 in RC arguments for tradition and the primacy of Rome. It's here:

We need to look no further than two centuries of U.S. constitutional law to recognize that sometimes people's interpretation of a text over time can diverge from a reasonable construction of that text.

So it doesn't surprise me that some deviations could conceivable creep into an institution over centuries and centuries. I realize that you rule that possibility out by assumption regarding the RC church.

Not being born a Catholic, all I can do is evaluate the evidence that she provides for her claim, from the Scriptures and from the earliest fathers (stipulating that I'm no scholar, just an interested person who attempts to read sympathetically). God help me, I don't see warrant for the claim.


First, I don't recall even thinking to ask you whether you were following God or your own will. I'm apologize if some sloppy writing on my part led you to conclude that I questioned your motives. I don't at all. I assume you're an honest seeker with some questions. Any Christian with half a brain and with any interest in his faith needs to face the impressive claims that the RC church makes for herself. All we can do is inquire with an open heart (as I assume many Catholics do as well).

So, anyway, I had not intent at all to impugn your motives in the least. Shucks, I know you from a few posts that I first read two days ago. I would not presume.

"I used to, but then came to realize that Rome can make a legitimate (and often vigorous) rebuttal to all of them. I agree with you 100% that we must obey God rather than men. "

I'm entirely cool with that conclusion. If you conclude that what Rome teaches is more consistent with what the Apostles taught in the Scriptures, then you should become a Roman Catholic. But you'll become a Roman Catholic because of what the Scriptures teach, not because the Scriptures are not authoritative and you need some extrinsic authority beyond what the apostle's teaching recorded in the Scriptures.

Jesus Christ speaks to us through the Scriptures. All we can do, like faithful Mary, is sit at his feet and receive what he tells us.

It's an odd sort of deconstructivist literary theory that suggests that whatever we understand from a text is no more than the projection of a person's will.

There are better readings of a text, and worse readings of a text. People will often disagree on what is the better or the worse reading. So it is. All we can do is read as honestly as we can, and receive what the apostles taught. (And as I wrote above, if you think that the Scriptures affirm RC doctrine, then great. I'm not at all one of those persons who thinks that becoming a RC is the end of the world.)

You are correct, however, that my comments regarding the "pithy" slogan were too sharp. And I apologize. It did seem to me that you were deducing a lot of content from the single phrase, "sola scriptura," and did not think that that was necessarily a fair means of unpacking the content that the phrase stands for. That's all that I meant.

My recommended course of action also was not intended to impugn what you have or what you are doing. In this and other matters, a considered judgment will not go away. Truth be told, some of your posts sounded as though you were rather emotionally spent. My suggestion is only to wait until that feeling goes away to make a decision. If I misinterpreted your personal condition from what you wrote, please ignore that recommendation. It was just intended as a bit of homey wisdom.

Devin Rose said...

I found your blog today and read your responses to James White's questions, as well as this post.

I have been in a similar situation to you faith-wise, and I remember how frightening it was, especially when considering the fact that I would have to tell all of my blessed friends who brought me into the Christian faith and had helped me grow in Christ that I believed God was leading me away from them.

I pray that God will give you wisdom and courage as you seek the truth. He promised that you shall find it!

Hidden One said...

Dear Protestants: As a convert myself, I quickly notice a certain pattern in Thos's responses to you. The more you attack Catholicism or try and get him to consider another destination, the more fervent and steadfast he is about joining it. Please continue.

Dear Thos: The easiest way to get around one's problems with defending Catholicism is to start RCIA with the possible to probable intent of becoming Catholic. (Well, specifically, the easiest way is to become Catholic, but RCIA is step one. :P)

In all seriousness, Thos, I'm praying for you, that the Lord would give you further guidance. You need a spiritual advisor? I think He's qualified.

Joseph said...

I find it interesting that Jim, a Lutheran, would suggest that Thos remain in the PCA despite his doubts.

Is this one of those "anything but the Catholic Church" pleas?

Lutheranism and Presbyterianism are different, no? Why would Jim think that it would be perfectly acceptable for Thos to remain in a confession that is different from his own just to keep him from becoming Catholic (I'm not presuming anything, Thos. I'm just finding Jim's reaction interesting... and very common)?

This is similar to what happened to me when I made it known to family that I had begun to seriously investigate the claims of Catholicism. I was treated with the "anything but Catholicism" barrage.

If you do end up seeking answers within the Catholic Church, Thos, let this be an indicator of things to come. The prejudice against Catholicism runs deep and the effects of it are unavoidable. I hope to God that, if you do lean towards the Church, you do not face the loss of friends and difficulties with families. Be prepared for it though.

Anonymous said...


The first word that the Apostle Paul uses to describe love in 1 Cor. 13 is patience. In light of this, if your love Truth, then be patient.

The authority of the Word comes from the uncontestable fact that it is of God. Hence, the Word of God. Despite some gross Catholic apologetics that indicate otherwise, the official position of the Roman Church recognizes this truth concerning the Scriptures. Please note the words of Vatican I:

These [books] the Church holds to be sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by simple human industry, they were later approved by her own authority, nor merely because they contain revelation without error, but because, having been written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author and were delivered as such to the Church" (Dei Filius, ch II. On Revelation).

Who delivered these Divine Oracles? "Paul and Silvanus and Timothy" (1 Thess 1:1); "James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (Jam 1:1); "This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things" (Jn 21:24), etc., etc. The Holy Spirit was moving these men to write what Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, would call "the pillar and support of our faith," namely, the only inspired Tradition, the Scriptures.

You, see, the Scriptures are Tradition. Theophilus, says Luke, was "taught" first by the oral Tradition, but now with the Lukan inspired, inscripturated Tradition was going to "know the exact truth about the things you have been taught" (Lk 1:4). Likewise, the Apostle John wrote about "many other" Traditions "but these have been written," he said, "so that you may believe" (Jn 20:30-31). Interesting, isn't it, how an Apostle who is handing down oral Tradition thinks it insufficient, so much so that he is compelled to write down the essentials of Tradition? By no means is this peculiar to the Evangelists! The Apostle Paul, writing his "last will and testament" to Timothy, requested "the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments" (2 Tm 4:13). Why? Why was he, like John and Luke, concerned to inscripturate the Tradition? Because as Paul himself said of himself, "I think that I also have the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 7:40), so much so that Peter realized Paul's writings were a part of "the Scriptures" (2 Pt 3:16)! Is it any wonder that Paul commanded the Colossians "When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea" (Col 4:16)?

You are right, Thos, the Scriptures do testify that they themselves are handed down, and they also testify to what Authority they themselves bear. They are “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16), and unless something of an equal nature can be found, then the writings of the Holy Spirit stand alone. The Church indeed played a key role in centuries past in the gathering of the Sacred Writings, but, as is the case with all witnesses, even though “we believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified,” it is “no longer because of what [she] said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (Jn 4:39, 42). Candles are only needed in times of darkness. Upon finding the light of day, they are no longer needed. Nevertheless, we reverence them for the role they played. Likewise St. John the Baptist was a witness witnessing to something, but once one comes to that which is witnessed to (in this case it is the God-breathed Scriptures), then the witness steps aside. “He must increase, but I must decrease,” said St. John the Baptist (Jn 3:30). Here’s another way to look at it: St. John led St. Andrew to “‘the Lamb of God’” (Jn 1:36; cf. Jn 1:35-37), but once he encountered Jesus he no longer followed Jesus because of St. John’s testimony. He followed Jesus because Jesus beckoned him to “Come” and “see” (Jn 1:39). Likewise, Andrew found his brother Simon and exclaimed: “‘We have found the Messiah!’” (Jn 1:41) But it was not because of Andrew’s testimony that Peter himself would later profess Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).

It is this same inspired, inscripturated and infallible Tradition that warned the Church of Rome before while still in her infancy. The Holy Spirit said to her -- and says still! -- that she, too, could be cut off if presumptuous of her status (cf. Rm 11:17-24). She did not, and has not, heeded the Word of God. On the contrary, she has proclaimed herself infallible.

Joseph said...

Notice a pattern yet?

Canadian said...

As I mentioned a couple posts ago, I am a mystery and liturgy starved Baptist and find myself at odds with much of my Baptist confession as well. I feel (how's that for subjective authority) my brothers in Rome, though, have a belief in doctrinal development that is too open ended. They seem less concerned about preserving and passing on what is ancient than they do with preserving the right to dogmatize freely by papal rather than conciliar authority. They also have struggled with the besetting sin of forced conversion and/or obedience upon pains of death. They claim authority but Apostolic authority was never a terror to the multitudes. When terror was needed to support the Apostolic authority, God provided it (Ananias and Sapphira). Christ refused to let the Sons of Thunder call down destruction on outsiders.
I know Orthodoxy has some of it's own sordid history as do the Reformers themselves, so I am in the same boat as you. The scripture cannot be divorced from Tradition, history or the Church. Would to God that we had an undivided Christendom that could ecumenically act as it once did. Even if they were not infallible, at least when you came into any town or city, you could ask "where's the Christian Church?" and you would get the same directions from everybody. (Unless he was an Arian or whatever).
We are stuck in the situation we find ourself in. I say to myself, Lord I am willing to "submit to those that have the rule over you" if I knew who they should be. I know one thing, that the best of the Orthodox, Lutheran, Reformed, Baptist and Catholic traditions all have caused me to long for and love Jesus Christ more deeply. I hate that I do not see Scriptural or historical authority fully supportive of just one of the above traditions. But for now, I take comfort in my Baptism and union with Christ. I go to Vespers at the Orthodox church. I read the Father's. I continue in my weak ecclesial and even weaker sacramental Baptist Church (the preaching is excellent). I continue to read Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and likeminded Protestant material to help break down my presuppositions and blind spots.
I'm with you brother! Pray for fulfilment of Jesus request for unity in John 17, cleave to Christ and hang on during the storm lest despair overtake you.

Thos said...

I'll start with Darrin the Canadian, since we seem so close in mind that this should be short.

I love the admission of your subjective authority of "feelings". I have them too, and need to recognize them more. Also, in spite of my skepticism, I imagine the Spirit is equally apt to influence our feelings as he is our intellect.

I have no small measure of concern that Rome has claimed for herself too great an authority, esp. re: infallibility and developing doctrine. The former is often exaggerated or misstated by Protestants, but the Orthodox articulate an impressive critique of the notion (since they revere ecumenical councils so much). The latter is more on my mind (and again that Orthodox sound a clear whistle of concern). However, the difference between the Catholic view and what actually occurred as, say, Trinitarian doctrine formed, is one of degree not kind. Where is the line drawn in what is proper and what is improper doctrinal development? Who gets to make that call?

I can't get worked up over those put to death over the faith. My understanding is the Catholics never did this directly (through the ecclesial powers), but because of the church's now extinct relationship with kings (who were puffed up by Popes with titles such as "Defender of the Faith"), the secular power did the executing. Calvin and Luther had their upsetting events, and the Orthodox ties to secular powers are still something I view with skepticism. I do not agree with this sword wielding, but also see it as resulting from a time where the disposition of one's soul was taken far more seriously (mixed in with a bunch of political corruption).

I, like, ultimately just want to be submitted to the proper authority, and not be an authority unto myself anymore. I would be remiss to not end on your optimistic note. It is amazing that through the great struggle of wrestling with doctrine and authority, my faith grown (not diminished!) tremendously. I would have expected the opposite, if I knew that I was about to doubt the underpinnings of my faith.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...


Your response was so thoughtful, but I’ll have to keep my response short to avoid excessive bloviation. Thank you! I read it with care and your citations as well. (May all who take time to cite their statements be blessed!) I assure you that I will continue to be patient, especially because 1) the alternative to my present state is not obvious to me, and 2) I owe as much to my family.

I know Scripture is the Word of God, and hence authoritative. The question is more whether or the “the” before “Word” in that belief means it is exclusively the Word, whether it displaces all other sources of authority moved by that Word.

Irenaeus may have called Scripture the ground of Truth, but Scripture calls the Church the same (1 Tim 3:15). That verse serves another point, that so often the Scripture writers mention that they will come shortly to teach more (also, 1 Cor 4:17, 1 Tim 1:3), or that they don’t have enough time to write all their teachings with paper and ink (2 Cor 3:3, 2 John 1:12, 3 John 1:13). The general reason for putting things to writing seems to because of distance separating the writer from the flock and NOT because the Apostles understood that only what they committed to writing would bind all Christians in generations to come.

You quote Luke 1:4, but these first four verses of Luke paint a different picture to me. I see Luke not claiming to be putting inscriptured words to paper, but rather to note that many first-hand witnesses have written accounts of Christ’s life, and that he has researched the matter to put something together for Theophilus, so he may know what to believe – Luke is not writing for the sake of getting his testimony in writing per se. Rather he is “writing to thee” (who is presumably at a distance). Luke is considered to be Paul’s amanuensis, so this would have given Theophilus something authoritative (but not simply because of its means of transmission - writing - but because of its source).

Peter did call Paul’s writing “scripture” (graphe, which according to Strong’s could mean simply, “a writing, things written”). As you noted, we are missing Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans (at least, we don’t confirm what we have is that letter, and no one includes it in the Bible). Why is that not Scripture, or how did True Scripture get lost?

In short, you’ve done a fairer and more thorough job than I’m used to to set out how dearly the written word was described in our Bible. This does not meet foursquare my concern that this general treatment does not yield a particular rule of canonicity. More though, I would be blessed by you to hear how you would balance this characterization of the N.T. text with the verses I noted above which show that the Apostles wrote because they were at a distance, and that they had gave much other valid teaching when present (they didn’t write as if this was all that the Church would get to keep when they died).

Scriptures are described as God-breathed, and you said that they now stand alone since nothing else has that claim. But if the Apostles could be right in describing their writing as such, why could they not be right in describing other authority as such? How do we know that all their teaching wasn’t God-breathed, or some of their successors teaching (those who heard them directly)? Pentecost is an incredible account of a special filling with the Spirit. I don’t think one can determine from negative inference that nothing else besides their writings was so inspired. The Bible is a most wonderful light, but it has not made the road so clear as to prevent countless fractures amongst its followers.

Romans 11 warns that the believers in Rome and other Gentiles can be cut off even more readily than the Jews for not continuing in Faith. That Rome claims for herself a binding teaching authority does not necessarily mean she has failed to continue in faith.

I hope these words come across in the spirit in which I wrote them. I am so thankful for your comment, and hope to widdle our views down to the sum of any disagreement, that we could be one.

Peace in Christ,

Anonymous said...


You words were/are taken in brotherly love. I cannot respond now because I am on my way to Registration! Yes, I'm excited. I'm taking Greek and a class on Augustine's exegesis, and I can't wait!

The only comment I want to make now is that the Catholic Church does not claim that Tradition is "inspired" or "God-breathed". Thus, when you are considering the existence of extra-biblical Tradition -- again, because the Scriptures themselves are Tradition -- then you are considering a non-inspired source. It is true, Rome claims that the teaching of the Apostles was carried on orally in the Churches; however, this exact oral teaching has been lost, that is to say, you cannot find an Apostolic Father, or any Father for that matter, quoting something from Paul that is not in Scripture? So, then, this Apostolic Tradition has become ubiqitious (sp?) amidst the writings of the Fathers as well as apocryphal literature. Who, then, detemines what aspect of Tertullian or Origen is "Tradition"? Or what aspect of Clement of Alexandria is "Tradition"? Or what aspect of the apocryphal literature is really "Tradition"? The Pope. Therefore, to surrender Sola Scriptura for "Tradition" is really to embrace whatever the Pope says is "Tradition." It is very much like Joseph Smith in that only the Pope can "see" "Tradition" and know what it is, just as Joseph Smith alone could see the goldne plates and tell the others with him what they said. It is very circular.

If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend Keith Mathison's book The Shape of Sola Scriptura. It gives a good overview of the different notions of "Tradition" and how the Roman view has changed dramatically, not only from the Early Church's view, but also from her own view in the 16 century!

Principium unitatis said...


Who, in your opinion, gets to determine what is Tradition?

I responded here to Mathison's article "Solo Scriptura" in Modern Reformation.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

JP said...


Very enlightening discussion.

I am by far no expert on this issue but I am comfortable where I sit on this issue. The way the modern church or, to be more specific, the calvinistic churches approach this subject is lacking. I do believe in Tradition, the Tradition that brought us, what we know as today, the written Word. I see no biblical support for the notion that Tradition carries on seperate from the Bible. It's Tradition that brought us the bible. Tradition that brings forth doctrine that is not found in any scripture is subject too me. The Bible was written and is for the church. We must not seperate Tradition from scripture but tradition that teaches contrary to the the revelation of God, I believe should not be supported. As raised in an earlier comment, who can rightfully define what is Tradition?

Jim said...

Hey Joseph,

First, I'm far from thinking "anything but the Roman Cahtolic church." When my kids have swim meets on Sundays, we worship at the neighborhood Catholic church on Saturday night (we of course do not commune).

If Thos were a Roman Catholic agonizing over whether to leave his church, I'd say the same thing regarding waiting until (what I take to be) the feeling of crisis is over before making a decision. That's not really a "religious" point as it is a matter of prudence.

It seems to me that Thos invited a discussion. So I'm discussing the points that Thos seems to be thinking about. I trust you don't have a problem with that.

Jim said...


Here's a passage I think you might find of itnerest. It's chapter 9 of Hippolytus's "Against the Heresy of One Noetus."

Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus, and lived 170-236.

"There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source. For just as a man, if he wishes to be skilled in the wisdom of this world, will find himself unable to get at it in any other way than by mastering the dogmas of philosophers, so all of us who wish to practise piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn; and as the Father wills our belief to be, let us believe; and as He wills the Son to be glorified, let us glorify Him; and as He wills the Holy Spirit to be bestowed, let us receive Him. Not according to our own will, nor according to our own mind, nor yet as using violently those things which are given by God, but even as He has chosen to teach them by the Holy Scriptures, so let us discern them."

Thos said...

Kepha and Bryan mentions Mathison's book "The Shape of Sola Scriptura." I noted this book in my August 19 post, "What Authority Permitted Canon Formation?". I listed Mathison as giving one of four canon-rationale theories I had heard (a fifth came out in a later comment from an informed reader). This reminds that I've been meaning to post on this book more. I re-read it carefully, and was dismayed at how he went about reaching some of his conclusions. Bryan raises the other strand of criticism I would raise.

That Mathison's work has been praised and not condemned indicated to me that the children of the Reformation know sola Scriptura is on thin ice. Mathison's view is novel, and not in accord with the confessions of the Reformation. Therefore, I would have thought that PCA theologians would decry his work. Instead, I had the work gifted to me by a PCA theologian to help me with my problems.


You are quite right that yours is the very sort of discussion I invite and am blessed by, when I blog. Please continue. Regarding your quotation from Hippolytus, I did a quick Google of him, and found something interesting on New Apparently he followed the Novatian Schism, and was an antipope (that is, he left the Catholic Church and had himself elected as "Pope" by a group of followers). At any rate, that he held the Scriptures in such high regard is fine by me. I don't agree, nor would Calvin or the Westminster Confession, that we gain knowledge of God only from Scriptures. We gain knowledge of God first from Creation. In the defense of Hippolytus, it appears he was merely seeking to refute certain philosophers who thought they could learn the mysteries of God through the mere use of philosophy. If that's all correct, I would agree with Hippolytus that we need specific revelation - creation is not sufficient - to know God to any depth. But creation and what is written on everyone's hearts is sufficient to condemn all on the day of judgment.

Peace in Christ,

Principium unitatis said...


If you think Hippolytus was following or endorsing 'sola scriptura', how do you reconcile that with what he says in his Apostolic Tradition, written to preserve the ordination tradition of the second century, but itself containing things not found in Scripture?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Anonymous said...


I would encourage you, if you are not doing so already, to study the Early Church Father's view of Scripture and Tradition. Everett Ferguson edited a fine book entitled, The Bible in the Early Church. Of course, read the Fathers as well. Notice how they practically speak Scripture; how everything must be in accord with it. Again, it was this high view of Scripture that led Irenaeus to call them the pillar and foundation of truth. It is the Early Church's view of Scripture and Tradition that has led me away from Rome. Sorry for the short post, but I'm still in the midst of registration.

Principium unitatis said...


Could you say something about what *specifically* you see that is, in your view, incompatible between the view of Scripture seen in the early Church, and the view of Scripture taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Thanks.

Are you now Eastern Orthodox?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jim said...

Hi Bryan,

Don't you think you need to answer the question as well as I? I mean, assuming the translation is correct, how would you square Hippolytus's two argument?

I have no problem with following traditional practices that do not violate Scripture. Indeed, I'd prefer to keep them. No problem.

That being said, assuming as I take you to suggest, that Hippolytus is summarizing things taught by the unwritten, infallible apostolic tradition preserved through history by the Roman Catholic Church, then I have indeed learned a lot of things today about what your church requires and forbids:

I did not know that, following binding and unwritten apostolic tradition, that the RC church today teaches that RC bishops cannot bless, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, onions, garlic, or any other vegetable:

“These are the fruits which he shall bless: the grape, fig, pomegranate, olive, pear,
apple, blackberry, peach, cherry, almond, and plum. But not the pumpkin, melon,
cucumber, onion, garlic, or any other vegetable.”

I did not know that the RC church today, being faithful to binding apostolic tradition, the that if you invite a widow over for a meal, she must be sent away before sunset:

“Whenever someone wishes to invite older widows to a meal, he shall send them away before sunset.”

I did not know that, following unwritten, binding apostolic tradition, the RC church today exclues from the church actors and people who aspire to be soldiers:

“4If someone is an actor or does shows in the theater, either he shall cease or he shall be rejected. . . .

“11The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God.”

I did not know that women do not pray with men in today's RC churches:

“2The women will also pray in another place in the church, by themselves, whether faithful women or catechumen women.”

I did not know that if you are going to be baptized in the RC church today, following the unwritten, binding tradition handed down directly from the Apostles, that you must bathe on the fifth day of the week prior to your baptism:

“5Let those who are to be baptized be instructed that they bathe and wash on the fifth day
of the week.”

I did not know that the RC church requires that you must be naked when you are baptized:

“2When they come to the water, the water shall be pure and flowing, that is, the water of a spring or a flowing body of water. 3Then they shall take off all their clothes.”

Also, it seems that baptism is by immersion in the RC church:

“each of them to be baptized has gone down into the water.”

I did not know that Roman Catholics are taught that they must pray at midnight, and that they can pray only after washing their hands.

“11Around midnight rise and wash your hands with water and pray. If you are married,
pray together. . . . . 15Thus it is necessary to pray at this hour.
For those elders who handed down the tradition to us taught us that in this hour every creature hushes for a brief moment to praise the Lord. Stars and trees and waters stand still for an instant.”

I've never seen nor heard any of this in the many RC masses I've attended.

What am I missing?

Jim said...


My understanding (and I'm certainly no expert at all) is that Hippolytus was reconciled to the Catholic church prior to his death.

In any event, isn't it telling that you're suggesting that someone writing as early as Hippolytus had a HIGHER view of "sola scriptura" than did Calvin and the Westminster divines? (I capitalize only because I can't figure out how to italicise in comments.)

For the record, we should probably also note that Tertullian, whom Bryan invokes on behalf of the RC argument, became a Montanist later in his life. (I do not recall whether he died in communion with the RC church or not.)

Principium unitatis said...


That being said, assuming as I take you to suggest, that Hippolytus is summarizing things taught by the unwritten, infallible apostolic tradition preserved through history by the Roman Catholic Church...

I did not claim or suggest that. My point was that St. Hippolytus obviously did not hold to sola scriptura (in the sense that all tradition is contained in Scripture).

If you wish to compare the ordination prayers listed by St. Hippolytus with those used by the Catholic Church today, you can find the latter here.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Anonymous said...


Sorry I haven't responded to you yet. I'm not ignoring you. My wife and I are still trying to find a babysitter for our four month old, and we need one by Wednesday! Pray for us.

I got calleed in to work just now, so I won't be responding until tonight about 10PM central time.

Jim said...

Hi Bryan,

First, I invite you to provide a plain reading of the selection I posted where he wrote directly about his view of the Scriptures, consistent with taking his your link to be an affirmation of an infallable, non-written, binding tradition.

I'd note that he does not say that the tradition is infallible, etc., etc., etc. Only that this is the tradition. As I've repeatedly said, that's entirely fine with me. In matters adiaphora I have no inclination to overturn tradition at all. It serves as a first-best coordinating device. Even apostles can have opinions or practices about matters that are adiaphora; so deference to unwritten practices of arguably apostolic origin isn't a problem at all. It just doesn't implicate the Scriptures.

Also, at the end of his letter he writes that this is the "tradition of the elders," which softens a bit the notion of apostolic origin.

Secondly, I don't think it's quite so easy for you to say, "See, the ordination stuff is like current practice, but I/my church just don't happen to believe that all that other stuff that Hippoltus includes as apostolic tradition is really apostolic tradition."

Why not? If the Catholic church can just pick and choose which tradtions are "binding" apostolic traditions and which are "non-binding" apostolic traditions, then there seems little point in talking about tradition with you at all.

In referenced Tertullian in an earlier post. I'm sure you recognize that we could go through the same process with him -- i.e., practices he identified as apostolic traditions that the RC church does not practice today.

You point to these guys to teach us in the abstract that there is an extra-scriptural tradition that binds us, but you point away from these guys when they affirm a specific "apostolic tradition" that the RC church doesn't practice any more.


Thos said...

After the use of some sarcasm, and other repetitive use of example to make one point, I'm starting to lose the train of thought... I hear several theories, most forcibly that we should return to pre-380's, following our Bishop in his non-strict-canon use of Scriptures. This is far afield of sola Scriptura, so reinforces my point in the main post.

Re: Hippolytus and his apparent temporary antipope tendencies, I understand from the Cath. Encyc. that he did indeed end life in communion with the church. I raised the point to note that I cannot take any particular quote from him and deduce a conclusion from it. I don't know if he wrote that when he was not with the church (excommunicate?), if that is an aberrant statement from an otherwise orthodox writer, etc. I don't know that it follows that he had a "higher" (or stronger, or harsher) view of sola Scriptura. Remember I said he SOUNDS LIKE he is addressing philosophers who think they can determine the boundaries of kind through philosophical statement. I don't go far with an isolated quote. Augustine wrote much against philosophers seeking after God - that's what makes me think Hippo. was going there too.

There seems to be some frustration that the Fathers are used piecemeal by Catholics to prove the existence of Tradition. The Fathers' writings are malleable stuff, to be sure. Hence the so-called third leg of the Catholic stool. The Magisterium interprets all and is guided by the Holy Spirit in the process (the essential ingredient), so the R.C.C. claims. Criticisms need to be leveled with that claim in mind.

Kepha, I have and will continue to read on the early fathers and their treatment of Scripture. I suffered through Augustine's Confessions and City of God - very hard reading for me - and know how much the Scriptures (including the, uh, Apocrypha) rolled off his pen.

I'll get into some of this when I tlak about how Mathison uses the Fathers. Where Scripture can be used and interpreted in various and mutually exclusive ways, the Fathers can be so used all the more!

Principium unitatis said...


I'm afraid you may have misunderstood my intention in posting that link. I was not claiming or implying there that St. Hippolytus's writings specify infallible apostolic traditions as such. The other fathers do not do so either. The living magisterium of the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit and a living and organic memory of her own development, determines, guards and brings forth the deposit of the faith.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Canadian said...

You said:
Where is the line drawn in what is proper and what is improper doctrinal development? Who gets to make that call?

Trinitarian and Incarnational doctrine should not be considered as doctrinal development but rather the organizing and defining that which had always been believed. Heresy required much more refined definition and this came about ecumenically by conciliar authority.
Today however, we do not have this ability. The Orthodox don't pretend it is presently possible, but Rome charges ahead calling their councils ecumenical on the basis of--you guessed it--a subjective and schismatic expression of unity and authority.

Brother, you said:
"My understanding is the Catholics never did this directly (through the ecclesial powers), but because of the church's now extinct relationship with kings (who were puffed up by Popes with titles such as "Defender of the Faith"), the secular power did the executing."
They repeatedly coerced governments to carry out THEIR sentences of heresy and this after they had terrorized whole communities through inquisition and investigation on thier own! No appeal! No defence lawyers! No jury (other than the Roman accusers). Sound Christ centered and redemptive?
As for their extinct relationship with kings...the pope virtually is one! This is from the U.S. Department of State website:
"The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power over the Holy See and the State of the Vatican City...the State of Vatican City is a recognized national territory under international law. The Holy See enters into international agreements and receives and sends diplomatic representatives.

I am not implying that Catholics or even the Pope himself are not Christians, but rather trying to shine light on a questionable and un-Christian authority structure and history.
Soli Deo Gloria,

Thos said...


"Trinitarian and Incarnational doctrine should not be considered as doctrinal development..."

This is a fine point indeed, hanging on what we mean by 'development'. I firmly believe the Apostles would not have articulated the Trinity or Incarnation the way these doctrines were ultimately hammered out in ecumenical council. I'm sure you know how hard the right words were to come by (e.g., essence (ousis) and person (stasis)). In this sense, the doctrine did indeed develop. But in substance, the way the Church new the truth to be in its 'heart' (though not yet able to agreeably express it), I think we'd agree these doctrines were held from the Apostles.

That the Catholic Church was in the causal chain of many religiously-based executions, I do not doubt. At the risk of sounding like I'm excusing them, the Lutherans, a few Calvinists, etc., those were different times, with different church/state relations. Sound Christ-centered? Not to me. Sound redemptive? Nope, but we also have a different notion of the peril of peoples' souls...

I was quite the student of International Law, and am familiar with the nature of the Holy See's political existence. It is fully sovereign, and the pope has authority over its branches. But this is the result of complex turns of Italian history. It is inhabited by only a few hundred folks (almost all celibate clerics, I'd guess). There are no families there, there is no population growth, there is no military (really), crimal sentences are served in Italy, etc. It's largely a technicality. As I understand it, the See is not even really managed by the Pope, but his its own Mayor/Governor who handles all those affairs.

What's the bottom line from all this? It reminds me of so much other discourse - if you raise enough questionable trains of thought, if you run through a litany of doubt, no one should be Catholic (or anything else with any history!). The Church has a sordid past. None of this addresses our mandate to seek unity. None addresses the truth we need to seek of how Christ commissioned His Church, and what His promises of perseverance and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) meant.

A claim that says the "true church" is all those who, as it turns out, truly believed, turns the promise of perseverance into a nullity. I'm not saying this is your claim, but it's worth remembering when dismissing Rome or Constantinople out-of-hand because of rough historical spots. (But if you're going that way, you'd be remiss to leave out the Avignon Papacy - that's a scorcher for Catholics!)

Jim said...

Maybe it sounds sarcastic, but I'm unsure how to ask whether a purported apostolic tradition that prohibits Catholic bishops from blessing pumpkins and onions is actually received by the Catholic without it sounding ridiculous. But I didn't make it up -- I just followed the link provided by Bryan.

But now we're told it's not really about apostolic tradition after all. It's about what the RCC "determines" as the product of the "living organic memory of her own development."

It seems to me that the historical question is set aside, what early Catholic writers believe is set aside as well, and what Scripture teaches is set aside as well. At least in the sense of being subordinate to this principle called the "living organic memory of her own development."

I honestly do not see that receipt of the teachings produced by the "living organic memory of her own development" is to receive the teachings of the apostles or of the Messiah they preached.

I also do not understand why Catholics keep on pointing to the church fathers and say, "See!." When you actually look, and don't honestly see what they say is there, the ground suddenly shifts to the whole thing being about "living organic memory of her own development."

Principium unitatis said...


"purported apostolic tradition ... pumpkins and onions"

Again, I never claimed or implied that all that was written by St. Hippolytus is "apostolic tradition". So the claim you are criticizing is not mine, but is rather a straw man.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Jim said...

I'm sure I've overstayed my welcome, and don't really know where the discussion can go from the "living organic memory of her own development."

Thanks for the interaction Thos and Bryan. I do appreciate your efforts at explanation, even if I find the explanations a bit baffling.

Thos said...


Sometimes progress is hard to come by. Thanks for your genuineness and input. I pray that with time and patience, we can achieve True Oneness.

This post was originally about my seeing (from my perspective) that all the dots don't connect when scripture is a sole rule of faith (both for purposes of canon formation and scriptural interpretation). Your frustration seems to be because you cannot accept certain Roman Catholic claims. While I have yet to decide whether or not I can accept those claims you critique, I do know I cannot accept this hallmark Reformation claim. It's not strictly an either/or proposition (i.e., if sola Scriptura is wrong, Rome is right and vice versa). One can decide one somewhat independently of the other.

Canadian said...

This is somewhat unrelated, but you as a Presbyterian may relate to it nonetheless.
When I subscribed to Calvinism, I felt like the world and the scriptures opened up breathtaking views of Christian existence, I said "my arminian system of belief just didn't seem sound and stable and big enough to contain God." The wierd thing is that now that I am reading the early councils, the Father's, beautiful stuff about the Incarnation and Trinity, thinking about salvation in ontological terms and not just forensic and legal ones, loving the sacramental realities the ancient churches have long believed in....all of these things make me look at my Calvinistic system and say "it just can't seem to contain God in the way I had hoped either." O the wonder and majesty of the Living Word! Jesus Christ did not issue a systematic theology, He started a Church of sinful people who He would forever unite Himself to . The written word is there to lead us to the Living Word himself (and His body I might add). If the result is otherwise, then we must have the wrong view of scripure's purpose in the first place.
Nourish yourself in Him as you (and I) attempt to connect some of those puzzling dots.

Thos said...


Amen and amen. I know a lot of people feel that way when they come to accept Reformed theology. It's includes you in a picture much bigger than yourself (something Baptists may be less familiar with). Your later experience is something I'm sharing as well. Typology has been a real eye-opener, for one. We'll get there, but it takes work.

Peace in Christ,

Oso Famoso said...


I was going through the same struggle about 2 years ago. I then realized that even the PCA didn't really operate under "sola scriptura" (See the General Assembly’s reaction to the FV).

I'll continue to pray for all the separated brethren along with St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of Calvinist converts.

Thos said...


Thanks for dropping by - your blog is interesting.

I don't mean to pick a fight on this, but you raise a point about the Federal Vision / General Assembly debate that is quite interesting - were they RIGHT to refute a certain doctrinal position without Biblical exegesis? While I respect the plea to have the debate at the "ultimate" level (Scripture), I think they were prudent. If the debate is held at this level (as it has been by Blogs, Papers, etc.) reasonable people are going to reasonably disagree. But the position the committee report condemned was not in conformity with the Westminster Confession. Since the PCA is a Confessional Church, it does not suffice (me thinks) to say, "well, the WCOF is what this denomination once stood for, but now that we had this open biblical debate on [redemption / baptism / fill in the blank] and realized that there was reasonable room for disagreement, we're going to allow each believer to decide for himself."

It's fascinating, now that I think of it. Denominationalism can either RULE on an issue, or pass it off to believers for their conscience to decide. Where debate is had, either the majority rules (and the minority forms a new denomination), or they agree to disagree.

Peace in Christ,