Category Archives: Heresy

The Heresy of Pelagiansim

Bad-Boys-of-Theology-Pelagius

rc_sproul
-by RC Sproul

“Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.” This passage from the pen of Saint Augustine of Hippo was the teaching of the great theologian that provoked one of the most important controversies in the history of the church, and one that was roused to fury in the early years of the fifth century.

The provocation of this prayer stimulated a British monk by the name of Pelagius to react strenuously against its contents. When Pelagius came to Rome sometime in the first decade of the fifth century, he was appalled by the moral laxity he observed among professing Christians and even among the clergy. He attributed much of this malaise to the implications of the teaching of Saint Augustine, namely that righteousness could only be achieved by Christians with the special help of divine grace.

With respect to Augustine’s prayer, “Oh God, grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire,” Pelagius had no problems with the second part. He believed that God’s highest attribute was indeed His righteousness, and from that righteousness He had the perfect right Himself to obligate His creatures to obey Him according to His law. It was the first part of the prayer that exercised Pelagius, in which Augustine asked God to grant what He commands. Pelagius reacted by saying that whatever God commands implies the ability of the one who receives the command to obey it. Man should not have to ask for grace in order to be obedient.

Now, this discussion broadened into further debates concerning the nature of Adam’s fall, the extent of corruption in our humanity that we describe under the rubric “original sin,” and the doctrine of baptism.

It was the position of Pelagius that Adam’s sin affected Adam and only Adam. That is to say, as a result of Adam’s transgression there was no change wrought in the constituent nature of the human race. Man was born in a state of righteousness, and as one created in the image of God, he was created immutably so. Even though it was possible for him to sin, it was not possible for him to lose his basic human nature, which was capable always and everywhere to be obedient. Pelagius went on to say that it is, even after the sin of Adam, possible for every human being to live a life of perfect righteousness and that, indeed, some have achieved such status.

Pelagius was not opposed to grace, only to the idea that grace was necessary for obedience. He maintained that grace facilitates obedience but is not a necessary prerequisite for obedience. There is no transfer of guilt from Adam to his progeny nor any change in human nature as a subsequence of the fall. The only negative impact Adam had on his progeny was that of setting a bad example, and if those who follow in the pathway of Adam imitate his disobedience, they will share in his guilt, Pelagius asserted, but only by being actually guilty themselves.

There can be no transfer or imputation of guilt from one man to another according to the teaching of Pelagius. On the other side, Augustine argued that the fall seriously impaired the moral ability of the human race. Indeed, the fall of Adam plunged all of humanity into the ruinous state of original sin. Original sin does not refer to the first sin of Adam and Eve, but refers to the consequences for the human race of that first sin. It refers to God’s judgment upon the whole human race by which He visits upon us the effects of Adam’s sin by the thoroughgoing corruption of all of his descendants. Paul develops this theme in the fifth chapter of his epistle to the Romans.

“For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” -Romans 7:19
or,
“I tried to be good, but I got bored.” 🙁 -t-shirt I own.

The key issue for Augustine in this controversy was the issue of fallen man’s moral ability — or lack thereof. Augustine argued that prior to the fall, Adam and Eve enjoyed a free will as well as moral liberty. The will is the faculty by which choices are made. Liberty refers to the ability to use that faculty to embrace the things of God.

After the fall, Augustine said the will, or the faculty, of choosing remained intact; that is, human beings are still free in the sense that they can choose what they want to choose. However, their choices are deeply influenced by the bondage of sin that holds them in a corrupt state. And as a result of that bondage to sin, the original liberty that Adam and Eve enjoyed before the fall was lost.

The only way that moral liberty could be restored would be through God’s supernatural work of grace in the soul. This renewal of liberty is what the Bible calls a “royal” liberty (James 2:8).

Therefore, the crux of the matter had to do with the issue of moral inability as the heart of original sin. The controversy yielded several church verdicts including the judgment of the church in a synod in the year 418, where the Council of Carthage condemned the teachings of Pelagius. The heretic was exiled to Constantinople in 429. And once again, Pelagianism was condemned by the church at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Throughout church history, again and again, unvarnished Pelagianism has been repudiated by Christian orthodoxy.

Even the Council of Trent, which teaches a form of semi-Pelagianism, in its first three canons — especially in the sixth chapter on justification — repeats the church’s ancient condemnation of the teaching of Pelagius that men can be righteous apart from grace. Even as recently as the modern Roman Catholic catechism, that condemnation is continued.

In our own day, the debate between Pelagianism and Augustinianism may be seen as the debate between humanism and Christianity. Humanism is a warmed-over variety of Pelagianism.

However, the struggle within the church now is between the Augustinian view and various forms of semi-Pelagianism, which seeks a middle ground between the views of Pelagius and Augustine.

Semi-Pelagianism teaches that grace is necessary to achieve righteousness, but that this grace is not imparted to the sinner unilaterally or sovereignly as is maintained by orthodox Christianity.

Rather, the semi-Pelagian argues that the individual makes the initial step of faith before that saving grace is given. Thus, God imparts the grace of faith in conjunction with the sinner’s work in seeking God. It seems a little mixing of grace and works-not-prompted-through-grace doesn’t worry the semi-Pelagian.

[Ed.  Catholicism holds ALL is grace.  The ability, the inclination to seek truth and grace is itself the fruit of God’s freely given grace.  Any good we do in this life is the fruit of God’s freely given grace, but it MUST be exercised.  It CANNOT be ignored or denied.  Faith, ALONE, is NOT sufficient.  This would be sinful, a sin of omission, as opposed to comission.]  It is our task, however, if we are to be faithful first to Scripture and then to the church’s ancient councils, to discern Augustine’s truth and defend it aright.”

Love,
Matthew

Irish Catholic Jansenism – #JOY is @#Heart of the Gospel!!!!!

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Jn 5:11

My mother, lovingly, and with the best of intentions for me, used to remind me, frequently, as a child, “The lightning is going to strike you, Mashew!!”  Ostensibly, to keep the straight and narrow.  And, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother!”  NO PRESSURE!!!

There is a severity in Irish Catholicism, cf joyless Irish nuns of discipline, i.e. Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, Lake Wobegon, MN.  Workhouses for Wayward Girls & Truant Boys, etc.  I thought the Irish were tough, until I met the Polish in Chicago!!  Jeesh!!!  Did anyone else notice how the Polish jokes just stopped dead cold after JPII’s election?  They did.

“…Why do they call this heartless place
Our Lady of Charity?

These bloodless brides of Jesus
If they had just once glimpsed their Groom
Then they’d know, and they’d drop the stones
Concealed behind their rosaries.
They wilt the grass they walk upon
They leech the light out of a room…”
-“Magdalene Laundries”, The Chieftains, Tears of Stone, 1999

Cornelius_Jansen_by_Evêque_d'Ypres_(1585-1638)
-Cornelius Jansen (1585–1638), professor at the Old University of Louvain, painting by by Evêque d’Ypres

The heresy of Jansenism is named after Cornelius Jansen, who was the Bishop of Ypres in the early 17th century. His main work, Augustinus, was published after his death. In this work, he claimed to have rediscovered the true teaching of St. Augustine concerning grace, which had been lost to the Church for centuries. Even though he was not strictly a heretic, his writings still caused great harm to the Church.

At that time, the Jesuits were heavily preaching on the mercy of God. This was seen by some as moral laxity. Also the debates with the Calvinists had an influence on Jansen’s thoughts. Without going into the details of the “five propositions from Jansen”, this heresy essentially taught that God’s saving grace is irresistible, though not given to everyone. According to Jansen, a person could neither accept or reject this grace due to his fallen nature. Although persons, who received it, were sure of salvation. Unfortunately not everyone received this saving grace. God decreed who was saved and who was lost. Jansen denied human free will and God’s desire to save everyone (1 Tim. 2:4). Even though the Jansenists hoped to combat the moral laxity of their time through moral rigorism, their denial of human free will and God’s mercy actually promoted moral despair or a carefree, frivolous life style, since personal actions had no effect on personal salvation. Due to the duplicity of its promoters, this heresy harmed the Church for over seventy years.

Summary of Catholic Teaching on Grace & Free Will:

1) The grace merited by Christ is necessary for us for all actions of piety and the exercise of every virtue and should be asked of from God.
2) With the help of grace, all the commandments of God are possible to obey, such that a chaste and holy Christian life without mortal sin is possible. Also, without this grace, we cannot do anything that is truly good, nor even persevere in good except by grace.
3) Grace prevents and aids our wills in such a way that we owe our salvation to God’s grace; if we do fall, it should be imputed to ourselves.
4) Grace strengthens and supplements our freedom, but in no way destroys it.
5) While maintaining the existence and freedom of the will, we should nevertheless remain in a posture of humility, remembering that our will is aided by grace in ways we don’t understand.

I have been trained as a catechist that the Truth, which the Church seeks, is often found in a middle course, a middle way between extremes. This is NOT splitting the difference!!! But, rather, a sincere search for and discovery of the Truth of God. The fact of the matter is, I have been trained, is that Truth happens to often be found in the moderation of extremes.

There are two known poles regarding the theological and metaphysical interplay of grace & free will, from a Roman Catholic perspective. The first, the heresy of Pelagianism, errs in assigning too great a role to free will and debasing God’s grace; the other, of course, is that of Calvinism, in which free will is negated and the operation of grace inflated to the point that we arrive at total (or double) predestination. These extremes are the Scylla and Charybdis of the theology of grace; a truly Catholic approach to this problem must sail skillfully between these two dangers, turning neither to the left nor to the right.

michael_moreland
-by Michael Moreland
May 26, 2015

“The big story coming out of the weekend was the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage, accompanied by barely concealed glee in some quarters at the humiliation of the Catholic Church. Here’s a hypothesis to ponder about the historical reach of theological ideas and the place of Catholicism in different cultures (not so much about the substance of the same-sex marriage debate itself), even if it might not hold up in every detail to scrutiny.

As Damian Thompson writing at the Spectator notes here, the influence of Catholicism in Ireland has waned for various reasons (most especially the sex abuse scandal), and one factor he mentions in passing is “the joyless quasi-Jansenist character of the Irish Church.” Indeed, while the Church’s influence across Europe has fallen, the collapse in those parts of Europe (or places missionized by Europeans) arguably influenced by Jansenism has been ferocious: the Low Countries (we think of Jansenism as primarily a French movement, but Cornelius Jansen himself was Dutch and Bishop of Ypres), France, Quebec, and Ireland. The place of the Church in the culture of those parts of European Catholicism less tinged by Jansenism has fared a bit better: Poland, Austria, Bavaria, Italy, and, most especially, Spain and Portugal and their former colonies in Latin America and the Philippines.

I am simplifying a great deal here, of course. There was, for example, a robust Jansenist movement in parts of modern-day Italy, and, more importantly, it is hard to say how much Jansenist influence there really was in Irish Catholicism (captured by the “quasi-” in Thompson’s essay). Because of English persecution, there were no seminaries in Ireland up through the end of the eighteenth century and so Irish clergy were often trained at Jansenist French seminaries, and there might have been some Jansenist influence in the early days at Maynooth, the Irish national seminary founded in 1795. But the scope of the actual influence of Jansenist ideas on folk Irish Catholicism is much harder to determine, as Thomas O’Connor notes in his 2007 entry on “Jansenism” in The Oxford Companion to Irish History (“The frequent claim that Irish Catholicism was Jansenist-influenced springs from the tendency to confuse Jansenism with mere moral rigorism.”). Jansenism was just one (perhaps small) factor among many contributing to Seán Ó Faoláin’s “dreary Eden.”

If there is something to this, though, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jansenism—with its hyper-Augustinianism, insistence on human depravity, confused doctrine of freedom and grace, other-worldliness, and moral rigorism—was theologically pernicious (condemned in Cum occasione by Pope Innocent X in 1653 and in Unigenitus dei filius by Pope Clement VI in 1713). A Catholic culture shaped by it distorts our understanding of the human person and society, and bad theological doctrines about God, human nature, and sin can wreak havoc even if the institutional forms of the Church endure for a time. Jansenism produced a towering genius in Blaise Pascal and a minor genius in Antoine Arnauld, but it was an unfortunate development in early modern Catholicism. As we think about how to build (or re-build, as it may be) Catholic culture, we would do well to remember that joy is at the heart of the gospel, and a Catholic culture drained of such joy by Jansenism or its cousins will, when the time comes, all too easily be swept away.”

Love & the JOY!!! of the Gospel,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura?: Bible not available to individual Christians until 15th century

Ancient-Bible

Let us recall that, until lately in the modern age, books were expensive possessions, and literacy, uncommon. Many will accuse the Church of burning heretics and their heretical books. Actually, it was the State which viewed heresy as treasonous, and burned heretics at the stake along with witches, et al. The Church was forbidden from shedding blood. The rack and the pear do not shed blood, necessarily.

This seems like a logical and reasonable practice to me if your goal is to preserve the intellectual integrity of knowledge amongst a grossly uneducated/undereducated populace. Seems reasonable. Of course, you can see how much unity and peace we have in the modern age from widely available varieties of texts, mass distribution and availability of ideas, the humility to learn, and general literacy and education, even if heretical. Right? (sic) While you may not approve of their methods, you cannot accuse their premise of being incorrect. You cannot; too much proof. Too much.

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-by Joel Peters

“Essential to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is the idea that the Holy Spirit will enlighten each believer as to the correct interpretation for a given Bible passage. This idea presupposes that each believer possesses a Bible or at least has access to a Bible. The difficulty with such a presumption is that the Bible was not able to be mass-produced and readily available to individual believers until the advent of the printing press in the 15th century. (34) Even then, it would have taken quite some time for large numbers of Bibles to be printed and disseminated to the general population.

The predicament caused by this state of affairs is that millions upon millions of Christians who lived prior to the 15th century would have been left without a final authority, left to flounder spiritually, unless by chance they had access to a hand-copied Bible. Even a mere human understanding of such circumstances would make God out to be quite cruel, as He would have revealed the fullness of His Word to humanity in Christ, knowing that the means by which such information could be made readily available would not exist for another 15 centuries.

On the other hand, we know that God is not cruel at all, but in fact has infinite love for us. It is for this reason that He did not leave us in darkness. He sent us His Son to teach us the way we should believe and act, and this Son established a Church to promote those teachings through preaching to both the learned and the illiterate. “Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Rom. 10:17). Christ also gave to His Church His guarantee that He would always be with it, never allowing it to fall into error. God, therefore, did not abandon His people and make them rely upon the invention of the printing press to be the means whereby they would come to a saving knowledge of His Son. Instead, He gave us a divinely established, infallible teacher, the Catholic Church, to provide us with the means to be informed of the Good News of the Gospel – and to be informed correctly.”

Love,
Matthew

34. It should be noted that the inventor of the printing press – Johannes Gutenberg – was Catholic, and that the first book he printed was the Bible (circa 1455). It should also be noted that the first printed Bible contained 73 books, the exact same number as today’s Catholic Bible. Protestants deleted 7 books from the Old Testament after the Bible had already begun being printed.

Sola Scriptura?: Hundreds of Bible versions

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joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“As mentioned in the prior post, there are thousands and thousands of variations in the Biblical manuscripts. This problem is compounded by the fact that history has known hundreds of Bible versions, which vary in translation as well as textual sources. The question which begs to be asked is, “Which version is the correct one?” or “Which version is closest to the original manuscripts?” One possible answer will depend on which side of the Catholic/Protestant issue you situate yourself. Another possible answer will depend upon which Bible scholars you consider to be trustworthy and reputable.

The simple fact is that some versions are clearly inferior to others. Progress in the field of Biblical research made possible by archaeological discoveries (e.g., the Dead Sea Scrolls) has vastly improved our knowledge of the ancient Biblical languages and settings. We know more today about the variables impacting upon Biblical studies than our counterparts of 100, 200, or 1,000 years ago. From this point of view, modern Bible versions may have a certain superiority to older Bible versions. On the other hand, Bibles based on the Latin Vulgate of Saint Jerome (4th century) – in English, this is the Douay-Rheims – are based on original texts which have since perished, and thus these traditional versions bypass 16 centuries of possible textual corruption.

This fact causes a considerable problem for the Protestant, because it means that modern Protestants may have in some respects a “better” or more accurate Bible than their forbears, while in other respects they may have a “poorer” or less accurate Bible – which in turn means that modern Protestants have either a “more authoritative” final authority or a “less authoritative” final authority than their predecessors. But the existence of degrees of authoritativeness begins to undermine Sola Scirptura, because it would mean that one Bible is not as authentic a final authority as another one. And if it is not as authentic, then the possibility of transmitting erroneous doctrine increases, and the particular Bible version then fails to function as the final authority, since it is not actually final.

Another point to consider is that Bible translators, as human beings, are not completely objective and impartial. Some may be likely to render a given passage in a manner which corresponds more closely with one belief system rather than with another. An example of this tendency can be seen in Protestant Bibles where the Greek word paradoseis occurs. Since Protestants deny the existence of Sacred Tradition, some Protestant translations of the Bible render this word as “teachings” or “customs” rather than “tradition,” as the latter would tend to give more weight to the Catholic position.

Yet another consideration is the reality that some versions of the Bible are outright perversions of the Biblical texts, as in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation. Here the “translators” render key passages in a manner which suits their erroneous doctrines. (32) Now unless there is an authority outside of the Bible to declare such translations unreliable and dangerous, by what authority could someone call them unsuited for use in teaching doctrine? If the Protestant responds by saying that this issue can be determined on the basis of Biblical scholarship, then he is ignorant of the fact that the Jehovah’s Witnesses also cite sources of Biblical scholarship in support of their translation of these passages! The issue then devolves into a game of pitting one source of scholarship against another – one human authority against another.

Ultimately, the problem can only be resolved through the intervention of an infallible teaching authority which speaks on behalf of Christ. The Catholic knows that that authority is the Roman Catholic Church and its Magisterium or teaching authority. In an exercise of this authority, Catholic Bishops grant an imprimatur (meaning “Let it be printed”) to be included on the opening pages of certain Bible versions and other spiritual literature to alert the reader that the book contains nothing contrary to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.” (33)

Love,
Matthew

(32) Of the numerous examples which could be cited, space considerations confine us to just a few to illustrate the point. In John 1:1, the NWT reads, “… and the Word was a god” rather than “and the Word was God,” because Witnesses deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:15-20, the NWT inserts the word “other” into the text four times because Witnesses believe that Jesus Christ Himself was created. In Matthew 26:26 the NWT reads “… this means my body…” instead of “This is my body,” because Witnesses deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

(33) Moreover, the old Latin Vulgate version of the Bible received a very particular approval by the Church at the Council of Trent among all the Latin editions of the Scriptures then in circulation. The Council of Trent declared: “Moreover, the same Holy Council [of Trent]… ordains and declares that the old Latin Vulgate Edition, which, in use for so many hundred years, has been approved by the Church, be in public lectures, disputations, sermons and expositions held as authentic, and that no one dare or presume under any pretext whatsoever to reject it.” (Fourth Session, April 8, 1546). Hence, as Pope Pius XII stated in his 1943 encyclical letter Divino Afflante Spiritu (“On the Promotion of Biblical Studies”), the Vulgate, “when interpreted in the sense in which the Church has always understood it,” is “free from any error whatsoever in matters of faith and morals.

In 1907 Pope Saint Pius X (1903-1914) initiated a revision of the Vulgate to achieve even greater textual accuracy. After his death, this huge project was carried on by others. In 1979 Pope John Paul II promulgated a “New Vulgate” as “Editio typica” or “normative edition’.”

United Methodism – Doctrinal Pluralism, and its effects

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-John Wesley, founder of Methodism

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-by William J. Abraham, June 1998, is the Albert Cook Outler Professor of Wesley Studies at the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. He is the author of “Waking From Doctrinal Amnesia: The Healing of Doctrine in the United Methodist Church” (1995) and “Canon and Criterion in Christian Theology from the Fathers to Feminism”, from Clarendon/Oxford University Press.

“The United Methodist Church stands at a critical moment. Founded in 1968 at a time of ecumenical enthusiasm and euphoria, it now harbors within it forces that threaten to destroy it as a single body. Those forces did not arise overnight; indeed they stretch back into the parent bodies that merged to form United Methodism. Three groups, the liberals, radicals, and conservatives, are finding their uneasy compromise difficult to maintain.

It has long been agreed that United Methodism is a coalition of diverse conviction and opinion, having been formed under the banner of theological pluralism. Church leaders took the view in the 1970s that the core identity of United Methodism, if there was one at all, was located in commitment to the Methodist Quadrilateral (Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience), and that this not only permitted but in fact sanctioned and fostered doctrinal pluralism.

Doctrinal pluralism, despite its intellectual incoherence, will work so long as something akin to Liberal Protestantism is held by the leadership of the church and so long as those who are not Liberal Protestants acquiesce. In fact pluralism is part of the intellectual structure of Liberal Protestantism.

If you believe that Christian doctrine is essentially an attempt to capture dimensions of human experience that defy precise expression in language because of personal and cultural limitations, then the truth about God, the human condition, salvation, and the like can never be adequately posited once and for all; on the contrary, the church must express ever and anew its experience of the divine as mediated through Jesus Christ.

The church becomes a kind of eternal seminar whose standard texts keep changing and whose conversation never ends. In these circumstances pluralism is an inescapable feature of the church’s life. Pluralism effectively prevents the emergence of Christian doctrinal confession, that is, agreed Christian conviction and truth; and it creates the psychological and social conditions for constant self-criticism and review.

The incoherence of this position is not difficult to discern, despite its initial plausibility. On its own terms it cannot tolerate, for example, those who believe that there really is a definitive revelation of the divine, that the church really can discern and express the truth about God through the working of reason and the Holy Spirit, and that such truth is necessary for effective mission and service. Hence pluralism is by nature exclusionary. Thus it is no surprise that pluralists readily desert their pluralism in their vehement opposition to certain kinds of classical and conservative theology.

Pluralism is at once absolutist and relativist. It is absolutely committed to the negative doctrine that there is no divine revelation that delivers genuine knowledge of God; it is absolutely committed to a radically apophatic conception of Christian theology, so that no human language or concept, no product of reason at all, can adequately express the mystery of the divine; and it is absolutely committed to using theology to articulate Christian doctrine given the needs and idiom of the day. But it is relativist in its vision of what constitutes the material content of Christian doctrine at any point in history. Doctrine for the pluralists is the expression of Christian teaching as worked out by some appropriate theology and expressed in terms adequate to the culture of the day. To them, Christian tradition constitutes a series of landmark expressions of the faith which are worth exploring, but which must change to incorporate new insights and new truth. On this analysis tradition is seen to be a relatively benign, if not strictly binding, phenomenon.

More recently, however, a very different attitude to the church’s tradition has emerged. There is now abroad in theology a form of Radical Protestantism which constitutes a whole new vision of Christian faith and existence. Its proponents claim that the tradition is dominated by patriarchy and exclusion, the product of oppressive forces linked to geographical location, social class, race, and gender. It is not to be tolerated, but stamped out and destroyed. Nobody, at least in public, would be prepared to state the matter that bluntly, but that is the truth of the matter.

Like the liberals, the radicals are both absolutists and relativists, but about different matters. They absolutize a commitment to liberation, emancipation, and empowerment. Equally absolute is the privileged position of designated victims of oppression. In some radical circles we can detect that a working doctrine of divine revelation has crept back into their discourse, where certain experiences of oppression and liberation are taken as epiphanies or as visible signs of the reign of God, and anything that questions the truth embedded in these experiences must be suppressed. On the other hand, radicals insist, we should not suppress the diverse convictions, ideologies, theories, and discourses of the new included groups. They become the real focus of pluralism as we try to foster different voices, experiences, readings, and proposals within the carefully circumscribed boundaries.

Within intellectual circles in United Methodism these developments have caused some consternation. Many of the great Liberal Protestant teachers of the tradition in the last generation have become disillusioned by the loss of their cherished conceptions of critical inquiry, courtesy, and academic standards. They are undergoing a mixed sense of despair, betrayal, and alienation. Their ideas of objective scholarship have been overtaken by forms of engaged or committed scholarship which they see as a mixture of radical subjectivism and political manipulation. A fertile few have managed to find a way to take on board some of the new theories without jettisoning the deep structure of their position, but the general sense is one of weariness and deep loss.

Recently, divisions that had only surfaced in academic discussions have begun to move out into the wider church. Significant numbers of women clergy now see opposition to their intellectual positions as ineradicably linked to right-wing Christianity or as inextricably tied to a backlash on the part of white male members in the church. This is entirely in keeping with the underlying convictions about knowledge and power that animate much of the new trend in theology.

These developments are a genuinely new arrival within the borders of United Methodism. This is not, of course, the first time that there has been a changing of the academic guard; but this time we have something more, an intentional political edge that does not permit it to be contained within the standard liberal language of tolerance and civility. “Engaged scholarship” brings into the heart of the discussion considerations related to emotion, commitment, personal identity, subjective reception, and radical enactment in the public arena. There is in fact a missionary dimension that drives its adherents to transform the church and the world. In this respect the new orthodoxy is very much like earlier forms of orthodoxy that sought to serve the church from within a very particular confessional stance. There is also a concomitant concern to link knowledge and action and to relate action to vital spirituality.

Many fine pastors, theologians, and administrators, people who have given a generation of service to the church and who are committed to a small core of Christological conviction surrounded by a very flexible outer ring of conviction, still imagine that things are much the same as they were when they were in seminary. Such leaders have been able to survive intellectually by folding the reigning diversity and pluralism into their conviction that Jesus really is the Son of God and the teacher and savior of the world. Their motto could be summed up: “Stick closely to Christ and leave the rest to God and human history.” This is an inadequate body of doctrine for the long haul of history, but it has served a whole generation remarkably well. Although they are aware that the intellectual landmarks are changing, they find it difficult to believe that the basic commitment to civility, relevant evidence, and respect for the tradition of the church across the ages might be overtaken by a very different vision of the church. Yet it is only a matter of time before the changes identified above will force themselves upon these leaders.

To round out this contemporary portrait of the United Methodist Church, something needs to be said about conservative or classical Methodists. It is this group, often identified in secularist fashion as the right wing of the denomination, that is accused of splitting the church.

This charge is puzzling in the extreme, for the practice of even the hard-line conservatives has been anything but schismatic. Rather than pull out, they have opted over many years to stay in and work for renewal. Indeed, most conservatives within United Methodism are instinctively oriented to renewal rather than schism. Those committed to schism have already left and gone elsewhere. The conservative wing of the church is itself a fragile coalition, including those who lean in a catholic direction, those who are card-carrying charismatics, those inclined in an Anabaptist direction, and those who are really pragmatists at heart but for the moment lean to conservatism out of convenience and traditional piety. Those who believe that there is some kind of conspiracy afoot to pull out and form a new church overlook these differences among conservatives, and underestimate the difficulty of bringing them all together. The coalition holds together informally for the most part because of the perceived threat to the integrity and continuity of the Methodist tradition. Take away that threat and the inner divisions within the conservative wing of the church will quickly become visible.

Three additional considerations are pivotal for understanding the current mood among conservatives. First, they have been reasonably effective at the local level; in some cases their success in growing local churches has been spectacular. This has kept them busy and enabled them to ignore those features of the larger church that disturb them. Secondly, they have become more organized politically within the church as a whole. Though still at the margins, they now have to be reckoned with seriously. Thirdly, a network of highly educated conservative academics has begun something of a renaissance of classical Wesleyanism. The development of such a network opens the way for a deeper renewal, looking to issues of principle that would otherwise be ignored and to articulating a more forceful diagnosis of the situation in the church.

Schismatic activity would involve conservatives abandoning their own principles. There are few more telling pieces on the evils of schism and its consequences than that provided by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. (The irony of Wesley’s own position will not, however, be lost on the perceptive reader, for Wesley made this attack on parties within the church all the while he was organizing one of the most effective renewal movements that Anglicanism had seen.)

Consider the following comments:

As . . . separation is evil in itself, being a breach of brotherly love, so it brings forth evil fruit; it is naturally productive of the most mischievous consequences. It opens a door to all unkind tempers, both in ourselves and others. It leads directly to a whole train of evil surmisings, to severe and uncharitable judging of each other. It gives occasion to offense, to anger, and to resentment, perhaps in ourselves as well as in our brethren, which if not presently stopped, may issue in bitterness, malice, and settled hatred, creating a present hell wherever they are found, as a prelude to hell eternal.

Wesley provides a graphic catalogue of woes that follow from division and schism. Evil tempers lead to evil actions, which in turn lead some Christians to abandon the faith and put their eternal salvation at risk. Offense is given to the Holy Spirit, holiness is quenched, and evangelism suffers, for outsiders see no point in becoming Christian. Ultimately both the power and the very form of religion are destroyed. Even a cursory reading of Wesley is an antidote to any thought of schism in the church.

Despite these features of conservative Methodism, others still fear it as a source of division in the church, and perhaps understandably so. A new brand of conservative is emerging who is arguing that United Methodism really does have a substantial doctrine to which the tradition has been and should be committed. Non-conservative United Methodists instinctively fear that such a perspective will divide the church because it involves the marking of boundaries between those who are in and those who are out. In short, critics are relying on the old slogan that doctrine divides while experience unites. The insistence that United Methodism is a confessional church, a central claim of most conservatives, threatens the commitment to pluralism, diversity, and inclusiveness of the last generation of United Methodists. Here we have reached the nub of the charge, for abandoning pluralism and accepting diversity only within agreed boundaries does indeed represent a significant departure from the unstable orthodoxy that has been in vogue for so long.

Yet even this move on the part of conservatives need not lead to schism. On the contrary, those pressing this reorientation have done exactly what those committed to pluralism did a generation ago. They have worked out a careful account of the United Methodist tradition that rivals the prevailing one. They have proposed a deep conversation on the doctrinal identity of United Methodism, and they have insisted that any debate that emerges be conducted in a serious and civilized fashion. Moreover, they readily acknowledge that proposed legislative and other changes, if needed, should be carried out within the corridors and courts of the church in a rational and fair manner. Liberal Protestants should grasp the value of such an approach immediately. It is an open question whether they will actually do so, or whether they will join with Radical Protestants in dismissing this whole exercise as a cover for ideology and a quest for power.

In light of all these considerations, it is quite remarkable that United Methodism has been able to hang together for so long. While other factors are clearly involved, we have been fortunate to have had a cadre of Liberal Protestants who have been able to lead (albeit in a way that has exasperated both conservatives and radicals), and to have had a strong commitment on the part of conservatives to stay on board and work for renewal. However, as I have noted, this is now in the process of disintegrating, and it is the liberal commitment to pluralism that is giving way. Pluralism, much as it continues to be prized among liberals, is a self-destructive notion rejected by both radicals and conservatives. It is an inherently unstable arrangement that cannot survive either the force of logic or the march of events.

We are facing, then, the breakdown of a working consensus, and it is not difficult to imagine what it would take to complete the break. A headstrong figure, the theological and ecclesiastical equivalent of a Ross Perot, might emerge and insist that the whole church follow his way or die. A significant group of bishops could manage to develop an agenda deeply at odds with prevailing circumstances. Some large bodies, or jurisdictions, might become so alienated from the leadership of the church and so upset about funding policies in key areas that they decide to withhold all contributions to the Connection, the governing body of United Methodism.

Suppose there emerged from left or right an issue of moral commitment over which the diverse movements in the church could agree that church-wide action must be taken but could not agree on what action to take. Suppose, further, that this issue was logically related to matters of principle at a deeper level, so that one could not commit oneself on this issue without also making significant commitments about the internal logic and character of the tradition as a whole. Suppose, still further, that those demanding action intended to use not just argument and rhetoric but activist demonstration to secure their ends. Suppose, finally, that they were to form a community of local churches and other entities within United Methodism that both expressed their moral convictions and worked assiduously for the practical adoption of their agenda. If such a scenario were to develop, then there can be no doubting that the community would be ripe for outright schism.

It does not take a rocket scientist to work out what the relevant scenario actually is. Like all mainline Protestant denominations, United Methodism finds itself challenged on its traditional position on sexual morality by the emergence of the conscientious conviction that gay and lesbian relationships are a legitimate expression of God’s good and diverse creation. Revisionists are sufficiently agitated by the righteousness of their cause that they deem it essential to make use of both rational and nonrational means to win over the church as whole. More than a decade ago they took the important step of institutionalizing their position across the denomination.

There is a deep and unintended irony in this development. The theology driving the conscience of change is one that is deeply committed to inclusivism. In this theology gay and lesbian Christians have the same status earlier attributed to slaves and currently attributed to women, the status of those excluded from the traditional church. The clear aim is to include this new minority within the church, but the effect is to drive out those opposed to legitimizing homosexuality. Because they see themselves as agents of reconciliation and unity, the revisionists have difficulty seeing that their position is in effect exclusionary.

Awareness of this paradox may do little to alter the way things will turn out. Perceptive revisionists can see this, and they face a difficult dilemma. One prominent pastor personally committed to the position of the revisionists stated in a pastoral letter to his congregation that were the revisionists successful, those opposed to the legitimization of homosexuality would be forced to make a painful decision: they could either remain within a church that would stand for an agenda they found incompatible with obedience to Christ, or they could leave the church. “On an issue on which the whole body of believers finds so many unresolvable questions, I find it unacceptable to force a large number of our members to face this dilemma.”

This is a refreshing acknowledgment of the matter. Equally refreshing in its honesty is the following comment of a senior pastor of a Reconciling (i.e., revisionist) congregation.

Now it is our turn to get honest. Although the creeds of our denomination pay lip service to the idea that Scripture is “authoritative” and “sufficient for faith and practice,” many of us have moved far beyond that notion in our theological thinking. We are only deceiving ourselves—and lying to our evangelical brothers and sisters—when we deny the shift we have made.

We have moved beyond Luther’s sola Scriptura for the same reason the Catholic Church moved beyond the canonized Scriptures after the fourth century. We recognize that understandings of situations change. “New occasions teach new duties.” We have moved far beyond the idea that the Bible is exclusively normative and literally authoritative for our faith. To my thinking, that is good! What is bad is that we have tried to con ourselves and others by saying “we haven’t changed our position.”

Furthermore, few of us retain belief in Christ as the sole way of salvation. We trust that God can work under many other names and in many other forms to save people. Our views have changed over the years.

Such an admission makes clear that more is at stake on this issue than a new moral judgment of homosexuality. What is at stake are issues of principle—the role of revelation and Scripture in the formation of conscience—that affect matters of doctrine ranging from the place of the Methodist Quadrilateral in the formation of United Methodist identity to the place of Christ in salvation.

The dilemma for the conservatives, forced upon them by the attack against traditional teachings, is simple: they perceive their position to be essential to Christianity, so they cannot see it abandoned and retain loyalty to what is left.

Not surprisingly, we can look to the founder of Methodism for guidance. John Wesley recognized that not all internal disputes within the church could be traced back to bad faith or lack of love. Some were matters of conscience. Speaking of his relationship to his beloved Church of England, he wrote:

I am now, and have been from my youth, a member and a minister of the Church of England. And I have no desire nor design to separate from it till my soul separates from my body. Yet if I was not permitted to remain therein without omitting what God requires me to do, it would then become meet, and right, and my bounden duty to separate from it without delay. To be more particular, I know God has committed to me a dispensation of the gospel. Yea, and my own salvation depends upon preaching it: “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” If then I could not remain in the church without omitting this, without desisting from the gospel, I should be under a necessity of separating from it, or losing my own soul. In like manner, if I could not continue to unite with any smaller society, church, or body of Christians, without committing sin, without lying and hypocrisy, without preaching to other doctrines which I did not myself believe, I should be under an absolute necessity of separating from that society. And in all these cases the sin of separation, with all the evils consequent upon it, would not lie upon me, but upon those who constrained me to make that separation by requiring of me such terms of communion as I could not in conscience comply with.

This is a sobering admonition. Given that it appears within the canonical heritage of United Methodism, it is worth asking whether what it portends can be forestalled. How might division be avoided? We can think of several possibilities, all of them unlikely.

Perhaps there will be decisive new evidence or a fresh interpretation of the available doctrinal and empirical data that will lead one side to convert the other, thereby salvaging unity. This is a very unlikely possibility, for it is implausible to think that radically new evidence will emerge, or that a significantly new reordering of current data will be advanced. The standard lines are well known and unlikely to change.

Perhaps someone with the stature and wisdom of Solomon will emerge and find a way to develop a framework in which both sides could accept each other within an agreed consensus. This is an unlikely scenario for at least two reasons. First, the church as a whole has experimented at length with this very option in its commitment to doctrinal pluralism. As I have repeatedly argued, this is an incoherent and unstable arrangement that is now falling apart. Second, the tradition is too big and too full of parties, caucuses, movements, and organizations to permit such a person emerging on a national scale. The same logic applies to the possibility of concerted effort on the part of the Council of Bishops—the bishops themselves are deeply divided on the relevant issues and have now expressed that division in public.

Perhaps the revisionists will come to acknowledge the consequences of their position and withdraw either to form a new church or to join a church that advocates their position. This too is unlikely.

The revisionists do not present a monolithic front. In fact one of the most interesting features of the revisionist position is that it can harbor both liberals and radicals, a feat of significant proportions given the tension between these two groups. The revisionist position spans the field from those who might entertain second thoughts about their position all the way to those who are absolutely convinced that revision is demanded by the gospel, stems from the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and represents appropriate prophetic action in the current generation. Some of the latter also take the view that all opposition to their cause is prompted by bigotry, intolerance of minorities, and ignorance. Many of them believe that their cause is as correct as that of opposition to slavery and of the opening of ordination to women. Given these sorts of convictions, it is most unlikely that the revisionists will discontinue pursuing their aims within the church.

What then is likely to happen? Initially, much will depend on the speed of developments in the deliberations and actions of three major constituencies within the church: the liberal institutionalists, the racial and ethnic minorities, and the conservatives.

The institutionalists are concerned less with the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality and related issues than with the future of the denomination. Their natural reaction to the church’s dilemma is a mixture of anger, distress, irritation, and fear. They would dearly love not to address the issues at all, to muddle through as best they can, and to stay clear of all talk of division and schism. Their heads may well be with the conservatives, but their hearts are with the revisionists—hence they find themselves inwardly torn. They especially fear any discussion that goes to the principles of the tradition, preferring to live as best as they can with whatever compromise is worked out. The time for decision for this group will come when they must enact the practices of the revisionists in their local churches. At that point their heads must win out over their hearts if a schism is to be avoided.

The minority groups—African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans—will also be crucial for future developments. In this case there will be even greater reluctance to side with the conservatives in the church. In the past, these groups have perceived conservatives to be suspect on racism, while on the other hand they worked with liberals in the fight for civil rights, and several of their theological heroes are crucial forerunners if not advocates of radicalism. Their natural alliance would seem to be with the revisionists. Yet much of the theological and liturgical content of the African American, Hispanic, and Asian American traditions is in fact deeply conservative and orthodox. It is, therefore, very possible that the leaders of these traditions could break with their earlier alliances and move in a significantly different direction.

Finally, there are the conservatives. Some of them will undoubtedly take an aggressive line, resorting to legislative action, mass mailings, letter-writing campaigns, verbal agitation, and the like. This is all the more likely in light of the recent narrow acquittal by a church tribunal of a pastor on the charges that he violated church law by performing a wedding ceremony for two lesbian members of his Omaha, Nebraska, congregation.

Other conservatives, those who would gladly identify themselves as moderates, traditionalists, or centrists, may well be glad that there are more radical conservatives around to raise the issues, but they are extremely nervous about any kind of drastic action. Tempted perhaps to take the line adopted by institutionalists, they will bide their time hoping that the crash never comes.

In the short term we need some way to hold off precipitous actions on the homosexual issue that will lead to the division of the church. But it is clear that homosexuality is but one of a number of potentially church-dividing issues. In the long term we need to stimulate conversation toward the emergence of a new theological consensus that might command the allegiance of a majority in the church at large.

However this important conversation continues, and it surely will continue, it must be informed by the very real possibility that the Liberal Protestant project exemplified by United Methodism was flawed from the start. Perhaps the very idea of theological pluralism was bound to self-destruct in time. These are the ominous questions now engaged. The truth and the church we love deserve from parties on all sides of these questions clear thinking, honest speaking, mutual respect—and much prayer and fasting.”

Love,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura?: Biblical manuscripts contain thousands of variations

hipster
-Hipster, The Teacher???

joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“It has just been noted that there are thousands of Biblical manuscripts in existence; these manuscripts contain thousands of variations in the text; one writer estimates that there are over 200,000 variations. (25) Whereas the majority of these deal with minor concerns – such as spelling, word order and the like – there are also variations of a more important nature: a) the manuscript evidence shows that scribes sometimes modified the Biblical texts to harmonize passages, to accommodate them to historical fact, and to establish a doctrinal correctness; (26) and b) there are portions of verses (i.e., more than just a single word in question) for which there are several different manuscript readings, such as John 7:39, Acts 6:8, Colossians 2:2 and 1 Thessalonians 3:2. (27) These facts leave the Protestant in the position of not knowing if he possesses what the Biblical authors originally wrote. And if this is the case, then how can a Protestant profess to base his beliefs solely on the Bible when he cannot determine with certainty the textual authenticity of the Bible? (28)

More importantly, there are several more major textual variations among New Testament manuscripts. The following two examples will illustrate the point:

First, according to the manuscripts that we have, there are four possible endings for Mark’s Gospel: the short ending, which includes verses 1-8 of chapter 16; the longer ending, which includes verses 1-8 plus verses 9-20; the intermediate ending, which includes 2 to 3 lines of text between verse 8 and the longer ending; and the longer ending in expanded form, which includes several verses after verse 14 of the longer ending. (29) The best that can be said about these different endings is that we simply do not know for certain, from the Bible itself, where St. Mark’s Gospel concluded, and, depending on which ending(s) is/are included in a Protestant’s Bible, the publisher runs the risk of either adding verses to or omitting verses from the original text – thus violating the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, which requires “the Bible alone and in its entirety” as the basis of faith. Even if a Protestant’s Bible includes all four endings with explanatory comments and/or footnotes, he still cannot be certain which of the four endings is genuine.

Second, there is manuscript evidence for alternate readings in some pivotal verses of the Bible, such as John 1:18, where there are two possible wordings. (30) Some (such as the King James Version) read along the lines of the Douay-Rheims: “No man hath seen God at any time: the only begotten Son Who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Either wording is substantiated by manuscript evidence, and you will therefore find Biblical scholars relying on their best educated judgment as to which one is “correct.” A similar situation occurs at Acts 20:28, where the manuscript evidence shows that Saint Paul could be referring to either the “church of the Lord” (Greek kuriou) or the “church of God” (Greek theou). (31)

Now this point may seem trivial at first, but suppose you are trying to evangelize a cult member who denies the divinity of Jesus Christ. While John 1:18 and Acts 20:28 are clearly not the only passages to use in defense of Our Lord’s divinity, you still may be unable to utilize these verses with that person, depending on which manuscript tradition your Bible follows. That would leave you marginally less able to defend a major Biblical doctrine, and the very nature of this fact become quite problematic from the perspective of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.”

Love,
Matthew

(25) Raymond F. Collins, Introduction to the New Testament (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1983), p. 77.

(26) Ibid., pp. 100-102.

(27) Bruce M. Metzger (Protestant author), The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration (Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 221-225, 234-242.

(28) It has been maintained by Protestants that in all the variations in Biblical manuscripts, not one touches upon a major doctrine. Even though this assertion is untrue, it does not alter the fact that the Protestant is here admitting, at least obliquely, that it is permissible to accept something which is less than or different from the “real” Bible. And if this is true, then the Protestant himself has begun to undermine Sola Scriptura.

(29) Metzger, op. cit., pp. 226-228.

(30) Collins, op. cit., p. 102.

(31) Metzger, op. cit., p. 234.

Sola Scriptura?: None of the original manuscripts exist

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joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“A sobering consideration – and one which is fatal to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura – is that we do not possess a single original manuscript of any book of the Bible. Now it is true that there are thousands of manuscripts extant which are copies of the originals – and more likely than not they are copies of copies – but this fact does not help the Sola Scriptura position for the simple reason that without original manuscripts, one cannot know with certainty if he actually possesses the real Bible, whole and entire. (23) The original autographs were inspired, while copies of them are not.

The Protestant may want to assert that not having original Biblical manuscripts is immaterial, as God preserved the Bible by safeguarding its duplication down through the centuries. (24) However, there are two problems with this line of reasoning. The first is that by maintaining God’s providence with regard to copying, a person claims something which is not written in Scripture, and therefore, by the very definition of Sola Scriptura, cannot serve as a rule of faith. In other words, if one cannot find passages in the Bible which patently state that God will protect the transmission of manuscripts, then the belief is not to be held. The fact of the matter is that the Bible makes no such claim.

The second problem is that if you can maintain that God safeguarded the written transmission of His Word, then you can also rightly maintain that He safeguarded its oral transmission as well (recall 2 Thessalonians 2:14 [15] and the twofold form of God’s one revelation). After all, the preaching of the Gospel began as an oral tradition (cf. Luke 1:1-4 and Rom. 10:17). It was not until later on that some of the oral tradition was committed to writing – becoming Sacred Scripture – and it was later still that these writings were declared to be inspired and authoritative. Once you can maintain that God safeguarded the oral transmission of His teaching, you have demonstrated the basis for Sacred Tradition and have already begun supporting the Catholic position.”

Love,
Matthew

(23) The earliest copies of the Bible, Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, both date from the 4th century A.D., and neither one contains the entire Bible, as parts of the manuscripts have been lost or destroyed. The vast majority of the manuscripts that exist are only portions of the Bible.

(24) The irony here is that it was due to the tireless efforts of Catholic monks working laboriously in their monasteries that the written Word of God survived down through the centuries. The claim that the Catholic Church did everything in its power to suppress the Bible is a most pernicious falsehood, and it can readily be refuted by even the most cursory examination of and research into Church history. Quite the contrary, the Catholic Church, in its unique role as guardian of the Deposit of Faith, protected the Bible’s integrity from spurious and faulty translations, and it was these spurious and faulty copies of the Bible which it burned or destroyed to prevent false gospels from being circulated.

Sola Scriptura?: Bible not “self-authenticating”

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joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“Lacking a satisfactory answer to the question of how the canon of the Bible was determined, Protestants often resort to the notion that Scripture is “self-authenticating,” that is, the books of the Bible witness to themselves that they are inspired of God. The major problem with such an assertion is simply that even a cursory examination of ecclesial history will demonstrate it to be utterly untrue.

For example, several books from the New Testament – James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation – were disputed in terms of their canonical status for some time. In certain places they were accepted, while simultaneously in other s they were rejected. Even spiritual giants like St. Athanasius (297-373), St. Jerome (c. 342-420) and St. Augustine (354-430) had drawn up lists of New Testament books which witnessed to what was generally acknowledged as inspired in their times and places, but none of these lists corresponds exactly to the New Testament canon that was eventually identified by the Catholic Church at the end of the 4th century and which is identical to the canon that Catholics have today. (22)

If Scripture were actually “self-authenticating,” why was there so much disagreement and uncertainty over these various books? Why was there any disagreement at all? Why was the canon of the Bible not identified much earlier if the books were allegedly so readily discernible? The answer that one is compelled to accept in this regard is simply that the Bible is not self-authenticating at all.

Even more interesting is the fact that some books in the Bible do not identify their authors. The idea of self-authentication – if it were true – might be more plausible if each and every Biblical author identified himself, as we could more easily examine that author’s credentials, so to speak, or at least determine who it was that claimed to be speaking for God. But in this regard the Bible leaves us ignorant in a few instances.

Take St. Matthew’s Gospel as one example; nowhere does the text indicate that it was Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, who authored it. We are therefore left with only two possibilities for determining its authorship: 1) what Tradition has to say, 2) Biblical scholarship. In either case, the source of determination is an extra-Biblical source and would therefore fall under condemnation by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

Now the Protestant may be saying at this point that it is unnecessary to know whether or not Matthew actually wrote this Gospel, as one’s salvation does not depend on knowing whether it was Matthew or someone else. But such a view presents quite a difficulty. What the Protestant is effectively saying is that while an authentic Gospel is God’s Word and is the means by which a person comes to a saving knowledge of Christ, the person has no way of knowing for certain in the case of Matthew’s Gospel whether it is Apostolic in origin and consequently has no way of knowing it if its genuine (i.e., God’s Word) or not. And if this Gospel’s authenticity is questionable, then why include it in the Bible? If its authenticity is certain, then how is this known in the absence of self-identification by Matthew? One can only conclude that the Bible is not self-authenticating.

The Protestant may wish to fall back on the Bible’s own assertion that it is inspired, citing a passage like 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable…” However, a claim to inspiration is not in and of itself a guarantee of inspiration. Consider the fact that the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science sect, claim to be inspired. The writings of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon sect, claim to be inspired. These are but two of many possible examples which demonstrate the that any particular writing can claim just about anything. Obviously, in order for us to know with certainty whether or not a writing is genuinely inspired, we need more than a mere claim by that writing that it is inspired. The guarantee of inspiration must come from outside that writing. In the case of the Bible, the guarantee must come from a non-Biblical source. But outside authentication is excluded by the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and, necessarily void the concept of “self-authentication”.”

Love,
Matthew

(22) Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1911; Rockford, IL: TAN, 1977, 17th printing), pp. 31

Sola Scriptura?: Extra-biblical authority identified canon

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joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“Since the Bible did not come with an inspired table of contents, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura creates yet another dilemma: How can one know with certainty which books belong in the Bible – specifically, in the New Testament? The unadulterated fact is that one cannot know unless there is an authority outside the Bible which can tell him. Moreover, this authority must, by necessity, be infallible, since the possibility of error in identifying the canon of the Bible (20) would mean that all believers run the risk of having the wrong books in their Bibles, a situation which would vitiate Sola Scriptura. But if there is such an infallible authority, then the doctrine of Sola Scriptura crumbles; either way.

Another historical fact very difficult to reconcile with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is that it was none other than the Catholic Church which eventually identified and ratified the canon of the Bible. The three councils mentioned in the immediate prior post were all councils of this Church. The Catholic Church gave its final, definitive, infallible definition of the Biblical canon at the Council of Trent in 1546 – naming the very same list of 73 books that had been included in the 4th century. If the Catholic Church is able, then, to render an authoritative and infallible decision concerning such an important matter as which books belong in the Bible, then upon what basis would a person question its authority on other matters of faith and morals?

Protestants should at least concede a point which Martin Luther, their religion’s founder, also conceded, namely, that the Catholic Church safeguarded and identified the Bible: “We are obliged to yield many things to the Catholics – (for example), that they possess the Word of God, which we received from them; otherwise, we should have known nothing at all about it.” (21)

Love,
Matthew

(20) The reader must note that the Catholic Church does not claim that by identifying the books of the Bible it rendered them canonical. God alone is the author of canonicity. The Catholic Church instead claims that it and it alone has the authority and responsibility of infallibly pointing out which books comprise the Biblical canon already authored by God.

(21) Commentary on John, chapter 16, as cited in Paul Stenhouse’s Catholic Answers to “Bible” Christians (Kensington: Chevalier Press, 1993), p. 31.

Sola Scriptura?: Canon of the Bible not established by the Catholic Church until 4th century

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joel_peters
-by Joel Peters

“One historical fact which proves extremely convenient for the Protestant is the fact that the canon of the Bible – the authoritative list of exactly which books are part of inspired Scripture – was not settled and fixed until the end of the 4th century. Until that time, there was much disagreement over which Biblical writings were considered inspired and Apostolic in origin. The Biblical canon varied from place to place: some lists contained books that were later defined as non-canonical, while other lists failed to include books which were later defined as canonical. For example, there were Early Christian writings which were considered by some to be inspired and Apostolic and which were actually read in Christian public worship, but which were later omitted from the New Testament canon. These include The Shepherd of Hermas, The Epistle of Barnabas, and The Didache, among others. (18)

It was not until the Synod of Rome (382 AD) and the Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) that we find a definitive list of canonical books being drawn up, and each of these Councils acknowledged the very same list of books. (19) From this point on, there is in practice no dispute about the canon of the Bible, the only exception being the so-called Protestant Reformers, who entered upon the scene in 1517, an unbelievable 11 centuries later.

Once again, there are two fundamental questions for which one cannot provide answers that are consonant with Sola Scriptura: A) Who or what served as the final Christian authority up to the time that the New Testament’s canon was identified? B) And if there was a final authority that the Protestant recognizes before the establishment of the canon, on what basis did that authority cease being final once the Bible’s canon was established?”

Love,
Matthew

(18) Henry G. Graham, Where We Got the Bible: Our Debt to the Catholic Church (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1911; Rockford, IL: TAN, 1977, 17th printing), pp. 34-35.

(19) This list is the same as the list given in the Church’s final, definitive, explicit, infallible declaration as to which books are to be included in the Bible, which was made by the Council of Trent, Session IV, in 1546. Earlier lists of canonical books were the list in the “Decretal of Gelasius,” which was issued by authority of Pope Damasus in 382, and the canon of Pope Saint Innocent I, which was sent to a Frankish bishop in 405. Neither document was intended to be an infallible statement binding the whole Church, but both documents include the same 73 books as the list of Trent some 11 centuries later. (The Catholic Encyclopedia [New York: The Encyclopedia Press, 1913], Vol. 3, p. 272).