Scripture and Tradition

Discussion in 'Other Christian Denominations' started by Matt Black, Dec 3, 2007.

  1. Matt Black

    Matt Black
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    Hi all

    I thought it best to set out a mini-treatise as to why the above subject is important to me and, in some respects, why I am now an Anglican and not a Baptist anymore.

    By way of introduction, I think it is worth pointing out that there are, broadly speaking, two approaches to the question as to how to, as it were, ‘do’ Church; by ‘do’ I mean how to determine sound doctrine, which practices to include and which to exclude etc.

    The first theory is commonly known by its Latin title, sola Scriptura (meaning ‘Scripture alone’) and states that Scripture and only Scripture should be used in matters of faith, doctrine and practice, and in particular the New Testament. This view is adhered to by many, but not all, evangelicals, including I believe your goodselves. The drawback with this position is that it has produced a mass of contradictory interpretations (and thus splits and splinters within the Body of Christ) over what Scripture means on topics as diverse as the Last Days, church government and structure, the extent to which man has free will as opposed to being predestined by God to salvation or damnation, views on baptism and the Breaking of Bread, amongst many others. The NT is many things – divinely inspired, infallible, containing rich theology etc, but it is not a comprehensive, “all-singing, all-dancing” guide to how to be a Christian, nor does it claim to be thus sufficient. It does not, for example, prescribe what time Christians should meet on the Lord’s Day, how many times they should meet or what exactly should occur at such a meeting, nor does it say who should preside at the Lord’s Table or perform baptisms, still less what precise words should be used at either event. In matters of church structure, the Presbyterian, the Episcopalian and the Congregationalist can all in theory argue, with some justification, that their own particular forms of church governance may be found in the pages of the NT, yet they cannot all three of them (or even two of them) be correctEach ‘side’ in these debates tends to claim (of course!) that they have the full measure of the Holy Spirit and that therefore their interpretation is correct and the others have simply Got It Wrong, but they plainly can’t all be right and this approach does beg the very obvious question: who decides what interpretation is correct (and on what basis)?

    The second school of thought recognises the above problem and admits that Scripture on its own is insufficient to deal with it; this approach therefore looks to another source for matters of doctrine and practice, not in contradiction to Scripture, but in addition to and complementary to Scripture. This other source is known as Tradition (this term comes from the Latin translation, traditio, of the Greek used in 2 Thess 2:15, paradoseiV (paradoseis), meaning ‘hand over’ or ‘hand down’). It is this method of Scripture+Tradition which I wish to explain further. In so doing, I have no desire and do not seek to justify or commend the Roman Catholic view of Tradition (and it should be pointed out that the Roman Catholics are only one out of several denominations who adopt this method of interpretation).

    By way of background, I think what has to be remembered (and here I am indebted to Richard Hooker for his analysis written in the 16th century on this front) is that Scripture - and in particular the NT - is not a 'how to do church' manual, whether it be church government or liturgy etc; there are some hints, of course, but it is not comprehensive on these subjects, as we have seen above.Therefore it was left to the Church - both in the Apostolic and post-Apostolic periods - to, of necessity, work out these matters itself and it was possible for the Church to do this whilst still maintaining fidelity to Scripture. We are fortunate in that we do have a written recordto a large extent of how that happened; this record is contained within the writings variously known as ‘The Apostolic Fathers’, ‘the Patristic Writings’ or, more commonly, ‘The Early Church Fathers (ECFs)’ – men like Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, Clement of Rome, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr of Rome, Irenaeus of Lyon, Hippolytus, Cyprian of Carthage etc (I believe these individuals are in part referenced in The Lion Handbook of Christian History which you have). Their writings are not on the same level as Scripture – they are not infallible and in some instances disagree with each other – but where there is unanimity and agreement between them (known as the consensus patri) – and there is that a-plenty – then their thoughts carry an overwhelming amount of weight.

    So, for some of us, then, the NT is not the sole arbiter of matters of faith and practice. Indeed, that was the case with the Church in the first few centuries of its existence; in fact in many ways they were worse off than us in that respect. For the first seventy years or so, the entirety of the NT had not yet been written, and the Church did not decide upon or recognise all of the 27 books we have today until the end of the 4th century. Up until then, therefore, Christians had to have some other method of determining the truth of the New Covenant. The key to that other method is the record of what the Church has done and said – its practice in other words; the other reason some of us do what we do, in addition to the NT, is because our ‘spiritual ancestors’, as it were, did it, and so did their spiritual ancestors, right back to the earliest existence of the Church, ‘handed down’ (traditio) from generation to generation and, more often than not, recorded by the ECFs. What these early Christians did and thought was shaped not just by what they were able to read in the pages of the NT to which they had access, but also in reflecting how the truths (to which the Scriptures testify) were lived out in the worshipping communities from the beginning in it's liturgical life of prayer, hymns, catechesis, rule of faith, baptismal confessions, etc. ('Lex orandi, Lex credendi'--"the rule of prayer is the rule of belief") - in other words, how they 'did' Church. For instance, the Church in the early 4th century knew that the doctrine known as Arianism - the belief that Jesus Christ was a created being, inferior to God the Father and thus not God Himself - was heretical because it taught a different , 'anti' Christ--ie, a created being, inferior to the Father--Christ it had known from the beginning as God; this was despite the fact that the author of this heresy, Arius, could justify his position based on an appeal to sola Scriptura.

    This Tradition, as it has historically been called, in addition to ‘filling in the gaps’ where Scripture is silent, also helps to explain and interpret Scripture for us, to assist us in arriving at the correct understanding of what the Scripture means. For we see the pernicious effects of using Scripture as the sole rule of faith and doctrine all around us in the divisions which plague the Body of Christ referred to above. These problems are nothing new to Christendom and gave rise to the famous test of sound doctrine coined by Vincent of Lerins in the 5th century: "Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus" - "that [which has in relation to Christian doctrine been believed] everywhere, always, by everyone." In fact, I think that Vincent came out with a number of excellent points - and I am indebted to fellow-member Doubting Thomas for pointing me to these - which are worth quoting in expanded format here from his Commonitory (here, ‘catholic’ simply means ‘universal’):-



    [to be continued]
     
  2. Matt Black

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    Continued...Vincent:

    Now, if you replace the Novationists, Arians, Apollinarians etc above with 'Calvinists, Baptists, dispensationalists, charismatics, Arminians' etc, you get the picture - this is an old problem writ new. That sola Scriptura produces this problem of contradictory doctrines should not surprise us. The real question is: who or what gets to arbitrate between them?
    I would suggest the answer to this question is "the Church, the pillar and foundation of the truth (I Tim 3:15) through the Apostolic Tradition or consensus patri"

    Armed with this Tradition, the Church was able to identify and defeat the false teachings of the "wolves" warned of by St Paul, such as claiming Jesus did not really come in the flesh (docetism), diverse teachings that matter was evil and that there were two (or even multiple) ‘gods’ (Gnosticism), that Jesus only became God’s Son at His baptism (adoptionism, principally propounded by Apollinarius and hence referred to by Vincent above), that Christ was a created being (Arianism) and that the Trinity was really just one god expressed in three ways or ‘modes’ (modalism, put forward by Sabellius – see Vincent above) etc etc. In each of these cases, when both sides were quoting Scripture at each other, the Church was able to arbitrate between the proof-texts being cited on the basis of the Tradition it had consistently observed. In short, the Church was able to determine which were heretical practices and beliefs because it was able to say, in effect, “Hang on a minute, this isn’t what we’re used to; we’ve never thought or done that before.”

    If one can be in any doubt as to the Scriptural basis of this idea of Tradition, and its corollary, Apostolic Succession, then there are ample examples to support it:paul ordains presbyters in Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch in Acts 14:23 and bishops at Ephesus in Acts 20:28 to carry on his work in those places; later, Timothy is bishop at Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) having been ordained (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6) and Paul gives him instructions on how to select bishops and deacons (1 Tim 3) and also to keep the Tradition of teaching given to him orally by Paul (2 Tim 1:13-14; 3:14) as well as Scripture (2 Tim 3:15-17); similarly, Paul writes to Titus, to whom he has delegated his authority to appoint presbyters in Crete (Titus 1:5-6) and here he gives similar 'selection instruction' as to Timothy, also referring (Titus 1:7-9) to qualifications for a bishop, including "holding fast to the Word of God as he was taught it" in order to pass on sound doctrine to others (Tradition). It is likely that in the Pastoral letters the references to qualifications for 'bishops' are first and foremost to Timothy and Titus personally, in their capacities as bishops of Ephesus and Crete respectively. In any event, here we have the following elements in these passages:-

    1. Paul, an Apostle, appoints bishops and presbyters to continue his work in the various congregations he has founded or helped set up.

    2. These officers have been grounded in the Scriptures but also taught orally by Paul. They are thus steeped in both Scripture and Tradition.

    3. They are charged with teaching others the above and also with pastoral care of the flock

    4. They are also charged with ordaining others to similarly carry on that work and are given criteria for selection of those successors.

    Therefore, we have Scripture and Tradition plus Apostolic Succession in a nascent form within the pages of the NT.


    [to be continued]
     
  3. Matt Black

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    [Continued]

    Now, two objections can and are often put to the above by sola Scriptura adherents. These are both good arguments and therefore deserve ventilation here:-
    · “What if the consensus patri ie: the doctrinal and liturgical consensus of the ECFs to which Vincent alludes in his Commonitory above, quite simply got it wrong? After all, these were just men, they were fallible like you or me, and they could have made mistakes – in no way should their opinions and practices be elevated to the same status as Scripture.” First of all, as I have already said, I am neither claiming infallibility for the early Church, nor am I seeking to raise her doctrines and practices to the level of Scripture. The main trouble with this objection, though, is that it makes a mockery of Jesus’ promise to build His Church and the gates of Hades not prevailing in Matt 16:18-19, it makes Him out to be a liar when He promised the Apostles that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all Truth in John 16:13 and teach them all things in John 14:26, and it negates Paul’s statement in I Tim 3:15 that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the Truth. Furthermore, many of the Early Church Fathers whose writings we have were discipled by, and in some cases appointed by, the Apostles: for example, Ignatius (who wrote several letters which we have) was a disciple of John and appointed by him Bishop of Antioch; his writings date from within a decade of the Apostle’s death. Clement of Rome was the third successor to that Bishopric after the Apostle Peter and wrote c.85AD, John was still alive and before the NT was fully completed. As such, they were far, far better-qualified to interpret the portions of the NT penned by those Apostles than we are today.
    · “Does not Apostolic Tradition amount to the same as ‘the traditions of men’ which Jesus was so quick to condemn in Mark 7?” That would indeed be a valid objection if the two were one and the same thing; however, one has to be very wary of conflating man-made Jewish traditions and customs with the authority given by Jesus to the Apostles in Matt 18:18.

    Let me finish with a quote from an ECF, Hippolytus, c215AD:-

    - Apostolic Tradition
     
  4. Zenas

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    Great essay, Matt. I agree with all of it that I understand and I think I agree with the rest. However, you did not address those pesky little verses, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

    On their face these verses don't exclude Tradition but they certainly don't demand it either. What say you?
     
  5. Matt Black

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    I think part of the problem is that Tradition, by its very nature and definition, does not lend itself easily to being 'found' in Scripture. Remember Tradition is primarily about what the Church has said and done whereas Scripture is about what it wrote down (at least in its early decades). That said, there are references in Scripture - like that quote from 2 Thess 2:15 referenced earlier.

    As to the 2 Tim 3 passage cited by you above, apart from the fact that the word 'sufficient' is not used therein re Scripture, there's more than that argument from silence to be had here in favour of Tradition: if you look at two verses back, Paul charges Timothy to 'hold fast to what he has learned, knowing from whom you learned them' (oral teaching, Tradition) and then refers to his knowledge of the Scriptures in vv15-16. Here, to my mind, you have the marriage of Scripture and Tradition, right there in that passage.
     
  6. Joseph M. Smith

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    This discussion can be broadened by using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral -- that truth is determined by Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.

    Many of us Baptists have in recent years used Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God discipleship materials. He shows that God speaks through the Bible, the church, the Spirit, and circumstances. Those are largely equivalent to the Wesleyan formula.

    The Anglican argument you gave us needs to take into account the reason and experience elements. Rationalism is a fact of Baptist life, and I expect that it is of other communions as well. And many Baptists resort to being mini-Schleiermachers when they wish to ... "I just felt that the Lord ...."
     
  7. Matt Black

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    Heh heh. I have a problem with Reason and Experience however. Just as Tradition seeks to explain and expand Scripture, so Reason and Experience seek to expand Scripture and Tradition; we see this in the case of Reason with the re-evaluation of the Scriptural and Traditional prohibition on same-sex genital activity in the mainline denominations (Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist etc) and in the case of Experience with the abuses and adding to revelation of some parts of the charismatic movement. That is not to negate Reason and Experience, whether we be talking about the Anglican 'tripod' or Methodist 'quadrilateral', it just means that we have to use both with a touch of caution and that (IMO) both should be subordinate to Scripture and Tradition.
     
    #7 Matt Black, Dec 4, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 4, 2007
  8. Doubting Thomas

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    I guess the key would be RIGHT Reason. :smilewinkgrin:

    (Ooops...back to my sabbatical....)
     
  9. Matt Black

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    Indeed. Reason must be in accord with both Scripture and Tradition.
     
  10. BobRyan

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    In this paragraph you give the reason for rejecting "Sola Scriptura" in essence as "differences exist". You also point to tradition giving details for preferences not found in scripture.

    While you seem to think this is helping your case - it appears to have destroyed it.

    #1. Your list of preferences that are settled by tradition - applies to all churches - Catholic and non-catholic showing examples how they all are using some form of tradition to agree on a set of preferences. And DIFFERENCES still exist!

    #2. You provide no solution - no example stated where "differences do not exist" between Christian denominations that are already using tradition in the areas you highlighted! Even the RCC itself is the perfect example of schism after schism after schism.

    #3. You show no example of how churches that have already used tradition to settle the preferences given in your list above - have been saved by that resort to tradition from any "differences" with other churches.

    Basically your proof -- is simply proof that your appeal to tradition makes no sense at all when it is done based on the failed argument "there are no differences among churches that appeal to tradition to settle preferences".

    in Christ,

    Bob
     
  11. Matt Black

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    Not quite. My contention is that the first 1000 years of the Undivided Church and its Tradition have bequeathed to us, in addition of course to Scripture, a sufficient depositum fideii to guide us today, unlike sola Scriptura, which hasn't.
     
  12. BobRyan

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    1. The traditions of the first 1000 years were not enough to prevent the schisms in the second

    2. The schisms in the first 1000 years "existed" to the point of "dark ages" style "persecution" of the saints. Hard to miss.

    3. As pointed out in your OP examples ALL denominations today use tradition to solve some preferences - and even beyond that - there are a NUMBER (as in more than one) of denominations today that like your current one - ALSO use tradition for doctrine. Yet they ALL still EXIST with differences. Tradition is not seen today to MERGE all tradition-based denominations into a single Catholic church even in your own Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic Eastern Orth ect church group. It solves nothing.


    in Christ,

    Bob
     
  13. Matt Black

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    #1. Agreed, but by then there was an epistemologically sufficient corpus of doctrine.

    #2. Only if you believe in the Trail of Blood style nonsense. I don't, so appeals to that ahistorical rubbish will cut no ice with me.

    #3. Yes, but (see #1 above) these differences are, by and large, what Luther would call adiaphora and are more a matter of mutual recognition of things like Holy Orders etc

    Re #1 and my last post, a few examples should suffice. Does sola Scriptura authoritatively rule on the following bones of doctrinal and practical contention:-

    1. Infant baptism -v- believers'-only baptism

    2. Baptismal regeneration -v- merely symbolic

    3. Predestination -v- free-will

    4. Real Presence in communion -v- a mere memorial

    5. Episcopal -v- presbyterian -v- congregational government

    6. Pre-millenialism -v- post-millenialism -v-a-millenialism

    7. Sola fide soteriology -v- some kind of faith-evidenced-by-works salvation

    8. Jesus as Son of God -v- Jesus as God the Son

    9. Jesus fully God and fully Man -v- Jesus fully human -v- Jesus fully God

    ?

    Hint: no it doesn't - and that's fewer than ten examples. The consensus patri and the Church Councils do however give definitive, decisive answers to all of those conflicts. That's what I mean by a 'sufficient' despositum fideii.
     
  14. BobRyan

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    "Sufficient" to lead to all the schisms of the 2nd millennium?

    "Sufficient" to lead to "dark ages persecution of the saints"?

    "sufficient" to lead to the schisms in the FIRST millennium?

    Even the master inquistor himself admits to this dark ages persecution SO ALSO do RC historians themselves - such as Thomas Bokenkotter.

    You suggest we "turn a blind eye to BOTH RC and non-RC sources" on their own actions in the dark ages?

    And to what purpose should we ignore history??

    "Differences exist" was already apparent in the schisms coming OUT of the tradition-shackled RCC giving rise to OTHER tradition-based groups like Lutheran and Anglican.

    In Christ's condemnation of tradition-shackled systems (as in Mark 7:1-11) we find that the ONE TRUE nation church started by God at Sinai was "burdened with tradition" by the time of Mark 7 -- tradition that had LEAD it into apostacy and error by delcaring that the "commandments of men" were sufficient as "doctrine".

    "Teaching for DOCTRINE the COMMANDMENTS of MEN"

    Your argument that "if differences exist then the source of doctrine must be INSUFFICIENT" would be FIRST to point to TRADITION then as "INSUFFICIENT".

    in Christ,

    Bob
     
    #14 BobRyan, Dec 14, 2007
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 14, 2007
  15. Matt Black

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    We're still talking about the first millenium, Bob, not the second - no Inquisition, Lutherans etc in the first millenium. Try again.
     
  16. D28guy

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    Matt,

    Just as God told us in advance...

    Although we do get a bit too vitriolic at times, the disagreements are a good thing. They are Gods "checks and balances" system, and it works wonderfully.

    And the proof of that is evident. Just look at groups that reject Gods admonition regarding sola scriptura, in order to hold to what God warns us to never do...heeding "tradition" and the "doctrines of men"...

    Those groups are a virtual cess pool of error, blasphemy, idolatry and sometimes pure goddess worship.

    In adition, the "differences" and "competing philosophies" also exist in the groups who reject "sola scriptura", with the difference being that they have no unchanging standard to judge things against. Hence, the blasphemies and idolatries run unchecked century after century ad nauseum.

    Really?...


    Of course they can. They are free to determine what is correct for *them*. The other groups determines what is correct for *them*

    These are issues where we have freedom.

    God does.

    We keep digging into the scriptures, for that is where Gods truth is found. And we keep entering into dialogue, for "iron sharpens iron".

    What a fearful thing it is to cut yourself off from Gods only unchanging truth standard, the scriptures. We reject "sola scriptura" only to our peril.

    Mike
     
  17. Matt Black

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    No it doesn't. It's epistemologically valueless and theologically bankrupt.

    Oh I agree re the traditions of men. But that's not what we're talking about here...



    To a degree yes, but nowhere near to the extent to which these differences exist if you only have sola Scriptura


    A very nice passage of Scripture referenced by you above; unfortunately it does not mention Scripture as being sufficient at any point.
     
  18. D28guy

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    Matt,

    Ummm....no. They do not.

    They give what they *believe* is wise counsel. But we have absolutly no guarantee that any, or even if some, of what they *declare* is profitable or even true. Those proclamations are not scripture and therefore they are to never be heeded blindly, or considered to be binding.

    As one example, the Catholic Church had a great "Council Meeting" called the Council of Trent. In it they placed their condemnation on no less than the *true* Gospel of Jesus Christ...justification by faith alone.

    May God have mercy.

    These council deals can be *considered*, but they must always be "put to the test" against Gods only unchanging standard of truth, His scriptures.
    Just as the Bereans did regarding the apostle Pauls teaching.


    Mike
     
  19. Matt Black

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    They do, for the Scriptural reasons cited in the OP

    See above.

    Er...Trent was not a Council of the whole Church, just part of the Western half which by then had fallen into error, shorn of its Eastern compadres.
     
  20. BobRyan

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    Your argument is that tradition is the "solution" to disputes -- as pointed out above we have Catholic schism IN THE FORM of more groups with strong appeal to "tradition" just like the RCC from which they came -- in many cases.

    Your argument failed.

    As for the many groups that were slaughtered and persecuted in the dark ages by the RCC even BEFORE the 2nd Millennium -- you are free to turn a blind eye to it if you wish because your argument has already failed using your own rules - your own test of "sufficiency".

    in Christ,

    Bob
     

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