Friday, September 28, 2007

Final Comments on Scripture and Tradition

This debate on scripture and tradition, though very stimulating and helpful, is using up too much of my time and energy that I need to spend grading papers and doing things with my children. This will therefore be my last post on the subject, although my friends may feel free to continue to post responses and rebuttals.

Another Objection

The friend whose questions I tried to answer in my last blog entry, has written to suggest that there are still a number of problems with my position. He writes as follows:

"At lunch I mentioned that your comparison between the authority of the creeds and the authority of a parent is an "apples to oranges" comparison. Let me explain that a little further. The authority of a parent is defined Biblically. Children are supposed to be respectful to their parents and to obey them as much as they are able. Parents are supposed to bring up their children in a godly manner and to not provoke them to wrath. This does not mean, however, that children have to believe everything that their parents teach them. When they reach adulthood in particular, they need to understand why they are expected to believe certain things, rather than simply accepting it because their parents told them to. In matters of theology, this means going back to the Bible and checking it through that. In some cases, they may find that their parents were wrong, and when they do, they still need to handle their differences with their parents in a respectful manner, but they are not required to give up their "private interpretation" in favor of the "secondary authority's" teaching.

In the same way, the authority that leaders in the church are given means that the people beneath them should generally be obedient and respectful, but it does not mean that they are to simply accept everything they are taught. Paul was an apostle with all of the authority that goes with thatposition, yet he was pleased when the Bereans checked his teaching against scripture. The teachers in the church are supposed to teach, but theyshould teach what they can be sure of (the Bible), and not their ownopinions. If Scripture is clear and something then they can teach itdogmatically, but if it is unclear, then they should not insert their ownopinions. In regard to the creeds then, they cannot be justified simply because theyare what the church has taught. This would be like saying that something is correct because your father told you so and he has Biblical authority.

Since they also do not teach us anything different than what the Scripturesteach, I would still maintain that they are redundant and not necessary for the correct interpretation of the Bible."

My Response

Although you begin by reiterating that the analogy between the authority of the church and the authority of parents are like apples and oranges, your argument suggests otherwise. In the first paragraph you define the nature and limits of parental authority and then you go on, in the next paragraph, to suggest that the authority of leaders in the church operates “in the same way…” If it operates in the same way, then in what sense releavent to our discussion are these two spheres of authority different and how does this difference undermine my position?

We seem to both agree that, (A) parents and church derive their authority from the Bible; (B) parents and the church are to teach those under them to do and believe what the Bible teaches, rather than invent new doctrine; (C) if a parent or church departs from Biblical doctrine, the child or Christians are under no obligation to do or believe what is being taught. Where I disagree is that it follows from A, B and C that the authority of the church is unnecessary.

You seem to have misunderstood my position on a number of points. My second to last response should have laid to rest the idea that I was advocating an unthinking acceptance of everything that the church ever taught. In fact, I said just the opposite in my last response in answer to your point about Trent, and I did so in a way that was consistent with still maintaining a robust view of church tradition. Hence, the points you are making now, though correct, are irrelevant to refuting my position. I also never said that something could be justified simply because the church had taught it. I can see how I might have given that impression in my first formulation, but my subsequent qualifications HERE and HERE attempted to address that. You would have to prove that such a priori acceptance of all church teaching is a corollary of my new qualified formulations, which I will now restate for a third time:

Secondary authorities (such as church tradition and parents and pastors) should be used to help us understand what the primary authority of scripture is saying. Because these are not our only means for understanding Scripture, however, we are also able to evaluate these secondary authorities on the basis of Holy Writ. When we do this we find that church tradition, as represented in the early creeds (particularly the first 6 ecumincal councils), is entirely in keeping with what the scripture teaches. This increases our debt to these formulations as secondary tiers of authority.

Your final paragraph seems to be a non-sequitur. How does it follow that because the creeds duplicate scriptural teaching that they are unnecessary? I can object to that on the Reductio ad absurdum principle since this same line of reasoning could lead you to say that the Holy Spirit or Sunday school teachers are unnecessary for understanding scripture. Since scripture specifically declares that both the Holy Spirit and teachers in the church are means by which Biblical truth is conveyed to His people, it follows that they most certainly are necessary. The same principle applies to church tradition. I presented some scriptural arguments for this in my last post.

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