Thursday, September 27, 2007


I will now try to answer the second objection stated in the previous post.

First, what about the "many 'traditions' of the church" that I would not accept? It is worth pointing out that when I originally spoke about the traditions of the church forming an interpretative rubric (see my article HERE), I was simply referring to the basic tenets of the Christian faith that distinguish it from heresies. The basic tenets found expression in the Rule of Faith, which was embodied in Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. Although there is room for the church to flesh out and further develop doctrines that are not found in these creeds but are still scriptural (such as justification by faith alone), if someone came up with an interpretation of scripture that contradicted the basic tenets that the church taught in these early formulations, their interpretation of scripture must be suspect at least.

This is not because the creeds or the Rule of Faith are infallible in their own right. Only Scripture is the ultimate source of authority. Although Scripture and tradition are both authoritative, Scripture is the only final port of authority. Tradition is a subordinate authority like that of the civil magistrate or the family.

In various places the Apostle Paul affirms that the church, family, tradition and civil government all have genuine authority, though not in an unqualified sense. This is the context with which we have to understand the creeds. Since they are invested with the authority of a church that had a direct link to the apostolic teaching, they should be taken extremely seriously, yet they remain a subordinate authority to that of the Bible and could, in principle, be challenged if they were found to be theologically spurious.

Does this lead to the circularity whereby I have to understand Scripture to know whether the traditions are correct, but I need the traditions to correctly understand Scripture?

I can see the problem here, but it is not just a problem with church tradition. The same could be said of the Holy Spirit: we need to understand Scripture before we can know whether the Holy Spirit exists (and in order to distinguish the Holy Spirit from false spires), yet we need the Holy Spirit to correctly understand Scripture.

When two things are mutually reinforcing like this, it is difficult to formulate it in a way that avoids circularity. However, by understanding the above distinction between primary and secondary authorities, we can re-state our position on church tradition non-circularly as follows:

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, 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, is entirely in keeping with what the scripture teaches. This increases our debt to these formulations as secondary tiers of authority.

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