Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sola Scriptura - Does it lead to truth?

One of my biggest interests in the history of Christianity, is the Reformation. When we think of the Reformation, we think of Martin Luther and his 95 Thesis. We also think of Sola Fide (faith alone) and Sola Scriptura (scripture alone). There are countless books regarding both of these claims. I am going to try to give my perspective on these claim, starting with Sola Scriptura.

Scripture alone. Many people think that this means that the Bible is the sole authority on faith. With it and the Holy Spirit it will guide you infallibly on your journey through faith. What most people do not realize is that it is not only a statement of affirmation, it is also a statement of denial. It is denying the authority of God's Church - the Catholic Church.

Did Jesus ever teach Sola Scriptura? Is the Bible truly clear and self defining to truth? Can you find Sola Scriptura in the Bible? Of course you can find references to the Scripture in Scripture, but do you ever find that it is Scripture alone, by itself that leads to truth? I don't believe so. Not anymore. Evidence of this can be seen with the many different denominations that exist today. I have seen calculations of different denominations numbering from 21 to 33,000. Whatever the true number, they all believe in Sola Scriptura and that Scriptures can lead them to the truth, infallibly. If that is the case, how can there be so many different versions of truths? There is only one truth that the Holy Spirit can attest to - because there is only one Truth. If a denomination agrees on some things, but differ on others, then one of them has to be wrong. Christians, we should not accept partial truths, we should accept the doctrine of full truth. So then, it is on us to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church who says to be the only Church that has the "fullness of faith" - complete, inerrant truth.

That is why God, in His infinite wisdom, did not leave us only an infallible book. He left us with an infallible Church which would never fail. To deny the infallible Church, you are denying a precious gift given to us by Christ. Trust me, this is a hard pill for me to swallow since I was raised in the Protestant Tradition, but the claims are just too big to ignore.

25 comments:

TomJahncke said...

Hi Carlus,

Thanks for helping us all to think deeper about our faith and beliefs.

My question is you stated: "To deny the infallible Church, you are denying a precious gift given to us by Christ."

What do you mean Christ gave us the church? Are you referring to Jesus statement to Peter that upon this Rock I build the church, or is there something else?

Christ loved the church and the analogy is used that we (the church) are the bride of Christ.

I think of the church as the body of believers is not a building or a particular denomination.

Thanks,

- Tom Jahncke

TomJahncke said...

Hi Carlus,

Thanks for helping us all to think deeper about our faith and beliefs.

My question is you stated: "To deny the infallible Church, you are denying a precious gift given to us by Christ."

What do you mean Christ gave us the church? Are you referring to Jesus statement to Peter that upon this Rock I build the church, or is there something else?

Christ loved the church and the analogy is used that we (the church) are the bride of Christ.

I think of the church as the body of believers is not a building or a particular denomination.

Thanks,

- Tom Jahncke

Carlus Henry said...

Tom,

God Bless you Brother. I respect nothing more than an honest pursuit of Christ.


What do you mean Christ gave us the church? Are you referring to Jesus statement to Peter that upon this Rock I build the church...


Yes. Except it wasn't build the church, it was build My Church (Matt 16:18). In other words, there is only One church.


Christ loved the church and the analogy is used that we (the church) are the bride of Christ


I fully agree that the Church is the Bride of Christ. She is the fullness of the truth. Looking back to Scripture and how Jesus describes the Church, I do not agree that we are the Church, at least not in the sense that you are suggesting.

It would seem that you are suggesting that the Church is the body of believers. I would agree that we, as the Body of Christ, make up the Church, but I don't believe that this Church expands across all denominations.

The reason why I don't believe this is because different denominations believe different things (1 Cor. 1:10). The Church that is described in scripture is One witnessing to only One Truth. Anything that is not part of that One Truth, must not be entirely true. Jesus has but one Bride, not many (Eph. 5:25).

I used to believe the same as you. I used to believe that the Church was an invisible veil surrounding all Christianity. I can't subscribe to that logic anymore, especially in light of the things that I have been reading lately about the Christian History and the Early Church. What they believed, just does not line up with a lot of what other denominations believed, and they fought hard against those beliefs.

Thanks and I look forward to more discussion.

TomJahncke said...

Hi Carlus,

I know you have been eager for a reply post, so here you go :)

We have had some conversations in the past but in order to give context to this conversation I am going to ask you some questions that we may have already discussed.

How do you define the Church? If the church is just the Catholic church then does this means other Christians are not part of the body of Christ?

Also, do you think Christian that believe Jesus is the only way to heaven are going to heaven or only people of the Catholic faith?

Thanks,

Tom

Carlus Henry said...

Great Questions. I will try to keep my responses short in order to get to your follow up questions after this (which I hope there are). Alright, here we go....

How do you define the Church?

I define the Church the same way that Scripture does. (1 Timothy 3:15). For this reason, is why I mentioned earlier that I do not agree with you that we, Christians, are the Church. If Scripture tells us that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth, and people believe different things, then we must not be the pillar and foundation of truth because we do not agree.

If the church is just the Catholic church then does this means other Christians are not part of the body of Christ?

I believe that after baptism, all Christians become part of the Body of Christ. (Rom. 6:1-5; Rom. 12:4-5)

Also, do you think Christian that believe Jesus is the only way to heaven are going to heaven or only people of the Catholic faith?

No. I do not believe this is the case at all. I do believe, however, that many of us have settled for spiritual mediocrity because we have only embraced partial truths (as well as things that are not true at all). I believe that we should always be continually striving to know Him more.

Of course I can go on and on, but I am hoping that these answers are sufficient for more conversation.

Love you Brother.

Adam Sova said...

Hi Guys,

This is a very interesting conversation that the two of you have had going.

First, let me give you a little background about myself (mainly for Tom).

I grew up Catholic, attended a Catholic school, the whole nine yards. I really didn't study the beliefs like I should have though. I drifted away from church for quite some time. Over the past 6 months I have dedicated myself to learning more about the Word of God. During this time I have been attending Corinth Reformed Church.

That said, I would like to make a comment on these posts.

The interesting thing that I find when discussing scripture and what it means is that there are different interpretations to different parts of scripture. There may be one passage that seems to support something very clearly, but there may be another passage that seems to say just the opposite.

For example, Eph 2:8-9 says that we are saved by grace through faith. It says nothing about baptism being necessary for salvation. While I do believe that baptism is important, I don't know that I am 100% convinced that it is necessary for salvation.

This is still something that I am searching out, but I wanted to throw out my two cents.

Adam

Carlus Henry said...

Adam, you are an inspiration to me. I know that you are intensely studying the scriptures and you have had an awakening of faith - and for that I say Praise God!!!

Is Baptism necessary for salvation?

This is a good question, and one that I have changed my mind on recently. I always thought of Baptism as a sign of faith. I am learning that it is much, much more than that.

The short answer is Yes. The evidence is it is what Jesus taught (John 3:3-5). Jesus said that you must be born again, if you want to see the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he gives clear instruction on how one must be born again. This is being born again the Biblical way.

You can also see how important it is during his great commission (Matt 28:19-20). Remember, this is Holy Scripture - given to us by the Apostle Matt. The reason why it is included is because it is so important.

In Acts, you can see Peter giving the first sermon (Acts 2:14-40). At some point, the crowd wonders what should they do. How can they become part of the faith and Peter clearly says "Repent and be baptized...".

This is our faith. This is what Jesus Christ has commanded all of his believers to do.

Carlus Henry said...

Regarding Baptism and is it necessary...

I completely forgot this passage of scripture, but felt it important enough to add to the comment:

1 Peter 3:21

TomJahncke said...

If Baptism is necessary for salvation what about the thief on the cross where.
- Luke 23:43. (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?book_id=49&chapter=23&verse=43&version=31&context=verse)

Did he not go to heaven?

- Tom

Carlus Henry said...

Good Question. What about that Thief on the Cross. Did Jesus lie to him when He told him that today he would be in paradise with Him? Absolutely not. Was he Baptized? Honestly, we don't really know for sure, but let us assume at this point, that he was not baptized.

So how then, could Jesus say one thing in one passage..Unless you be born again, you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven and another on the Cross...admitting the Thief on the Cross into the Kingdom of Heaven.

It really comes down to timing. The thief, assuming that he was not baptized, did not have a lot of time to spend on this Earth. He did not have time to follow the steps that Jesus clearly laid out in his conversation with Nicodemus.

If someone was on their death bed, with only 30 minutes to live, and asked what do I need to do to be saved, we should tell that person to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that He died for your sins as the eternal sacrfice to God for our pardon.

If the same person has more time available than that, we would instruct Him the same, except now that you are a believer, there are the other things that Jesus said to do - Baptism, Eucharist...

Remember, if you really do believe in Jesus, you will do what he says. For the opposite of believe is not unbelief...it is disobey (John 3:36).

I think that I am going to start a new post on Baptism....just to make sure that the comments are in line with the topic at hand.

Peace to all...

Belteshazzar Mouse said...

This is so awesome...

I wish I had more free time, cause this blog is going to suck it all up... 8^)

I have more to comment on, I just wanted to make a quick comment on a couple of things.

This idea of infallible Church and infallible Pope leave a lot of questions (for another post). Let me just say succinctly that infallible means infallible in matters of faith and morals. That is a great oversimplification, I just hope that it moves the conversation forward until a more explicit post.

The thief on the cross is baptized. I am sure this will see more light in the Baptism discussion. I have a "Baltimore Catechism" answer for that and an explanation I will be happy to post.

Thanks to all of you for participating in this. You are all a blessing! It is my prayer that we are blessed with the Holy Spirit and find truth in these discussions.

As an introduction, I am Catholic and will try to note when I am representing Catholic belief and when I am talking off the cuff.

God Bless.

Kyle Adams said...

Carlus,

While I would agree there should be some level of agreement among Christians (the apostolic creed has always seemed like a good starting place to me), it seems like there also needs to be "wiggle room" to allow individual churches to best adapt to their local culture and needs. I believe Augustine first expressed the notion: "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love"

Kyle Adams said...

Heh. More comments posted in the time it took me to write my first. I'm glad you're creating another post on baptism, because this one could easily veer off on a tangent. To tie it back to the topic at hand: I think this is a perfect example of the difficulties we face.

Ultimately humans are sinners, so any human entity (even divinely ordained) is going to make all sorts of mistakes covering the entire spectrum. Certainly the Catholic Church's struggle with child abuse among the clergy is a very public example.

Consequently I think it's very dangerous to say that any denomination today has a monopoly on the Truth. We're simply too limited in our human facilities to lay claim to something so perfect.

Kyle Adams said...

Uh oh... I'm going to get banned for spamming with comments :-)

One correction: it seems, "in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, and in all things love," may not be attributable to Augustine. I found some interesting material at http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/jod/augustine/quote.html.

The potential author identified above also had some interesting things to say that pertain to this discussion:

"By too much controversy about the truth, we are in danger of losing the truth itself. Nimium altercando amittitur Veritas. "Many," he says, "contend for the corporal presence of Christ who have not Christ in their hearts." He sees no other way to concord than by rallying around the living Christ as the source of spiritual life. He dwells on the nature of God as love, and the prime duty of Christians to love one another, and comments on the seraphic chapter of Paul on charity (1 Cor. 13)."

Carlus Henry said...

Kyle, bear with me, I am going to try to reply to all of your posts in this one response....you spammer you :)

..."wiggle room" to allow individual churches to best adapt to their local culture and needs.

I would agree with you that there should be consideration regarding the local culture of the community, but not at the expense of doctrinal truths. As Christians, we should all be striving toward that unity that Christ wanted for us (John 17:9-26).

"In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love".

I could not agree with you more. The hard part is determining the difference between the essentials and the non-essentials.

Ultimately humans are sinners, so any human entity (even divinely ordained) is going to make all sorts of mistakes covering the entire spectrum. Certainly the Catholic Church's struggle with child abuse among the clergy is a very public example.

We are all definitely sinners. We all go against the will of God. This is not a reflection of the Church we belong to, but the state of the sinner. You will find sinners across all denominations. If you judge all churches by it's members, then you would have to condemn all churches.

Never judge the church by the people. You can only judge a Church by it's doctrine and what it teaches. Does it teach complete truth or not?

"By too much controversy about the truth, we are in danger of losing the truth itself. Nimium altercando amittitur Veritas. "Many," he says, "contend for the corporal presence of Christ who have not Christ in their hearts." He sees no other way to concord than by rallying around the living Christ as the source of spiritual life. He dwells on the nature of God as love, and the prime duty of Christians to love one another, and comments on the seraphic chapter of Paul on charity (1 Cor. 13)."

I am hoping that you can clarify this statement for me. I really want to understand what you are saying.

Peace

Kyle Adams said...

Does it teach complete truth or not?

I think our disagreement revolves around this point. I also suspect that I'm about to commit some heresy or another that was rebuked hundreds of years ago, so I'm proceeding in all humility...

I don't think any denomination can lay claim to teaching the complete truth; that is, that their particular take on Christianity is perfect.

Part of the problem here is our nebulous definition of a church, as well as the Church. I wouldn't separate a church from the people; it seems like the communal and social aspects are diminished when the church becomes some concept disconnected from the people.

Carlus Henry said...

Kyle...

Getting back to the point of this post.

Sola Scriptura - Does it lead to truth

I think that you would agree, from your comments that the answer is a resounding No. In that we both agree.

From my standpoint, the fact that we agree that Sola Scriptura is not a true doctrine, cripples the Protestant Reformation movement. If Sola Scriptura is not true, then we seeking truth need to ask what else we may have been taught that may not be true.

Regarding the definition of what Church really is...that is probably worth a blog post in and of itself.

Kyle Adams said...

It seems to me like Sola Scriptura is being taken too literally. I doubt many of the early Reformers would deny the role the church (AKA, fellow Christians) plays in revealing God's will, teaching the Truth, etc. The Reformation was a reaction against a human institution that had wrapped corruption in religious dogma, making it very difficult to weed out. Consequently I would not see a No answer as significantly crippling the Reformation. Dinging it a little, yes, but hardly crippling.

Kyle Adams said...

One other comment on Sola Scriptura: I would not see it as a doctrine, but rather a warning against weighing down scripture with human (fallible) creeds and doctrines. It is a reminder that we need to be constantly examining our beliefs against the truths communicated in scripture.

That's not to say that we shouldn't also be examining our beliefs against the truths communicated from our fellow Christians or by divine revelation, those are just "out of scope" for Sola Scriptura.

I think it's also important to keep in mind the historical context of the Reformation. The Bible itself was becoming more widely available (thanks to advances in printing) and in versions translated to the common languages. For the first time in perhaps hundreds of years, the laity had direct access to God's Word.

Previously their access was limited to a clergy and church where corruption had become systemic, all the way up to the pope. I think it's perfectly understandable, given access to the Word and the state of the church at the time, that the pendulum perhaps swung a bit too far in favor of the Word.

Carlus Henry said...

...I would not see it as a doctrine...

I think that most Protestants believe this to be doctrine.

Sola scriptura was a foundational doctrinal principle of the Protestant Reformation held by the Reformers and is a formal principle of Protestantism today (see Five solas). By contrast, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Oriental Orthodox Churches teach that the Scriptures are an important but not exclusive part of the Sacred Tradition from which the Churches derive their doctrines. These bodies also believe that the Church has authority over the Scriptures because it actively selected which books were to be in the biblical canon, whereas Protestants believe the Church passively recognized and received the books that were already widely considered canonical.[1]

...pendulum perhaps swung a bit too far in favor of the Word

I couldn't agree more.

Speaking of the Reformation, I just completed watching Luther, the Movie. Not really a great basis for historical accuracy, but it does paint the picture of corruption plaguing the Church. I am preparing a post on the movie and the reformation shortly.

Carlus Henry said...

I doubt many of the early Reformers would deny the role the church (AKA, fellow Christians) plays in revealing God's will, teaching the Truth, etc.

I think that is exactly what they were doing. Except you have to go back to that time in history. There were not many churches. There was only one church. They were denying the role of the one Church in revealing God's will and teaching the Truth.

The Reformation was a reaction against a human institution...

On this, we disagree. Well, not entirely. We disagree on the words human institution. I don't believe the Church is a human institutuion at all. (Matt 16:17-20) The Church is an institution created by Jesus Christ himself.

... that had wrapped corruption in religious dogma, making it very difficult to weed out.

Corruption truly did exist in the Church during the Reformation. The question we must ask is, what exactly was corrupted? What part of the teaching of the Church was corrupted. Not the practices, but the official dogma. I submit that there was none.

Consequently I would not see a No answer as significantly crippling the Reformation. Dinging it a little, yes, but hardly crippling.

Maybe I am being too harsh, but this is the way that I see it. Luther introduced new doctrine based on Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura. If one of those is not true, then that would mean that 50% is in error.

Did Reform need to happen in the Church? Absolutely Yes. Would we have all been better off if Luther would have worked within the Church in order to help Reform it? Absoultely Yes.

Kyle Adams said...

You'd like Erasmus; he was a theologian, philosopher, and writer who wrote The Praise of Folly as a stinging criticism of the corruption within the church. As such, reformers frequently corresponded with him. He also felt the unity of the Church should be upheld, so he never left the Catholic Church.

On doctrine: another reason why Wikipedia sucks. I think that entry is a little more accurate when it uses the term "theological pillar". The whole point of Sola Scriptura is to strip away human-created doctrine and get back to the Word itself.

We disagree on the words human institution. I don't believe the Church is a human institutuion at all.

Correct. The church at that time was NOT the Church created by Jesus.

What part of the teaching of the Church was corrupted. Not the practices, but the official dogma. I submit that there was none.

Once again, we run into the problem of distinguishing the Church (created by Christ) and the church (the human implementation at that time).

Was the "official" dogma of the church corrupted? Absolutely positively, because it had so far departed from what Scripture taught. For example: the pope, God's representative on earth, was handing out indulgences to people for working on St. Peter's Basilica. "Do some stonework on the church and your sins will be forgiven." Coming from the pope is about as official as it got, but it clearly wasn't lining up with what Scripture taught.

Was the teachings of the true Church (i.e., the Truth imparted through scriptures and true Christian) corrupted? No.

But the gap between the two (the church and The Church) had grown too large; something had to give. Would it have been better if unity could be maintained? Yes. Was it the fault of the Reformers that unity was not maintained? No. Fault fell on both sides; some Reformers were too willing to leave the Church. Some Church officials weren't open enough to the truth the Reformers were speaking, even to the point of excommunicating them from the Church.

There was a bunch of crazy, crazy stuff going on in the church at the time; I'd highly recommend some historical reading.

thedave said...

Two things:

First, I do think it is important to recognize that there was a range of interpreting sola scriptura in the Reformation. For instance, Zwingli and the Radical Reformers understood that anything not directly supported by Scripture should be expunged from dogma and practice. Luther was more moderate. He took it to mean that anything not contradicted by Scripture should be expunged. I note, that it is actually very hard to argue for something like the Trinity from Scripture (which is why many "primitivists like the Churches of Christ are blatantly heretical). That being said, I am inclined to think that Luther was actually trying to get back to a more ancient Catholic exegetical method. The "one, true church" as you say, always understood its doctrine to be nothing more than commentary upon, and the logical consequence of, the testimony of Scripture. Scripture testified to Christ. Of course, Christ also fulfilled the Scriptures. So we get into a kind of hermeneutical circle that we can't easily extricate ourselves from. (Fr. John Behr, one of my people, is very good on this question.) I would also note that venerable tradition does not necessarily solve the problem of disagreement and even schism, since every writing – every creed – requires an interpreter.

As for the unity of the church itself, I should point out that the church was not really ever as unified as one might be inclined to believe. There might be joint affirmation of a Creed, but different interpretations of that Creed. Practice also varied widely by region. Even official Catholic dogma, that priests must be celibate, was regularly ignored in the Middle Ages (villages rather liked their priests to be married because it kept them committed in the local community).

All this is to say, while I am a traditionalist myself, I am also quite wary of putting excessive confidence in the institutions of the visible church. Some of these comments border on Donatism.

But the original point that opened this discussion holds: Sola Scriptura does not ensure unity. There is always (as a colleague of mine says) a "covert magisterium" at work interpreting the scripture for the church. Protestants appoint themselves as popes.

TomJahncke said...

Carlus,

I have appreciated all the history that has been shared, which I know little about.

In a few post back (sorry I am playing catch up) you said:


Never judge the church by the people. You can only judge a Church by it's doctrine and what it teaches.


If you are not suppose to judge the church by its people by by the doctrine and what it teaches who is doing the teaching? I am confused ...

I believe the Bible was inspired by God and should be our guide. However, other doctrine and teaching may help us understand God better but it needs support of these words otherwise it is just up for debate if it is from God.

If the words of the church are on par with Scripture I am concerned they violate scripture:

Revelation 23:18-19 states:
" 18I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (NIV)

I have always heard and believe this passage to be referring to adding or removing words from the entire Bible. As I look at it closer it does not directly indicate that but I still think the interpretation is fair. I would like to hear your thoughts and I will also do some more research.

Carlus Henry said...

Tom...

If you are not suppose to judge the church by its people by by the doctrine and what it teaches who is doing the teaching?

I may be misunderstanding this point, but ultimately it is not up to the minister or lay people to teach anything that they want to teach. They should only be teaching the doctrine of the church that they belong to. If they are teaching something contrary, then they are not truly representing that church's beliefs. This of course leads to my statement before about how you cannot judge the church by the people in it.

I believe the Bible was inspired by God and should be our guide

I couldn't agree more. The problem that I have with Sola Scriptura is the "only".

If the words of the church are on par with Scripture I am concerned they violate scripture

Did Jesus leave the Church with a book? Did he commission the Apostles to go out and write everything down that I told you, and share that book with them, and it will be the guide of the Church? No, of course not.

He left us with Apostles and they shared their message with us (Christians) orally (2 Thess. 2:15). Clearly, the Apostles never meant for us to deny the oral traditions, in favor of their letters.

If the Apostles were out preaching the good news, then according to your interpretation of Revelation, they would be violating Holy Scripture - because they were adding to something that did not even exist yet.

Let's consider the Trinity. I believe in the Trinity, but you never find that in Scripture. You may find evidence, but this was never taught. Does that mean that everyone who believes in the Trinity has added to Scripture? Of course not.

So in an effort to be brief, I do believe that Holy Scripture is the inspired Word of God. It should be read and lived daily. St. Jerome says that "Ignorance of Scripture is Ignorance of Christ".

I do not believe that it is the "Only" divinely inspired authority.