Purple Sage: I generally prefer to keep these discussions "in-house", otherwise it can get unwieldy with links and counter-links and accusations as to the reputability of the websites in question... plus, someone once linked me to a, like, 60-page document on free will from the Catholic Encyclopaedia. But I'll go through this article if you want.
some twenty thousand plus differing Protestant groups that now exist
OK, this isn't that relevant to the main point, but where do Catholics and EO get this number from? It seems grossly inflated to me. There are many different Protestant groups, certainly, but 20,000? In how many of these groups are the theological differences significant? Some "denominations" are simply ethnic versions of a base denomination. Other legitimately separate denominations are extremely similar in theology - far more similar than some "flavours" of Catholicism are from each other. So it seems a dubious statement to trot out.
All Protestant groups (with some minor qualifications) believe that their group has rightly understood the Bible, and though they all disagree as to what the Bible says, they generally do agree on how one is to interpret the Bible — on your own! — apart from Church Tradition.
"On your own" is a GROSS mischaracterisation of Sola Scriptura. It sounds similar to the Catholic line about "every Protestant is his own pope". I hope this thread has already made this clear, so I won't address it further.
Even groups as differing as the Baptists and the Jehovahs Witnesses are really not as different as they outwardly appear once you have understood this essential point — indeed if you ever have an opportunity to see a Baptist and a Jehovahs Witness argue over the Bible, you will notice that in the final analysis they simply quote different Scriptures back and forth at each other.
Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in sola Scriptura, so.... yeah.
If they are equally matched intellectually, neither will get anywhere in the discussion because they both essentially agree on their approach to the Bible, and because neither questions this underlying common assumption neither can see that their mutually flawed approach to the Scriptures is the problem.
It's an interesting assumption that intellectually matched people of different religions will never resolve theological issues. It assumes that all SS denominations are intellectually equal, and/or that all SS advocates are intellectually stubborn enough not to change. Which doesn't explain why so many Protestants switch denominations as their theology develops: and neither assumption is actually defended here, so it comes across just as a slur.
Protestants who are willing to honestly assess the current state of the Protestant world, must ask themselves why, if Protestantism and its foundational teaching of Sola Scriptura are of God, has it resulted in over twenty-thousand differing groups that cant agree on basic aspects of what the Bible says, or what it even means to be a Christian? Why (if the Bible is sufficient apart from Holy Tradition) can a Baptist, a Jehovahs Witness, a Charismatic, and a Methodist all claim to believe what the Bible says and yet no two of them agree what it is that the Bible says? Obviously, here is a situation in which Protestants have found themselves that is wrong by any stretch or measure. Unfortunately, most Protestants are willing to blame this sad state of affairs on almost anything — anything except the root problem. The idea of Sola Scriptura is so foundational to Protestantism that to them it is tantamount to denying God to question it, but as our Lord said, "every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a bad tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Matthew 7:17). If we judge Sola Scriptura by its fruit then we are left with no other conclusion than that this tree needs to be "hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Matthew 7:19).
I partly addressed this already, but let's see...
1. This argument assumes that an epistemic system will work perfectly in a fallen world. That's an odd thing for a Christian to believe.
2. Orthodoxy (and Catholicism) had an epistemic system which resulted in schism too - the major one between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and then (Catholicism in particular) the Protestant Reformation. So if the emergence of "bad fruit" is an indictment on SS, it is doubly an indictment on the Orthodox faith!
3. This argument assumes that Orthodox "fruit" is good and Protestant "fruit" is bad, which I personally find somewhat tendentious.
OK, on to the "does Scripture claim Sola Scriptura" argument, which again I've addressed to some degree already.
Obviously here [refing 2 Tim 3:16], and in most references to "the Scriptures" that we find in the New Testament, Paul is speaking of the Old Testament; so if this passage is going to be used to set the limits on inspired authority, not only will Tradition be excluded but this passage itself and the entire New Testament.
Except that the passage says "All Scripture", and various NT texts are referred to in the Bible as Scripture as well.
In the second place, if Paul meant to exclude tradition as not also being profitable, then we should wonder why Paul uses non-biblical oral tradition in this very same chapter. The names Jannes and Jambres are not found in the Old Testament, yet in II Timothy 3:8 Paul refers to them as opposing Moses. Paul is drawing upon the oral tradition that the names of the two most prominent Egyptian Magicians in the Exodus account (Ch. 7-8) were "Jannes" and "Jambres."2 And this is by no means the only time that a non-biblical source is used in the New Testament — the best known instance is in the Epistle of St. Jude, which quotes from the Book of Enoch (Jude 14,15 cf. Enoch 1:9).
I've addressed this already. Since when does quoting a source indicate that one considers it infallible? Paul also quotes a Greek poet, IIRC. Jewish oral tradition as a whole was certainly not supported in the NT - Jesus made some very strong statements about it.
Then follows a slightly irrelevant bit about Orthodoxy and the canon. I'm not quite sure what point the author's trying to make here. Then a bit about how worship services aren't described in the NT, which... okay? I think it's a stretch to say the early Christians worshipped "liturgically" according to any use of the word I'm familiar with, but whatever - this mostly seems to be aimed at charismatics, which I hope the author doesn't think are synonymous with SS or Protestantism.
We need also to note that none of the types of literature present in the New Testament have as their purpose comprehensive doctrinal instruction — it does not contain a catechism or a systematic theology.
There are portions of the NT that are definitely systematic theology. Romans, anyone? Part of Hebrews?
If all that we need as Christians is the Bible by itself, why is there not some sort of a comprehensive doctrinal statement? Imagine how easily all the many controversies could have been settled if the Bible clearly answered every doctrinal question. But as convenient as it might otherwise have been, such things are not found among the books of the Bible.
Again, this is based on a strange view of SS. Most SS advocates accept the Apostles' and Nicene Creed (I have issues with "he descended into hell", but other than that, gravy). There is no reason a SS-believing Christian would not take advantage of the handy phrasing of creeds - like catechisms or TULIP, they're a useful way of quickly outlining a system of belief. But the implication in this passage is that God should have provided a comprehensive doctrinal statement, which seems simply arrogant. Just because the author might have done that if he'd been God, doesn't mean God should have. God is well within His rights to provide us with the doctrines necessary for making such a statement, and letting us hash it out for ourselves.
but the fact is that the Bible does not contain within it teaching on every subject of importance to the Church. As already stated, the New Testament gives little detail about how to worship — but this is certainly no small matter. Furthermore, the same Church that handed down to us the Holy Scriptures, and preserved them, was the very same Church from which we have received our patterns of worship. If we mistrust this Churchs faithfulness in preserving Apostolic worship, then we must also mistrust her fidelity in preserving the Scriptures.
1. The fact that the NT gives little in the way of specifics on worship could equally mean that Christians have freedom of conscience and culture in this area. As an internal, spiritual religion as distinct from the largely national religion of Judaism, perhaps the outward trappings and forms of worship aren't as important? The author doesn't address this.
2. The Jewish church preserved the Old Testament texts faithfully, yet we mistrust their fidelity in a number of rather significant ways. The Catholic Church did an impeccable job of preserving Scriptures in certain parts of the world for centuries, yet I gather the Orthodox Church mistrusts Catholicism on a number of important issues as well.
Protestants frequently claim they "just believe the Bible," but a number of questions arise when one examines their actual use of the Bible. For instance, why do Protestants write so many books on doctrine and the Christian life in general, if indeed all that is necessary is the Bible? If the Bible by itself were sufficient for one to understand it, then why dont Protestants simply hand out Bibles? And if it is "all sufficient," why does it not produce consistent results, i.e. why do Protestants not all believe the same? What is the purpose of the many Protestant study Bibles, if all that is needed is the Bible itself? Why do they hand out tracts and other material? Why do they even teach or preach at all —why not just read the Bible to people? The answer is though they usually will not admit it, Protestants instinctively know that the Bible cannot be understood alone. And in fact every Protestant sect has its own body of traditions, though again they generally will not call them what they are. It is not an accident that Jehovahs Witnesses all believe the same things, and Southern Baptists generally believe the same things, but Jehovahs Witnesses and Southern Baptists emphatically do not believe the same things. Jehovahs Witnesses and Southern Baptists do not each individually come up with their own ideas from an independent study of the Bible; rather, those in each group are all taught to believe in a certain way — from a common tradition. So then the question is not really whether we will just believe the Bible or whether we will also use tradition — the real question is which tradition will we use to interpret the Bible? Which tradition can be trusted, the Apostolic Tradition of the Orthodox Church, or the muddled, and modern, traditions of Protestantism that have no roots beyond the advent of the Protestant Reformation.
1. Again, "just believe the Bible" is NOT SS, although there are certainly non-SS-believing Protestants who say it. So that whole argument is a strawman. Small-t tradition is not the same thing as big-T Tradition.
2. It also rebounds on Orthodoxy. If Scripture interpreted by Tradition is sacred, why do Orthodox writers writer non-infallible texts? Why is the author of THIS article writing it, instead of simply handing out Bibles and a list of the infallible doctrines?
3. Again, it's begging the questio to say that the traditions of Protestantism "have no roots beyond the advent of the Protestant Reformation". They claim to have their roots in Scripture, which is considerably older than that; and the author does not address that claim.
It comes as quite a blow to such Protestants (as it did to me) when they actually study the early Church and the writings of the early Fathers and begin to see a distinctly different picture than that which they were always led to envision. One finds that, for example, the early Christians did not tote their Bibles with them to Church each Sunday for a Bible study — in fact it was so difficult to acquire a copy of even portions of Scripture, due to the time and resources involved in making a copy, that very few individuals owned their own copies. Instead, the copies of the Scriptures were kept by designated persons in the Church, or kept at the place where the Church gathered for worship. Furthermore, most Churches did not have complete copies of all the books of the Old Testament, much less the New Testament (which was not finished until almost the end of the First Century, and not in its final canonical form until the Fourth Century). This is not to say that the early Christians did not study the Scriptures — they did in earnest, but as a group, not as individuals. And for most of the First Century, Christians were limited in study to the Old Testament. So how did they know the Gospel, the life and teachings of Christ, how to worship, what to believe about the nature of Christ, etc? They had only the Oral Tradition handed down from the Apostles. Sure, many in the early Church heard these things directly from the Apostles themselves, but many more did not, especially with the passing of the First Century and the Apostles with it. Later generations had access to the writings of the Apostles through the New Testament, but the early Church depended on Oral Tradition almost entirely for its knowledge of the Christian faith.
Again, the author simply has no clue what SS entails. No sensible advocate of sola Scriptura argues that the concept is applicable before the formation of the canon - and I doubt any semi-intelligent Christian is really that surprised to find that early Christians didn't "tote their Bibles with them to Church" - that's just obnoxious. The content of the Scriptures, whether passed along orally or in written form, is authoritative and infallible. If Orthodoxy claims that these oral teachings included the seeds of modern Orthodox doctrines, including some which I consider to be flatly contradicted in Scripture, the author need to make that case.
This dependence upon tradition is evident in the New Testament writings themselves. For example, Saint Paul exhorts the Thessalonians:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word [i.e. oral tradition] or our epistle (II Thessalonians 2:15).
Which fits in nicely with the point I just made. To say this proves the Orthodox (or Catholic) position on Tradition is a huge leap.
But how can we know that the Church has preserved the Apostolic Tradition in its purity? The short answer is that God has preserved it in the Church because He has promised to do so.
And the author ties these promises to the existence of a denominational, external church, without any justification for that claim.
The common Protestant conception of Church history, that the Church fell into apostasy from the time of Constantine until the Reformation certainly makes these and many other Scriptures meaningless. If the Church ceased to be, for even one day, then the gates of Hell prevailed against it on that day.
Not if you believe in an invisible church, with believers in many different denominations. Few Christians believe that the medieval Catholic Church contained no true believers, even though their theology may have been sadly flawed. Again, the author of this article just isn't too savvy about the Protestant mindset, for all that the article is meant to get inside our muddled little heads!
True Apostolic Tradition is found in the historic consensus of Church teaching. Find that which the Church has believed always, throughout history, and everywhere in the Church, and then you will have found the Truth. If any belief can be shown to have not been received by the Church in its history, then this is heresy. Mind you, however, we are speaking of the Church, not schismatic groups.
So, not terribly helpful then. Whenever someone points out a difference of opinion in the early Church, Orthodoxy can quickly say "Oh well, they were heretics" or "That doesn't count, it was a schismatic group". If comparing doctrines to the Scriptures to determine their legitimacy is considered taboo, we're left with a history-written-by-the-winners situation.
Anyone can interpret the Scriptures for himself or herself without the aid of the Church.
I've addressed this already.
Rather than listening to the Fathers, who had shown themselves righteous and saintly, priority should be given to the human reasonings of the individual.
I'm not sure we have enough biographical information about the Fathers to know they were universally righteous and saintly. But it's again begging the question to call the words of the Fathers anything other than the "human reasonings of the individual" - from a sola Scriptura perspective, that's what they are, and thus prone to error, no matter how saintly the writer. Indeed, I'm not sure why the character of the person making an argument is relevant to its truth - that's the ad hominem fallacy. The saintliest saint in the world can't make A equal both A and not-A in the same time and in the same sense, any more than the vilest scoundrel.
Let us not allow ourselves to learn a new kind of faith which is condemned by the tradition of the Holy Fathers. For the Divine apostle says, "if anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9).9
Ironically, a passage usually cited by SS advocates.
there is not one single verse in the entirety of Holy Scripture that teaches the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
Yawn. Been there, done this.
But not only is the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura not taught in the Scriptures — it is in fact specifically contradicted by the Scriptures (which we have already discussed) that teach that Holy Tradition is also binding to Christians (II Thessalonians 2:15; I Corinthians 11:2).
The article then goes on to look at several methods of interpretation used by Protestants (while ignoring the fact that some, at least, are used by Orthodox and Catholic writers as well). This whole passage is somewhat confused, and again I'm not quite sure of the point the author is making - he or she attacks liberalism, empiricism and so on, but those aren't terribly relevant to the issue at hand. The author seems to be saying "These are the only ways Protestants can interpret Scripture, and they're all wrong" - but not only does he fail to list all the methods used to interpret Scripture (including hermeneutical principles and examining theological texts throughout history - which, yes, Protestants do), he doesn't allow for the possibility of several methods being combined, or address the concept of systematic theology. I'll just comment on a few particularly odd statements:
As denominations stacked upon denominations it became a correspondingly greater stretch for any of them to say, with a straight face, that only they had rightly understood the Scriptures, though there still are some who do.
Why? Certainly anybody saying this would get "oi"s from more groups than if fewer groups existed, but there's no logical reason that the existence of disagreement means that objective truth cannot be discovered.
ETA: I'll add that very few denominations, if any, believe that all other denominations have TOTALLY misunderstood the Scriptures. In many cases the divisive issue only has three or four possible (or extant, at any rate) interpretations. For instance, on the subject of free will there are, what? Five or six views? Calvinism, hyperCalvinism, four-point Calvinism, Arminianism... Open Theism, if you count that as Christian... maybe one or two positions I can't summon to mind right now, but let's say no more than eight. So a Calvinist is saying that one position out of eight is correct, not one out of 20,000. The Lord's Supper? Transubstantiation, consubstantiation, the metaphorical view, and let's say one other view I'm not aware of. So a consubstantiation-ist is saying that his view is correct out of the four - again, not out of the 20,000. And many denominations are marked from their closest fellows by only one or two such points. So it's not, prima facie, unreasonable for a church to say it is correct on an issue when there are only five others available. I don't believe it's necessarily true that one couldn't claim a particular view out of 20,000 was the only correct one, either - but the author is clearly framing this issue in a manner that exaggerates the differences, and implies all Protestant denominations think all other Protestant denominations are entirely wrong - which of course isn't the case.
Like all the other approaches used by Protestants, this method also seeks to understand the Bible while ignoring Church Tradition.
Not at all. H-C exegesis often investigates Church Tradition. Not believing it's infallible is not the same as ignoring it.
The question Protestants will ask at this point is who is to say that the Orthodox Tradition is the correct tradition, or that there even is a correct tradition? First, Protestants need to study the history of the Church. They will find that there is only one Church. This has always been the faith of the Church from its beginning.
No justification for this question. One would think it deserved a cursory supporting argument, especially as the Catholic Church also claims to be the one Church from the beginning.
Obviously, one of three statements is true: either (1) there is no correct Tradition and the gates of hell did prevail against the Church, and thus both the Gospels and the Nicene Creed are in error; or (2) the true Faith is to be found in Papism, with its ever-growing and changing dogmas defined by the infallible "vicar of Christ;" or (3) the Orthodox Church is the one Church founded by Christ and has faithfully preserved the Apostolic Tradition. So the choice for Protestants is clear: relativism, Romanism, or Orthodoxy.
Or, there is no correct Tradition, yet God has preserved the Church anyway, just as He preserved a remnant of Judaism for thousands of years even though there was no (legitimate) Tradition there either.
Most Protestants, because their theological basis of Sola Scriptura could only yield disunity and argument, have long ago given up on the idea of true Christian unity and considered it a ridiculous hypothesis that there might be only one Faith. When faced with such strong affirmations concerning Church unity as those cited above, they often react in horror, charging that such attitudes are contrary to Christian love. Finding themselves without true unity they have striven to create a false unity, by developing the relativistic philosophy of ecumenism, in which the only belief to be condemned is any belief that makes exclusive claims about the Truth. However, this is not the love of the historical Church, but humanistic sentimentality
So claiming you're the only ones who believe the truth is OK now? A few paragraphs ago it was laughably ridiculous when Protestants did the same thing. Are we fuzzy-minded humanists, or narrow dogmatists?
The Church is one because it is the body of Christ, and it is an ontological impossibility that it could be divided.
Again, the author fails to address the concept of the universal Church. (Out of curiosity, is he/she also implying that no non-Orthodox are saved?)
In the Catholic Church itself, every care should be taken to hold fast to what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.
"All" apparently not including the many, many groups who disagreed and were promptly kicked out by those in power. That's not unity.
If Protestants should think this arrogant or naive, let them first consider the arrogance and naivete of those scholars who think that they are qualified to override (and more usually, totally ignore) two thousand years of Christian teaching. Does the acquisition of a Ph.D. give one greater insight into the mysteries of God than the total wisdom of millions upon millions of faithful believers and the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who faithfully served God, who endured horrible tortures and martyrdom, mockings, and imprisonments, for the faith? Is Christianity learned in the comfort of ones study, or as one carries his cross to be killed on it? The arrogance lies in those who, without even taking the time to learn what the Holy Tradition really is, decide that they know better, that only now has someone come along who has rightly understood what the Scriptures really mean.
Believing in the validity of a logical argument is not arrogant or naive. And the author is conflating Christian virtues with Christian doctrine - when it comes to weighing the truth of doctrine or interpreting Scripture, I think one would be far better off to be in one's study than carrying one's cross to an execution. Suffering may produce holiness, but there's no guarantee it produces insight into what Jesus' words or Paul's doctrines. This is very confused rhetoric. You can't write off the arguments of SS advocates because you think they were cocky to make them in the first place.
I'll also point out that this article doesn't address any of the epistemic problems I mentioned with Tradition earlier in the thread. From the information I gleaned from the article, it seems like at least some of them apply to Orthodoxy as much as to Catholicism.
Edited by Smokering - 12/22/10 at 9:13pm