Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Most believers are familiar with Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
For some reason we usually stop our pondering and meditating upon that chapter, oh, right around verse 6 and then jump straight to verse 14. But the chapter does not end there…in verses 7-11 we read, “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

“But those verses don’t teach ‘Sola’ or ‘Scriptura’…plus…plus…none of our fathers believed in Sola Scriptura…”

I’ve heard this type of argument, repeatedly, for the last ten years (hey…I’m a young guy…ten years ago I was a teenager!) I have found that some people convince themselves of something simply by repeating it over and over…using a simple mantra as a force field…refusing anything that would endanger their preconceptions to penetrate. It’s as if they stuff their fingers as deeply into their own ears as they can, close their eyes and hum loudly…and then turn around and say they just can’t understand the opposing point of view.

I can remember my first experience with such a person. He was (and still is) a Roman Catholic apologist. We would go back and forth with email bomb after email bomb…for years. Those private email debates ended up turning into a couple publicly moderated debates…with several hundred dollars being raised to support “pro-life” charities in our area. My frustration would come after the following pattern:

He: “You can’t show me one single passage in the Bible that teaches Sola Scriptura!”

Me: Psalm 19:7-11; 119; Proverbs 6:23; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ect…

He: “Those passage don’t teach that!”

Me: I then explain each passage…

He: “You have yet to show me one single passage in Scripture to support you claim!”

Me: “Yes, I just did…”

He: “No you didn’t…”

Me: “Yes I did, dude…”

He: “Well, you don’t have the authority to interpret the Bible anyway!”

On and on…until I got too busy and tired to continue. What can one do?

The next several posts I’d like to lay out several key passages that force us to recognize that “Sola Scriptura” is God’s will for His Church. Let’s take a look at this passage.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.” What do these words mean? What does “perfect” mean? First, obviously, this reinforces our understanding that the Scriptures are without error…they are “perfect”. But within the concept of “perfection” is the concept of “completion”. For example, what does a “perfect” circle look like? It’s complete. The Word of God is perfect…it is complete. Each group under the sun that denies Sola Scriptura ultimately denies this concept. In their theology the Bible can not stand alone…no…it must be assisted in communicating it’s information to sinners. It’s the Bible…plus the Pearl of Great Price. It’s the Bible…plus the Awake! magazine. It’s the Bible plus the Pope or plus an ecumenical council. Of course none of those groups care to hear things put into these terms…but they do not believe, at the end of the day, that the Bible alone is sufficient to clearly communicated with a sinner…therefore…as hard as this might sound…they deny its perfection.

“…reviving the soul.” This also rouses a problem for these groups…they do not believe the Bible has such ability apart from their authority or power.

“The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Again…not so fast there Psalmist! You see…they must insert their group here and THEN the statues of the LORD are trustworthy. They simply do not trust the Scriptures to “make” “wise” the “simple” (the simple = you and me). They will protest, “it’s not the Scriptures which are untrustworthy…it’s fallen humanity that is untrustworthy!” And of course that is true. Here is the problem…God the Holy Spirit inspired holy men of old to record His Word…for us! They were not originally intended for sinless, unfallen or glorified humanity! No. God had sinners in mind as the intended readership…to say that humans are unable to understand what God inspired FOR THEM shows lack in God…either a lack of care or a lack of understanding. Nonsense! God knew who He was addressing and He understood their condition (fallen) and is able to “get it right the first time” when addressing them. If Christ can speak to a raging sea “peace be still” adequately He can speak to fallen humanity without the assistance of a mediating third party!

“The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.” Amen…I do no believe anyone appreciates a phrase like this one.

“The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” Well…there you go again, Mr. Psalmist! This is phrase here best describes what happens when the Word of God is unleashed…as it was (finally) in the days of the Reformation. There is power in the unadulterated Bible…and God can and does illuminate eyes and opens ears when it is humbly and prayerfully approached. It is at this point that I can already here “then why are there 567 trillion competing and conflicting protestant groups all teaching TOTALLY different things…blah blah blah!” I think I’m most tired with this objection above them all…because it is a straw man…it is totally invalid because the exaggeration is so gross. All true Christians hold to the same core of beliefs…yet there does remain diversity in non-essential issues…just like the first century and a half to the first two centuries of His Church.

"The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

More text next time…


Zac said...

Dear Gary,

I'd like to go more into this later, just cursorily I must tell you I found the general tone of this post a bit vitriolic and perhaps a caricature of the other side. I would never, for instance, say that your refusal to acknowledge the last 20 centuries of Christian history as a sort of willful blindness, with fingers in your ears repeating some sort of mantra. I think that would be unfair and wouldn't really convince anyone of anything since it doesn't actually reach the level of a substantive argument. Maybe I'm reading more frustration into this post than you meant to put in, but your thought-worthy points are sort of convoluted in a mixture of ad hominem and straw-man characterizations.

Let me assure you that I take your position on Sola Scriptura seriously, and I think that the issue it poses to Christian theology deserves more than a few little paragraphs on a blog. So give me some time and I will write an entry on my blog concerning why this teaching never appeared until the printing press did, and why it actually works to refute the Scriptures rather than to support them.

I enjoy this dialogue very much, Gary, and I hope you won't take anything I said as doubting your own sincerity, or your commitment to truth.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac!

I don't want you to ever think that some of the aggression that you did pick up here is aimed at you specifically!

You are EASILY the most thoughtful...BY FAR...individual that doesn't buy into "Sola Scriptura" that I have EVER met.

I'm, honestly, primarily reacting to the Roman Catholic apologist(s) that I have interacted with over the years. Also, the Mormons I’ve interacted with assume the same posture. They do seem to jam their fingers in their ears...I've never picked that up from you!

Either you do a great job representing Eastern Orthodoxy OR Eastern Orthodoxy refutes Sola Scriptura in a more milder, less vindictive and less aggressive tone than does Roman Catholicism (for example). You guys don't agree with us on that topic...but…”y’all” don't seem mad about it.

So just know that there is an entire HOST of people I have interacted with, online, in person...during Q&A's at debates...that I have in mind here...I do not lump YOU (at least) in with them because with you I do not pick up on stubborn or blind allegiance to a religion.

I'm sorry if you felt like this was at was aggressive...but not with you my friend.

For the first time I am really getting into Church history and it is because God has used you to provoke me to action! Thank you for being used to spark my curiosity enough to dive in! Man is the water deep and it’s warmer than I thought!

irreverend fox said...

oh...I should also point out...there are plenty of Baptists running around with their fingers jammed into their ears repeating some mantra over and over...ever had a talk with a King James ONLY Baptist?

yeah...that's about as fun as beating your head against the wall.

Zac said...


Yes I have talked with people like this. It's even weirder with specifically heretical groups like oneness pentecostals, because anyone serious enough to think about it from their group would have to admit that according to their twisted interpretation of Acts 2:38, none of the KJV translators were real Christians.

Go figure.

irreverend fox said...

ah, yes...oneness pentecostals...TD Jakes and company...I am always amused how TD Jakes is a featured speaker on TBN...the TRINITY brodcasting

that group is simply a modern day blend of Montanism and Sabllianism...

Zac said...

That's right, Sabellius held to similar beliefs about God. Interestingly, it was he who first came up with the innovation of baptism by single immersion.

Montanus thought he was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, and certainly one can draw parallels between the practices of his heretical group and modern pentecostalism.

irreverend fox said...

hey zac,

I'm not sure if you forgot to add the word "oneness" before "Pentecostal"...but if you did then I agree with you...

if you did not then of course I disagree because the majority of mainstream Pentecostals are Trinitarian and fall well within the bounds of (what Reformed believers would call) Christian Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy …this would include the Assemblies of God and most Church of God denominations…Church of God in Christ is another…

the comparison with Montanists is their fits of euphoric, altered states of consciousness, ecstatic behavior, hyper emotionalism, claims of visions, tongues and prophesy...

as far as Montanus of Phrygia...I'm not sure that saying he claimed to be the Holy Spirit incarnate is accurate, I'll need to do more study...I believe he and two prophetesses, Pricilla and Maximilla claimed that the Holy Spirit was speaking in a new way to the Church directly THROUGH them...they believed this was a fulfillment of John 14:16 and John 16:12-13...utter nonsense of course...

While they called this movement "the New Prophecy" it offered no new DOCTRINAL "revelations..." (they did have some bizarre ones however...just nothing “doctrinal”…they were (most of them) Trinitarian…or as Trinitarian as anybody…that doctrine was still becoming more and more clear to the Church as a whole during that time…

Montanism spread in many parts of Asia Minor and took root in Italy, France and North Carthage it won the support of the great...Tertullian! And Irenaeus...who was not a Montanist...still advised the bishop of Rome to take a moderate, gentle attitude towards them and to try to keep them within the Church as loyal Catholics!

In case you haven't noticed...this wild bunch does intrigue me...their are many similarities with modern Charismatic’s today... (Namely, wild, off the wall “prophecies”…immature emotionalism…yet basically Trinitarian…with a minority of Modalists)

Zac said...

Concerning Montanism

From what little I understand, I do think that Montanus was claiming to be the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. I think perhaps you're reading too much into the "gentle approach" that St. Irenaeus recommended. The Montanists were not good Catholics... their heresies had severed them from the Church. Their baptism rite included the formula, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit of Montanus--" which of course was a mockery of the sacrament.

The issue set before the Church was how to receive various heretics when they repented, who nevertheless still had certain foundational Christian beliefs within their heretical/schismatic communities. Pope Stephen and the general practice at Rome typically involved a lenient approach involved a renunciation of their error, confirmation (or "chrismation" as we say in the East) for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and partaking of the Lord's flesh and blood in the assembly of the Orthodox believers.

But this was not the only opinion. St. Cyprian of Carthage did not approve of this lenient practice, at least when it came to those whose errors were so perverse that they could hardly be called Christian. He and the various early African councils, who typically were dealing with Montanists and Gnostics, demanded baptism for those who came to the Church.

Typcially the ancient Church had no problem with the baptism of those outside of her boundaries, so long as it corresponded to the form used by the Church. St. Basil recommends re-baptism for Montanists since the invocation of the Trinity over the "laver of regeneration" is defective.

This was very serious for the people you are writing about, given they they considered baptism to be our spiritual rebirth into the body of Christ. Even Tertullian believed this-- sadly he departed into Montanism in later life.