Thursday, August 31, 2006

Authority and Infallibility

I have a bit of time on my hands at the moment, so I'll continue my thoughts on the responses to me from Kevin Cauley over at the Preacher's Files.

From a previous post:
I'm sure the Jews had "explanations" for why Jesus was wrong about His analysis as well, but the "explanation" only reinforces the point that tradition has been elevated above scripture to begin with. That's exactly what has happened with Catholicism. One such example is the "explanation" that Catholicism offers for why it is acceptable to call religious leaders "fathers" when Jesus clearly said not to do such in Matthew 23:9. Here is a clear conflict between Catholic Tradition and scripture. What has won out? Not scripture, but tradition.

No faithful Catholic will ever say Jesus was wrong, and they will never say the scriptures were wrong. In our understanding, there is no conflict at all. And while your understanding may seem right to you, I have to wonder by what authority you claim your interpretation to be the correct one?
Unfortunately, rather than answer my question about authority, Mr. Cauley decided to jump to another topic altogether and whip out the famous "call no man father" argument.

Matthew 23:8-10 states clearly "But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ." Why is interpretation even necessary here?

Good question! Because any honest person will admit there are several ways to take this verse if we're just looking at it on the surface. We could take it to mean we should literally never address ANYONE, even our own teachers and parents with such titles, or we could take it in a more figurative way to mean we should not consider anyone to be above God in their position, or we could pick and choose and decide it's ok to call our biological father "father," even though that ignores the "no man...upon the earth" part of that verse, and it's ok to call teachers Master (Mr.), but it's not ok to call priests father. The problem with the last and first options, are that they would themselves contradict other passages in the scriptures where men ARE called fathers and teachers who are not God. And this is why we have the Church, to point us to the correct interpretation of such passages.

More on the "call no man father" argument.

Jesus isn't giving a class on parenting. Jesus isn't giving a class on personal evangelism. He's condemning the Pharisaical practice of religious elitism (read clergy/Pharisees/"educated" vs. laity/common Jew/"uneducated").

You've got it partly right...he's condemning the tendency to raise human beings higher than their place, to raise them even above God. That doesn't mean he's forbidding us to recognize their proper place as spiritual father or teacher.

To read this passage in context and uninfluenced by prejudicial Catholic doctrines, is to understand it, no interpretation necessary.

It doesn't matter how confidently one denies that the bible needs interpretation and can even be a difficult book to read and understand, it still doesn't make it so. Even without the "prejudicial Catholic doctrines," there is still more than one way to understand the verse, and clearly fundamentalists must rely on their own authority to decide which one is correct. And we wonder why there is split upon split upon split in bible-only churches like the CoC.
"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures. . . . Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed" (1 Cor. 15:3,11). The apostle praised those who followed Tradition: "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Cor. 11:2).

The first Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching" (Acts 2:42) long before there was a New Testament. From the very beginning, the fullness of Christian teaching was found in the Church as the living embodiment of Christ, not in a book. The teaching Church, with its oral, apostolic tradition, was authoritative.

(From the
link above)

Catholics know that public revelation ended with the last apostle’s death. But the part of revelation that was not written down—the part outside the Bible, the apostles’ inspired oral teaching (1 Thess. 2:13) and their binding interpretations of Old Testament Scripture that forms the basis of sacred Tradition—that part of revelation Catholics also accept. Catholics follow Paul’s command: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15, cf. 1 Cor. 11:2).

It is one thing to say that these passages teach that early Christians must believe and observe things which inspired men have directly said (in fact, that's really all they say).

Yes, I was using them (in my very first post) to show that not all tradition was the "tradition of men" and that the apostles commended people for following those traditions and oral teachings.

It's quite another thing to suggest that these passages teach that the church would be guaranteed to infallibly transmit such teachings to their spiritual progeny.

Uummmm...I don't believe I was using these verses to try and show that particular belief. I was simply trying to point out that there was, indeed, oral tradition that was passed on from the apostles. I'm also kind of conused as to why this part was quoted from my very first post in a response to a later post.

These passages simply do not teach that doctrine. Where is the concept of infallibility in these passages on the part of those who heard the word? Where is the promise in these verses that they WILL infallibly preserve oral tradition?

Yeah, I get the point...see above.

What Paul affirms in the above passages is simply the necessity of the first Christians to obey the inspired apostles, but that's all that is affirmed. If God were to directly inspire someone today, a similar obligation would, no doubt, be enjoined.


I'm not disagreeing that the early church didn't have an entire New Testament. I agree that they didn't. But that is exactly why they had inspired apostles and prophets, namely, to directly reveal to them God's will. The New Testament never teaches the doctrine of the infallible preservation of God's word by the church. It's just not there.

Weeelll, I don't know about that. Let's look at what Christ promised His Church in Matthew 28:18-20, and some other verses...

"All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."
Here is an explanation of what the verse means to us:
Now it cannot be denied by anyone who admits that Christ established a visible Church at all, and endowed it with any kind of effective teaching authority, that this commission, with all it implies, was given not only to the Apostles personally for their own lifetime, but to their successors to the end of time, "even to the consummation of the world". And assuming that it was the omniscient Son of God Who spoke these words, with a full and clear realization of the import which, in conjunction with His other promises, they were calculated to convey to the Apostles and to all simple and sincere believers to the end of time, the only reasonable interpretation to put upon them is that they contain the promise of infallible guidance in doctrinal teaching made to the Apostolic College in the first instance and then to the hierarchical college that was to succeed it.
Supposing, as we do, that Christ actually delivered a definite body of revealed truth, to be taught to all men in all ages, and to be guarded from change or corruption by the living voice of His visible Church, it is idle to contend that this result could be accomplished effectively -- in other words that His promise could be effectively fulfilled unless that living voice can speak infallibly to every generation on any question that may arise affecting the substance of Christ's teaching.
John 14-16. In Christ's discourse to the Apostles at the Last Supper several passages occur which clearly imply the promise of infallibility: "I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you forever. The spirit of truth . . . he shall abide with you, and shall be in you" (John 14:16, 17). "But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you" (ibid. 26). "But when he, the spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth (John 16:13). And the same promise is renewed immediately before the Ascension (Acts 1:8). Now what does the promise of this perennial and efficacious presence and assistance of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth, mean in connection with doctrinal authority, except that the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity is made responsible for what the Apostles and their successors may define to be part of Christ's teaching? But insofar as the Holy Ghost is responsible for Church teaching, that teaching is necessarily infallible: what the Spirit of truth guarantees cannot be false.
It boils down to the fact that Christ instituted His Church, then told that Church to spread the truth, said He would be with them until the end of the world, and promised He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. What good would it be for people to spread the word without some kind of safeguard against error? That would no longer be "all truth," and so it is clear that for the Church to teach all truth, She must be protected from teaching error.

This is exactly what is in contention. I understand that Catholics believe that THEIR tradition is sanctioned by God and thereby NOT human tradition. However, it's one thing to SAY that; it's an entirely different thing to prove that. That's where Catholicism falls far short.

So you say, and I disagree. I agree, one shouldn't just accept such a claim without proof. I've posted the scriptures that I believe show Christ gave the apostles tradition, who passed that on, and expected it to be followed. I haven't seen any scripture saying that scripture alone is sufficient. I have seen historical proof, especially how the Bible came about. I see in the scriptures that a Church was instituted, not a book. I see the Church called "the pillar and ground of truth," not a book. So, personally, I have seen proof, and I have tried to provide explanations of that as best I can.
I believe I've shown in previous posts that 2 Timothy 3:15-17 proves the sufficiency of the scriptures. However, I've not seen any scriptures presented that teach the infallible preservation of the word by the church. Does the church have to infallibly preserve Oral Tradition to be "the pillar and ground of the truth?"

Yes!! Absolutely!! Any organization having less than perfect preservation of truth could not be considered the very pillar and ground of truth!

I don't believe it does. It would be sufficient for the church to preserve written documents to fulfill that function, and so it has.

But then the scriptures would say that the scriptures are the pillar and ground of truth...and they don't say that, they say the Church is. Again, if the Church has anything less than absolute truth, if the Church is vulnerable to teaching error, She can not be the pillar and ground of truth.

I'll agree with you that there was apostolic revelation outside of written revelation in the first century. Where we disagree, however, is that this non-written public revelation was entrusted to the church. It was not. In fact, the main impetus of the early church was to confirm the written revelation and ferret out the oral tradition, just the opposite of what Catholicism claims. Such makes suspect all of Catholic oral tradition.

I don't find this anywhere in the scriptures, quite the opposite.
I simply meant to say that history tells us that in the days after the apostles the primary emphasis in the church was on preserving the inspired writings of the apostles, not upon preserving oral tradition.

Where in the world is there any evidence of that? We agree there was oral tradition in the first seems that if this was meant to be completely committed to the written word, we would see evidence of that somewhere, and a mention that oral tradition was to stop being passed on at some point. But that's simply an assumption that must be made if one is to believe in sola scriptura, it's a case of reading one's beliefs into the text.

Nevertheless, scripture never tells us that the church was guaranteed to infallibly preserve the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Not one passage that has been presented has proved that.

See above. Without infallibility preserving the truth, there could be no certainty of having the truth.
The very fact of the matter is that early in the 2nd century A.D. the written messages of the apostles were already being read as scripture among the churches. We know that they were read as scripture when they were originally delivered to the early churches, for so the writings themselves say (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27). It is a myth, however, to say that the 1st and 2nd century churches didn't have the New Testament. Consider "The Formation of the New Testament Canon." History shows that they actually did and that they distinguished such teachings from the mere writings/traditions of men.

By the middle to end of the second century, you actually have writings that are listing the books of the New Testament as being part of the apostles inspired writings. One such example is the Muratorium Fragment. There is little discussion, if any, to authoritative tradition at this time. Why would that be? Mainly because they were not concerned with oral tradition as they were with inspired written documents.

My answer would be because there was no question about what that tradition was, it was very much agreed upon. It was a bit later that major heresies arose (arianism, pelagianism, nestorianism, etc), which challenged Sacred Tradition. Because of the Church's God-give authority, though, they were able to settle the matters. Just like with scriptures, though there were certainly texts they agreed were inspired, there were also arguments over other texts and whether or not they were inspired, and because of the Church's authority, they were able to settle the matter once and for all.
If matters of tradition were settled, then why would they feel the need to preserve the writings of the apostles and prophets at all?

Certainly it was a good thing to preserve BOTH the oral tradition AND the sacred scriptures. That is why we see them as both equally important.

No, the early church had as many problems with major heresies (such as gnosticism) as it did at later times. The solution, however, was not to appeal to oral tradition, but rather to the inspired writings of the apostles and prophets which is exactly what we find them doing.

They appealed to both.

See, for example the writings of Justin Martyr and other early church leaders. They didn't cite Oral Tradition as authoritative; they did, however, cite the inspired writings of the apostles and prophets as authoritative and sufficient to refute the heresies they faced.

Of course he used scripture, but he used oral tradition as well. The problem is, you don't always "cite" oral tradition like you do scripture, it is woven into our beliefs (even those of the CoC), and attached to the scriptures, and the two cannot be separated.

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