Thursday, August 24, 2006

Scripture and Tradition (Part 2)

Part 2 of Kevin Cauley's article on Tradition in the Catholic Church.

The Catholic understanding of 1 Corinthians 13:8-11 is thus:

Presbyterian theologian B. B. Warfield came up with the idea of using 1 Corinthians 13:8–12 to claim that miracles stopped early on. Verse 8, with its declarations that prophecies and knowledge will pass away, and especially with its declaration that the practice of "tongues . . . will cease," was too good to pass up. Verse 11, with its reference to putting away "childish things," was equally juicy (by implication, prophecy and tongues would be "childish"). Verse 10 ties the passing away of present imperfect (incomplete) knowledge and prophecy to the time "when the perfect comes." Verse 12 further explained this time as when "we see . . . face to face" and when "I [Paul] shall understand fully."

When was this time? Since the traditional Protestant knows that the gifts were given only to confirm Scripture until it was finished—so that afterwards we could rely on Scripture alone—the completion of the New Testament books must have been the time. Of course, this is completely implausible. Not only is it contingent on two erroneous premises—that the miraculous gifts were given only to confirm Scripture and that we are meant to operate on Scripture alone—but it flies in the face of the text itself.

It would be difficult to portray Paul’s then-present knowledge as "imperfect" (v. 9) relative to when the New Testament was finished. Paul wrote most of the New Testament, and every author knows more than he writes. His understanding of Christian doctrine no doubt far exceeded what was eventually enscripturated, the only exceptions being certain details of prophetic chronology.

Further, it is impossible to square verse 12 with the anti-miracle argument. Paul declares " now we see in a mirror dimly." Compared to the completion of the New Testament? Hardly! When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the faith already had been delivered to the saints "once for all" (Jude 3); the key doctrinal disputes of the apostolic age had been settled. Not much substantive new revelation was left.

The only stage of knowledge that could make Paul’s present knowledge look like a dim glance in a mirror would be the fullness of revelation that will come when we see God face to face and are not dependant on Scripture and other mediate modes of knowing God. Not surprisingly, Paul specified the time in question as when "we see . . . face to face." That’s not the completion of the New Testament. It is the Second Coming or our own personal encounter with God upon our deaths.

Paul next states, "Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully." Again, this is not likely the remark of a man who wrote most of the New Testament saying that he is looking forward to what he will learn when it is completed. This is reinforced when he explains what he means by "I shall understand fully"— "even as I have been fully understood." By whom? By God. Once more we have the language of intimate encounter with God that surpasses the modes of knowing available in this life.

And such authority was confirmed by the miracles which they did ( Mark 16:20, Hebrews 2:3,4). They restored the maimed to health, immediately. They raised the dead. They walked on water. They miraculously punished the wicked. These were things that could be clearly distinguished from that which was natural. Paul wrote that their words were confirmed with power of the Holy Spirit ( 1 Corinthians 2:4). Yet we are supposed to believe that Pope John Paul II healed someone because he laid his hands on him and then after several months the individual recovered? That's substandard to the quality of miracle that Jesus performed and ought to be rejected. Where are the miraculous deeds done by the Catholic Church that were done by the apostles and prophets of the first century? They are non-existent. The Catholic Church simply cannot prove that their words have the same authority as the apostles'.

Well first, we see the the reception of the Holy Spirit as different things at different times. Sometimes it was ordination, from which we get apostolic succession, sometimes it was simply a confirmation, sometimes it was to give actual gifts of the Holy Spirit (ability to do miracles, speak in tongues, etc). This is not to say that all who were ordained could do miracles, and that's certainly not the case today. There are, though, many, many accounts of miracles throughout the history of the Church, and even today there are many that have been examined by scientists and declared inexplicable. Certainly, they will not convince people who have already decided miracles don't exist anymore, just as not everyone in biblical times was convinced even when there were clear and obvious miracles.

The Holy Spirit guided these miraculously aided men into all truth, as Jesus promised ( John 16:13) and the result of such was that they were able to record these inspired truths in documents that would be preserved for all ages also per Jesus promise ( Matthew 24:35).

I read that verse to mean God's word, both oral and written.

Third, it is clear from the scripture that man's authority never has been on equal footing with God. The writer of Proverbs declared, "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." In fact, it is consistently condemned in scripture as a viable standard for behavior. Jeremiah the prophet wrote, "O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" ( Jeremiah 10:23). Isaiah also declared that man's standard for right and wrong doesn't cut it with God. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" ( Isaiah 55:8,9). More often than not, man gets spiritual matters wrong, than right.

None of this is going to be very convincing to a Catholic, because we agree with it all. We don't believe we are choosing man's word over God's word, we believe God gave us the Church to protect His Word, and to pass it on so that we may, indeed, follow it rather than the words of men. In fact, we often use this verse to show that personal interpretation is not good, because we may easily misconstrue the scriptures on our own.

But really, our trust in the Church's interpretation is no different than the people who trust you, at your congregation, to explain to them and give them the Word of God, and help them know how to apply it in their lives. Except, we believe the Holy Spirit keeps the Church from officially teaching error.

This last point is clearly proved through the history of the Catholic Church in the very magisterium that is claimed to be infallible. Time and time again, the Catholic Church contradicts itself over its own doctrines.

Correction, many of these are not "doctrine," they are "discipline." There are many points here, I will try to be brief.

It was once wrong and sinful for the good Catholic to eat meat on Fridays and during the traditional time of "lent." Yet now it is no longer held as sinful, but merely out of keeping with a more spiritual way.

What would have been considered sinful is not the actual consumption of meat on a Friday, but disobedience to the Church. Kind of like...if a parent tells their child to come home at 9:00, it's not the fact that they come home at 10:00 that's bad, there's nothing intrensically wrong with 10:00, it's the fact that they disobeyed their parents. If later, the parent changes the curfew to 10:00 because they have thought it over and felt it wise, that is perfectly ok. It's not shocking and we don't think "But before, it was BAD to come home at 10:00! How could they change that?" We understand it is not the time itself, it is the matter of obedience. Abstinence on Fridays was simply a practice that was changed, not a change of doctrine.

It was once strictly held that for Catholic priests to marry was sinful. Yet now, it is held that it is not necessarily sinful for them to marry, merely not convenient for them to so do and maintain their personal duties.

It was never sinful for a priest to be married, in that case the Eastern Church would have been condoning sin. It is simply a prudent and practical discipline, and has always been seen as such. Again, this is a discipline not a doctrine.

It was once acknowledged that the pope's words were fallible; yet now, it is stated that his words are infallible.

No, not all his words are infallible, only certain instances are considered infallible pronouncements, and it was acknowledged, even if not yet defined, that when he made an official pronouncement that they were infallible.

It was once thought that the sale of indulgences in the Catholic church was a legitimate practice. Yet now it is held in scorn.

It was never acceptable to sell indulgences. Abuses happened, yes, and that is why the Church stepped in and stopped it. More on that here

One never could "buy" indulgences. The financial scandal around indulgences, the scandal that gave Martin Luther an excuse for his heterodoxy, involved alms-indulgences in which the giving of alms to some charitable fund or foundation was used as the occasion to grant the indulgence. There was no outright selling of indulgences. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "[I]t is easy to see how abuses crept in. Among the good works which might be encouraged by being made the condition of an indulgence, almsgiving would naturally hold a conspicuous place. . . It is well to observe that in these purposes there is nothing essentially evil. To give money to God or to the poor is a praiseworthy act, and, when it is done from right motives, it will surely not go unrewarded."

It was once held by the Catholic church that religious warfare in the name of God was a righteous thing to do. But today, the Catholic church's position on war is more or less that of a pacifist.

There is a teaching about "just war," and this teaching has remained the same. It is the application that varies, as it should, according to circumstances.

If Catholic tradition is so infallible and authoritative as is claimed, then why all of the errors, corrections, modifications, reversals, and amendments? It simply cannot be stated that such these things were due to the current cultural conditions of the time. Marriage has been around since Adam and Eve. The eating of meat nearly as long. The office of the pope has been around for over a thousand years. Does culture dictate his fallibility or infallibility? Carnal warfare has been known since the time of Cain and Abel. Was it right to go to war for religious reasons during the middle ages but wrong to do so today? Where is the consistency in these so called infallible traditions?

The things you mentioned are not what we see as the Oral Tradition, the Word of God. These are mostly practices and disciplines that can change, but the teaching does not.

When I say the teachings of the Church, the Tradition of the Church, I'm thinking of things such as the Eucharist, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the necessity of baptism, and much more. These things that have never, ever changed, which were told to the apostles by Christ, which often overlap with the scriptures but are not always contained explicitly in the scriptures, and never contradict them. For 2,000 years, all these things have remained constant and unchanging.

The tradition of the Catholic Church is no more than man's opinion compiled over a long period of time. The length of time does not change the fact that these are simply man's opinions and not God's. And one man's opinion has no more authority than any other's. The teachings of the Pope have no more true authority than the teachings of a rice farmer in China. Man's thoughts are all equal with one another, but they are not equal with God's. The prophet asks, "To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?" ( Isaiah 46:5). The answer is returned, "Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" ( Isaiah 46:9,10). Man's tradition simply is NOT an adequate standard for religious practices. We ought not be satisfied with anything other than that which has been proved to be God's word, the inspired scriptures that constitute the Bible.

Obviously, I disagree that the Tradition is man made. I agree we should not take any man's word over God's. I just have a different definition of God's Word than you do.

More to come in the next post on part 3.

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