Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Authority of Scripture

Scripture is authoritative, meaning it is worthy of us believing its teachings and obeying its commands. Its authority comes from its Author: God, based on His truth, power and sovereignty. What the scripture teaches comes with all the authority of “thus saith the Lord”. Denying the authority of scripture is denying God’s authority, because the scripture is God’s Word.

Catholics, in my opinion, indirectly undermine the authority of scripture, because:
  1. They teach errors, and claim exemption from the scrutiny of scripture. People are not allowed to look in scripture to find out if submission to the Pope is necessary for salvation.
  2. They subject scripture to another authority, the church. In practice they are not equivalent authorities. If you think scripture is telling you to do X and the church says do Y, you must do Y (and also unthink that the scripture said to do X).
  3. They use and teach the use of eisegesis (as opposed to exegesis). Instead of turning to scripture for the meaning of scripture, you must turn to the church and take it back with you to scripture.
  4. They deny scripture could be the only infallible teaching of the church as if God could not have done it that way.
  5. They say scripture is unclear, so for practical purposes we must look elsewhere for truth.
    They forbid consulting scripture in the original languages.
  6. They have in the past discouraged the study of scripture by common people, including forbidding translations and requiring people to get approval from the church to read the bible.

So while Catholics see Protestants as rebellious teenagers, because we do not submit to the Pope, in reality this is a two way street, because they do not submit to the authority of scripture. So as rhetorically effective as the “rebellion” argument may sound, it ultimately lacks substance.

The evidence in favor of the authority of scripture far outweighs that of the Pope. Scripture is constantly and verifiably correct in its teachings, but the Pope is neither. Scripture’s authority is demonstrated through its own teachings, its impact on history and the witness of the Holy Spirit.

Consider the evidence for the authority of scripture. The scripture describes God as all knowing and all powerful, and God issues His commands based on one reason only “I am the Lord your God”, so either he is a lunatic or God. But scripture’s commands are pure, demanding the highest conceivable virtues from the heart, thus demonstrating God’s holiness and omniscience. The Gospel demonstrates God’s wisdom, love, justice and mercy in ways no man could ever dream up. Its internal consistency is astounding! How could people from all walks of life over such a long period of time and from such diverse reasons and backgrounds ever pull together the masterpiece we call scripture. Scripture has been accepted by the people of God through history, despite suffering and ridicule.

Now consider the evidence for the infallibility of the Pope. Popes don’t claim to be infallible in all things, but only in matters of faith and morals. Further, most Popes never even claimed infallibility, that claim seems to conveniently originate around the time of Reformation. So scripture is consistently infallible, and Popes are not. Yet Popes have erred on matters of faith and morals, contradicting themselves and going as far as teaching the Arian heresy. The scriptures don’t contradict themselves and have never taught the Arian heresy.

So there is good reason to trust scripture, but not so the Popes.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Response to Dave Armstrong on Sola Scriptura

Dave Armstrong provided some arguments against sola scriptura that I thought I would address. Initially he provided some definitions of sola scriptura, which I more or less agreed with.

Here's his first issue regarding "victory conditions" in the sola scriptura debate.
The Catholic needs to go further than that and establish, based on unassailable biblical evidence, examples of tradition or Church proclamations that were binding and obligatory upon all who heard and received them. Whether these were infallible is another more complex question, but a binding decree is already either expressly contrary to sola scriptura, or, at the very least, a thing that casts considerable doubt on the formal principle.
I don't think what you suggest would disprove sola scriptura. Unquestionably, before the bible, there were oral teachings which were binding. Of course anything Christ said was binding. Before Moses, God taught His people in means other than writing. Further, even at the time of the Apostles, God spoke through visions and prophets. The Apostles themselves were filled with the Spirit at times when they preached. Take the sermons of Peter or Paul recorded in Acts. It's a bit of a catch 22. If they made mistakes during their sermons, did Luke record the errors? If not, Luke didn't infallibly record what they said. If so, we can't trust the sermons recorded in Acts. The solution is of course that the preachers, filled with the Spirit, didn't err. But this was of course oral.

The real question is what to do now that the Apostles have reposed; we no longer have visions and prophets; but we have the scriptures.

Thus, one of my favorite counter-arguments is to point out that the Apostle Paul and his companion Silas made their way “through the cities” and “delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4). This council at Jerusalem was described in the previous chapter as having reached its decisions by the direct aid or guidance of the Holy Spirit (15:28).
Similar to the above, I don't think the council of Jerusalem was fallible (due to the Holy Spirit, not the Apostles themselves). So what has changed? Why don't I accept post-apostolic councils as infallible. For one, we now have the bible; so the bible should be the infallible guide of all councils. But for another, post-apostolic councils, popes and the church have erred. One pope taught the Arian heresy (and a subsequent pope condemned him for it). The church flip-flopped on the issue of the Assumption of Mary (at times teaching it, at other times condemning it). One pope published his own personal translation of the bible, which was filled with errors. The next pope attempted to gather them all up and destroy them, because he knew they were wrong. Galileo was both hero and heretic. At one point there were three people claiming to be the pope.

In short, because the popes and councils have contradicted themselves and scripture, they clearly are not infallible. But scripture has never erred.

3. Another relevant question with regard to sola scriptura is the history of how the canon of the New Testament was determined. It was, of course, as a result of the authority of the Catholic Church, since prior to the proclamations in the late 4th century, there were plenty of disagreements among eminent Church fathers about individual books (while there was substantial consensus in the main, as well).
Scripture is God's word, and His children recognize His voice. The books declare themselves to be God's word. For more, see here.
Most Protestant defenders of Scripture Alone contend that it is taught in the Bible. I contend that their alleged prooftexts are invariably logically circular, flimsy and easily shot down (and I hope to demonstrate that in this book). Other Protestants argue that it is true and a solid principle, without having to be expressly taught in the Bible; that it isn’t logically necessary for that to be the case in order to adhere to sola Scriptura.

I fall into the latter category. The scripture declares itself to be authoritative and that its revelation is sufficient for salvation, but scripture does not denounce all other authorities. But scripture is "sola" because it's the last man standing, given the errors of popes and councils.
The most obvious question in this regard to be resolved by the Protestant is to explain how sola scriptura can continue to “hold water” despite the numerous inter-Protestant disagreements. Scripture is, we are told, clear enough in its main outlines to be understood by the layman without necessary (let alone binding) help from any church body or ecclesiastical communion.
Just as what sinners did with Christ should not be held against Christ, neither should what sinners do with scripture be held against scripture. Still, most of the divisions are not over essentials of the faith; so we remain united in a more important sense. And by the way, the Catholic church isn't the only one claiming to be the one true church with an unbroken chain to the Apostles. I understand the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Armenian Church and the Coptic church make that claim as well.

Protestants, in reaction to these irresolvable conundrums, have come up with the notion of “essential” vs. “secondary” doctrines, which entails (I shall argue in this book) yet another unbiblical distinction.
Scripture states that some of its teachings are more important than others. Thus some commands are called "the more important matters of the law", while others are called "the least of these commandments". (Matthew 5:19; 23:23) So also, the Gospel has more glory and weight than the Law. (2 Corinthians 3:9; Hebrews 2:1-3; 10:26-29) It's the Gospel that's essential for salvation, albeit the other aspects are important.

Friday Files: Cameron's Arminus- Hero or Heretic?

Charles Cameron’s article, “Arminius―Hero or Heretic?” explains that James Arminius comes as a bit of a surprise to both Calvinists and Arminians today, as he is closer to Calvinism than people expect. Cameron starts with some preliminaries about Arminius (his affinity for Calvin’s commentaries, his approach to reconciling differences and his commitment to scripture) and then dives into the 5 points of Calvinism. On Total Depravity, Cameron notes Arminius’ focus on grace, not freewill. On Election, Arminius teaches a Christocentric, evangelical, eternal, decree whereby God chooses to save believers. Cameron questions the “from eternity” and “based on foreknowledge” aspect of Arminius’ explanation of election. On the Atonement, Arminius avoids universalism, but advocates God’s universal love and the availability of forgiveness for all. On Grace, Arminius avoids deterministic necessity, but affirms man’s dependence on God’s grace. On Perseverance, Cameron notes that Arminius does not fit into “Calvinist Arminian patterns of theological pigeonholing”, and that at times Arminius seems to sometimes advocate falling from grace, and sometimes not.

Friday Files: Picirilli’s Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future

In Robert E. Picirilli’s article Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future, he explains that Reformation Arminians hold that God knows what we will freely choose in the future, whereas Neo-Arminians (a.k.a. Open Theists) disagree. With a little help from Arminius and Richard Watson, Pircirilli carefully defends his thesis that “there is nothing about the certainty of the future that is in conflict with the ability of human beings to make free, moral decisions” by defining certainty, necessity and contingency and demonstrating how contingency and certainty don’t conflict. Picirilli explains that the difference between Calvinists and Arminians is foreordination, not foreknowledge. For the Reformation Arminian, then, the final set of facts to hold is: (1) the future is certain and foreknown certainly by God; (2) this is in full harmony with the fact that human beings make free, moral choices for which they are held justly responsible. (link)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Arminius on Sola Scriptura

I recently read Michael Patton's post on the canon of scripture, Dave Armstrong’s response, and Turretinfan’s debate with Matthew Bellisario on sola scriptura. Before I continue, let me make it clear that I agree with sola scriptura and reject the Catholic explanation of the rule of faith. Further, I think Michael and Turretinfan did a good job overall, and were more convincing than their Catholic opponents. Nevertheless, both Michael Patton and Turretinfan made maneuvers that surprised me and in my opinion weakened their defense of sola scriptura.

Michael Patton, in responding to the Catholic argument that without the infallible declaration of the Church, there would be no way of knowing what books belong in the canon of Scripture, replies Protestants have a fallible canon of infallible books. Why does he make this surprising move? Michael realizes the question is one of epistemology - “How do you know?” But Michael rejects absolute certainty for relative certainty. This supposed need for absolute certainty is primarily the product of the enlightenment and a Cartesian epistemology. To say that we have to be infallibly certain about something before it can be believed and acted upon is setting the standard so high that only God Himself could attain to it. Outside of mathematics and analytical statements (e.g. a triangle had three sides), there is no absolute certainty, only relative certainty. This epistemological limitation results in Michael declaring the canon fallible.

I disagree. God reveals the canon of scripture to us, because the scriptures declare themselves to be Divine. Arminius explains:

But by the very arguments by which the Scriptures are Divine, they are also [proved to be] Canonical, from the method and end of their composition, as containing the rule of our faith, charity, hope, and of the whole of our living. For they are given for doctrine, for reproof, for instruction, for correction, and for consolation; that is, that they may be the rule of truth and falsehood to our understanding, of good and evil to our affections, either to do and to omit, or to have and to want. (Deut. xxvii, 26; Psalm cxix, 105,106; Rom. x, 8, 17; Matt. xxii, 37-40; 2 Tim. iii, 16; Rom. xv, 4.) For as they are Divine because given by God, not because they are "received from men;" so they are canonical, and are so called in an active sense, because they prescribe a Canon or rule, and not passively, because they are reckoned for a Canon, or because they are taken into the Canon. So far indeed is the Church from rendering them authentic or canonical, that no assemblage or congregation of men can come under the name of a Church, unless they account the Scriptures authentic and canonical with regard to the sum or substance of the Law and Gospel. (Gal. vi, 16; 1 Tim. vi, 3, 4; Rom. xvi, 17; x, 8-10, 14-17.) (link)

Knowing the canon is simply receiving God’s word. God says “this is My Word”, and we believe Him. Other books do not declare themselves to be God’s Word, so we leave them out of the canon.

Granted this involves faith and we walk by faith, not by sight. But we can know the canon is correct in the same sense we can know any other spiritual truth. Faith and proof are alternative paths to certainty. I am not any less certain that Jesus Christ is the Son of God than I am that 2+2=4. Further, the faith part relates directly to God’s authority and only indirectly to accepting this book as God’s Word or not. The reasons we believe the 66 books are God’s Word are sufficient to know they are God’s Word, if we grant God’s authority.

Appealing to epistemological limitations at this point is unhelpful and runs the risk of removing all certainty. If we don’t accept certain axioms like our own existence or the law of identity, we cannot be absolutely certain about anything at all. This includes matters of faith (i.e. Jesus Christ is the Son of God) and matters of science (i.e. 2+2=4). But if we grant the axioms (and we must), we can demonstrate truth, including that the 66 books are the correct canon of scripture.

Turretinfan argued that Sola Scriptura (as expressed in the Westminster standards) is properly derived from Scripture." While the Bible claims its own infallible authority, it does not renounce all others. It does claim the sufficiency and completeness of its revelation regarding salvation, but it doesn’t claim to be “sola” in all religious matters. Instead “sola” is derived from examining other things which claim to be infallible. Since Popes and councils have contradicted themselves and scriptures, we reject their claim of infallibility. Scriptura is “sola” because it’s the last man standing. Arminius explains:

Those [new] revelations which are said to have been already made, have never yet been demonstrated in this manner (establishment of their Divinity by indubitable arguments); and it will be impossible to produce any such demonstrative evidence in support of those which, it is asserted, will afterwards occur. (link)

So while I agree with Michael and Turretinfan on sola scriptura, I disagree with them on how to explain it. Scripture, and scripture alone, demonstrates itself to be God's Word.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

James Arminius youtube Clip

I made a quick youtube video on James Arminius, giving a brief overview of his history and of the 5 points of the Remonstrants. Enjoy!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Files: Brian Abasciano’s Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner

In Brian Abasciano’s article Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner, Abasciano corrects Schreiner’s mistaken notion that corporate election denies any place to the individual. He argues that election is primarily corporate based on 1) the OT concept of election, 2) Paul’s statements about election to salvation and the fact that 3) first century culture was collectivist rather than individualistic. However, even though the primary focus of election is the community, the fact remains that the individual is elect secondarily as a member of the community. All this sets the stage for correctly understanding election in Romans 9 and answering Schreiner’s arguments. (link)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Files: Martin Glynn’s critique of the Articles of the Remonstrants

In Martin Glynn’s critique of the Articles of the Remonstrants, he provides a brief and helpful historical introduction and then dissects each of the five articles. Glynn notes the two surprises in the pile: article 3 is an unqualified expression of Total Depravity and in article 5 the Remonstrants are undecided on the issue of apostasy and simply say they need to research it more in Scripture. (link)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Review: Man’s faith and Freedom by Gerald O McCulloh

Man’s faith and Freedom is a collection of 5 essays and a sermon presented at the 1960 Arminius Symposium in Holland in 1960. Instead of giving the overall volume mixed reviews, I will review each essay separately.

The Life and Struggles of Arminius in the Dutch Republic by Gerrit Jan Hoenderdall presents a succinct and accurate summary of the life and times of James Arminius. Arminius' theological training and pastoral experiences in Amsterdam prepared him for professorship at Leiden, where his disagreements with Calvinistic predestination came to a head. Hoenderdall does a good job capturing the political undercurrents involved in the theological debates in Holland. The topic of debate was predestination but what were the rules and more importantly who was to preside over the debate? Arminius enjoyed some limited, hard-fought progress, but shortly after his death the Calvinists would prevail. The irony in Arminius’ life was his quarreling to gain peace.

From Arminius to Arminianism in Dutch Theology by Lambertus Jacobus van Holk traces the thought of James Arminius to that of the current Brotherhood of the Remonstrants. Sadly, Lambertus attempts to tie Arminius to universalism, moral relativism, liberal theology and the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Since Arminius has nothing to do with these things, his account requires some quantum leaps and ultimately Lambertus concludes that Arminius would have fallen outside of present day Arminianism. Lambertus then starts advocating universalism. While I am concerned about Lambertus’ misrepresentation of Arminianism, I am more concerned that he needs to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The Influence of Arminianism in England by Geoffrey Nuttall provides an outstanding review of the history of English Arminianism. Nuttall identifies four sources of 17th century Arminianism in England: Baptists, Dutch settlers, Anglican high-churchmen and Quakers. While it’s true Quakers and Unitarians sometimes claimed to be Arminian, we really have the Socinians to thank for them. But even though Nuttal mistakenly adds in Quakers and overlooks the Arminian Puritans, he does locate the main sources of early Arminianism. In the 18th century Wesley and the Methodists take over, which Nuttall attributes not to Wesley’s theology (Wesley’s parents were both Arminian and it wasn’t rare those days) but rather to his zeal for missions.

The Influence of Arminius on American Theology by Gerald O McCulloh was my favorite essay in the book. McCulloh traces Arminianism from the American colonies to the present day. In the early days, Arminianism struggled (McCulloh notes the burning of William Pyynchon’s book on the atonement). But over time, particularly with the influence of Methodism, Arminianism starts to take root.

Arminius and the Structure of Society by James Luther Adams traces from Arminian theology to society. In particular, the concepts of individualism, freedom and the relationship between church and state were important Remonstrant ideals that impacted society. Arminius pushed for tolerance of Arminianism within the Dutch Reformed Church. After Dort, Episcopius pushed for the government to allow two churches, as opposed to one state church. The Remonstrants thought the government should be tolerant, rather than stamping out alternative churches. This idea was influential on society at large.

Faith and Wonder by Russell Henry Stafford is a sermon reminding us that we cannot read the mind of God, but unfortunately it drifts off into the anti-knowledge errors of Kant.

In summary, I was disappointed by the books links between Arminianism and liberalism, but I did think the book gave some valuable insights and historic overviews.