Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sola Scriptura Debate - 1st Rebuttal

Thanks to David for his opening statement, in which he held to proper etiquette and did not rebut my own opener. Now each of us has free rein to comment on anything said by the other.
His statement seems best organised into divisions, so I will respond to each in its section. Interestingly, David ran afoul of some of the pitfalls I warned against. He wasn't supposed to and didn't take my opener into account, so it's not like he took the "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" approach, but it's instructive to see the predictable nature of the Sola Ecclesia argumentation. By my count, he stepped right into #1, #2, #4, and #9, plus two I forget to mention.
But first, let's ask the fundamental question. We both (are supposed to) agree that Scripture is a rule of faith; we are debating whether it is the only one. Has his opening, position statement presented a credible alternative? Tradition? The EOC? No, he spent half of it discussing the Canon of Scripture, something his own church isn't decided on, and 2-3 short paragraphs describing his position. These paragraphs are light on exegesis and supporting argumentation; apparently we are supposed to fall prostrate before the awesome clarity of Matthew 16:18 and 18:18. Interestingly, aren't those two passages found in...Scripture? If, as he says, "Scripture forbids that Scripture be interpreted individually", how is anyone to come to those passages and figure out that EOC is the right church and infallible interpreter, out of the dozens in the world? This is a fideistic, circular approach - trust The Church® because The Church® says so, BEFORE you attempt to interpret Matthew 16 & 18 to find whether Scripture actually supports that position. Appealing to Scripture with one hand while telling me I can't interpret it correctly is disingenuous. Finally, this isn’t only my problem. EOC teaches that Scripture and Tradition are on a par; what makes him think that ANY statement, in Scripture OR in Tradition (including anything EOC says, since for him that is by definition Tradition) can be interpreted individually? How is he, the EO layman, supposed to understand it? He's cut the throat of his own position.

David makes much of the idea "that Sola Scriptura would have been impossible for the first several hundred years of Christianity", but what does that prove? Remember, I said in my opener that SS is the rule of faith during the normative state of the church. If you want Sola Scriptura, you have to have a Scriptura, obviously. I'll let David deal with the initial answers in my opening statement (there are at least 4 already) and move on here.
I would like to reiterate that EOC has no settled Canon of Scripture. Since I bet he'll disagree, I would like to ask David when the EOC settled the Canon of Scripture, how he knows that, whether he knows it infallibly (and if so, how), and why luminaries such as priest and published author Kallistos Ware say that "most Orthodox scholars" disagree with the Councils' of Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) calling the Deuterocanonicals genuine parts of Scripture.
In point of fact, while there is no doubt God made His Canon known to His church, there is no reason to think that "The Church" needed infallibility for that. If that is indeed his contention, where has this infallibility been found? "Oops" is not a valid excuse for an infallible interpreter, but EOC has made mistakes and experienced internal dissension throughout her history. One good example would be errancy (David) vs inerrancy (quite a lot of Church Fathers). Further, this infallibility is unprovable, since (ask any knowledgeable Orthodox) its seven great œcumenical councils are sort of recognised, a posteriori, to be the truth since the church as a whole eventually moves towards acceptance of their dogma. Hmm, where have we heard that before? Why is David so quick to critique the Sola Scripturist view that this is how the Canon came to be known, when the exact same process occurred, on his own view, 7 times over? And how can that give anyone confidence about EOC's hold on the truth - their retroactive declaration of their own decisions as infallible?

Now, in reference to Canon1 and Canon2, it just makes sense. God knows what He wrote, but sent no "golden index" to tell us what He wrote. But again, the same problem exists for EOC and for me - can David provide a golden index of infallible, authoritative teachings from the EOC? Again, ask an EO-dox sometime how he knows that the Second Council of Nicæa was an infallible, œcumenical council. He'll tell you that the council took place, and then the results came to be accepted by the church over the course of time. Just how is that any different than what I'm saying? The only difference is that he's supposed to be a believing Christian, a theist and supernaturalist, who believes that God has spoken and that we can figure out what He said. If one were inclined to ask an Orthodox for a Canon of infallible authoritative teachings from God, he'd say the same thing.

He would like to know how we know that Canons 1 and 2 match now. We trust our omnipotent, loving God to make His self-revelation known to His people. There is little reason to think this would require that His people be infallible. Indeed, did He not successfully make His Word known to the Old Testament people of God? And what was their infallible interpreter? The Sanhedrin which put Jesus to death? The Sadducees who denied the resurrection in the Eschaton?

We further know it through the impossibility of the contrary. If God has not spoken clearly, sufficiently, and in a way understandable to people, then let us eat, drink, and be merry, for neither today nor tomorrow do we know anything about God, eternal life, atonement, sin, judgment, resurrection, or moral law. Indeed, I'd argue we have no basis for ANY objective epistemology or metaphysics. Such an idea is certainly unlivable, and if one is inclined to argue that its unthinkability is a crutch for weak-minded people, I simply respond that if God did not speak, there's nothing right OR WRONG with being weak-minded.

No one denies that Scripture quotes extrabiblical sources, but what exactly is that supposed to prove? This merely shows that the authors considered the quotations true. Do EO councils never quote from external sources, such as individual church fathers or smaller, previous councils? Does David think that makes those individuals or non-œcumenical councils infallible by virtue of their citation? The indictment is even stronger on that count against EOC, since often these councils cite individuals as though they are supposed to carry some weight, some authority. If the biblical authors do that at all, it is infrequent; rather, they tend to use them as illustrative and as cultural context to help communicate.

David talked a lot about the Canon. Can he give us a Canon of ALL authoritative, infallible tradition from EOC? Is it infallible? If not, how is he in a better position?

He cites 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 3:6 - if you read closely, you will see that 3:6 refers back to what Paul had already discussed in his two letters - the Gospel and his instructions with respect to the church. We'll have to see if David can overcome the pitfall I mentioned in my opener.

His exegesis of 2 Peter 1:20 is surprisingly, but typically, bad. Interpretation of a prophecy received by an individual church member, is not in view here; rather the emphasis is on the means of God's inspiring the text. Peter says that the prophetic word is yet more certain than his own eyewitness experiences, and goes on to tell us that "no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God". I forgot to include this one in my opening pitfalls.

Yes, the faith was once for all handed down to the saints. Yet EOC has introduced many novel concepts, such as theosis, beliefs about Mary, and communication with dead people by bowing down to images of them, and called them authoritative teaching. But how do new concepts equal "once handED down"?

We'll have to see whether David can show us some halfway-decent exegesis of Matthew 16 and 18 to justify his circular allegiance to the church, and hope that he'll do better than, say, shoehorning an idea of authority into 2 Timothy 2:15. "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." Jesus (and Paul) held EVERYONE responsible for properly understanding God's revelation. Jesus told us why many, however, reject what is clear:

Mark 4:10 - "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that 'WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.'"

John 6:45 - "It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me."

Rejecting the Word of God as sufficient and sufficiently clear is merely a sign of the impending judgment on those who prefer to trust the machinations of man and love manmade tradition.

(Word count: 1597)

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