Saturday, December 05, 2009

Sola Scriptura Debate: My first cross-examination answer

DavidW's question assumes a false premise of Sola Scriptura. He asks "If we cannot rely on the Church", and that's the problem. He is implicitly making "rely on the Church" to mean "ascribe infallibility to the Eastern Orthodox Church", which, as you can see, adds two elements to what the question may appear to be to the untrained eye.

First off, yes, it is true that I do not ascribe infallibility to the EOC. Nor do I ascribe infallibility to the church of Jesus at any time in history. But DavidW is setting up a false dilemma, that either the church is infallible or it is worthless. What's wrong with a third option? - that the church was and continues to be used by God to accomplish His purposes, sometimes to reveal Himself, sometimes to reveal man's sinfulness, sometimes to imperfectly foreshadow the Eschaton, sometimes to reflect the glory of God, sometimes to show that while there is the 'already', there is also the 'not yet'. And on and on the examples could be multiplied innumerably.

I do believe that the church of God reliably and sufficiently came to a correct knowledge of the Canon of Scripture. This can be powerfully argued on the basis of the impossibility of the contrary, as I mentioned in my 1st rebuttal. The i.o.t.c. is a powerful internal argument not only for atheism but also for EOC, which is why I've mentioned "DavidW is not an atheist" in my rebuttals. He too is supposed to believe the Scripture is breathed out by God, and if he does not, then it is easy to prove that he has no basis for believing any of his position, not with any degree of consistency.
Thing is, this doesn't require the church's infallibility. Just God's.

It does require the movement of the Holy Spirit over the course of time, bearing subjective and yet powerful, individual and yet repeated, witness that book X is theopneustos and book Y isn't. Sometimes some people got it wrong, sure, but not in the majority, and over time God arranged that commonality of belief would come to be. Given that this took place over the course of decades and centuries in the early church, that the early church was scattered over even thousands of miles and there was no means of communication that did not require at least weeks of sometimes-dangerous travel, and that the early church was often undergoing severe persecution and suppression of written Christian materials, I count it a serious and powerful, though subtle, miracle on God's part that any consensus was ever reached at all. Further, I don't see why David would disagree with this.

The bottom line for this point is that, while the church of God is not infallible, God is, and God chose to use a fallible church filled with fallible people to accomplish an amazing work - revealing His Word to His people.
If one were inclined to argue, I commend you to the example of the way God revealed to His people of the Old Testament just what the content of His self-revelation was. Did the Jews have an infallible hierarchy, as Rome teaches? No. Were they infallible as a whole? No. Rather, we see over and over throughout the OT the remnant motif. God preserves a remnant in the midst of a usually ungodly generation. This remnant is the people God preserves through the storms of judgment wreaked on unbelieving Israel. They knew somehow what the delineation of the Canon of God's speech was, but without an "official council", without an infallible body to decide it, without even all that much moral or spiritual purity. They knew that when a true prophet spoke, one was obligated to listen. Think about it - even thousands of years after the time of the writing of most of the OT and hundreds of years after it was complete, did the enemies of Jesus ever dispute with Him over His quotations of the OT, even when He used those quotation to condemn them and convict them of sin? They had every reason to do so, because His arguments and Scripture citations flummoxed them! Since they had no answer, at minimum they could have called into question the canonicity this or that OT book Jesus cited, but they never did. Why? Because they were still the covenant people of God at the time, and God had given them the knowledge of the Canon.

Romans 3:1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written,

Were the Jews who in large part missed their Messiah and even insisted He be put to death, who were the subjects of a "partial hardening" (Rom 11:25) from God, infallible? And were they clueless about their Canon? The comparison of the OT account of God's covenant people with the NT covenant people defeats the Sola Ecclesia argument.
See also my discussion of Canon1 and Canon2 in my first rebuttal.

Second, let us redirect the charge back at DavidW. I mentioned in my opener that EOC has at best a vague and partial answer to the same question. To the Sola Scripturist, let us remember, the Scripture contains all the teachings that are of the highest authority. Thus the Canon of Scripture is the delineation of

||infallible, most-authoritative teaching||
||fallible, less-authoritative or not-particularly-authoritative teaching||.

To the Sola Ecclesia-ist like the EOdox, where is that well-defined limit? My Canon is in the Table of Contents of my Bible. Where's EOC's? The Bible, the Deutero-Canonical books (well, sorta), the 7 (or is it 9?) œcumenical councils, and of course living tradition, handed down from the apostles and lived out in the liturgy and song of EO people throughout time. "That which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all," as DavidW quoted Vincent de Lérins in his first cross-examination answer. It doesn't get any vaguer than that, friends.
The Sola Ecclesia-ist might make hay of the fact that we SS-ists don't claim our Canon is infallible, but at least we have one! Where is EOC's canon of infallible teachings, even a fallible one? Non-existent. Know why? With no well-defined grounds for corrective authority, the enemy has a much easier time taking a group of people off-course, and it doesn't have to happen all at once. No, detach people from their sure and solid moorings to God's infallible Word, and Satan can move them pretty much at will, and gradually, to embrace teachings "which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind" (Jeremiah 19:5 and others).

This is why I said in my opener:
For another, are there not other candidates for the status of The Church®, or the infallible interpreter, out there? Rome? The WatchTower? The Latter-Day Saints? David Koresh? How can we choose which infallible interpreter really represents The Church®, if Scripture is not sufficient for that task? After all, all would shape "Tradition" in the way that best serves each one, picking and choosing, ignoring this and emphasising that.
I'm not sure DavidW understood my point here. Read little-t tradition and you'll quickly discover all sorts of things the EOC does not accept. EOC doesn't accept it; therefore it's not Sacred Apostolic Tradition, as I've said before. That's just the way it is - the Church Fathers and other early Christian writers didn't, on the whole, agree on much of anything besides monotheism. But that's ostensibly EOC's rule of faith, its foundation for authority! What to do? Simple - cull them for what agrees with your position, call it SAT and demote the rest (or neglect to promote the rest), leaving it at the little-t. My point is that ANYone can do that and have the exact same logical consistency and the exact same circularity of appeal to self. Point out to the JW that there's a teaching in the Bible that disproves their position? Simple, the infallible interpreter (the Watchtower) tells me to ignore it, so I ignore it. Show an EO that Basil or Athanasius pointed to Scripture as the final authority? Simple, the "living voice of The Church®" says that's not really what he meant, so ignore it. The well-attended council at Constantinople in 754 says that veneration of icons in worship is wrong? That's not SAT, because The Church® (ie, the faction within the church who won) said in 787 that what The Church® really believes is that icons are perfectly fine for worship. Like I said, this kind of facile handling of history can be done by ANYone whose first authority is not to history but to the infallible interpreter of today. And there's no way to prove them wrong, because the presupposition is already in place.

In short, I'm glad DavidW asked this question, but if our situations were reversed, I would've stayed far away from it.

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