Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sola Scriptura Debate: My third cross-examination answer

(Question here)

To quote myself from my opening statement: "Given Matthew 4:4, it would behoove us to determine what words have indeed proceeded out of the mouth of God." Of course, given ANYthing, it would so behoove us.

DavidW is fishing for some kind of definite date, while neither he nor I believe that any kind of formal church-wide process took place to set in stone our respective canons. Mine, of course, being one in number - Scripture; and his being two in number - 1) the canon of Authoritative For-Sure Teachings® of the EOC, and 2) the canon of Scripture. Neither of his is delimited with any certainty, as we've already seen. So why does he think that this kind of question should cause difficulty for my position? Why is it relevant? Does EOC have an answer for similar questions related to its own founding documents, and if so, is it any better? My guess is that he hopes to impugn Sola Scriptura by showing that the apostles could not practice it, and thus obviously we should follow their example by also not practicing it. Are the situations, the contexts, of our position in redemptive history vis-à-vis the apostles' position, comparable so as to make this a point in EOC's favor?

The situation in the apostolic era
The Lord Jesus and His apostles came on the scene with the ability to speak directly prophetic and authoritative messages from the Lord, just like OT prophets could. The apostles were the shaluach of the Lord Jesus (otherwise known as God), whom He granted the authority to speak on Jesus' behalf with all the authority and backing of God Himself. He also granted the spiritual gift of prophecy to various men in the church at that time, and they could utter prophecy just like an OT prophet, as "Thus says the Lord". He used these spiritual gifts already dispensed to provide the start for His church as He founded it and provided for it to take root and begin to grow.

"...God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord..." (Ephesians 2:19b-21).

Three things to note here:
1) The church of Jesus from this early time already had Scripture from God.

"As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men" (Acts 17:10-12).

"You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Luke here commends thru inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Bereans' practice of subjecting the apostle Paul's authoritative words to the examination of the Scripture they already had. And yet others in Acts commendably receive the words of Paul straight up and believe the Gospel. So which one is the way to go? Both, because the message of each is the same. One builds on the other, yet the latter is deducible straight from the OT. A great example of that is the way Paul demonstrates the truth of justification by grace alone thru faith alone apart from works in Galatians 2-4, or the way the author of Hebrews exegetes the OT atonement system as a foreshadowing of Christ, each with extensive quotations from the OT. This fact, incidentally, puts a bullet in the head of any notion that "The Church is the mother of the Scripture" or "The Church preceded the Scripture".

2) The earliest church did not have Twitter or even email.
When the apostles spoke at this or that local church, they couldn't live-blog it so all could read, or put an mp3 of the sermon and Q&A on their server within 10 minutes of its closing. If an apostle or prophet wrote a letter to a local church or even all the local churches, he couldn't blog it and tweet the URL to all the pastors and their dog. No, these letters, when and if they reached the intended destination, would then be painstakingly copied by hand multiple times and then sent by human courier to another church, at which point the process would repeat itself. Writing materials, especially that which you wrote ON, were expensive and Christians weren't usually wealthy. This means it takes a while, and there are 27 books in the NT, that God intended (though as always in His own timing) for the church at large to have.
And yet life and Christian living must go on - what is one to do? One lives by the word from God that one has, and one trusts God with the rest. Christians in many parts of the world to this very day live like this - with one or two precious pages of Scripture hidden in their house or cell, that they read and memorise and trade furtively with other brethren as they have opportunity, to then cherish and take to heart that next page.
Does this translate to an effective, obvious, or clear-cut start- or stop-date for thousands of local churches spread over thousands of miles between which communications require months at a time?

3) Is this any different from the way that "tradition" circulated?
In what way would DavidW's system solve the problem, if indeed he's positing a problem?

Comparison from the entire scope of the Old Testament
The OT itself is a story of God's progressively revealing what He wanted to His people when He wanted. When a prophet speaks, you are obligated to listen, simple as that. Generations of believing Hebrews lived and died with only Genesis in oral tradition, then later generations with only Genesis in writing, then more generations with only Genesis in writing and some of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers orally passed down. More and more progressively committed to writing, and yet other oral traditions - not inspired - being passed down as well, like 2 Kings 1:18 - "are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?", an inoffensive one like Hanukkah, or an anti-biblical one like that condemned by Jesus in Mark 7:1-13. Two categories - Scripture and not-Scripture. So much the worse for EOC and DavidW, who make no hard and fast distinction between the two, and thus elevate human tradition to the level of Scripture, a novelty in the history of God's covenant people.
God sets the time for speaking, God provides for His people before, during, and after, in His way. Who is the man who will put God in the dock and say "Why have You done this?"

A specific example - King Josiah
King Josiah's story begins in 2 Kings 22. Having succeeded the short-lived son of the worst king in Judah's history - Manasseh - he apparently had no clue about the law of God, and yet while renovating the Temple, the book of the Law was discovered and Josiah had it read to him. What followed was a magnificent example of repentance and correction, in which Josiah destroyed idolatry and restored YHWH worship to Judah in an unprecedented way. Why? Because he read the Scripture and it illumined his heart. Neither tradition defined in a vague and self-serving way like EOC's nor the "consensus of the people of God" did it.

The Council of Nicæa
In what year did the church enter its "normative state" with respect to Nicene Trinitarianism and the consensus of the church turn entirely away from Arianism? Especially given that the saying Athanasius contra mundum sprung up for a reason? If DavidW can't name that year, would we be justified in rejecting the conciliarist structure that is fundamental to EOC?

The point is simple - when God decides to send His Word to His people, we trust Him to make it known, and to provide for its communication to the people to whom He wanted to communicate it, all in His timing. Just because it's messier than we might like it doesn't mean we are justified in ignoring it. My position follows in a straight line from the way God instituted the rule of faith among the OT covenant community of God. No need to run off to a novel approach to the question like EOC when I'm already following the far more ancient way.

The challenge for the Sola Ecclesist is to demonstrate that there is indeed another source of divine revelation besides Scripture. Has DavidW shown us any such source? Has he not simply said "trust this church, this one over here, not those others"? Should not a people rather trust their God to tell them how to test and distinguish between the many so-called "churches" vying for our devotion?

(Word count: 1561)
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