Tough Questions Answered

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Do the Creeds Matter? Part 2

Post Author:  Darrell

In my last post, I conducted a poll as to whether or not the Nicene Creed is relevant and authoritative in Christianity today.  Thus far, the results are as follows:  48% believe it to be both relevant and authoritative, 21% believe it to be relevant, but not authoritative, and a relatively small number (17%) believe it to be completely irrelevant.  Given the tone of my post, you will find it no surprise that I fall in line with the majority opinion, holding the Nicene Creed to be both relevant and authoritative.

Those who oppose the idea of the creeds being relevant and authoritative often appeal to the doctrine of sola scriptura, i.e., the doctrine that scripture alone is authoritative.  The general claim is that the Bible is the only authoritative source on Christian doctrine and life, and, as a result, the creeds can’t possibly carry any authority.  This position grew out of the classic and radical reformers reaction to papal abuses, and quite honestly, I can understand the sentiment behind it.

However, those who hold this position often fail to realize that while our beliefs may be rooted in scripture, it is often not scripture itself that is believed.  Instead, our beliefs are based upon our interpretation of scripture.  For example, while the Bible says that God is one, it does not tell us exactly how God is one. Nevertheless, most conservative Christians assert that God is one in nature, essence, and being.  These words and this belief are not explicitly taught in the Bible.  Instead, they are inferred based upon what the Bible does say and are thus, an interpretation of the biblical teachings relative to the nature of God.

Personally, I believe this is exactly what the creeds are: correct interpretations of scripture contained in short statements of faith.  However, I believe that their connection to Apostolic Tradition and the culmination of Church history have demonstrated them to be authoritative.  Most of the creeds were hard won, coming at the expense of much blood, sweat, and tears.  In large part, they have served as a source of unity for Christians, placing fences that help to delineate orthodoxy from heresy and heterodoxy.  The Nicene Creed came out of a long, hard fought battle with the Arian Heresy (Mormonism’s ancient cousin) and answered the question of how God is one once and for all.

Admittedly, the belief that the creeds are authoritative is a position of faith.  Epistemological certainty is impossible in an area such as this.  However, it is a position of faith that is supported by good reason, logic, and evidence.  In addition, those who believe they can’t be authoritative because “scripture alone is authoritative” hold their position to their own peril.  For, if the creeds can’t be authoritatively correct because they aren’t scripture, how do you know your interpretation is correct and authoritative, and by what authority do you judge differing positions to be wrong?  After all, your interpretation isn’t scripture.

Have a blessed day!

Darrell


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Comments

  • Mick Curran

    Hi Darrell,

    I have a question for consideration.

    Christians in the West include the filioque when they recite the Nicene Creed but Eastern Orthodox Christians regard the filoque as an unauthorized interpolation and so do not include it. How would a Sola Scriptura adherent that came to recognize the Nicene Creed as authoritative be able to determine which version of the Nicene Creed to endorse?

  • Mick Curran

    Oh, and Happy New Year! :)

  • http://rericsawyer.wordpress.com R. Eric Sawyer

    Mick, if I can take a quick shot -I am quite western, and took in the filoque with my mother’s milk, so my judgement is suspect until proven. But your question was not about proof for or against the dpuble procession but about how can I recognize…

    On the survey, I wrote that I take the creeds as authoritative. But that was not because they cary authority in themselves. It is soley in that they are scripture derived, and have the imprinteur of council and generations of teachers to affirm that derivation.
    They are not holy writ, but are a summary statemnt, prepared by men. I believe them (and feel bound to do so) in the same way that I would believe a servant carrying a document with the king’s seal.

    This is the sola scriptura way forward: the creeds’ authority is only in that these creeds are grounded in the scriptures. The tradition does not ADD authority, but it is a witness for the credal conformity with that sole authority.

    I do believe the filioque is supported both by the Word and by reason.
    BUT I also suspect tthat we in the west, while right to argue for the couble procession, were wrong to ram it through without ecumenical council.

    As to the division resulting in two versions, I have two ways one, is to receive as my teachers would have me receive, study to be grounded in my own understanding, and greivingly accept doubt as the consequence of our (the whole church’s) sin of schism.

    Happy new year to you, but if I have ready your posts rightly, I should rather wish you a merry Christmas (It’s this Friday, is it not?)

  • http://rericsawyer.wordpress.com R. Eric Sawyer

    My apologies for the aweful typing! I seem to have gotten much worse.
    Always in Word first (Resolution #1!)

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Mick,

    Happy New Year to you as well!

    That is a good question. From my perspective, I would have to say that a strict sola scriptura adherent could never truly come to achknowledge the creed as authoritative. For, if one acknowledges the creed as authoritative, one is by nature giving authority to something other than scripture.

    As far as distinguishing which version of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is authoritative goes, it really depends upon whether you consider the first two councils authoritative or whether you consider the Bishop of Rome authoritative. Personally, I don’t see what gives the Pope the authority to override the decisions of the two Ecumenical Councils. They were conciliatory in nature and the Creed, without the filioque, was affirmed by the church at large. In my opinion, the Bishop of Rome had no authority to change it.

    Darrell

  • Mick Curran

    Thank you, Eric, for your cordial and informative commentary.

    The arguments about the Calendar – the Gregorian, the Old Style Julian, the New Style Julian, acceptance of the solar part but not the lunar part, and all the rest of it – make my head ache. I’m a member of the OCA and in my parish Christmas or the Nativity is celebrated on December 25 so Theophany will be this coming Thursday. But I think you’re right that the Old Calendarists will celebrate the Nativity this Friday. And January 7 will be the date for them for most of this century, I think.

    But thank you for your good wishes both for Christmas and the New Year. May God grant you many years.

  • Mick Curran

    Darrell,

    Thanks for your post. Would you ever cite John 15:26 in support of your stance?

  • http://Www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Yes, I think that verse is very applicable.

    The more I consider the extreme sola scriptura position the more I think it is likely self-defeating, for the position that the Bible alone is authoritative is no where to be found in the Bible. Therefore, it doesn’t meet it’s own claim.

    Thoughts?

    Darrell

  • Mick Curran

    Hey again, Darrell,

    I agree with you.

    The historical record reveals that the Reformers reversed the relationship between Scripture and Church. However, it must be admitted that the Bible gave them no authority to do so. They acted upon their own authority. It’s therefore not illogical to suggest that each and every Sola Scriptura adherent who has followed that example is also acting upon his or her own authority when he or she interprets the Bible for himself or herself.

    Interpreting the Bible for oneself is the legacy of the Reformation and the result is cacophony. Western Non–Catholic Christendom is a picture of chaos. Different people read Scripture and then place different interpretations upon what they’ve read. Sola Scriptura advocates can’t agree on anything. To expect them to agree would be very unrealistic, I think.

    So I suppose I’d raise an objection to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura on the grounds that it delivers discordant “interpretations of truth.” And that leads me on to the notion that objective truth probably cannot be discerned via a subjective method. I’d also have to recognize that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura does not and cannot provide adjudication on disputes because the doctrine, by its very nature, blesses every possible interpretation however contradictory those interpretations might be. This means two Protestants might read their Bibles together following which one Protestant concludes one thing on a certain issue and the other Protestant comes to understand the complete opposite on that same issue. Does at least one of those Protestants hold a faulty view? Absolutely. But how could anybody say for certain which one it might be given the framework in which both have agreed to operate? Who could authoritatively and objectively assert that one of those interpreters is 100% correct and the other interpreter is very much mistaken?

    A classic example of the unavoidable impasse can be seen in the disagreement inside Protestant Christendom over the issue of capital punishment. This is no trifling issue. It’s literally a matter of life and death. And if one acknowledges that it’s a moral issue, then one must also acknowledge there must be a right and a wrong about it, which God wishes His people to recognize, believe and then act upon. Yet Protestant Christians are sharply divided on the issue. Some are passionately for it. Others are passionately against it. Both sides are certain they’re right. Both sides appeal to the Bible as their guiding authority and both sides claim the Bible endorses their respective positions. And both sides fail to see that they are applying that claim not to the Bible but to their own disputed and unverified understanding of it. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura makes such scenarios inevitable because it demands this kind of illogical reasoning.

    Consider the idea of evolution, which some atheists have suggested makes God unnecessary. One Protestant reads the creation account in Genesis and concludes: “I’ve always understood Genesis in a literal sense. There’s nothing in here about any kind of evolution so evolution adduced as an explanation for life contradicts biblical truth.” Another Protestant reads the creation account in Genesis and concludes: “I’ve always understood Genesis to be a theological statement and not a scientific one. I don’t think Genesis is a treatise on geology, biology, or any other science. We’re not told when creation took place. Nor are we given details as to how God brought the earth and life into being or how long it all took. I’ve always understood this passage to depict not how God created but simply that God is the Creator so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t default to science and popular opinion and suppose that evolution might be or is true.”

    Don’t these two opinions flatly contradict each other? Sure they do. Yet despite that, and despite that fact that both are built on the premise that “what I’ve always understood to be true is the same thing as truth,” the doctrine of Sola Scriptura endorses both of them as biblical and therefore true.

    It seems to me that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura can neither authoritatively define truth nor provide a way for anybody to discover truth. So its proponents are forced to presuppose they already have it. But if truth is merely supposed then error could be true. So now it’s beginning to look as if the doctrine of Sola Scriptura actually makes objective truth completely inaccessible because it treats truth and error as equals and shunts both into the nebulous realm of what people suppose or have always understood to be true or not true before they even pick up a Bible. When one Sola Scriptura adherent disagrees with another Sola Scriptura adherent about a passage of Scripture they are, in effect, saying to each other, “That part of the Bible might be true for you but it’s not true for me.”

    Would it be mischievous of me to suggest that Christians who think along these lines sound very much like the moral relativists whose logic they reject as nonsensical?

    I guess it would so I’ll steer away from doing so. :)

  • Mick Curran

    Hi Darrell,

    Something further. :)

    The words “relevant” and “authoritative,” that you’ve used in connection with the Nicene Creed sounded strange to me when I first read them but now I think about it, I believe I’ve discovered why.

    The Nicene Creed is recited, sung or chanted during Orthodox Divine Liturgies, Catholic Masses, both OF and EF, and Eastern Catholic Divine Liturgies. The Nicene Creed is in no way peripheral. There certainly could never be any question of excluding it. It comes before Holy Communion and when publicly annunciated, it’s an affirmation that one is in line with the teachings of the Church. The Nicene Creed is of great antiquity and was included in the Liturgies once it was promulgated (lex orandi, lex credendi), which means that for Catholics and Orthodox Christians it’s really something that they take for granted since it’s been part of their worship for many centuries. Please note that the word “orthodoxy” does not just mean “right doctrine” or “right belief.” It also means “right worship.” So for both Orthodox Christians and Catholics, one of the practical applications of “worshipping in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23) is publicly declaring the truths that are contained in the Nicene Creed.

    So I think your question is quite reasonable in that it could serve to prompt discussion amongst Evangelicals but I respectfully submit that it’s a question which can be framed only within the context of Reform thought wherein the words “relevant” and “authoritative” apropos the Nicene Creed seem to fit and don’t sound at all “odd.”

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    …I respectfully submit that it’s a question which can be framed only within the context of Reform thought…

    I can understand where you are coming from with this and I agree with you. Unfortunatley, this question is very much appropriate in the Evangelical world today. You would be surprised how many people I have spoken with who either don’t care about the creed or consider it completely irrelevant and utterly unauthoritative in Christianity today.

    Darrell

  • http://www.rericsawyer.wordpress.com R. Eric Sawyer

    Gentlemen, I don’t have time to give this full treatment, but I believe I am hearing a note from both sides that I must take issue with.

    That issue has to do with Sola Scriptura bearing an equivalence to each believer being his own pope, being his own magesterium, with his own interpretation being the true authority. And I humbly submit that this has often been done as was predicted by Rome with the arrival of Luther.
    But at least at the beginning of the English reformation, it was not so.

    While being fully on board with the 5 solas, and with both the final authority and the perspicuity of the scriptures, they were equally clear that “private interpretation” was the path to error.

    One of the English reformers, (From William Whitaker) In his “Disputation on Holy Scripture” He puts eight (if memory serves) points, Some of them I would summarize thus; (from memory only)
    1) Read under the cover of prayer, and expect the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    2) Read for the plain sense first, allegorical and metaphorical only in such as they are consistent with the plain.
    3) Read as they were intended, historical for history, poetic for poetry, etc.
    4) Read as one voice behind the human author. God does not contradict God. If one section seems to contradict, you have not fully understood one or (more likely) both. In like manor, the OT and the NT tell one story, of One God, who “changeth not”.
    Finally,
    5) Read in Community. Others, in this age and in ages past have also wrestled with God’s revelation to us. Learn from them. If you find yourself understanding differently from those you have reason to esteem in the Lord, tread carefully. The example he used was St Augustine. Trust Augustine because he was a Godly and learned (although fallen)man who pointed ultimately to the Scriptures. If from the Scriptures he is wrong, the Word is the primary source. But you should “double-check” your reading. Similarly, “Councils can and have erred…” ; trust God’s Word more than any council. But I mustn’t confuse “the Bible says…” with “my understanding of the Bible says…”
    one is authoritative, the other not.

    My point here is what I have paraphrased as the Bible must be read in community. Not that this community is authoritative itself, but (other than the guidance of the Holy Spirit) is the best guide to understanding what that true authority is saying.
    Councils, doctors and fathers, more modern teachers, confessions and catechisms have great value in understanding the authority, but they do not share that authority, save as thy are faithful messengers, and accurate interpreters. The teaching through time gathers much prestige through stare decisis But even that is not proof. Our formula from the “Articles of Religion” is again “Councils can and have erred…”
    Disregard their teaching with fear and trembling, but all these things, creeds included, have their authority only in that the voice of Christians “in (almost) all times and in all places” have judged them as faithful witnesses to the true authority of the written Word.

    Thus understood, acceptance of this authority is not in opposition, but is in support of Sola Scriptura

    Unfortunately, as Darrell suggests, even evangelicals often are ignorant of the wisdom of our own past, and we suffer accordingly.

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Eric,

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing those items of guidance. I have seen and heard of similar types of guidelines.

    One of the challenges for the adherent to strict sola scriptura is that any list, such as the one you listed, is for the most part extra-biblical. For there is really nothing in the Bible which tells us to “read the verses as intended to the original audience” or to “read in the historical context”, etc. Therefore, the guidelines for the most part tend to violate the tenant of sola scriptura. They are really a tradition which we bring to the scriptures themselves. This leads to some questions:

    1) What is the source of this tradition?
    2) Is it authoritative?
    3) If so, why?

    That being said, I tend to agree with most of your list. I especially like number five… read in community. The question this leaves, however, is “which” community. For depending upon which community you read scripture in will greatly determine your interpretation. For example, when reading the scriptural references to baptism in a Baptist denomination one would be told that those scriptures are not speaking of baptism as a requirement for salvation. However, when reading those same scriptures in a Church of Christ denomination one would be told that those scriptures are referring to baptism as a commandment that is necessary to be kept for ones salvation. However, both of these communities are strict sola scriptura adherents and both claim that their “interpretations” of the Bible are true and lead by the Holy Spirit.

    Approaching this conundrum from a sola scriptura mindset, how are we to mitigate and resolve such disputes? If there is no authority other than scripture, to what do we turn?

    Darrell

  • Mick Curran

    Hi Eric,

    Many thanks for your contribution. I rather think you and I are approaching this question with completely different presuppositions.

    I draw a distinction between Sola Scriptura and SOLO Scriptura. The former is attendant to the Reformation and the latter is the “Me, Jesus, and the Bible” stance that’s often found in contemporary American evangelicalism. However, it seems to me that once the Reformers had endorsed the idea of the Bible rather than the Church being the ultimate Authority, SOLO Scriptura was inevitable. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura was hatched within public defiance of Church authority and it seems fairly clear that a protesting theological system which endorses different interpretations of truth can contain no mechanism whatsoever for authoritatively defining error let alone actually doing something about false doctrines that are spread by false teachers. Even if one feels one has correctly interpreted the Bible and discerned the difference between truth and error and feels that one is in a position authoritatively to inform others one can still only protest about the problem to nobody in particular. And that seems to me to be the picture inside Protestantism at this time. SOLO Scriptura is preeminent. And with hindsight we moderns can see that this ought to be entirely expected and totally unsurprising.

    The sixteenth century English Catholic priest–turned–Reformer, William Tyndale, who died a martyr’s death for translating the Bible into the vernacular without official sanction reputedly responded some time before he died to a “certain divine” with the comment: “If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy that driveth the plough, to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost.” William Tyndale was undoubtedly a courageous man. But did his vision, when realized, make truth more accessible to more people? Suppose there be two ploughboys who learn all the words of Scripture but continually dispute the meaning and application of the difficult passages. Which one is nearer to discovering the truth in the Bible? Indeed, could they both be mistaken in their many pronouncements? What then? To whom do I turn for guidance? If the answer is to look in the Bible for myself, am I not being directed to adopt SOLO Scriptura?

    I think the Bible can guide those who are willing to be guided by it and that it can inspire those who are willing to be inspired by it. But the Bible cannot control spiritual insurrectionists any more than it can explain difficulties to earnest inquirers.

    By the way, didn’t Father Martin Luther look about him toward the end of his time on the mortal coil and remark in frustration that there were now as many doctrines as there were heads? I’ve sometimes wondered if that anecdote was Catholic propaganda but possibly it’s true?

  • Brad

    For, if the creeds can’t be authoritatively correct because they aren’t scripture, how do you know your interpretation is correct and authoritative, and by what authority do you judge differing positions to be wrong?  After all, your interpretation isn’t scripture.

    If this argument is used AGAINST the argument that Sola Scripture can’t be true…then how do we know the Creeds are a correct interpretation, and why is THEIR interpretation any more correct than anyone else’s? Inherently, we have to determine what something means, otherwise what is written has no meaning at all. The sentence “the dog ran to the fence” has absolutely no meaning at all, unless we interpret what a dog is, what running is, what a fence is, and the prepositions that go along with it. Interpretation is REQUIRED for us to understand. You yourself said that’s what you believe the creeds are – “correct interpretations of scripture contained in short statements of faith.” If you believe the creeds are authoritative, then you inherently, based on your own definition, believe that interpretations CAN be authoritative. If that’s the case – why can’t MINE be authoritative? Why can’t yours? Why can’t anyone’s?

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Hey Brad. I hope your afternoon is going well. Thanks for the comment.

    If this argument is used AGAINST the argument that Sola Scripture can’t be true…then how do we know the Creeds are a correct interpretation, and why is THEIR interpretation any more correct than anyone else’s? Inherently, we have to determine what something means, otherwise what is written has no meaning at all.

    My comment was speaking to the fact that from the position of strict sola scriptura no interpretation can be declared authoritative. This is what leads to so many differing interpretations (and the resulting denominations) with nothing in which to appeal to settle the dispute. If one does not take a strict sola scripture position, this problem no longer exists. Check out Mick’s comment just above. He laid it out pretty clearly.

    To say that “an interpretation of scripture cannot be authoritative because it is not scripture” is self-defeating and illogical. It is a position that is no where to be found in the Bible, and therefore, it does not meet its own standard. In addition, sola scriptura inherently assumes that the Bible itself is self-explanatory, which it is not. If the teachings of the Bible were self-evident, we would not have over 20,000 sola scriptura denominations floating around – each of them claiming to hold to the teachings of the Bible alone yet teaching utterly contradictory things. Last, we have to realize that the New Testament itself was not formally canonized until around 390 AD. To say that all authority lies in the scriptures is to deny that there were any authoritative teachings prior to this time. What did the Church do for the first 360 years of its existence? The reality is the Bible itself came from the Church. It was not dropped like manna from heaven. It was written by the Church, for the Church, and I would submit that it is to be properly interpreted in the Church as well.

    Personally, I believe that there are authoritative interpretations of scripture. They are part of what is commonly called Apostolic Tradition. Many of these Traditions pre-date even the canonization of the New Testament itself. They are guides for us as to exactly what the Bible means and can help us to avoid petty disputes which have already been dealt with. They help us to distinguish orthodoxy from heterodoxy. The Nicene and Constantinopolitan Councils and the resulting Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed just happen to be part of these.

    God Bless!

    Darrell

  • Mick Curran

    Hi Darrell,

    Like you, I have difficulty with the notion that the Bible explains itself. It seems to me that if it does, it doesn’t do it very well. Consider the “Ask the Pastor” type of radio or TV program. Surely nobody believes that any of the people who call or send in questions are Catholic or Orthodox? That would indeed be odd. No, the inquirers are most likely to be ordinary lay people who presuppose that the Bible is the ultimate AUTHORITY on matters of faith and morals and so they’re quite naturally anxious to know what things in the Bible mean. And herein we can see one of the difficulties with Sola Scriptura. It’s never the Bible that is the ultimate authority. It’s the guy that tells you what the Bible means. Protestant pastors in the USA do this every Sunday morning and sometimes on Wednesday evenings as well. That certainly isn’t Sola Scriptura but it does have biblical endorsement.

    Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked the Ethiopian.
    “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”

    Books explaining the Bible abound. I daresay you’re familiar with the titles: they mostly contain “how to” in their titles, e.g. How to Study the Bible; How to Read the Bible; How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. And so on. Why are such books necessary if the Bible explains itself?

    Ever heard of a guy named Max Anders? He’s a Protestant pastor. When he first tried to read the 66–book Bible (as a Protestant, he chooses to endorse a truncated canon) from Genesis to Revelation he got completely confused. But once he focused upon learning ABOUT the Bible and how it was put together he was able to write an explanatory book for Bible beginners called “30 Days To Understanding The Bible In 15 Minutes A Day.”

    In his opening chapter he explains why he wrote the book. He states:

    “Many years ago, I decided I was going to master the Bible. I was going to begin with Genesis, read to Revelation, and I wasn’t going to put it down until I understood it. I soon became hopelessly entangled in a jungle of fantastic stories, unpronounceable names, broken plots, unanswered questions, and endless genealogies.”

    I would guess that this is also the experience of others. Max Anders’ assertion is that if you want to understand the Bible, you must first learn how the Bible is put together. Max Anders got confused when he attempted to master the Bible and that’s how he KNOWS that the Bible doesn’t explain itself. Realizing that the same confusion would engulf other people who picked up a Bible but possessed little or no biblical knowledge he set about informing himself using sources OUTSIDE THE BIBLE and then went on to write a book ABOUT THE BIBLE. And I’d like to say that I think it’s a very good read for beginners. I know of at least one Evangelical adult Sunday school teacher that has used it to good effect and I feel sure Pastor Anders has helped many people along and filled in the blanks, so to speak.

    Because the Bible doesn’t explain itself, a process of learning ABOUT the Bible – which necessarily has to take place OUTSIDE the Bible – is essential. The only people who hold that the Bible DOES explain itself are those imperviously–minded people who are very familiar with the Bible but who have forgotten how they obtained that familiarity. It’s a mistake anybody might make and I think many, including apologists, probably do. Sola Scriptura adherents should perhaps pause and consider how they gained their biblical knowledge. The answer, surely, is that they gained it in the same way that the Reformers, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, gained their biblical knowledge and expertise i.e. from their teachers.

    Thus we come full circle and have yet again to address the question: who can authoritatively explain the purpose of the Bible and its correct place in the life of a believer? Should we trust Darrell, Mick, Eric or Brad to teach us what the Bible means or might it seem good to us and to the Holy Spirit instead to listen to the Church that can legitimately claim to have been consistently telling the truth since Christ’s ascension and therefore to speak with the accumulated wisdom of the ages and which authoritatively presented the creeds and the Bible to believers in the first place?

  • Brad

    So Darrell, I’ll concede that “sola scriptura”, in the most literal sense, would seem to be self-defeating, since we would agree that interpretation is required for understanding. We won’t get into Scripture interpreting Scripture at this time ;)

    But then we’re still left with the big issue – WHOSE INTERPRETATION, then, is “correct”, and should be followed? How do we know? Can different people, on opposite ends of the Earth, come to a similar conclusion regarding a certain verse or passage, without having looked at the same commentary or listened to the same people? I would say yes. So then, if that’s the case, then it’s not necessary for a certain person or writing to necessarily come in contact with someone for them to have a proper interpretation. Can the Holy Spirit not impart the proper interpretation to a believer? I say yes.

    Take Mick’s last statement: “Should we trust Darrell, Mick, Eric or Brad to teach us what the Bible means or might it seem good to us and to the Holy Spirit instead to listen to the Church that can legitimately claim to have been consistently telling the truth since Christ’s ascension and therefore to speak with the accumulated wisdom of the ages and which authoritatively presented the creeds and the Bible to believers in the first place?” But who makes up the “Church”? It is people – me, Darrell, Mick, Eric, etc… who make it up. When the “Church” interprets, it is still just people interpreting.

    So again, who do we believe, and why?

  • Mick Curran

    Hey Brad,

    Do you mind me asking which doctrines and theology you endorse?

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    So Darrell, I’ll concede that “sola scriptura”, in the most literal sense, would seem to be self-defeating, since we would agree that interpretation is required for understanding.

    I need to write this one in my journal… Brad conceding to me. I feel like I have won a battle! :) Just Kidding… you know I love you man!

    But then we’re still left with the big issue – WHOSE INTERPRETATION, then, is “correct”, and should be followed? How do we know?

    Let me ask a couple of questions that may help us to get to this answer. Who decided what books went into the Bible, and why should we trust them?

    Darrell

  • Brad

    Mick,

    The right ones, of course! :)

  • Brad

    Darrell, I figured you’d like that concession. Write it down…it might not happen again! :)

    I’d say that we trust that God gave us the books He wanted us to have today. So from a high level, I’d say the answer is God…and we should trust Him b/c He’s God. But what you’re driving at, from a detail level, is that God worked through men to give us those books. I don’t disagree.

  • Mick Curran

    God bless you, Brad! :)

  • http://Www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Brad,

    How do we know God was working through the men who chose the books of the Bible? Can we trust that the books in the New Testament are the right ones? If so, why?

    Darrell

  • Brad

    How do we “know”? I’d say we don’t, for sure, rather we trust and have faith that’s what took place, based upon certain other thoughts found in the Bible. Yes, I know you believe this to be a circular argument… ;)

    Can we trust the NT books to be the right ones? Sure, I believe we can…just as we can trust God to be who He says He is.

    And Mick, yes, I know I ducked your question, just not a lot of time to blog right now! While Darrell & I do differ on various issues :) , believe me, I’m not out in left field…

  • Mick Curran

    I believe you, Brad! :)

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Brad,

    Yes, I know you believe this to be a circular argument…

    Only because it is!! :) Hahahaha!

    How do we “know”? I’d say we don’t, for sure, rather we trust and have faith that’s what took place…

    I agree with you. We cannot have epistemological certainty – it does require faith. However, perhaps this faith can be based upon more than just what the Bible says. For, if we are appealing to the Bible alone, it once agains depends upon YOUR PERSONAL INTERPRETATION of what the Bible says (Sola Scriptura rears its ugly head again) and as you suggest above, you end up in a circular argument. I would suggest that we can appeal to something more wholistic than the Bible as the basis for this faith. Something that the Bible happens to be part of… Apostolic Succession and Tradition.

    Who were the people who decided on the books of the New Testament? They were none other than those who followed in the Apostle’s footsteps. Those who had been chosen, called, and taught by the Apostles. Those who sat at the Apostle’s feet and learned from them. Those whom Paul commanded to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).

    Through the first 360 years of the Church these individuals received both the verbal teachings as well as the writings of the Apostles. They compared and contrasted the various writings with the verbal Traditions, and interpreted those writings in light of what had been handed down through Tradition.

    So, why should we trust that the books they chose were the correct ones? Because of the Apostolic Tradition of which they were a part. This then can help us answer the question as to whose interpretation is correct. I would suggest that a good start would be the very people in Apostolic succession… those who walked in Apostolic Tradition.

    God bless!

    Darrell

  • Mick Curran

    Hey Darrell,

    Would you care to address Brad’s question about the “Church” in a little more detail? He wrote:

    But who makes up the “Church”? It is people – me, Darrell, Mick, Eric, etc… who make it up. When the “Church” interprets, it is still just people interpreting.

    I’m interested in how you understand the word “Church” and whether your understanding is the same as Brad’s. :)

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Mick,

    Happy Friday! I hope you are doing well.

    I can’t speak for Brad, but I can address the typical Protestant view of the word “Church.” In general (as I am sure you know), they hold the Church to be the invisible body of those who are “saved.” It is only wholly known by God and transcends any earthly organization.

    In a sense, I agree with this view. I believe that while we can say where the Spirit is, we can never truly say where it is not. Therefore, in our limited human view, we can never wholeheartedly declare who is walking in salvation and who is not walking in salvation. To do this is to presume the mind of God and is dangerous as the Spirit, like the wind, goes where He wants.

    However, more pointedly to what I think you are driving towards with your question – is there a physical manifestation of the Church on earth? Can we rightfully point to an organization(s) and say it is the Church of God? From a Protestant perspective, the answer would be an emphatic “no.” However, I have been surprised to learn over the past several months that this position is an anomaly of Christian history. The idea of the Church being purely an “invisible body” is truly a modern invention.

    In reality, if one accepts the idea of Apostolic Succession and Apostolic Tradition, the natural question becomes, is there an organization(s) that is walking in this? If there is, would it not be the closest thing we have to “the Church” on earth? If such an organization does exist (and it very well could), I would still say that membership in it in no way “guarantees” ones salvation and that none-membership in no way condemns one to hell. Again, the Spirit goes where He wants.

    Your thoughts?

    Darrell

  • Mick Curran

    Hey Darrell,

    I agree the idea that the Church is an invisible body of those that are saved is a modern one since it is inexorably tied to the latter–day notion of salvation being an EVENT. I’ve heard it suggested that the nineteenth–century evangelist, Charles Finney, and his tent revival meetings was largely responsible for spreading the hitherto unheard of idea of salvation being an event, which is colloquially referred to as “getting saved.” I don’t know if Charles Finney originated the “altar call” and the “sinner’s prayer” but perhaps we can agree that biblical endorsement does not exist for either?

    And perhaps you might also agree that this relatively recent American variation in understanding salvation definitely raises the question of what the Church is actually for? Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to me that if one believes that the sole purpose of life is getting saved then once one is confident that one actually is saved then one has reached the end of one’s spiritual journey. And within that same set of presuppositions it would seem entirely reasonable then to conclude that once one is actually saved the Church, or indeed any church, is unnecessary. The command to keep holy the Sabbath day could be understood as meaning to fellowship, pray quietly at home, read one’s Bible, or watch Joel Osteen on TV. One could attend a church, of course, but such attendance would be but a CHOICE and as such would have no bearing upon one’s salvation as that was already settled.

    I believe that salvation is a process that takes place over one’s lifetime and so I definitely reject the idea of salvation being an event. It’s an either/or. This is an extremely important foundational point. Do you agree with me or do you disagree with me? If you agree we can perhaps move on to explore how best to understand what the Church is, where it is, and the purpose it serves. And if you disagree we can pause and discuss how and why we disagree. Either way I feel sure I’m going to like what you say and the way that you say it. :)

    By the way, mentioning that latter–day unexpected American departure from the line in the theological sphere reminds me of one that has also been observed in the philosophical sphere. Here’s the chronological sequence:

    TO DO IS TO BE – Rousseau

    TO BE IS TO DO – Sartre

    DO BE DO BE DO – Sinatra

    ;)

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Mick,

    Sorry for the delay in responding. I wanted to give some thought to your comment and, quite honestly, the last few days have been a little crazy.

    What is the purpose of the Church? From a Protestant perspective, the answer would likely be Worship, Discipleship, and Fellowship. I think most Protestants would agree with your contention that their doctrine teaches that going to Church is not “necessary” for salvation; however, I don’t think they would stop there. They would also say that one who is truly saved would want to go to Church (catch the hint of Calvinism and the doctrine of Perseverence of the Saints underlying that comment :) ). From a Protestant perspective, Church attendance is very necessary for Sanctification as it is a major source for Discipleship, and Discipleship is imperative for Sanctification.

    But to your point, one could easily say that since Church attendance, from a Protestant view, has zero effect on ones Salvation and since Salvation is the ultimate goal in life, Church really doesn’t matter. In many respects, I think this mindset has polluted modern Christian thinking to the point that the Gospel has become so watered down and a large bifurcation has occurred between Salvation and Sanctifcation. In many churches, there is almost no talk of Discipleship. Salvation has been taken as the “end of the road,” rather than the “beginning of the road.” The Gospel has become “walk the isle, say the prayer, and your ticket is stamped.” Church has become a place for feel good messages, and this has led to the tremendous growth of Churches like that of Joel Osteen that are nothing more than motivational conferences.

    Is this what the Lord intended? I would daresay no. Is this what the Church was meant to be? I think the answer there is, once again, no. Is this the result of sola scriptura and people interpreting the Bible according to their desires? Probably in part.

    Darrell

  • Mick Curran

    Thanks Darrell,

    Well said.

    I would suggest that the purpose of the Church is to give glory to God and to be the means by which God’s economy of salvation is realized in the lives of believers. I doub that this definition would align with the protesting theologies of the West. For Protestants, salvation is an event whereas the rest of Christendom understands salvation to be a process. Ideas always have consequences so let me consider the consequences here.

    If salvation is an event then perhaps I’m correct in stating that God spoke to the person as an individual and that is how the person can be certain he or she is saved. The event can subsequently lead to a testimony with which nobody else can argue. On what valid grounds could one argue with somebody who gives an account of a personal and private experience between himself or herself and God? It may well be that the person who is saved and then seen to adopt a different worldview would WANT to go to church. That would be perhaps be recognized by others as evidence that the person was saved. But if that didn’t happen it wouldn’t really be relevant because the event was an individual experience – something that happened between the person concerned and God – so it really can’t be anyone else’s business. Having been saved, then, the individual concerned would set about applying Saint Paul’s injunction and proceed to work out his or her salvation in fear and trembling as he or she saw fit but probably using the Bible as his or her guide. There is no reason for anybody to comment or to interfere when this occurs. The concept of individualism attendant to the notion of salvation being an event carries over into the life application following the event. When people acting upon their preferences declare that the Holy Spirit is leading them others cannot very well disagree unless something clearly wayward is being suggested or embarked upon. In due course the individual that has been saved may for one reason or another decide to change his or her church. But provided he or she moves on to a Bible church then such movement is generally acceptable. Indeed, I understand church shopping and church hopping is quite common in the Evangelical world.

    I hope the foregoing descriptive discourse is both respectful and accurate. Let me now contrast the idea of salvation as a process. One minor point, first, though. Earlier I used the phrase, “the rest of Christendom.” I had in mind Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and the Assyrian Church of the East. However, I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian and I’m speaking as such.

    In the Eastern Orthodox Church salvation as a process involves a STRUGGLE. There is no quick fix in Holy Orthodoxy. It’s hard to do the right thing. We are fragmented and broken because of sin and God will heal us slowly as we fight the spiritual battle. And because that same struggle faces everybody, we face it together. It’s a completely different approach. In Orthodoxy we are saved not as individuals but in community – living in the community of the Church and partaking regularly of the sacraments and especially the Eucharist. Without the Church there can be no Divine Liturgy and no sacramental life. So for Orthodox Christians the Church is not just an option. It is essential.

    All analogies break down eventually but I suppose a reasonable one to consider en passant would be to think of Protestantism as supplying each individual with a rowboat and a map and to think of Orthodoxy as a big ship, fully manned and fully equipped and able to carry many passengers. It’s a little simplistic admittedly (that’s funny, so am I :)) but the images which naturally follow that mental picture may serve to help recognize what a huge divide we have here between the protesting West and the Orthodox East.

  • http://www.toughquestionsanswered.org Darrell

    Mick,

    I can certainly understand your points. There are logical and behavorial consequences attendant to all beliefs, and ones view of salvation is no exception. In a sense, the individualist/one-time event view of salvation takes salvation out of the realm of a relationship and makes it a “thing” – almost like a contract that one has with God.

    Personally, I view salvation as a relationship a person walks in, not an event. And, just like any relationship, it is dymnamic. It is something I have to “work at” to keep it alive and growing. God will never walk away from me, but I could certainly walk away from Him. Thus, the admonishment to work out ones “salvation with fear and trembling.”

    I think your “descriptive discourse” was very respectful and fairly accurate (in my opinion). The individualistic nature of Protestant salvation combined with the doctrine of sola scriptura can, and in many respects has, lead to the situation(s) you pointed out.

    How does one mitigate between contradictory theological positions and the resulting salvation claims when all positions appeal to individual experiences and are based upon individual interpretations of the Bible alone? If there is no authority to which one can appeal, you are in a “lose-lose” situation.

    Perhaps this is what has led us to such severely opposing claims. For example, you have those who say one needs Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the attending evidence of “tongue speaking” in Church to be saved, and on the opposing side you have those who claim you don’t need the church at all in your walk with God, let alone tongue speaking. They say you can worship Him on the golf course or in your apartment and it will have zero effect on your walk with God.

    God bless.

    Darrell

  • Mick Curran

    Darrell,

    Our shared conclusion, then, appears to be that the Reformers’ legacy is cacophony, confusion, and chaos. Yet it’s hard to see what else they could have done. They wanted to reform the Western Church and for their trouble they were excommunicated and placed under many anathemas.

    Now, about them thar creeds… ;)

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