Nov 9 2009

Wrapping up Tradition and Sola Scriptura

Well, actually, I’m just wrapping up my short series of posts looking at the issues.  To revisit them, here’s the list:

  1. Rethinking Tradition and Sola Scriptura (in which I introduced sola scriptura)
  2. Rethinking Tradition and Sola Scriptura 2 (in which I introduced Tradition)
  3. Rethinking Tradition and Sola Scriptura 3 (in which I discussed various views of Tradition)
  4. Re Considering the issue of Tradition (just a bit of added value)

And, of course, I’ve often touched on these issues here over the last 2 years or so.  But, I find it personally helpful to think through things every so often, to consider new (and old) information.  In this way I find that I am, like the reformers, semper reformanda (always reforming).

The original concept of sola scriptura, “by scripture alone,” was based on Luther’s testimony at Worms:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other.

This stands a marked contrast to the common evangelical approach of “this is what the Bible means to me,” aka solo scriptura.  While the Bible can certainly give us personal insights, this does not mean that we can interpret the Bible willy-nilly, taking verses out of both textual, cultural and historical context.  Luther never intended to disregard the Apostolic teachings; he meant to avoid “traditions of men” as had corrupted the Roman Catholic Church.

Insofar as the evangelical church has ignored much of the early church and has let cultural and philosophical influences change how we read and interpret scripture, evangelical “tradition” is highly suspect.   I am to the point where I seriously have to question everything from Augustine to the present; Augustine compromised theology in order to make it rational, as he understood the concept, inventing doctrines like Original Sin.  The enlightenment further compromised theology, as did romanticism and existentialism.  We in the west now view everything through Cartesian and Augustinian lenses.  As such, the evangelical church has no authority; the “plain reading” of the Bible is not “plain” at all – even within one denomination, people can’t agree.

The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the original, Apostolic faith.  However, I have a very hard time accepting the RCC as having any authority whatsoever.  While it has certainly reformed itself since Luther’s time, it still suffers from a great many heresies, including claiming an authority which rests in the office of the Pope.  Also, it, too has been corrupted along with the rest of the West by Augustinian and Enlightenment thinking.  It’s history of disagreements and heretical decrees speaks for itself.

So, when the Pope reaches out to the Eastern Church or to the Anglican Communion seeking unity, I admit I am suspicious.  All along the RCC has believed that “unity” means for other churches to submit to the Pope, who, as I mentioned, has no Biblical or Apostolic authority.  The RCC is not, as it turns out, the original church.

This leaves the Eastern Churches, the Orthodox and Coptics.  It says much that these churches have not changed the essential nature of the faith, ever.  If there is a church group that has Apostolic Authority, it would have to be the Orthodox.  It is the Orthodox who has retained all of the ancient documents as well as oral tradition. They have successfully kept out heresy, and have avoided the theological and ethical scandals of the later traditions.

The question now is, “Can we be sure that the Orthodox have not erred in accepting ‘tradition’ as authoritative when it was just opinion?”  Is being the original church enough?  Timothy Ware explains what constitutes “Tradition” in the Orthodox church:

To an Orthodox Christian, Tradition means the Holy Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons, etc. In essence, it means the whole system of doctrine, ecclesiastical government, worship and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the ages [The Orthodox Church, p.204]

In evaluating apostolic authority, we have to consider that we know from Paul’s letters that apostles do make errors. Paul specifically nails Peter, for example, as well as other unnamed apostles for teaching legalism.  Are we assuming that the Church Fathers didn’t make errors?

While many are able to accept that the Orthodox Church possesses the original faith, and has Apostolic authority, I am not yet at that place.  Perhaps I am still too entwined in rationalism – I do consider that a possibility.  But, while I will agree that the Orthodox Church has the greatest – and perhaps only – claim to the Apostolic faith, I cannot accept that all of the trappings of orthodoxy are apostolic.

That being said, I am more and more developing a great respect for Orthodox theology and spirituality, and will agree that if the 1st and 2nd century Christians taught a certain way, it is well worth considering.  I would go so far as to say that when interpreting Scripture, one should look to the early church for guidance.

Tradition is more than just looking back to the way things were done in the old days. Tradition is looking back to an understanding of Christianity that was shared with people who were within a generation of the Apostles – who better to show us how Scripture and doctrines were understood?

I am quite glad that the Orthodox Church has expressed a willingness to dialog with the Anglican Church of North America (and find it amusing, and proper, that Calvinism is one of the 3 big concerns); for me – and apparently also to the Eastern Church – the conservative Anglicans sit (to borrow a phrase) at the intersection of East and West, a place where I currently find myself.


Jul 14 2009

My Episcopal quandary

I find myself in the midst of a quandary.  I have, over the past several months, fallen in love with a church service.  Not a church, mind you, but the service.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, last December I started attending a local Episcopal church.  After being greatly disappointed with Lutheran (ELCA) services, I found the liturgy in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer to be quite good.

And, this church has awesome music, most of the time.  Besides traditional hymns, they will use current songs like “Shout to the Lord” or classics like “The Old Rugged Cross.” Even the sermons are good.  Being sacramentally-oriented anyway, I have become dependent upon the completeness of worship that the liturgy provides, especially celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly.  During a fairly unsettled period in my life, church on Sunday morning is my one safe place, the eye in the middle of my often stormy life.

The problem is, the denomination has left the faith.  I can’t tell from a normal Sunday morning, but I know of the issues behind the scenes.

The LA Times reported today,

Leaders of the Episcopal Church, gathering in Anaheim for their first national convention in three years, reopened fractious debate this week over whether to authorize marriage rites for same-sex couples and to repeal a de facto ban on the consecration of gay bishops.

The issues have caused painful divisions in the 2.1-million-member denomination, which in recent years has seen dozens of parishes and four conservative dioceses, including one in Central California, break away. Last month, the dissidents formally launched a rival church.

Despite warnings about the consequences, liberal Episcopalians at the meeting are championing a flurry of resolutions to expand participation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in church life, with votes expected in coming days. The conference, the church’s General Convention, runs through Friday.

This is actually nothing, compared to what is also going on.  The Anglican Church in North America, the newly-formed group referred to in the article, has published a booklet charging the Episcopal Church (TEC) with a number of heresies. While perhaps not specifically adopting heretical positions, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and other prominent leaders have made numerous heretical statements denying that Christ is the only way to salvation, denying the resurrection, denying Christ’s deity, and so on.  One priest is openly Muslim, and anther is a known Buddhist (I think they dd draw the line at Satanism, however).

TEC appears committed to being “all churches to all people,” becoming a nearly-universalist organization.  Furthermore, TEC has taken to filing lawsuits against many churches who have made the decision to leave TEC over these issues.  What is ironic is that it is TEC that has departed from the larger Anglican Communion.

So, that’s my quandary.  Now, I don’t know for sure where this church would stand in relation to these issues. The Priest in Charge (the Rectorship is currently open) appears to be fairly level-headed. He is, at least, a C.S. Lewis fan.  However, I know that there are many in the church that are Marcus Borg fans (I think Marcus has some interesting things to say, but he questions the factual nature of much in the Bible).

I do plan on calling the Priest in Charge and making an appointment to address these concerns. However, a part of me just wants to enjoy the liturgy, and ignore the rest.  That could work, at least until TEC decides to change the liturgy.