Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Bible, the Whole Bible, and Nothing but the Bible

I am trying to post new quotes for my "Meditation" and "On Writing" sections of my sidebar each Sunday. I will also begin blogging about the meditation at the end of the week. For this past week's meditation, I'm writing down some thoughts today. In the future, I'll try to get it done on Saturday.

My meditation this past week was from St Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea. He wrote:

“Of the dogmas and kerygmas preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in manners ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kerygma to a mere term.”

The quote describes a reason for my Catholicism. Most of my family and friends embrace the idea of sola scriptura, and I'm fine with that. I understand it. I simply cannot believe it anymore. I know that slides me into the category of apostasy for some, but while that grieves me, it is no longer my concern. I can only bring my brothers and sisters and my relationships with them to Christ in prayer.

So let me offer a brief overview of why I can no longer accept this sola.

First, and ultimately, it comes down to authority. If I say Scripture Alone, what does that mean? I can enter ten different sola scriptura churches and hear utterly different interpretations of what the scriptures are saying about divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and salvation itself. Which interpretation is valid? Are all of them valid? Any of them?

Every denominational construct forms a different interpretation of the scriptures. In some cases, every pastor. More specifically, every man or woman becomes his or her own pope/magisterium, deciding what the scriptures mean. Why is my interpretation or argument more weighty than someone who says they believe that abortion is permissible? Or homosexual activity? Or their beliefs about the atonement? Or the scriptures themselves?

Some people think those issues are cut and dry issues in evangelical Protestantism. But of course, they are not. They are not even so among the members of the Catholic Church - even though the Church herself defines its position on the issues quite clearly.

I have been involved in countless conversations about morality where it came down to a person's "interpretation." These conversations concern issues about which I grew up believing were the "clear teaching" of the scriptures. But I've found that the scriptures are simply not that clear about certain things. I've spoken with some who believe that the culture that produced the text about a certain morality is not relevant to our activity and our culture. And some of these protestations are points well-taken. (For instance, how many women cover their heads as they worship today?) The scriptures are not a handbook of propositions, or an exercise in systematic theology: You shall believe thusly about this, and suchly about that. It is a narrative - a narrative that certainly cradles propositions, but a narrative nonetheless.

So no more: I submit my private interpretation to the interpretation of the Church - what the Church has believed always, everywhere.

Some of my decision to embrace the Catholic Church, honestly, came out of my search for authority in an age when there simply is none.

(And let me say here what ought to be unnecessary: I love the scriptures and value them as having the authority of God. When I hear them read, or read them myself, it is as if Christ himself were speaking to me. And so He does.)

Second, it is important to discover what the scriptures themselves say about tradition and scripture. What does St Paul call the foundation and pillar of truth? It is not the scriptures, but the Church herself (1 Timothy 3.15).

St Paul also says that we must cling to what we have learned from the apostles - whether by letter or by word of mouth (2 Timothy 2.2; 2 Thessalonians 2.15).

Jesus also told his disciples "Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me" (Luke 10.16).

The Church is our living teacher. And her teaching has not added to or changed or taken away from what was given by our Lord or the apostles. We come to understand those dogmas and doctrines more clearly, but they cannot change.

The apostolic tradition has been handed down and entrusted to the Church. Therefore, we believe and follow this tradition as we would the written tradition. For instance, St Ignatius, a disciple of St John the Evangelist, around A.D. 110 speaks about the sacramental, real presence of Christ in the Eucharist - that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ. How can we deny what the Church has held fast to since her inception, since Christ formed her? It is, therefore, necessary that Christians believe in and follow the holy tradition of the Church - whether by letter or by word of mouth. The leaders of the Church, with Christ, form the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2.20; 3.5). And, guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church has not apostasized (Matthew 16.18; John 14.25-26, 16.13). For her to do so would be to make Christ a liar.

Third, it was the Church who gave us the scriptures. Led by the Holy Spirit, she decided which books would be a part of the canon within the Councils of Rome and Hippo at the end of the fourth century. That canon remained the same for the next 1100 years until Martin Luther removed several books from the Old Testament canon (what most Protestants call the Apocrypha), at his discretion and by his authority alone. It must be noted that the LXX, the Septuagint, which was used by Greek-speaking Jews in Jesus' day, contained the very books that Luther threw out.

That is simply the history of the canon of Scripture. If we deny the Church's authority to do so, as Luther did, then we must, each of us, decide for ourselves the canon by our own authority.

O, lengthy harangue, wilst thou never end?

I end here, re-quoting St Basil the Great who said, "Indeed, were we to try to reject the unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce kerygma to a mere term."

As always, conversation is welcome.


Cheryl said...

Hi Scott,

It's me, Cheryl, from Jesus Creed.

While it's obvious we don't agree about some things, I really appreciated the points you made, and the eloquence with which you made them. Not only in the language and words with which you express youself, but with the obvious consideration behind it.

Part of me wants to respond to this post, and part of me is so tired of blogging about this almost non-stop for two days, I think I'll take a break!

I would like to come back and visit your site again, and perhaps, even on this topic of conversation.

I look forward to more dialogue with you.

Scott Lyons said...

Cheryl, I understand your weariness. Your fingers must be fairly calloused by now from all the typing.

You are more than welcome to hang out here anytime.

Bob Postiff said...

Hi Scott, Thanks for your comments on the jesus creed Bob