Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Great Example of the Failure of Sola Ecclesia
04/22/2012 - James WhiteThe famous Algo pointed me to a rather lengthy thread in the Catholic Answers Forums today, found here. It is an excellent example of how the constant drumbeat argument of Rome, that sola scriptura leads to differences of belief and practice, etc., but Rome is wonderfully unified, etc., is not a wit short of ludicrous. Here you have faithful Roman Catholics, seeking to follow after the leadership of their group, quoting sources right and left, all in disagreement with each other! It would be humorous if it was not so serious, since the issue is who is, and who is not, saved! But alas, the addition of reams of alleged "tradition" to the inspired Scriptures has done nothing to bring unity and clarity, for, of course, all that alleged "tradition" does is obscure divine truth, since it is human in origin and inconsistent with itself.
This thread reminds me of the off-hand remark Robert Fastiggi made to me during one of the breaks in our televised debates way back in the mid 1990s. When I pointed out a conflicting opinion expressed in print by a Roman Catholic scholar, he opined, "Yes, well, there are certainly more views expressed now that we stopped the Inquisition." Yes, yes indeed there are.
T4G, Sole Authority, and Church Tradition
04/12/2012 - James WhiteI would like to briefly respond to some comments made by C Michael Patton in a blog article that he posted today. I would like to start by saying that I agree with the fundamental assertion that he made, specifically, that the T4G statement of faith is inaccurate when it describes the Bible as the “sole authority for the Church.” I have often identified this very terminology as a misrepresentation of any meaningful historical and biblical definition of sola scriptura. It is one the primary means the Roman Catholics use to attack the doctrine of sola scriptura because it is transparently obvious that it is inaccurate to state that the Bible is the only source of authority that the church recognizes or utilizes. It is necessary to recognize that sola scriptura speaks to the Scripture's role as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church, not the sole rule of faith period. Any church that is confessional in its expression and practice would be in violation of this less than accurate definition of sola scriptura. For example, my own church utilizes the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith as an accurate and sufficient representation of our doctrinal beliefs. And yet, it could be argued that we are using this as a source of authority, which would violate the inaccurate definition of sola scriptura. I have explained the necessity of being careful in our definitions on this matter in a number of my published works.
However, I must disagree with Mr. Patton at a very important point in his discussion. He wrote in his article,
Without tradition being an authority we would not even have the Scriptures themselves, as it is only through tradition that we know what Scripture is actually Scripture. The Scriptures have no place where there is an inspired list telling us which books belong in the Scripture (we call this the “canon” of Scripture). It is through the traditions of the church that we know which books are the final authority. Therefore, tradition must be an authority to some degree.
I would like to suggest to Mr. Patton that at this point he has, in fact, fundamentally compromised on the doctrine of sola scriptura. Or at the very least, he has put himself in a position where he could never defend his doctrine of sola scriptura against a sharp critic of his position. I invested a fair amount of space in my book, Scripture Alone, discussing the issue of the canon of Scripture. I suggested that the common approach of defining the canon on a merely historical basis misses the fundamentally theological nature of the canon itself. I pointed out that the canon is a necessary artifact of the act of inspiration. The canon exists of necessity. Since God inspired some books but not all books, that means a canon exists de facto. God knows the canon infallibly because God knows his own actions infallibly. Since God has a purpose for the church to know the extent of His act of inspiration in providing to us the Scriptures, then God will expand the necessary effort to make sure that the church receives the blessing and gift he has given to us in Scripture, and that includes having a sufficient knowledge of the canon to accomplish His ends. But Mr. Patton identifies the canon as a “tradition of the church." I think Mr. Patton would have a very difficult time defending the concept of sola scriptura against a very sharp Roman Catholic opponent if he takes this position. It is another example of how many of those who are in the forefront of evangelical proclamation today have not seriously engaged Roman Catholic apologetics especially on the issue of authority. See my discussion of the theology of the canon in Scripture Alone, pp. 95-119.
Credo, or Credam?
04/04/2012 - James WhiteI guess the difference between my view of Rome's gospel and C. Michael Patton's (as seen in his most recent comments, following up on last week's article) is summed up in the title line: "credo" means "I believe," in the indicative; "credam" would be in the subjunctive, a less forceful and clear affirmation. I believe Rome's gospel is a false gospel, full stop, end of statement, indicative mode. But brother Patton's discussion is filled, and I truly mean filled, with question marks. What about this? What about that? What about those folks over there? Do any of us really have it right? Isn't it all a matter of "better" and "best," "closer" and "close enough"? How about them Eastern Orthodox? Couldn't we do better than we are doing? Etc. and etc.
I understand the desire to avoid being a narrow-minded, ignorance-driven, tradition-bound, know-it-all-but-know-nothing-at-all fundie who banishes everyone who parts their hair differently (or who allows their women to wear pant suits!) to hell. I get it. We all want to be open minded and inclusive and loving and tolerant and all that wonderful stuff, right? I went to Fuller, remember? I know how to talk about biblical contradictions with circumlocutions like "tensions in the text" and all that stuff. Been there, done that, got the degree.
But here is where I get off the train and wave as it passes by: call me out of date, call me hopelessly archaic and out of touch, but…I do not think it is a matter of a "spectrum" of "gospels." It's not "close, closer, closest." There is something called a dividing line, and if there isn't, I can't make heads or tails out of Galatians, or Romans, for 1 John. Now brother Patton says, "There is definitely a line that can be crossed. I can’t always tell you exactly where that line is." Where we part company is that I do not have the slightest problem looking at Rome's gospel and saying without hesitation, "that's not a gospel, that's not close, that's not just missing something, that's not just deficient---that makes the gospel Paul anathematized in Galatia look like child's play." Patton continues to ignore the issues I raised in my critique and focuses solely upon sola fide. As important as that is, to isolate that from the entirety of Rome's sacramentalism, with its heart being found not in its doctrine of justification per se, but in the "eucharistic sacrifice" of the Mass, is to miss the real issue. By reducing Rome's error to "missing" justification by faith, Patton and many like him today show a fundamental misapprehension of what Rome is all about. It is the work of Christ, or in the case of Rome, the work of Christ re-presented through the sacramental authority of the priest, that is central. Rome denies that the death of Christ perfects anyone at all: His death creates a massive reservoir of grace that is then doled out to the faithful through the sacraments of Romanism. But any discussion of Rome's message that does not take into consideration its oft-repeated and explained concept of the Mass as a propitiatory yet non-perfecting sacrifice that leaves the believer in danger of hell fire and punishment, brought about by a man who is identified as an "alter Christus" through his special sacramental powers, will not adequately express the totality of Rome's fundamental errors. Putting Rome on the same level as others who simply deny sola fide is not even fair to Rome's own claims, let alone does it properly see the inter-connectedness of Rome's dogmatic denials of the biblical faith.
So in answer to brother Patton's plethora of interrogatives, I counter with a single assertion: if Paul's anathema of the Judaizers means anything, it means Rome's dogmatic denials of fundamental gospel truths, normally embedded in her positive additions of non-biblical teachings, must be, on any rational level, considered to be under the same anathema. All the post-modern angst that can be wrapped up in the "well, there are many questions that can be asked in this area" cannot erase the clarity of the dividing line provided by Scripture.