Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
When the Blade Swings Back...
06/25/2012 - Mike PorterNot too long ago I wrote an article in which I created a composite conversation compiling together bits of different conversations I have had with a cult group known as the Elohim Academy. My intention was not to demonstrate how I refuted their arguments, but rather to show the flow of argument and presentation this group may present if they come to any person’s door. So long as a Christian is prepared for the argument and tactics of this group, I am confident a defense of the Christian faith can be made looking at the context of those passages.
These articles are fed into our Facebook page where moderated comments are allowed, so long as they are on topic and within our defined rules of engagement. A Roman Catholic left a comment that was removed, being deemed off topic and not really in the form of an argument as it mostly consisted of a quote from Karl Keating, and therefore, was no argument at all against the article.
However, I thought the comment was worth a look at since it demonstrated the kind of irony that often occurs in dealing with apologetic issues and keeps it interesting. Keep in mind that my article was dealing with a group that believes that God the Father, until recently, walked among them and taught them directly and that God, the Father’s wife, Mother God, currently walks among them, continually teaching them all things directly.
This comment was, in full:
That is a perfect illustration of the problems with the inherently fissiparous doctrine of Sola Scriptura:
In interpreting the Bible, in determining whether [a particular doctrine] contradicts or confirms what is found in its pages, we come upon a recurring question: “Who is to decide?” It hardly suffices to say, “Let the Bible itself decide,” since it is the interpretation of the Bible that is in question and no book, not even the Bible, can be self-interpreting. Either we interpret it ourselves, using our own resources, or we listen to the word of a divinely-appointed interpreter, if one has been established. Catholics hold that Christ empowered the Church to give infallible interpretations of the Bible. “I have still much to say to you, but it is beyond your reach as yet. It will be for him, the truth-giving Spirit, when he comes, to guide you in all truth’ (John 16:12). This Jesus said to the apostles.” –Karl Keating
Now, setting aside the common misunderstanding here of what Reformed folk mean by the perspicuity of Scripture, what is ironic here is that The Elohim Academy has its own "infallible interpreter" of the Scriptures. The Elohim Academy believes God, himself (and herself) speaks to them directly and interprets the Scriptures for them. Thus, in their view, the criteria that Keating set forth in his either/or scenario above is met fully by the Elohim Academy. They believe that their divine interpreter is not the church, but the very author of the Word, and so appealing to the Roman Catholic Church as the final arbiter to what the Scriptures teach, is, in their view, a step down in authority. The fact that they believe that "Mother God" currently dwells among them in South Korea further gives them a supposed trump card in the infallible authority game.
It is in the context of this ironical observation that the question must be asked: If two sources of perceived clear, absolute, infallible interpretive authority contradict each other, what is the final arbiter between clear, absolute, infallible interpretive authorities? Or, in the words of Keating, “Who is to decide?”
Citing Keating becomes problematic at that point.
But, delving deeper, it seems that the main reason that the commenter left the quote was with the aim of suggesting that if there is disagreement with, rejection of, or rebellion to an infallible, inerrant and authoritative source that the source itself is insufficiently clear enough to be an infallible, inerrant source of authority.
But, this is no argument against Sola Scriptura any more than it is an argument against Sola Ecclesia, for if the Rome is *the* source of Tradition and it is so clear in its authority, then there never should have been that ominous and persistent Schism of 1054 wherein the Eastern and Western Churches split over competing views of ultimate authority and disagreements over who represented *the* Tradition of the Church.
Yet, neither the East nor the West looks upon such a schism with the idea that their Church is lacking in ultimate authority. Rome certainly does not see such an affront to her pronouncements as an indication that it is no longer “a divinely-appointed interpreter”.
And, if its own authority were clear, should we have formerly darling apologists becoming sedevacantists who consider the current pope to be an arch-heretic and antipope?
But, if the argument the commenter was making was that a cultist disagreeing with me when Scripture is presented is an example of a failure on the part of Sola Scriptura, then we posit the same argument, to greater effect, on the self-proclaimed interpreter of Sacred Tradition with its well documented multiple understandings of what constitutes Sacred Tradition.
Dr. White, years ago, documented the distinctions between the so-called Partim/Partim view of Sacred Tradition and the Interpretive Grid view (known as the Material/Formal Sufficiency view of Scripture). There exist two distinct views of what is contained within Oral versus Written Tradition in Roman Catholicism that are in opposition to each other, as both cannot be true.
Based on the commenter's own argument (or, apparent use of Keating's argument), Rome's inability to create theological unity within its own fold as well as the fact that Rome's view of Tradition is not recognized as *the* authoritative view by the Eastern Orthodox would be sufficient to demonstrate that it is an inadequate and insufficient interpretive source.
Such a realization was not lost on Robert Sungenis who argued that having an infallible source of authority does not, of itself, settle all matters of dispute. In the context of defending lack of theological unity within the Roman Church, he writes in Not By Scripture Alone:
"First, Jesus himself, the infallible, incarnate word of God, did not create unanimous theological "unity" among his hearers. In fact, Jesus was disheartened that so many people argued with him and rejected his message of truth. At many points, his message divided more than it unified. Paul encountered the same opposition, among both Jews and gentile converts."
In other words, the fact that Jesus himself, not simply the infallible authority of Scripture, but the very Author of it, could be disputed and misunderstood does not at all demonstrate that Christ was insufficient as an authority or interpreter of His Word. The fact that the apostles had to correct misinterpretations of their words and defend their own apostolic authority does not suppose that they were insufficient or unclear.
Rome's asserted infallible authority does not bring about the theological unity it expects of Protestants. If my commenter wishes to press this argument, then he will have to demonstrate why it is that Rome's inability to resolve all internal disputes and unify all adherents to an Infallible Oral Tradition (Rome, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, etc.) under its own view of Oral Tradition upon authority of its word alone does not suffer the indictment he levels against Sola Scriptura.