Every Man a Pope (or Why I’m Not a Lutheran)

Sola scriptura alert - Bible alone errorFor the past year or so, I have participated in a Bible Study every Tuesday morning with a group of mostly Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastors. We look at the readings for the week in the original languages and discuss the meaning of the text. It is an experience I am glad to be a part of, though I am always aware of the fact that I am a visitor and not a native. That is not to say that the group is not hospitable. They have been wonderfully welcoming, much to the contrary of the reputation that LCMS pastors sometimes get for being anti-ecumenical. They are holy men of God who have my utmost respect, and I have learned a great deal from them. The LCMS is something of a mixed bag these days, but this group is made up of convinced, conservative Lutherans who take seriously not just the Scriptures but interpreting them according to Lutheran confessional standards. It is this last bit that often leaves me as odd man out.

John the Doubter?

Case in point, this past week we were discussing the LCMS Gospel passage for this Sunday, Luke 7:18-35, in which an imprisoned John the Baptist tells two of his disciples to go to Jesus and ask Him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” This gives Jesus an opportunity to sketch out the difference between Himself and John, remarking finally that “among those born of a woman none is greater than John; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.” It is a fascinating passage with lots of twists and turns to work out, but one of the things that is most striking is that, on the surface, it seems as if John, who had earlier identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), now has grown doubtful. During his time in prison, he has started to second guess himself and to wonder whether he made the right call, so he sends his servants to find out.

Except, if you read what the early Church Fathers have to say about this passage, that is not what is happening here at all. Rather than sending his disciples to confirm his own faith, John sends them so that they may find faith themselves. “So great indeed was [John], that he was taken for Christ,” says Saint Augustine, “and if he had not himself testified that he was not He, the mistake would have continued, and he would have been reputed to be the Christ.” Thus, according to Augustine, John said, “‘Go then, ask Him;’ not because I doubt, but that ye may be instructed.” Saint John Chrysostom says similarly, “Having sent them forth, He withdrew Himself, giving them opportunity and time to do the things that He had enjoined; for while He was present and ready to heal, no man would come to His disciples.” The same sort of teaching is found in the writings of Ambrose, Gregory the Great, Remigius, Jerome, Hillary, and countless others. The Fathers do not always agree with one another about how to interpret a passage of scripture, but on this passage they are in complete unanimity.

This also seems to be how a lot of Lutherans have understood this passage, both modern and old, including dear old Martin Luther himself. Nonetheless, at Bible Study this week, several of the Lutherans present argued for the opposite reading, that John was simply a doubter who had backslid into skepticism because of his hardship. Since the text does not tell us explicitly which version is correct, both of these interpretations are plausible. Nonetheless, one of them holds the weight of sacred tradition and the consistent teaching of the Church over the centuries, while the other is merely a private opinion foisted upon the text by individual readers many centuries and cultures removed from the actual events. Yet our conversation remained deadlocked because ultimately there is no place in Lutheranism for the Church to speak definitively on a matter of controversy.

Me Alone

By comparison to the standards of most of modern Protestantism, confessional Lutheranism is wonderfully, refreshingly Catholic. Unlike the radical iconoclasm of many other early Protestants including Puritans in the Church of England, early Lutherans went out of their way to retain just about anything from the tradition they could which they saw as consistent with Scripture. Vestments, gestures, crucifixes, ancient hymns, celebration of the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, and even the continued use of the confessional were all hallmarks of the Lutheran Reformation. It is not anathema to quote from the Fathers in the company of good Lutherans who know their faith. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the standard of faith for Lutherans is sola scriptura, “Scripture alone,” which means that the ultimate standard of faith is only the individual Christian and what he or she thinks the Bible is saying.

I am certain that my Lutheran and other Protestant friends will feel that this is an unfair rendering of their position. They will say that Scripture is largely perspicacious, an argument that many Anglicans have also made historically. It is true that much of what is found in the Scripture is a lot clearer and a lot more straight forward than our post-enlightenment, post-modern world would care to admit. As Lutherans rightly point out, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood” cannot mean anything other than what they actually say. Still, there are a variety of places in the Scriptures where multiple readings of the same passage are plausible. Herein, classical Protestants would say that we interpret the unclear passages in light of the clear ones. This is a fine rule, so far as it goes. But in the case of our passage about John the Baptist and his intentions, there is very little that can be found elsewhere in Scripture that can be of much help. So how then can a judgment be rendered?

Anglicanism and Sola Scriptura

Anglicanism maintains the primacy of Scripture in the formation of doctrine, and there is a way of describing sola scriptura that is consistent with the Anglican formularies. If by sola scriptura, we mean what Article VI says, that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation,” than sola scriptura is an appropriate and historic doctrine, adhered to by the Fathers themselves. Scripture forms the foundation of the deposit of faith. It cannot be contradicted. It is not incomplete. It holds the key to our salvation. Everything that the Church teaches must conform to Scripture’s standard. Scripture is the ultimate rule of faith, and the doctrinal assertions of any particular church can and must be judged by an appeal back to Scripture, as Article XX makes clear.

However, Article XX also tells us that the Church “hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith.” The addition of this phrase to the article was objected to strenuously by the Puritan factions at the Convocation of 1563, but Archbishop Parker and those aligned with him prevailed. While Scripture is our highest standard of authority as Christians, bearing the unique Word of God that is not to be found anywhere else, the Scriptures are not self interpreting. The Church must not only keep and bear witness to the words of Scripture but also attest to their meaning. This the Church does through an appeal to an unbroken inheritance of apostolic interpretation, handed down from generation to generation, guarded by the episcopate, and carried forth by the liturgy itself which forms us even as we worship. As new issues arise, the Church tests them against the apostolic inheritance, finding answers ultimately in an appeal to Scripture made not in isolation by each individual Christian, but through conciliarity, within which the Holy Spirit works to guide the Church into all truth.

Scripture and the Conciliar Church

It is a complicated and messy process, made much muddier by the schisms that have rended the Church over the centuries, but it is ultimately beautiful and elegant in its outworking. And, of course, it is itself scriptural. When the early Church encountered controversy concerning the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols and whether or not to accept Gentiles, the apostles and bishops met in council, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to come to a conclusion, not apart from the Scriptures but in and through them. And when that conclusion was reached, it was announced as that which “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).

Is this a process that is open to abuse? Certainly, as we see in councils today wherein the bishops fail to acknowledge that they are meeting in schism, without the whole council of the Church, but act as if they have similar authority. Councils can and do err, but the Holy Spirit guides the Church faithfully over time, always bringing her back to what has been revealed to her through the power of God’s Word. The alternative is to adopt the notion that the Scriptures do not need an interpreter, in which case every person individually becomes the chief interpreter of Scripture, every man or woman a pope in their own right, unable to be moved even by God Himself to believe that their own infallible readings of the text could ever be suspect. And so, though I have great respect for Lutherans and for the contributions that Lutheranism has made to the Church, I could never be one, nor any other kind of Protestant, except in the very narrow sense in which Anglicanism could be so defined. I simply do not trust myself to have that kind of unmitigated power over the Word of God.

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About Fr. Jonathan

Your average traditional crunchy Christ follower with a penchant for pop culture, politics, and puns.
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29 Responses to Every Man a Pope (or Why I’m Not a Lutheran)

  1. benjohnson says:

    I really enjoy your thoughts and your honest and probing writing. Your flock is blessed to have you as their pastor.

    As a Lutheran, I’ve always understood Sola Scriptura as a practice of the church, not of individuals within the church. Simply put, you should remind some of your more inventive LCMS pastor friends that scripture isn’t to be interpreted by the individual.

  2. As one who has grown to greatly appreciate Lutheranism (particularly in this last semester, when I had to undertake a fair bit of study on the development of the Lutheran confessions), I wonder if we ought to make a distinction between a) interpretations of Scripture which do not impinge upon ‘the faith once delivered’, and b) interpretations of Scripture which do impinge upon ‘the faith once delivered’. Thus, your discussion about John the Baptist falls under a), rather than b). It may be that the Church Fathers (or, at least a few of them) had one particular interpretation of the story of John the Baptist – but surely, dissenting from their view is not the same as being one’s own pope? Anglicans did, after all, get their conception of ‘adiaphora’ from the Lutherans (thanks, above all, to Melanchthon!). I am not aware of anything which impinges upon how one interprets (or applies) the story of the imprisoned John the Baptist. Yet, that is very different than, e.g., the prologue of John’s Gospel, which orthodox creedal doctrine claims points to the fact that the Logos/Son and the Father have the same substance.

    Admittedly, I know nothing about Lutheran ecclesiology, but I do know that in the 16th century the Lutherans were very quick to develop their own system of quasi-episcopal oversight. I know, too, that Lutheran theology expected the secular ruler to be a defender of the faith. There were, therefore, controls placed upon the tendency of ‘sola scriptura’ to become anarchic (and the Lutheran confessions were just one such control, too). Lutheranism may have been born (in part!) by sola scriptura, but it also quickly outgrew the same.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Hi Benjamin,

      I doubt that any serious Lutheran would say that they have “outgrown” sola scriptura. That said, you’re right that this controversy over John the Baptist is not something that is going to make or break the Church. It is simply illustrative of where I think the problem lies. A better example might be something like John 6 which early Lutherans, including Martin Luther, argued was not about the Eucharist at all, conceding the point to the Zwinglians, while the vast expanse of Church history has always seen that passage as indicative of a true teaching about the nature of the Eucharist. There are many other examples as well.

      Again, none of this is to say that Lutheranism is utterly terrible, but to point out something which is lacking in general in Protestant understandings of Scripture and the Church, even in the most conservative of Reformation bodies. Anglican churches have certainly not been immune from this kind of reasoning, but our formularies are a blessing in that they give us another way of looking at the whole thing that is much more in line with what the Catholic Church has always taught and believed.

  3. Father Thorpus says:

    Well, it’s about time you split with the Lutherans on SOMETHING. :)
    Well articulated, all around.

  4. DJ says:

    Fr. Jonathan,

    As always, great post. I hope my question doesn’t come across as painfully simple, but I have to ask -
    In all I’m reading about Church history and scriptures, the more catholic persuasion gives special credence to the early fathers (and rightly so I would add); however, unless your’re willing to say that the mind of the early church is binding on the consciousness of all believers regarding the interpretation of scripture, how would you respond to the claim that, as the early church and fathers were not infallible, we are free to claim the same help of the Holy Spirit to interpret scripture. In other words, there is an assumption that the fathers were somehow more inspired by the Holy Spirit than we are. To be even more reductive: the assumption that antiquity can somehow claim a greater market on the Truth. And even more simplistic: what reason do we have to give anything outside of inspired scripture elevated credence?
    I guess it’s all the same question, I’d love to hear your response.

    • Jesse says:

      I know this is directed at Fr. Jonathan, but if I can be allowed to submit my thoughts in reply, as I have wrestled with these issues quite recently:

      You are right, the Holy Spirit is not the property of any one person, whether you or a Church Father. The Spirit belongs to the entire Church. The difference between you and a Church Father is, essentially, that the Spirit has guided the mind of the Church over centuries to recognize that person as a Church Father, and you are sitting here now with your Bible in hand no doubt trying your best, but working alone. What makes a Church Father worthy of higher regard than us is that they have become recognized as reliable through the test of time by the common judgment of the Church under the guidance of the Spirit. In OUR attempt to wrestle with Scripture together over the centuries, WE have repeatedly found them trustworthy, especially where they speak in unison and hence reflect an even GREATER concord in the mind of the Church. So, you are right, the Spirit belongs to the entire Church and not just one person. And that leads us right back to the Fathers.

      And to briefly stir the pot on your final question, who decided that certain texts were “inspired” and others not? Not you, nor me, nor any one person, but US.

  5. Robert F says:

    But didn’t every strand of Scriptural interpretation in what became the church’s conciliar catholic tradition start as one specific individual’s interpretation? I mean, back behind the counsels were individuals reading and interpreting, and then dialoguing with each other about their various interpretations. No?

    • Robert: Yes, of course–corrections of scriptural MALinterpretation does tend to start with an individual. However, when/if he gains a large following, and other scholars and Church leaders agree–in council–then it becomes a judgement call (as in the case of Luther) if and when he becomes ostracized by other official Church authorities.

      It is interesting to me that current day Roman Church authorities–since Vat II, have rehabilitated Luther, and more or less have considered him right on justification by faith alone…

  6. Tom says:

    I like your Lutheran friends! Sounds like a great bunch of fellows! Ad Fontes!!

  7. I like your take on the original meaning of Sola Scriptura, which is the one Luther and the other magisterial Reformers held, including the Anglicans, namely that “Scripture forms the foundation of the deposit of faith. ” and that it is our supreme (but NOT sole) authority. The interpretation of the Church in council too has authority–over and above the individual Christian (just not as high as holy Scripture). Keith Mathison in his book THE SHAPE OF SOLA SCRIPTURA, following Heiko Obermann’s categories, proves this idea, showing this kind of Sola Scriptura was that of the Fathers as well.

    Modern evangelicals tend to follow a corruption of this….”SOLO Scriptura” which makes every man a pope…and throw the baby of tradition out with its dirty bath water. This might be one reason American evangelicalism is so easily slipping into emergent, seeker-friendly, or charismatic mysticism aberations–as they look not to their historic roots–and what Christians have agreed on in interpreting holy Scripture for millennia.

    Mathison’s book was key in turning me to conservative Anglicanism some 10 years ago.

  8. Joshua says:

    This is the biggest reason that I became Anglican. Lutherans will rightly say that Tradition is not ignored and that all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are tested to scripture, BUT scripture according to whom? The Lutherans never had a great answer in my opinion. I was a WELS Lutheran. We broke fellowship with LCMS in the 1950′s. A move that I strongly disagree with. The CLC broke from the WELS because the WELS maintained communion with LCMs for two years after changes in doctrine were found. These groups are all still separate to this day. When ELCA decides to go nuts, the moderates within the body decided to form new bodies (NALC and LCMC) rather than joining bodies that already existed. And they wonder why we are all so confused, This pushed me more towards eastern orthodoxy originally but I had a hard time adjusting. It was to foreign and I still had some protestant distinctive’s that I saw no way around. I spent more time trying to convince myself that my beliefs were wrong than just accepting that the bible is clear on some things and these Orthodox guys use a lot of sophistry to prove their point rather than allowing the scriptures to speak as they are written. Thus i did not convert. I did however, learn about the importance of the Ecumenical councils. I knew the Lutherans accepted the first four but i was never explained as to why other than that they are in line with scriptures. I moved onto Anglicanism and was initially not impressed at all. The fact the ECUSA and ELCA are so close raised serious red flags for me. I was also not to happy with what I saw in ACNA. Many Church websites flatly contradicted other Churches in the same body. I was convinced that Anglicans did not have a clue what they believed in and if Lutheranism was jello than Anglicanism was jelly. Some were full blown Calvinists and others were Roman Catholics without a Pope. I was always left scratching my head. I then began to study the Anglican formularies and pray with the Book of Common prayer. I soon realized that the problem was not Anglicanism. Anglicanism is simply true. It is nothing short of the Gospel. The problem was that many Anglicans today are not following their own formularies. I found my way into St. johns Episcopal Church in Detroit and have been attending Eucharist every Wednesday since. The problem I see is that we have Episcopal Priests refusing to follow or teach Anglicanism as understood by the formularies and the Bishops do not do much about it. If it wasn’t for a fall out shelter like St. Johns, I would likely still be a Lutheran. One thing I think we can learn from the Lutherans is the importance of uniformity of beliefs. I understand that we are not a confessional body but we still have positions that guide our practice. I can say as an Anglican that I believe the Lutheran confessions are mostly correct, but do they hold the same Authority as the Early Church Councils where the bishops came together from around the world and were guided by the Holy Spirit? My answer is no! For this reason I cannot be a Lutheran, although I find that the Lutheran confessions seem to speak in two minds at times when dealing with the church councils and early church fathers in their relations to scripture. If Lutherans adopted the Anglican understanding of scripture they may be able to end the divisions among them. At least in conservative bodies (LCMS,WELS/ELS, CLC). As long as the Lutherans hold to the current view they will continue to chip and shatter. As long as Anglicans hold to beliefs that contradict the formularies they will not be any better and just make people more confused than anything else. Anglocatholics need to rid themselves or Roman and Greek sophistry and accept the 39 articles and Calvinists need to drop the Anglican from their name. just my opinion.

  9. Matt Kennedy says:

    Hi Fr. Jonathan, I found myself actually agreeing with the bulk of this article until I saw this bit of a non-sequitur:

    “However, Article XX also tells us that the Church “hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith.” The addition of this phrase to the article was objected to strenuously by the Puritan factions at the Convocation of 1563, but Archbishop Parker and those aligned with him prevailed. While Scripture is our highest standard of authority as Christians, bearing the unique Word of God that is not to be found anywhere else, the Scriptures are not self interpreting. The Church must not only keep and bear witness to the words of Scripture but also attest to their meaning.”

    That the Church “hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith” does not mean that: “the Scriptures are not self interpreting”. It merely means that they are not self applying. God has given his Church the power and authority to apply biblical truth to “controversies of the faith” and to determine modes of worship in so far as the do not conflict with what scripture reveals.

  10. MichaelA says:

    Fr Jonathan, thank you for yet another learned article, however I believe that you have missed the main point that the Church Fathers are trying to teach us, across the centuries. I normally agree with Fr. Matt Kennedy, but in this case … :)

    You wrote:
    “The Fathers do not always agree with one another about how to interpret a passage of scripture, but on this passage they are in complete unanimity.”

    I would have thought that is significantly overstating the position: The Church Fathers virtually never agree on how to interpret a passage of scripture. In the case of Luke 7:18 they do, but its important to note the method they use to get to that conclusion – in all cases they exegete scripture from other scripture. And this is standard – the Fathers very rarely cite other Fathers for authority on anything, but they continually look to Scripture for aid in exegeting Scripture.

    For example, if we look at St Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on this passage (Sermon 37 on Luke), like other Fathers he concludes that John knows very well that Christ is the one to come. But it is important to note that St Cyril does NOT ask his reader to accept this conclusion because St Cyril says so, nor because other Fathers say so, or because tradition says so! Rather, Cyril sets out a plethora of scripture references to demonstrate why his interpretation of Luke 7:18 is correct.

    You wrote:
    “Since the text does not tell us explicitly which version is correct, both of these interpretations are plausible”

    I don’t think that’s true – neither Cyril nor Augustine thought that an alternative interpretation was plausible, because they did not look at Luke 7:18 in isolation, but rather read it in the context of the rest of scripture. Hence why St Cyril gives us over a score of citations from other scripture to prove his point – not citations from other Church Fathers, or tradition, but from scripture.

    The same method is apparent in St Augustine’s sermon 16. Augustine only regards one interpretation as plausible, hence he writes: “And so the resolution of it is altogether plain.” But on what basis does he write this – on his own power to interpret scripture? No! On an appeal to the interpretation of the Fathers before him? No! Rather, he bases it on a thorough exegesis of this passage by comparison to numerous other passages of scripture.

    The message from all of this is that we need to learn from the Church Fathers how they did things, and then imitate them. Have you studied Cyril’s and Augustine’s exegesis from other passages of scripture and then presented those arguments and references to your Lutheran friends? That is what Cyril or Augustine would do if they were here now.

    You wrote:
    “Yet our conversation remained deadlocked because ultimately there is no place in Lutheranism for the Church to speak definitively on a matter of controversy.”

    And rightly so. Nor is there in Anglicanism. In order to avoid such “deadlock” I suggest you imitate the Church Fathers’ method – learn from the way they exegete scripture, and lead your Lutheran friends to look beyond just the verse that is in front of them, and instead put Luke 7:18 into the context of the rest of Scripture.

    You wrote:
    “Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the standard of faith for Lutherans is sola scriptura, “Scripture alone,” which means that the ultimate standard of faith is only the individual Christian and what he or she thinks the Bible is saying.”

    This is a caricature of “sola scriptura”. But the real issue is that you need to take the Church Fathers seriously: learn to take scripture as your highest authority, and spend a lot of time and practice learning how to exegete scripture as the Fathers did. I know this is hard work, but ….

    You wrote:
    “But in the case of our passage about John the Baptist and his intentions, there is very little that can be found elsewhere in Scripture that can be of much help. So how then can a judgment be rendered?”

    Cyril and Augustine would disagree with you! They found plenty of other passages in Scripture that reflect on this passage, and that led them to conclude that John knew all along that Jesus was the Messiah.

    You also wrote:
    “However, Article XX also tells us that the Church “hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith.” The addition of this phrase to the article was objected to strenuously by the Puritan factions at the Convocation of 1563, but Archbishop Parker and those aligned with him prevailed. While Scripture is our highest standard of authority as Christians, bearing the unique Word of God that is not to be found anywhere else, the Scriptures are not self interpreting.”

    Respectfully, this is not what that controversy was about. The difference between the puritans and Matthew Parker was not over sola scriptura (which both believed in) but as to whether Scripture is normative or regulative for the church. Article XX and its predecessor arose from the “vestments controversy” wherein the thoroughly evangelical Nicholas Ridley argued that the Church of England was entitled to prescribe the dress of its bishops, even though nothing is laid down in scripture about it.

    To be continued…

  11. MichaelA says:

    Continued:
    Fr Jonathon, you wrote:
    “This the Church does through an appeal to an unbroken inheritance of apostolic interpretation, handed down from generation to generation, guarded by the episcopate, and carried forth by the liturgy itself which forms us even as we worship.”

    The problem is that there is no “unbroken inheritance of apostolic interpretation” and I would challenge you to identify one. The Church Fathers themselves do not rely on any such heritage of apostolic interpretation, but instead exegete scripture by reference to other parts of scripture.

    You wrote:
    “As new issues arise, the Church tests them against the apostolic inheritance, finding answers ultimately in an appeal to Scripture made not in isolation by each individual Christian, but through conciliarity, within which the Holy Spirit works to guide the Church into all truth.”

    I almost agree. The way I would put it is this: “As new issues arise, the Church tests them against Scripture. This process is not made in isolation by each individual Christian, nor by individual Christians’ appeal to selected passages from the Church Fathers or other lesser authorities, nor by considering scripture passages in isolation from the rest of scripture; rather it is done through conciliarity and with due regard to the understanding of the church in past ages, within which the Holy Spirit works to guide the Church into truth consistent with that taught by His apostles”.

    You wrote:
    “When the early Church encountered controversy concerning the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols and whether or not to accept Gentiles, the apostles and bishops met in council, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to come to a conclusion, not apart from the Scriptures but in and through them. And when that conclusion was reached, it was announced as that which “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).”

    What you are forgetting is that this council spoke with Apostolic authority, just as Scripture does. All later councils do not. They only derive apostolic authority insofar as they are true to apostolic teaching (i.e. scripture). The entire church gathered in council (if that were ever to happen) does not have one skerrick of authority to decide differently to scripture, nor to treat scripture as something it can interpret as it wills. That was recognised by the Fathers at Nicaea – they applied the teachings of scripture to the controversies before them.

    You also wrote:
    “The alternative is to adopt the notion that the Scriptures do not need an interpreter, in which case every person individually becomes the chief interpreter of Scripture, every man or woman a pope in their own right, unable to be moved even by God Himself to believe that their own infallible readings of the text could ever be suspect.”

    Your caricature of others’ beliefs reflects no credit on you. I suspect it is also hasty and unfair to your Lutheran friends. As the Church Fathers show, there is ample proof of your position on Luke 7:18 by comparing that passage with other parts of scripture, but you have to be prepared to do the hard work of preparing your argument. From what I have read of your blog, I trust your judgment of other Christians, and therefore I trust your judgment that these Lutherans are godly and sincere men. Therefore, give them credit for that and present them with a sound exegesis from scripture. I expect you will persuade them.

    If you feel this is beyond you, then at least print out Augustine’s argument (i.e. the whole of Sermon 16), give it to your friends and discuss it. Then print out Cyril of Alexandria’s Sermon 37 and do the same. Augustine and Cyril cite so many scripture references that you will be at it for a long time (and by the way, they never refer to earlier Church Fathers). I assure you that great blessing will be derived by all who look at the sweeping global picture of scriptural teaching given by these great exegetes.

    You also wrote:
    “I simply do not trust myself to have that kind of unmitigated power over the Word of God.”

    Good. I suggest not accusing others of believing they have that power unless you are really sure you understand their position!

    The truth is that nobody has power over the Word of God, but we are all tempted to try to limit its power over us. I fear that I try to do that every day, in various ways!

  12. Stephen says:

    Taken from the article above:
    “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation,”

    (There goes my applecart again…)
    A ‘Scripture alone’ position seems to bring up necessary assumptions on those who hold to it.
    An assumption that underlies the doctrine of “Scripture alone” is that the Bible has within it all that is needed begs the question;
    What was Paul talking about when he wrote to Timothy :
    “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works…”
    Could Paul have meant what we view as Scripture today? How?
    Saint Paul could not be referring to the New Testament, because the New Testament had not yet been compiled when he wrote to Timothy.
    Is it not logical that Saint Paul was referring to ‘the Scriptures’ he was familiar with, meaning the Old Testament writings ?
    Saint Paul had no conceivable way of knowing that one day the letters he and others wrote would be compiled into a ‘book’ we call the New Testament, let alone that we would value it as highly as he did the Old Testament.
    So it would seem to follow that if this passage from one of Saint Paul’s letter’s is going to be used to set the limits on inspired authority, not only would tradition be excluded, but this passage itself—and the entire New Testament.
    Furthermore, we also see Saint Paul saying that instruction given by WORD is also to be used for instruction.

    Many claim a ‘Scripture alone’ position as correct, but it sure doesn’t seem to be a proper
    way to understand Scripture to me,

    • DJ says:

      Stephen,

      The Timothy passage is interesting to me as it is used often to both prove and disprove sola scriptura. The way it is used to disprove the doctrine seems reasonable on the surface but, I think, ultimately doesn’t hold water. That St. Paul had no notions of the NT is irrelevant to whether or not NT is to be included in the scriptures specifically referenced in these passages, mainly because if we were going to interpret scripture based only on what the author knew at the time, we’d be in trouble; the authors of scripture are not really the true Author. None of the epistles were written with the foreknowledge that they would be received as the very word of God. But, we all agree, they are received as such regardless of the author’s fullness of understanding of what he wrote. God knows his Word and he knew what would eventually be the fullness of his Word even when St. Paul penned these lines in Timothy.
      To say that what St. Paul was referring to in Timothy couldn’t have included NT scripture is like saying none of the Psalms can be about Christ because Christ was centuries away from being born and David would have had to have foreknowledge of the incarnation in order for them to be read with a Christ- lens. But, as we see through Jewish and Christian history, the fullness of revelation is not seen for sometimes centuries after the Word was first revealed, precisely because God is the author of scripture, and for whatever reason, he has chosen to tease out the fullness if his eternal and unchanging truth over generations and millennia.

      • Stephen says:

        Thanks for the reply, DJ,
        First off, please understand that I am not questioning the inspiration of Scripture.
        I am, however, questioning the rationale that says that Scripture is all one needs.
        With regard to St. Paul’s lette to Timothy, it must first be noted that everything that Paul wished to convey to Timothy (or the other Apostles for that matter) could not have been condensed down to just a couple of letters that were declared centuries later as Scripture.
        Secondly, Timothy knew what ‘Scriptures’ Saint Paul was talking about, and they both had known what Holy Scriptures were since their childhoods.
        In fact, only a few of the letters which would centuries later become the books of the New Testament had been written when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy.
        And they certainly had not been collected together into the canon of the New Testament as we know it today.
        Therefore, it has to be understood that Paul knew full well what he was referring to AND so did Timothy. The Old Testament.

        By the time the Church had closed the Canon of Scripture, in its faith and worship, essentially indistinguishable from the Church of later periods.
        As for the structure of Church authority, it was Bishops, gathered together in various councils, who settled the question of the Canon.
        The Church as we know it, was in place before the Bible as we know it was in place.
        And the Church came before the Bibleas we know it.

        In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, we read : Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.
        The word here translated “traditions” is the Greek word paradosis.
        The word itself literally means “that which is transmitted, or delivered.”
        So, obviously, that could mean both written and or verbally.
        Anyone think that the only discussions that took place between Paul, Peter, Timothy, etc. was done by epistle?

        Where Sola Scriptura really goes off the track is the teaching that Christians can interpret Scriptures for themselves, without the aid of a valid authority.
        Which is precisely what Luther did.

      • Stephen says:

        Forgive my lack of proof reading. I took a phone call and hit post before I did.

      • DJ says:

        Hi Stephen,

        Thanks for your thoughts on this. I can and do agree with much of what you’ve written. I also second your final thoughts regarding the need for guidance and authority when navigating and interpreting scripture (which brings us right back to the reason for Fr. Jonathan’s original post). What gives me pause, however, is the following: “…it must first by noted that everything that Paul wished to convey to Timothy…could not have been condensed down to just a couple of letters that were declared centuries later as scripture.” My question is, why not?

        I imagine that what Paul passes down to Timothy verbally is exactly what we read in what would eventually become the New Testament: that Jesus Christ the Son of God came, died for the sins of the world, and was resurrected for the salvation of all. In other words, a testament to Christ being the final and perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament. What is it that you’re assuming was passed on to early Christians as being necessary for salvation that wasn’t recorded and later received by the whole Church (East and West) as the infallible word of God?

  13. Thomas says:

    Thanks for the post- especially for the alternative understanding of the gospel reading. At my LCMS church, we heard about John doubting- the other reading seems to make sense after hearing. Now I just have to be a good Berean and go read the passage in context- not that I doubt, but that it is what I should do.
    Also, I appreciate how much of what I read on good Lutheran blogs and good Anglican blogs agree. I think that both have so much in common and should be in dialog- certainly not in the least common denominator form that seems to occur in ECUSA and ELCA, but dialog none the less.

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  15. Stephen says:

    DJ posts:
    “What gives me pause, however, is the following: “…it must first by noted that everything that Paul wished to convey to Timothy…could not have been condensed down to just a couple of letters that were declared centuries later as scripture.” My question is, why not?”

    Paul himself made that point, didn’t he?
    In 2nd Thessalonians, St. Paul wrote:
    “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by WORD OF MOUTH or by letter”

    In 2nd Timothy St. Paul wrote:
    “Take as a model of sound teaching WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD ME SAY, in faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the rich deposit of faith with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.”
    Again to Timothy, St. Paul wrote:
    “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, AND WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD FROM ME BEFORE MANY WITNESSES entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

    At the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, we see the Apostles meeting in discussion and then ruling
    on how to act. Obviously, they didn’t rely on what the New Testament said. It hadn’t even been collected or codified yet.
    They acted in conjunction with the Holy Spirit through their own authority.
    And the Apostles laid hands on others to take their place. And then they laid hands on others to take their place, and so on and so on down till today.

  16. MichaelA says:

    “Where Sola Scriptura really goes off the track is the teaching that Christians can interpret Scriptures for themselves, without the aid of a valid authority.
    Which is precisely what Luther did.”

    And precisely what St Augustine in Semon 16, and St Cyril did in Sermon 37. We need to learn from the example of these men.

    We should also note and follow St Paul’s teachings: ” So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” [2 Thess 2:15] In other words, the written teachings we have now from the apostles (scripture) are the same as those that Paul gave to the Thessalonians personally. While the apostles were on earth they could give direct teaching and leadership (as they did at the Jerusalem Council – obviously the apostles didn’t need to refer to New Testament Scripture when they were its authors!)

    That is why we find St Augustine and St Cyril making no reference to any “oral tradition”, nor even a “heritage of interpretation” when they exegete Luke 7:18. Instead, they go to scripture to interpret scripture, again and again . We need to learn from them and imitate them.

    Note that Paul also wrote: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others”. [2 Tim 2:2] As the above passage makes clear, the things that Timothy heard from Paul are the same teachings that we have now, for any relevant purpose.

    The question was asked above – why did only some of the Apostles’ teaching get left to us (i.e. that which is found in scripture)? The apostle John tells us plainly: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” [John 20:30-31]

    If people don’t like the term “sola scriptura”, then they don’t have to – its only a latin phrase dreamed up by some medieval theologians in the 13th century to describe what they believed the bible to be teaching. More important in the context of Fr Jonathan’s article above is that we learn from the example of the Church Fathers and exegete scripture from other scripture. We cannot expect to know the full spiritual benefit of our faith if we do not do so.

  17. Stephen says:

    Plainly put, Sola Scriptura is not taught in the Scriptures.
    It is, in fact, specifically contradicted by the Scriptures I have already mentioned that teach Tradition is also binding for Christians
    (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2).
    Paul clearly ‘stand fast and hold firm……. (wait for it)……….TO THE TRADITIONS….. which you were taught by us, either by WORD OF MOUTH or by letter.”
    Paul clearly says, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

    It is abundantly clear that just given a Bible and the reasoning power of the individual alone, people could not agree upon the meaning of many of the most basic questions of Christian doctrine. And we’ve got the thousands of protestant denominations today to prove it!
    Even within Martin Luther’s own lifetime dozens of differing groups had already arisen, claiming to “just believe the Bible,” but none agreeing with another on what the Bible said.

    I mean, my goodness. Luther himself stood before the Diet of Worms with the challenge that, unless he were persuaded by Scripture or by plain reason, he would not retract anything he had been teaching. And then later, when the Anabaptists, who disagreed with the Lutherans on a number of points, simply asked for the same privilege and cosideration, Lutherans butchered them by the thousands.

    To say that the Holy Spirit will provide the correct understanding falls flat on it’s face when you look at the doctrinal differences that have arose from this very type of Scriptural interpretation.
    Thousands of denominations, each thinking that THEY are the one’s who ‘got it right’ and that they were the one’s who the Holy Spirit spoke too.

  18. Jesse says:

    Widely agreed with what you’re saying, though I’m not sure I would see the application to exegesis of particular passages quite so rigorously as to the overall teaching of Scripture. But I do still see reference to the Fathers first for exegesis as a priority, so maybe that is a moot point; I simply see value in biblical scholarship that is often ignored by those who take such an approach.

    I would take issue, though, with part of the last paragraph; I would argue that classical Anglicanism is most certainly Protestant in its own way, and we must be definite about claiming such. Rightly understood in their Reformational senses, Anglicanism holds to all of the major distinctives of Protestantism:

    Sola Scriptura, *rightly understood* in the original sense of Scripture alone having FINAL authority in matters of faith, rather than “nothing-but-Scripture,” which Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli (I would argue) did not affirm.
    Justification by grace through faith, *rightly understood* in the manner you and William Witt have explained through your blogs.
    General priesthood of believers, *rightly understood* as by Luther and Calvin as the sacredness of all vocations, not as a call to individualism, not even as the belief that “we all have personal access to God.”

    That the Anglican divines gave more weight to the Fathers than the other sects of Protestantism should be seen as their distinct approach to the project, not as something distinct altogether. It is often my impression that when you are wary of Protestantism, by and large what you refer to are evangelical excesses, not classical Protestantism itself. I say this because I think it is important for those of a more classical Protestant leaning to reclaim the title.

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