Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sola Scriptura: Biblical Authority versus Catholic Tradition

"...[T]he [Catholic] Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."

The statement above is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), the official doctrinal organ of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. I quote it here as proof from their own words that Scripture, contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, is not their ultimate source of authority. They confess that they hold their extra-biblical tradition to be of equal authority. I consider this to be a gross equivocation; I believe that they give their tradition superior authority.

With the Reformers, I hold that such an equation is impossible. That is, I would suggest that the Scriptures forbid any comparable authority outside of themselves. Therefore, to claim that tradition is equal to scripture is actually a roundabout repudiation of the authority of scripture. Jesus addressed this issue Himself in two portions of the New Testament.

First, in Matthew 6:24, He said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other." He was explicitly addressing the rule of money, but His principle applies to any dual system of authority.

And second, He criticized the Pharisees for this very act of equivocation, in Mark 7:6-8, "And He said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.'" In almost parallel phrasing, our Lord condemns the very act that the Catholic Church officially endorses!

The scriptures testify to their own sufficiency. II Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." Not "for some good work," thus needing additional revelation, but "for every good work."

That is why the Westminster Confession of Faith I:10 reads, "The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." Someone might object that the Confession is a tradition. And that is certainly true. The principle of sola scriptura doesn't mean the repudiation of all tradition. That would be impossible. Rather, it means that ultimate authority resides in scripture alone; the confession, and all other traditions, are subordinate to the authority of scripture.

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