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A Lutheran seminarian eagerly awaiting the return of Our Lord. Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Solo Scriptura and its Dangers for the Catholic Faith

Scripture of the Day: Old Testament-Joshua 3:1-17
New Testament-Acts 9:1-22
Morning Psalm-85
Evening Psalms-25 & 40

Icon of the Day: St. Irenaeus of Lyons (Priest/Pastor)-Day of Commemoration

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Recently Father William Weedon published a weblog discussing the "catholic principle" within Confessional Lutheran circles as discussed by former Lutheran priests, now Orthodox priests, Fathers Hogg and Fenton. The entry is still a point of debate between Lutherans, Orthodox, and those in between.

This is ultimately about the Protestant concept of Sola Scriptura and tradition's role in defining doctrine and practice. While many Protestants have a concept of Sola Scriptura that is literally the fundamentalist, "me and my Bible alone in the woods" mentality, there are other views which have grown up concerning Sola Scriptura, particularly in the Reformed theological tradition. In this view, no doctrine can be made by the church and must have its origin in Scripture. As a result Reformed churches or those with Reformed influences can never become high church without some change in the understanding of Calvin or at most a rejection of some of his points.

For Lutherans, the Book of Concord provides two somewhat conflicting views for "Sola Scriptura." The first is that which is similar to the Reformed, that is, Scripture is the "sole source and norm of doctrine." This was the view made popular in Lutheran circles by the blessed theologian Carl Piepkorn because it was inserted in one of his Christian dogmatics books which became much used (as far as I know about the history of that view).

The second view is that Scripture is the "pure source and norm of doctrine," or the "norma normans." This is the view promulgated in the Formula of Concord and which says effectively that Scripture provides only a critique of doctrine. While it is most good and proper for doctrine to have its origin in the Scriptures, it may not necessarily occur this way.

What is at stake with either of these positions? I would posit that if the first view, the "Solenorm" (if Father Weedon can invent the word "unboxinable," I think I am justified here!) threatens the historical unity of the church, denies the power of the Holy Spirit to operate on Christ's church, and ultimately goes against Christ's promise that the gates of Hell will not overcome His church. While the church is still formed of humans and can and has erred, overall it defends the Apostolic deposit and if true to the Scriptures and to Christ it does not formulate new doctrines from nothing, but builds upon the Scriptures to better understand and teach the ultimate message of salvation: Christ crucified!

Where tradition has been swept aside for those ideas which are seen as "new" or "hip," regardless even of the worship style (though what is said in worship will eventually affect doctrine), the doctrine has lapsed and Scripture itself is seen as a human invention and fallible. In these churches we see all manner of apostasy that would make Luther write another 95 Theses. We know that the historical church has NEVER accepted homosexuality, abortion, syncretism, universalism (not including St. Gregory of Nyssa's view which was never decided on), rampant sexual deviantism among youth, etc. Yet these churches which view all of the church's history with the mind of modern Protestants (that we in the present are smarter than those in the past save the writers of Scripture) have lapsed into heresy and damnation!

Instead let me offer the other view, the "Purenorm," as the answer. If Scripture is the pure source and final norm for doctrine, it guards against a possible hijacking of Scripture by the hierarchy in church authority and the sacramental priesthood (the ordained "called out ones" of the royal priesthood). Similarly, it allows the church to pursue possibilities without having to prove everything from Scripture alone and as a result it guards against heresy from those who read the Bible without a guide. As Father Weedon is very apt to point out from Scripture itself, "no prophecy is of anyone's private interpretation, because prophecy had as its origin in the Holy Spirit." Who better to interpret the Scriptures than the church itself, formed of laity and clergy who all have the Holy Spirit? Certainly one person interpreting all of Scripture for people cannot work because it gives the Papacy, cults, and is contrary to Christ's words that "where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am among them." There is no talk of the one wise man which figures out all of the Scriptures on his own.

Purenorm also has its origin in Scripture, wheras Solenorm does not. Scripture speaks of itself as God-breathed and useful for teaching, instructing, etc. (St. Paul's Second Letter to Timothy, the 3rd Chapter). From this we know only that Scripture is God's Holy and Inerrant Word and is useful for teaching, rebuking, etc. This does not say it alone is to be used for those roles and indeed without a teacher who does the teaching and rebuking?

Let us pray that the purenorm becomes the "norm" and the "solenorm" is crushed like a serpent which threatens to strangle Christ's bride who by God's grace has delivered unto modern Christians the ancient creeds and confessions of faith (which some even in Protestantism reject). Let us pray that the history of the church will be looked at seriously rather than forgotten because tradition becomes minimally important. Let us pray that we hold on to the traditions we have been taught concerning the Scriptures so that we do not become like mainline Protestant denominations and accept Mormonism as a Christian denomination or T.D. Jakes as an orthodox Christian preacher. Today let us remember Irenaeus (a true orthodox Christian preacher) and what he did for the church by God's grace and what he continues to do for the church through his prayers along with all the company of Heaven. Let us emulate his actions and defend the faith against all heresies by God's grace.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son (+), and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Blogger cheryl said...

Hi Chris,

I have a question.

You said, "For Lutherans, the Book of Concord provides two somewhat conflicting views for "Sola Scriptura...The first is that which is similar to the Reformed, that is, Scripture is the "sole source and norm of doctrine."

If the BoC teaches this, aren't we bound to believe it?

8:29 AM  
Blogger William Weedon said...

I think you meant Pieper (the author of Christian Dogmatics) and not Piepkorn, who only wrote shorter (and more excellent!) works.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Chris said...


The BoC teaches the Solenorm without a doubt, but there are times when sole authority over a person's conscience is admittedly given to Scripture alone and not the traditions of the church. Therein lies the tension. I was putting more emphasis on the solesource view because some Lutherans who have a lower view of the Confessions will use them "in so far as they agree" with the Scriptures. We are bound to believe what the BoC teaches, I am not denying that. I am however bringing up some tensions that exist (or maybe it is a paradox we just don't get fully yet) between the two views. I would posit that since Scripture itself never claims to be the sole source of doctrine about God but simply that it is pure and should be the final judge of doctrine as stated in St. Paul's letter to Timothy, it should be treated as the final judge of doctrine. However, this also might set up the Roman view of doctrinal development through the church's life...something which has led to many a damnable doctrine.

This idea would however lend credence to the view that only the Scriptures are to be submitted to if your conscience goes against the church, even if the church's view doesn't go against the Scriptures. That's why I brought up the issues with the mainline churches which have suffered doctrinal abuse when they treated tradition as "adiaphora." When it is just "Solo Scriptura," it doesn't take long before the next generation begins to think of the Bible as outdated and not connected to them as the true Word of God. This happens only because they have severed the cord of Scripture and tradition which connects it to our lives by keeping the Scripture connected with the church.

Father Weedon,

I think you are right....and I have Pieper's "Christian Dogmatics" sitting on my desk in front of me! You could tell it was late when I wrote this :-). Maybe I just like the name "Piepkorn"'s like "Pop corn."

5:49 PM  

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