A friend suggested I do a "Why I am Reformed" post, explaining my transformation to Reformed theology. However, I wasn't sure how to write it, as I didn't want to turn it into another "Oh look at me" testimony kind of thing.
So I decided instead to have my readers send in questions to me, that way it will give me some direction and make it more personal. If you'd like to ask a question, be it friendly, confrontational, or otherwise, feel free to email me at:
Just put "WHY REFORMED?" in the title, with your question in the email body. I'll try to answer them in the finished post in a kind of Q&A fashion, and all questions shall remain anonymous.
A friend suggested I do a "Why I am Reformed" post, explaining my transformation to Reformed theology. However, I wasn't sure how to write it, as I didn't want to turn it into another "Oh look at me" testimony kind of thing.
This is mostly a response to some arguments that have been proposed to me from various areas, regarding my post on Revelation 3:20. I'll go through these responses bit by bit and try to briefly address them as clearly as possible (if you haven't read my original post, I would encourage you do so first, so that you can understand where the responses are coming from).
Objection #1: The text says "anyone." That means anyone! It can't get clearer than that!
Of course, this is falling under the trap of branching a word out from its immediate context. For example, when our Lord tells His disciples "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14), does He literally mean anything? So if I wanted to rob a bank, He would help make it happen? If I want to ask God to kill someone's child because I don't like kids, is God going to do it simply because I asked? Could we honestly say that anything means literally anything within the full context of this verse? Of course not.
Let me give a parable to explain this point further. Suppose there is a man who gets a job on a military base, and works at a building with tighter security than most buildings on the post. You need an identification and special key card to get inside, and human guards have to approve you to let you in. If you have neither cards and the guards don't recognize you, you can't get in. Now imagine there's a food court for employees inside the building. A newly hired employee gets in and, seeing the food court, is unsure if anyone can eat there, or if it's only for special people. A fellow employee tells him, "Oh, don't worry, anyone can eat there." The newly hired employee is happy, and later tells a friend about it. The friend, hearing the words "anyone can eat there," decides he wants to eat at the food court too. So he goes to the building and, upon walking in, is promptly rejected by the guards. Flabbergasted, the friend declares, "But I was told anyone can eat at the food court!"
Of course, the friend's dilemma is exactly the same dilemma as those who do not understand why "anyone" in Revelation 3:20 can't literally apply to anyone in the world: context, context, context. The new hired employee had meant that anyone among the employees could eat at the food court. Likewise, Christ is referring to anyone within the church who answers the knocking at the door.
Objection #2: You can't say it's prophetic language when it's spoken of in the present tense. Christ is knocking in the here and now and expecting and answer.
Christ does indeed speak of knocking on the door in the present tense, rather than speaking in the future tense as he does elsewhere in the previous chapters. However, only the action is in the present tense, whereas the desired response has yet to be initiated. If Christ were speaking in our modern tongue, He might say, "All right, I've made the move - the ball's in your court now." This response would, of course, be in a future tense.
Also to be taken into consideration is that the result of the decision (the entering of Christ and the dining together) speaks of the supper of the lamb, which throughout all of scripture is always in reference to the day of judgment and the blessing of the saints with eternal life. This is a future event. Both the verbs "come in" and "dine" are future tense verbs in the original Greek.
Objection #3: This doesn't have any similarity with other judgment passages regarding the second coming, so you can't possibly compare it to the "master returning" parables told by the Lord in the gospels.
On the contrary, we find a great similarity in Luke's gospel:
"Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves." [Luke 12:35-38; NASB]In fact, I had cited this verse in my original post, although it seems to have either been ignored or not checked carefully.
Objection #4: Why can't it mean anyone other than believers?
Because that is not the real context. If you want to quote this verse in a different context but using similar language, very well - but you can't make the claim that this is what the text actually says, because that would be simply erroneous. Christ is not addressing those outside the church, but those within the church.
Come, Desire of nations come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the Woman's conquering Seed,
Bruise in us the Serpent's head.
Adam's likeness now efface:
Stamp Thine image in its place;
Second Adam, from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,
Glory to the Newborn King.
The good men at White Horse Inn, at the Desiring God conference, discuss the dangers of making the Bible and Biblical stories far too relevant to our individual lives. You can find the link here.
In Romans 7:24-25, the apostle Paul declared: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin" (NASB).
The following is taken from Charles Spurgeon's sermon on these two verses.
And now, turning aside for a minute, I shall conclude by making an observation or two to many now present. There are some here who say, "I am never disturbed in that fashion." Then I am sorry for you. I will tell you the reason of your false peace. You have not the grace of God in your hearts. If you had you would surely find this conflict within you. Do not despise the Christian because he is in the conflict, despise yourself because you are out of it. The reason why the devil lets you alone is, that he knows you are his. He does not need to trouble you much now; he will have time enough to give you your wages as the last. He troubles the Christian because he is afraid of losing him; he thinks that if he does not tease him here, he shall never have the chance to do it in eternity, so he will bite him, and bark at him while he may. That is why the Christian is vexed more then you are. As for you, you may well be without any pain, for dead men feel no blows. You may well be without prickings of conscience; for men that are corrupt are not likely to feel wounds, though you stab them from head to foot. I pity your condition, for the worm that dieth not is preparing to feed upon you; the eternal vulture of remorse shall soon wet his horrid beak with the blood of your soul. Tremble; for the fires of hell are hot and unquenchable, and the place of perdition is hideous beyond a madman's dream. Oh that you would think of your last end. The Christian may have an evil present, but he has a glorious future; but your future is the blackness of darkness for ever. I adjure you by the living God, you that fear not Christ, consider your ways. You and I must give an account for this morning's service. You are warned, men; you are warned. Take heed to yourselves, that ye think not this life to be everything. There is a world to come; there is "after death the judgment." If you fear not the Lord, there is after judgment eternal wrath and everlasting misery.
And now a word to those who are seeking Christ. "Ah!" says one, "sir, I have sought Christ, but I feel worse than I ever was in my life. Before I had any thoughts about Christ I felt myself to be good, but now I feel myself to be evil." It is all right, my friend; I am glad to hear you say so. When surgeons heal a patient's wound, they always take care to cut away the proud flesh, because the cure can never be radical while the proud flesh remains. The Lord is getting rid of your self-confidence and self-righteousness. He is just now revealing to your soul the deadly cancer which is festering within you. You are on the sure road to healing, if you are on the way to wounding. God wounds before he heals; he strikes a man dead in his own esteem before he makes him alive. "Ah," cries one, "but can I hope that I ever shall be delivered?" Yes, my brother, if you now look to Christ. I care not what your sin nor what your despair of heart; if you will only turn your eye to him who bled upon the tree, there is not only hope for you, but there is a certainty of salvation. I myself, while thinking over this subject, felt a horror of great darkness rush over my spirit, as I thought what danger I was in lest I should be defeated, and I could not get a glimpse of light into my burdened spirit, until I turned my eye, and saw my Master hanging on the tree. I saw the blood still flowing; faith laid hold upon the sacrifice, and I said, "This cross is the instrument of Jesu's victory, and shall be the means of mine." I looked to his blood; I remembered that I was triumphant in that blood, and I rose from my meditations, humbled, but yet rejoicing; cast down, but not in despair; looking for the victory. Do likewise. "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners: believe that. You are an awakened, conscious and penitent sinner; therefore, he came to save you. Believe his word; trust him. Do nothing for your own salvation of yourself, but trust him to do it. Cast yourself simply and only on him; and, as this Bible is true, you shall not find the promise fail you—"He that seeketh findeth; to him that knocketh it shall be opened."
May God help you, by giving you this new life within! May he help you to look to Jesus, and though long and hard be the conflict, sweet shall be the victory. [source]
Found this courtesy of my sister in Christ Shari, who by the way has a nice blog that is worth checking out. The following deals with some common misconceptions behind the popular images of the Nativity, but in a tasteful way.
The following from A.W. Pink's Doctrine of Justification.
Justification, then, refers not to any subjective change wrought in a person’s disposition, but is solely an objective change in his standing in relation to the law. That to justify cannot possibly signify to make a person inherently righteous or good is most clearly to be seen from the usage of the term itself in Scripture. For example, in Proverbs 17:15 we read, “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD”: now obviously he who shall make a “wicked” person just is far from being an “abomination to the LORD,” but he who knowingly pronounces a wicked person to be righteous is obnoxious to Him.
Again; in Luke 7:29 we read, “And all the people that heard Him, and the publicans, justified God”: how impossible it is to make the words “justified God” signify any moral transformation in His character; but understand those words to mean that they declaredHim to be righteous, and all ambiguity is removed. Once more, in 1 Timothy 3:16 we are told that the incarnate Son was “justified in (or “by”) the Spirit”: that is to say, He was publicly vindicated at His resurrection, exonerated from the blasphemous charges which the Jews had laid against Him.
Justification has to do solely with the legal side of salvation. It is a judicial term, a word of the law courts. It is the sentence of a judge upon a person who has been brought before him for judgment. It is that gracious act of God as Judge, in the high court of Heaven, by which He pronounces an elect and believing sinner to be freed from the penalty of the law, and fully restored unto the Divine favour. It is the declaration of God that the party arraigned is fully conformed to the law; justice exonerates him because justice has been satisfied. Thus, justification is that change of status whereby one, who being guilty before God, and therefore under the condemning sentence of His Law, and deserving of nought but an eternal banishment from His presence, is received into His favour and given a right unto all the blessings which Christ has, by His perfect satisfaction, purchased for His people. . . .
From what has been before us, we may perceive what justification is not. First, it differs from regeneration. “Whom He called, them He also justified” (Rom. 8:30). Though inseparably connected, effectual calling or the new birth and justification are quite distinct. The one is never apart from the other, yet they must not be confounded. In the order of nature regeneration precedes justification, though it is in no sense the cause or ground of it: none is justified till he believes, and none believe till quickened. Regeneration is the act of the Father (James 1:18), justification is the sentence of the Judge. The one gives me a place in God’s family, the other secures me a standing before His throne. The one is internal, being the impartation of Divine life to my soul: the other is external, being the imputation of Christ’s obedience to my account. By the one I am drawn to return in penitence to the Father’s house, by the other I am given the “best robe” which fits me for His presence.
Second, it differs from sanctification. Sanctification is moral or experimental, justification is legal or judicial. Sanctification results from the operation of the Spirit in me, justification is based upon what Christ has done for me. The one is gradual and progressive, the other is instantaneous and immutable. The one admits of degrees, and is never perfect in this life; the other is complete and admits of no addition. The one concerns my state, the other has to do with my standing before God. Sanctification produces a moral transformation of character, justification is a change of legal status: it is a change from guilt and condemnation to forgiveness and acceptance, and this solely by a gratuitous act of God, founded upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, through the instrument of faith alone. Though justification is quite separate from sanctification, yet sanctification ever accompanies it.
Third, it differs from forgiveness. In some things they agree. It is only God who can forgive sins (Mark 2:7) and He alone can justify (Rom. 3:30). His free grace is the sole moving cause in the one (Eph. 1:7) and of the other (Rom. 3:24). The blood of Christ is the procuring cause of each alike: Matthew 26:28, Romans 5:9. The objects are the same: the persons that are pardoned are justified, and the same that are justified are pardoned; to whom God imputes the righteousness of Christ for their justification to them He gives the remission of sins; and to whom He does not impute sin, but forgives it, to them He imputes righteousness without works (Romans 4:6–8). Both are received by faith (Acts 26:18, Romans 5:1). But though they agree in these things, in others they differ.
God is said to be “justified” (Rom. 3:4), but it would be blasphemy to speak of Him being “pardoned”—this at once shows the two things are diverse. A criminal may be pardoned, but only a righteous person can truly be justified. Forgiveness deals only with a man’s acts, justification with the man himself. Forgiveness respects the claims of mercy, justification those of justice. Pardon only remits the curse due unto sin; in addition justification confers a title to Heaven. Justification applies to the believer with respect to the claims of the law, pardon with respect to the Author of the law. The law does not pardon, for it knows no relaxation; but God pardons the transgressions of the law in His people by providing a satisfaction to the law adequate to their transgressions. The blood of Christ was sufficient to procure pardon (Eph. 1:7), but His righteousness is needed for justification (Rom. 5:19). Pardon takes away the filthy garments, but justification provides a change of raiment (Zech. 3:4). Pardon frees from death (2 Sam. 12:13), but righteousness imputed is called “justification of life” (Rom. 5:18). The one views the believer as completely sinful, the other as completely righteous. Pardon is the remission of punishment, justification is the declaration that no ground for the infliction of punishment exists. Forgiveness may be repeated unto seventy times seven, justification is once for all. [source]
A common passage from the Roman Catholic Catechism often used by Roman Catholics to present a kind of semi-universalism is from the section regarding Muslims:
841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."Let's review this statement bit by bit, and review the various strengths and weaknesses of it.
The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims...What is the "plan of salvation"? Is it not the gospel (Eph 1:13), from wherein we learn that the Good Shepherd, by the will of the Father, laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11, 18), that all given by the Father to behold the Son will never be lost nor be cast out (John 6:39-40)? This Christian plan of salvation is one centered around Christ and His salvific sacrifice on the cross.
Therefore, to say that the plan of salvation includes those who acknowledge "the Creator" seems very vague and universalist in its approach. Many religions outside of Judeo-Christian tradition and Islam could be said to believe in a "creator," but the question then is who is that creator and how do we identify him? Likewise, where in this "plan of salvation" is there room for Christ and His cross, or a declaration in faith in Christ? The true plan of salvation involves a very specific Creator, and therefore the identification of this Creator is a very important matter.
That brings us to the next point.
...these profess to hold the faith of Abraham...Note something: Muslims profess to hold the faith of Abraham. That is true, Muslims do claim to be in line with Jews and Christians, and that they worship the same God they do, but the question is: is that true? Some have said that the Catechism is trying to exactly make this very simple point: the Muslim claim to hold the faith of Abraham is merely a profession. If this is true, I personally believe any further publications of the Catechism should clarify this point further. I say this because, in the following section, this argument is hurt by these words:
...and together with us they adore the one, merciful God...Do they? Both Christians and Muslims are monotheists, yes, but does that mean they worship the same God?
Let's stop and think for a moment how both Muslims and Christians define God: Muslims are inherently unitarians who believe God is one being and one person; Christians are Trinitarians who believe that God is one Being revealed through three distinct Persons. Within this body of Persons are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the Son is Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word. This second Person in the Trinity is believed by Muslims to have simply been a man and a mere prophet, not divine. They deny He is God.
Many respond to this fact with a kind of "two out of three ain't bad" mentality, but the fact is each Person within the Trinity represents the fullness of God's divinity, and to deny one is to deny them all. To deny the divinity of Christ is to deny the Godhead entire. The apostle Paul wrote that "in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells" (Col 2:9), signifying that to deny the Deity of Christ is to deny the very Deity of God. As I've written before, the Trinity is not a buffet: you don't get to pick and choose which parts of the Trinity you want to believe and which you don't; it's all or nothing.
Some key passages in regards to the truth of Solus Christus in scripture.
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." [John 14:6; NASB]Muslims therefore do not worship with Christians the one true God, because they (Muslims) deny the very revelation of God's Being as God has revealed it to His people. They deny the divinity of the Son and the Personhood of the Holy Spirit. Just to remind everyone about the beliefs taught within the Muslim's own holy book:
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" [John 11:25-26]
"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." [Acts 4:12]
- The Trinity is a damnable heresy (S. 5:73)
- The Trinity is a lie (S. 5:74)
- Christ is not divine, and any one who says so, according to the own words of "Jesus", is lying (S. 5:116-117)
- Christ was merely a prophet (S. 5:75)
- Christ did not die on the cross (S. 4:157)
...mankind's judge on the last day.It is indeed true that Muslims and Christians both believe that God will judge men in a great day of judgment and eternal life. The problem is the God of Islam will not judge Christians the way Christians will expect Him to judge them:
They do blaspheme who say: "Allah is Christ the son of Mary." But said Christ: "O Children of Israel! worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." Whoever joins other gods with Allah,- Allah will forbid him the garden, and the Fire will be his abode. There will for the wrong-doers be no one to help. [S. 5:74; Yusuf Ali; emphasis mine]According to Islam, Christians will be condemned to hell for their belief in the Trinity. If this is the "one, merciful God" which the Catechism claims both Muslims and Christians worship, then we are to believe that God is a sadist, creating Islam and Christianity and letting them go at each other like a brute child wiles up red and black ants against one another.
They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them. [S. 5:73; emphasis mine]
As offensive as this might be to some people, the Roman Catholic Catechism is absolutely, positively dead wrong on this issue.
The following is meant as a simple and brief response to some common objections to sola scriptura that exist, particularly those floating around the internet. It's not meant to be a complete defense, and is partially meant to likewise address the inconsistencies stemming from some criticism of sola scriptura.
Before we begin, let's provide an accurate definition of sola scriptura, so that we have some basis of which to draw from, beginning with what sola scriptura is not. The teaching of sola scriptura is not some old man sitting behind a pulpit and banging a Bible against it like an angry monkey with a rock and screaming, "This is all I need! No church no nothin'!" It is not a Joe Shmoe off the street buying a Bible, opening it up, and being instantaneously able to write a multi-volumed systematic theology.
Sola scriptura does not necessarily condemn Christian antiquity, church authority or mere tradition in a sweeping fashion; what it does teach is the idea that creeds, confessions, extra-apostolic writings and individual systematic theologies must be held to one supreme standard: the Word of God.
But the Reformers did not intend by that phrase [sola scriptura] to claim that Scripture was the only religious authority; rather, they uniformly held it to be the supreme authority. It stood alone as the only unquestioned authority. The Reformers had tested the other claimants to religious authority and found them all wanting...But all the Protestant Reformers looked with respect and admiration on Christian antiquity - specifically on the church fathers, the ancient creeds and the doctrinal decrees of of the ecumenical councils - and acknowledged a subordinate religious authority inhering in them. [Payton, James R. Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings, pg. 156]Another quote:
Sola scriptura literally means, "Scripture alone." Unfortunately, this phrase tends to be taken in the vein of "Scripture in isolation, Scripture outside of the rest of God's work in the church." That is not its intended meaning; again, it means "Scripture alone as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church"...A rule of faith is hat which governs and guides what we believe and why. [White, James. Scripture Alone, pg. 27-28; all emphasis in original]Authority stems solely in the Word of God, and it is by this authority that all other supposed authorities must be tested. To give a brief quote on this subject:
Genuine authority realizes that it can exist only in the service of Him who alone has authority...The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd. [Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Living Together, pg. 109]To summarize: sola scriptura is the belief that scripture and scripture alone is the sole, infallible rule of faith for the Christian to live by, and while there may exist other authorities or documents in the Christian life, all must be held to the standard set by the Holy Text. With this in mind, let's review some common objections to the doctrine of sola scriptura.
Objection #1: Sola scriptura causes divisions - look at the thousands of Protestant sects!
The main problem with this objection is that it is based on an assumption: the sects existent within Protestantism today are because of sola scriptura. In many ways, it's an example of the post hoc fallacy: "After sola scriptura was introduced, all these groups came into being, therefore the problem must be sola scriptura." This argument is often simply made in a bold, cavalier fashion, with no demonstration of the argument's validity (oftentimes probably because the person making it simply heard it from somewhere else).
One would be challenged, however, to find sects that exist solely because two people disagreed over an exegesis of a passage. Many sects, such as the Methodists breaking away from the Anglicans, happened for reasons that were more political than religious; many more sects, such as the Evangelical Methodists breaking away from the United Methodists, happened because the leadership was falling away and not following scripture (and therefore those breaking away were merely following Romans 16:17). Some sects, such as the Presbyterians, exist not from conflict but historical factors (Presbyterians originating simply in the Reformed Christians of Scotland). Few of these occurred because two people got together and said, "Well you see this verse one way and I see it another, so let's just split!"
Another problem with this argument is that, on the other spectrum, unity among the "apostolic" faiths is not perfect: among those who claim to source themselves to the apostles are the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Coptics, and various Eastern Christian sects. Were these divisions because of sola scriptura as well? If not, why then do they exist? If they exist for reasons beyond interpretations of scripture (and the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox certainly do interpret some passages differently) then why does this standard not extend to Protestantism as well? The fact is, there are divisions among the "apostolic" churches as well as Protestant churches. Those Orthodox or Catholics who gleefully quote 1 Timothy 3:15 and declare that the church is the pillar of truth must then be asked, "Which 'apostolic' church do you believe that pillar of truth to be?
Likewise, those who belong to "apostolic" faiths and yet would claim that their fellow "apostolic" brethren are still brothers in Christ show yet another inconsistency when it comes to attacking the divisions within Protestantism, where many still call themselves brothers in Christ along denominational lines. Those who carry the mantra "Christ founded one church!" to claim that their individual church is the true "apostolic church" must then backtrack to admit that other "apostolic" churches were founded by Christ as well. This despite the fact that none of these churches are in full communion with one another. To ignore the divisions among non-Protestant churches while attacking the divisions within Protestants churches is but a sign of double standards.
All in all, one would almost imagine that divisions simply exist because of the war that rages in our members (cf. James 4:1), and not sola scriptura.
Objection #2: The phrase sola scriptura is never explicitly stated in the Bible.
Bluntly put, this is a silly argument. The word "Trinity" is not found in scripture either, and yet it is clearly revealed in scripture to be a truth. It is very similar to the Muslim declaration fallacy which demands that Christ state "I am God" in the New Testament to prove His divinity. We do not need a term to be present in order to demonstrate its definition.
Objection #3: The teaching of sola scriptura is never found in the Bible.
The importance and supreme authority of scripture is consistently found throughout the Bible. From the Old Testament, we find the Psalmist writing on the importance of scripture as a guide:
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. [Psalm 119:9]From the prophet Isaiah we find a command regarding the authority scripture has over spiritual and religious matters:
When they say to you, "Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter," should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. [Isaiah 8:19-20]And again, regarding the power of scripture and God's control over it:
"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:10-11]In the context of the New Testament, Christ often used scripture against those who came with philosophical or tradition-driven questions: He quoted scripture against their protest of the disciples' picking wheat on the sabbath (Matt 12:3-5; Luke 6:3-4); He used scripture to answer a question about divorce (Matt 19:4-5); He quoted scripture when they did not see the full scope of the parable of the wicked vine-growers (Matt 21:42; Mark 12:10); He accused the Sadducees of not understanding the scriptures (Matt 22:29; Mark 12:24), and quoted further scripture to illustrate this (Matt 22:31-32); He stated that the scriptures testified about who He was (John 5:39); He used scripture against the Pharisaical protest of His use of "Son of God" (John 10:34-35). When often asked questions, Christ asked the person to recite their scripture for an answer: for example, the lawyer regarding eternal life (Luke 10:25-27).
The importance of a scripture was also displayed in Acts: it was often said that all that happened was so that scripture might be fulfilled (Acts 3:18, 13:32-34); Luke accounts that Paul's custom was to go into a synagogue and reason to the Jews from the scriptures, from which He gave "evidence of Christ" (Acts 17:2-3); when the Bereans were confronted by the preaching of Paul, they searched the scriptures to verify it was true, and from this many came to believe (Acts 17:11-12); at the Council of Jerusalem, James not only agreed with what Peter and the brothers had said, but verified it with scripture to show its prophetic nature (Acts 15:13-18).
The most famous and oft-quoted passage of scripture in this regard is found in Paul's epistles:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17]Just before this passage, Paul had told Timothy that "from childhood you have known the sacred writings" (referring to the education by his mother and grandmother; 2 Tim 1:5), and states that the scripture is "able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 3:15). As Paul explains to his spiritual son, the education and teaching of salvation is inherently found in the scriptures and in the scriptures alone.
In addition, it is worth noting that the phrase translated as "inspired by God" is actually a single Greek word: θεόπνευστος, or "God-breathed." In other words, the scripture is literally breathed out by God, and is the word of the Lord speaking to the churches even today. This special title is given to no other authority in all of holy writ except scripture itself.
Many will interject here with, "But didn't tradition and customs have some role in the apostolic church?" Yes, but it is never placed on so high a level as scripture, nor could it. For example, many quote Paul's reference to a Jewish tradition regarding the names of Pharaoh's magicians (2 Tim 3:8), but this is no different than a Christian referring to the belief that Paul was beheaded. A person can live and die and not lose salvation if they do not know the names of Pharaoh's magicians or what became of Paul after Acts 28, and therefore the knowledge itself is not paramount. Also note that one does lose the meaning of the stories in Exodus or Acts if a person does not know either fact. This information is therefore not complimentary with scripture, but secondary.
Likewise, we see again contradictions between "unwritten traditions" of the various "apostolic" churches. Roman Catholics will claim Purgatory, papal infallibility/supremacy, and various other dogmas as unwritten tradition, whereas most non-Roman Catholic churches deny all of them. Some (though not all) Eastern Orthodox will support Aerial Toll Houses as unwritten tradition while this belief cannot be found in other "apostolic" churches. Yet the majority of apostolic churches believe a good portion of their traditions, dogma or not, to have come from the apostolic period, even if nothing is recorded of them until hundreds of years after the time of Acts (example: the bodily assumption of Mary). Whereas we have an infallible source of written authority within sacred scripture, there is no infallible source of unwritten authority in any church. It is always simply circularly assumed that the individual church's unwritten traditions are infallibly true.
Objection #4: You need a teaching authority to understand scripture.
This is partially true: there is a need, within the religious community, for a guide to scripture and what scripture teaches. That is why the church is here: as a tool of God for the give sound guidance and teaching and instruction for the people of God. That the church is a presence within the Christian community is not at all something that sola scriptura dismisses.
The question is how much infallible authority is then placed on the church, especially when we make demands for a "teaching authority." As we saw in Objection #3, the only infallible teaching authority given in scripture is scripture itself, being the God-breathed commands and records of the Lord. Nowhere is this authority given to an entity or a body of leaders, save perhaps for the original apostles themselves. Yet if we claim that the leaders of today's "apostolic" churches are inerrant and granted knowledge by the Holy Spirit, then we must ignore the errors from those in the past (such as Nestorius or various Roman popes) who held "apostolic" positions yet taught great error. It is also inconsistent with the title of "apostle" within scripture: only Christ made apostles, not men.
What sola scriptura does uphold is that our teaching authority is the holy scriptures itself, and it is by this that churches are bound. As I said in another post, a church which exercises authority should take care to discern if it is exercising authority for the sake of who they are, or for the sake of the dignity of God's word.
Many using this argument will attempt to say that the only reason we know that the scriptures are what they are is by the authority of an "apostolic" church. However, this is an argument that has only come about in recent times, as seen at a Roman Catholic council from nearly a century-and-a-half ago:
These books the Church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the Church. [First Vatican Council, Session 3, Ch. 2, 7; emphasis mine]The Holy Scripture is not dependent upon a fallible institution to declare itself to be holy - just as God is holy by His mere existence, so is His word holy because of its primary source.
On this subject, I think one question that rarely gets discussed is under what focus do we regard the development of scripture: theological, spiritual, or ecclesiastical? I would move that it is primarily both theological and spiritual, and secondarily ecclesiastical. What do I mean by this?
We've already established that scripture is identified as θεόπνευστος, or that which is literally breathed from God. In this manner, scripture is direct revelation from God, and is given by God to His people for their guidance and instruction; the issue of scripture is a spiritual one. Furthermore, flowing from the same thinking regarding scripture's inspiration, if we we are to say that God knew what He was going to tell His people throughout the 1500 years of the Bible's development, then it only follows that He would make sure that His people would receive that scripture. Unless we are going to go the route of Muslims, who believe the scripture was tarnished sometime afterward, and say that it's possible for God to lose His revelation in written format, we have to confess that the preservation and identification of scripture is upheld by God Himself. The issue, then, is also a theological one as well.
In regards to ecclesiastical, it cannot be denied that the activity of individual churches to preserve and care of the manuscripts and traditions of scripture, but this was as a tool used by God and not the sole source of scripture's preservation and identification. Those who would jump to councils that discussed scripture forget that the first ecumenical council to discuss the canon of scripture was the Council of Trent in the 16th century. For Roman Catholics, it took 1500 years for "the church" to recognize what was canon, and for the Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, and other "apostolic" churches, no ecumenical council has infallibly identified canon, save for some local councils which, by practice, do not hold sway over the church entire (otherwise we would have to accept the pro-Arian councils held during the Arian resurgence).
The fact is, God was in control of His Word: how it was given, transmitted, and preserved. Therefore, the matter is primarily theological and spiritual and only secondarily ecclesiastical.
Objection #5: The greatest heretics in history believed in "scripture alone."
The immediate problem with this argument is that it leads to an unavoidable assumption: does scripture, then, teach the existing heresies? There are many who say that Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses believe in sola scriptura - yet are we then arguing that scripture does teach Mormonism and the teachings of the Watchtower Society? If we say yes, we make scripture unclear and therefore God is an imperfect source of revelation. If we say no, then we confess that the heresies are not following sola scriptura, because they are not following what scripture says. In fact, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and many other organizations are hardly sola scriptura as they believe in an infallible governing authority which dictates what they are to believe. They are therefore, in terms of church authority versus scriptural authority, much closer to Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox than they are Protestants.
Many heretics, in fact, had great favor within the church itself, and therefore had ecclesiastical support behind them that did not rely on scripture. Arius is a famous example, as at one point he and his teachings held great standing within the church and much of the Roman Empire. Indeed, there would have been no Athanasius contra mundum unless there was a mundum to be contra. The world (including most of the church) was against Athanasius, but he persevered in what he knew were scriptural truths.
Objection #6: You need patristics to be put alongside scripture for greater understanding.
The study of Christian history and the teachings of the Church Fathers are indeed important - the question, again, is how much authority is placed on them. Many argue that patristics are to be given the same authority of scripture, as both come from the same source (that is, the church as an entity). The problem with this argument is that it is flawed in regards to the source: the holy scriptures were written by the God-breathed apostles, whereas patristics are sourced to men who were religious but likewise fallible (and I believe they would all agree with me in calling them that).
On that same note, it must be remembered that there exist differences among the teachings of the Fathers, as well as different emphasis. Many times these differences became apparent even in their own writings, such as Photios' writing against the filioque which many Latin Fathers taught, or Thomas Aquinas correcting the views of men like John Chrysostom 1. This is why it is often emphasized that patristics have to be studied and it then must be discerned where they all agreed. The amazing thing is one could easily do the same with the writings of Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards or Hodge, and therefore such methodology is not isolated to patristics.
In any case, it is emphasized here that patristics must come after a sorting of what should be believed and what should not 2. My immediate question from this fact: is this ever done with scripture? While you might hear a priest say, "Listen to these teachings of John Chrysostom over the teachings of Gregory of Nyssa in the same area," do we ever hear someone loyal to scripture say, "Listen to these teachings of Paul over the teachings of Jude in the same area." Unless you're in a liberal, heretical church, that simply isn't heard. Yet we are expected to place fallible teachings that may contain error on the same level as the God-breathed, infallible scripture.
Many will interject here that patristics serves as a guide to scripture, otherwise it will not be fully understood. Yet even here we fall into a trap: are we saying that scripture is unclear? If we say so, then we again inadvertently claim that God's word is unclear, and God is incapable of explaining Himself. Charles Spurgeon once said that scripture was like a lion: you have no need to defend it, you simply open the cage and let it defend itself. Yet many would propose that the lion is sick and weakly and in need of defense.
1 A quotation: Further, Chrysostom (Hom. xlv in Matth.) expounding the text: "Behold thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking thee," says: "It is clear that they did this from mere vain glory." Again, on Jn. 2:3: "They have no wine," the same Chrysostom says that "she wished to do them a favor, and raise herself in their esteem, by means of her Son: and perchance she succumbed to human frailty, just as did His brethren when they said: 'Manifest Thyself to the world.'"...In those words Chrysostom goes too far. [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, TP, Q27, A4; source; emphasis mine]
2 "But as with local councils, so with the Fathers, the judgment of the Church is selective: individual writers have at times fallen into error and at times contradict one another. Patristic wheat needs to be distinguished from Patristic chaff." [page 204; Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. Second Edition]
One of my favorite Christmas carols growing up was the song "What Child is This?" It tells of the birth of Jesus, and in its purest form goes like this (to the tune of "Greensleeves"):
What Child is this, who, laid to restI first came across it as a ten-year old, finding it in a beautifully illustrated Christmas carol book my family had. I fell so in love with it that I memorized the lyrics and practiced the tune on the clarinet. Perhaps therefore people could forgive me when I was utterly shocked that, attending a Catholic Christmas mass that year, they played that song...and changed the words! The chorus of the first part replaced the chorus of the next two parts. I was shocked even more when I heard a Vanessa Williams version of the song that completely took out the second part.
On Mary's lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing.
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Why lies He in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here,
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through,
The Cross be borne, for me, for you.
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh;
Come peasant, king, to own Him.
The King of Kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise, the song on high,
The Virgin sings her lullaby:
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!
This latter point - the removal of the second part - seems to be the most common change made to the carol. One can only wonder why this is...perhaps the most obvious is, at the risk of drawing a hasty conclusion, the inclusion of the description of the crucifixion. One rarely hears of nails and spears piercing someone through in a Christmas song. I was originally going to focus this post entirely on the carol and the second part, but my mind (as it often does) began to wander around the point, and I began to think harder on this issue. Namely, how we seem to focus solely on one aspect of our Blessed Lord's life.
The fullness of Christ is the fullness of His life. He was the Incarnate Word born into our sinful flesh, Who lived a pure and blessed life, Who suffered as the sacrificial lamb, and Who rose again to free us from the death that separated us from God. Due to our natural habit of thinking in limited terms, it's quite easy to fall into the trap of limiting our acknowledgment of Christ's life. Doing so, however, limits our understanding of Christ. If we can forget about the crucifixion at Easter, it's only easy enough for us to forget about it at Christmas.
It is a pity this is lost in the marketed atmosphere that has become the music world. Millions hear a carol in an edited form, and not because the carol or individual singers are at fault, but because our society as a whole is focused on forgetting that which is important and spiritually edifying. Yes, it may not be "nice" for us to remember that in thirty years that little baby we see in the manger looking so sweet and innocent will be a man beaten, spit upon, mocked, and crucified...but it will be salvific.
The only popular version of the song that I have heard in complete form is the version sung by the very talented Johnny Mathis. I'll give Johnny the last word.
The following is from the Table Talk of Martin Luther.
I expect more goodness from my wife Kate, from Philip Melancthon, and from other friends, than from my sweet and blessed Savior Christ Jesus; and yet I know for certain, that neither she nor any other person on earth will or can suffer that for me which He has suffered. Why then should I be afraid of Him? This, my foolish weakness, grieves me very much. We plainly see in the Gospel how mild and gentle He showed Himself towards His disciples; how kindly He passed over their weakness, their presumption, yea, and their foolishness. He checked their unbelief, and in all gentleness admonished them. Moreover, the Scripture, which is most sure, says: "Well are all they that put their trust in him." Fie on our unbelieving hearts, that we should be afraid of this man, who is more loving, friendly, gentle and compassionate towards us than are our kindred, our brethren and sisters; yea, than parents themselves are towards their own children. He that has such temptations, let him be assured, it is not Christ, but the envious devil that affrights, wounds and would destroy him; for Christ comforts, heals and revives.
Oh! His grace and goodness towards us are so immeasurably great that without great assaults and trials, they cannot be understood. If the tyrants and false brethren had not set themselves so fiercely against me, my writings and proceedings, then should I have vaunted myself too much of my poor gifts and qualities; nor should I with such fervency of heart have directed my prayers to God for His divine assistance. I should not have ascribed all to God's grace, but to my own dexterity and power, and so should have flown to the devil.
But to the end this might be prevented, my gracious Lord and Savior Christ caused me to be chastised; He ordained that the devil should plague and torment me with his fiery darts inwardly and outwardly though tyrants, as the pope and other heretics, and all this He suffered to be done for my good. "It is good for me that I have been in trouble, that I may learn your statutes." [CCXXXI]