Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Fathers Did Not Profess To Be The Standard Of Truth



Martin Luther on the Church Fathers:

"The fathers did not want to have anyone believe them if they did not adduce clear Scripture; and the papists do an injustice to the fathers by wanting people to observe all their statements. Nor are they thereby seeking the honor of the fathers, but their own tyranny, that they may lead us out of Scripture, obscure faith, hatch out their own ideas, and become our idols. We should note this rule well.

For thus says St. Augustine, lib. 3. Trin. in prologo: I want to have such readers for my books as I am when I read the books of others: free and unfettered. Again he says, Epist. 8. ad Hieronymum: I do not suppose that you want people to consider your books as books of the prophets and apostles, for I believe that only Holy Scripture does not err. When I read the other books, I do not believe anything to be true just because they have said so; I believe it only if they prove it with clear reasons or from Holy Scripture. Look! Note this well: Augustine wants Scripture in his own and all other books.

Likewise, when St. Jerome relates the opinion of many of his predecessors, he passes this judgment: This is, however, not grounded in Scripture; therefore it is spurned just as readily as it is accepted. Look! Let whoever he may be say what he pleases; if he does not produce proof from Scripture, then you should say: It is spurned just as readily as it is accepted.

St. Hilary says likewise, lib. 2. Trin.: He is the best teacher who does not bring his opinion into the Scripture but brings it out of the Scripture. Likewise at another place: It is not fair to teach anything beyond the limits set by Scripture. Whoever presumes to do so certainly does not understand what he is teaching; or those who hear him do not understand it
."

Source: Luther's comments on Psalm 37:40 (W 8, 238 f—E 39, 134f—SL 5, 336 f) from Ewald Plass (ed.), What Luther Says Vol. 1 (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959) 311.

12 comments:

Churchmouse said...

Good one, Jim.

Yes, Rome puts too much of an emphasis on the Fathers and not enough on Scripture. I do agree with good ol' Brother Martin that they simply want the upper hand in determining truth, but ultimately it results in their truth. I really don't know why Catholics don't seem to get it.

When I read the Fathers, I approach them like I would any Christian writer today and throughout history. It starts with spiritual guidance so, first, I pray. I glean the good things and weigh the rest with Scripture. If I still have questions I weigh them within the writings of the Christian community throughout history--to gain their understanding and wisdom. And, if I still have questions, I get on my knees again and ask for clarity :-) Sometimes I get it, many times I don't, but I throw myself at His mercy. In the grand scheme of things, He is the One who really matters and leads to truth.

I can't remember where I read it, but I distinctly remember Augustine writing something to the extent of: if he did a good job to take it for what its worth, but if someone thinks he did some wrong then he is open to correction. Yet, the way you hear Catholics cite Augustine, you would think he spoke and acted out the infallible truth. Augustine, just like any other Father, was just a man, and his writings, just like any other, is subject to critique within the bounds of Holy Scripture.

Peace,
Ray

Oddball Pastor said...

The RCs should read about how Calvin destroyed them in debate on the basis of patrisitcs...

FM483 said...

I read the comments posted and wanted to add another note. Lutherans have 3 sources for their faith. First, there are the Holy Scriptures, which are the only infallible source of spiritual truth by which all other sources are judged. Second, there are the Lutheran Confessions contained within the Book of Concord, confessed to be 100 percent in accordance with Holy Scripture and a summary of the critical truths contained therein. The third source of data for the Christian faith after the first two are the writings of the early Church Fathers. These are referenced, quoted, and believed,but only in-so-far as they are in accordance with God's Word. For example, the writers of the bible,while maintaining their individual personalities, wrote under inspiration of the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.Hence, these men never erred in their writings. On the other hand, the early Church Fathers were men of faith but who also frequently erred in their beliefs, based upon Holy Writ. While these men were often brilliant in their application of Scripture, one must always compare what they taught and confessed against the norm of the Word of God. These men can often reinforce biblical truths, but can never replace or modify them in the least.

Personally, I have found that the one area in which the Fathers have failed in is in the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. The same errors in interpretation and understanding common to men of all ages have been made by some of these men. This is because they wrote as fallible human beings, not directly under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholic Church has set itself up as the final norm by which everything is judged. Hence, since Roman Catholicism usually cannot distinguish whether God is speaking in Law or Gospel, of course many early Church Fathers will reinforce their unscriptural conclusions.

Anonymous said...

___________________________________
Personally, I have found that the one area in which the Fathers have failed in is in the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.
___________________________________

Yep, all those giants of church history got it wrong, and you got it right.

Churchmouse said...

anonymous said:

Yep, all those giants of church history got it wrong, and you got it right.

Yep, contrary to popular thought, even the "giants of church history" are just as capable of getting it wrong and Frank is just as capable of getting it right :-)

Peace,
Ray

FM483 said...

An Anonymous poster quoted me and responded:

Personally, I have found that the one area in which the Fathers have failed in is in the proper distinction between Law and Gospel.
___________________________________

Yep, all those giants of church history got it wrong, and you got it right.

My Response:

It is all so basic and simple. Either a man is saved by Grace through Faith ALONE,or he isn't. Any Church Father that says a man must add something to the finished work of Christ on the cross is wrong. Any Church Father that quotes a Scripture verse, thinking it confirms his mistaken belief that man must add something to the finished work of Christ, is not properly distinguishing between Law and Gospel. A simple example might suffice: John 3:16 is referred to as "the Gospel in a nutshell", and says "For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son,that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life". Now, Mr. Anonymous, is that verse of Scripture a command from God as to what a man must do in order to have everlasting life? Or, in the context of surrounding verses and the entire revelation from God, is that verse a PROMISE or indicative statement of a fact that believers in Christ INHERIT(not merit) eternal life as adopted children of God simply on account of their FAITH? How a person reads Scripture makes all the difference! A person "living under the Law", a Theologian of Glory,is not able to properly distinguish Law and Gospel. The person "living under the Gospel", the Theologian of the Cross, sees everything through the lens of the finished work of Jesus on the cross as an atonement for the sins of the world. The readings this past week in the LCMS included 2Corinthians chapter 5, verses 14 through 21. Verse 19 tells us that God has already reconciled Himself to the world through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. The questions is, will men resist the Holy Spirit as He creates saving Faith in the hearts of men so that they can receive this gift of Grace communicated through the Word of God(Romans 10:17)?

If you think my viewpoint on Holy Scripture is my own creation, you are mistaken.I stand on the shoulders of giants of Faith, including Church Fathers quoted in the Lutheran Confessions, as well as Luther, Melancthon, Chemnitz, Johann Gerhard, C.F.W. Walther, Francis Pieper, and many modern day theologians such as Tom Baker, host of the KFUO broadcast "Law & Gospel". The Truth is basically simple. It is men who make it all so complicated and difficult to understand, by insisting that the common man cannot grasp deep theological truths and hence must rely on a "magesterium". I challenge you to read the Scripture and test everything to see whether Christ ALONE is the reason for the salvation of any man.

Frank Marron

Anonymous said...

___________________________________
It is all so basic and simple.
___________________________________

How is it then that we have many sincere, but very significant differences of opinion in Christendom? All that you posted above, in the final analysis, is the private, subjective opinion of Frank Marron.

I read on this blog where Ray (Churchmouse) called himself a Calvinist so I suspect that by reading the same simple Scripture he, using his private, subjective opinion, has come to a different concluision than you (I read where you called yourself a Lutheran).

Whose opinion do you suggest I accept as the correct one, yours or Ray's? I, as do all the other sincere followers of Christ, want to worship the Lord in truth, both subjectively, and objectively.

Churchmouse said...

anonymous,

What if I were to tell you that, regardless of my acceptance of Calvinism and Frank's Lutheranism, I agree with every word, jot and tittle, that Frank posted above. What say ye?

The point of Frank's post isn't matters of opinion, but that of allowing Scripture to be your guide and testing all things, including the Fathers, within the confines of it. Either a man is saved by grace to faith ALONE or he isn't and if Church Fathers, or other men, contradict this plain simple truth, claiming that works are salvific or that we must add to salvation, he is wrong. Historically, there are many who are correct in their understanding of this truth, regardless of the tradition they serve under, or the nuances of their accepted soteriologies and theologies. It is grace through faith alone. This is the tie that bonds.

Peace,
Ray

FM483 said...

Anonymous,

There will always be disagreements over some aspect of Christianity as long as we remain in the flesh. There are significant differences within even Roman Catholicism, even if certain sects still insist as being labeled as such. It is amazing to me that there actually is as much similarity within Christianity in general, considering the wide diversity in cultural upbringings and tendencies for man to miscommunicate on any topic.I have seen experiments demonstrating how radically different the interpretaion of a message is as it is passed along verbally from one end of a long line of people to the next. The main tenents of Christianity,including the Incarnation of the Son of God, His life, suffering, death, and resurrection are all confessed by the mainline denominations. The mainline denominations are all united on these issues. When Christ returns there will be perfect agreement and everything will be revealed at last(Colossians 3:1-4). Until that time there will never be perfect agreement! There is no perfect agreement on any subject known to man, whether it be politics,economics, oe theology.

As far as you claiming these viewpoints I have expressed are my private interpretations, they are not. They come primarily through the Church of the Reformation, as expressed in denominations such as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod(LCMS). I note the term "LCMS" because there are wide discrepancies within church bodies that call themselves "Lutheran" - especially within the past 20 years. Some churches may call themselves "Lutheran" and yet do not actually hold to the Lutheran Confessions!The ELCA,for example, has changed dramatically over recent years, becoming increasing liberal theologically,engaging in the ordination of women and openly gay people. How a person reads Scripture makes all the difference. How can verses of Scripture prohibiting such activities be "reinterpreted" after so many years of viewing them exactly opposite? The answer lies in the heart of fallen man,where the tendency is to conform to the world instead of vice versa. This is basic human nature and the desire to avoid persecution for Christ'a sake,etc... My viewpoints on Law and Gospel are summarized quite nicely in a treatise "The Proper Distinction Between Law & Gospel" by C.F.W. Walther, first President of the LCMS. This book is a compilation of lectures he delivered to seminary students in the 1880s in St Louis, collected by students after his death. They contain nothing new but a regurgitation of Holy Scripture as viewed throughout the history of the Christian Church from the viewpoint of the 2 ways God speaks in His Word: Law and Gospel. Check it out some time - you will be impressed and perhaps wonder why many people fail to recognize the obvious. This distinction between Law and Gospel is obvious to me in hindsight, but initially was elusive because all men are born "living under the Law" and are naturally a Theologian of Glory. The cross of Christ is totally foreign to natural man. All reiligions of the world, except orthodox Christianity, are good deeds oriented. Only Christianity is centered upon the work of Christ, not mankind. Christianity, while logical in it's tenets,is usually the opposite of human commonsense thinking. Hence, plain truths are not always easily grasped by the new convert. We may believe immediately in our hearts that Christ died for our sins as we hear the Word of God proclaimed, but our minds take time to be renewed and reprogrammed to catch up with the faith in our hearts. Every believer I meet always confesses that when they get to heaven they will give Christ all the credit for their salvation, but as they expound this heart-faith with their human minds the tendency is to engage in works righteousness thinking!

Frank Marron

Churchmouse said...

Hi Frank,

I haven't forgotten about "The Proper Distinction Between Law & Gospel" by C.F.W. Walther. The more I hear you talk about it, the more I want to read it. Presently, due to time constraints, I haven't gotten through the first chapter of Bainton's book, which I received a few weeks ago, but I am intent on finishing this book and then focusing on Walther's book, but it does sounds like a must-read. I know that anonymous (who I believe is Peter???) would do well to think outside the box and "Prove all things, hold fast to the good"(1Th 5:21)

Peace,
Ray

Anonymous said...

Ray writes:
(who I believe is Peter???)

Me: If it turns out that I find myself participating more with the dialogue, then I will try to come out of my comfort zone and use my real name.

James Swan said...

How is it then that we have many sincere, but very significant differences of opinion in Christendom? All that you posted above, in the final analysis, is the private, subjective opinion of Frank Marron.

Hi Annoymous-

Thanks for stopping by- Are you sure you want to proceed this way? I'm used to these type of philosophic riddles. I'm assuming you're Roman Catholic, and you're certain of your certainty, while we who are not Roman Catholic simply follow our own subjective opinions.

Just let me know if I've got it right, and then I will entertain your comments about certainty.