Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Calvin: Which Came first? Scripture or the Church?


"But a most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men!"

"But such wranglers are neatly refuted by just one word of the apostle. He testifies that the church is 'built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles' [Ephesians 2:20]. If the teaching of the prophets and apostles is the foundation, this must have had authority before the church began to exist. Groundless, too, is their subtle objection that, although the church took its beginning here, the writings to be attributed to the prophets and apostles nevertheless remain in doubt until decided by the church. For if the Christian church was from the beginning founded upon the writings of the prophets and the preaching of the apostles, wherever this doctrine is found, the acceptance of it — without which the church itself would never have existed — must certainly have preceded the church.

It is utterly vain, then, to pretend that the power of judging Scripture so lies with the church that its certainty depends upon churchly assent. Thus, while the church receives and gives its seal of approval to the Scriptures, it does not thereby render authentic what is otherwise doubtful or controversial. But because the church recognizes Scripture to be the truth of its own God, as a pious duty it unhesitatingly venerates Scripture. As to their question — How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church? —it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste."

Source: Calvin's Institutes I.7.1-2

15 comments:

orthodox said...

Calvin is confused.

His first point is fine: the church is built on the apostles.

His next assertion, that the acceptance of scripture must have preceded the church is a subtle bait and switch.

Yes, the apostolic teachings preceded the church. (Well, we'll accept that for now), but the church preceded any words of scripture being written.

Notice the bait and switch. He starts by saying the church was founded on the PREACHING of the apostles and concluded that the WRITINGS of the apostles must be therefore certain because of his argument of what preceded what. However the writings did NOT precede the Church, thus by his own criteria, his point fails.

His final argument is that what is scripture is as plain as black being black and white being white. Of course this is a nonsense on the face of it, as evidenced that every Christian tradition has a different set of books, and that the early church fathers had different lists.

Howard said...

"Notice the bait and switch. He starts by saying the church was founded on the PREACHING of the apostles and concluded that the WRITINGS of the apostles must be therefore certain because of his argument of what preceded what."

So, in fact, your assumption is what Protestants have answered many times. That which is preached or written is the same. If they are different, demonstrate with an infallible list (that which RCs demand of Protestants but not of themselves) the Traditions Rome has preserved from the Apostles themselves.

BTW: is this not a gnostic idea if ever one was suggested?

"His final argument is that what is scripture is as plain as black being black and white being white. Of course this is a nonsense on the face of it, as evidenced that every Christian tradition has a different set of books, and that the early church fathers had different lists."

And how does Rome know which books belong in the Bible? We are not told other than believe Rome. How do we know Rome's list is correct over and against some other list? Believe Rome!

Does this kind of argument not bother RCs at all. What is being said in my mind is that Rome is SELF Authenticating but God's Word is not. That is simply blasphemous! Truly we have a great example of the creature placing himself above the creator while simply saying we are just equal.

Ree said...

"How can we be assured that this has sprung from God unless we have recourse to the decree of the church? —it is as if someone asked: Whence will we learn to distinguish light from darkness, white from black, sweet from bitter? Indeed, Scripture exhibits fully as clear evidence of its own truth as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste."

It's interesting to contrast the above quote with the Counter-Reformationist, Ignatius Loyola, when he writes,

"That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtingly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same; . . .”

It really sheds a stark light on the difference between the foundational presuppositions to which Protestants and Roman Catholics adhere. Of course, Calvin wouldn't dispute Loyola that the Spirit that leads the church is God, Himself, but would rather dispute the manner in which God leads His church. But for me (and I think this is what Protestants generally have in common), if I couldn't trust in the intelligibility of the Scriptures, I couldn't trust in the reality of my own conversion. It was the message I get from Scripture by which I was convicted and by which I was led to repentance. When the Magisterium says I'm not even understanding the message and that I should turn over my mind to them and trust them that what appears to be white is really black, what would motivate me to do that? That's what cults require--it's certainly not the kind of faith (blind fideism) that either the apostles or the church fathers advocated!

Randy said...

I replied to this in my blog:

http://purifyyourbride.stblogs.com/2007/09/20/john-calvin-on-sola-scriptora/

Anonymous said...

This must be Calvin on a bad day. The eisegesis here is very crude.

The text he is expounding reads as follows: "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, [aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise v.12], but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.(Eph.2:19-20)"

The phrase "Apostles and Prophets" is collected under a single article. It refers to a single collective group of men who continue as the foundation of the Church. It is the group to whom Jesus gave the command to disciple all nations and baptize them with the promise to be with them every day until they comsummate their mission, Matt.28:18-20. Jesus said that He is sending prophets, wise men, and scribes. Matt.23:34.

Notice that Calvin immediately reverses the order of terms to prophets and apostles, and then adds in the terms writing and preaching with no authority from the text. This is rank eisegesis.

First of all, Paul is speaking of NT prophets not OT Scriptures. The Apostles and Prophets are gifts to the Church which Christ gave from His ascension, Eph.4:7-11. Note that Paul himself was ordained to his Apostolate by the Prophets at Antioch, Acts 13:1-3. Thus the prophets here are Apostles ordained to their office by the Apostles before them. The foundation upon which Christ builds His Church must continue as long as the Church itself does; the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

The chief error here however is the failure to see that the Church was first gathered before the Lord at Mt. Sinai, the Lord there entrusted His Oracles to them, speaking with thunderings and lightening trumpets and a smoking mountain, Ex.20:1-18. The people who were covenanted to Him that day did not remain faithful but rather worshipped the golden calf. God remained faithful to the covenant and continued the Church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38) under the government of His angels until they handed it over to Christ at His resurrection, (Rev.5, Dan.7:13-14, Matt.28:18). The Scriptures were written by the officers of this Church, Moses and the Prophets, Jesus himself being the final Prophet and High Priest who brought about the only Reformation of the Church that the Bible speaks of on the day of Pentecost, Heb.9:10. This Church is given authority to issue final decisions as to the proper interpretation and application of the Law. The final court of appeal being the High Priest, (Deut.17:8-13, 2Chr.19:8-11). This judgement was to be followed on pain of death.

In the New Covenant, Jesus sends out both the 12 and the 70 with the authority to speak with the authority of Jesus Himself. ("He who receives you, receives Me" Matt.10:40. "He who hears you, hears Me, he who rejects you reject Me" Lk.10:16.) He gives them authority to resolve disputes here on earth with the judgement of heaven because when they are gathered in His Name, He is in their midst speaking through them. He goes on to say that if one refuses to hear the Church, he is to be regarded as a heathen and a tax collector, the agent of a foreign power, not as a fellow Christian.

The final and basic error in this quotation from Calvin is the assertion that the decision of the Church is simply the decision of men. The words of Jesus are that when two or three are gathered in His Name, exercising His Authority, He is in their midst and will be until the end of the world, (Matt.18:18-20, 28:18-20).

We are commanded in Hebrews to obey those who have the rule over us and follow their faith, (Heb.13:5,17). The Church of God is the pillar and ground of Truth, (1Tim.3:15).

It is the Church of God which by its officers wrote the Scriptures, which gives us those Scriptures as the inspired Word of God for our instruction and has the God-given authority to give us their true interpretation. We are bound to conform on the pain of at least spiritual death, (Deut.17:12; Matt.18:17).

Calvin's interpretation is not in conformity either to the text as it is written or to what Scripture teaches as to the nature of His Church and its Authority.

Bill Zuck

orthodox said...

Howard: So, in fact, your assumption is what Protestants have answered many times. That which is preached or written is the same.

Orthodox: That's a different issue for a different day. Right now we're dealing with the claim that NT scripture preceeded the Church, which is patently false.

Howard said...

Orthodox, are you really going to assert that the Gospel as preached in that body of doctrine the Apostles would have been preaching would be something other than what was written?

Are you really asserting that when Paul wrote about the term Tradition, that he communicated via oral tradition or written, Paul meant he had reserved one Gospel for his oral preaching and then sent another Gospel by letter?

Is it not painfully obvious that Paul meant THE GOSPEL is to be believed whether they received it via oral proclamation or by letter?

This assertion by RCs is more akin to Gnosticism.

I find it odd that the Apostles went out preaching a body of doctrine that would save sinners, and yet all of them neglected to mention Mary's role. I also find it odd that a doctrine that has been defined De Fide (the bodily assumption) could not have been a part of the Apostolic proclamation since that event occurred later. Don't you think it odd that the Gospel that the Apostles preached would have been sufficient and complete, yet now that Gospel is not complete?

This is the problem when Sola Scriptura is denied. The Gospel you MUST believe in could not have been preached by the Apostles. Therefore, you possess a different Gospel which is really no Gospel at all.

Carrie said...

I also find it odd that a doctrine that has been defined De Fide (the bodily assumption) could not have been a part of the Apostolic proclamation since that event occurred later. Don't you think it odd that the Gospel that the Apostles preached would have been sufficient and complete, yet now that Gospel is not complete?


Excellent point, Howard!

Anonymous said...

"But a most pernicious error widely prevails that Scripture has only so much weight as is conceded to it by the consent of the church. As if the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended upon the decision of men!"
- John Calvin

Indeed? But then Calvin leaves it up to each person to determine what actually is and is not "the eternal and inviolable truth of God." So it's not depended upon the decision of men (plural, collective), but the decision of each man (singular--individual). This is even worse. This is sola scriptura.

Howard Fisher said...

Anonymous said, "So it's not depended upon the decision of men (plural, collective), but the decision of each man (singular--individual). This is even worse. This is sola scriptura."

Again, I have to wonder how many times it has to be said. Isn't it painfully obvious that we are speaking of epistemology. We are talking about whether there is an infallible person or group that somehow has infallible authority. Protestants deny this reasoning. Therefore Anonymous' conclusion isn't even in the same category.

If we remain in Anonymous' category for how we know truth, then we are reduced by his own argumentation that we know Rome is the true church because each individual man that believes Rome agrees it to be so.

INconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.

orthodox said...

Howard: Orthodox, are you really going to assert that the Gospel as preached in that body of doctrine the Apostles would have been preaching would be something other than what was written?

Are you really asserting that when Paul wrote about the term Tradition, that he communicated via oral tradition or written, Paul meant he had reserved one Gospel for his oral preaching and then sent another Gospel by letter?

O: That's kind of like asking incredulously if Paul would have really written something different to the Thessalonians than he would have written to the Ephesians or the Romans. Clearly he did write different things to each of them, and yet we can find things out from Romans that we can't find out from Thessalonians. It's not a matter of Paul having two gospels, it's a matter that the fullness of knowledge comes from having the fullness of revelation.

James Swan said...

This caught my eye:

John Calvin on Sola Scriptora


That the post title was spelled wrong is quite a telling fact on how cogent the entry reads.

Howard Fisher said...

"It's not a matter of Paul having two gospels, it's a matter that the fullness of knowledge comes from having the fullness of revelation."

That may sound good, but hasn't it always been that way. For instance, would not the Prophet Jeremiah had lots to say that may have not been recorded. Yet according to your view, whatever he said only by word of mouth we have to believe hundreds of years later. What would that be?

Now we supposedly have this oral tradition, yet Rome hasn't bothered to tell us infallibly what that Oral Tradition is. There are no infallible lists?

Unless of course Rome means the Bodily Assumption of Mary. I would still like to know which Apostle preached this teaching, as a Dogma De Fide, as part of his sufficient Gospel that actually saved men from their sins. If it wasn't necessary to preach to save sinners prior to Mary's Assumption that she was bodily assumed, then why is necessary to be believed now? Perhaps this is the Oral Gospel that no one knew about for hundreds of years?

a said...

Unless of course Rome means the Bodily Assumption of Mary. I would still like to know which Apostle preached this teaching, as a Dogma De Fide, as part of his sufficient Gospel that actually saved men from their sins. If it wasn't necessary to preach to save sinners prior to Mary's Assumption that she was bodily assumed, then why is necessary to be believed now?

It is not necessary to believe it to be saved. It is only necessary to believe it to be in full communiom with the church. Not the same thing.

Howard said...

"It is not necessary to believe it to be saved. It is only necessary to believe it to be in full communiom with the church. Not the same thing."

Nice try, but it is defined as part of the Gospel. How can something be defined De Fide and absolutely binding on the minds of people, yet not actually result in salvation. Either I am in communion or not.