Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sola Scriptura As Against Division

We're often told that sola Scriptura is a "blueprint for anarchy." Yet here John Frame utilizes the sola Scriptura principle to produce something of an opposite result:

Remarkably, Scripture itself never says that believers should leave a church organization and form a new one because of false teaching. Israel in the Old Testament was often guilty of idolatry. Revivals of true worship occurred from time to time, but the nation, including the religious establishment, relapsed. After the exile, the Scribes and Pharisees represented movements toward religious purity; but Jesus said they "shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces" (Matt. 23:13) and made each proselyte "twice as much a child of hell as yourselves" (verse 15). They are "full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (verse 28). Jesus says that God will judge these religious leaders (verses 32-36), a threat fulfilled in the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

But nowhere in the Old Testament, nor in Jesus' teaching, does God command believers to abandon Israel and to form a new nation, church, or denomination. God himself brings a separation between the followers of Christ and Judaism, when the synagogues expel Christians from their fellowship, and when the temple is destroyed. But there is no exhortation in the New Testament for Jewish Christians voluntarily to leave the synagogues. Rather, it is assumed that believers, like the apostles, will bear witness within the synagogues to God’s grace in Christ, as long as they are able to do so. This was the practice of the apostle Paul, who preached the gospel in the synagogues wherever he traveled.

As we have seen, there is doctrinal and practical corruption in the New Testament church as well. But again, the apostles do not call on believers to leave their churches and form new ones because of corruption. Rather, the churches themselves are to take action against it (as 1 Cor. 5:1-13). Even the church at Laodicaea, which Jesus threatens to spit out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16), is still a church (verse 14), and Jesus does not counsel true believers to leave it. Rather, he tells the whole church to repent.

The apostolic church of the New Testament is not a voluntary association. Every believer is joined to it in the body of Christ. That church is both organism and organization: it is a body, held together by the Spirit, and it is an organization, ruled by apostles, prophets, elders, and deacons. Where disputes exist, there is an orderly pattern for resolving them (Matt. 18:15-20) including provision for excommunication (verse 17, 1 Cor. 5) in extreme cases. Rightly appointed leaders are to be obeyed (Heb. 13:17). So in the first century nobody had the right to leave the apostolic church and start a new denomination (The Doctrine of the Christian Life [P & R Publishing, 2008], 399-400).


Frame has much more to say on this issue, but this suffices for the point at hand.

(Interested readers can request a larger excerpt from this chapter by e-mail. The address is located on my blogger profile.)

21 comments:

louis said...

Then I guess we should all go back to Rome. Oh wait, they excommunicated us.

Seriously, as long as the temple stood, that's where worship was to be held. That hardly applies today. If a church is apostate, "come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins."

zipper778 said...

Then I guess we should all go back to Rome. Oh wait, they excommunicated us.

The problem with this comment louis is that Rome isn't the original church. But I do agree, if there is a valid reason to leave then we should do so, but only if the attempt to reconcile has been exhausted (which in Luther's case it wasn't).

Viisaus said...

It seems that already in the 12th century, at the heart of the Middle Ages, a philosopher Peter Abelard had outlined the principle of "Sola Scriptura" - that while all merely human authorities should be critically questioned (church fathers and popes included), the Scriptures should be humbly submitted to even if they would perplex human understanding. From Abelard's "Sic et Non":

http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/ChurchHistory220/Lecture%20Four/PeterAbelardSicetNon.htm

"Doubtless the fathers might err; even Peter, the prince of the apostles, fell into error: what wonder that the saints do not always show themselves inspired? The fathers did not themselves believe that they, or their companions, were always right. Augustine found himself mistaken in some cases and did not hesitate to retract his errors. He warns his admirers not to look upon his letters as they would upon the Scriptures, but to accept only those things which, upon examination, they find to be true.

All writings belonging to this class are to be read with full freedom to criticize, and with no obligation to accept unquestioningly; otherwise they way would be blocked to all discussion, and posterity be deprived of the excellent intellectual exercise of debating difficult questions of language and presentation.

But an explicit exception must be made in the case of the Old and New Testaments. In the Scriptures, when anything strikes us as absurd, we may not say that the writer erred, but that the scribe made a blunder in copying the manuscripts, or that there is an error in interpretation, or that the passage is not understood. The fathers make a very careful distinction between the Scriptures and later works. They advocate a discriminating, not to say suspicious, use of the writings of their own contemporaries."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

There are folks in mainline liberal churches like the United Church of Christ and The Episcopal Church where important Christian doctrine is corrupted and twisted and taught. Those denominations have had people leaving as a result. And not because they have been excommunicated or moved to a different city.

Is John Frame saying that those leavers have sinned and are wrong for having left those churches/denominations?

CathApol said...

So, according to (what little we have from) Frame's argument - we are to adhere to One Church. The argument seems to imply that we should be attending synagogues still, but then what "church" is it which Jesus Christ Himself promised to "build?" Clearly He did not say He would be "rebuilding" the Jewish Church, but building a Church, as in a NEW one, with new offices (Apostle/Bishop, priests, deacons, elders, etc.) which were not part of the Jewish hierarchy. So which Church, with these new offices, can be traced all the way back to the Apostles? For the first millennium of the Church, there was just ONE Christian Church. In 1054ad that Church split... in 1521, thereabouts, it splits again. Unless you know of another church which can be traced all the way back - you're left with Catholicism or Orthodoxy to choose from.

So far as I know "Eucharist" was never celebrated in the synagogues - it was a Sunday meeting of Christians where this is first celebrated in honor of "The Lord's Day" - His Resurrection. Not having formal buildings of their own until after the persecution ended, these Eucharist celebrations were held in private homes and public places, like the catacombs, for the first 300 years of Christendom.

The bottom line is, if sola scriptura is against division - and you're a believer in this, then you should be part of Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

Scott<<<

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

How does John Frame view Athanasius in the context of this argument he posit?

Viisaus said...

"For the first millennium of the Church, there was just ONE Christian Church."

Blatantly false. The (supposedly) Nestorian and Monophysite schisms happened already in the 5th century.

How can prove on high-church principles that Chalcedon was right and Monophysites wrong?

Reformed Veritas said...

The arguments for separation are found - for better or worse - in the epistles are they not?

Even further, whatever Prof. Frame's excellencies, what he says on one hand re. Scripture or whatever, are on the other hand negated by his toleration and approval of pictures of Christ and the wholescale/wholesale question begging regarding the reformed doctrine of worship i.e. the Regulative Principle of Worship. The same which is no more or less than the good and necessary consequences of the Second Commandment as confessed in the Reformed Confessions (see WCF 1:6).

In short, I fear his legacy for the reformed church will be no good thing.Rather he has opened up the floodgates, not only in worship, but in the attack on verbal revelation in favor of pictures, if not essentially roman pictures of Jesus.

In principle, his theology has nothing to say against Mad Max's Passion of Christ being screened at a Sunday afternoon matinee worship service near you. None what soever.
Not good. Not reformed. Not biblical.

Neal Postman was a Jew, but he still understood something about the Second Commandment and the Gutenberg revolution in Western society which emphasized the printed and spoken word over and against the medieval Roman emphasis on the visual - such as the drama of the Mass. So his title Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Needless to say, I am not a fan of Prof. Frame's theology.

Thank you very much,
Bob Suden

CathApol said...

Blatantly false. The (supposedly) Nestorian and Monophysite schisms happened already in the 5th century.

"Supposedly?" They were heresies, and I am not saying there were not folks who tried to go off on tangents - but there was always One Church.

How can prove on high-church principles that Chalcedon was right and Monophysites wrong?

Let me get you straight, are you denying Chalcedon? Are you implying the Monophysites were correct? But how can one prove the Council of Chalcedon was right? I believe Matthew 18:18 proves that well enough.

Scott<<<

Viisaus said...

"Supposedly?" They were heresies, and I am not saying there were not folks who tried to go off on tangents - but there was always One Church."

I'm sorry to be a bearer of badd news, but post-Vatican II RCC has been friendly and ecumenical towards both "Nestorian" an "Monophysite" eastern churches... looks like modern Rome does not consider these outfits to be any more heretical than EO churches.


"Let me get you straight, are you denying Chalcedon? Are you implying the Monophysites were correct?"

I was making a rhetorical challenge, and pointing out that still-existing Monophysite churches have just as legitimate "apostolic succession" as RCs or EOs do.

TheDen said...

Matt,

"Remarkably, Scripture itself never says that believers should leave a church organization and form a new one because of false teaching."

First of all, this is a good post. Just wanted to mention that your post is only half correct. I believe that while the Jews were encouraged to stay in the Synagogues, the Greeks/Romans were expected to abandon paganism.

So, the quote I highlight above isn't fully correct.

Do you agree?

Secondly, I agree with Frame's overall point and the a Church should not be abandoned but rather reformed.

I believe one of the problems with Protestantism (from an outside perspective) is that instead of fixing the house you're in, you build a new one. Something that's likely inherent with Protestantism.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"the a Church should not be abandoned but rather reformed."

In view of this it's quite interesting that there's a newer post on Beggars All titled:

World Magazine Reports Mass Exodus from Roman Catholicism.

TheDen said...

Truth,

"In view of this it's quite interesting that there's a newer post on Beggars All titled:

World Magazine Reports Mass Exodus from Roman Catholicism."

Surprisingly, I don't have a problem with the mass exodus. If they draw closer to Christ through Protestantism, than maybe they should be Protestant.

The reason for the mass exodus is poor catechesis and that's the fault of the Catholic Church here in the US at least.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Well, maybe part of the mass exodus from Catholicism is what Rhology wrote here:

"Well, what TU...aD is getting at is that TheDen is obviously setting himself up as a private fallible interpreter of the RCC's teaching. The question's implications make him uncomfortable so he hems and haws."

Taken from this thread: HERE.

TheDen said...

Truth,

"Well, maybe part of the mass exodus from Catholicism is what Rhology wrote here:"

Huh??? I answered your question. Why is it a mortal sin? Because of the focus on the self--(which is so obviously different than excercise that I chose to ignore the last question).

Am I a "fallible interpreter of the RCC's teaching?" I will agree I am fallible however, I'm not picking and choosing or hemming and hawing about Church teaching.

I can think of a few reasons why people leave Catholicism:

A. They don't understand it
B. They think they understand it and disagree with it.
C. They married someone who's not Catholic
D. They've been hurt by someone in the Church
D. All of the above?

There may be other reasons but I think I got a majority of them.

In all cases, these people are not finding Christ in the Catholic Church. Why? It's not because He's not there. I believe it's because they're not really looking closely. Their minds are in a state of rebellion and it's easier just to leave than to truly conform to Christ.

Are they wrong? Yes. BUT if they can find Christ elsewhere then that's better than being "nominally Catholic."

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

TheDen: "What this means is that it's [masturbation's] not necessarily a mortal sin. There are psychological, habitual, maturity issues that are in play.

It's not saying that it's not but rather that other factors need to be considered."


Me: "It's not unreasonable to conclude that many Catholics masturbate. That many Catholics have masturbated in the past and that many of these same Catholics will also masturbate in the future.

Given the qualifications that were cited above [by you], when Catholics masturbate do they know when they are committing masturbatory mortal sin and when they are not?

How do they know?"


For instance, would you say that you have masturbated in the past and there were times that it WAS NOT mortal sin for you given the "psychological, habitual, maturity issues" that were in play for you at the time?

Or would you say that every time that you've masturbated you committed mortal sin?

TheDen said...

Truth,

My response from the previous post:

"In any event, it’s an act of self-love that’s gratuitous for no other reason than self gratification. It’s disordered for the focus is not on doing Christ’s will but rather the focus is turned inwardly on the self and that person’s will.

Even if it’s not mortal sin (ie habitual/psychological, etc.), with each habitual act, the individual focuses more and more on the self and further away from God until there is a shame where the individual should seek reconciliation.

What kills the charity is not necessarily the mortal sin. It’s the pride. It’s a placement of yourself ahead of God. We are called to seek God’s will. To seek conformance to Christ. When we place ourselves ahead of Christ, it’s mortal sin."

So, there are different factors that may or may not make it mortal sin. In any event, it's disordered as it's going against God's will. ie God's intention is not for you--or anyone for that matter to practice onanism.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"So, there are different factors that may or may not make it mortal sin."

So you're saying that some Catholics masturbate and have privately judged that while their masturbation is disordered, it's not a mortal sin for them.

Would you agree with that?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

TheDen, or are you saying something like this:

"The Catholic masturbator is disordered for masturbating, but she or he may not necessarily be committing a mortal sin for masturbating according to the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church.

TheDen said...

Truth,


"The Catholic masturbator is disordered for masturbating, but she or he may not necessarily be committing a mortal sin for masturbating according to the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church."


Is this the only thing that's keeping you from being Catholic? Somehow, I don't think this is your major sticking point.

Seriously though, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:28, "But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. "

Those are pretty strong words and I'm pretty sure that the mind is a lustin' during the act. Am I right?

So, regardless of whether it is or is not, it would be best to just listen to Jesus on this and err on the side of caution and just assume that it's a pretty serious sin.

steelikat said...

Tuad,

I reckon "privately judging" that something is not a sin "for you" makes it, if anything, worse a sin for you. Sin is sin and perverts are perverts. Thats all the more reason to be grateful to God who saves perverts.