Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Making Things Easy

It is claimed by some that we cannot understand Christian truth based on the Bible alone. It is said that we need to turn to some authoritative church body or tradition in order to really get an accurate picture of what Christianity is. Therefore, it would be simpler to desert the idea of Scripture being the sole authority. Now there is no question that Scripture can be hard to understand. I am convinced that much of this is our preconceived notions. This is because we are still sinners (myself included) and have a hard time putting aside our biases. Also, it can be difficult to understand a book written in different languages and different cultures when we have an imperfect knowledge of the history and customs. I am convinced the Holy Spirit will lead us into the basic truth if we trust Him. But I wonder whether has God left in some incidental questions to remind us that we do not know everything.

However, can we solve the problem by just accepting a tradition? We would need to start by deciding which of the conflicting traditions we should follow. If the Bible was clear about which tradition to follow, we could base it on that. But it is not. And if the Bible is too difficult to interpret alone, then using it to choose a tradition if it is not inarguable leaves us right back where we were. Further, there is no basis for assuming that historical continuity proves authority. And there is more than one group that claims historical continuity.

Then we have to decide what is authoritative within that tradition. Then we have to bring together these authoritative elements and interpret them to decide what real Christianity is. Take, for example, the Roman Catholic Church. It claims the pope is infallible. Therefore, if I want to know what is authoritative, I need to assemble the ex cathedra utterances of all the popes. (This assumes I can figure out which are ex cathedra.) Then I need to bring them together and interpret them. (I would tend to agree with Luther that popes and councils contradict.  But if I thought they were authoritative, I would have to make the effort to reconcile them.) Now if I really believed this was the case, I would make the effort. But I cannot see how this can be seen as simpler than 66 books I can hold in my hand

Now we could try to avoid this process by trusting the local representative of the authoritative church. But this representative is not infallible and may lead us astray. It we are to determine the truth, we need to think it through for ourselves. And if we do, we need to start with the Bible, which is the first clear collection of Christian teaching. For to claim a particular tradition is authoritative and then interpret the Bible by the tradition is to engage in circular reasoning. And you cannot make things easier by following this path.      

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