Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Bible & Tradition

Why should there be such hostility against my comment that we seem to “have lost the ability to critique and correct our tradition when the Bible calls for it.” The Scriptures do indeed call for us to guard against our tradition taking the place of God’s Word. I learned that in Sunday school. Jesus teaches this in his interaction with the Pharisees (Matt. 15).

Is our precious Reformed tradition above criticism? I believe it is part of our tradition to be suspicious of tradition, and maybe more importantly, to never rely on our tradition to adjudicate theological and ecclesiastical controversies. But that’s all we seem to want to do these days.

We don’t read this in WCF 1.8: “The Reformed tradition being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure since the Reformation, is therefore authentic; so as, in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal unto it.”

Nor do we find this in WCF 1.9: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the the Reformed tradition: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), only the Reformed tradition can provide the answer.”

And this is not what WCF 1.10 says: “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Reformed tradition.”

Follow the debate over at De Regno Christi, if you want (or if you can).


Ben said...

I've been attempting to follow the discussion, and I'm pretty mystified too, especially with the last post, which seems to be defending a very characteristically pagan view of tradition.

J Huang said...

The greater question here is how much time/effort is spent/wasted generating this crazy banter?

pdug said...

Remind me, if I ever become Roman Catholic (me genoito), that it was exchanges like this that convinced me that stuff about not following traditions instead of the word was pious bogus.

Jeff Cagle said...

Ya know, Darryl Hart's comments strike me as very similar to the Magisterial Authority arguments that Bryan Cross has been making:

* The Bible itself doesn't say anything

Myers writes: “My concern is that many seem to have lost the ability to critique and correct our tradition when the Bible calls for it.” A finer piece of biblicism I could not produce. The Bible doesn’t call for the revision of the Reformed tradition, interpreters of the Bible do. As Shedd said, whenever someone claims the Bible for their faith, they are really claiming their interpretation of the Bible.

* Therefore, we are necessarily bound to our traditions as the valid interpretation of Scripture:

So the church has power to bind consciences, and traditions do so less proactively. In either case, if you’re in the church and in the tradition, you can’t claim freedom from it. It doesn’t make sense, nor is it fair. You can’t have a tradition or a church without some imposition on your liberty.

Does this mean the tradition can’t be revised? Of course not. But Presbyterians being good at committees have all sorts of procedures for revising a confession. One that we don’t use is the lone memo telling the church at large it needs to change its confession.

Of course, where Hart and Cross would part company is over the next step: that there Must be some Magisterial Authority (read: pope) with divinely ordained interpretations.

I don't buy that entire line of reasoning. It is false that documents don't say things. While living speakers have the advantage of error-correction, their method of communicating is precisely the same as writers: sentences are expressed, taken in by an audience, and interpreted.

That's an overly complicated way of saying: if the Bible doesn't "say" anything, then neither does anyone or anything else. In the end, it's all just sentences being processed.

So I can't agree with Hart. Come to think of it, neither does the Confession, which seems to think that all we need to know for life and godliness is either expressly stated in or necessarily deduced from Scripture (I.6 and 7). The writers of the Confession, bless their little pre-postmodern hearts, actually thought that documents meant something.

That said, he makes a point that I've wondered at ...

One that we don’t use is the lone memo telling the church at large it needs to change its confession.

How come you FV guys haven't tried the "traditional" route of getting posts in seminaries, etc.? That seems to be the favored method for promulgating new views in theology.

Jeff C

Bryan Cross said...


This comment from Darryl Hart was striking:

"But to appeal to the Bible instead of man-made creeds is really to appeal [to] JMyers or James Jordan."

Even I wouldn't say that. :-)

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Bryan Cross said...

Jeff (Cagle),

My position is not that the Bible does not say anything.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

David A Booth said...


When I embraced the Reformed Tradition 20 years ago it was largely because conservative Calvinists reflected such a high view of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

It is difficult to explain to younger Calvinists how much things have changed in just two decades.


Anonymous said...

Hello Rev. Myers,

I can't claim that I'm FV--but I very much sympathize with some of the major aspects of FV.

Anyway I sent the following as an email to one of the moderators on De Regno Christi--and was interested where you come down on the issues discussed.

"On the issue of Forgiveness of sins=Full Justification (which held true both among Reformers who believed only in the imputation of the "passive obedience" of Christ and those who also believed in the imputation of the "active obedience" of Christ) I thought you might find the following quotes interesting.

A Lutheran paper which maintains the imputation both of the passive and active righteousness of Christ states on the issue of forgiveness=full justification:
" runs the risk of mechanically tearing apart the active and passive obedience, as well as causing forgiveness of sins and imputation of Christ’s righteousness to be construed in a way that does not spring from reality – as if they are pieces of justification. Concerning this, Dr. Hoenecke says in his Dogmatik (Vol. III, pp. 347-48):
The relationship between the nonimputation of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness dare not be falsely apprehended, as when one perhaps would view the nonimputation of sin and the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ as two parts, out of which justification itself for the first time issues as a unit. Rather, according to Scripture justification exists where sin is not imputed and thus is forgiven, as well as where Christ’s righteousness is imputed, so that in the one case as in the other the entire justification exists. This relationship depends on this: that in both cases (the nonimputation of sins and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ) one and the same all-encompassing reality (Christ with His entire obedience) is at the root. It is clear from this that the nonimputation of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness are not really different pieces of justification, but rather only the positive and negative expression for the very same thing. Thus one fully describes justification both when he describes it as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and just as much when he describes it as nonimputation, or forgiveness, of sin. For the one is given in the other.

The German Reformed--Piscator, who apparently denied the imputation of active righteousness, states a position regarding remission=full justification which was generally maintained among Reformers whether or not the imputation of active obedience was held:

“The reason of which thing is this, that remission of sins, wherein man’s justification consists is remission of all sins: and therefore not only of sins of committing, but also of sins of omitting."

“ comes [about] that he to whom God forgives sins, is so accounted, as if he had not only committed nothing which God has forbidden in his law, but also omitted nothing of that which he has commanded: and therefore, as if he had perfectly fulfilled the law of God.”

Remission of sins=full justification is summed up quickly in the words if Augustine quoted in the Apology of Augsburg:
51] Well does Augustine say: All the commandments of God are fulfilled when whatever is not done, is forgiven.

[Augustine also states in De Civitate Dei:
“...our righteousness consists in the remission of sins rather than the perfection of our virtues.”]

Blessings in Christ,

p.s. If you're view is essentially that of Piscator--I think a few quotes from him on the De Regno Christi might help D.G. Hart and others see where you and possibly other FVs are coming from on the issue of justification.

Anonymous said...

Hello again,

Since I posted a portion of the email I sent I figure I might as well post the rest here:

"I had seen that D.G. Hart brings up the issue of Covenantal faithfulness. While I understand his concerns of a non-gracious/works based salvation--I thought it should be noted that even the Lutherans (who no one could accuse of being neonomians or deniers of the Gospel, or of Salvation by grace and faith alone, or of assurance of Salvation, etc) explicitly speak to the reality of apostasy and therefore of the necessity of "Covenant faithfulness"--in a real though utterly non-meritorious and gracious sense (and of course they maintain an Augustinian understanding of unconditional Election and the certain perseverance of the Elect to Glory).

Just a couple of the examples in the Apology of Augsburg (the same teaching is found in the Anglican Homilies on the matter of apostasy--and in the writings of St. Augustine and all the other Church Fathers):

Good Works
For Peter speaks of works following the remission of sins, and teaches why they should be done, namely, that the calling may be sure, i.e., lest they may fall from their calling if they sin again. Do good works that you may persevere in your calling, that you [do not fall away again, grow cold and] may not lose the gifts of your calling, which were given you before, and not on account of works that follow, and which now are retained by faith; for faith does not remain in those who lose the Holy Ghost, who reject repentance, just as we have said above (253, 1) that faith exists in repentance

On Love and Fulfilling the Law:
Likewise the faith of which we speak exists in repentance, i.e., it is conceived in the terrors of conscience, which feels the wrath of God against our sins, and seeks the remission of sins, and to be freed from sin. And in such terrors and other afflictions this faith ought to grow and be strengthened. Wherefore 22] it cannot exist in those who live according to the flesh who are delighted by their own lusts and obey them. Accordingly, Paul says, Rom. 8, 1: There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. So, too 8, 12. 13: We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 23] Wherefore, the faith which receives remission of sins in a heart terrified and fleeing from sin does not remain in those who obey their desires, neither does it coexist with mortal sin.*

For we have said above that renewal and the inchoate fulfilling of the Law must exist in us, according to Jer. 31, 33: I will put My Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts. If any one should cast away love, even though he have great faith, yet he does not retain it, 99] for he does not retain the Holy Ghost [he becomes cold and is now again fleshly, without Spirit and faith; for the Holy Ghost is not where Christian love and other fruits of the Spirit are not].

*{Anglican Formularies refer to "mortal sin"/state of sin as "deadly sin" after the example of St. Augustine, etc}

Also from the Book of Concord:
2. Through baptism, as the laver of regeneration and the renewing
of the Holy Ghost, God saves us, and works in us such righteousness
and purification from sins, that he who perseveres in this
covenant and confidence unto the end, shall not be lost, but has
eternal life. '

Blessings in Christ