Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mathison's Response

Kieth Mathison has responded to the Sola/Solo paper from way back when. There are many replies at CTC. Unfortunately the reply brings in many irrelevant points. That takes the discussion away from the narrow question of whether the distinction Mathison tries to draw between Solo Scriptura and Sola Scriptura is real. I thought I would make one comment on one paragraph from page 34 of the PDF version that I think actually is on that point.
The final phrase is based on a quote by the Reformed theologian Francis Turretin
that I cited in my book. Turretin wrote:
Hence if they think they observe anything in them worthy of correction, they ought to undertake nothing rashly or disorderly and unseasonably, so as to violently rend the body of their mother (which schismatics do), but to refer the difficulties they feel to their church and either to prefer her public opinion to their own private judgment or to secede from her communion, if the conscience cannot acquiesce in her judgment. Thus they cannot bind in the inner court of conscience, except inasmuch as they are found to agree with the word of God (which alone has the power to bind the conscience).
Cross and Judisch obviously disagree with Turretin’s point because of their view of the Church. However, the fact that an individual must determine whether or not to submit to an authority does not eliminate the real authority of the church or of the creeds. Paul calls on the Galatians to judge his preaching. This does not eliminate his apostolic authority. The underlying principle that Turretin wishes to bring out in this discussion is the qualitative difference between the Creator and the creature. The authority of God is absolute and unconditional. The authority of human creatures, including human creatures given ecclesiastical authority, is not. Paul had apostolic authority, but such authority did not give him carte blanche freedom to say anything he wanted. He did not have the authority to preach a different Gospel (Gal. 1:8). We will have occasion to discuss this issue further as we proceed because Cross and Judisch repeatedly refer back to this Turretin quote and to my use of it.
This seems to get to the heart of the matter. The fact that "Cross and Judisch obviously disagree with Turretin" is irrelevant. Just because they are Catholic does not mean they cannot comment on the logic on non-Catholic thinkers. If Mathison commented on the logic of Dan Brown I would not ignore it just because he doesn't share his world and life view.

Then he says that "an individual must determine whether or not to submit to an authority does not eliminate the real authority." I think it does. He cites Paul asking the Galatians to judge his authority. I think that is different. Judging the source of authority is different from judging the individual instances in which the authority is exercised. Paul is not saying to the Galatians to go verse by verse though this letter and see where you agree. He is saying to judge whether he is legitimately speaking for God and if he is he is telling them to accept ALL of what he says as the words of God's ordained leader.

The verse by verse analysis is precisely what Sola Scriptura says we need to do with church creeds and authorities. It asserts that they are not divine in their totality. It says they can be determined to be God's word on an article by article basis. How do we make that determination? By checking those articles to see if they conform to what scripture says. But we can't do that. We can only check to see if they conform to our opinion about what scripture says. The document might make an eloquent argument from scripture. It might have a list of supporters that we are impressed with. But in the final analysis we decide whether the evidence is convincing or not.

There is some pressure. When a Christian Reformed person deals with the Heidelberg Catechism he does feel pressure to harmonize his opinions with that document. It is a respect for the history it represents. Like one might feel pressure to agree with what their father and grandfather has believed. But when obedience gets hard. When a person is really feeling tempted to abandon a doctrine. In those times you are very aware the document is fallible. It would not be such a big deal to reject one article. So it is a paper tiger. It seems impressive until it faces a serious challenge.

The big thing is that none of these governing bodies or documents need to be considered at all. Someone can be a Christian and just ignore the Heidelberg Catechism. All that is required is for a Christian Reformed person to start attending a different church. As long as that remains a legitimate action for a Christian then the authority really amounts to little more than peer pressure. You choose your peer group and they influence you.

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