I mentioned once on Twitter that I am a conversion risk to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, but I hesitate because I am convinced of Sola Scriptura.
My Catholic brethren did not hesitate to offer up many arguments against Sola Scriptura that, while interesting, have no use against what I believe. I have refrained, so far, from offering a vigorous answer to their arguments because it would take a lot of time and effort.
In fact, in my drafts folder are two long, meandering blog posts attempting to do just that. This is my third attempt.
Let me explain where I am coming from, and perhaps you will see why each time you act on your God-given mandate to preach the truth, instead of converting or else rebutting, I merely shake my head and move on.
Not Merely Christian
C.S. Lewis saved my faith.
In my teens I wished to apostate. I wanted to become an atheist so I could make porn games. Porn games are fun to make, and easy to sell. But they are also against my religion.
I wanted to abandon my religion so bad it hurt. I spent long nights screaming at the sky. But my father’s library contained Mere Christianity, and I had read it as a child. Lewis proved to me:
- If there is an objective moral law, God must exist.
- There is certainly an objective moral law.
- Therefore God must exist.
As I desperately searched a million skeptic websites for a rebuttal to this stark reality, I could find none. I was religious against my will. I was held hostage by the truth.
I have, in the last few years, learned to love my religion, but because of this experience, I have no patience for snarky atheists today. I wanted them to convert me, and they failed.
Once we acknowledge that God must exist, we must acknowledge miracles are possible. And if we acknowledge that miracles are possible, we must acknowledge that Christ rose from the dead.
No mere liar or lunatic option is then available. Either he is the Son of God, God incarnate, as he said, or else he is a demonic lich-king. obviously, I consider the first more likely.
That is the cornerstone of my faith, and it has weathered such storms that I suspect it will never move.
Now, many people like to cite the Mere Christianity and the concept of “Mere Christianity” as a reason they do not join one sect or another. As an argument against all denominations. But anyone who reads the book and understands it knows that Lewis is unsympathetic to their cause. He describes Mere Christianity as the hall, and the various sects as the rooms. Then he goes on to say that while we must try to be gracious to those in the other rooms and still in the hall, one of the rooms is the right one, and we are obligated not to linger in the hall, but to try and discern which room is the right one, and enter into it. It is not morally good to avoid the rooms or to hold that they are all equal. In one, Our Savior’s voice rings clearer than all the others. Do you not wish to enter into that room?
I do. My whole motivation in examining debates between denominations is not to prove mine is the correct one as a sinful sop to my o’erweening ego, nor as a righteous and just desire to save my brother’s soul. It is to discover which is the correct one because I am a desperately wicked man, and I need salvation as perhaps no other man needs salvation.
I enter these debates selfishly, to learn the truth, because I want the truth. I don’t care to show I have it now. On the contrary, if I have a lie, I want to abandon it as soon as possible.
Tracing the Line of Authority
Let’s lay out my line of reasoning, then.
- Using natural reason alone, we may conclude that God exists.
- If God exists, then the historical evidence of the Gospels (even if you don’t consider them inspired and inerrant) prove that Jesus is God.
- Ergo what Christ says goes.
- Christ said, in Gethsemane to the eleven, that after his death he would send the Holy Spirit to cause them to recall his teachings.
- Therefore Christ’s Apostles have a supernatural guarantee that their doctrine will be devoid of human error. That they will accurately say what Christ said. We can call this Magisterial Infallibility.
- The New Testament’s canonicity was judged by the church on the basis of whether it was the teachings of the Apostles themselves as recorded by an Apostle or a companion of an Apostle.
- Therefore the New Testament is the teachings of the Apostles.
- Therefore the New Testament has Magisterial Infallibility.
- Therefore the New Testament is the teachings of Christ.
- Regarding the promise that the Holy Spirit would cause the Apostles to recall all Christ taught, there are three possible interpretations:
- This was a promise to all Christians everywhere.
- This was a promise to the Apostles and their successors.
- This was a promise to the Apostles alone.
- If 1, then the correct church is a Charismatic church where every random person manifests the Holy Spirit by babbling random mouth sounds and delivering prophecies “from God.”
- If 2, then the correct church is a church with a bishopric that succeeded from the Apostles, either the Catholics, or the Orthodox, or the Anglicans.
- 3 is essentially Sola Scriptura, for if 3 is true the only reliable remnant of Christ’s teaching is the Scriptures. It is not, however, Sola Scriptura as conceived by the Catholics, that is, a dogma found in Scriptures (and therefore refuted if not found in Scriptures) or a dogma that is eternally true (and therefore refuted if at any point in history the Scriptures did not exist or were not the primary source of apostolic doctrine).
I am not 100% sold on any of these three possibilities, save that it cannot be 1 because the prophets of Charismania have proven themselves false on multiple well-documented occasions. In fact, if any two Christians can contradict one another on matters of dogma, it is thus proven that not all Christians possess Magisterial Infallibility. Indeed, if I am able to confess that I may be wrong — and I do confess that I may be wrong! — it is thus proven that not all Christians possess Magisterial Infallibility. The mere fact that I have changed my stance on matters of doctrine over the course of my life is irrefutable proof that not all Christians are Magisterially Infallible.
No. Either it must be a small subset of the Church Militant plus the written word, or it must be the written word alone.
And this same logic tends to work against the small subset theory. For if the bishops possess Magisterial Infallibility, how can the East have split from the West? How can one bishop say that the See of Peter has the final say and another say he does not? They cannot both be right. But if the Magisterium is tied to a human institution, doctrinal disagreements within that institution are evidence against it.
At the very least, this leans me more towards the Eastern Orthodox churches than the Roman Catholics.
So what do the Scriptures say about the Apostles, their gifts, and their successors? Precious little, for the Scriptures were largely written before successors were needed. But they do say many things that lean one way or another.
- A successor to Judas was chosen. This indicates that the office of Apostle was heritable. However, one criterion for his choosing was that he had directly experienced the historical events of the Gospel, something no living man may boast.
- Paul was made an Apostle directly by Christ apart from the other Apostles. This could go either way. On the one hand, it shows that the office of Apostle was not necessarily limited to the men who walked alongside Christ during his earthly ministry, on the other hand Jesus personally showed up and coached Paul for several years. This is not the usual way of things.
- Some say that 1st Corinthians 13 is a prophesy that the charismatic gifts, needed before the New Testament was written (especially Prophesy, a divine ability to repeat dogma without error), would pass away upon the canon’s completion. “For now we see dimly through a glass, but then we shall see face to face.” I tend to think this is the correct read, but it is by no means irrefutably clear. The more common interpretation, that it refers to the clarity we will receive after the return of Christ, is certainly quite reasonable.
- When Paul tells Timothy to “take a little wine, for your stomach’s sake” instead of sending him a blessed handkerchief of healing, it does tend to look like the charismatic gifts were already fading during the life of the very apostles!
- The Berean Jews were praised for not immediately accepting the authority of an Apostle(!) but vetting his teachings against the Scripture. And Paul writes to the Galations “If any man preaches a different gospel, even if he’s one of us or an angel from Heaven, let him be anathema!” Paul’s praxis is that it is not the Apostles themselves, but the teaching they have given, that have ultimate authority.
- 2nd Timothy 3:16, 17 says that Scripture is God-breathed “So that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work.” This leads me to believe that everything necessary is in Scripture and everything not in Scripture is not necessary. Useful? Perhaps. Good and laudatory? By all means. But not necessary.
- Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees and their unwritten “Tradition of the Elders” strongly indicates that God prefers to work through written, objective records, and not through oral tradition, which He views as primarily a mechanism used to usurp His authority.
Now what do I conclude from all this?
I conclude at the very least, Scripture is true. I know this. This is irrefutable. The Roman or the Greek who argues with me does not argue that Scripture is untrue. He argues that I lack the proper training and context to fully grasp them. I own that this is possible.
But I needs must start with what I have. And what I have is the Scripture. And if the Bereans are praised for fact-checking Paul himself, I cannot feel too bad about fact-checking the heir of Peter.
I guess the next step on my spiritual journey is to read the Early Church Fathers and see what they thought. My Catholic friends assure me that this will certainly convert me to Catholicism. My favorite Lutheran pastor, on the other hand, tells me they cemented his understanding of Scripture.
May God, who is true though every man is a liar, lead me to truth.