Scripture Alone Is Not Enough

By Graham Glover

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Grace Alone – Faith Alone – Scripture Alone.

These are the three great “Solas” of the 16th century Protestant Reformation and the theological foundations of those communions that remain separated from the Roman Catholic Church. For those who adhere to the teachings of the reformers, one is saved by grace alone through faith alone, with scripture alone being the only rule and norm for Christian doctrine.

As a Lutheran pastor one would expect that I too would extol these reformation solas. I most certainly concur that one is forgiven and ultimately given eternal life solely by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. So too do I believe that this grace is given to us without any merit of our own. In other words, it is ours solely through faith in the Triune God – a faith freely given to us by the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism and/or through the proclamation of the Gospel message. However, I am increasingly skeptical that God’s grace and the faith I have in Him is ruled solely by the Holy Scriptures.

On its own, even with the emphasis of grace and faith alone – I’m not sure that scripture alone will ever be enough to norm my faith.

It’s no wonder that the 16th century reformers emphasized the centrality of the scriptures. Any theologian of Christian history must recognize that there were “issues” within the western church during the time of the reformation. Among other things, the abuses surrounding the selling of indulgences, the comingling and confusion of church and state, and an over emphasis on trusting in things outside of our Risen Lord, required the church to reorient herself to the central message of our faith – that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. To combat these abuses, the reformers sought to find a common ground on which Christendom could unite. So, they turned to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures in their effort to reorient – to reform the church. If the reformers thought a church teaching or practice was in contradiction to the principal that we are justified by grace through faith, they sought to correct it through the words of the scriptures, which they believed were the sole rule and norm of all Christian doctrine.

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Simple, right? Just teach what the Word of God says. This is all we Christians need to do.

Hardly.

Grace alone works because it focuses us on Christ, who alone gives us the grace we need to be forgiven and saved. Faith alone works because it focuses us on Christ, the only author and perfecter of our faith. To be sure, these things are proclaimed in the scriptures. But God’s grace is not dependent on the scriptures. Our faith is not given by the scriptures. Grace and faith come through Christ. And Christ is much bigger than the Holy Scriptures.

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This is why scripture alone fails. It fails because it focuses us not on Christ, but on what we want Christ to be and how we want to interpret what God has revealed to us. Scripture alone will never be enough because we can’t read the scriptures or understand them outside that which gave them to us in the first place, namely the church, the very Bride of Christ. It’s not scripture that rules and norms our Christian doctrine, it’s the church, to whom the scriptures were given and through whom they are rightly interpreted. What is the church? Well, that’s another topic and another article…But this much is true, scripture alone is not enough. It wasn’t enough for the church prior to the reformation. Try as they did, it wasn’t enough for the reformers. And it hasn’t been enough for Christendom for the past 500 years.

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The theological foundation of scripture alone is ultimately one of the seminal failures of the reformers. Again, it’s easy to understand why they made this move. To fix dissension, the reformers had to find a common ground on which all parties could theoretically unite. But their noble effort fails because one cannot know Christ without the church. This same church cannot exist without Christ. It is Christ alone. The same Christ that gave us His Bride to proclaim His Gospel, offer His Sacraments, and be the means of His means of grace.

To piggyback on a recent theme here at The Jagged Word, we Christians are called to deliver the goods of Christ. These goods are found first in His Church, through whom we are given the Holy Scriptures. To deliver the goods is to be ruled and normed by the one holy catholic and apostolic church – which is the true source of all Christian doctrine.

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65 thoughts on “Scripture Alone Is Not Enough

  1. Well, you had to know it was coming. What a bunch of papist claptrap. “On its own, even with the emphasis of grace and faith alone – I’m not sure that scripture alone will ever be enough to norm my faith.”

    First, the Scriptures are God’s address to man, revealing His grace given on account of Jesus Christ. Second, the Scriptures are the authoritative source of the church’s proclamation, and the norm by which that proclamation is tested, not the other way around. Third, the Scriptures are the means by which the church functions and fulfils its call, which is the proclamation of Christ. The church is the redemptive congregation in which the Holy Spirit is at work through the Word, and the Sacraments by means of their connection to the Word, to bring us to faith, to build up the body of Christ, and to carry that same Word to the very ends of the earth.

    We, then, affirm the adequacy, and thus also the reliability, of the Scripture as the Word of God. This is why our confessions look to the Scriptures, not the church for answers. To do so would be the church looking to the church. If I have a question it is because I do not know the answer. Thus I look outside of myself to find that answer. What is the church then to do when it has a question? It looks to the ever-present Word of God as the only source and norm of all doctrine. In turn, the Scriptures are not a dead correspondence of a god speaking to us once upon a time long ago, but rather they are the Word of The God, and are live and active. They are the “means” through which God still speaks and will continue to speak, working faith in us through His Spirit who is active in and through the Word, and leading us to a life of sanctification, and ultimately to a life lived as a part of the Church.

    So Sola Scriptura then, Sola Scriptura now, Sola Scriptura always! Come the hell on. The Church is made of people who were converted by the Word. You create a false dichotomy to put the two in opposition to one another. The church exists to maintain in faith those who make are it, which is believers. The church does so through the continual proclamation of the Word/Gospel, which we only know by means of the Scriptures.

    Lastly, this is absurd: “Grace alone works because it focuses us on Christ, who alone gives us the grace we need to be forgiven and saved.” Grace alone “works,” because, to quote a popular children’s song, “the Bible tells us so.” Ref: Romans 4:1-8, Romans 3:21-28, 1st John 1:8-10, 1st John 2:1-2, 1st John 4:10-11, John 3:16-21, John 4:10-14, Ephesians 2:4-5, Ephesians 2:8-10, 1st Corinthians 15:1-11, and many, many more. Furthermore, how would we, how would the church, know grace alone if not by the Scriptures?

    The purpose of the Scriptures is to do what they say they will do, “to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” This is why we hold to sola Scriptura.

    And if anyone tells me to calm down I’m going to explode.

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    1. Scott, rest assured, you’re not going to explode. That is, unless you think everything I write that questions what you understand to be Lutheranism is papist claptrap. So calm down my friend. I really do think we both have the same end desire here, focusing ours and the church’s attention solely on Christ.

      That being said, let me ask a few questions in response to your mini-rant above:

      1) Why are the Scriptures more authoritative than the Confessions, church councils, etc? Certainly there was “church” well before there was the New Testament. Was nothing authoritative during this time period? The canon wasn’t even codified as we know it until the Reformation/Trent, so how can it be the sole norm?

      2) Is Christ only found in the Scriptures? Is He not found in His Sacraments, which I readily admit are referenced in the Scriptures, but certainly were administered for years prior to the Scriptures becoming accessible. Did Jesus need the written Word to make them valid? Of course not! To that end, I know that Jesus loves me NOT because the Bible tells me. I know this because He died on the cross and the Church has revealed this for me and her members for the better part of 2,000 years.

      3) Who decided what books should be contained in the Bible? Hmmn…Seems this entity should hold some authoritative voice…

      4) We are converted by the Holy Spirit, which is obviously found in the Word. But why do you want to limit the Spirit to the written Word? Surely you are not suggesting that without a written Word nobody is converted?

      More later, but this should stir the pot a little more…

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      1. When you deny longstanding hallmarks of what it means to be distinctively Lutheran, I will call it what it is: Papist Claptrap!

        Seriously? “1) Why are the Scriptures more authoritative than the Confessions, church councils, etc? Certainly there was “church” well before there was the New Testament. Was nothing authoritative during this time period?” Because the Word of Christ, and the testimony of the prophets and the apostles are inspired of the Holy Spirit regardless of the when the church “acknowledged,” not “determined” the cannon of Scripture. Matthew 22:19, “But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Christ Himself seems to be referring to the Scriptures, and He has the outright audacity to do it prior to the “Church,” of which He is the founder, calling a council. Such nerve. Paul seems to do the same, 2 Tim. 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” They both have some balls calling something Scripture prior to official canonical recognition by Rome. And the Confessions are only authoritative, because (here’s that quia thing) they are in agreement with the Scriptures, not the other way around. If they have authority at all, it is gleaned from the Truth of God’s Word, not the church.

        False dichotomy #2! “2) Is Christ only found in the Scriptures? Is He not found in His Sacraments, which I readily admit are referenced in the Scriptures, but certainly were administered for years prior to the Scriptures becoming accessible.” 1. The Words of Christ, the prophets, and the apostles = The Word of God. 2. They spoke, proclaimed, and wrote to others, that testimony then too = the Word of God. 3. Thus the written testimony of Christ, the prophets, and the apostles = the Word of God. 4. Finally, thus the “Scriptures” are the word of God. And therefore indisputable (says my 15 year old daughter) Christ is present in the leaves and in the trees, but we only look for him where he promises to be: the Word and the Sacraments (again by their connection to the Word). I teach that one to children. Finally even if the written text was inaccessible (shame on Rome for that one) they still proclaimed the text every time they said “hoc est corpus meum.,” or anything else from the text. I would even have to admit, as much as I despise Rome, that their preachers must have occasionally stumbled across the Gospel when extol the truths to the people.

        “3) Who decided what books should be contained in the Bible? Hmmn…Seems this entity should hold some authoritative voice…” This is not the question at hand. It is a good questions, but not ours for today. I will say that your understanding of our doctrine is either intentionally or unintentionally flawed. Lutherans, because of their doctrine of Sola Scriptura and concept of an open cannon would never say that anyone, besides God, “decides” what is cannon. The best that the church can do, in an admittedly empirical way, is acknowledge what it believes to be cannon. Yet even if I acknowledge the difficulty of cannon, you are setting up a red herring. We can argue about what is or is not cannon, but once we agree, we acknowledge that it is the Word of God and thus everything––EVERYTHING––is subject to it. That is the point. Good try though.

        Again, seriously? “4) We are converted by the Holy Spirit, which is obviously found in the Word. But why do you want to limit the Spirit to the written Word?” We do not, could not, limit the Spirit. But, He has deigned to work through means. We call these the media gratia or the means of grace. He has promised to meet us there, not in the leaves, or the trees, or even in the church absent from his Word. Rom. 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Rom. 10:17: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” 1 Cor. 1:18: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I am not limiting God, but you seem to not be listening to Him.

        And the church only knows that Jesus died for you because of the testimony of the Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles, which are the Scriptures. You’re really do enjoy those red herrings.

        And please don’t tell me to calm down.

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      2. I don’t know Graham.. You sound a lot like I did just before I swam the Tiber:) Good luck and my prayers are with you either way.

        You will find it both the easiest and the hardest thing to do if you discover you have been called.

        God bless and thanks for the great article.

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  2. OK, I’ll bite…

    What do you do with Ephesians 2:19-20 where Paul tells us that God’s household (the church) is built on the apostles and prophets (that is, their teachings which are found in the Old and New Testaments)? Sounds like the church is built on the scriptures here, not vice versa…

    Also, what doctrine has the church ever produced? It has perhaps fleshed out teachings on things like the trinity or the incarnation, but, by no means was the church ever the “source” of these doctrines! She simply received them…from Christ through His apostles and prophets, ie, the scriptures.

    Lastly, how does the church focus us more on Christ than the scriptures? I think Scott is right, this is a false dichotomy. Just because people misinterpret the Bible (like the church has done over and over and over and over again) doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t point us to Christ. Of course it does! It is hard to read the New Testament and think otherwise.

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    1. Here Here, “Just because people misinterpret the Bible (like the church has done over and over and over and over again) doesn’t mean that the Bible doesn’t point us to Christ. Of course it does! It is hard to read the New Testament and think otherwise.” I can only add: or the Old Testament! Great comment.

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    2. Bob, I’m not looking to pit one against the other here. Nor am I looking to affirm doctrine that stands in opposition to the Word of God (this is where the reformers were on to something). I’m simply suggesting that it is the Word and the Church that affirm Christ. However, I can’t figure out how/why we place the Word as the ultimate authority when it was the Church (not one individual…not one time…) that decided what would be contained in this Word.

      As I noted in my response to Scott, I think we all have the same end desire here, the centrality of Christ in our faith. I just think we limit ourselves if we don’t think of the church in a more authoritative fashion.

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      1. “I can’t figure out how/why we place the Word as the ultimate authority when it was the Church (not one individual…not one time…) that decided what would be contained in this Word.”

        are you serious, youre asking why we put the word above the church? John 1 1-4 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”

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      2. I am curious about your statement: “The church decided what would be contained in this Word.” I think I would really like to know what you mean by the church. I don’t think “the church” told Paul what he could or could not say, ie, the Galatian churches didn’t seem to have much input on Paul’s thoughts on Judiazers. Also, the church does not have the authority to edit these books either. She doesn’t decide what’s contained therein, she receives it.

        Now, I think what you are saying is that the church formed the canon. But, it’s not like those NT books became God’s Word with the nod of Nicea or something like this. The church had been using these texts as authoritative for a very long time. Reading the Father’s bears this out. They imposed themselves on the church, not vice versa.

        And to this idea, “Certainly there was “church” well before there was the New Testament. Was nothing authoritative during this time period?” Yes, the Old Testament. The Bereans subjected Paul to the OT. The bringing in of the Gentiles was approved of by the church BECAUSE they went back to the prophets to see what was written. Even James and Peter and Paul were subjecting their teaching to a written authority. None of these guys was producing anything. They were listening and obeying.

        Further, there was no church ever apart from the apostles’ teaching, and then upon their deaths, writings. Yes, there was a point at which the NT was codified, but it didn’t appear out of nowhere. The church had been under the writings of Peter, Paul, the Gospels, etc. for hundreds of years. The “church” in council simply acknowledged what it had received.

        The church has always been the product of the Word, whether that Word is preached, written, or sacramental. The church derives its being from the Word, written and proclaimed, not the other way around.

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    3. Bob, my point is that the church chose which books would be included in the canon. As Scott noted above, that conversation is for another article (that is, what books and why). I’m just saying that the church had an authoritative decision in choosing what would be included in the Word of God, so why does this authority not continue today?

      I think yours and others point that “there was no church ever apart from the apostles’ teaching, and then upon their deaths, writings” is the strongest argument against mine.

      I would like to push you on your point that the church derives its being from the Word. Does the church not derive her being from Christ? Some of this might be semantics, but I think when we Lutherans look to scripture alone as the only norm of our doctrine, we miss out on the wonder of the church that was given to Christ’s followers – not to lord it over them, not to contradict scripture, not to supplant His Word (contained in the scriptures) – but to be that ever constant source of authority that offers His means to the faithful.

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      1. Pastor, I’m not sure your statement that the Church chose the books to be included in the canon can be accepted, and in an interesting twist I find agreement within the RC tradition. The Church doesn’t have authority the Word does. That is why it is the norma normans.

        “The books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council [Trent] and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without errors, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their Author.”

        Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Session 2, 6th January, 1870

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      2. Paul,

        “The Church holds them as sacred and canonical not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority”

        ap·prove verb \ə-ˈprüv\

        : to believe that something or someone is good or acceptable

        : to officially accept (an idea, action, plan, etc.)

        The church most certainly and indisputably made a decision over what was sacred and canonical. They deemed some to be inspired and others they rejected. There was discussion and debate about what should be accepted. What we have today is the outcome of that debate.

        The church did determine which books God authored, and we should be very grateful it did. For if the church did not have this authority, it would thus fall to each one of us to determine what books are inspired by God.

        We protestants have enough trouble agreeing on simple matters, can you imagine how much more divided we would be if the church didn’t organize the canon?

        James would not be read in Lutheran circles or in many Reformed churches.

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      3. Jim, I’m not following your point. Neither of the definitions you offered change what the conciliar statement says about the authority being found in God’s authorship. The citation says not because they were afterwards approved by her authority…

        The Scriptures are that which is θεόπνευστος (God-breathed or maybe even better rendered God-spirited), and a key idea there is the connection between the Spirit and the Word. There is no Church without the Spirit, and there is no Wordless Spirit. Only when then Word of God is present in the written form (Scriptures), oral form (proclamation in accord with the rule of faith), and in the sacraments does the Holy Spirit call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify both individual believers and the whole Christian Church on Earth and keep him/it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

        The Church receives God’s Word through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the individual could no more decide what is inspired than the Church could. So there was an organic coalescing of Scripture, as it was received in the Church. This was rooted in the communities of believers hearing the voice of the Shepherd and the Spirit doing His work through the Word [so then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Rom. 10:17]. The Apostolic Fathers are already citing Scripture, as do countless Fathers before any formal conciliar statements on the Canon. They do not appeal to their own authority or to the Church when drawing their arguments from the Scriptures but simply assume the authority of the Word itself, as it is being received from the Apostles and their associates.

        As this relates to opinions on the homologoumenon and antilegomenon, it is simply historical fact that some books were universally accepted as Apostolic and others remained with a lesser attestation. This is not some protestant incredulity. Some of Luther’s most famous adversaries, men like Cajetan and Erasmus, held the same positions as the reformer when it came to the Scriptures. Therefore we use Scripture to interpret Scripture, with the Gospels and the other homologoumenon providing hermeneutical keys to the other Scriptures. Thus with your example of James, we rightly retain it and read it through the lens of the Gospels and Paul’s epistles. Even the Apocrypha maintains a place in the Book of Concord [cited as Scripture] and the liturgy of evangelical catholic churches.

        Finally, you may claim the title of Protestant, but I certainly don’t cede catholic to Rome. The opposite of catholic is not protestant but sectarian, and there is nothing in the Book of Concord that is anything but a clear confession of the catholic faith witnessed faithfully throughout the history of the Church – including the recognition of God’s Word as the only thing that can keep His Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

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      4. Paul,

        “The Church receives God’s Word through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the individual could no more decide what is inspired than the Church could”

        I am sorry, but that disagrees with the historical record as seen in your original quote. It also makes no sense.

        “they were afterwards approved by her authority”

        If the church could not approve which scriptures were inspired and which were not AND if no individual can approve them, then they can not be approved. How would that EXACTLY work?

        I would argue that the gathered leaders of the church were the only ones with legitimate authority to come the conclusion they did.

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      5. I just described it Jim. God’s Word is received by the work of the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on Earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

        You can have the last word.

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      6. Hi Paul,

        “I just described it Jim. God’s Word is received by the work of the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on Earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. ”

        You appear to be saying that the Word of God was received by the Church (which I agree with) BUT that this reception did not involve any testing, discussion or determination on their part. That sounds nice, but I don’t think that is how it worked.

        Consider the OT canon. Don’t you think the same thing would have applied here? The Catholics have their version of the OT, the Orthodox have a different version as does the Coptic church. Then we have our version. How do we explain the differences here? Did the Holy Spirit mis-communicate or stutter? Or, did church leaders make a decision to reject some books and include others?

        The fact that the NT canon is universally received by all branches of Christianity speaks clearly that we have it right. I believe the Holy Sprit was active in making sure the churches got it right. I also believe that God used his church to establish the NT canon. Practically speaking, men of God said “We believe this is God’s word and we believe this is not” thereby functioning in their God given authority as bishops. They made decisions, with the guidance of the HS and we have the NT canon we have today because of that.

        Merry Christmas!

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    4. Christ and his Church are one. Eph 5 tells us the Church and Jesus are wed and we know what that means. Mat 19 is clear on the state of a marital union. It is a complete oneness!

      And the cool thing is we get to see it fleshed out, so to speak, in Acts 9:4 and 22:7. Persecution of the Church is persecution of the Christ.

      That’s what’s supposed to make us different then the Mormons and the Mohamidins and other “People of the Book.” Our book is a part of revelation. We have not been left orphans, John 14.

      Because His Church is here He is here! Isn’t that neat!?

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  3. How else is one suppose to know of grace or faith if they do not hear from God’s Word? How is one to be saved if not by God’s Word? Grace and faith are declared through the Word. I think you are taking a minimalist approach which in the end has to point back to the Word of God is the means of grace that nourishes and creates faith.

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    1. We are saved by the blood of Christ. We are saved by the Cross and the Resurrection. The word of God (scripture) comes to us by the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that also gives us the Bride of Christ, the holy church.

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      1. The authority of the written word comes from the authority of the men who wrote it. Apostolic authority comes from God the Son. The authority of the Son comes from the Father.

        “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.”

        Then… “As the Father sent me, so I send you..”

        Note, He didn’t say, “as the Father sent me, here’s the KJV, hardbound from the heavens.”

        Jesus didn’t give his Father-given authority to a book. He gave it to the apostles…to the Church. The Book comes from the Church. Even the contents of the Book weren’t settled until 4 centuries into the Church age, for pete’s sake. Who held the authority then? An infallible book is no good without an infallible interpretation.

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    2. Why do you insist that the “Word” is limited to paper and ink? Most words are spoken and only some are written.
      Scripture was mostly spoken words that got written down later.

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  4. Christ also said that the Pharisees who claimed to have the Scriptures were teaching things that were “rules taught by men” (extra Scriptural). To give the church more authority over the Word would be to turn things wrong way up. But I think it only fair for my fellow man to really state where he is coming from and if he thinks I am incorrect.

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    1. Larry, again my purpose here is not to claim things that are contrary to Scripture. I’m not giving the church more authority than I think the Lord has already given her. The church is not to lord over, but to give that which Christ has given her, namely, Word and Sacrament. But without the church, we have neither.

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      1. “The church is not to lord over, but to give that which Christ has given her, namely, Word and Sacrament. But without the church, we have neither.”

        Sir, you seem to have it backward. How would we have the church without the word and sacrament.

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  5. Filium Secundus, I’m not asking to put the church over the Word. I’m asking what/who norms our doctrine. The church and the Word work together. That’s all I’m trying to say. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    As for John 1, let us not confuse the written word (scripture) with the Word of God, made flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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    1. 2 Tim. 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”

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      1. Absolutely concur. No issues with this point at all, nor do I think it speaks against the point I’m trying to make in the above article.

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  6. Filium Secundus, did not the Holy Spirit descend upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost to create the church? The scriptures don’t create the church, the Lord does. However, you are correct, without the Word and the Sacraments there would be no church. On this I do no disagree.

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  7. The Word is Christ, first…no?

    Then Christ in preaching and teaching. (“faith comes by hearing…”)

    Then Christ in the sacraments…and in the Scriptures.

    Thoughtful and provocative post.

    Thanks.

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  8. I had a problem with how faith traditions claiming to be based on the Bible differ in so many ways concerning doctrine, sacraments, and morality. Baptist would require a Lutheran to be rebaptized to join their tradition, is one example. Why are there are divisions within Lutheranism?

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    1. John, there are divisions because of differences in interpretation. This includes not only Holy Scripture, but the Book of Concord (the Lutheran confessions).

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  9. The bible itself tells us that the “Church is the pillar and bulwark of truth”. No where in Scripture does Scripture even assert point! Yes , the “Word was Christ”, but Christ gave us a Church! Christ did not give us the bible! When we attempt “to define the “Word” as ONLY the bible, we limit Christ! Graham Glover attempts to seek truth as it is, not as his tradition shapes the truth. Most of the comments here reflect those who are more committed to a religion than truth!

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  10. If there was no Bible ever composed would Jesus still have been born, died and risen? If so then would there still be followers of Christ today without a Bible?

    I have asked these questions to my staunch “Bible Only” friends and they have no real answers except to humbly say yes. If the answer is yes to these questions than how would we know about Him? The answer is the Church which He started with the apostles.

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  11. What makes you think the alleged “reformers” wanted to “correct” perceived abuses in the Church. Perhaps they were seeking self promotion and political ends? For that was the Fruit of their labors along with disunity, war and aligning half of Christendom with Satan’s slogan “I will not Serve” only this time it’s God’s emissary on earth in lieu of God himself.

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    1. Joe, regardless of whether or not you agree with the reformers, I absolutely believe that they had right intention in their reform efforts. Their purpose was not themselves and certainly not political ends (remember the Holy Roman Empire was facing the threat of the Turks, which Luther too was adamant in defeating). And don’t go blaming the Protestant reformation for disunity in the church. Remember 1054? The East/West split. Division with the church, as sad and awful as it is, goes back much earlier.

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  12. The very arguments of people in these comments point to one of the big problems with Sola Scriptura: multiple people prayerfully reading the Bible and disagreeing about what it means with no reliable way for a third person to discern between them which (if either) is right.

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    1. Hidden One, you hint at what I am trying to get at, that is: who is the ultimate authority in interpreting scripture?

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  13. jessej, thanks for your input and your thoughts. As for me, well, “Here I stand”.

    Perhaps conversations like these, that push and challenge both Lutherans and Catholics alike, will allow more dialogue to occur and with it, more unity among our divided communions.

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  14. Graham. Its interesting you mention the east west split. I don’t think you can really give it a date and it seems like a gradual falling apart that lasted hundreds of years after 1054 and has been healing for hundreds more.
    Please indulge a personal story. When I realized scripture pointed to a living visible unified Church I of course wanted it to be Lutheran, Greek Orthodox or Anglicanism or anything but Catholic!
    When I learned of the Vatican’s dismissal of apostolic succession in the Lutheran and Anglican communities and their acceptance of the Eastern Orthodox holy orders I imagined hubris from Rome.
    Then I noticed the reverence both Rome and the East have for the Eucharist and Mary. There was something unique with both communities that does not exist in the rest of Christendom!
    This was a strong pointer for me that Catholics were more interested in revealing Truth then claiming some sort of reserved power!
    It was a huge domino that fell with this revelation.
    I understand if this is too off topic and too evangelical to post but I felt moved to share this with my fellow travelers.
    God bless.

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  15. The Canon of the Bible was fixed long before the Reformation/Trent. It was fixed at Councils in the fourth century – both for the Old and New Testaments. Admittedly the Protestants decided to change the canon in the sixteenth century.

    “The council of Hippo in 393, and the third (according to another reckoning the sixth) council of Carthage in 397, under the influence of Augustine, who attended both, fixed the catholic canon of the Holy Scriptures, including the Apocrypha of the Old Testament…. The New Testament canon is the same as ours. This decision of the transmarine church however, was subject to ratification; and the concurrence of the Roman see it received when Innocent I and Gelasius I a.d. 414) repeated the same index of biblical books. This canon remained undisturbed till the sixteenth century, and was sanctioned by the council of Trent at its fourth session.” (Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, Ch 9)
    From another scholarly Protestant source, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2nd ed., edited by F.L. Cross & E.A. Livingstone, Oxford Univ. Press, 1983, p.232), refers to the earlier synod of Rome in AD 382:
    Quote:
    “A council probably held at Rome in 382 under St. Damasus gave a complete list of the canonical books of both the Old Testament and the New Testament (also known as the ‘Gelasian Decree’ because it was reproduced by Gelasius in 495), which is identical with the list given at Trent.”

    Also, if the Church is necessary to interpret Scripture, where do we find this Church today?

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    1. Jesus told us where to find His Church. He said HE (not men) would build HIS Church on Peter the Rock. If you build a church one has to know where to find it.
      This was a fundamental question for me also.
      The Faith was being spread all over the world centuries before the Canon of Scripture was decided so how did that happen? History shows us it was a visible Church orally preaching everywhere that was spreading The Faith and those men wrote a few things along the way. They said if you want to know truth follow the authority of Apostolic succession in an unbroken line back to Peter.

      St Ignatius was the deciding factor for me. He was a man who learned the Faith from St John himself so hard to claim corruption of teaching had crept in to his beliefs. In 107 AD he was martyred in the Colluseum in Rome, a martyrdom he sought. He wrote 7 letters the various communities before he died and in one he wrote this. “Let no one do anything concerning the Church without the Bishop for wherever the Bishop is there let all the people be. Just as wherever Jesus Christ is there is the Catholic Church.”
      His was the earliest historical record of using the term Catholic and I noticed how he didn’t feel the need to explain the term. This suggests it was already common only 70 years after the Accension.

      If anyone looks into the historical record of what the earliest Christians believed they will discover that their beliefs were very Catholic. As Anglican convert John Henry Newman wrote in 1845, “To be deep in history is to cease being Protestant.”

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    2. Mike, your last comment is, I think, the real question at the heart of the Lutheran-Catholic divide. More on that topic in the new year…

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  16. “This is why scripture alone fails. It fails because it focuses us not on Christ, but on what we want Christ to be and how we want to interpret what God has revealed to us. Scripture alone will never be enough because we can’t read the scriptures or understand them outside that which gave them to us in the first place, namely the church, the very Bride of Christ. It’s not scripture that rules and norms our Christian doctrine, it’s the church, to whom the scriptures were given and through whom they are rightly interpreted.”

    Sir, if you keep speaking like that, you’ll be called names… such as ‘Catholic’. If the shoe fits… .

    My reasons for swimming the Tiber and being received into the Catholic Church are many, but it was the authority of Christ and His Church (1 Tim 3:15) and obedience to the Church He founded on St. Peter which led me away from the sola scriptura innovation toward the biblical Catholic doctrine of Apostolic Tradition (i.e., Holy Scripture AND Sacred Tradition: 2 Thess. 2:15). That, and the simple logic that the infallible word of God (Holy Scripture) could not have come from a fallible Church. Scripture could only come from an infallible interpreter, protected by God from error, which determined the Canon of Sacred Scripture. It seems to me that the Reformers discarded books from the OT Canon by appropriating authority that did not belong to them. Which is to say, the Reformers’ misappropriation of authority is the sand upon which the Reformation was built. Rock (Christ & His vicar Peter) or sand?

    Thank you for sifting through some of that sand.

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    1. Wendell, your statement, “Scripture could only come from an infallible interpreter, protected by God from error, which determined the Canon of Sacred Scripture.” is patently false [2 Tim. 3:16]. Holy Scripture is that which is θεόπνευστος, literally “God breathed.” The Church did not sit around and determine what God’s Word would be, as if choosing to toss out St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians would have made it cease to be God’s Word. The Church received God’s Word because of its authority and efficacious nature.

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  17. Interesting article. It is even more enlightening to read the comment thread as you search for the Truth.

    Saint Josemaria Escriva wrote a wonderful little piece that applies:

    He (Christ) often speaks to us through other people. But when we see their defects or doubt whether they are well informed — whether they have grasped all the aspects of the problem — we feel inclined to disobey.

    All this may have a divine meaning, for God does not impose a blind obedience on us. He wants us to obey intelligently, and we have to feel responsible for helping others with the intelligence we do have. But let’s be sincere with ourselves: let’s examine, in every case, whether it is love for the truth which moves us or selfishness and attachment to our own judgment. When our ideas separate us from other people, when they weaken our communion, our unity with our brothers, it is a sure sign that we are not doing what God wants.

    Let’s not forget: we need humility if we are to obey. Look again at the example Christ gives us: he obeys Joseph and Mary. God has come to the world to obey, and to obey creatures. Admittedly they are two very perfect creatures: Holy Mary, our mother, greater than whom God alone; and that most chaste man Joseph. But they are only creatures, and yet Jesus, who is God, obeyed them. We have to love God so as to love his will and desire to respond to his calls. They come to us through the duties of our ordinary life: duties of state, profession, work, family, social life, our own and other people’s difficulties, friendship, eagerness to do what is right and just.(Christ is passing by, 17)

    I went through a similar struggle as you a few years ago. An open mind when reading the fathers of the Church and including information such as Plato’s cave dwellers and understanding Aristotle’s argument on the ability (or inability) of something “to be and not be” all led me to this “new” effort of the Catholic Church under anglicanorum coetibus. I pray the pope has similar success in developing a pathway to reunite the Church with her Lutheran bretheran.

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  18. Scripture alone is far more trustworthy: the Bible is infallible, the Church is not. Paul tells us to evaluate all teaching in light of scripture in order to know what is true. Scripture guides and corrects the believer (the Church). When the Church is found to be in error, only scripture can reallign it.

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    1. Indeed, the Scriptures are infallible…..however your interpretation of them is probably not. In the end one cannot possibly receive the Word in the Scriptures without interpretation.

      And unless you have been given the authority of “prime minister” (i.e. second in command) to The King of Kings, the charge to “feed His sheep” or had your name changed personally by Christ and told that your decisions would be bound not only on earth but in heaven too….you may want to consider whether you really want to claim that it is Peter who is wrong in interpretation.

      God bless you this ChristMass season!!

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      1. I’m sure you will take issue with my opinion, but in as much as Church history is full of saints, heros, and exceptional leaders, there is also a history of sin, shame, and failures. Churches of ALL denominations (Lutherans as well, not just Catholics) have a history of leaders who steal from the plate, fall into sexual sin (pornography, affairs, pedophelia, homosexuality), evangelism by threat rather than being saved by grace through faith, living by fear (current LCMS), being self-righteous, and on and on it goes. Even Peter himself had to be corrected by Paul because he was returning to a system of works. Peter was corrected by the Word being presented and showing the truth of the matter.
        The Word is the standard (norm) that we measure everything else against. Everything else, especially sinful, capricious humans, is shifting and unreliable. Scripture is unchanging truth, holy, and 100% reliable. The Word has always been holy and will always be holy: it will never need correction or amendment.
        Along with correcting and guiding, the Word holds the Good News itself that all of us, sheep and shepherds alike, have been redeemed from the slavery of sin and been made co-heirs with Christ himself, reunited with our Father forever and ever. For all these reasons (and perhaps more that I’ve omitted) Luther wrote that scripture alone is sufficient and trustworthy. Indeed, Feliz Navidad to you and thank you for responding to my comment.

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      2. Pete, if I can’t be sure of what Scripture says without the magisterium how can I be sure of what the magisterium is saying without an authoritative interpreter of their teaching? You are committing the logical fallacy of special pleading on behalf of the magisterium.

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  19. Since we ALL agree that scripture is inspired by God and unerring why son’t we see what The Word says about the authority of the Church? 1Tim 3:15 “The Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth.” So it looks like the Church is unerring too. Is there any Church around that even CLAIMS to be inerrant ?

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  20. St. Irenaeus of Lyons (+ca.195):

    We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith. (Against Heresies, 3:1.1, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 414.)

    St. Athanasius (c.296-373):

    The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth. (Against the Heathen, I:3, quoted in Carl A. Volz, Faith and Practice in the Early Church [Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983], p. 147.)

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem (c.310-386):

    For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures. (Catechetical Lectures, IV:17, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983 reprint], Second Series, Vol. VII, p. 23.)

    St. Gregory of Nyssa (330-395):

    [W]e are not entitled to such license, namely, of affirming whatever we please. For we make Sacred Scripture the rule and the norm of every doctrine. Upon that we are obliged to fix our eyes, and we approve only whatever can be brought into harmony with the intent of these writings. (On the Soul and the Resurrection, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971], p. 50.)

    Let the inspired Scriptures then be our umpire, and the vote of truth will be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words. (On the Holy Trinity, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. V, p. 327.)

    St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):

    Let them show their church if they can, not by the speeches and mumblings of the Africans, not by the councils of their bishops, not by the writings of any of their champions, not by fraudulent signs and wonders, because we have been prepared and made cautious also against these things by the Word of the Lord; but [let them show their church] by a command of the Law, by the predictions of the prophets, by songs from the Psalms, by the words of the Shepherd Himself, by the preaching and labors of the evangelists; that is, by all the canonical authorities of the sacred books. (On the Unity of the Church, 16, quoted in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], p. 159.)

    What more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For Holy Scripture sets a rule to our teaching, that we dare not “be wise more than it behooves to be wise,” but be wise, as he says, “unto soberness, according as unto each God has allotted the measure of faith.” (On the Good of Widowhood, 2, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. III, p. 442. The quotation is from Romans 12:3.)

    St. John Chrysostom (c.347-407):

    Let us not therefore carry about the notions of the many, but examine into the facts. For how is it not absurd that in respect to money, indeed, we do not trust to others, but refer to [our own] calculation; but in calculating upon [theological] facts we are lightly drawn aside by the notions of others; and that too, though we possess an exact balance, and square and rule for all things, the declaration of the divine laws? Wherefore I exhort and entreat you all, disregard what this man and that man thinks about these things, and inquire from the Scriptures all these things; and having learned what are the true riches, let us pursue after them that we may obtain also the eternal good things… (Homily 13 on 2 Corinthians, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. XII, p. 346.)

    Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast. (Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 96, p. 118.)

    They say that we are to understand the things concerning Paradise not as they are written but in a different way. But when Scripture wants to teach us something like that, it interprets itself and does not permit the hearer to err. I therefore beg and entreat that we close our eyes to all things and follow the canon of Holy Scripture exactly. (Homily 13 on Genesis.)

    There comes a heathen and says, “I wish to become a Christian, but I know not whom to join: there is much fighting and faction among you, much confusion: which doctrine am I to choose?” How shall we answer him? “Each of you” (says he) “asserts, ‘I speak the truth.’” No doubt: this is in our favor. For if we told you to be persuaded by arguments, you might well be perplexed: but if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule. (Homily 33 on the Acts of the Apostles [in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 1, 11:210-11; PG 60.243-44])

    St. Basil the Great (c.329-379):

    They are charging me with innovation, and base their charge on my confession of three hypostases [persons], and blame me for asserting one Goodness, one Power, one Godhead. In this they are not wide of the truth, for I do so assert. Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the Word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. (Letter 189 [to Eustathius the physician], 3, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. VIII, p. 229.)

    What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if “all that is not of faith is sin” as the Apostle says, and “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin. (The Morals, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 9, p. 204.)

    We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture. (On the Holy Spirit, 7:16.)

    St. John of Damascus (c.675-c.749):

    It is impossible either to say or fully to understand anything about God beyond what has been divinely proclaimed to us, whether told or revealed, by the sacred declarations of the Old and New Testaments. (On the Orthodox Faith, I:2, in The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 37.)

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    1. Paul I’m shocked to see a Protestant selectively quoting verses out of context! Never heard of that!

      1. Irenaesus Against Heresies: Please read the whole thing. Irenaus is very clear on the authority of Bishops and Tradition especially 2 chapters down from your quote.
      I’d also say that 80% of the thing reads like “Against Reformers”

      2. Athanasius: Please read Against Arian’s. Its a refutation of the Arian’s misuse of scripture and here he is in a letter to Christians who remained in the Church “But ye are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from Apostolic tradition, and frequently has accursed envy wished to unsettle it, but has not been able. On the contrary, they have rather been cut off by their attempts to do so.”

      So Athanasius says you get cut off when you leave the Church tradition!

      3. Cyril same lecture you quote says “whereas they of the Circumcision deceive those who come to them by means of the Divine Scriptures, which they miserably misinterpret though studying them from childhood to old age, and growing old in ignorance…. This is the reason for the teaching of the Creed and for expositions upon it.

      I could go on and may later when I have more time but really if you want to make a case for scripture alone you might want to stop quoting faithful Catholic Bishops who agree with the OP!

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    2. Just one more Paul and that’s just because you bring my beloved Augustin in to butress your case against his beloved Church.
      “I would not believe in the Gospels were it not for the authority of the Catholic Church” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 5:6).

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      1. The Scriptures and the Church are not pitted against each other, but the Church is normed by the “divine oracles” and to be “sought in the holy canonical Scriptures.” Also, from Augustine On the Unity of the Church . Sola scriptura does not preclude historical realities of the living Church or the rightful place of tradition but rather points to the norma normans for its doctrine.

        As for your specific citation, either Augustine or Vatican I is incorrect about why the Scriptures are sacred and canonical.

        “The books of the Old and New Testament, whole and entire, with all their parts, as enumerated in the decree of the same Council [Trent] and in the ancient Latin Vulgate, are to be received as sacred and canonical. And the Church holds them as sacred and canonical not because, having been composed by human industry, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without errors, but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their Author.”

        Vatican I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Session 2, 6th January, 1870.

        Two reasons given by the council for receiving Scripture as sacred and canonical are (1) inerrant revelation and (2) inspired revelation authored by God.

        I bear you no ill will, and I’m not trying to be uncharitable, although surely I’ve failed. I am not very good on the combox. Forgive me. The question of authority is obviously foundational.

        I’ll try to reply more after Christmas.

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      2. Amen Paul, as a good Catholic I agreee with the Churches documents and you seem sufficiently charitable so thank you.

        Of course Catholics hold scripture sacred, inspired, God breathed, inerrent, etc. But this does not speak to other authority we see, even in scripture

        Did the apostles have complete Godlike authority after Lk 10:16? Jesus says they do.

        Did the apostles have authority to write Scripture? Yep.

        Did the Church have authority to close divine revelation after the death of the last apostle?……She did, and there is nothing in the text that declares this. It is the Church that let’s us know about this ‘closing of revelation’ “inerrantly”.

        God loves working with us sooooo much he never upstages us. He always gives us more power then we deserve while He remains in the background.

        We see this in our daily life. He gives us wheat and we take His simple gift and make, and brag about our cake. He gives us grapes and we userp the glory of a grape created ex nhilo and He let’s us brag about our wine and its tannins.

        God loves you Paul and he left his body (the Church Ep 1:22-23) here for you. he waits for you like you were the only person in the universe.

        It’s so awesome!

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      3. Jesse, you caught me turning off the computer on the way to bed. Check out the comments from this blogpost I’m linking…http://scecclesia.wordpress.com/2009/03/09/the-origin-of-sola-scriptura/

        The original post is by a Australian RC who was I believe a Lutheran Pastor. Rev. William Weedon is a Pastor in my synod, and Past Elder is a former RC who is now a Confessional Lutheran. Weedon is articulating what truly confessional evangelical catholics hold about our Churches. You may also be interested in his blog, which would give you a wealth of information on doctrine and practice in a Confessional Lutheran parish. weedon.blogspot.com

        Have a holy and blessed Christmas

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  21. “First [, then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart] the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged.”

    Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord; Rule and Norm

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    1. Paul, this is it, isn’t it? This is clearly what the Lutheran Confessions teach and what our Lutheran congregations confess. I’m not questioning that. I’m questioning if Holy Scriptures are truly enough to norm our faith. As stated several times above, mine is not to contradict scripture or to proclaim/affirm doctrine that undermines it, rather it is to ask the question if the Holy Scriptures truly are enough to norm.

      I think the conversation above, even with some very passionate dialogue, has been good and worthy of discussion.

      Above all, our doctrine and teachings should first and always point to Christ, whose birth we all await!

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  22. Yes, the Scriptures are the touchstone for all doctrine and life, and this is the way to ensure Christocentricity (John 5:39). Our confessions assume our believing, teaching, and confessing occurs within the tradition of the Wester Church and we do not deny the proper role of tradition, but your appeals are a bridge too far.

    Waiting with you.

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  23. “Also, what doctrine has the church ever produced? ”

    How about “Sola Scriptura”? I am pretty sure that is a doctrine that the Protestant church developed. Catholics of course say we invented it, so does the Coptic church and the Eastern Orhtodox churches.

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