By Scott Keith –
Despite the goading I received from The Emperor’s Chair (Graham Glover) the other week to do a point-by-point rebuttal of his post, I will not capitulate. He got me last year. When he first aired his ideas about and psychological need for an authoritarian papal counterbalance to the freedom won by the Gospel and affirmed by the Reformation, I took the bait like a trout in a stocked pond. But not this year… This year I will rise above the fray and will not go for a counter-attack.
What I will do is commend to our readers a little book entitled, Where Christ is Present, and especially the chapter authored by one of my good friends and colleague, Dr. Adam Francisco. His chapter is simply titled, “Authority-The Holy Scriptures.” In it, Adam traces the history of theological authority, and asks important, core questions. Which sources inform us to believe what we believe? Which authorities are trustworthy enough for us to bet our lives on them? The title indicates his answer to those questions: the Scriptures. What struck me was the contrast between Adam’s opening paragraph and Graham’s opening argument from last week. We’ll start with Graham’s.
Graham writes: “But I still think Protestants, especially Lutherans, should reconsider the papacy. Why? Because the office of the Bishop of Rome is, in my opinion, the ideal means for unity within Christendom (something the church will need more and more in the years to come) and the only authority that can ebb the ever dangerous tide against theological error increasingly evident among the countless Christian communions.” Graham is arguing for unity based on authority, in this case the Pope. He seems to be arguing that, without someone with enough power to reign us all in, unity (in what I’m not sure: doctrine, practice, warm fuzzy feelings?) will never be achieved.
So what does Adam say about the need for unity and how that relates to the Scriptures? He says: “Every theological tradition that identifies itself as Christian maintains the authority of Scripture in some sense of the term, and yet they all disagree on a number of issues concerning theology (and practice) of Christianity.” Adam seems to have the same concern. That is, we are not all unified in our belief and practice even though we all ascribe to Holy Writ, at least to some degree. While Graham seems to desire a particular person––a sinner like you and me––to provide the necessary bridge between our fractured systems of belief, Adam says we’ve had the bridge all along. He continues, “This (disagreement in theology and practice) is largely due to the additional authorities Christians have added alongside or on top of the authority of Scripture.” Like tradition? Like the Pope? No; the bridge, according to Adam, is Holy Scripture. The additional authorities, which threaten to tear down the bridge, are all of those things that we like to add to God’s Word.
What both Adam and Graham have correctly identified is what is called the formal principle of theology. The formal principle is any person or thing from which you, the believer, or we, the Church, receive our authoritative theological information. As Adam explains: “For what one identifies as authoritative when it comes to theology ultimately informs (if not determines) where one will end up on the theological spectrum.”
Classically, Lutherans have ended up on the side of sola Scriptura. That is to say, the Bible alone is our only source and norm of theology. Adam explains in his chapter that this was something that was rediscovered during the Reformation, but was nothing new in Church history. In fact, he does a very nice job of tracing Martin Luther’s evolution of belief, and subsequently the rest of Lutheranism’s, regarding papal authority, the authority ascribed to tradition by the Church, and the authority we give to the Bible.
Long story short: Lutheranism is a theological tradition that has, from its inception, held the Holy Scriptures to be the highest authority. Historically, Lutherans have, for good reason, been apprehensive––to say the least––about ascribing significant authority to anything else. Why? As Adam explains, the reasons are good and sundry. First: “God Himself––in the person of Jesus––held the Bible of His day (the Old Testament) as the ultimate theological authority.” Second: Jesus commissioned His disciples to bring the Gospel (His words) to the end of the earth. Third: “To accomplish this before His ascension, He promised to send the Holy Spirit so they would be able to recall everything He taught them, guiding them in all truth.” Fourth, and for this list, finally, their writings are the writings of eyewitnesses to our Lord. They wrote their testimonies down in what we now call the Bible; they recorded what they saw, touched, tasted, and heard on our behalf.
Christ commanded and they passed down through the apostles all that we need to be saved! Together with what we call the Old Testament, these are the Word of God. His Word (and sacraments through institution by His words) is/are the means by which we come to the faith and are sustained in that one holy, catholic, and apostolic faith and church. Nothing else has that power. Nothing else holds that promise. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
So, to sum it up:
- We don’t need a pope, Graham.
- Holy Scripture alone is authoritative to inform theology, faith, and practice.
- Adam Francisco is a Badass, and his chapter in Where Christ is Present is an awesome reminder of why point # 2 is so important.
- Read Where Christ is Present.
I think I may have done a bit of a point-by-point anyway. I got baited again. Dang it all Graham, you know I can’t resist. Stop goading me! Read Where Christ is Present! (Final shameless plug.)