Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sola Scriptura includes apostolic tradition?

Growing up Lutheran (MO Synod), I was taught the four solas: sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, sola cruce. Translated, the four mean: By grace alone, by faith alone, by scripture alone, by the cross alone. Those are considered to be the pillars of Lutheranism and are embedded into the Lutheran confessions though how those four are represented in contemporary Lutheran theology varies greatly in many Lutheran churches and synods.

The third of these, sola scriptura, is supposed to mean that the Scriptures are the norm (normans normata)for all Christian doctrine. If there is a practice or dogma that Scripture flat out condemns, it must be cast to the wind! However, to say that Lutherans (but again, remember that modern day Lutherans have different ideas as to what sola scriptura means precisely) are fundamentalist Bible thumpers like the Baptist is simply untrue (though some definitely fit into that mold more and more in the MO Synod these days). Scripture remains the gem, but Lutherans also hold on to the "catholic principle." Notice this is little "c" catholic, not big "C" Catholic as in the Roman Catholics. The catholic principle refers to those traditions and doctrines which belong to the universal church and which are good for preserving order but are not necessary for salvation. However, even this has come under attack in modern Lutheranism with more fundamentalist groups pulling on one side and more liberal groups pulling from the other.

On another blog I often read, Pr. McCain's Cyberbrethren, he was discussing a recent issue of First Things which had an article on woman's ordination. Responding to a poster who said that he opposed women's ordination on Scripture alone, not Scripture plus tradition, Pr. McCain writes the following:

Lars, actually…the point the post makes is that the “tradition” of the Church is what it is, precisely because there is no Dominical or Apostolic mandate/authority for women to be pastors. That is the “Scripture alone” approach we take as well.

Now, I must admit that I was taken aback by that comment. Pr. McCain is saying, by my reading of his statement, that the authority placed in Scriptures is also placed in the Apostolic Fathers. Sola scriptura=auctoritate apostolorum! Now, I would like to ask Pr. McCain for more elaboration on this. However, Pr. McCain doesn't much like me, which is his right (lots of people don't like me and I don't lose sleep over it) and probably thinks of me as an apostate (his attacks on Lutherans who have left the faith for Rome or Constantinople make for some good reading) so I can't really see if I'm correct in reading him. If I am, it does reaffirm that modern Lutheranism does have a catholic principle and that those who would pull the church to a Biblical Christianity (which is an oxymoron) or a "believe-what-we-feel-like" Christianity really represent novelties.

A lot of people who don't know the Orthodox and who think of them as merely "Catholics without the Pope" don't understand what we mean by words such as Scripture and Tradition. To us Orthodox, there is no dichotomy of categorizing the faith in scriptural or traditional terms. Such is a very western and Aristotelian manner of thinking (nothing wrong with that though it does present some very difficult conflicts with the faith). Tradition includes Scripture. It is not separated from it. Tradition includes all those ways by which God has revealed Himself to us. Tradition includes Scripture, the Holy Councils and Canons, the Hymnography of the Church, Iconography, the Mysteries (i.e. Sacraments),etc. God's Word (the Man God, Jesus Christ and His Icon of the Holy Scriptures) is not revealed strictly through writings.

Though many modern books on Orthodoxy from Orthodox authors make the mistake of examining things through the western lens of scripture vs. tradition, they are wrong. It is Scripture in tradition, not Scripture and tradition. Pr. McCain, on the other hand, seems to be arguing for Tradition in Scripture.

Whatever or however Pr. McCain may mean by his one comment, it should be very clear that the sola scriptura of authentic historic Lutheranism is NOT the Biblical fundamentalism we see with many Baptists and evangelicals today and is certainly not the rejection of Scriptural authority we see with Episcopalians, the ELCA and the Presbyterians. It's just something I found interesting from my reading today.


  1. I grew up in and now live in part of the world where Lutheranism has no historical presence and where it is all but non-existent today. As such, what little I know of Lutheranism comes from my reading and interactions over the internet in recent years. I had never encountered the four pillars until reading your post. My initial reaction was to question how it is possible to employ [i]sola[/i] to four different things. Is this not self-contradictory? How is this perceived in Lutheran circles?

  2. Please forgive the coding gaff. I often forget which sites require html and which BB code. Blame my advanced age.

  3. I just found this and thought I would pipe up on it.

    First, for Chris - Lutheranism arises out of a Western mire where Tradition wasn't so much seen as maintaining what had been handed down, but what *is established* by the decision of the Papacy. Priests shall not marry becomes the tradition not because that is the way it has been but because of Papal mandate. Thus, when and where the Scriptures are posited against "tradition" it is against the idea of the tradition placed upon the Church by the decision of a person. . . or even of a group of persons. If the decisions are not made completely on the basis of what are seen in Scripture, then we don't trust it and tend to view it more as an attempt to gain power.

    This doesn't mean we necessarily reject all traditions of the Church or are continually trying to reinvent ourselves - but we view and evaluate traditions in light of the Scriptures and agree with them not because of their age, or the fact that they are the tradition, but because they are in line and agreement with the Scriptures. This holds true for the Confessions (which one could call a tradition), or the liturgy, or the like.

    And for Michael - the four sola are each directed to a specific question - not just abstract solas (if there was one that were to exist on it's own, it would be Sola Christus, which is the summation of all things in the Church).

    How are we saved? By Grace alone - not by works.
    How do we receive this Grace - By faith alone, not aided by our works.
    How do we know this, what makes us sure of our teaching - By Scripture alone - not what any private individual opines.

    Or in other words - sola Christus, we try to be determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified.

  4. Rev. Brown

    You write: "sola Christus, we try to be determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified." And what of the Resurrection? The Lutheran overemphasis on the Cross to the point that everything else that Christ has done for us and for our salvation becomes mere afterthought.

    At the dismissal of Liturgies and prayer offices such as Vespers or the Hours, the priest (or bishop) says: "May Christ our true God [insert feast or characteristic expression here] for us and for our salvation..."

    The economia of salvation is everything Christ has done for us. To only concentrate on one aspect of Christ's saving works is one of the great weaknesses of Lutheranism and western liturgics, in general.

  5. Is Half of The Story Sufficient For Salvation?

    How many sides are there to a story? If you say two, then you are wrong. If you had one side and I had one side that would make two sides. However, there is a third side, the side of truth.

    Rule # 1... One half of truth does not a truth make. Neither does one half of a story make the full story. No intelligent person can hear one side of a story and decide which side has the truth.

    Both sides have to be heard, then analysed, and then a decision has to be made as to which side (if either) has a valid story, and after that, the right side(s), or truth side, can be determined.

    This thinking holds true for discerning what Holy Scripture tells us.

    Throughout the Bible there are double standards, yet the fundamentalist thinking shows only one standard, or one side of the story, or only one half of the truth.

    Their thinking is in violation of rule # 1. With only one half of truth, you do not have truth. Anything less than the whole truth is error.

    In the following example, side 'A' is the first side, side 'B' is the second, and side 'C' is the right, or truth side.

    Example ... Sola Scriptura...? Only the Bible. Fundamentalist thinking is that the Bible is sufficient and nothing else is needed for salvation.

    First of all, in order to believe in the 'Bible Only' philosophy, you have to show that Scripture says it. Is that not true? The doctrine of 'Sola Scriptura' is not to be found in Scripture.

    A. Tradition is condemned in many places in Scripture, such as Job 22:15, Matthew 15:6, Mark 7:3-13, Galatians 1:14, Colossians 2:8, 1Timothy 1:4, Titus 1:14, and 1Peter 1:18. Look at these verses and grasp their meaning.

    They all address 'vain' human traditions and are rightly condemned. This is one half of the truth.

    B. Tradition is supported in more places in Scripture than it is condemned. Study Isaiah 59:21, Luke 1:2, 2:19,51, Luke 10:16, 2Thessalonians 2:14-15 - "Stand firm and hold the traditions you have learned..", 2Timothy 1:13,2:2, 1Peter 1:25, 1Jn 1:1,2:24, 2Jn 1:12, Revelation 12:17,19:10.

    These are different traditions than mentioned in 'A'. These are the Traditions of GOD, or 'Apostolic' Tradition.' Again, this is only half of the truth.

    C. The truth is, yes, we do condemn the vain tradition of men, as shown in 'A', and we must keep the Tradition of GOD, as shown in 'B'.

    Thus we have half the truth in 'A', and the other half in 'B', and combined we have the full truth.

    The false doctrine of Sola Scriptura adds A and B together and puts the total in A, rejecting all of tradition. A+B=C.