Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How Is the Bible the Sole Authority for Faith and Practice? pt. 2

Part One

In part one, I explored what Baptists have meant by "the Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice."  I said that one aspect of what Baptists meant is that the Bible is the only "infallible" authority for faith and practice and the supreme judge, but not the only judge.  In other words, Baptists have thought there were other authorities besides the Bible, but they were not parallel.  Roman Catholicism has placed tradition on the same level as Scripture.   A Catholic Dictionary (p. 41) writes:

It is an article of faith from a decree of the Vatican Council that Tradition is a source of theological teaching distinct from Scripture, and that it is infallible. It is therefore to be received with the same internal assent as Scripture for it is the word of God.

When saying "the only authority," Baptists have meant the supreme authority, that is, no authority is parallel with the Bible.  I don't think that Baptists believed there were no other authorities but the Bible.

What is ironic about this assertion is that the phrase "sole authority for faith and practice" itself is verbiage not found in the Bible.  It is a teaching of the Bible, but not the Words of Scripture from any passage.  So the expression itself is a communication of tradition.  A tradition of New Testament churches is that the Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice.  Sure, it's a biblical tradition, but it isn't the Bible itself; therefore, exploring the meaning of the phrase isn't akin to studying an interpretation of Scripture.  It is considering the interpretation of a tradition.

Because of the abuse of tradition by Catholicism, most Baptists and most evangelicals, it seems, have pendulum swang away from "tradition."  "Tradition is bad.  We don't want to be traditional.  Tradition is anti-Scripture."  I believe this is a bad reaction to tradition.  Tradition itself isn't bad.  It can be helpful.  It should not be ignored.  I'm saying that it is even an authority, although not the authority.  As an authority, we are reponsible to tradition.

I am saying here that tradition should have some authority to Baptists, to Christians, to New Testament churches.  The authority subjugates itself to the Bible, but it should not be an authority that is ignored.  The ignorance of tradition relegates Baptists, Christians, and church members to regular new and fanciful ideas that sweep through churches.  When Paul wrote, "beware of tradition," to the Colossians, he wasn't writing, "don't have any traditions."  The fact is traditions can be good or bad.  There are harmful traditions (Mt 15:3, 23:4; Col 2:8) and helpful ones (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15, 3:6).

One way that evangelicals and fundamentalists and others combat tradition is with an unorthodox position on "Bible as sole authority."  I've read the usage of 1 Corinthians 4:6 to defend this.

that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another

They say, "If it is not mentioned in Scripture, then we cannot view it with any kind of authority."  And by this, they are talking about music standards.  The Bible, the sole authority, doesn't have a play button, so it doesn't play for us what style of music is permissible.  Therefore, judging music, they would say, is "above that which is written."  They would say that advocates of traditional music are operating "above that which is written."  And, after all, tradition has no authority, and beware of tradition.

I am contending that the Bible itself, the sole authority, leads us to depend on tradition for our belief and practice.  Violating a tradition should concern a Christian, but it does not today.  It's almost a badge of honor now to go untraditional, saying something like, "We're not traditional here."  Traditions are the beliefs and practices that are being passed down from before.  We pass down a Bible, yes.  God has preserved His Words.  Part of our ruination as a people is the ignorance or disregard of the tradition.

How is tradition an authority?  It must be based on the Bible.  It must be believed and practiced by believers.  You have certain plain teachings or clear implications of Scripture.  Christians universally flesh them out, unpack them into their lives in a particular way.  Those actions are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  Those are the unity of the Spirit.  They don't stand as inspired Scripture, but they are a common understanding of the teaching and practice of the Bible itself, coming from the Holy Spirit.  In a church, when that is disregarded, it is heresy.  That is why departure from longtime teaching and practice is called heresy.  It is dividing from tradition.  The division is caused by the new, not by the old.

When the new, tradition defying belief and practice comes on the scene, it relies on Scripture to move out the old.  It says that the old is "above that which is written."  When those beliefs and practices are dropped, which several have been, there should be some valid explanation for that.  We should be able to trace the exegesis of Scripture, the proving of the old to be unscriptural through that sold exegesis.  We should be able to trace the work of those godly students of Scripture with the transition from the old to the new, like a fossil record.  Without the missing links, we should reject the new.

The silliness of evangelicalism and fundamentalism has risen from the debris of tradition.  Traditions have been demolished like a bad remodel job, thrown willy-nilly into the dumpster.  The new teachings are retrofitted into Christianity.  That cannot be done, has not been done, without causing irrevokable damage to the structure that has been spared.  The ease at chucking the traditions is a very bad portend of things to come.  No doubt the silliness will lead to even more of it, until the original idea is barely recognizable.  I encounter more and more former professing evangelicals, who out of desperation, if not having already ejected from church, have moved to some ritualistic form as a choice between little to no tradition or some.

Today's churches look at the traditions like mp3 users view the 8-track.  It's not the same thing.  That is an undiscerning look.  It's destructive.  Certain forms or structures or vehicles or symbols or modes have not only derived, but inherent meanings.  They carry along and preserve what is sacred.  They are in fact how the passages ought to be practiced.  No alternative behavior is suitable as an application of the text.  The traditions are the means by which Scripture is obeyed as the sole authority.  God cannot and will not be honored without them.

You hear people in baseball today say, "respect the game."  They have so much respect for the game that they want to pass it down to the next generation of players in the same condition as it is today.  In order to keep the game intact, they have to respect the traditions of the game.  People act like they like that about baseball.  Those traditions become sacred to baseball players.  I wish that Christians, that Baptists, could respect their traditions in the same way.  They are convinced from convoluted distortions of tradition and the Bible teaching of it, that they are respecting the "game" by changing things regularly and radically.  By doing so, somehow they are honoring Scripture.  Their innovations to them are a kind of freedom given to them, a liberty for which they give Christ the credit.  I have news for them.  Christ wouldn't want the credit.  They are disrespecting Him by what they are doing.

More to come


Ryan Hayden said...

Isn't it kind of dangerous to argue for tradition as an authority? Isn't that the same line of argument that allowed the Pharisees to flourish and allowed the Catholics to become what they are today?
I think Christ's dealings with the Pharisees (I'm thinking of passages like Matthew 12 and 23) show us that traditions tend to devolve into rituals. Over time the tradition (like the Pharisee's application of the sabbath rules in Matthew 12) tend to replace the scripture they were derived from, tend to detach the reason from the rule and you end up with groups following ritual rules and they have no idea why.
I'm surrounded by Amish people stuck in a works religion that at it's start was just people arguing for the traditional (and strictest) application of certain scriptures.
I don't think that tradition has no authority, but I think its the nature of tradition's authority to overstep its bounds and lead people away from scriptural understanding. There has to be a check for that.
Have I thrown too many evangelical purgatives into a single comment? (Pharisees, Amish)
BTW: I'm in complete agreement with you on music standards.

d4v34x said...

For those who disagree with (or misunderstand) what Bro. B. is trying to say here, a fill in the blank thought experiment might help.

When, in arguing on behalf of a doctrine like, say, the perfect preservation of scrpiture in the original languages, one points to how believers have understood pertinent passages throughout the centuries, one is pointing to tradition as an _________________.

Kent Brandenburg said...


It's fine. I'm arguing that tradition is biblical, so I'm arguing for the Bible. And then illustrating some.


I could go there for sure, and I was in fact thinking of many things like it. Some would consider this as a presentation for biblical conservatism or conservative Christianity.

smiletex said...

smiletex said

A couple of thoughts. First, there are NT verses that speak of the teachings of the apostles as "traditions", truths handed down.

Second, I note that the neo-whatevers who love to dispose of biblically based traditions from Baptist church history are quite eager to hand down their "new" traditions to us, and expect us to adopt them and to view them as much more binding than our previous traditions. somewhat like Tozer's comment re churches not having pastors. He said that the person with the strongest arguments against churches having pastors IS the pastor.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Absolutely smiletex.

We've got traditions we hold to. They are historic belief and practice of Scripture, historic application of Scripture.

Everyone else,

I had a tradition I once held to, it was false, unbiblical. When I held the false tradition, I thought it was biblical, and under the heading of "Bible sole authority." I've got a new tradition, one based upon the Bible, and one that Christians actually believed. Why do people believe in revivalism? They say it's because the Bible teaches it, but I say it is a tradition, a wrong one that should be rejected, and I'm talking about revivalism versus actual revival.

If Christians never believed or practiced it, or in other words, it was non-traditional, why would I believe it. I would have to be convinced it was Scripture, but do I think it would be? Very unlikely.


Good discussion and I rejoice at the truth we agree on.

However, I submit that the doctrine of the female headcovering of 1 Cor. 11 fulfills both Bro. Brandenburg's and Bro. Ross' criteria perfectly (even more so than the women pants issue). It is clearly noted in history through commentaries, pictures, and confessions. And it is also in Scripture with the usage of "ordinances" (παραδοσεις) (1 Cor. 11:2) and "custom" (συνηθειαν) (1 Cor. 11:16). Παραδοσεις is translated tradition(s) 12 of its 13 NT usages.

John Gardner

Steve Finnell said...


Where should Christians look for God's authoritative truth? Should it be the Bible? Should it be the church of your choice or the church you belong to by chance?

The Bible was completed in 95 A.D. when the apostle John wrote Revelation. Who wrote the Bible? Was it God or was it the church?

John 14:24-26 He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent me. (THE WORDS JESUS SPOKE WERE FROM GOD THE FATHER) 25 "These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all the I said to you.

The words of Jesus were from God the Father and He said that The Father would send the apostles the Holy Spirit so they could remember all that He said. The words of the apostles were God's word, their words were Scripture, their words were the Bible.

In, John 14:24-26, Jesus was not talking to the Pope, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Billy Graham, Joesph Smith Jr, Mary Baker Eddy, cardinals, bishops, elders, so-called modern day apostles, preachers, pastors, nor any one claiming to speak for God. If the church or theses men as individuals, were speaking for God by new revelation, then, we would have added books to the Bible. There would the books of the Popes, the book of John Calvin, the book of Billy Graham, the books of elders, the books of churches, the book of Joesph Smith Jr. etc.


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