Monday, May 03, 2010

Further Replies to Stellman

There are two parts to this post. The first is a response to Stellman's response to my previous post (link to previous post)(link to response: part 1 - part 2). The second part is a response to comments he had made earlier in the same comment thread.

I. Dividing Word from Scriptures

Jason J. Stellman wrote: “So to TurretinFan’s statement that “To divide the Word from the Scriptures, as Stellman is doing, is dangerous ground (although it is one of the approaches that the Romanists use),” I would simply answer that I am doing nothing other than what Horton is doing in the citation above.”

Paige Britton had written: “Whoa, I don’t think you need to pin some insidious Romanism on Jason’s thought, there.”

On this point, I want to clarify that I’m not pinning Romanism on Jason’s thought. I do think his argument is dangerously imprecise, but I don’t think he’s a Romanist. My comments (at great length) were aimed at showing him the danger, as well as helping to steer him clear of that danger.

I appreciate the quotation from Michael Horton. The quotation states: “Of course, God’s Word was at first delivered by oral tradition and was only later committed to writing. None of the Reformation theologians held that the Bible as we now have it preceded the church! However, the Reformers argued that the Word of God preceded both Scripture and the church.”

I don’t have the full context for this quotation, which makes it hard to respond to it. With that enormous and important caveat, I’d like to venture a few responses.

1) If Horton is simply referring to the fact that God’s word came orally from Adam to Moses, he’s right. No one can doubt that.

2) If Horton means that God’s word sometimes came orally from Moses until Malachi and again from John the Baptist to John the Beloved Disciple, he’s right. No one can reasonably deny that.

3) If Horton is simply trying to repeat what the WCF 1:1 says:

I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation; therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his Church; and afterwards for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.

… then of course, Horton is right, and his point can’t reasonably be denied. (However, note that the confession itself teaches that the Church is founded (“establishment”) on the Scriptures.)

4) However, Horton’s comments could be taken another way. If Horton’s comments were taken as suggesting that the Scriptures themselves are simply a transcription/condensation of prior oral tradition (and without context, I have no reason to think that Horton meant his words that way), then they would seem to be wrong.

In that regard, Horton’s characterizations would be imprecise. For example, Paul’s epistles were not examples of prior oral tradition being committed to writing. Indeed, it is rare in Scripture that we are told that something is an oral tradition being committed to writing.

Finally, I note that the rationale/explanation provided in Stellman’s original comment, namely “but it was not founded upon ‘the Scriptures,’ for the obvious reason that decades elapsed during which the church was growing, and no NT books had even been written, let alone collected and recognized as canonical,” is still problematic, but since he’s not continuing that (and has already acknowledged that there was some imprecision there), I figure the point has been sufficiently made for everyone concerned. Indeed, the point that the Scriptures were given for the establishment and comfort of the church is simply Scripturally and Confessionally the undeniable fact. And Paige Britton has already noted that: “[Stellman]’s steady-on re. the mother-daughter thing (Church as mother of Scriptures v. Scripture as mother of Church).” So, I suppose the clarification is at an end, unless I’ve misunderstood Stellman’s responses above.

However, there is another issue I’d like to address.

II. The Authority of Councils

I wonder what Stellman means when he writes:
Were ministers in the post-Acts 15 church free to disregard the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council? Or, are we free today to disregard the Nicene formulation of the Trinity or the Chalcedonian definition of the hypostatic union?

You may answer (1) no and no; (2) yes and yes; (3) no and yes; or for the sake of argument, (4) yes and no.

My instinct is to opt for option #1. Now, if the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon were so authoritative that they actually define orthodoxy, my question is, “Are the Westminster Assembly’s conclusions that authoritative, and if not, why not?”

And is there a church or branch of the church today that can still make Nicaea-like pronouncements? If so, where is it? If not, where did it go?

(source)

The specific question mark in my mind is his expression: “free to disregard” which isn’t really a defined theological term.

There are two possible senses to his comment. I’ll give the sense I hope he meant first. The sense I hope he meant is the sense of WCF 31:3:

III. It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially, to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission, not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God, appointed thereunto in his Word.

In this sense, Christians are not free to utterly disregard the decisions of councils. If that’s all that Stellman meant (and to be clear, I am charitably presuming that’s what he meant), then I agree with him.

However, there is a possibility that what he said could be understood to mean that Nicaea and Chalcedon are our regula fidei – our rule of faith. That is to say, their definitions are not something that we can even consider questioning on the basis of Scripture.

If Stellman’s expression were to be understood in that light, then it would be both wrong and contrary to our (his and my) confession, namely WCF 31:4:

IV. All synods or councils since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both.

Notice that the Confession (which in Section 2, had specifically indicated the Scriptures as the rule of faith) explicitly indicates that councils are nor our rule of faith/practice (even councils that were right).

In this regard, I am concerned that Stellman's view of the Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura may sound closer to Keith Mathison's presentation of it (in The Shape of Sola Scriptura) than the presentation we find in the Westminster Confession of Faith. While it may sound that way, please note that I'm not accusing Stellman of denying the WCF in favor of a more Mathisonian approach.

-TurretinFan

13 comments:

Randall van der Sterren said...

OK, I'm game, what's the problem with Mathison?

Turretinfan said...

There a couple of problems, not with Mathison the man, but with his book.

a) His discussion of the regula fide is not consistent with the Westminster standards.

b) His discussion provides a view of the church that is "Higher," if you will, than the standards.

-TurretinFan

Anonymous said...

Who cares about the Westminster standards? I thought you held to scripture alone? You shouldn't even have to cite westminster. Silly protester

Randall van der Sterren said...

OK, how does his discussion of the rule of faith differ from the standards?

Turretinfan said...

"Who cares about the Westminster standards? I thought you held to scripture alone? You shouldn't even have to cite westminster. Silly protester"

I guess you've demonstrated that you don't understand sola scriptura. Would you like a more detailed explanation?

-TurretinFan

natamllc said...

We read this in Scripture:

Luk 16:14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.
Luk 16:15 And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
Luk 16:16 "The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.
Luk 16:17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

The whole basis of the NC Church is the Law, that which is holy, righteous and good.

The Apostle Paul makes an amazing point about the Law and the NC Church, here:

Rom 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Ok, which is it? Monergism or Synergism?

One would, by confusion, believe, it is "faith" plus doing the Law.

No it isn't.

The Faith brings us to understand just what Jesus was saying there cited from Luke, above.

We establish the Law so that it can do what it is purposed to do, "show us our "nature".

The WCF quotation bears repeating on that score as was contemplated in the portion of the comments of TF above:

"I. Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation;...".

The Law's purpose is to open the eyes of nature and the works of creation.

Paul's illustration captures it best in my view, here:

Rom 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
Rom 7:5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.
Rom 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

But, again, one can contemplate throwing out the Law for the Spirit because of these words: "not in the old way of the written code".

But, again, one needs to contemplate Jesus' own words to keep the balance secure:

Luk 16:17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

Well then, which is it? Is it a life of Law or Gospel?

My answer, "both"!

That is why we see in that portion of Scripture before the others, these stranges Words, to be continued in the next comment:::>

natamllc said...

Luk 16:7 Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' He said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'
Luk 16:8 The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.
Luk 16:9 And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.
Luk 16:10 "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.
Luk 16:11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?
Luk 16:12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?
Luk 16:13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."

The whole of God's natural order is based on Law, the law of sowing and reaping. All humanity is obliged to that law.

Whether you are of the NC Church of of this world, makes no differnce to God with read to His Holy, Righteous and Good Law. We all must abide by it in this Life. If the NC Church is to be regard as "higher" then, let it be in both the Law and the Gospel, not casting off restraints becoming of no earthly good! :)

natamllc said...

Geesh, I need to edit this:

"Whether you are of the NC Church of of this world, makes no differnce to God with read to His Holy, Righteous and Good Law. We all must abide by it in this Life. If the NC Church is to be regard as "higher" then, let it be in both the Law and the Gospel, not casting off restraints becoming of no earthly good! :)"

to this: "Whether you are of the NC Church or of this world, makes no difference to God with regard to His Holy, Righteous and Good Law. We all must abide by it in this life/bios. If the NC Church is to be regarded as "higher" then, which She is, let it be both by the Law and the Gospel, not casting off restraints and becoming of no earthly good. :) "

Randall van der Sterren said...

My question about the regula fide was serious.

Turretinfan said...

RvdS: I'm taking it seriously and trying to respond thoughtfully. It will be in a separate post, and I'll try to post a link here.

Keith Mathison said...

TF,

I've been meaning to mention this point for some months, but I've been distracted with a lot of things going on and kept putting it off.

Regarding the "rule of faith," I don't disagree with the WCF at all on this point (either chapter 1 or 31). The difficulty is that the early fathers and the Westminster divines are using the phrase "rule of faith" in different ways. You can see the same thing, even in Turretin :-) when he discusses the "rule of faith" in the patristic sense of the term (Institutes, Vol. 2, p. 362). He does this without rejecting the idea (in the later WCF sense) that our only rule of faith and practice in the Holy Scripture.

We can discuss it more if you want to email me. I'm presently (finally) working on my response to Bryan Cross's paper. I very much appreciate all the responses you've written in the last several months.

Blessings!

Keith

Turretinfan said...

Dear Mr. Mathison,

I've replied to you by email.


Randall,

I will be deferring providing a response until I've had a chance to try to discuss things with Mr. Mathison, in view of his comments above.

-TurretinFan

ChaferDTS said...

"Were ministers in the post-Acts 15 church free to disregard the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council? Or, are we free today to disregard the Nicene formulation of the Trinity or the Chalcedonian definition of the hypostatic union? "

The problem that is see there is a confusion of circumstances surrounding those councils. In Acts 15 we have the physical presense of the apostles in the decision reached whereas the apostles are not present at any of the ecumenical church councils. Based on Eph. 2:20 I have to accept the council of Jersualem in Acts 15 since the apostles where there. As far as all church councils thereafter we have none of the apostles there is anyone of their special gift as such. In church councils we have bishops/ elders and none of them are infallible likewise neither are any church councils other than what is in Acts 15 can claim to be infallible and binding without question. We reject the councils held by the arians in the early church because what they taught was in fact heretical and invalid due to it rejecting what is taught in Scripture. Likewise if any council errors we may reject it if it contradicts a teaching of Scripture.