Evangelical Lutheran leader says Bible not final authority?

12 comments

CHICAGO – The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is suggesting that the Bible isn’t the last word on homosexuality.

In a town hall meeting Sunday, Bishop Mark Hanson said, “the understanding we have of homosexuality today does not seem to be reflected at all in the context of the biblical writers.” Therefore, he said, Lutherans should consider more modern views on sexual orientation. [source]

Well, he’s getting it partly right, at least. The Bible is NOT the only source of Christian truth and Divine revelation. Not only is that nonsensical, it’s also non-biblical. Restricting ourselves to only what is explicitly written in the Bible as Christians means not only being prone to misinterpreting it, but it also means missing out on so much!

On the other hand, what this Lutheran bishop is saying is just embarrassing.  He hasn’t a clue. Lord help him.  It’s quite simple really…

Jesus gave us a Church. That Church has passed down to us things. That’s called Tradition.  One particularly special part of that Tradition is sacred scripture and the canon of the Bible.  Other things that have been passed down include the proper interpretation of scripture as well as a more complete and full understanding of the true Gospel.

And these people just passing things down to us are not just random souls who happened to like doing it. They are the Apostles (the first bishops of the Church). They are the people who lived and walked with Jesus and the Apostles. They are the students of the Apostles. They are the bishops who directly and personally received authority and a command from the Apostles to continue to pass these truths down and apply them to the present day. They are the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. It is directly connected from Pope Benedict today all the way back in a direct line of succession of authority (and promised guidance of the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ Himself) to the Apostle Peter (That’s called Apostolic Succession). If you want the fullness of what Jesus Christ gave us in His Church, you can find it today and until the end of time (as Jesus promised) in the Catholic Church.  Anything else is a compromise.

This Lutheran Bishop is a fine example of what is driving many protestants back into communion with the Catholic Church.

12 comments Add comment

Dave December 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Wow, first they throw out Holy Tradition, now the Holy Scripture. What’s left?: the Church of Do As We Say, Because We Said So.

Drew December 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Your point is well taken, however I am not sure you would want to be understood as saying that either the unwritten oral tradition(s) or the teaching magisterium is an authority “over” the Scriptures. A teaching (and legislative) authority can only work on the basis of prior documents, evidence, precedents, customs, etc. So the teaching of the magisterium presupposes whatever is found in the tradition as whole (including the Scriptures), and cannot “explain” them (in the logical/causal sense). Since the Scriptures are indeed the earliest source we recognize on the subject, and since no documents belonging to the larger tradition claim to contain the words and deeds of Christ not recorded in the NT, the Scriptures in general, and the NT in particular, would indeed by the preeminent authority on the subject, even on the Roman Catholic view. All that being said, I am in fundamental agreement with you: this bishop has no business being a pastor if he is going to utter irresponsible (and possibly downright blasphemous) statements such as this.

Dawn Farias December 7, 2009 at 10:10 pm

Drew – I know Matt and others can speak to this better than I can but I’ll still give it a little try:

Since the Scriptures are indeed the earliest source we recognize on the subject,

This is not the case at all. The Scriptures as we have them came together in the 3rd or 4th century. There are indeed documents prior to that time and even from the time of Christ. We weren’t left with nothing during those centuries. The immediate apostolic successors and early church fathers were thinking, writing, claryifying, etc.

since no documents belonging to the larger tradition claim to contain the words and deeds of Christ not recorded in the NT

That’s not right, either. There ARE documents that record Jesus’s words & deeds that did not make it into the biblical canon. While containing some truth they were deemed not inspired when the canon for the bible was determined by the Catholic Church.

That’s all. Thanks.

Patricia December 8, 2009 at 12:59 am

Dave,
It’s the church of do whatever you want because you decide what is right and wrong. (and anyone who recognizes a higher authority is a heretic who should be burned at the stake)

Drew December 8, 2009 at 11:12 am

Dawn,

The books that compose the NT (which indeed was definitively collected into one group in the 3rd-4th centuries) existed prior to their collection. They were all written (with one or two exceptions) in the first century and one can find quotations from many of these books in the early second century writings of the Church Fathers. The Apostle Paul and the other NT authors lived and wrote prior to the existence of the Church Fathers. That is what I meant when I said they were the earliest source (excluding the OT & OT deuterocanonicals, of course).

Regarding the various apocryphal accounts of the life of Christ (many of which had a Gnostic/Docetic bent), the fact that some of the details of these stories (such as the painless delivery of Christ by his Mother) were accepted by some of the Church Fathers does not put these stories on an equal footing with the Scriptures themselves:

“[D]octrine is especially based upon arguments from authority, inasmuch as its principles are obtained by revelation: thus we ought to believe on the authority of those to whom the revelation has been made. Nor does this take away from the dignity of this doctrine, for although the argument from authority based on human reason is the weakest, yet the argument from authority based on divine revelation is the strongest. But sacred doctrine makes use even of human reason, not, indeed, to prove faith (for thereby the merit of faith would come to an end), but to make clear other things that are put forward in this doctrine. Since therefore grace does not destroy nature but perfects it, natural reason should minister to faith as the natural bent of the will ministers to charity. Hence the Apostle says: ‘Bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Hence sacred doctrine makes use also of the authority of philosophers in those questions in which they were able to know the truth by natural reason, as Paul quotes a saying of Aratus: ‘As some also of your own poets said: For we are also His offspring’ (Acts 17:28). Nevertheless, sacred doctrine makes use of these authorities as extrinsic and probable arguments; but properly uses the authority of the canonical Scriptures as an incontrovertible proof, and the authority of the doctors of the Church as one that may properly be used, yet merely as probable. For our faith rests upon the revelation made to the apostles and prophets who wrote the canonical books, and not on the revelations (if any such there are) made to other doctors. Hence Augustine says (Epis. ad Hieron. 19, 1): ‘Only those books of Scripture which are called canonical have I learned to hold in such honor as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them. But other authors I so read as not to deem everything in their works to be true, merely on account of their having so thought and written, whatever may have been their holiness and learning.'” – St. Thomas Aquinas, ST Ia Q. 1, art. 8, ad 2

Since the Roman Catholic Church today still teaches that the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas is a reliable guide in matters of faith and morals, I would think that, if one accepts (1) the authority of the Church in general, (2) the authority of St. Thomas in particular, and (3) accepts the concept of revelation as the Church Fathers and the medieval Scholastics understood it, the conclusion of St. Thomas’s argument is inescapable. The Church Fathers and non-canonical writings do have a certain “probable” authority but are not equal in authority to the Scriptures because divine revelation was given to the Apostles and not to those who followed after them. I am not arguing for a “sola scriptura” position here. I am simply pointing out that the High Scholastic view of the Scriptures and their relationship to tradition (i.e., “hierarchical but inclusive”) is the antecedent of both the Protestant and Tridentine doctrines and was in many ways superior to both.

Deacon T December 9, 2009 at 11:49 am

Drew,

I follow your line of reasoning right up to the very last few sentences. “The Church Fathers and non-canonical writings do have a certain “probable” authority but are not equal in authority to the Scriptures because divine revelation was given to the Apostles and not to those who followed after them.” This is a fundamentally flawed premise. The concept that divine revelation ended with the compilation of the scriptures doesn’t fly according to Jesus actually in the scriptures. Take a read of the Gospel of John Chapters 14 and 16. Jesus let’s the disciples and the apostles know that the revelation is not done but will continue through the Holy Spirit. That is the basis of the Apostolic tradition and it is handed down from generation to generation in an unbroken line. To presume that everything ended with the apostles means that their laying on of hands with the seven in Acts chapter 6 was an invalid act beyond their authority as they obviously would not have been able to pass any of their assigned responsibility on to anyone else.

The Church does indeed accept Aquinas … and Augustine … and John of the Cross … and Therese … and the list goes on. You see, we have a living God. He continues with us in this world, as He promised He would. He is not silent; He never has been. The Jews reformation of their scriptures in the year 90 couldn’t silence His teachings based on the Jewish canon of 60 years earlier. Those things that are accepted into tradition by the Magisterium are those things that provide further insights into the teachings of Jesus which in turn provided context and insights into the whole of salvation history.

Nothing in sacred tradition does anything but clarify, teach, or reflect on the scripture unless it addresses aspects of the faith tradition that postdate scripture because, guess what, we’ve been around for nearly 2000 years. A lot has happened what with Jesus sending us the Holy Spirit and all. To think it all ended 2000 years ago is to have a faith that wears blinders.

Matthew Warner December 9, 2009 at 10:50 am

Thanks for the comments, all!

Drew said:

however I am not sure you would want to be understood as saying that either the unwritten oral tradition(s) or the teaching magisterium is an authority “over” the Scriptures.

You are correct, I would not want to be understood as saying that and I try to be sensitive to anybody having that misunderstanding. Neither the Magisterium, Tradition, or Sacred Scripture have authority “over” the other really. None can contradict any other. They all work together to give us the fullest understanding of our faith.

Anyone who wants to take one without the others is missing out. Even scripture itself says that it is The Church that is the pillar and bulwark of our faith and that it is the entire Apostolic Tradition (not only scripture) that should be our rule of faith. http://www.catholic.com/library/Apostolic_Tradition.asp

Dawn Farias December 9, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Drew,

The books that compose the NT (which indeed was definitively collected into one group in the 3rd-4th centuries) existed prior to their collection.

Ha! I know. I was making breakfast the next morning and that thought hit me like a ton of bricks. I was so embarrassed at what I had written. Ah, well, I’ll play better next time. ;)

Matthew Warner December 9, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Dawn – no worries. You weren’t entirely incorrect. Yes, those documents existed, but the Church was identified by its leaders (the Apostles) and those they had passed authority to (the Bishops). And those leaders had authority to make binding decisions (bind and to loose) for the faithful…as they do today. And it is their understanding and teaching that clarifies the proper interpretation of the scripture that later came to be canonized as such. They all work together.

Dawn Farias December 10, 2009 at 7:42 am

They all work together.

Yeah, I think that’s the point I really wanted to say. Thanks. Although I will remain a bit embarrassed on principle. ;) It even inspired a blog post: Of Apologetics and Basketball So, it wasn’t all bad!

And now I’ll stop hijacking your combox.

Matthew Warner December 10, 2009 at 11:06 am

Hijack anytime! And I really dig your blog, btw. I can get too impulsive at times as well and end up shooting it in the other teams basket. That’s why it’s nice to have the thoughtful and intelligent commenters here to keep me in line.

That picture for your blog’s head banner is really cool, too. Did you do that?

Dawn Farias December 10, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Thanks, Matt! No, I didn’t do the banner. In fact, I didn’t do anything at that blog except tweak it how I wanted it (does that process ever end, though?). It is a free template from a woman named Lena at Simply Fabulous Blogger Templates. I really like the colors she puts together on her templates.

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