Rome: Sola Ecclesia or Sola Scriptura? (Kruger)

7C391526-D6D2-4506-A1CD-0FBC96E36A2F (This is a re-blog from March, 2013)

A short while ago I posted some helpful and critical comments about Rome’s view of Scripture by Michael Kruger (in Canon Revisited). Here is part two of that post. The quote is a bit longer than my usual ones, but it is well worth the time.

“…The most fundamental concern [is] whether the Roman Catholic model, in some sense, makes the Scripture subordinate to the church. The answer to that question is revealed when we ask another question: How does the Roman Catholic Church establish its own infallible authority? If the Roman Catholic church believes that infallible authorities (like the Scriptures) require external authentication, then to what authority does the church turn to establish the grounds for its own infallible authority? Here is where the Roman Catholic model runs into some difficulties. There are three options for how to answer this question.”

“(1) The church could claim that its infallible authority is authenticated by (and derived from) the Scriptures. But this proves to be rather vicious circular reasoning. If the Scriptures cannot be known and authenticated without the authority of the church, then you cannot establish the authority of the church on the basis of the Scriptures. You cannot have it both ways. Moreover, on an exegetical level, one would be hard-pressed to find much scriptural support for an infallible church….”

“(2) The church could claim that its infallible authority is authenticated by external evidence from the history of the church: the origins of the church, the character of the church, the progress of the church, and so forth. However, these are not infallible grounds by which the church’s infallibility could be established. In addition, the history of the Roman Church is not a pure one – the abuses, corruption, documented papal errors, and the like do not naturally lead one to conclude that the church is infallible regarding ‘faith and morals.’”

“(3) It seems that the only option left to the Catholic model is to declare that the church’s authority is self-authenticating and needs no external authority to validate it. Or, more bluntly put, we ought to believe in the infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church because it says so.”

“The Roman Catholic Church, then, finds itself in the awkward place of having chided the Reformers for having a self-authenticating authority (sola scriptura), while all the while it has engaged in that very same activity by setting itself up as a self-authenticating authority (sola ecclesia). On the Catholic model, the Scripture’s own claims should be received on their own authority. The Roman Catholic Church, functionally speaking, is committed to sola ecclesia.”

Here’s Kruger’s helpful critique of Rome’s view of the church over the Word.

“…This presents challenges for the Catholic model. Most pertinent is the question of how there can be a canon at all – at least one that can genuinely challenge, correct, and transform the church – if the validation structure for the canon, in effect, already presupposes that the church bears an authority that is even higher? On the Catholic system, then, the canon’s authority is substantially diminished. What authority it does have must be construed as purely derivative – less a rule over the church and more of an arm of the church, not something that determines the church’s identity but something that merely expresses it.”

This sheds some new light on the Reformation phrase, “always reforming according to the Word.” Rome can’t logically say this phrase because it does not believe that the Scriptures alone are the highest authority for faith and life; Rome believes in sola ecclesia, not sola scriptura. One cannot have it both ways.

The above quotes are found in Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 47-48.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015


Rome’s ‘Tyrannical Distortion’ (Murray)

 The Roman Catholic Church neither believes nor teaches that Scripture is the highest authority and only source of inspired and infallible truth for God’s people. In other words, they do not teach or believe “sola Scriptura.”  In fact, at the Second Vatican Council, Rome said that “…it is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything that has been revealed.  Therefore both sacred tradition and sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.”  Along with Scripture and Tradition, Rome also says that the decrees of the Pope are infallible and must be revered and obeyed: “In virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff…enjoys infallibility when he makes a definitive pronouncement of doctrine on faith or morals….”

For those of us in Protestant and Reformation circles, this teaching is absolutely unbiblical and terribly repulsive in many ways.  When we refuse ecumenical ties with Rome, we do so on firm biblical grounds.  I appreciate John Murray’s response (d. 1975) to the topic of Rome’s authority:

“What we do find in the claims of the Roman Catholic Church is a pretentious superstructure, based upon assumptions for which there is no evidence in the revelation God has given us.  The consequence is a tyrannical distortion of what our Lord himself affirmed, and the Scriptures of the New Testament witness, respecting apostolic authority.  The most recent pronouncements of Rome continue to reiterate and enforce the usurpations in respect of authority whereby the basic principles that God alone is the source of all authority, and his revealed will the norm, are made void in the magisterium of the Church, and most particularly in the supreme magisterium of the Roman Pontiff.  It is the irony of this usurpation that in Roman claims we have the most blatant example of lording it over God’s heritage in contravention of Peter’s own inspired utterance: ‘Neither as lording it over those committed to your charge, but becoming examples to the flock’ (1 Pet 5:3).

John Murray, Collected Writings, Vol. I, page 302.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Rome and Reading Scripture (Muller)

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (4 vols.) It’s very hard for most  Christians in the West to imagine what it would be like if they didn’t have a Bible at home to read.  It’s even harder to imagine the church telling us not to read the Bible and not wanting it to be translated into common languages.  This was the very situation before the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic church neither wanted common people to read Scriptures nor did Rome want the Scriptures to be translated into the common language of the people.  Thankfully the Reformation happened!  Here’s a paragraph about this topic from Richard Muller’s PRRD volume on Scripture (volume two):

Against the Roman objections that lay reading of the vernacular Scriptures is detrimental to the life and teaching of the church and that such reading is hardly necessary to salvation, the Reformed respond that the problem of abuse in no way undermines the command of God to read and study the Scriptures.  …The reading of Scripture is enjoined on those who are able, for the sake of strengthening them in their faith and shielding them against the enemies of God. What is more, the Roman claim that the reading of the Scripture by laity breeds heresy falls short of the mark inasmuch as heresy is founded not on reading per se, but on mistaken reading—and the careful, informed, and reverent reading of Scripture will preserve the faithful from the errors of the heretics. As for the argument that “holy things are not given to dogs,” it is quite clear from the text (Matt. 7:6) that Christ does not here refer to the reading of Scripture and does not intend to designate the children of God as dogs—rather he means that the symbols of divine grace are not to be given to the unfaithful.

Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 467–468.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Far From Rome – Near to God

Far from Rome, Near to God: Testimonies of Fifty Converted Roman Catholic Priests “[I] would say the rosary even more than was required.  I was truly religious, but far from God.”

So writes Cuthbert Dzingirai, a former Roman Catholic priest from Zimbabwe.  Dzingirai wasn’t an average priest.  In fact, at one point he joined one of the strictest orders of priests called the “Order of Friars Minor.”  While in this order, he made three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Church counsels.  Dzingirai said,

“The three vows I had made to my superiors and the Church were always part of my ‘mantra,’ which I repeated over and over each morning as I woke up for meditation.  They became my greatest treasure, part of the important sacramentals which separated me from the laity.  I thought they brought me closer to God.”

When Dzingirai participated in six of the seven Catholic sacraments, he viewed ordination as the highest sacrament since it conveyed the most grace:

“In my heart I boasted that it was added to my other sacraments and vows.  I was, therefore, confident that I could act as God with this sacrament that put my seat next to Christ.  I was a holy man, so I thought.”

After around seven years in the order and as a priest, Dzingirai saw much hypocrisy in the order – specifically breaking the vow of chastity.  Some of his fellow priests would have mistresses and even children, but the superiors didn’t do much about it.  This shook Dzingirai up.  On top of this, he was attracted to a woman and eventually had a child with her.  After he broke his vow of celibacy, he felt deeply guilty even though his superior forgave him.  What did Dzingirai do?

“Day after day I participated more and more vigorously with a penitent heart in morning meditation, the Mass, Friday adoration hour, and prayer before the Monstrance.  What else could I do since I was taught that cleansing myself was my responsibility?  I tried harder and harder.”

Dzingirai was never taught the gospel in the Roman Catholic church; he didn’t know God’s grace and merciful forgiveness in Christ through faith.  He was simply taught to work harder when he sinned.  Finally he ran across a man who spoke out against Rome; this man taught Dzingirai the truths of Scripture and the gospel of grace.

“I felt as though scales were falling from my eyes.  It was as if I were waking up to reality from a deep sleep.  It took me nearly a year to understand the meaning of such verses as Gal. 3:10-11.  I never knew that God could love me and extend grace to me in a state of sin (Rom 5:8).  I never before knew that God could love me and look upon me as ‘just’ before him because of my faith in Christ’s perfect work of atonement while I was in a state of sin.  This was extraordinary – knowing that God justifies not by works that I do, but by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 4:5, 10:10).”

What a great testimony of God’s grace to a sinner trying to earn salvation by prayers, vows, obedience, and holiness!  Dzingirai was trying to work his way to heaven; God stopped him in his sinful tracks and told him that heaven is not earned by works, but by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  This is one of the reasons I will never go to Rome: because Rome has officially declared an anathema upon those who believe in justification by faith alone.  I, like Dzingirai, will stick with Paul: a man is not justified by works, but by faith!

The above edited quotes are found in chapter three of Far from Rome, Near to God.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI


Perseverance of the Saints Anathematized

Readings in the Christian Theological Tradition  (This is a repost from April, 2012).
On December 13, 1545, the first session of the Council of Trent took place under Pope Paul III.  This council was an official council of the Roman Catholic Church which met to discuss, among other things, the teachings of the Reformation – the teachings which most Roman Catholics of the day considered heretical.  Obviously there is a lot to discuss about the Council of Trent, but in this blog post I simply want to focus on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints which the Reformers taught and Rome rejected outright.

Here’s Canon 16 of the Sixth Session of the Council:

“If anyone says that he will for certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation, let him be anathema [accursed].”

The Reformed teaching, later agreed upon in the Confessions (Reformed and Presbyterian) can be summarized by these words from the Canons of Dort (Article 5.8-10).

“Thus, it is not in consequence of their own merits, or strength, but of God’s free mercy, that they do not totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue and perish finally in their backslidings; which, with respect to themselves, is not only possible, but would undoubtedly happen; but with respect to God, it is utterly impossible, since his counsel cannot be changed, nor his promise fail, neither can the call according to his purpose be revoked, nor the merit, intercession and preservation of Christ be rendered ineffectual, nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or obliterated”

The Canons of Dort go on to talk about assurance of salvation and perseverance, stating that assurance is attainable:

“True believers themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they surely believe that they are and ever will continue true and living members of the church, and that they have the forgiveness of sins and life eternal.”

So far we see a stark difference between Rome’s anathema of perseverance and the Reformed affirmation of it.  One more difference is found in how a Christian can be assured of perseverance.  Rome says “by a special revelation.”  The Reformed, however, say, “this assurance…is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to or independent of the Word of God,” but it comes from faith in God’s promises revealed in the Word, from the Spirit’s work within us, and from a holy desire to obey the Lord (emphasis mine).  In fact, the Canons of Dort even say that true Christians have an “infallible pledge of eternal glory” – again, God’s revealed promises and the Spirit’s work in our hearts (Canons of Dort, 5.10).

To summarize, Rome has anathematized (accursed) any the Christian who believes that he or she will undoubtedly persevere in the Christian faith by God’s grace.  Reformed theology teaches that Christians will persevere in the faith – and can be assured of that perseverance by God’s Word and Spirit.

This is one of many reasons why I am Reformed and not Roman Catholic: I do not believe the Scriptures throw us into a whirlpool of uncertainty when it comes to God’s promises of salvation in the gospel.  In Paul’s words,  I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6; cf. John 10:28-29 and Romans 8:28ff).

shane lems
hammond, wi

The Glory and Comfort of Free Justification

Our Reasonable Faith These are some comforting words on justification sola fide:

“The benefit of justification through faith alone has in it a rich comfort for the Christian.  The forgiveness of his sins, the hope for the future, [and] the certainty concerning eternal salvation do not depend upon the degree of holiness which he has achieved in life, but are firmly rooted in the grace of God and in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

“If these benefits had to derive their certainty from the good works of the Christian they would always, even unto death, remain unsure, for even the holiest of men have only a small beginning of perfect obedience.  Accordingly, believers would be constantly torn between fear and anxiety, they could never stand in the freedom with which Christ has set them free, and, nevertheless being unable to live without certainty, they would have to take recourse to church and priest, to altar and sacrament, to religious rites and practices.  Such indeed is the condition of thousands of Christians both inside and outside of the Roman church.  They do not understand the glory and the comfort of free justification.”

“But the believer whose eye has been opened to the riches of this benefit, sees the matter differently.  He has come to the humble acknowledgement of good works, whether these consist of emotional excitements, of soul experiences, or of external deeds, can never be the foundation but only the fruit of faith.  His salvation is fixed outside of himself in Christ Jesus and his righteousness, and therefore can never again waver.  His house is built upon the rock, and therefore it can stand the vehemence of the rain, the floods, and the winds” (p. 465-6).

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith.

shane lems

Sola Scriptura: What It Isn’t

Product Details The Reformation teaching of Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) does not mean that the Christian alone reads the Bible alone and interprets it alone.  Sola Scriptura does not at all mean we should be Lone Rangers when studying God’s Word.

And historically speaking, we probably shouldn’t use Luther on trial at Worms as an illustration of what Sola Scriptura means unless we give it a fuller contextual explanation.  The Diet of Worms wasn’t at all “Luther alone and his Bible alone against the Roman Catholic Church.”

Here’s how Richard Muller describes it.

“…It is…entirely anachronistic to view the sola scriptura of Luther and his contemporaries as a declaration that all of theology ought to be constructed anew, without reference to the church’s tradition of interpretation, by the lonely exegete confronting the naked text.”

“It is equally anachronistic to assume that Scripture functioned for the Reformers like a set of numbered facts or propositions suitable for use as ready-made solutions to any and all questions capable of arising in the course of human history.  Both the language of sola scriptura and the actual use of the text of scripture by the Reformers can be explained only in terms of the questions of authority and interpretation posed by the developments of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.  Even so, close study of the actual exegetical results of the Reformers manifests strong interpretive and doctrinal continuities with the exegetical results of the [early church] fathers and the medieval doctors.”

Richard Muller, Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics vol. 2 p. 63-64.

shane lems