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


Sola Scriptura, Creeds, and Confessions

From Wittenberg to Geneva to London, the Reformers stressed the centrality and authority of Holy Scripture.  They argued from Scripture that Scripture alone is God’s necessary Word to us for our salvation and for living the Christian life.  However, the Reformers also stressed the need for and importance of creeds and confessions.  In other words, the slogan “Sola Scriptura” does not imply that Christians have no need for creeds or confessions.  Lutheran scholars Robert Kolb and Charles Arand explain it this way:

“All Christians have recognized that sinful  minds and emotions misinterpret the Word of the Lord and twist it to their own devices.  So all Christians always have some summary of God’s Word to help guide public teaching and the congregation’s public confession of faith.  Scripture is indeed a primary authority for most Christians, but all Christians have secondary authorities alongside or directly under it.  Early in the church’s history the practice of identifying the church through a statement of faith, a creed, flourished.

There are, to be sure, fellowships within the larger body of Christ that claim to have no creed but the Bible.  Yet such groups automatically reject certain interpretations of Scripture and guide their people without discussion or contemplation to a specific construal of individual biblical passages.

Whether formally codified and recognized or only informally put to use (and thus often in more arbitrary fashion), these secondary authorities assist believers in formulating their understanding of the biblical message and provide a vehicle for public confession of the faith and regulation of the church’s life and teaching.

“…By the end of the sixteenth century, the majority of German Lutherans had settled on the ‘Book of Concord’ as their standard for public confession, their ‘symbol,’ in the sense of the Greek word used by the ancient church for ‘creed.’  They called its documents [ ‘the Lutheran confessions’ because Philip Melanchthon had named his Lutheran creed, prepared in Augsburg as an explanation of Lutheran reform and a statement of Lutheran adherence to the universal tradition of the church, a ‘confession.’”

Robert Kolb and Charles Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), p169-170.

shane l ems

Bullinger: Stick Fast Unto the Word

Around 1550, Swiss Reformer Henry (Heinrich) Bullinger’s sermons (called The Decades of Henry Bullinger) were published.  Bullinger preached on faith, justification, the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, the law, the gospel, the sacraments, and so forth.  At the beginning of these sermons Bullinger focused on God’s Word – what it is and why it is necessary for us.  Here’s how he beautifully concludes his second sermon on God’s Word.

“For the Lord in the word of truth hath delivered to his church all that is requisite to true godliness and salvation. Whatsoever things are necessary to be known touching God, the works, judgments, will and commandments of God, touching Christ, our faith in Christ, and the duties of a holy life; all those things, I say, are fully taught in the word of God. Neither needeth the church to crave of any other, or else with men’s supplies to patch up that which seemeth to be wanting in the word of the Lord.”

“For the Lord did not only, by the lively expressed voice of the apostles, teach our fathers the whole sum of godliness and salvation; but [he] did provide also, that it, by the means of the same apostles, should be set down in writing. And that doth manifestly appear, that it was done for the posterity’s sake, that is, for us and our successors, to the intent that none of us nor ours should be seduced, nor that false traditions should be popped into any of our mouths instead of the truth. We must all therefore beware, we must all watch, and stick fast unto the word of God, which is left to us in the scriptures by the prophets and apostles.”

“Finally, let our care be wholly bent, with faith and profit to hear whatsoever the Lord declareth unto us: let us cast out and tread under foot whatsoever, by our flesh, the world, or the devil, is objected to be a let (hindrance) to godliness. We know what the diseases and plagues of the seed of God’s word, sowed in the hearts of the faithful, are. We [also] know how great the power of God’s word is in them which hear it devoutly.”

“Let us therefore beseech our Lord God to pour into our minds his holy Spirit, by whose virtue the seed of God’s word may be quickened in our hearts, to the bringing forth of much fruit to the salvation of our souls, and the glory of God our Father. To whom be glory for ever.”

Henry Bullinger, The First Decade of Sermons: The Second Sermon.  Found in Thy Word Is Still Truth e.d. Peter Lillback and Richard Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2013), p. 72-73.

shane lems
hammond wi