Friday, January 12, 2007

A response to the First Comment of Nato on the Reformation

1. ‘The Reformation wasn't just about Luther. There were movements all over Europe (e.g. Switzerland, France, Scotland & England), with other key individuals all contributing to the movement (Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, Cramner, & Tyndale to name a few). While I deplore some of their unbiblical methods (don't get me started on Calvin), they all contributed in their own way to the movement as a whole.’

I realised that there is a clash of worldviews here.

A Protestant naturally believe that the Reformation was the restoration of something that once existed, so all the Reformers are labourers in the same garden, petals of the same flower, tentacles of the same octopus, etc., and it is silly to focus on Luther.

A Catholic, on the other hand, sees the Reformation as the irruption of something novel into Christendom that never existed before, and thus highly dependent in all its features on the character and emphases of the man who got it rolling and was the leading Reformer for the first two or three decades of the movement. From my point of view, the four ‘solas’ in your third point are historical accidents arising from Luther’s Augustinian background, and not the central axioms of Christianity.

2. ‘Luther translated the New Testament into German, but his intent was certainly not to divorce it from the entirety of Scripture. Luther's 39 articles were a reaction against the inherent corruption of the teachings of Christ that had built up over the centuries (e.g. Indulgences, Purgatory and Mary worship to name a couple).’

Everywhere in Luther’s writings you will find a very strong dichotomy between ‘Law’ and ‘Gospel’- i.e., between the Old Testament and the New Testament- with ‘Law’ playing the part of ‘scissors’ and ‘Gospel’ playing the part of ‘rock’. In this he stands solidly in the tradition of St. Augustine, St. Paul, and Christianity as a whole, so I am not intending to accuse him of anything untoward in separating the New and Old Testaments.

3. ‘The Reformation was based around a few key doctrinal issues (sometimes called the "Great Solas")Four that are key to this discussion are:
a) How can you be right with God?
By Grace Alone
(Sola Gratia)
b) How does this Grace Come?
By Christ Alone
(Solus Christus)
c) How do we find Christ?
Through Scripture Alone
(Sola Scriptura)
d) How are we 'saved'?
(jargon, I know, but scriptural
language so I'll use it)
By faith alone
(Sola Fide)’


Here’s an extract from something Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor wrote in the Spectator last month. I’ve been carrying it around in my pocket for a few days, so I should probably write it down before it gets washed:

I never hear the name of the Church without smiling at the mischievous remark of Karl Barth, the great 20th-century Swiss Calvinist theologian. For him, ‘Santa Maria sopra Minerva’ was a perfect description of what is wrong with Catholicism: it is founded, said Barth, upon ancient pagan wisdom (and not on the Gospel), is too accepting of insights which arise outside the confines of Christianity (because it is too positive about the presence of grace everywhere) and it makes too much of Mary (because it dares to think that human beings have the dignity to ‘co-operate’ with God throught the exercise of their freedom).
Now Barth was called by Pope Pius XII the greatest theologian since Thomas Aquinas, so we have to take him seriously; but if Barth says that these things are what is wrong with Catholicism, I think I could make a fair case for saying that these are precisely the things that are right about Catholicism. Our European Christian culture- there is such a thing and it is central to the character of Europe, and it is a misrepresentation to delete Christianity from Europe’s past, present, and future- draws upon streams of wisdom and philosophy from ancient Greece and Rome, and this is undoubtedly an enrichment. As a Catholic, I most certainly believe that grace is at work everywhere in God’s creation, and not only within the life of Christians, because God is creator of all and leaves marks of his presence in every culture. Finally, I hold that God’s approach to us, and to Mary whom he asks to become the mother of the Saviour, respects our freedom to choose and respond to him- God, after all, does not impose divine love upon us. When God comes to us in Christ, he is welcomed by Mary, the first of those to be saved by him.

4. ‘Sola Scriptura is not unscriptural: try
2 Timothy 3:16-17 & 2 Peter 1:16-21 + 3:13-16 New Testament) and Psalm 119 (Old Testament) for starters - I'm happy to unpack them a litte more another time.’


The problem is, if Christ has intended the Church to be guided by a book, he would have said so: this is something pretty important, after all. Thus your citations should be something like Matthew X1:y1-z1, Mark X2:y2-z2, Luke X3:y3-z3 and John X4:y4-z4 to be convincing. What he did say about what would happen after he left involved the sending of the ‘Comforter’ – who Muslims believe to be Muhammad, and Christians the Holy Spirit- and something ambiguous about Peter being given the keys to bind and loose.

From the Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, 3:16-17:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Saying all scripture is profitable is not at all the same thing as saying that only scripture is profitable.

From the Second Letter of St. Peter, 1:16-1:21
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’ and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

This seems to support the opposite point of view: ‘no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation’ implies that it is useless to read it without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This quote also certainly does not equate all Scripture with prophecy, or imply that the men moved by the Holy Spirit to make prophecies were necessarily recorded accurately.

and 3:14-16:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

You could equally well say ‘ignorant and unstable people distort Ikea flat pack instructions, to their own destruction’: this does not imply ‘only Ikea flat pack instructions are useful in avoiding destruction.’

Are there two ways of numbering the Psalms? My Psalm 119 is very short and does not seem appropriate:

To the Lord in the hour of my distress I call and he answers me
‘O Lord, save my soul from lying lips, from the tongue of the deceitful.’
What shall he repay you in return, O treacherous tongue?
The warrior’s arrows sharpened and coals, red-hot, blazing.
Alas, that I abide a stranger in Meshech, dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Long enough have I been dwelling with those who hate peace.
I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for fighting.

Or, maybe it is appropriate...

Should you ever think that 'when you speak, I am for fighting', remember this nifty quote attributed to Leo Szilard: ‘A scientist's aim in a discussion with his colleagues is not to persuade, but to clarify.’ ;)

8 comments:

Nato said...

Hey dr clam - your speed & depth of responses is quite astounding.
Obviously the discipline of the scientific academe has honed your research & response skills to a prodigious level :-)

I'll respond attempting to clarify in a few days, excepting to say that your Psalm 119 is actually Psalm 120 - the first of the Psalms of Ascent.

Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the Psalter - a prayer/song expressing the blessings of the Law/Word.

Perhaps not the best quote to use.

Till next time :-).

Dr. Clam said...

Obviously you are softening me up with this flattery before you demolish my arguments with a knockout blow of irrefutable logic, Nato! :P

Re infallibility, which was also part of your first comment: I think I only used the term 'infallible' with respect to the Qur'an in the Muslim tradition. I should prefer to discuss sources of authority in Christianity without playing around with such an emotionally charged word. I probably should have used 'inerrant' for the Qur'an, which wouldn't have quite the same echoes...

Dr. Clam said...

Here is a note about Psalm numbering from me Mum :)

'I quote here the introduction to the Journey Scripture Study course that Dad and I
spent a number of years doing. "Not all modern translations follow exactly the
same numbering system for chapters and verses in every book of the Old Testament.
Most translations follow the Hebrew numbering, but some follow the Greek....The
Psalms...the differences lie in the fact that one tradition treats certain psalms
as one psalm, and the other treats the same psalm as two.
Hebrew: 1-8 the same as Greek: 1-8; H: 9 and 10 become G: 9; H: 11-113 are G:
10-112; H: 114 and 115 become G: 113; H: 116 becomes G: 114 and 115; H: 117-146
are G: 116-145; H: 147 becomes G: 146 and 147; H: 148-150 same as G: 148 and 150."

The Greek source for scripture is really the older source and it is the one that
the Jerusalem Bible uses. The Hebrew is the newer one, but because it is in the
language of the Holy Land, it was choosen for the King James Bible.'

Marco said...

Hmmmm.. This is getting away from the argument about a reformation of Islam. I am starting to think that Islamic leaders in western countries are still looking to arab countries for guidance and direction, rather than attempting a Luther-like re-direction that is origin-independant (as in the origin of the base religion). The theological aspects you are discussing seem to be at a little of a tangent. Any Islamic reformer may redirect emphasis on parts of the Koran different to the ones emphasised by clerics in Iran or Egypt. Surely, this could be a basis for some kind of reform?

Dr. Clam said...

Hehe!
You think we are discussing how to 'reform' Islam, but I have been discussing souces of authority in religion. :) An Islamic reformer needs a better rationale to direct emphasis to partioular parts of the Qur'an then a desire to be conformed to the infidel world... religious reforms that are designed to fit the religion more closely to the ephemeral prejudices of society at large don't tend to work so well, in my far from humble opinion. As a longtime observer of the Uniting Church experiment, what do you think, Marco?

Marco said...

It depends a little bit on your definition of success. The Uniting Church isn't exactly going from strength to strength on its own accord. However, if one rates success as number of nominally Christian people in the world, the depth and variety of denominations available for nominal Christians (including the Uniting church) is a definite factor in continued increasing flocks. The balance of numbers between the faiths moves fairly slowly, and I have a few ideas about how that works differently in the US as opposed to places with "established" religions or theocracies. More on that another time however.

Micky said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You
Micky

Micky said...

About 3 years ago I dropped into a black hole – four months of absolute terror. I wanted to end my life, but somehow [Holy Spirit], I reached out to a friend who took me to hospital. I had three visits [hospital] in four months – I actually thought I was in hell. I imagine I was going through some sort of metamorphosis [mental, physical & spiritual]. I had been seeing a therapist [1994] on a regular basis, up until this point in time. I actually thought I would be locked away – but the hospital staff was very supportive [I had no control over my process]. I was released from hospital 16th September 1994, but my fear, pain & shame had only subsided a little. I remember this particular morning waking up [home] & my process would start up again [fear, pain, & shame]. No one could help me, not even my therapist [I was terrified]. I asked Jesus Christ to have mercy on me & forgive me my sins. Slowly, all my fear has dissipated & I believe Jesus delivered me from my “psychological prison.” I am a practicing Catholic & the Holy Spirit is my friend & strength; every day since then has been a joy & blessing. I deserve to go to hell for the life I have led, but Jesus through His sacrifice on the cross, delivered me from my inequities. John 3: 8, John 15: 26, are verses I can relate to, organically. He’s a real person who is with me all the time. I have so much joy & peace in my life, today, after a childhood spent in orphanages [England & Australia]. God LOVES me so much. Fear, pain, & shame, are no longer my constant companions. I just wanted to share my experience with you [Luke 8: 16 – 17].

Peace Be With You
Micky