June 18, 2024
In this episode, Kurt spoke on “Scripture & Tradition: Lessons from John Calvin and the Church Fathers” from the Defenders Media Conference which highlighted the Protestant Reformation as its theme.
Listen to “Episode 69: Scripture and Tradition” on Spreaker.

Kurt: Well, good evening. My name is Kurt Jaros. I am the host of the Veracity Hill podcast, which is a weekly show that airs every Saturday at 1pm. I’m also the executive director of defenders media. And we are so glad that you are here this weekend for the annual defenders conference. I know some of the names I recognize from the registration, you’ve been some of our followers and have attended our events in the past. So Cesar, it’s always good to see you. Thanks so much for for coming. Well, so this year’s theme is on the Protestant Reformation. Of course, we are celebrating 500 years of this momentous event. And we have a number of great speakers, many of them from out of town, who have come to share their knowledge and even in some cases, their wisdom with us, as to how the Reformation really impacted where we are today. It explains why, for instance, that we have the English Bible, and not a Bible that must be read in Latin, or if you are further east, in Greek. But so we’re gonna be looking at some of the great things this weekend, we are also going to be considering some misconceptions that we might have about the Reformation in that time. And we might also be thinking about things from a constructive criticism standpoint, what are some of maybe the shortcomings? Did they sort of were there some miscues by the Reformers here? And, or maybe did they not go far enough? So we’ll be thinking about those things this weekend. And again, I’m so glad that you’re here to be a part of that. So what was the Protestant Reformation? Well, I hope that for many of you, you’ve got the basics down. Martin Luther, a door, hammer and nails, some points of contention, and voila, you’ve got the Reformation. I mean, it’s a little bit more complex than that. And I hope we can understand that. It includes German princes, the Roman Catholic Church, political power plays, the printing press, even taxation, of fake kidnapping, and sexually immoral priests. Why hasn’t someone written a novel on this? So generally speaking, to Catholic historians, the Protestant Reformation was a revolt by some people against the universal church, God’s Church, how dare they go against what the church has to say, now to Protestant historians, the Reformation was a momentous event, which brought about Christians closer to the early church to the New Testament Church.

Kurt: These historical perspectives also find themselves in the theological frameworks as well. For instance, Catholics lobby, the attack that Protestants reject church authority, and even tradition. And Protestants sadly, almost gladly accept this criticism, so long as they can make their point about getting back to the Bible. Earl Cairns notes the authority of the Roman church was replaced by the authority of the Bible, which the individual was now allowed to read and read freely, which can be a good thing. There can be some concerns about that as well. Now, many of us grew up in churches whose history is less than 50 years. And for some of us, our church traditions might extend a little further back, maybe were Baptists, or Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans. But one thing we all have in common, perhaps, is that we are Protestants. The Protestant Reformation led the way out of the supposedly theological Dark Ages, and brought us at Fontas that is to the source back to the Bible. Looking back, we now recognize five major features or main main features that come forth out of the Reformation. side switch, minor detail. There we are five features of the Reformation. Scripture alone is our highest authority, sola scriptura, which is the one aspect that we’ll be looking at tonight. Secondly, that we are saved by faith alone. We are saved by grace alone. Jesus Christ alone is our Lord Savior and Redeemer contra co Redeemer with someone else, the Virgin Mary, right. And lastly, we live for the glory of God alone. So these are five main themes. The Reformers didn’t necessarily list these as their main reasons. But historians when we look upon that era, and we look at their arguments, say, Hey, these are the five main aspects to come forth from that time period, that era.

Kurt: So as I mentioned, I want to talk about that first feature sola scriptura. And hopefully, I won’t steal much of Jim Payton’s thunder tomorrow, and we’re talking about some misconceptions we might have, I’m getting the Reformation wrong. But this is one aspect that Protestants seem to struggle with because when we talk about sola scriptura, we’re not talking about so low Scripture, we don’t mean to say that the Bible is the only authority for that which it speaks. What Protestants mean, is that it is the ultimate authority, not the only but the ultimate, and that’s an important distinction that we need to understand. Now, here is how the Diet of SPIRE in 1529, okay, just 12 years later talked about the importance of Scripture. There is, we affirm no sure preaching or doctrine, but that which abides by the word of God, according to God’s command, no other doctrine should be preached. Each text of the holy and divine Scriptures should be elucidated and explained by other texts, this holy book is in all things necessary for the Christian. It shines clearly in its own light and is found to enlighten the darkness. We are determined by God’s grace and aid to abide in God’s word alone, the Holy Gospel contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments. This word alone should be preached, and nothing that is contrary to it.

Kurt: It is the only truth. It is the sure rule of all Christian doctrine and conduct, it can never fail us or deceive us. Whoever builds and abides on this foundation shall stand against all the gates of hell, while all merely human additions and vanities, set it up against it set up against it must fall before the presence of God. Now, let me clarify something here, when they say that the word of law that the word alone should be preached, and that it’s this idea alone, we need to think alone as the ultimate authority. Consider right here. The foundation, whoever builds in abides on this foundation, it’s clear that there’s more to the house, but that the scripture is the foundation. So even the early Protestants recognized that there is good, what called good tradition that we can recognize, but that it’s the Scripture itself, which is the ultimate not the only authority. But surely you can feel the pushback here against man-made traditions. Right. And that’s sadly one of the byproducts or consequences of the overemphasis of sola scriptura, chiefly at the expense of church tradition. Neglecting church tradition can be seen in the best light as simply wanting to get back to the teachings of the New Testament Church. But in the worst light, it can be seen as a doctrine called restoration ism. Restoration ism broadly described refers to the belief that the post Apostolic Church quickly lost its theological way and it was only until the Reformation or some other specific movement that was started, that the true gospel was rediscovered. So what are some restoration is groups? Well, my mother actually grew up in one of them the Plymouth Brethren. They are deemed to be Christian Orthodox. Okay, but they are restorationists. We have more questionable sects of Christianity, such as the Seventh Day Adventists. And then we also have the cults of Christianity, like the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, right? They are also restorationists. They didn’t they don’t think that the gospel was, was rediscovered until their specific prophet or a specific moment in time happened. Now restorationists and those people who want to get us back to the Bible find themselves in an interesting place. They have to reinvent the theological wheel. When a church movement or even a nondenominational church, the church plant begins. They sometimes frequently neglect church history, church tradition, and they like the early church find themselves having to reinvestigate and rehash ancient controversies. See this is exactly what happened with Pentecostalism in the 20th century, because they neglected church tradition they had to rehash a Trinitarian controversy. And in the 20th century, you had oneness Pentecostalism break off, which is a rejection of the orthodox view.

Kurt: So doctrinal disputes lead to offshoots and just reinventing the wheel and something we want to avoid, if possible. By returning to the Scriptures at the expense of church tradition, we ignore the good explanatory development of theological doctrine that has occurred over the centuries, including the central Christian doctrines, such as the Trinitarian God that we believe in are the fully divine and fully human natures of Jesus Christ. Now, very simply, I want to go over two things with you this evening. First, there is a 16th century Geneva reformer named John Calvin. And while I don’t agree with Calvin on everything, I agree with him on this specific point, that he contended that it was good church tradition, that he was defending that he was in line with the church fathers, and that the Protestant reformers were not, we’re not breaking off with the good church, they were bringing back attempting to bring back the good church because the Roman Catholic Church has led astray as we’ll go through shortly. Secondly, I want to take some time and go with you through some church fathers that I am going to argue, had, in principle, the idea of sola scriptura, even if they didn’t develop the doctrine itself, there are a number of things we can gather from a couple of their writings that seem to suggest this idea that the Bible is the ultimate authority upon which it speaks. So let’s first look at the position of John Calvin. And again, it’s not just him, but the other reformers as well, who believed that they were in the line of good church tradition.

Kurt: So here, I want to go with you. Through a letter that Calvin wrote to a Roman Catholic Cardinal named Jacopo Sadoleto. And Calvin described how it was the Reformation and challenging the Roman Catholic Church, that the Reformation was the continuation of the good tradition of the church fathers. He writes, indeed, and attacking, breaking down and destroying your kingdom. We are armed not only with the energy of the Divine Word, but with the aid of the Holy Fathers also. For although we hold that the word of God alone, lies beyond the sphere of our judgment, and that fathers and councils are of authority, only insofar as they accord with the rule of the word, we still give to councils and fathers such rank and honor, as it is meat for them to hold under Christ. You see there, Calvin says, This is good church tradition, and we should affirm it. You know, subtle lead. And if you venture to deny, I will make it palpable to all that you knew, yet cunningly, and craftily disguised the fact not only that our agreement with antiquity is far closer than yours, but that all we have attempted has been to renew that ancient form of the church. And lastly, here, Calvin talks about the ruins that the Catholic Church found themselves in, and he uses an analogy here from the Old Testament. Assuredly the famous church, which flourished under David and Solomon, and that which under Zedekiah, and Jehoiakim had lapsed into every kind of superstition, and utterly vitiated the purity of divine worship. So see what Calvin is doing here with this analogy. He’s saying that the early church is like that
ancient Old Testament Church, if you will, that it was good.

Kurt: But over time, it decayed and ultimately was destroyed. That’s what Calvin is arguing here. So in this letter alone, we can see Calvin making a continuation earnest argument, as opposed to the restorationist position, which is that the gospel sort of was rediscovered at a later time Kevin’s making a continuation hist argument. You know, Calvin cites the church fathers. Sorry, he cites 37 Church Fathers in his Christian Institute’s, along with other Pope’s church councils and even later scholastic theologians. So to say that Calvin is anti tradition, or perhaps more broadly than Protestantism, the reformers were anti tradition is simply to ignore the facts. The issue is not scripture versus tradition, but scripture verses whose tradition according to Timothy George, who is a scholar of the Reformation, he says the principle of sola scriptura did not mean that the study of the Bible should divorce from interaction with its other readers and interpreters across the ages. But the new understanding of the place of the Bible and the life of the church did mean the rejection of the particular synthesis of Scripture, tradition, and papal authority that had come to prevail in the Western Church in the late Middle Ages. So now, I would like to argue to you this evening, that that continuation is believed, I think, can even be suggested regarding sola scriptura. In the church fathers. Again, it’s not so much that they had formulated this doctrine, but that in principle, we can find it in a number of different cases.

Kurt: So consider these following examples. Irenaeus, who has lived in the second century, who was the Bishop of Lyon, in modern day France, he wrote in his book against heresies, we have learned the planet of our salvation from none other than from those through whom the gospel has come down to us, for they did at one time proclaim the gospel in public. And at a later period, by the will of God they handed the gospel down to us in the scriptures to be the ground and pillar of our faith. Now, how is one to know what the true teaching of the apostles was from those through whom the gospel has come down to us? Well, Iranaus answers, how do we know what the apostolic teaching is? Is it from the oral tradition that was just advanced from church leader to church leader? No, you’re an asis. Hear that, from that later period, they wrote it down in the scriptures, and that the scriptures are to be the ground and pillar of our faith. Consider here Gregory, the bishop of Nyssa. Here hear, fourth century. For if customers to avail for proof of soundness, we to surely may advance our prevailing custom. And if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired scripture then be our umpire. And the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose documents are found to agree with the Divine Words.

Kurt: Here again, the Scripture, the umpire, is the ultimate source. Or consider here Cyril of Jerusalem also for century four concerning the divine and sacred mysteries of the faith, we ought not to deliver even the most casual remark without the Holy Scriptures, nor be drawn aside by mere probabilities and the artifices of argument do not then believe me when I tell the these things unless they’ll receive it from the Holy Scriptures, the proof of what is set forth, for this salvation, which is of our faith, is not by ingenious reasonings, but by proof from the Holy Scriptures. He continues on and these are from his, uh, Catechetical Lectures. Here, he writes, For since all cannot read the Scripture, right? A lot of people were illiterate back then, for instance, all cannot read the scripture. But some as being unlearned, others by business are hindered from the knowledge of them, in order that the soul may not perish for lack of instruction. In the articles which are few we comprehend the whole Doctrine of the Faith, commit to memory, the faith merely listening to the words and expect at the fitting season the proof of each of its parts from the divine Scriptures. So the proof of what’s been taught to you will come at a later time, but that proof comes from the divine Scriptures.

Kurt: So lastly, here Cyril says, now he did not any ingenious view of mine, else, thou mayest be misled. But unless thou receive the witness of the prophets concerning each matter, believe not what is spoken, unless they’ll learn from Holy Scripture. Received not witness from man. For Cyril here, the Scripture was that ground. Now recall that Calvin’s charge against Sadoleto was that the Roman Catholic Church had brought forth unwarranted theological and sacramental innovations. For Calvin church tradition was not the problem bad church tradition was the problem. And there were two sources for correcting it, Scripture and good church tradition. These two principles scripture and good church tradition, are also shared by one Vincent of Lorenz, a fifth century Gallic monk modern day Southern France. He wrote this wonderful work called the combinatorial. Now, Vincent is much better known in Catholic circles and Protestant ones, largely in my estimation, due to Catholics stronger sense of pre 1517 traditions, and because of the nature of Vincent’s work itself as defending the tradition of orthodox teaching, to those that have heard of him, Vinson is remembered among theologians for his criteria of recognizing orthodoxy called the Vincentian canon.

Kurt: Now Vincent’s concern here, why would he write this work? His concern is this, it was about the proper interpretation of the Bible, he wrote, but here, someone perhaps will ask, since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the church’s interpretation? For this reason, because owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one in the same sense, but one understands its words in one way or another in another. So that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations, as there are interpreters. Right. And this is a concern as well that Roman Catholics might bring forth against Protestants. Well, how do you know who is correct? So you see this the case with numerous ancient heresies, and Vincent goes on to list them and to describe what heresies these are specifically. So, you might see the problem here.
The way we should view the Bible, Vincent says, is to understand it the way that the church has interpreted it. So that’s Vince’s solution. And this is where he posits his famous canon, he wrote, moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith, which has been believed everywhere, always by all for that is truly n in the strictest sense Catholic, which as its name itself, and the reason of the thing declare comprehends all universality, that is Catholic, lowercase c at this time, Vincent lived in the fifth century, this is long before the Great Schism of the 11th century between the East and the West. So they’re Catholic is lowercase c and simply means universal. That’s what he’s talking about there.

Kurt: He continues to say this rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity and consent. So we shall follow universality. If we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses, antiquity, if we in no eyes depart from those interpretations, which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers. Lastly, consent, in the like manner, if in antiquity itself, we adhere to the consistent consenting definitions and determinations of all or at the least of almost all priests and doctors. Now, this cannon was, interestingly enough, restated perhaps in a different way by John Calvin himself, in his letter against Sadoleto. Now, this is a Calvin writing here now, if you can bear to receive a truer definition of the church, then your own say in future, that it is the Society of all the saints, a society which spread over the whole world and existing in all ages, you see the connections there. Yet bound together by the one doctrine, Calvin continues, and the one Spirit of Christ cultivates and observes unity of faith and brotherly Concord. With this church, we deny that we have any disagreement, nay, rather, as we revere her as our mother, so we desire to remain in her bosom. Look at Calvin, they’re talking about the importance of that good tradition. So what gives here though, Vincent seems to be suggesting one way Calvin is suggesting another. It’s a classic game of the chicken and the egg. Right is one’s interpretation of the Bible itself first or the church’s interpretation. Vincent himself recognizes this He understands that different parts of the church can go wrong, he writes, but what if, in antiquity itself, there be found error on the part of two or three, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? His solution is to utilize a Universal Council, or if there is no Universal Council to consult the opinions of the ancients. So it seems like we’re not making so much progress here, until Vincent begins to clarify and provide different examples of what this looks like. So in his description of origin, or rather the, the issues for which origin or his followers, perhaps, were condemned, he writes this, we set above that in the Church of God, the teachers error is the people’s trial, a trial by so much the greater in proportion to the greater learning of the airing teacher.

Kurt: This we showed first, by the authority of Scripture, and then, by instances from church history of persons who have been at one time had the reputation of being sound in the faith, eventually either fell away to some sect already in existence, or else founded a heresy of their own. And elsewhere, he provided this same instruction for refuting the novelty of heretics, we ought either to compute them, if need be, by the sole authority of the scriptures, or at any rate, to shun them as having been already have old convicted and condemned by Universal councils. That is of the Christian church, right? For Vincent, the first sources what first source and the sole authority, the scriptures. The scriptures were to be used for refuting those with novel doctrines. But if that would not work, then you show the person you shun them by saying, hey, well, the church back at this council said this.

Kurt: So for as big of a role as the church played as church tradition played for Vincent, Scripture seemed to be the source. I think that what we’re seeing here in the church fathers is sola scriptura in utero, it’s in its fetal state. You see here, these principles, they weren’t necessarily talking that this wasn’t at the forefront of their conversations. But nevertheless, as you survey you find tidbits here and there. So, while getting back to the basis of biblical teaching is admirable. Christian tradition is not something that we should seek to read and reinvent. We should utilize and hop on the shoulders of the giants that have come before us. But that means we have to recognize which giants those were, and whether their teaching was sound. So, interestingly enough, this is what we see with the early English Baptists. In their 1679 confession of faith, specifically article 38, they note that there are three Creed’s the Nicene, Athanasian, and the Apostles Creed, which ought thoroughly be received and believed. So let’s take a look at that confession here. The three Creed’s visa vie Nicene Creed Athanasius, his creed and the Apostles Creed, as they are commonly called, or thoroughly to be received and believed. For we believe that they may be proved by most undoubted authority of Holy Scripture, and are necessary, necessary to be understood of all Christians and to be instructed in the knowledge of them by the ministers of Christ. According to the analogy of faith, recorded and sacred scriptures upon which these Creed’s are grounded and catechistally, cat-e-chist-ic-ally, it’s hard to say isn’t it, a mouthful, opened and expounded in all Christian families for the edification of young and old and if we do this, they continue which might be a means to prevent heresy in doctrine and practice these Creed’s containing all things in a brief manner that are necessary to be known fundamentally in order to our salvation, to which end they may be considered and better understood of all men.

Kurt: We have here printed them under their several titles as follows. They go on to list what these Creed’s exactly are. So here you have a Protestant group, right over about 150 years since the Reformation began, and they recognize the importance of good tradition. So much so that in their own confession, they repeated these Creed’s they said that these Creed’s are fully consistent with what the Scripture teaches. So the English Baptists and study in church tradition, they didn’t reinvent the wheel, at least not from scratch. Right. They don’t go on to talk about other later creeds. But they didn’t start from absolute scratch. They recognized right away that these Creed’s the good tradition, were consistent with the scriptures. Their study of church tradition led them to good church tradition. And it was for specifically the protection of good doctrine and good practice. The English Baptists sought to be more Orthodox and Catholic. And that’s something we should seek to be more of as well. Now, mind you there I mean, lowercase Orthodox and lowercase, Catholic, lowercase, orthodox meaning, right teaching right doctrine that we should seek for that. And of course, lowercase c, lowercase Catholic, they’re referring to universality, right? The Universal church.

Kurt: So to be a good Protestant is someone who seeks to be more orthodox and more Catholic, right, because we, along with the reformers, believe that we are a continuation of what the Church Fathers taught, and that we are not the novel heretics, as some might think, but the continuation of that good church teaching. So that’s all I have for this evening. Let me say this, I’m so glad that you are here this weekend. And I pray that you will find the speakers and sessions that you’re going to participate in and be a part of, I hope that you find them edifying, invigorating, and even motivating, to share the gospel and to defend it when required. So thank you so much.

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Michael Chardavoyne

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