Vatican II on Scripture

One of the common ideas in the current ecumenical climate is that Vatican II altered or at least has the potential to alter the relationship between Protestants and Roman Catholics. There were major changes made at Vatican II, particularly liturgical changes and softening of the RC Church’s stance towards those outside the church. But many central assertions remained. One of the greatest divides, if not the greatest, between Roman Catholics and Protestants is the authority of the Bible and the authority of tradition. Vatican II did not alter the Roman Catholic Church’s view on tradition and Scripture. Here are some quotes from Vatican II

The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church.

Sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

It is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything that has been revealed. So, both sacred tradition are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.

Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, which is committed to the Church.

Matthew Barrett comments on these quotes saying,

While the document goes on to say, “this teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it,” Vatican II cannot meant this in the way that the Reformers did, for it then says this teaching office “draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” So while this teaching office may serve the Word of God, it originates from the one holy deposit along with Scripture and must be equally revered as God’s Word.

There is debate in Roman Catholic circles about what all of this means. But that is largely irrelevant. The institution of Roman Catholicism is built on tradition plus Scripture. In the end, unity is impossible if one group accepts two divinely received sources of authority and the other group accepts only one and rejects the other.

Circumcision is a Spiritual Sacrament

Pierre Marcel on the nature of circumcision in the Old Testament. Italics are his.

Circumcision thus represents the obligation resting upon him who received this sign, in authentication  of this promise, to circumcise his heart and living according to the covenant…

Circumcision, therefore,  truly has a spiritual meaning in perfect harmony with the covenant of grace, itself spiritual, of which it is the sign and seal. The device whereby an attempt is made to divide the Abrahamic covenant into two or three covenants distinct from each other [by Baptists], in order that, to suit the convenience of a certain people, a “carnal” element may be inserted into it, has no justification…

All that we have today in our sacraments the Jews had formerly in theirs, namely, Jesus Christ and His spiritual riches. The efficacy of the sacraments of the Old Testament is identical with that of the sacraments of the New, because they are equally signs, seals, and confirmations of the good will of God for the salvation of men. There is, it is true, a difference between the sacraments as regards outward appearance, but they are identical as regards their internal and spiritual significance. The signs have changed, while faith does not change. 

Perfect and Complete in All Respects

 

Holy BibleI believe that in the coming years the fundamental battle in the church will be over the authority, sufficiency, necessity, and clarity of the Bible. Is the Bible the final, absolute authority or can we look to tradition, ancient cultures, or other types of revelation as equal to or even superior to God’s Word ? Is the Bible sufficient for man’s salvation and to understand how to live a godly life or do we need tradition, science, psychology, or personal revelation from God? Is the Bible necessary to be saved and live a holy life or can men “who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – achieve eternal salvation?” Finally, is the Bible clear enough on how man is saved and how he may live a godly life or do Christians need another source to clean up the Bible for them?

Because I see this as a key front in the war on the Christian faith I have been slowly accumulating books and articles on the Scriptures from those who agree with my Protestant, Reformed convictions and from those who do not.  I have also been reading the various confessions and catechisms to see what they say about this. In my reading I found this wonderful explanation of the sufficiency of Scripture in Belgic Confession Article 7. All the bold is mine.

We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one– even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says- ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects. Therefore we must not consider human writings– no matter how holy their authors may have been– equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else. For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule, as we are taught to do by the apostles when they say, “Test the spirits to see if they are of God,” and also, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house.”

Freedom of Religion & the Clarity of Scripture

Over against Rome, the churches of the Reformation indeed have no more powerful weapon than Scripture. It delivers the deadliest of blows to ecclesiastical tradition and hierarchy. The teaching of the perspicuity [clarity] of Scripture is one of the strongest bulwarks of the Reformation. It also most certainly brings with it its own serious perils. Protestantism has been hopelessly divided by it, and individualism has developed at the expense of the people’s sense of community. The freedom to read and examine Scripture has been and is grossly abused by all sorts of groups and schools of thought. On the balance, however, the disadvantages do not outweigh the advantages. For the denial of the clarity of Scripture carries with it the subjection of the layperson to the priest, of a person’s conscience to the church. The freedom of religion and the human conscience, of the church and theology, stands and falls with the perspicuity of Scripture. It alone is able to maintain the freedom of the Christian; it is the origin and guarantee of religious liberty as well as of our political freedom. Even a freedom that cannot be obtained and enjoyed aside from the danger of licentiousness and caprice is still always to be preferred over a tyranny that suppresses liberty. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, p. 479. Also quoted in K. DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word

One and the Same

Paul carefully demonstrates, in opposition to the Judaizers, that the method by which Abraham obtained salvation is the type, the model of the method in accordance with which the believers in the New Testament must believe, whether they be Jews or pagans. Abraham is the father of believers (Rom. iv. 9-25, Gal. iii. 7-9, 17 f., 26-29). The law has neither annulled nor altered the covenant of grace (cf. Heb. vi. 13-18). Such being the nature of the covenant with Abraham, it is clear that, in the degree which is has reference to what is of essential nature, it remains always in force. We still live today under this covenant of grace; the Christian Church is founded upon it. Even at this present moment man is justified by faith just as Abraham was. Christians are called the children and heirs of Abraham, because faith in the promise of redemption assures their redemption exactly as faith in the same promise assured Abraham’s redemption. “If you are Christ’s,” says Paul, “then  you are Abraham’s posterity and heirs according to promise” (Gal. iii.29).

…For this reason this reason it is necessary to understand the Old Testament a being one in essence and substance with the New. Even though God communicates His revelation to us in the course of the unfolding of history and in a progressive manner, and thought consequently mankind progresses in the knowledge, possession, and enjoyment of the revelation, yet God is always identical with Himself, and remains so. (Pierre Marcel in Infant Baptism. All punctuation, etc. is his.)

Reformed Catholicism, Authority, and Unity

church-cross

Peter Leithart continues to write about the need for unity in the church. His latest work, which I have not read, is titled The End of Protestantism.  There have been numerous blog posts with more on the way about this push for unity.  Douglas Wilson has written several posts. Derek Rishmawy has also written one trying to work out some of the practicalities of Leithart’s vision.  Eric Hutchinson asked a basic question: Is institutional unity necessary or desirable? And of course, the indefatigable Leithart continues to write posts as well. As a pastor in the CREC where Leithart makes his home and has tremendous influence, I have tried to keep up over the years on the debates and discussions.

I always learn from Leithart and find his way of writing, his learning, and his insight valuable. However, there are some problems with his ecumenical project. This post is in response to one portion  of Leithart’s “wish-list” for Protestant churches, which you can find it here.  I also read his older post, which contains some of his basic desires for the Protestant Church moving forward. I encourage you to read his list or open it in another tab as you follow along.

Typical of Leithart much of what he says is excellent, including the encouragement to sing Psalms, weekly communion, pray for other churches and denominations, reform church music, and include children in the sacraments and worship.  A couple other points need more explanation. For example, he wants churches to give up “treasured tribal slogans and symbols for the sake of unity.” I am not sure what he means here. What is a “treasured tribal slogan?”  His points about seminaries following Scripture, preachers teaching the whole Bible, and faith without works probably contain some truth. But my guess is that conservative seminaries and pastors believe they already do those things. He would need to explain those points more for them to challenge the status quo.  My focus in this post will be his points about church discipline and his final point about one body.  Here are those points in order. Continue reading

A Covenant Freely Given

Pierre Marcel on the glory of the covenant of grace. All italics are his.

It is a covenant of grace, that is to say, freely given. It does not depend upon any human condition, it is not a gift in exchange for some service, it does not answer to any fulfillment of law on the part of man. God Himself, in the person of His Son, provides the surety of the covenant, whereby all our obligations are met at the same time as the demands of the divine justice.

Again, it is a covenant of grace, a free covenant, because God by His grace, rendered efficacious by the working of the Holy Spirit, makes man capable of living in conformity with the requirements prescribed by the terms of the covenant. The covenant of grace has its origin in the grace of God, it is put into execution by the grace of God, and it is experienced in the life of sinners through the grace of God. From beginning to end it is pure grace for the sinner. It is God who descends to man and raises him to Himself. It is God who disannuls the covenant of sinful man with Satan and with death (Is. xxviii. 18), who places enmity between man and Satan, who destroys death, and who, taking man for His possession, promises him victory over every adverse power. It is the work of God, only His Work, and all His work. Man cannot lay claim to any personal glory: all the glory emanates from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.