Volume 7, Issue 4: Non Est
Roman and Eastern Catholicism are notoriously Greek rather than Jewish in
their outlooks, their liturgies notwithstanding. They give lipservice to
being the Israel of God, but quickly remove all such force by exiling the
Old Testament into the land of mere types and shadows. This allows them to
start the church anew, in the first century A.D., decidedly severed from
any serious Abrahamic roots. With this division in place, they go off in
their respective directions to embrace sacerdotal Aristotle and Plato,
ignoring the covenants of the promise. Wandering, rootless evangelicals are
readily impressed by appeals from these rather late-blooming "ancients."
Such dispensational tendencies in Rome andthe East show up pointedly in
their opposition to the rather Jewish and Protestant doctrine of sola
scriptura. These critics will often suggest that one reason that sola
scriptura can't be correct is that the early Church was virtually
Scriptureless, having no formally recognized Scripture for several
centuries after the Apostles.
One critic explains, "The Bible itself is a product of the fourth-
century Church. . . . [T]he early Church did not have a Bible in the sense
that we do today; yet their faith was fully protected and sustained through
tradition." Similarly, another
critic explains that "for written tradition
they at first had only fragments--one local church had an epistle, another
perhaps a Gospel. . . . [T]he early church depended on Oral Tradition
almost entirely for its knowledge of the Christian faith." Peter Kreeft
follows in line, suggesting with revealing wording that "sola scriptura is
unhistorical, for the first generation of Christians did not have the New
Testament, only the Church to guide them." Notice the options: either the
New Testament or the Church. Period. No other Scripture.
Only an outlook completely devoid of Jewish roots could suggest such a
criticism. It assumes that the Old Covenant Scriptures had no binding
authority over the early Church. Much in the way anabaptists believe that
the Church fell off the face of the earth for 1500 years, Rome and the East
think that the Old Covenant Scriptures either were rescinded or became a
The truth is that the early Church was never without Scripture from
Pentecost to present, even prior to the formal recognition of the New
Testament. Christ Himself explained the Christian Gospel from the
Scriptures, "beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them
in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Lk. 24:27).
Likewise, He chided the Pharisees for failing to see the Gospel in the Old
Covenant Scriptures: "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you
have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me" (Jn. 5:39).
Moreover, Christ directed His disciples to the Scriptures for ethical
instruction: "whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these
commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of
heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the
kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19). If God's commands will stand for all
eternity, then surely they stood during the first four centuries.
But what of the New Testament
message? Wasn't the Church without that in
Scriptural form? Yes and no. The Apostle Paul tells us that God preached
the Christian Gospel to Abraham: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God
would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham
beforehand, saying, `In you all the nations shall be blessed'" (Gal. 3:8).
And the writer of Hebrews declared that the Christian gospel was preached
to the Israelites in Moses' time (Heb. 4:2). Paul could summarize the
Gospel from the Old Covenant Scriptures, namely, "that Christ died for our
sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was
buried, and that He rose
again the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3,4).
Equally as interesting, the
Apostle Paul doesn't suggest to Timothy that
all they have is oral tradition, though indeed that was important. Instead
Paul points him to the sufficiency of the Scripture, Old Covenant
Scripture, which "is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction,
for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete,
thoroughly equipped for every good work" (1 Tim. 3:16). As genuinely
central as the authority of the Church is, Paul doesn't suggest that the
New Covenant Church lacks Scripture. The Old still stands, and it is
sufficient even for New Covenant doctrine and ethics. The Church could live
on the Old Covenant documents alone. Quite a twist on modern practice.
Rome and the East extend the above criticism to suggest that after the
early period of mere oral tradition, the Church authorities finally
established the New Testament. The Church created the Scripture.
too is so unJewish. If we think in terms of continuity between Old and New
Covenants, we can ask whether the Church authorities in the Old Covenant
created or recognized the Scripture. Clearly there, the Lord inscribed a
covenant which prescribed His Church and its authority. Scripture created
the Church. Given that Christianity is a glorious culmination of the Old
Covenant pattern, it too would submit to God's covenant and later recognize
His written word under the providence of the Holy Spirit.
Now anabaptists certainly have a problem with Church creeds and
councils, since they deny the Church any such legitimacy from early on, but
classical Protestants never did. So Rome and the East can't properly force
their favorite dilemma on us of having to choose between the authority of
the Church in recognizing the Canon or denying the New Covenant Scriptures.
That sort of dichotomy can undermine anabaptist notions of the Church, but
it should also remind us once again of the Greekness, dispensationalism,
and basic unJewishness of Rome and the East.