Gun control, authority, and Tradition
With each new mass shooting the calls for stricter gun control grow louder and more passionate. Though keeping guns out of the hands of those who have evil intents is certainly a desire all but the evil intenders share, the reason we have opposition to gun control is because the only way we might possibly prevent murders by firearms would be by denying them to anyone, including responsible, law-abiding citizens. Short of that, and likely even with that, the bad guys will get ahold of them if they want them. And you don’t need a degree in history or anthropology to recognize the greater danger inherent in a citizenry agreeing to surrender rights, freedoms, arms, and with that an inordinate degree of control to their government. No person is immune from the temptation to hold onto power once it’s gained and even seize more if given the opportunity.
Still, we need government if we hope to be able to live in peace with each other, so we willingly and wisely agree to assign and submit to a certain measure of human authority as citizens. The Muslims who have been waging jihad in this country and others do so in submission to an authority as well, one that in their minds supersedes any other. A non-human authority, described and given expression in a seventh-century book.
Similarly, we Christians recognize a supreme authority over our human governments, to whom we must submit. Our authority is not the same as Islam’s, however, contrary to what some maintain and teach. But interestingly, even within Christendom we have different ultimate authorities. Some will balk at that but I think the evidence bears it out.
First, the evidence for Christianity itself. Back in the first century a number of men recorded their experiences with and the teachings of a Jewish itinerant preacher who was crucified by the Roman authorities and whom they claim to have seen after he died and was buried. A few who wrote were not eyewitnesses themselves but recorded the personal testimonies of others who were. These written documents were copied multiple times and the copies carried to places far away from their origins, and because they were written by apostles who had walked with Jesus or by their immediate associates were accorded a status equal to the Old Testament scriptures which Jesus affirmed as inspired. So that by the mid-second century there was a collection of written documents approved as authoritative for discerning truth and which served as a blueprint of sorts for building God’s kingdom.
That these documents were favored as the “rule of faith” is demonstrated by the responses of the early church to the attempts by some, like Marcion and Montanus, to either take away from or add to them. They were repudiated and rejected, but their challenges to the accepted and approved body of authoritative documents resulted in the church becoming more intentional about delineating a canon which eventually came to be known as the New Testament.
The concern the early church had with protecting the integrity of the corpus of divinely authoritative teaching testifies against the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that there is in fact another equally authoritative source of divine truth that was handed down orally by Jesus and his apostles and entrusted to her, which they call Sacred Tradition. I believe the early church fathers would have strongly repudiated the notion that something recorded hundreds of years after the time of Christ and the age of the apostles could be considered divinely inspired.
In his work The Canon of Scripture, eminent biblical scholar F.F. Bruce says that although “in the lifetime of the apostles and their colleagues their spoken words and their written words were equally authoritative,” “when once the limits of holy scripture came to be generally agreed upon, holy scripture itself came to be regarded as the rule of faith. For example, Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) says that ‘canonical scripture alone is the rule of faith.’”1
The reasons we have confidence in the reliability of the New Testament documents are many. I wrote about that here and these sites, coldcasechristianity.com and risenjesus.com, are worth visiting for more information on that. A few of the primary reasons are that they were written close to the time of the events they record by eyewitnesses or their associates, as I’ve already noted above. That’s three reasons: proximity in time, personal eyewitness testimony, and they were written down. The Catholic Church would have us believe that oral transmission over generations is as reliable as written transmission from the generation of the apostles themselves.
So whereas non-Catholic Christians have the Bible as the revelation of God as our authority, Catholics have Sacred Tradition and the church magisterium as theirs. Because though they acknowledge the Bible as divinely inspired, they teach that it can only be properly interpreted and understood through the revelation found in Tradition and handed down and taught by the Pope and bishops.
I wrote about Sacred Tradition last year when I did my month-long series on the Catholic Church. But I’m addressing it again now because recent events highlight the importance of who or what is appealed to as the ultimate authority in an individual’s life. Do Muslims have the wealth of evidence to support their belief in Allah as revealed in the Quran as Christians do to base our belief in Jesus as God? Not even close.
And neither does the Roman Catholic Church have enough good evidence to support their contention that they are the one, true church with the sole authority to determine what is divinely inspired teaching, and that peculiar doctrines like the perpetual virginity of Mary and her bodily assumption into heaven are to be believed on as surely as that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again.
1F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, p. 118, 18