Sola Scriptura or a three-legged stool?
Common sense suggests that some sort of oral tradition was always needed to accompany the Written Law.
The Catholic Church’s assumption of supreme authority in Christendom relies heavily on her contention that Christendom needs one…that without a visible, religious establishment divinely mandated to accurately interpret Scripture we would all be flailing about in a sea of competing doctrines or fighting each other over them and no one would know the truth. It is also heavily dependent on her complicated system of salvation that is so contrary to the pure and simple gospel.
So in examining the validity of her authority claims, the question that looms is: Did God intend for there to be a visible, earthly authority? Or to put it another way, do we in fact need one?
Well, duh…I can hear some Catholics saying…look at Protestantism. They have thousands of denominations and the doctrinal chaos to go with them. “Lack of centralized authority is Protestantism’s Achilles’s heel,” according to the author of The Protestant’s Dilemma which I highlighted in this post. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is the God-ordained dispenser of inalienable truths with the divine, parental authority to quiet any opposition with a simple “Because I said so.”
But the Church’s view of the necessity of authority is dependent on, as I said, her doctrine of salvation which goes far beyond the teaching of Jesus and his apostles recorded in Scripture, adding layers of requirements, prohibitions, and caveats which serve to then create the need for an arbiter that she believes is met in her alone. How precarious is our hope of salvation if there is no one on earth who can definitively translate the dictates of heaven…so her doctrine implies.
The perceived necessity of an authoritative interpreter of Scripture is just common sense to the Catholic Church and is one reason why she asserts the legitimacy of an equally binding oral tradition to accompany the written one. My lead quote, however, is not from a Catholic source but from a Jewish one. The parallels between orthodox Judaism and Catholicism are multiple and the inclusion of a supplement to Holy Scripture is a telling one. According to jewishvirtuallibrary.org, an oral law, the Mishnah, is necessary to explain how the commandments in the written law, the Torah, are to be carried out. How exactly does one keep the Sabbath holy in each generation?
We see the results of the over-scrupulosity of the Jewish oral tradition when Jesus dresses-down the Jewish leaders for their misinterpretation of the commandment, as here in Luke 13…Matthew 12…Mark 2…and John 7. And we see it in the excessive and exponential proliferation of prohibitions in this oral law, as in the 24 chapters of the Mishnah that deal with the Sabbath alone. So we have God’s commandment to do no work on the Sabbath extrapolated to forbid a woman braiding or even parting her hair because that counts as building, to give just one of a myriad of examples that, frankly, defy common sense.
Similarly then, the Catholic Church claims that the Bible is insufficient as a rule of faith and guide for holy living and must be supplemented with an equally authoritative truth source in the persons of the collective Catholic magisterium…effectively ensuring their position of dominance and influence. At least in the eyes of those who subscribe to their version of the truth.
To me it’s clear that the Catholic Church has successfully orchestrated a plan to gain and maintain power and control by declaring the purpose of Scripture to be only one leg of a three-legged stool upon which Christianity rests…the others being oral Tradition and the Church’s magisterium. But just as Jesus opposed the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law, I believe if he stood today among the bishops of the Catholic Church he’d have some harsh words for their interpretation as well.
I’ll explain next time why I believe we need no other authority than God himself, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the pages of Scripture alone.