Friday, August 29, 2008
Why I Cannot be a Roman Catholic (Part 2): I believe in Tradition.
In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul recounts how Peter acted hypocritically, denying the gospel in his works, eating according to the Law with the circumcision party. The circumcision party believed membership in the community required subscription to the Jewish law. Paul rebuked Peter to his face, in front of everyone, for his deeds which proclaimed a false doctrine (2:14).
I began to wonder, what would have happened if Peter told Paul to take a flying leap? What if Peter excommunicated Paul? Who the heck was Paul, a murderer and by his own admission the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9), who wasn’t even around when Christ gave to Peter (Matt 16:19) and the other apostles (Matt 18:18) the right to bind and loosen. How dare Paul?!
Paul, one of lesser authority rebuked one of higher authority over the importance of the purity of the gospel. But what if Peter commanded Paul to recant? Paul was disrespecting the dignity of Peter’s office and causing disrepute to Peter’s ministry and the appointment of Christ.
Question: What happens when apostolic authority is challenged by apostolic doctrine? Biblically, apostolic doctrine trumped apostolic authority.
Actually, the question can be asked differently now, for we do not have divinely appointed apostles in the same manner today. The question today focuses on the nature of apostolic tradition. Roman Catholicism when confronted with a man calling for repentance played their card of apostolic authority. Martin Luther was not to question the authority of the church, for this was the nature of apostolic tradition according to the Pope: the transfer of authority.
What is Apostolic Tradition?
The difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants is NOT the acceptance of tradition by Catholics and the rejection of tradition by Protestants. For Scripture itself speaks to tradition, sometimes negatively, but the tradition of the apostles is always positive such as in 1 Corinthians 11:2:
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
Biblical Christianity requires “maintaining the traditions.” So what is the primary nature of apostolic tradition? Our answer is clear in 2 Thessalonians 2:15:
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
The church is commanded to hold firm in the traditions “taught.” Tradition is primarily the content of faith, not the transfer of authority over what is taught. That is tradition’s own self-understanding as well. It is in 2 Thess 2:15, and in early church history. Why else would the Athanasian creed say salvation was based on the catholic faith, which was the doctrine of Christ’s assumption of human flesh for the accomplishment of salvation (with no mention of authority of the Pope)? The Athanasian creed defines the catholic faith as doctrine, not authority. Irenaeus defended his doctrine because his teacher was Polycarp, and Polycarp’s teacher was the Apostle John. Irenaeus had tradition on his side, a tradition of a taught doctrine of catholic faith.
Galatians 2:11-14 presents a vivid picture of what happens when apostolic authority clashes with apostolic teaching; the apostolic faith takes precedence over all authority. Obedience to apostolic tradition means defense even against those higher in authority who contradict the gospel, be they a priest, a Bishop or even the chief of the apostles Mr first Pope himself Peter. Paul even includes himself, an apostle of authority, as under the standard of measurement, in the same book, in 1:8:
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”
The Protestant case is that of, as Jaroslav Pelikan put it, “obedient rebels.” The Reformation is a question of “catholic substance and protestant principle.” The obedience of the Reformers was to the catholic faith in rebelling against the claim of apostolic authority to invalidate a call to repentance. Peter denied the gospel in deed and then repented. Rome denied the gospel in deed, then invented (or solidified the teaching of) another doctrine of the gospel to validate its deeds. Remember, Luther did not seek to found a new church, he sought repentance - he got excommunication when he refused to recant his call to repentance. To say Luther was unconcerned about the church or unity would be like saying John the Baptist had his beheading coming to him for not respecting Herod or the Pharisees. The gospel defines the church, the church does not define the gospel. The first Reformation confession, the Augsburg confession, claimed to teach nothing new, that "the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church catholic" and is but the catholic faith so very old, - the gospel of Christ and Paul explained so well by Augustine and the fathers. That is, it taught the Reformation faith - the catholic faith.
So was that truly the case with Luther against the Leo X? I submit that it was, but more on that in Part 3.
Until then, enjoy: