Sunday, October 28, 2007

American Trinitarianism: Me, Myself, and I

In The Shape of Sola Scriptura, Keith Mathison argues that the "Radical Reformers" (i.e., the Anabaptists) went well beyond the position of the magisterial reformers regarding Scripture. The view of the latter – "Tradition 1" – was that the Bible is the only source of infallible revelation, that it is to be interpreted in and by the church, and that this must be done in a way consistent with the regula fidei (the oral tradition preached by the apostles before its enscripturization).

The Anabaptist view, which has been dubbed "Tradition 0" and is virtually identical to the contemporary evangelical notion of Solo Scriptura, insists not only that the Bible is the sole source of infallible authority, but that it is the only source of authority altogether.

If this view is correct, some pretty insurmountable problems arise. First, if the Bible alone is authoritative, then how do we define "the Bible"? Nowhere within the sixty-six books of Scripture is there a table of contents saying, "Now the inspired books are...." Solo Scriptura, therefore, may be able to assert that the Bible alone has authority, but it requires an extra-biblical declaration by a non-authoritative body (the church) to determine which books comprise "the Bible."

Another problem with the idea that Scripture is the sole source of authority (inspired or otherwise) is that without the general consensus of the early church, codified in the ecumenical creeds, there is no way to determine what the core of Christianity really is. Without the regula fidei functioning as our hermeneutical context and guardian of our exegesis, it is impossible to know what does or does not contitute heresy. If all we have is a Sacred Magisterium of One (me), then Mormonism's falsehood is only a matter of opinion, and the insistence that Jesus is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father is no more or less true than his being the brother of Lucifer who died on a pole.

(As an aside, if you think I'm embellishing for the sake of rhetorical effect, click here.)

Maybe Cyprian was right, and God doesn't raise latch-key kids. If you want God for your Father, you must also have the church as your mother, for extra ecclesiam nulla salus est.