Friday, August 08, 2008

What Hath Jerusalem To Do With Nicaea?

I almost never post on Friday nights, but our ongoing discussion about the merits (no pun intended) of Sola Scriptura is showing no signs of dying down.

In the spirit of fairness, I would like to play the devil's advocate (well, more accurately the "bishop's advocate") and ask a question of my fellow-Protestant readers.

In the days of the infant church, theological controversies were settled in the context of the ecclesiastical council. The most obvious example is found in Acts 15, where the leaders of the Jerusalem and Antioch churches gathered together to decide what to do with all the uncircumcised, pigs-in-a-blanket-eating Gentiles pouring into Christ's church. The conclusion that was reached was then written in epistolary form and sent to the churches throughout the region. And, of course, it was to be taken as God's Word and therefore obeyed.

Now in the intervening years between the closing of the canon of Scripture and the ability of laypeople to procure their own personal copies of those canonical Scriptures, how were theological controversies solved? Does not history demonstrate that they were solved in the same way that the Jewish/Gentile controversy was solved in Acts 15, i.e., by conciliar decrees?

For a Protestant to counter the Catholic argument, then, must he (1) show that all post-apostolic, extra-canonical conciliar statements were to be considered suggestive rather than legislative (as in, qualitatively different from the conclusions of the Jerusalem Council); or (2) show that the conclusions of the Jerusalem Council were mere suggestions to be considered and ratified by individual church sessions; or (3) show that once the Scriptures were in the hands of the people, church councils were no longer necessary?

And if none of the above are incumbent upon the Protestant to demonstrate, then how else do we account for the rules of the game changing once the last apostle died?