2005-06-13

Debate on Tradition and Scriptural Interpretation

Here is a friendly debate between myself and Steven Rudd (of the Church of Christ) who runs the website http://www.bible.ca. The debate started over his postings that said that ALL tradition is bad in interpreting the Bible (see http://www.bible.ca/sola-scriptura-tradition.htm). Here is how it went down:

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FROM ME
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Hello,

I do not know if I have contacted you specifically or not, but I have used your site to email the following question 3 times, and nobody has contacted me. I am very interested in your reply...

Please answer... Thanks in advance...
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Howdy from Texas,

Great website in many respects... I deeply admire your dedication to our risen Lord Jesus Christ and your zeal to serve Him...

I have been checking it out for a couple of years off and on as I have researched various topics, and I have always found it helpful even if I don't often agree with your specific interpretation...

And that brings me to my question:

I am from a Christian tradition that is different from yours. I left a very conservative independent Christian Church of the Stone-Campbell/Restoration variety to come to my Church tradition, so I am quite familiar, both by study and by experience, with where you are coming from.

One of the reasons I left is the Bible / Tradition issue...

You say that your website and your church is "Bible only", with no tradition, and yet:

1. You have thousands of online web pages of text detailing exactly how to interpret the Bible, and how to live a Christian life (extra-Biblical tradition explaining how to understand Scripture)

2. You quote other authors, teachers, and preachers from your own tradition and others to "prove" your points.

3. You use certain Bible translations, which are dependent on tradition-bound resources (such as lexicons, grammars, word studies, etc.) in order to put Scripture into our language

4. You are involved in a local Christian fellowship, in a certain time, a certain place, using a certain language, with certain customs, dress styles, technology, etc.

5. You listen to certain preachers, worship in select ways, sing select songs, pray in a certain way. All of this influences and reinforces how you interpret Scripture.

6. You use a Bible that was put together by consensual Church Tradition, since there is no book in the Bible that tells which books to include in the Bible... (Yes, I am aware that Jesus, the Apostles [esp. Paul, Luke, and Peter], along with some OT prophets, cross reference certain books and authors and cite them as authoritative... but this is incomplete and far from a canonical list). The Bible itself is a process of tradition.

7. Typically, ministers in your tradition need to be graduates from certain implicitly approved Bible colleges, which teach the Bible in a manner consistent with your Restorationist traditions.

8. Usually, you have some type of yearly regional and/or national gatherings of ministers, whereby you encourage each other to keep up your particular tradition, as well as censure ministers and churches that have "fallen away" to some degree.

9. Even in small incidental things you go outside of the bounds of Scripture. For instance, you use computers and the internet to spread the message of Christ (which is hardly Biblical, in the narrowest sense). You use indoor plumbing, electricity, and automobiles (none of which are in Scripture). You don't speak koine Greek or wear a toga or read from scrolls (which would be Biblical in the narrow sense). You adapt Scripture to your culture, your tradition...

All of this is tradition influencing how you understand and use Scripture, and I have no problem with tradition per se. I would challenge whether or not your tradition is the best tradition, since it is only about two centuries old, and mainly comes from the United States. I would say your tradition is narrow and sectarian; it does not adequately deal with the whole scope of Scripture; and it is not in agreement with the universal Church through the ages across the world. Yet, deciding who's tradition is more valid is not why I am sending this...

I am sending this because I have a problem with someone claiming to not be tradition-dependent, when it is clear that they are...

You worship the Lord of Truth. I worship the Lord of Truth. His Name is Jesus (John 14:6). Why then make the un-truthful claim that your tradition is superior to all other Christian traditions because yours is "Bible only" and uses "no tradition"?

It is clear that you go beyond the bounds of Scripture and use tradition, so why be dishonest about it?

I have no problem with you arguing that your tradition has the BEST interpretation of Scripture (that would be honest, from your perspective)... Just don't pretend that you are not tradition bound like the rest of us...

What is your response to this?

May Christ fill your life,
Nate Bostian

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FROM STEVE
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From: Steven Rudd

>And that brings me to my question:
>
>You worship the Lord of Truth. I worship the Lord of Truth. His
>Name is Jesus (John 14:6). Why then make the un-truthful claim that
>your tradition is superior to all other Christian traditions because
>yours is "Bible only" and uses "no tradition"?

Ok you are anglican, the church that was started because a king wanted to divorce his wife for no reason.

Go here and learn why tradition is invalid and we need scripture only:
http://www.bible.ca/sola-scriptura.htm

>It is clear that you go beyond the bounds of Scripture and use
>tradition, so why be dishonest about it?

Wrong. name it.

>I have no problem with you arguing that your tradition has the BEST
>interpretation of Scripture (that would be honest, from your
>perspective)... Just don't pretend that you are not tradition bound
>like the rest of us...

wrong. scripture interprets itself.

Steve

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FROM ME
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Steve,

Thank you for your well thought out, caring reply to my honest question. It is clear that you truly follow your own Scriptures when it says:

"...always [be] ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence... so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame." (1Pe 3:15-16 NASB)

I had asked, "It is clear that you go beyond the bounds of Scripture and use tradition, so why be dishonest about it?"

And your stunningly well thought out answer was "Wrong. name it." Although, I personally would have used "Nanny, nanny, boo, boo." I mean, come on man! You are a very intelligent guy. I would imagine that you really Love Jesus, and are not just some legalistic postmodern Pharisee. I would imagine that you want to "reach the lost". If you are right, and I am wrong, that means I am one of the lost that you are trying to reach for the sake of the Savior you Love. If you are who you say you are, and not a- pardon me- royal prick like you came across in your reply, then for the sake of Christ I expect a better reply than what you gave me.

Therefore, as I did in my first email, I will "name" NINE instances in which you use tradition and not "sola Scriptura". Each of these nine instances could be further subdivided if I wanted to waste the keystrokes. I would like an actual reply to why these nine things are NOT use of Tradition.

Remember, in order to show me wrong, and show that you are actually a completely "sola Scriptura" guy, you will need to decisively show why, with any reasonable definition of Tradition, the following NINE things in no way constitute your relying on Tradition.

By the way, I have read your "Sola Scriptura" web page, and I understand your arguments... BUT it does not answer why YOU yourself use tradition... it merely says that all traditions are bad and the Bible alone is good.

Here are my nine things (again):

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You say that your website and your church is "Bible only", with no tradition, and yet:

1. You have thousands of online web pages of text detailing exactly how to interpret the Bible, and how to live a Christian life (extra-Biblical tradition explaining how to understand Scripture)

2. You quote other authors, teachers, and preachers from your own tradition and others to "prove" your points.

3. You use certain Bible translations, which are dependent on tradition-bound resources (such as lexicons, grammars, word studies, etc.) in order to put Scripture into our language

4. You are involved in a local Christian fellowship, in a certain time, a certain place, using a certain language, with certain customs, dress styles, technology, etc.

5. You listen to certain preachers, worship in select ways, sing select songs, pray in a certain way. All of this influences and reinforces how you interpret Scripture.

6. You use a Bible that was put together by consensual Church Tradition, since there is no book in the Bible that tells which books to include in the Bible... (Yes, I am aware that Jesus, the Apostles [esp. Paul, Luke, and Peter], along with some OT prophets, cross reference certain books and authors and cite them as authoritative... but this is incomplete and far from a canonical list). The Bible itself is a process of tradition.

7. Typically, ministers in your tradition need to be graduates from certain implicitly approved Bible colleges, which teach the Bible in a manner consistent with your Restorationist traditions.

8. Usually, you have some type of yearly regional and/or national gatherings of ministers, whereby you encourage each other to keep up your particular tradition, as well as censure ministers and churches that have "fallen away" to some degree.

9. Even in small incidental things you go outside of the bounds of Scripture. For instance, you use computers and the internet to spread the message of Christ (which is hardly Biblical, in the narrowest sense). You use indoor plumbing, electricity, and automobiles (none of which are in Scripture). You don't speak koine Greek or wear a toga or read from scrolls (which would be Biblical in the narrow sense). You adapt Scripture to your culture, your tradition...
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I look forward to your answer, and please, for the sake of your Lord and mine, and in accordance with the Spirit of 1Pe 3:15-16, please come up with a better answer than "wrong. name it." A man with intellectual capacities as good as yours should be able to do that.

I would love to talk about the Anglican Tradition, and hear any "Henry VIII" slurs you want to hurl my way... as well as talking about the self-authenticating, self-interpreting nature of Scripture... but not until you give me a satisfactory answer to why you rely on tradition (as evidenced by the nine instances above) while saying that you use no tradition...

Thanks in advance...

May Christ fill your life,
Nate Bostian

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FROM STEVE
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From: Steven Rudd

>1. You have thousands of online web pages of text detailing exactly
>how to interpret the Bible, and how to live a Christian life
>(extra-Biblical tradition explaining how to understand Scripture)

These web pages are a fallible non binding guide and not tradition.

>2. You quote other authors, teachers, and preachers from your own
>tradition and others to "prove" your points.

this is not a tradition, and they are not authoritative

>3. You use certain Bible translations, which are dependent on
>tradition-bound resources (such as lexicons, grammars, word studies,
>etc.) in order to put Scripture into our language

We use all translations and the original greek and hebrew. this is not tradition

>4. You are involved in a local Christian fellowship, in a certain
>time, a certain place, using a certain language, with certain
>customs, dress styles, technology, etc.

wrong, nothing we do except what the Bible says.

>5. You listen to certain preachers, worship in select ways, sing
>select songs, pray in a certain way. All of this influences and
>reinforces how you interpret Scripture.

this is not tradition

>6. You use a Bible that was put together by consensual Church
>Tradition, since there is no book in the Bible that tells which
>books to include in the Bible... (Yes, I am aware that Jesus, the
>Apostles [esp. Paul, Luke, and Peter], along with some OT prophets,
>cross reference certain books and authors and cite them as
>authoritative... but this is incomplete and far from a canonical
>list). The Bible itself is a process of tradition.

we use the bible only

>7. Typically, ministers in your tradition need to be graduates from
>certain implicitly approved Bible colleges, which teach the Bible in
>a manner consistent with your Restorationist traditions.

our ministers are not ordained, ordination is non scriptural

>8. Usually, you have some type of yearly regional and/or national
>gatherings of ministers, whereby you encourage each other to keep up
>your particular tradition, as well as censure ministers and churches
>that have "fallen away" to some degree.

these are not binding or tradition

>9. Even in small incidental things you go outside of the bounds of
>Scripture. For instance, you use computers and the internet to
>spread the message of Christ (which is hardly Biblical, in the
>narrowest sense). You use indoor plumbing, electricity, and
>automobiles (none of which are in Scripture). You don't speak koine
>Greek or wear a toga or read from scrolls (which would be Biblical
>in the narrow sense). You adapt Scripture to your culture, your
>tradition...

these are not binding or tradition

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FROM ME
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Steve,

Thank you for an honest answer... I appreciate that... I honestly do not think that we will get anywhere on trying to convince each other, but since you are trying to convince other people of your views, I would like to be helpful to you and tell you where I find flaws in it, just so you can think about how to give a better "answer [apologeia] for the hope that you have" (cf. 1Pe 3:15).

Let me enumerate my points, and if you want to reply that's great... if you don't I understand:
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1. I think that you are trapped in a similar situation as- ironically- the Roman Catholics are... except you have a "Paper Pope" and they have a human one. You claim that all Tradition is bad, and that you use no Tradition except the Bible... then you use Tradition to back that claim up... but you can't admit that you use Tradition because Tradition is bad... so you come up with great arguments to prove that Tradition is bad... and really hollow, circular arguments to say that you don't use Tradition... It's a tough spot you are in.

I mean, think about it... the phrase "Sola Scriptura" displayed so prominently on your website is a Latin phrase (not Greek or Hebrew) developed by the Reformation Tradition... and nowhere in the Bible is the phrase "Scripture only" used (although 2Ti 3:16-17 does promise that it gives us all the teaching we need to be thourougly equipped to live for God). Sola Scriptura is a tradition-based phrase to support a tradition based argument, just as Papal Infallibility is not defined by by an infallible Pope, but rather a synod of the Catholic Church.

Here's what I believe about Scripture: 2Ti 3:16-17. That says it all.

It says that it (Scripture) gives us (the Church) all we need to live for God. Notice, the Bible does not do the living for us. The Bible alone does not convert, heal, pray, give, share, or serve. We do that. It gives us the data to know how. It is like a horse that needs a rider, or a Constitution that needs a government to carry it out. I believe Tradition helps us interpret Scripture and apply what it says. Tradition is the servant of Scripture, not the master. Tradition cannot add to Scripture, but the data of Scripture cannot be understood without the help of Tradition (unless, of course, you are a first century Jew who spoke Greek and lived in the culture that Scripture was written in).

Since we are not first century hellenistic Jews, we must rely on Tradition to help us, including, but not limited to:
+ A Bible Canon that was recognized by Church Tradition
+ Lexicons, Grammars, and Greek and Hebrew Bible texts edited by textual critics
+ Commentaries and historical studies that help us understand the cultural background of Bible texts
+ Creeds, doctrinal statements, and theological treatises
+ Bible study guides and manuals (such as your website)
+ Bible colleges and seminaries
+ Pastors, Bible teachers, and sermons
+ Bible study groups and the Christians we fellowship with
+ The implicit and explicit norms and expectations of the Believing community we are involved with

I do not think Tradition is a bad thing... it is a neutral thing that can be used by God or by Satan... just like almost everything else in creation. When Tradition does a good job of making sense of ALL that Scripture has to say, without trimming off bits here there to make it fit into a certain "box", then it is a good Tradition. When a Tradition twists Scripture and offers unconvincing explanations for why it interprets Scripture the way it does, then it is bad Tradition.

For this reason I am where I am at, and no longer where you are at... I think that my Tradition makes the best sense of Scripture (and no, I am not a liberal Anglican who wants gay bishops)... and I am no longer involved with the Independent Christian Church because I believe it has glaring flaws in its Tradition (most noticeably, denying that it has one!).
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2. Jesus said for our "Yes to be Yes" and our "No to be No". That is, He expects honesty in our speaking, and for us to not hide what we mean by messing with our definitions [and playing word games]. Christians are not people who say with President Clinton: "Well, it depends on what the meaning of is, is".

I would think that your definition of "Tradition" would include (1) a body of extra-Biblical teachings, (2) which tell us how to interpret and apply Scripture, and (3) which have some level of authority and expectation to be followed as the norm for a certain community. Note on point (3) that it does not matter whether or not the authority is official and explicit (like a dogma defined by the Pope), or whether it is implicit (people will shun you if you disobey). It is still authoritative Tradition within the group that holds it.

By this definition, you have Tradition. The teachings on your website, and specifically your claims about the correctness of your community's interpretation of Scripture over against every other Christian community, matches points 1, 2, and 3 above. You shun communion with other Christian communities on the basis of your Community's interpretation of Scripture. That IS Tradition. It is BINDING to those in your community.

For instance, if someone in your community took a different interpretation of Scripture than what you teach, you would discipline them. Someone could make a good Biblical case for women leading worship service (Gal 3:26-29; Rom 16), using only real wine and believing that Communion IS the real body and blood of Christ (1Co 10-11; John 6), and demanding confession to the elders on a regular basis (James 5:13-18).

If someone started spouting this off in the middle of Church or Sunday School, solely on Biblical basis and not using any Tradition at all to "prove it", would you not give them the boot, or at least censure them in some way? You would. And this shows that what you teach on your website IS BINDING... You have a BINDING system of Tradition that governs how people can rightly interpret Scripture and remain part of your fellowship. You may not spell it out in a Creed or Canon Law, but it is a binding Tradition (although you certainly DO spell it out on your website and in your Bible College textbooks).

Let your Yes be Yes, and admit that, by any meaningful definition of Tradition, you have one.
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3. I found this quite interesting in your reply... I said: "Typically, ministers in your tradition need to be graduates from certain implicitly approved Bible colleges, which teach the Bible in a manner consistent with your Restorationist traditions."

You replied: "our ministers are not ordained, ordination is non scriptural"

But notice, I said NOTHING about ordination, on purpose. I know you don't "ordain" (although I would argue that you simply call ordination by another name)... but let's assume that you really don't ordain in name or in fact... the people whom you allow to preach and teach in the pulpit have to be trained somewhere... usually in an implicitly approved Bible college that teaches how to interpret the Bible in a prescribed way.

Again, no matter how Biblical someone's arguments were, I doubt you would ever allow someone to minister in the pulpit if they affirmed women as preachers or elders, or if they believed communion was the real body and blood of Christ, or if they mandated that Christians confess regularly to their elders.

You wouldn't let me preach or teach in your Church, even though I can offer plausible, convincing Biblical reasons for everything I believe. Why? Because I do not match the norms of your Tradition and its method of interpretation. Again, evidence that your Tradition is binding.
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4. Finally, and most importantly, look your answers and my questions from the perspective of someone who is not a Christian. Who would be more convincing? In your heart of hearts, do you really find your own answers convincing?

I have no problem loosing a debate. I loose all the time. My wife reminds me of how fallible I am on a regular basis. But, I haven't lost this one. Your answers are just not convincing. Not at all. Its like I am saying "The sky is blue", and you keep saying "No, it's red", and it is clear to anyone who looks up which person is more accurate.

In fact, I don't think that you refuted any of my 9 points. The "fallible non binding guide" explanation doesn't work, because, while I agree it is fallible, it is certainly NOT non-binding. If it really was non-binding, you wouldn't care enough to write about it.

If you are going to continue to teach that ALL tradition is bad, and that you do not use tradition, then you need to come up with a much better argument... because, while you say many convincing things on several portions of your site, you are not convincing at all in this issue.

Anyway, hope this critique helps you. I probably won't write again about this issue unless you come up with a real whopper of an argument that looks at the issue from a different angle. May the Lord richly bless you, your wife, and your family as you follow Him.

May Christ fill your life,
Nate Bostian

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FROM STEVE
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Wrong, I have been preaching 25 years with no theology training. This is the norm for us.

steve

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FROM ME
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Steve,

Wow... 25 years... That's great Steve! I hope some day to be able to say the same thing... I've only been at it a decade or so... a quarter century in service to our Lord... I am sure that God has used you to impact people's lives for eternity, and I pray He keeps blessing and enabling you to reach people for Christ...

About training:

1. I'm sorry if I wrongly classified how you folks train your ministers. Down here in Texas, nearly all of the preachers I know from Church of Christ / Independent Christian Churches have a degree from a Bible college such as "Dallas Christian College". If ya'll don't do that up where you live, I stand corrected.

2. I seriously doubt you have no theology training and are completely self-taught. I would hope that you have at least had some Christian mentoring and Bible study leaders / teachers who have helped you understand Scripture. If you claim to be a completely "self made man", without any assistance from God's people in raising you up, then you are: 1. Prideful and self deceived. 2. Dangerous because you are teaching others without ever submitting to being taught yourself.

But, I know from your teachings about the importance of being part of the Church, and from my experience with Churches of Christ, that this is not the case. You probably are misunderstanding what "theology training" actually means. Theology training is not simply "going to seminary" or "going to Bible college". Theology, as you probably know, comes from the Greek words "Theos" = God and "Logia" = Talking, reasoning. It is simply reasoning about God, or better yet, learning about God.

Every Bible study, every sermon, every Christian mentor who reasons and talks with you about God is part of "theology training". Theology training is nothing more than the formative influence of a Christian community shaping how we understand Scripture and how we relate to God. Theology training is thus synonymous with Tradition.

3. I would hope you didn't simply take the pulpit without anybody testing you and making sure you are actually Biblical. Did you march in 25 years ago and say "I've got a Word from the Lord and I'm takin' over this here pulpit!" If you did, you are scary. But, I seriously doubt that happened. Probably it involved lots of Christian mentoring, talking, testing your faith, lifestyle and doctrine, and praying a whole lot before they allowed you to take the pulpit.

4. Your entire website is nothing but "theology training", and you actually run the equivalent of a very basic "Bible college". Check out:

http://www.bible.ca/seek-bc.htm
http://www.bible.ca/seek-req-info.htm
http://www.bible.ca/seek-question.htm
http://www.bible.ca/tares.htm

If that last page doesn't constitute the curriculum for a Bible College, then there is no such thing as a Bible College.

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FROM ME
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A couple of more thoughts on whether your Tradition is "fallible and non binding". I have shown clear evidence that your teaching is binding for your own community, and if it is not followed, will be disciplined by your community.

Now, let's answer whether you truly consider your own teachings (and the main interpretations of your tradition) to really be fallible.

Fallible means "to be in error, or subject to error". If you truly believed your teachings were fallible, you would be open to being corrected by clear evidence that shows you are in error.

You claim to not use Tradition, but "Scripture only". I have clearly shown that, using any reasonable definition of Tradition, you definitely DO use tradition, and not "Scripture only". Yet, you will not be corrected. Furthermore, the meager arguments you have sent me to the contrary are very circular, sometimes do not even address the issue, and are not convincing at all.

Therefore, since you will not be corrected in the face of clear and convincing evidence, you MUST consider your extra-Biblical teachings to be infallible (at least to you and your community, if to no-one else).

In addition, if you truly believe any of the teachings on your website are indeed fallible, please point them out and identify them as such. BUT, if you do, then you admit that what you are teaching stands a fair chance of being incorrect. If this is so, why would you teach it as truth? If anything on your website is knowingly untrue, then aren't you causing people to stumble? Doesn't Jesus say pretty bad things about teachers who would cause the little ones to stumble?

I really doubt that, with the amount of certainty with which you present your teachings, that you believe any of them are actually in error. Furthermore, I bet that you think that anyone who holds views contrary to yours is something of a heretic. In light of this, it is clear that you present your teachings as an infallible tradition.

All of this is to say that your teachings are: 1. binding; and 2. infallible; to you and your community of faith. You may not officially define them as binding or infallible, but that is just semantics. In reality, they are functionally binding and infallible.

I think there is little doubt that you use tradition, and not just the Bible, to teach the Christian Faith. Therefore, I would highly encourage you to get rid of your anti-Tradition arguments and Sola Scriptura arguments, and instead argue on the basis of which Tradition (yours versus mine versus everyone else) has the best, most Biblical, most comprehensive, most historically rooted interpretation of the Christian Faith.
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