Church History

Recently, I have been thinking about the role that Church History plays in Biblical authority, sola scripture, etc. And also, how do the classic creeds and confessions of Christianity play into this. In the January issue of the Reformed Baptist Theological Review there was a great article by Sam Waldron entitled The Meaning of Sola Fida for Luther. Recent discussions among Christians on the doctrine of justification by faith alone are numerous, which is a good thing, and this article was very interesting. I would like to reproduce a section here from Mr. Waldron’s article.

“Church History is not able to act as our final authority, but it is able to act as a kind of quality control on our interpretation of the Bible. [Footnote: If the importance and significance of a scrutiny of Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification is to be understood and appreciated, something must be said about the importance of Historical Theology and Church History in coming to a knowledge of the truth. The proceeding statement would be met by many evangelicals today by almoset total confusion. Some would greet it with flat rejection. Such would ask if we had ever heard of, and if we really held to, another of the great sola’s of the Reformation, sola scriptura. Does not our committment to the scriptures alone as the source of doctrinal authority simply destroy any supposed significance or importance for Church History when it comes to doctrine? Much might be said by the way of biblical response to this question. The heart of it all however, would be to lay emphasis on the teaching of scripture with regard to the importance of the teaching gifts that Christ promised to the church and has been giving to the church for almost two thousand years. Passages like Rom. 12:3-8, Eph. 4:11-13, 1 Pet 4:10-11, and 1 Cor. 12:27-31 indicate that one of the great blessings of the church is the gift of pasotrs and teachers. This indisputable fact means that sola scriptura must never be understood in such a way as to make such gifts unnecessary. Indeed, the mention of “the man of God” in 2 Tim. 3:15-17 (the classic statement of scriptural sufficiency) refers to the Christian minister and means that the sufficiency of Scripture is precisely its sufficiency to enable the man of God to teach the people of God. The application of all this to the issue at hand is that there is at least unwitting pride and lack of self-knowledge in the attitude that sees no importance in understanding the history of doctrine in the church. When we attempt to discern the meaning of the Bible, two thousand years of the teaching gifts of Christ to the church cannot be ignored without folly. Closely related to this misunderstanding of sola scriptura (and also related to insensitivity to the importance of Church History) are successionist view of Church History. Such views (whether they are Roman Catholic, Baptist, or something else) assume that the once-for-all deposit of inspired truth given us in the Bible automatically means that there can be no development in the Church’s understanding of that deposit. Of course, this follows neither logically nor historically. In fact, the Bible itself suggests a progressivist view of Church History. A number of the statements and parables of The Lord suggest a progressive view of the history of the church and therefore of the history of its doctrine (Matt 16:18; Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 4:26-29; Luke13:13-20; Eph. 4:11-15). An unbiased examination of the history of the church leads inexorably to the progressive way.]” Sam Waldron, Reformed Baptist Theological Review. Vol I No. 1. The Meaning of Sola Fide For Luther. P.87-88

So from this Reformed Baptist perspective, Church History serves as a quality control. I run across many on the web who seem to place such an emphasis on creeds and confessions, that it seems these c&c’s *are* their ultimate doctrinal authority, at least in what I can see visibly. I am sure they would vehemenently deny this, but whats the old saying, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…, I think you get the picture. Don’t get me wrong, I think the history of The Chruch and the creeds and confessions that have been birthed *by* the church are vitally important to maintaining doctrinal integrity. So what I would esteem is a sound, balanced view of church history. One that guides us gently between the pages of scripture, but doesn’t force our hand outside of them. One that challenges and conforms our beliefs on what the Bible says, not that adds or subtracts from the Bible. This is what I am seeking.

Any comments?

Believing Sola Fide,

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in Church Issues,Culture,theology

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