Protestants and the COGs follow the principle of sola scriptura: Scripture only. They and we claim there is no sure word from God except the 66 books of the Protestant canon.
Yet, paradoxically, at the root of our adherence to sola scriptura lie the teachings, writings and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church.
This is paradoxical because the Catholic Church does not believe in sola scriptura. It unapologetically looks to church tradition as an authority, one that it sees as equal to the Bible.
The proof of the Bible
What is our proof that the Bible is the very Word and, in its entirety, the words of God?
In our tradition we have looked at two proofs:
Mr. Armstrong wrote a booklet in 1958 called The Proof of the Bible. In it he cited prophecies of the city of Tyre that he declared have been fulfilled. Mr. Armstrong said the accuracy of fulfilled prophecies proves that the Bible is what Christians have said it is.
It is debatable whether the specific prophecies he refers to in the booklet were actually accurately fulfilled in the modern age since a city of Tyre, or Sur, existed in what is now Lebanon long after the events Mr. Armstrong's described in his booklet.
However, their fulfillment or lack of fulfillment is not proof one way or the other of whether the Bible is the inspired literal and infallible and inerrant Word and words of God.
Many other books, which no one accepts as Scripture, have made predictions that have come to pass. Yet those books are not accepted as God's inspired Word.
It is not logical to accept a set of books as holy writ because they contain predictions that eventually come to pass. The fulfillment may prove that prophecies can come to pass, but that is not the same as proof that the Bible is the inspired, coherent, infallible Word of God.
What about the Bible's own sayings on the matter? For example, 2 Timothy 3:16 says that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."
We take these words to mean that the Bible--the 66 books of the canon--is the inspired Word of God. Yet that conclusion is equally illogical.
Here are some problems with it:
What does the passage mean by the word scripture? The term, after all, simply means "that which is written." The verse actually says that "everything that is written is profitable for reproof and correction," etc. "Everything that is written" includes many more books than just the Bible. We would not think of accepting all writings as God-inspired Scripture (Ecclesiastes 12:12).
The phrase "are profitable for reproof and correction" does not mean that the writings spoken of in 2 Timothy 3 "are to be considered as holy, infallible Scripture." For that matter, the writer of the Timothy epistles had no concept of a canon (the Jewish canon of the Old Testament dates from after A.D. 70), much less a New Testament canon.
Other religious writings have claimed to be holy writ, yet we don't accept them as such. To accept a book or set of books as inspired Scripture based on sayings in the book itself is to commit the logical fallacy of circular reasoning.
For example, I can say I am the president of the United States. That does not mean I am president of the United States.
A novel written in 2011 can state somewhere on its pages that it is holy writ. That does not make it holy writ.
Any book's claim that it is holy writ in and of itself proves nothing. An argument that a book or set of books is Scripture must come from outside the book or set of books to credibly attempt to prove anything.
Mr. Armstrong attempted to do that when he wrote the Proof of the Bible booklet. But he did not accomplish what he set out to do.
The booklet, by citing prophecies that he believed had been fulfilled, does not prove that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. If it proves anything, it simply shows that there is such a thing as prophecy and such a thing as events that can be understood as fulfillments of prophecy.
Why bring this up?
Why am I bringing up such a touchy--yea, heretical--topic in my newspaper?
Here are some of my reasons:
The acceptance of one written source--sola scriptura--of inspiration and revelation limits our view of God. I don't think we can limit God, but we can certainly impose limits on our view of God.
Although the Bible depicts God as Deity who loves and blesses us as His offspring, it also depicts Him as capricious, irritable and even tyrannical. Can God really be that way? I believe He cannot.
In the New Testament, Jesus is usually depicted as the peace-loving Son of God. But even He, in the book of Revelation, will slaughter everyone who disagrees with him in the Battle of Armageddon.
It's one thing to learn from the dramatic allegories in the Bible. It's another to take something like Armageddon literally.
Which of the two views of God is accurate? In my opinion, the former. God loves and blesses us and provides us with ample opportunities for learning and even adventure.
He is not capricious, irritable and tyrannical as He is depicted in parts of the Bible including the stories of the Israelites attacking and slaughtering their enemies at His command.
Our Christian view of God, based on these problematic passages, is that He's just like us, only bigger and better. He's a good and righteous, if sometimes temperamental and violent, male human being writ large.
I bring up this subject because it is better to allow ourselves to perceive a more-accurate view of God and how He interacts with us. Since I see problems with our view of the Bible, specifically the canon, I think we are not able to have an unimpeded view of God.
Does God care if we have an inaccurate view of Him?
Whether He cares or not, should we not try to move beyond our self-imposed hindrances to understanding and knowing Him?
- Our blind acceptance of the Catholic-Protestant canon leads us into wars, rumors of wars and fightings among ourselves and with everybody within range.
Because we as conservative Christians believe we have everything figured out--starting with what is Scripture and what is the nature of God--we feel free to impose our understandings, ideas, doctrines, dogma and prejudices on everyone else.
This same misguided impulse has fueled persecutions, bigotry, wars, genocide. When people so legalistically anthropomorphize their view of God as an equally legalistic and frequently temperamental Supreme Being, they can feel free to inflict dire injury on their fellowman--for their fellowman's own good, of course.
This is true even though the Bible, on the other hand, depicts God as One who demands that we love our enemies and pray for those who despise us and turn the other cheek and go the extra mile.
I've said a mouthful, I know. Other people who have come to similar conclusions have, as a result, rejected the Bible outright. If there are problems with any of Scripture, they reason, then there is nothing valuable about any of it.
In fact, some have concluded that, since there are problems with the Bible and the canon, God does not exist.
That conclusion is illogical, and that is not my conclusion. Just as beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, a child of God can find much in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, that is profitable for him to consider in his walk with God.
There are ways to be a Bible-reading Christian that accept the canon for what it is: a list of recommended writings compiled and edited by humans for not only religious reasons but political reasons.
Emperor Constantine and others, especially the participants in the church councils, compiled and sanctioned the canonical list to build a wall around believers in God and their religion.
The canon--which didn't exist in its present form until A.D. 376--ultimately was conceived and built as a system of control.
Other books that were inspiring Christians were banned from churches, or at least not allowed as part of the canon. They were deemed seditious. Church leaders saw the noncanonical books as working against a political unification of Christianity under the umbrella of the emperor and pope.
The system that included the canon carried over into the Protestant world at the Reformation. The Protestants and the COGs have simply borrowed and championed the Catholic institution of the supposedly inspired listing of canonical books.
Should people stop being Christians? No. I don't think Christianity should disband if Christians suddenly are aware of esoteric information its scholars and seminarians have known for centuries about the Bible.
Rather, Christians should do their individual part, one day at a time, to reform the Christianity they individually practice.
We can slowly but surely reform Christianity--in our case Church of God Christianity--by being aware of the situation: realizing that because of the obfuscating nature of the canon we have much to learn about God.
We, especially in the Worldwide Church of God splits, have learned to question and reject human authority.
We question the supremacy of an elite clerical class, the authority implied in the primacy-of-Peter doctrine: the principle of apostolic succession.
We question the odd notion that only an elder whose ordination is part of an unbroken chain that includes Mr. Armstrong can legitimately anoint and pray for somebody's healing.
The matters I speak of reside in the same class. We have the canon--our collection of accepted, received books--as a result of someone's assumed authority.
Should we not recognize that reality and work that recognition into the attitudes, approaches and decisions that affect us and our families and all other people, and that affect our view and understanding of God?
Our God-given curiosity
Many of us see our lives as a journey in search of truth. Even though we may not reach our destination during our threescore and ten, we do the best we can with our God-given resources and curiosity.
I believe in the value of Christian fellowship and happily meet with my brothers and sisters--my family for most of my life--on the Sabbath and the other festivals the Churches of God observe.
Although I don't like dogmatism, I do not denigrate church traditions and approaches that noncoercively and politely add to life's learning experiences.
I believe in miracles including healings and other blessings from above (although I'm flexible on who can properly anoint and pray).
I believe that the Gospels contain some of the most impeccable and flawless sayings ever written.
However, they, and the other Bible books, also contain political statements that obscure the compassionate gospel message.
What is the compassionate heart of the gospel message? We are our brother's keeper. The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12 and elsewhere) is a corollary of the brother's-keeper principle first implied in Genesis 4:9.
But, thanks to the canon and our unwavering acceptance of it, Christians can also justify, from the Bible, what could be called the code of blame. Rather than loving our enemies and praying for them, we slap them when they slap us.
The blind acceptance of the canon--which borders on bibliolatry--obscures our view of God by compelling us to take things literally that we never should have understood literally.
There isn't a good reason to revere presumed authorities--even if one of them is our way of viewing Scripture--if doing so comes between us and our honoring and comprehension of God.
Why do we not know the truth about the canon?
I think it's because of the hallowed institution of secrecy. The world runs on secrecy, in politics, government, business, executive sessions and certainly religion. The secrecy of the good old boys in positions of power stands right up there at the heart of the world's biggest problems.
I attended Art Mokarow's conference back in March 2011 in The Woodlands, near Houston, Texas. The theme of Mr. Mokarow's meetings was the nature of the Bible.
At the conference a young elder from Conroe, Texas, made a presentation that caught my ear because it was about one of my interests: the canon.
Alex Ciurana, pastor of a congregation of the Church of God (Seventh Day), addressed the canon and related subjects and suggested ways to participate in the far-reaching and potentially explosive discussions of the canon and the inspiration of the Bible.
Mr. Ciurana's approach is not the only way to deal with the situation. But his is a positive, optimistic one.
The canon is a vast and important subject. Readers of The Journal are welcome to send us their comments about it. We plan to print at least a sampling of civilly expressed opinions, no matter what they are.
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