The Church and the Sacraments, The Time of the Reformation, Views on the Church, Influence of the Main Principles of the Reformation (continued)

In our preceding articles we almost concluded our quotations from the book of “Radio Replies” by the Rev. Dr. Leslie Rumble in which Dr. Rumble sets forth the Roman Catholic position on “Tradition.” We will now quote the two remaining articles which we wish to quote.

527. Do you imagine that the Catholic Church only has arrived at a true understanding of the Gospels?

That is not a correct presentation of the Catholic position. There is no question of the Catholic Church “arriving at” a true understanding of the Gospels. Before a line of them was written, Christ had established His Church, taught her His essential doctrines, sent the Spirit of Truth upon her at Pentecost, and commissioned her to go and to teach all nations orally and with authority, just as He had taught orally and with authority. Later on, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, the Books of the New Testament were written. Now, as one and the same Holy, Spirit could not contradict Himself, it is certain that nothing in the Gospels will contradict the official teachings of the Catholic Church. If independent people arrive at an interpretation of the Bible which conflicts with the official teaching of the Catholic Church, then they are mistaken, and have arrived at a wrong meaning.

In connection with the above paragraph of Dr. Rumble we wish to make a few observations. It is, of course, true that the Holy Spirit cannot contradict Himself. It is also true that the Gospels were written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is true, in the third place, that the apostles were inspired when they functioned officially, in all their writing and preaching. And it must also be maintained that the Church of God has the promise of the Lord that He will lead it infallibly, into all the truth. But this is surely not the same as maintaining that all traditions are the product of this infallible Spirit, inasmuch as the Fathers wrote many things which cannot be harmonized with Holy Writ. And neither is this the same as maintaining that this power of Divine inspiration has been bestowed upon the Church as in one individual, the pope.

528. Why can’t Catholics be trusted to read the Bible for themselves?

They can be, and they are. But they are warned that their interpretation of what they read will be wrong unless it be in harmony with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the one safe guide as to what Scripture means.

We do well to distinguish between the Protestant doctrine concerning the common faith of the Church and the Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition. Some of the Roman Catholic theologians would have us believe that what they mean by tradition is nothing else than belief on the authority of common consent. “Common Consent” means that what all believe, consent to be true must be true. If all the people of God believe the same thing concerning a certain doctrine, then that particular doctrine must be true. However, the Protestant doctrine concerning the common faith of the Church is surely different from the Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition. This difference is ably and clearly set forth by Hodge, in his Systematic Theology, Vol. I, pages 115-116, and we quote:

B. Points of Difference Between the Romish Doctrine and that of Protestants on Common Consent.

The points of difference between the Protestant doctrine concerning the common faith of the Church and the Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition are: —

First. When Protestants speak of common consent of Christians, they understand by Christians the true people of God. Romanists on the other hand, mean the company of those who profess the true faith, and who are subject to the Pope of Rome. There is the greatest possible difference between the authority due to the common faith of truly regenerated, holy men, the temples of the Holy Ghost, and that due to what a society of nominal Christians profess to believe, the great majority of whom may be worldly, immoral, and irreligious.

Secondly. The common consent for which Protestants plead concerns only essential doctrines; that is, doctrines which enter into the very nature of Christianity as a religion, and which are necessary to its subjective existence in the heart, or which if they do not enter essentially into the religious experience of believers, are so connected with vital doctrines as not to admit of separation from them. Romanists, on the contrary, plead the authority of tradition for all kinds of doctrines and precepts, for rites and ceremonies, and ecclesiastical institutions, which have nothing to do with the life of the Church, and are entirely outside of the sphere of the promised guidance of the Spirit. Our Lord, in promising the Spirit to guide His people into the knowledge of truths necessary to their salvation, did not promise to preserve them from error in subordinate matters, or to give them supernatural knowledge of the organization of the Church, the number of the sacraments, or the power of bishops. The two theories, therefore, differ not only as to the class of persons who are guided by the Spirit, but also as to the class of subjects in relation to which that guidance is promised.

Thirdly. A still more important difference is, that the common faith of the Church for which Protestants contend, is faith in doctrines plainly revealed in Scripture. It does not extend beyond those doctrines. It owes its whole authority to the fact that it is a common understanding of the written Word, attained and preserved under that teaching of the Spirit, which secures to believers a competent knowledge of the plan of salvation therein revealed: On the other hand, tradition is with the Romanists entirely independent of the Scriptures. They plead for a common consent in doctrines not contained in the Word of God, or which cannot be proved therefrom.

Fourthly. Protestants do not regard “common consent” either as an informant or as a ground of faith. With them the written Word is the only source of knowledge of what God has revealed for our salvation, and His testimony therein is the only ground of our faith. Whereas, with Romanists, tradition is not only an informant of what is to be believed but the witness on whose testimony faith is to be yielded. It is one thing to say that the fact that all the true people of God, under the guidance of the Spirit, believe that certain doctrines are taught in Scripture, is an unanswerable argument that they are really taught therein, and quite another thing to say that because an external society, composed of all sorts of men, to whom no promise of divine guidance has been given, agree in holding certain doctrines, therefore we are bound to receive those doctrines as part of the revelation of God.” —end of quote from Hodge.

We must not, of course, confuse the Roman Catholic doctrine of tradition with the Protestant doctrine of development. That there has been development in the Church’s knowledge of the truth none would care to deny. All the facts, truths, doctrines and principles are in the Bible. They are there as fully and as clearly at one time as at another, at the beginning of history as well as now. The Scriptures never taught anything differently at one time than another; what is true today always was true. The same applies, for example, to the facts of nature. These facts of nature are now what they have been from the beginning. However, they are known today far better than they were known a thousand years ago. This also applies to the Word of God. What is true today always was true, although it must be granted that, in the light of the Old and New Dispensations, we do have a clearer knowledge, revelation and setting forth of the truths of the Word of God.

Neither do we go along with Rome when that Church holds that many doctrines are in the Scriptures only in their rudiments, and that under the constant guidance and tuition of the Spirit the Church comes to understand all that these rudiments contain, and expand them in all their fullness. Hence, many doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, although not literally set forth in the Divine Scriptures, are taught in the Word by implication and in principle, having been developed from those rudimentary principles of the Word by the Church. Rome realizes, of course, that it cannot provide Scriptural support, in the literal sense, for all its teachings and practices. And so that Church contends that many doctrines are in the Scriptures only in their rudiments, and that the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has come to understand all that these rudiments contain and imply. Thus the Lord’s Supper has been expanded into the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrifice of the mass; the anointing of the sick, whereof we read in the epistle of James, has been developed into the sacrament of extreme unction; the rules of discipline have been expanded into the sacrament of penance, of satisfactions, of indulgences, of purgatory, and masses and prayers for the dead. And the prominence of Peter, who often assumed the leadership among the apostles, has been developed into the Romish doctrine of the supremacy of the Pope. The Old Testament, then, contains the germ of all the doctrines unfolded in the New Testament; and so the New Testament contains the germs of all the doctrines unfolded, under the guidance of the Spirit, in the theology of the mediaeval Church.

The real question between Rome and Protestantism is whether apart from the revelation contained in the Bible, there is another supplementary and explanatory revelation which has been handed down outside of the Scriptures, by tradition. The question is not whether the Spirit of God leads true believers into the knowledge of the truth. Neither is it the question whether true Christians agree in all essential matters as to truth. But the fundamental question is whether there are doctrines, institutions, and ordinances, having no warrant in the Scriptures, which we as Christians are bound to receive and obey on the authority of what is called common consent. This we most emphatically deny.

First, the Romish doctrine of tradition and belief in doctrines not taught in the written Word of God is impossible. It is, of course, conceded that Christ and His Apostles said and did much that is not recorded in the Scriptures. The apostle John himself informs us to this effect in his last chapter of the gospel of John. It is also granted that, if we had a certain knowledge of all that Christ said, that would surely be just as authoritative as the written Word of God. This, we understand, none would care to deny. But, the fact is that we have no record of those sayings. The Roman Catholic traditions are simply based on man’s memory, what people remembered of those sayings. And the limitations of our nature, as well as its corruption because of sin, make this tradition impossible. Are we going to regard the product of a man’s memory as authoritative as the inspired Word of God? Can we afford to take such chances? Are we going to permit the memory of a fallible man to tell us what is truth, in the sure and unadulterated sense of the word? Would not the weaknesses of the flesh be inclined to corrupt that truth?