Sunday, July 6, 2008

By Whose Authority?

Some time ago, I was having a discussion with an Eastern Orthodox friend of mine concerning the canon. The discussion was enjoyable and hopefully beneficial for both of us. I benefited immensely by being pushed to question some of my basic beliefs about where I was drawing authority from. The following in particular caught my attention:

“Apostolic authority is a good criteria. I agree that its right, in fact its one of the influences that the church had upon its decision to recognize the canon. But first of all, why is it a correct criteria? Is this something you deduced solely by logical means, or is it something you take on authority? If so, whose authority?” [emphasis mine]

By Whose Authority?

These are some great questions. Is our faith a product of logical deduction or are we taking it on authority? If by authority, then by whose? While I hold that God has given us a sense of reason and wants us to use it, reason alone does not make something authoritative in an infallible sense. Infallible authority must come from a source beyond what seems reasonable to fallible human beings and beyond the change of time, customs and ideas.

It is the Holy Spirit who gives something authority. It is also the Holy Spirit who used the apostles (apostolicity) to bring about His message and continues to work in believers to attest to the truth of these writings. Without strong reason to doubt the work of the Holy Spirit, one is justified in believing that the words found in Scripture are from God. In other words, it is the Holy Spirit who makes something authoritative (infallibly), who used the apostles to convey the message of salvation (and/or process of being filled with the Spirit) and who continues to work in believers attesting to the truth of what He uniquely used the apostles to reveal.

Interpretation

True Christian teaching is un-revisable. By true Christian teaching I mean what is actually the case- what God has done in human history, what He has communicated and what He requires for faith and practice. While interpretations can be incorrect and in error, true Christian teaching is not. People make mistakes all the time whether in groups or individually (I may read the Scriptures and make a mistake in interpreting it just as one who is Eastern Orthodox can make a mistake as to the Church’s meaning or even whether he or she should even view the Church as infallible). The chance for error is present for both of our interpretations of what authority is or the authoritative interpretation itself.

2 comments:

Searching for the Church said...

This is an old post, but I'm just catching up on this (fascinating) site.

You said, "It is the Holy Spirit who gives something authority. It is also the Holy Spirit who used the apostles (apostolicity) to bring about His message and continues to work in believers to attest to the truth of these writings."

Question that I've been working on for awhile now: how do we recognize the Holy Spirit?

It doesn't seem to be mere self-attestation. "I have the Holy Spirit therefore I have authority!"

If two people claim to have the Holy Spirit of Christ, one is making disciples for his compound in Waco, Texas, the other is serving the poor, I would presume that its obvious they don't both have the Spirit.

How do we recognize the Holy Spirit and His authority?

Catz206 said...

Hey, good to see that someone is taking a look at the old posts! Many get overlooked because when they were first posted, they were intended for my eyes only.

"Question that I've been working on for awhile now: how do we recognize the Holy Spirit?"

Personal answer: by His presence and interacting with Him.

However, even though it may be the case that I experience Him, a person could easily charge that their experience counters mine. When debating or questioning ones own experience (I could very well be imagining things or delusional), reason is needed. Or, if we grant that He exists and works in human history, we can look for indications (physical, patterns or again- reason) that He has done so.

A post that has been most helpful is Nate’s post titled Proper basicality, Sola Scriptura, and Ockham's Razor , but still leaves us in the dark on how we can really tell if we are functioning properly. I guess we would have to look for good indication. So, if reason sharply points us away from our belief, we should consider that we are not functioning properly.

“It doesn't seem to be mere self-attestation. ‘I have the Holy Spirit therefore I have authority!’”

Just a point of clarification: The apostles and prophets had a unique revelatory function. When a person opens up their Bible or (if the Church ends up being infallible) a person puts their faith in the Church, they are recognizing an infallible authority and are not an authority unto themselves.

As protestants, we believe in Sola Scriptura and not Solo Scriptura. This distinction will hopefully be covered in some upcoming posts. I am not sure how long it will take. I want us to do a thorough job and accurately represent our view.

Thankx for the question!