Friday, October 29, 2010
Scripture Alone for Doctrine and Practice
Roman Catholics often appeal the the church Fathers over and against Scripture. I have a little essay on our church website about the differences between Catholics and Lutherans. In many of the email responses, my Roman Catholic friends argue that the consensus of the church Fathers must determine the doctrine of the church.
But many of the writings of the church Fathers were destroyed, and we cannot say that what we have left truly represents the consensus of the church. Luther's opinion about this is interesting. He said that many of their writings were destroyed, "so that men would not find the time which they should devote to the reading and scrutiny of Scripture taken up by the study of the wallowing of the Fathers and the councils" (quoted by Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1, footnote on p. 205).
This important truth not only applies to the doctrine we teach but also to the practices of the church. How we worship, teach and show the mercy of Christ should primarily be guided by the light of Scripture and not necessarily by the example of those who were ancient. We deeply appreciate the writings of the Fathers as they offer us important insights to Scripture and church practice. But we must be very careful of the temptation to elevate them to a place alongside or above Scripture.