Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sola Scriptura And The Church Fathers

Question: You strongly hold to the principle of Sola Scriptura. This teaching is relatively new, it cannot be found anywhere in the history of Christendom until the Protestant reformation in the 16th Century. I would deeply appreciate if you could show me why you would believe such an erroneous teaching.
Answer: The principle of Sola Scriptura - the Holy Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith for the church - is neither new nor erroneous. On the contrary, the Church Fathers testify that they too upheld the Scriptures as the sufficient and authoritative font of divine revelation.
The Fathers also held tradition in high esteem, but for them tradition was not a supplementary source of divine doctrines in addition to the teaching of the Scripture. Historian Philip Schaff explains:
“Besides appealing to the Scriptures, the fathers, particularly Irenaeus and Tertullian, refer with equal confidence to the "rule of faith;" that is, the common faith of the church, as orally handed down in the unbroken succession of bishops from Christ and his apostles to their day, and above all as still living in the original apostolic churches, like those of Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and Rome… the substance of its doctrine this apostolic tradition agrees with the holy scriptures, and though derived, as to its form, from the oral preaching of the apostles, is really, as to its contents, one and the same with their apostolic writings… In the narrower sense, by apostolic tradition or the rule of faith was understood a doctrinal summary of Christianity, or a compend of the faith of the church.” History of the Christian Church, II:12.
The following quotations prove that the Fathers considered the Scriptures as both sufficient and the highest authority in the church.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book III.
We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.
Athanasius; Against the Heathen, I:3.
The holy and inspired Scriptures are fully sufficient for the proclamation of the truth.
Athanasius, De Synodis.
Vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith's sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things; but if a Council be needed on the point, there are the proceedings of the Fathers, for the Nicene Bishops did not neglect this matter, but stated the doctrine so exactly, that persons reading their words honestly, cannot but be reminded by them of the religion towards Christ announced in divine Scripture.
John Chrysostom, Homily 8 On Repentance and the Church, p. 118, vol. 96 TFOTC.
Regarding the things I say, I should supply even the proofs, so I will not seem to rely on my own opinions, but rather, prove them with Scripture, so that the matter will remain certain and steadfast.
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Holy Trinity.
For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words.
Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection.
We are not entitled to such licence, I mean that of affirming what we please; we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings.
Basil, The Morals, p. 204, vol 9 TFOTC
What is the mark of a faithful soul? To be in these dispositions of full acceptance on the authority of the words of Scripture, not venturing to reject anything nor making additions. For, if ‘all that is not of faith is sin’ as the Apostle says, and ‘faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,’ everything outside Holy Scripture, not being of faith, is sin.
Basil, On the Holy Spirit, 7.
We are not content simply because this is the tradition of the Fathers. What is important is that the Fathers followed the meaning of the Scripture.
Basil, Moralia, 72:1.
The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign.
Augustine, Contra litteras Petiliani, Bk 3, ch. 6.
If anyone preaches either concerning Christ or concerning His church or concerning any other matter which pertains to our faith and life; I will not say, if we, but what Paul adds, if an angel from heaven should preach to you anything besides what you have received in the Scriptures of the Law and of the Gospels, let him be anathema.
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, IV:17.
For concerning the divine and holy mysteries of the Faith, not even a casual statement must be delivered without the Holy Scriptures; nor must we be drawn aside by mere plausibility and artifices of speech. Even to me, who tell you these things, give not absolute credence, unless you receive the proof of the things which I announce from the Divine Scriptures. For this salvation which we believe depends not on ingenious reasoning, but on demonstration of the Holy Scriptures.
Augustine, De Unitate Ecclesiae, 10.
Neither dare one agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, but the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God.
Augustine, De Unitate Ecclesiae, 3.
Whatever they may adduce, and wherever they may quote from, let us rather, if we are His sheep, hear the voice of our Shepherd. Therefore let us search for the church in the sacred canonical Scriptures.
Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, II, 9.
For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life.
Augustine, De Bono Viduitatis.
What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostles? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. Therefore I should not teach you anything else except to expound to you the words of the Teacher.
Hippolytus, Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 9.
There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source… so all of us who wish to practice piety will be unable to learn its practice from any other quarter than the oracles of God. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatever things they teach, these let us learn. 
Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi
Used by permission
Thank you for your partnership in the proclamation of the gospel!
Joseph Mizzi, 2000 - 2014

Praying To Departed Saints Is Unbiblical (Part 2; Conclusionary Thoughts; Critique Of Mainline Objections)

  • This second paper is simply a continuation to my first paper pertaining to prayers dedicated to deceased Christian individuals. In other words, the purpose of this article is to place a conclusion on my first article by providing responses to the most common objections raised against the presented materials.
  • "We don't pray to...":
            -Many advocates of praying to the saints argue that they do not pray directly to the saints, but rather, only "ask" them to intercede (intervene on behalf of another) for prayers. In other words, Mary and the saints are only "asked" to pray for those who request their spiritual support.
              *A person would have to pray "TO" the saints if he or she asks them for something because they are not physically present. Furthermore, it would be very illogical to ask somebody in heaven in heaven for support when they are in turn going to ask God.
              *The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that Roman Catholics do indeed pray TO the saints in heaven (CCC # 2679). Consider this, "One prays to the Blessed Virgin, to the angels and saints in heaven, but only in he sense that they intercede before God for us" (New Catholic Encyclopedia [1967], volume II, page 673). Thus, the above defensive argumentation is poor because it misrepresents the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

  • "Prayer is not worship...It's just asking...":
            -On the contrary, the biblical concept of prayer is always a form of worship. In Scripture, people always worshiped through prayer. And those petitions were always directed to God alone. We never see any followers of God praying to other entities for spiritual support (or for any other reason). Neither do we see Him approving of such activity.
            -While it is true that asking is a component of prayer, the biblical concept of prayer cannot simply be watered down to "just asking somebody" because it also encompasses other factors such as praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and mediation (i.e. Psalm 25; Matthew 6:6-14; Luke 18:9-14).

  • "People are more lively in heaven than they are on earth...Angels rejoice over conversions from sin...":
            -Just because a saint is very alive in the presence of God in the heavenly sanctuary does not mean that he or she is capable of answering or being a recipient of prayers. In other words, "being more alive" does not justify engaging in prayers to beings other than God.
            -"Angels rejoicing over a conversion" cannot simply translate into evidence of receiving a prayer request". They most probably know when a soul is added to the Book of Life.
            -Scriptural examples of angles coming down to earth to deliver messages to people or giving us assistance when needed cannot be used as proof of people praying to the saints because God sent them, which is completely different than humans directly petitioning them for support.
            -Let's think of some completely hypothetical scriptural generalizations. What if saints and angels in heaven were indeed conscious of events on earth, could hear prayers, and even had the ability to pray for somebody on earth? These scenarios would still do not translate into a biblical justification of people offering prayers to entities other than God.

  • Does 2 Timothy 1:16-18 support praying to Mary and the saints?:
            -It is assumed that Onesiphorus was dead when the Apostle Paul wrote this epistle.
              *Such an interpretation is clearly read into the context. It is not logically necessary in order for the text to make sense.
              *Even if he was dead at this time, the apostle simply asked God to show mercy to "the household of Onesiphorus", which would mean his family. After all, he was very beneficial to Paul during his ministry.
              *The apostle was neither praying to Onesiphorus nor encouraging anybody to do so.

  • Does Revelation 5:8 and Revelation 8:3-4 support praying to the saints?:
            -It is argued from these texts that the saints in heaven offered prayers to God (they must therefore be aware of our prayers and are interceding for us).
               *This does not mean that people prayed to beings in heaven or that the saints were somehow capable of hearing our prayers. It simply means that God allowed them to "handle" the bowls of prayers. In fact, both texts describe the prayers as coming from saints who are alive on earth and were directed to God alone. These texts do not allow us to pray to saints. Neither do they say anything about prayers being directed to saints or angels in heaven.
                *If the fact that the saints in heaven got to carry some bowls of prayers proves that they were directed to them from people on earth to answer, then the bowls of wrath, which are mentioned in Revelation 16:1-12, must also be directed to the saints in heaven, since they also carried those. But this conclusion is very absurd.  

  • Does Psalm 103:20-21 and Psalm 148:2 support praying to departed saints?:
            -These Scripture passages are totally irrelevant to the debate on whether we should be praying to saints in heaven or not because they say nothing about petitioning saints or angels.
            -The Psalmists are simply telling all creations in all places to glorify God's name. They do not in any way exhort us to honor or pray to beings other than the Lord.
            -In Psalm 103:22, inanimate objects are told to praise God. In Psalm 148:3, the sun, moon, and the stars are also told to praise God. Should we pray to these things, as well? If not, then why?

Praying To Departed Saints Is Unbiblical (Part 1)

  • The Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and even some Protestant churches teach that we can pray to and receive help from certain saints (and even angels) in heaven. In other words, some mainline professing Christian denominations maintain that God has appointed an individual heavenly figure to offer assistance for pretty much every aspect of human life (one figure for each minuscule category).
  • A Practice Contrary To The Bible:
         -Throughout Scripture, there are literally dozens of references to prayer (i.e. Matthew 6:6-14; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 11:1-4; John 14:14; John 17; Psalm 25; 2 Samuel 7:18-29; 1 Kings 8; Philippians 4:6-7; Colossians 3:16-17; Acts 7:51-58; James 1:5-6; Romans 10:1; 15:30; etc.), and all were directed to Him alone. Furthermore, the theme of the Bible is trusting in God alone (i.e. Matthew 6:25-34; Jeremiah 33:3; Isaiah 48:17-18; Psalm 23; 50:15; 71:1; 91:15; Joshua 1:1-6; Ephesians 5:19-20; John 16:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31; etc.). We have no examples in the Bible of calling on entity other than God, except by pagans. We never see God approving of the practice of praying to departed saints. Instead, we are told that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5; Deuteronomy 24:4; Nahum 1:2). He will therefore tolerate no idolatry. How can this teaching on dead saints possibly hold any truth when the Bible specifically teaches that all Christians are saints (instead of a select group of dead Roman Catholic people)? If we are going to be consistent with the principles of Scripture (which we need to be), then we are forced to conclude that all prayer and devotion belongs to God alone. "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73:25-26).
  • The Saints In Heaven Cannot Hear Us:
          -It is impossible for finite beings with inherently limited abilities to simultaneously hear the requests of every person around the world in different languages. Only deity can perform such tasks (more information on this coming up later in this article).
          -Notice that in Scripture, all occasions involving two-way communication between/among beings from heaven (with the exception, or course, being God the Creator) and earth required the creations to be in the same realm (earth on earth communication), rather than being in two separate realms (heaven to earth contact is never found in Scripture for mere finite beings). For instance, consider the Announcement of the Birth of Jesus Christ and the Transfiguration. This is perhaps the clearest implication that saints who are in heaven are incapable of hearing prayer requests, let alone intercede on our behalf!      
  • Unnecessary Assistance:
         -We do not need any sort of spiritual or physical support from Mary or the saints because Jesus Christ always intercedes for our prayer requests and is therefore able capable of rescuing sinners from eternal condemnation (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Furthermore, the Holy Spirit gives us the strength that we need during our times of spiritual weakness and also prays on our behalf (Romans 8:26). We can approach God with "boldness" and "confidence" as a result of our trust and personal relationship with Christ (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:14-16). To ascribe such roles to beings other than the Lord is pure blasphemy.
  • Blasphemy Indeed:
         -Only God is omnipotent and omnipresent. Only He knows all of the thoughts and intentions of the human heart (1 Kings 8:37-39). Only the Lord has unlimited powers. Therefore, praying to the saints in heaven to grant our prayer requests in pointless because they do not have the same attributes that God has. They are finite, whereas God is infinite.
        -How is depending on entities other than God for spiritual support not in some way suggesting that He is weak and powerless? How does such a practice not imply that God's work for us is not sufficient? How would such implications not be offensive to God? Why should we even pray to the saints, especially when we have access to One who can help us with all of our problems (instead of relying on many who can only help with the area of their own "specialty")? Why not make life easier and avoid going to hell after death? Why is it not idolatry to offer the same prayer, adoration, and honor to a bull, Bible, or a soldier, but it is not idolatry when such is offered to Mary and the saints?

  • Consider portions of a few of the prayers that Roman Catholics (and others) have dedicated specifically to Mary:

             -"Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful...but in thy mercy hear and answer me..." (Portion of the Memorare)
            -Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears! Turn, then, O most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us...." (Portion of the Hail, Holy Queen Prayer)
                 ^Although advocates of Marian devotion deny the charge of idolatry, their own words and actions testify against them. The above prayers are clear examples of idolatry among professing bodies of Christians, for they directly plea to Mary for the forgiveness of sins and thus place her in the same position as Jesus Christ. "I, even I, am the LORD; and BESIDE ME THERE IS NO SAVIOUR" (Isaiah 43:11). "Yet I am the LORD thy God...THERE IS NO SAVIOUR BESIDES ME" (Hosea 13:4)."The GOD of my rock HE IS....MY SAVIOUR..." (2 Samuel 22:3). "neither is there salvation in any other: for there is NONE OTHER NAME under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, BUT BY ME" (John 14:6). "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for HE SHALL SAVE HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SINS" (Matthew 1:21). "...through the righteousness of God and OUR SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST" (2 Peter 1:1).   
  • Concerning The Accusation Of Necromancy: 
         -The Church of Rome is notorious for its continuous engagement with the souls of people who have died. Many Roman Catholic Churches across the globe boldly display dressed up corpses in clear glass or plastic cases. In fact, they even go as far as to publicly display organs in the same manner. This is done with pride by the leaders of Roman Catholicism. Millions of Catholics annually go to see and offer continuous religious devotion to these corpses. In other words, the followers of the pope bow down before these cadavers, kiss on them, pray to them, and give them many different forms of adoration. Additionally, there are Catholic churches that display thousands of different pairs of bones (and some places are in fact MADE OUT OF BONES). Such activity clearly resembles worship and is often found in the occult. These pagan practices can be traced back to ancient civilizations in countries such as Egypt and Greece. However, God expressly commanded the Jewish culture to not have any sort of contact with the spirits who have departed into the supernatural realm (i.e. Deuteronomy 18:9-14; Leviticus 19:31; 1 Samuel 28:6-11; 1 Chronicles 10:9-14; Isaiah 19:1-4). The same condemnation of such activity still holds true for Christians today (Galatians 5:19-21). Hence, the underlying reason why the we correctly lay the charge that Roman Catholics are guilty of necromancy. Quite simply, there are no prayers for, to, or through the souls of the deceased. Period.
  • More Evidence Of Mary Worship In The Papacy:
          -May 7, 1997 (David W. Cloud, Fundamental Baptist News  Service, 1701 Harns Rd., Oak Harbor, WA 98277) - On May 7  Pope John Paul II dedicated his general audience to "the Virgin Mary" and urged all Christians to accept Mary as their mother. He noted the words spoken  by  Jesus on the cross to Mary and to John--"Woman, behold thy son!" and "Behold thy  mother!" (John 19:26,27), and he claimed that in this statement "IT IS POSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND THE AUTHENTIC  MEANING OF MARIAN WORSHIP in the ecclesial community ... which furthermore is based on the will of Christ" (Vatican Information Service, May 7, 1997)  
          -John Paul II underlined that "the history of Christian piety teaches that MARY IS THE PATH THAT LEADS TO CHRIST, and that filial devotion to her does not at all diminish intimacy with Jesus, but rather, it increases it and leads it to very high levels of perfection." He  concluded by asking all Christians "to make room (for Mary) in their daily lives, ACKNOWLEDGING HER PROVIDENTIAL ROLE IN THE PATH OF SALVATION" (Ibid.). 

  • Stay Tuned:
         -Stay tuned for the second article in this series on praying to Mary and the saints. The intention of the next article will provide responses to various objections to the materials presented within this article.