Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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In the News: The Bible Only

Image On the PBS channel’s website, I recently came across a transcribed interview with a woman named Lori Anne Ferrell. Dr. Ferrell is a professor of early modern history and English at Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California. The interview covered aspects of English history in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, around the time that the King James Version of the Bible was translated. During the interview, Dr. Ferrell was asked about the influence of John Wycliffe upon Christian thought in that time period. As a part of her response, she said:

To advocate a sacred text (a collection of words, really, as set down in orthodox and material form since the 4th century in a book called “the Bible”) as the source of authority rather than the pope and Church tradition was Wycliffe’s remarkable contribution to the pre-Reformation era. He was no proto-Protestant (I happen to disagree with the many scholars who believe he was, as I think it’s impossible to be “proto” anything before the fact in historical reckoning) but instead a radical medieval. As that alone, he did plenty.

The reason I resist this characterization is that the claim has this way of advocating Protestant “orthodoxy,” as in: if Protestants have a past that can be traced through ideas that are passed from generation to generation, then they have a past distinct from the Roman Church, a kind of continuity that came from always resisting what the church of Western Christendom represented. And that’s simply not true. In so many ways, especially in issues of church authority, what became Protestantism was of the same opinion as the Catholic Church on more issues than not. They simply differed on what defined that authoritative church — Protestants claimed “the Bible only” (although they really couldn’t live that out; it’s an impossible claim — they needed institutional structure and history as well as a text) whereas the Roman Catholic Church claimed its long-standing historical tradition (a powerful claim indeed) plus the Bible. (Interview with Lori Anne Ferrell)

The quote is interesting in how it clearly establishes the failure of the Protestant movement. As these Christians protested the Catholic claim of authority through church tradition, they embraced many of the innovations that came from that tradition. As such, the claim that “the Bible only” was the source of all Divine authority rang hollow.

However, it also shows the limitations of historical analysis. To the historian, all Christian expressions of the present have their genesis in the various responses to the Catholic church. In effect, we are what we are because of what we have accepted from the Catholic church, and what we have rejected. Put another way, our modern faith can only be understood in the greater context of the “history of Christianity.”

In reality, this is only superficially so. It may be that stylistically we may enjoy similarities to both Catholicism, and the Protestant denominations from which we seek to differentiate ourselves. After all, we enjoy the same cultural (Western) heritage. This is why, if you attend churches of Christ with predominantly African American, or Hispanic memberships (or Filipino, Indian, Eastern European, etc.) you will find superficial differences in worship style and practice.

However, when the principle of “the Bible only” is followed with commitment and consistency, such differences are limited only to the area of expediency or choice. Churches of Christ the world over teach the same thing regarding God’s scheme of redemption, worship God with the same simple acts prescribed in the New Testament, organize themselves in the same way, do the same work, and hold to the same doctrine. That is, they do this if they remain true to God’s word. In these essentials, there is no dependence upon Catholic tradition or any other. Contrary to Dr. Ferrell’s contention, the claim of “the Bible only” (while a failed claim in Protestantism) is very much possible. It is also God’s desire for His people.

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).