Does Scripture need the church?

Ian Paul has shared a conversation he had on Twitter about Scripture and tradition here

The question about the relationship between tradition and Scripture is important for Evangelicals to be aware about. We after all talk about relying on Scripture alone. However other Christians argue that we should rely on a variety of authorities including Tradition, Experience and Reason. I have written about this in ” Wesley on the Slave Trade” which is available from our publications page.

The argument for tradition as a complementary authority is that:

1. It is the church that formed Scripture – deciding what was included

2. That early church leaders including Irenaeus relied on tradition as well as scripture when refuting heretics such as the Gnostics.

My position is simple. We need the church but not in the sense that Scripture news the church due to anything lacking in it. Scripture is sufficiet. Here is my reasoning.

1. I believe the historical evidence and a right Doctrine of God and Revelation points to the church being formed by God’s Word, Scripture not vice versa. The church affirms what is already objectively Scripture.

2. I would suggest that the sense in which Irenaeus refers to tradition is not that the church leaders had a special (secret) additional revelation not available from Scripture – that was in fact the Gnostic position. Rather, that God’ Word had been publicall  revealed.

3. When Christians like John Wesley refer to tradition again it is not in the sense that the church can develop its own doctrine separate to Scripture but that the church from the start clearly taught certain  things from Scripture.

4. There is  a suggestion that the church falls into danger of heresy when it becomes biblicist because it allows people to misinterpret verses out of context. The Arians for example were biblicistsclaiming that their case against the deity and eternal worship of Christ could be found in Scripture. Didn’t it take the church coming up with extra- Biblical formulations to refute them?  However, when we look carefully at what happened on those occasions, I would argue that you see the church refuting error not by coming up with something outside of Scripture but by showing that the heretics were interpreting their chosen proof texts in a way that was repugnant with the meaning of the rest of Scripture,

So we need each other, we need the church to guard us against choosing our favoured proof-texts, interpreting them in our own idiosyncratic way and then ignoring the texts that don’t fit our view. We need the church but the church’s role is not to supply its own tradition but to ensure that we are obedient to the whole counsel of Scripture.

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