Godfrey: Sola Scriptura Is Superior To Sola Ecclesia

First, they will try to say that the phrase “Word of God” can mean more than just the Bible. I have already granted that. The question before us is whether today anything other than the Scriptures is necessary to know the truth of God for salvation. The Scriptural texts I have cited show that nothing else is needed. Our opponents need to show not that Paul referred to his preaching as well as his writing as the Word of God. We grant that. They need to show that Paul taught that the oral teaching of the apostles would be needed to supplement the Scriptures for the church through the ages. They cannot show that because Paul did not teach it and the Scriptures as a whole do not.


Second, notice that our opponents, while making much of tradition, will never really define tradition or tell you what its content is. Now, tradition is a word that can be used in a variety of ways. It can refer to a certain school of understanding the Scriptures, such as the Lutheran tradition. It can refer to traditions supposedly from the apostles that are not in the Bible. It can refer to developing traditions in the history of the church that are clearly not ancient in origin. Usually in the ancient fathers of the church, the word tradition refers to the standard interpretation of the Bible among them. And we as Protestants value such tradition.

Now what do Roman apologists mean when they assert the authority of tradition? Historically they have not agreed among themselves about the nature and content of tradition. Mr. Madrid, for example, has said that tradition does not add anything to Scripture. But almost all Roman apologists for over three hundred years after the Council of Trent argued that tradition does add to the Scriptures. Some Roman apologists believe that all binding tradition was taught by the apostles, but others believe that tradition evolves and develops through the centuries of the church so that there are traditions necessary for salvation that were never known to the apostles. It is impossible to know what the real Roman position is on this matter. The second Vatican Council expressed itself with deliberate ambiguity: “This tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down…For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.” What does that mean? It certainly does not give us any clear understanding of the character or content of tradition.

Rome usually tries to clarify its position by saying that its authority is Scripture, tradition and church together. Vatican II declared,

“It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.”

In fact, however, if you listen carefully you will notice that the real authority for our Roman opponents is neither Scripture nor tradition, but the church. What is the Scripture and what does it teach? Only the church can tell you. What is tradition and what does it teach? Only the church can tell you. As the Roman theologian John Eck said, “The Scriptures are not authentic, except by the authority of the church.” As Pope Pius IX said at the time of the First Vatican Council in 1870, “I am tradition.” The overwhelming arrogance of such a statement is staggering. But it confirms our claim that for Rome the only real authority is the church: sola ecclesia.

W. Robert Godfrey | Sola Scriptura | 1995


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  1. I left eastern “orthodoxy” for the Reformed tradition almost a year ago after spending a few years over there. One thing that became apparent early on was just how much folk superstition and outright demonic pagan beliefs have infiltrated the eastern orthodox religion under the guise of “tradition.” For example, the doctrine of the Toll Houses is something most EO believe today, yet, if one has ever read the Tibetan Book of the Dead, they would be shocked at the extreme similarity between the soul’s journey through the Bardo in the latter, and EO’s description of the soul’s interrogations by demonic entities in the intermediate state after death.

    Imagine believing that demons get to interrogate you in the intermediate state and these demons somehow know every single one of your unconfessed sins! And, during their interrogations, if you do not show enough “compensatory good works” to offset your unconfessed sins, these demons then get to whisk you away to hell. (Oh, and BTW, the reason why these demons know all of your unconfessed sins is that, according to EO ‘tradition’, not only do you get a guardian angel assigned to you when you are baptized, you also get a demon assigned to you as well, who is the one recording these unconfessed sins throughout your lifetime.)

    Is this doctrine a complete rejection of the Gospel or what?

    Yet it’s all over the eastern orthodox religion today!

    Why? Sola Ecclesia on steroids. The EO church teaches that the visions of saints all the way into the modern era constitute “tradition”, and thus, voila, the fevered visions of Toll Houses by some solitary desert dwelling monk named Basil in the 9th century (who may not have even been a real person) suddenly become attached to the beliefs and practices of the EO church and spread like wildfire.

    One more example of Sola Ecclesia on steroids: the once-a-year Rite of the Panagia Bread, where EO’s believe that Mary also has her own eucharistic bread that the congregants get to feast on just like the actual Eucharist.

    Pretty sure that even Rome would consider turning Mary into a loaf of bread would be blasphemous. But, you see, some Greek monk in the 14th century was in a storm and his boat was about to capsize but the Virgin Mary appeared to him and she told him to pray to her and the loaf of bread that he had handy would suddenly become her body and he and the boat’s occupants would then be rescued if they feasted on it.

    Cool story hu? And it becomes EO “tradition” in no time. And, again, there’s no way to way to weed any of this out because of the EO’s violent rejection of Sola Scriptura.

    • Thank you for sharing that. Our small church lost an elder to EO a couple of years ago. He was attracted by such things. I’ve written it off in to what Dr Clark refers to as QIRE or QIRC—quests for illegitimate certainty/experience. It can understand the lure. So encouraged that there are believers leaving EO for the theology, practice and piety of the Reformation.

    • God bless you, sir. Keep preaching the truth. The EO and Rome are chameleons that will shift their colors to appeal to the masses

    • @Mike R: since I left EO, I’ve met a few ex-EO’s on the Puritan Board and a few more in real-life who have left EO and are now Reformed (two of whom, incidentally, were priests trained at St. Vladimir’s Seminary). The common denominator as to why they all left was because they realized that, in so many words, they were being sold a false bill of goods. The EO religion makes a lot of claims which are frankly completely false and easily refuted. Combine that with infusion of various pagan superstitions and idolatrous practices, and it’s all on shaky grounds. I do think that the mystique of EO is starting to wear off a bit as more and more people do start to realize its claims and practices simply don’t pass muster.

  2. I remember an ad that ran on YouTube a month or so ago that was selling the Roman Catholic religion. They made the same arguments about Scripture and Tradition but as you listened carefully, they would say that their church is what determines what is and is not Scripture. Those who aren’t trained to hear it, will easily get sucked into such weak arguments for Rome. We need to train not only ourselves but our children because Rome, Constantinople, Salt Lake City, etc will try to rip us away from the truth of Scripture.

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