Is it really that obvious? A case for Tradition

That without which Christianity could never do…or could it??

If I asked you this question, “What’s the most basic Christian doctrine?” What would your answer be? Take a moment to think about it.

You might say, for example, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, or, the virgin birth. Undoubtedly, these two are distinctive beliefs that Christians hold. But I’m confident that most of you would say almost instinctively: “Well, the Trinity, of course!” Seems pretty obvious, right? After all, what could be more foundational? what else could so decisively set Christianity apart from all other world religions? “Without the Trinity, you lose Christianity!” Some may even claim.

As a Catholic, I can wholeheartedly agree that the Trinity is the sine qua non belief of Christianity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this in rather forceful language: The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith.” (CCC 234, emphasis added)

My goal in this post is to reflect on the following question: “On what basis, or principle, is the Trinity considered a foundational doctrine of Christianity?”

The Reformed and Catholic answers

For Reformed Protestants the answer lies in one of the corollaries of Sola Scriptura, namely perspicuity.

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: “Those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned , in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. “(WCF 1.7) Since the Bible clearly and plainly proposes the Trinity, therefore it is essential to believe it for salvation. Hence its status as a foundational Christian doctrine.

For Catholics the answer lies in Tradition, which includes Scripture, and the authoritative doctrinal judgments of the Church’s Magisterium. As Catholics we firmly believe that Scripture is the word of God and that everything in it has been written for the sake of our salvation. However, we deny that Scripture alone is sufficient for proposing a belief both as binding on the conscience of Christians and as an article of faith in the absence of a divinely appointed interpretive authority.

But isn’t this what Christians have always believed?!

To which I give my most resounding “Absolutely!” We Catholics believe that the witness of Sacred Tradition is authoritative and normative for theology. We don’t derive the certainty of everything revealed from Scripture alone. If there were a Catholic who denied the Trinity, we could present him with the testimony of the Fathers and the authoritative pronouncements of Popes and Councils and correct his erroneous view.

But what about Protestants? What would they do in case someone in their community arrived at the conclusion that the Trinity is an unbiblical doctrine, indeed, a tradition of men ?

Appealing to church tradition won’t work. As Trent Horn put it in his book “The Case for Catholicism“, no Protestant “believes that tradition has any ability to overrule an individual Christian who believes his interpretation of Scripture is correct, no matter what long-standing doctrine of the faith it may reject.” (emphasis added)

A conundrum

Case in point, what would they say to someone like Patrick Navas?

Several years ago Navas published a lengthy tome called “Divine Truth or Human Tradition?: A Reconsideration of the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures

He writes in the introduction of his book: “Although the doctrine has long been regarded as an established hallmark of orthodox Christian belief , I was always aware of ( and yet seriously perplexed by ) what most Trinitarian scholars themselves normally recognize ; namely , that the actual doctrine itself — as defined by the historic ecumenical creeds — is not one that is directly or formally taught to us by Jesus or by Scripture . But how could a doctrine as important as this — the very nature and identity of God — not have been directly taught in the very revelation of himself that God gave to humanity ? This is , of course , what ultimately led me into a deeper investigation into the matter , in order that I might “ examine everything carefully ” and “ test the spirits ” so to speak , in accordance with the apostles ’ instructions to the Christians that lived in their own day” (emphasis in original)

And also this:

My own conviction is that the authoritative pronouncements of the Scriptures themselves actually—and adequately—fulfill the role of defining Christian “orthodoxy,” and that the historic (4th and 5th century) creeds and their dogmatic formulations are ultimately irrelevant and unnecessary, especially so in terms of determining true or original Christian doctrine.

This is why the reader should know that the views expressed and points made in this book were sincerely and, I believe, reasonably made on the basis (and with deep reverence for the sanctity) of the inspired Scriptures, with the ultimate goal of inciting others to the worship of the one God “in spirit and in truth.” (emphasis added)

The Protestant’s dilemma

Could those Protestants who disagree with Navas say that he is simply engaging in dishonest and careless exegesis? Possibly, but that seems unreasonable given that Navas clearly indicates to have interacted with the views and scholarship of some of the most well-known and respected theological heavyweights in the Protestant community (check link to his book’s product page).

Could they say that Navas is simply too blind, evil or stupid to understand what the Bible clearly and plainly teaches? Could they say that he’s wickedly suppressing the witness of the Holy Spirit in his exegetical endeavors? Possibly, but then again, that seems unreasonable given the foregoing quotations from the introduction of his book.

If the Protestant belief and understanding in the perspicuity of Scripture is true, then they must either admit that all those who fail to see the Trinity leap off the pages of Scripture are intellectually dishonest, morally obtuse or just plain evil, or, recognize that it is possible for sincere and God-fearing Christians to arrive at conclusions that overturn centuries, even millennia, of historic theological reflection, indicating in the process that the individual Protestant remains his/her own ultimate interpretive authority and that beliefs held to be foundational for Christian orthodoxy aren’t rationally necessitated by the available Scriptural data.

As Navas so eloquently put it: ”

Even if one were to accept, in theory, that the creeds serve as a protection against false teaching, we would still have to keep in mind the existence of the various and conflicting creeds that have come down to us, all of course claiming to reflect true Christian “orthodoxy.” But who has the authority to say which creed or confession is the one Christians should look to and why? (emphasis added)

That is indeed the crux of the matter at hand.

(Originally published on 3-26-18. Revised on 4-2-18 following feedback from Casey Chalk, administrator at Called to Communion)

Pope Plants Seeds With Protestant Pastor

This post is by Jesus Florez, a Proven Catholic apologist.

Jesus Florez

In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus declared He would draw all men to Himself. He also affirmed that there would be one flock and one shepherd.

This is a clear indication that our Lord Jesus intended unity to characterize the new people He would gather around Himself. The early Christians were clearly aware of this. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century to St. Polycarp “let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation”.

Ut Unum Sint

According to Scripture and Tradition, the Catholic Church believes that the unity Christ willed for the new people of God is one of a common faith, worship, and government: doctrine, liturgy, Magisterium.

Throughout the centuries there have been many heresies and schisms that have threatened to sever these bonds. In our present time, we experience the great divisions among Christians precisely over matters of faith, worship and government. The rampant fragmentation among Protestant Christian communities is only one example of how deep these divisions run and how serious they are.

Be Reconciled to Your Brother

We seek the reconciliation of all Christians in accordance with the will of our Lord and the means He provided for the continual transmission of the Christian faith. Among other things this means communion with the successor of St. Peter, the bishop of Rome, whom Jesus Christ our Lord established as His vicar on earth and the principium unitatis, the principle of unity, among believers.

In 2016 Pope Francis met with several Protestant pastors from different denominations and traditions in an effort to promote ecumenical dialogue and foster collaboration among fellow Christians. One of them was Kris Vallotton, Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church in Redding, CA.

After meeting with Pope Francis, he proceeded to write an article and preach a sermon (iTunes podcast link) to his congregation in which he talked about unity among believers. I’ll comment briefly on three points I believe to be praiseworthy and then I’ll complement with additional reflections and considerations.

A Path to Reconciliation

When Pastor Kris met with Pope Francis he was very pleasantly surprised by his gentle demeanor and remarked during his sermon that he was convinced the Pope was filled with the Holy Spirit.

He also led a prayer for the Pope as part of his preaching. As a Catholic, it’s very encouraging to see this from a Protestant pastor who influences many people. It’s a clear sign that he has the right disposition of heart in order to make ecumenical dialogue possible. I applaud this as a Catholic and see it as an exhortation for all of us to do the same.

Towards the beginning of his sermon, Pastor Kris made the interesting observation that the first Christians didn’t have a New Testament, let alone the whole Bible. He also commented on how important it was to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Kris on the importance of a personal relationship with Christ. The Church enjoins us to approach Jesus in constant and fervent prayer and to hear His voice by frequent and prayerful reading of the Holy Scriptures.

Having said all this, realizing that the New Testament Scriptures didn’t exist as a unified canon for centuries and mentioning this during a sermon calls into question the Sola Scriptura paradigm whereby the Scriptures function as the formal principle of theology and the formally sufficient rule of faith without the need of a divinely appointed teaching authority.

We would encourage anyone that has become aware of this fact to continue to explore how in light of this millions of people, most of whom were illiterate, came to faith in Jesus and flourished in their relationship with Him.

Come, Holy Spirit

During the last portion of his sermon, Pastor Kris talked at length about the role of the Holy Spirit and how through it we can become part of the mind of Christ and achieve unity even if disagreement remains concerning doctrine and church government.

We readily agree with Pastor Kris in acknowledging the crucial role the Holy Spirit plays in the economy of salvation and God’s designs. One needs to look no further than St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Dominum et vivificantem“.  However, we would balk at the idea of achieving unity while jettisoning unity of faith and government.

We would encourage people to explore the possibility that the gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit are not only personal and experiential but also hierarchical and communal.

For example, we believe that by a special gift (or charism) of the Holy Spirit the Roman pontiff is protected from error in declaring a point of faith or morals to be definitively held by all the faithful. We also believe that this gift is passed on by means of material succession within the context of the family of God.

Looking to Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of Our Faith

Before His Passion, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the Church. Since it is Him doing so, we believe that His prayer is infallibly effective, and therefore there will always be only one true Church of Jesus Christ.

We confess, in the words of Blessed Paul VI, that “the Church founded by Jesus Christ and for which he prayed is indefectibly one in faith, in worship and in the bond of hierarchical communion” (Paul VI, Creed of the People of God, 21).

We earnestly pray so that all who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior work together to overcome division and return to the one household of God, the Church of the living God, so that the world may believe that the Father has sent His Son to unite all things in Him.

Lord Jesus, hear our prayer!

About the Author

This post is by Jesus Florez. Here’s Jesus in his own words:

I’m a Proven Catholic apologist thanks to the efforts and expertise of our friend and mentor, Devin Rose.

I now share his mission to equip Catholics to defend their faith and help Protestants consider the claims of the Catholic Church.

I’m originally from Colombia in South America and grew up Catholic but lukewarm at best. At age 18, I joined a Catholic Charismatic community that helped me have a deeper and more personal relationship with our Lord Jesus. Since moving to the United States in 2015, I became very interested in apologetics and in 2016 I participated in Devin Rose’s Proven Catholic apologist course as a beta tester and earned my certificate soon after.

I work full time as a receptionist at a local nursing home and in my free time I enjoy reading about our faith and spending time with my wife.

You can email me at lordtyberias8@gmail.com

May the Lord bless you and keep you in the bosom of His family, the Church!