- What is the place of the Bible in this framework?
This is an important question. If our aim is to live our Christian lives in the way that the Christians we read about in the New Testament did then we must recognise the fact that, while they held the Old Testament scriptures in high regard, they were not a ‘people of the book’. If we are to insist that there is no difference between the church prior to the closing of the canon and the church after the closing of the canon then several issues emerge. Why should we insist on such a thing as the canon of scripture in the first place? If we are going to profess suspicion of many of the developments of post-Constantinian Christianity, or even post-apostolic Christianity, why should we accept the rulings of the ecumenical councils on the matter of canon. If we really are to live in the same way as the first Christians, who had no New Testament, what place does the New Testament have in our Christian lives? Moreover, might it not be argued that the settling of the canon went hand in hand with the hardening of the hierarchical bishop-centred forms of Christianity that began to emerge after the first generation of Christians. If so, does a rejection of this hierarchical ecclesiology not necessitate a rejection of the idea of a New Testament canon?
To put it simply, the question is this: The earliest believers got along fine without a New Testament and relied primarily on the Spirit to teach them (through men such as Paul whom the Spirit equipped for this purpose). Why can’t we do the same?
Also, the existence of a New Testament surely gives rise to a dramatic change in ecclesial structure. Whereas before we have the spirit speaking through and to the church at large in a dynamic manner now we have scripture as a final and authoritative record of the spirit’s speaking. This gives rise to the need for the pastor as teacher/preacher whose job it is to interpret the scriptures for the church.
Rather than answer these questions, I think I will embark on a small series of posts outlining some issues and questions I have in this area. I am uncomfortable with the position many protestants seem to take, viz. we reject the idea that ecumenical councils have any authority and affirm that scripture is the only authority for the church. Well, ecumenical councils have authority in only one area, that is to decide what constitutes scripture. That is to say, we trust them on this one but nothing else. Those creeds might be nice, but need to be subjected to scripture. Why? Well…
It has always seemed to be an inconsistency that lies at the heart of much protestant thinking about the church and about God speaking. Not that I feel the need to reject scripture, but I am beginning to feel the need to restate and rediscover my ideas about it. My father and I have been discussing this sort of thing recently so in the next while I will trot out a few posts on scripture and questions I have in this regard to see if it generates any discussion.