The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
24th of October, 2014

Holy Scripture and The Non-Fideist Fallacy

Consider this:
Mere human writings can never be our ultimate and final standard, even those with ecclesiatical authority due to the fact that they were decided in the councils of the church:

Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all. (Belgic Confession, Art. 7)

It is an integral part of our confession to define the nature of biblical authority and distinguish scripture from confessional statements. Our creeds, confessions, and catechism are to be understood as subordinate standards. And yet they have real authority in the church because they are based upon and embody biblical truth.
Emphasis in the original.

The problem there, of course, is that these people seem to think that the confessions are subordinate standards because they were edited by a council. It is a serious fallacy, not least because the same Belgic Confession actually explains why scripture is different:

We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are fulfilling.

Now, two things to note. First of all, this implies that nobody can consider the Bible as we do, unless he be led to it by God Himself. The same applies to whatever document (or thought, or mechanism, or authority, or council) that may teach or propagate this view of the Bible. The Bible is either revealed, somehow, to the individual, or he never accesses it as the Bible. Secondly, this also applies to our confessions: the orthodoxy of them is either accepted or rejected by faith. If they are accepted, then their affirmations regarding the Bible are binding.

The other thing to note about that quote is that it says the confessions are binding in the church, because they are Biblical. Now this shows that, for starters, even though the Bible is rightly considered above the confessions, if the confessions are binding, then so is the supremacy of the Bible, because the confessions teach that.

You see, therefore, that right faith is what is recognised, in both the canon and the confessions, with the Spirit, testifying to us of it. If we didn't have the Spirit (if, for instance, we were Muslims), we would neither recognise the confessions (and the Bible they teach us to recognise) nor the Bible. In both cases, none of these things is chosen because of any particular reason on our part, but is rather recognised as being of the orthodox faith, with the Spirit testifying in us of their orthodoxy. Now, in Reformed circles orthodoxy is quite simply explained as being Biblical. So the confessions are orthodox because they are Biblical. To the Reformed, orthodox means Biblical. This is good, perfect, right.

But if it is orthodox to the Reformed (that is, if it is Biblical), it is rightly considered binding to everyone, because we are not at liberty to stray from the Biblical. The creeds and confessions and catechisms have the advantage of boiling down an entire theological issue into a set of articles. These can be studied as holy scripture, because they are no less than paraphrases, translations, and explanations thereof.

For this reason, two things are absolutely necessary:
First, we have to respect a difference between the Bible (which is canonised in the confession), and the scriptures which may be a subset of the canon (say, just the Psalms, the New Testament, or the Pauline epistles, which are certainly scripture, even though they are not the Bible) or which may even be the whole Bible plus other documents (creeds, confessions, catechisms, even liturgies) which are Biblical.

In both these cases, we do not recognise the Bible because a list somewhere said we should. The confession itself is clear that this is not why it accepts the Bible. Rather, we accept the Bible because the Holy Spirit says it is orthodox. For the same reason, we accept the confession itself; because the Holy Spirit says it is orthodox. There is no error in either of these documents, because one is the Bible (which the confession rightly recognises as being beyond reproach), and the other is an orthodox confession; nobody risks heresy by applying either the Bible or the orthodox confessions as holy scripture, because they are holy scripture.