01 November 2005

Perspicuity of the Scriptures (1)

The framers of the Westminster Standands and the LBC2 said that when the Scriptures spoke to something "necessary...for salvation," they spoke with such clarity that both educated and uneducated people could understand them by "due use of ordinary means."

The historical reasons for an inclusion of such a statement are easy enough to imagine. On one side, the Catholic church insisted that the magisterium alone, with its thorough knowledge of the Church Fathers and slavish commitment to the establishment, was able to interpret the Scriptures for the common people. The framers of these confessions wanted to declare that the gospel is clear to all and that no hermeneutical oligarchy could legitimately shackle the church. On the other hand, they wanted to shield themselves from the onslaught of the heretics who would say that orthodox Christianity was simply one way of interpreting the Scriptures. These theologians wanted to deny that other viable modes of interpretation were possible. No, these theologians and pastors taught, orthodox Christianity arises inescapably from the Scriptures. Those who twist the Scriptures beyond recognition evidence their own foolishness and earn their own destruction. In this way the doctrine of perspicuity preserves both the sole authority of the Scriptures and a clear perimeter of Christian orthodoxy.

So what is that perimeter? What are the teachings sina qua non Christianity? There are a few complementary ways of arriving at which truths are inescapable and which truths are not quite so clear, and I will explore those methods next.


Unknown said...

Good. How do we go about finding those 'core' truths? Also, does 'due use of ordinary means' involve placing oneself under the teaching ministry of one so gifted?

kevin mcfadden said...

Thanks Pitts. Looking forward to next post.

Jeremy Pittsley said...

I was thinking of "due use of ordinary means" along hermeneutical lines. However, Ephesians 3-4 does put a lot of stress on gifted teachers' role in the maturity of the body. I see how teachers, then, could be said to be necessary for perseverance; and, in that sense, teachers are necessary to salvation. Good question, Jmc: I'll have to put some more thought into that one.

At any rate, the framers of the confessions seem to have been thinking that the unlearned could understand the essential truths immediately from the Scriptures without the aid of teachers. If the unlearned are dependent on teachers (i.e. the learned) to arrive at the clear (and therefore essential) truths, then why would the framers have made a distinction between the two groups? On your proposal only the teachers (i.e. learned) have immediate knowledge of the essential truths from the Scriptures.