Sunday 2 July 2006

Heavy canon fire

LCG web commentator and church history buff Bob Thiel writes: "one of the reasons that the COGs are NOT Protestant is that we believe the Bible and do not believe that anyone... is entitled to change it."

Which led me to think again about the whole canon issue.

To provide a bit of an introduction, Bob regards the Bible - his non-Protestant canon (which actually is the Protestant canon) - as a given. It kinda dropped out of the sky one day, intact, fully formed and fluttering gaily down beneath a Holy Spirit parachute. Those nasty Church Fathers and proto-Catholics had nothing to do with it. If I understand Bob correctly, he champions a reconstruction where the Eastern church created the current canon before it invented ikons, pillar saints and liturgical chants, and was still under the influence of those mysterious and mythical COG leaders of the apostolic age.

Yeah, right.

I disagree with Bob, though I don't doubt his sincerity (as the old refrain goes, folk can be "sincerely wrong.") For me, this was a real "trunk of the tree" issue several years ago, as it affects the whole underpinning of fundamentalist and evangelical belief. I even wrote a short article on the subject which attracted a bit of attention. It sorely needs a rewrite, which I'm hoping to get done later this year (then it'll appear as a PDF file on otagosh.) Currently the New Testament paper that I'm doing touches on this issue, and there's more to add. But despite the fact that it's a little dated, I stand behind what I said then.

Bottom line: for centuries the canon was subject to change after change as Christians of all hues and stripes debated what to include. And in some cases they got it terribly wrong in the final cut. The article explains this in some detail. I'll expand on this theme in later postings.


Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that it was not just Luther and Calvin who rejected the apocrypha as Old Testament Cannon, but the Jews also reject the apocrypha. Paul writes in Romans 3:1-2 that the Oracles of God were committed to the Jews. This would establish the authority of the Jews to determine Old Testament canon, which means that the apocrypha should not be included. Therefore, it is not because of a decision by Luther or Calvin that the Churches of God do not accept the apocrypha. Bob Thiel is right that one of the reasons the Churches of God are not Protestant is that we get our beliefs from the Bible, not Protestant tradition or the teachings of Protestant leaders like Luther or Calvin.


Gavin said...

Paul wrote before Jamnia, which was when the current Jewish canon was settled. The church was using the Septuagint (which included the apocrypha) well before then. Until Jamnia, which occured after the destruction of the temple, the Hebrew canon was apparently still under discussion. NT writers refer to disputed writings like Sirach and Enoch.

That's without even mentioning the process by which the NT canon was decided.

I took a look at your website, ... nice to see a classic COG believer dropping by :-)

Anonymous said...

The NT writers also quote the poorly translated Septuagint. They even used some mistranslations to establish doctrine, for instance, "...behold a virgin shall conceive..." should be"....behold a young woman shall conceive...." which changes the meaning substantially.

Anonymous said...

What is interesting in LCG circles, is that when the question of canon of the scriptures came up over a year ago , interjected in sermons and commentary from the leaders was that "the apostles were responsible for the canon of scripture", and when pressed for the "proof" they would say that the Pauline letters were going all over the different churches and such. Dr. Bob opened a can of worms and initially it got a bunch of the sheeple to think before damage control was done by LCG. Just like old times.
rod 2

Gavin said...

I take your point Jordan. There's quite a good discussion of the Jamnia "council" at Wikipedia:

Anonymous said...

_Really, what doctrine do you think the Jewish translators of the Septuagint were trying establish?_

It was the NT writers who took that verse which is not about a divine messiah and applied it to their fictional virginal birth story.

Anonymous said...

"Bob Thiel is right that one of the reasons the Churches of God are not Protestant is that we get our beliefs from the Bible" was written by one of your correspondents. This is not entirely correct. The canon and scripture were what HWA said they were. During my brief tenure at Big Sandy, I discovered that HWA had actually taught against some of the ideas of Paul about marriage. HWA felt he could do this because he was an Apostle, was of the same rank as Paul, and could disagree with Paul or even abrogate Paul's teaching.

The Sola Scriptura concept of the reformation was not retained by the armstrongites, in contravention to what one of your correspondents wrote. The armstrongite view is that scripture is not in the domain of the individual believer but must be interpreted, and, perhaps, modified by HWA. To my knowledge, the armstrongites were, during HWA's lifetime, the only religious body, claiming Christianity, that had an active mechanism for revising scripture. This is hardly an organization that respects the traditions of the Bible.

Several posts, past and current, seem to find a proximity between armstrongism and the Christian religion. Armstrongism is characterized, because of this proximity, as a sect rather than a cult, for instance. It is called a lineal descendent of Protestantism. But this is based on cosmetic similarities between armstrongism and Christianity, mostly vocabulary, although much redefined by armstrongites. At the level of substance, armstrongism is a religious philosphy that is connected with the non-Christian religions of this world.

To make the distinction between armstrongism and true Christianity clear, just ask an armstrongite what he or she thinks of orthodox Christianity. The separation (lack of proxmity) will be dramatically described for you.

Anonymous said...

I cannot speak for other COG believers for the reasons why they believe what they believe. Some may indeed believe COG doctrines because they accept what HWA taught without proving those things from the Bible. I can only speak for myself. I believe what I believe because I have proved that the Bible is God's word, and I choose to believe what God says, and I have proved the major COG doctrines from the Bible. I never attended Ambassador College. I found the Plain Truth magazine working in the Post Office when I was a teenager.

When I first began to study the Bible seriously after I came into contact with the teachings of HWA, I considered the canon of the Old Testament. I knew there was a difference between Protestant canon and Catholic canon because I was raised Catholic and the first Bible I read was the Knox version, a Catholic Bible. But part of my effort to prove the truth of the Bible involved checking a Jewish Bible, and that is how I learned that the Jews do not include the apocrypha, and that is the reason I chose not to regard the apocrypha as trustworthy. My personal decision to not accept the apocrypha was based on Jewish canon, not on the teachings of Luther or Calvin. You may disagree with my decision, but I know the reasons why I made it. And that is why I do not consider myself Protestant.


Anonymous said...

I primarily based my belief in Jesus as the Messiah upon the seventy week's prophecy and other Old Testament prophecies that prove that Jesus was the Messiah. Whether Jews are willing to believe their own scriptures or not is irrelevent to me as far as my personal beliefs are concerned. I believe that God entrusted the preservation of the Old Testament scriptures to the Jews, and along with the preservation, the canonization of what books are scripture. That does not mean that the Jews correctly understand those scriptures, or that they believe even what they understand, or that they obey what they believe. That is a choice each individual must make. Historically, I think some Jews have accepted Jesus as the Messiah, and those individuals that did became known as Christians and not Jews. But the majority have not accepted Jesus, though the proof of Jesus as the Messiah is in their own scriptures. Most are blinded at this time, as Paul said in Romans 11:25. The fact that most Jews did not believe doesn't change the fact that the Old Testament scriptures were committed to them for preservation. As Paul says in Romans 3:1-4, "What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not!...".

My point is still that my fundamental beliefs on major doctrines as a member of the Church of God are not based on Protestant traditions, or even Herbert W. Armstrong's traditions. They are based on what I have been able to prove for myself from the Bible. I have certainly studied the teachings of HWA, and I used his teachings as a source of ideas, but I did not accept any major doctrine HWA taught before I proved it from the Bible. I followed the advice HWA gave on the radio, "don't believe me, believe your own Bible". How many other COG members followed that advice, I do not know. But I did. And in proving that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, I used the Jewish text.

There is no way that I am Protestant. If I were, I would still believe the Protestant teachings about the Trinity, the immortality of the soul, Sunday as the Christian sabbath, and a whole list of doctrines that Catholics and Protestants share. The fact is, I knew almost nothing about Protestantism until after I was a member of the Worldwide Church of God and Mr. Tkach began making changes. A decade after Herbert W. Armstrong died and the dust had begun to settle, I had learned a great deal about Protestant thinking. But not when I became a member of the Church of God or when the beliefs that I hold now were being formed.

Anonymous said...

In reply to Jordan Potter, Armstrongism does have a traceable genetic connection to Protestantism from the organizational perspective. It does not have a theological or doctrinal connection to Protestantism, other than a gloss of terminology. So there is a connection and a disconnection.

Herbert Armstrong renounced the principle stated as "Don't believe me! Believe the Bible!" During the time when GTA was introducing new doctrinal concepts back in the Seventies, Herbert stated that we were not to question the doctrines he established. The aforementioned slogan was not for veteran WCG members but was intended for people who were making initial contact with the WCG.

The result was that there were some people in the WCG who read the Bible, believed it and were promptly disfellowshipped.