Beware of imputing advantage to antiquity. Seventy years after the death of Jesus the churches had neither the collected New Testament nor a living apostle. It was a precarious and embattled time.
Neither the experiences nor the teachers of the first 300 years of the church are as reliable as the finished New Testament. The church did not rescue the New Testament from neglect and abuse. The New Testament rescued the early church from instability and error.
We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300. They had only parts of the New Testament rather than the collected whole. That’s how valuable the fullness of revelation is in the finished Bible. Beware of idealizing the early church. She did not have your advantages!That's it. I don't know about others, but this is as embarrassing as when Reformed pastor R.C. Spoul Junior made a post about Sola-Scriptura on his own blog about a year ago (November 5, 2009) and said things like "The Bible does not have specific text that suggests that the Bible alone is our final authority in all matters of faith and practice," and "Sola Scriptura is a biblical doctrine not because the Bible says so." If comments such as these are not "traditions of men," then I don't know what are.
Anyway, focusing back on Piper's post, these are not the type of comments I'd expect a Ph.D. to be making, but I guess he genuinely believe them. I'm not totally shocked, because these comments actually conform pretty closely to what other well respected Reformed teachers have asserted (for example). I also suspect this has much to do with the fact Piper is a Baptist, since the Baptists tradition is generally known to take an even lower view of Church history than mainline Protestants such as Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Anglicans do.
Without realizing it, he (and all other Protestants who make equivalent claims) has refuted his own foundational doctrine, Sola Scriptura. Let's highlight some thoughts of Piper's claims:
- By 100AD all the Apostles had died off and the NT had not been collected together.
- The New Testament "rescued the early church" from instability and error.
- The Christians from 100AD to 300AD didn't have the NT as a whole collection.
- Christians "today" are in a better position to know Jesus than the early church.
On top of that, Piper has the audacity to claim the early Christians were less well off than us. This is wrong on many levels.
First, nobody says "theologically accurate" is absolutely tied to "historically early" - the danger in framing things that way though can cause people to disregard history all together, which is an error to the opposite extreme. The problem with the thesis of this blog post can be seen by a parallel example:
Does "Theologically accurate = Having a Complete Bible"?
Certainly not - yet this in no way diminishes the (great!) value of the Bible towards Theological Accuracy! In fact, Piper's own bedrock (but false) doctrine of Sola Scriptura is a prime example of how one can possess the whole Bible yet espouse heresy.
Second, how can we say the early Church Fathers - some of whom knew the Apostles or second generation Bishops - were less informed than we were? If anything, they had insights that we do not have, and were martyrs for the faith, meaning they gave their lives passing on what was passed to them. And often when heresy sprung up, it was due to people twisting Scripture while ignoring Apostolic Tradition which the Fathers both preserved.
Thirdly, it doesn't make any sense to say the Early Church was unreliable and yet we trust that same Early Church for preserving and propagating the NT books. If the Church isn't reliable in terms of holding off heresy and corruption, then they certainly can't be reliable in determining what books are "Scripture". To say the NT "rescued" the early church - as if Christianity was somehow unable to survive from 100AD to 300AD without it - is the most dubious and outrageous thesis one could espouse.
In closing, Piper speaks of "the fullness of revelation is in the finished Bible" - meaning, by his own admission, the first Christians didn't have "the fullness of Revelation". That's quite a disturbing thought!