Sola Scriptura vs Nuda Scriptura: On Buggery and the Ordination of Women

James Clark has already written here in response to Hans Boersma, Gerald McDermott, and Greg Peters’s expression of concern that GAFCON, in the Kigali Commitment, commits to a “strict ‘Bible alone’ viewpoint” that is “a departure from the approach of the English Reformers”; he has shown that the Kigali Commitment is not intended to open the door for women’s ordination where it is not already practiced. To Clark’s interpretation of the Kigali Commitment I have nothing to add, but I thought it would be useful to respond to the allegation that a “Bible alone” viewpoint would fail to guard the Church against women’s ordination and other innovations against God’s design of the two sexes in mankind. I reply that a certain kind of “Bible alone” view, which is indeed that of the English Reformers, is enough to oppose both sinful innovations in the Church, buggery and the ordination of women.

Boersma, McDermott, and Peters affirm the existence of a plain sense of Scripture, but they seem to suggest that this plain sense can be understood only through an intermediary. “The ordination of women to the sacramental ministry,” they say, “violates the plain sense of Scripture”; on the other hand, “this plain sense can be arrived at only by reading Scripture through the lens of the tradition of the Church.” Indeed, they go so far as to deny meaning to “the canonical context and clarity of Scripture” without “tradition as norm and guide.” To me, at least, this denial seems to contradict an actual plain sense.

While I agree with the criticisms against a nuda Scriptura approach to knowledge and authority, sometimes called “solo Scriptura” (“just me and my Bible”),[1] I stand with the Church and certainly with its Protestant Reformers in being committed to holy Scripture’s perspicuity and sufficiency, not just to its infallibility. If the Thirty-nine Articles are right in proclaiming that Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, then it follows that Scripture must speak on matters that impinge on salvation, such as the moral abomination of sodomy and the sacramental invalidity of women’s ordination. Scripture is thus a sufficient authority on these two matters. Not only so, but a Protestant must also believe that Scripture is perspicuous in what it says about sodomy and women’s ordination. If the historic Protestant understanding of the place of holy Scripture is true, then Scripture’s plain sense already testifies intelligibly against sodomy and women’s ordination, even before any recourse on our part to Christian brethren in centuries past who have read and obeyed the same canon of Scripture.

What Scripture takes for granted is not that the Church will mediate the meaning of Scripture to the reader, but that the reader in the Church can understand nature. It is, however, tempting in our own extremely unnatural and anti-natural society, which often denies nature’s testimony and very existence, to retreat instead to a seemingly freestanding authority of the Church to tell us what Scripture says about salvation. Scripture denies us this choice. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. The voice of the Holy Ghost directly affirms what society denies: that nature speaks. Try as society might, Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. The Holy Ghost says directly that nature speaks intelligibly, regardless of the language of the hearer; much more does Scripture, expressed in words, speak with a voice that, translated accurately, can be heard in every language. It is not for the Church to speak for Scripture, but to receive Scripture and bear witness to its already clear meaning; likewise, Scripture also bears witness that nature is more than capable of speaking for itself, to confound the excuses of those who wish that nature were indeed mute.

So we can rejoice that God has in fact provided us with much more than we think he has. Some of us, it is true, have suppressed our knowledge, but on both sodomy and women’s ordination the Holy Ghost is speaking with one voice in Scripture and nature. The problem lies with us. In the Church, many Boomers faithfully reject sodomy because it’s icky, and certainly we should feel disgust against such an abomination; not feeling the same visceral disgust at women’s ordination, however, many Boomers accept that error, as they have done for the past fifty years. Even against sodomy, however, Christians often haven’t a principled objection, not even a truly principled biblical objection, only a handwaving appeal to an obvious biblical prohibition on buggery coupled with a studied ignorance of what Scripture says against having women teach, prophesy with uncovered heads, or exercise ecclesiastical authority over men; by a logic common to both matters, in place of the confusion prevailing in much of the Church today, a truly principled objection would be to both buggery and women’s ordination, on the basis that nature and Scripture speak with one voice against both sins. In both cases, as St. Paul bears explicit witness, nature itself teaches us. Romans 1 tells us that nature condemns sodomy, and 1 Corinthians 11 tells us that nature itself teaches the need for a visible sign of women’s natural subordination to the authority of men. It is just as unnatural for a woman to be a cleric, a hangman, or a soldier in combat as it is for a man to try to bear a child.[2] In response to the voice of the Holy Ghost speaking in nature and Scripture, then, we must reject both sodomy and women’s ordination.

Because of our corrupted hearts, which attempt to suppress nature, in every period we have our blind spots. What we need from the tradition, especially in our own anti-natural age, is sanity checks. It is not that Scripture is not perspicuous, lacking a true plain sense; rather, our own “common sense” is often neither common nor sense. If I seem to be drawing a major theological, anthropological, or moral doctrine from Scripture but no one bears witness to such a doctrine in the first millennium out of the same canon of Scripture, even virtually, then I am probably far off base – perhaps even insane. This view of the Church through time is not unique to the “apostolic” churches who have bishops in lineal succession from our Lord’s apostles, but in the early 2000s was basically articulated by my youth leaders even in the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) as a way to avoid heterodox doctrines. As an Anglican, I have only deepened in this conviction and learned that the historic Church is much less like generic evangelicalism than I once expected. The communion of the whole Catholic Church through time and space gives us a better sense of common sense.

Concretely, then, we can listen to the tradition to see if we have heard Scripture aright. The witness of the fathers, mediæval schoolmen, Reformers, and Reformed scholastics will be at one with Scripture in condemning both buggery and the ordination of women; conversely, only by tendentious readings and mental gymnastics will one find a consensus patrum supporting a disordered but currently fashionable view of man’s two sexes and the relations between them.

For instance, let us hear the witness of John Chrysostom, whose exposition of 1 Corinthians 11 explicitly links together sodomy and the rejection of women’s head coverings as being opposed to nature:

“And if it [i.e., hair] be given her for a covering,” say you, “wherefore need she add another covering?” That not nature only, but also her own will may have part in her acknowledgment of subjection. For that you ought to be covered nature herself by anticipation enacted a law. Add now, I pray, your own part also, that you may not seem to subvert the very laws of nature; a proof of most insolent rashness, to buffet not only with us, but with nature also. This is why God accusing the Jews said, You have slain your sons and your daughters: this is beyond all your abominations (Ezekiel 16:21–22).

And again, Paul rebuking the unclean among the Romans thus aggravates the accusation, saying, that their usage was not only against the law of God, but even against nature. For they changed the natural use into that which is against nature (Romans 1:26). For this cause then here also he employs this argument signifying this very thing, both that he is not enacting any strange law and that among Gentiles their inventions would all be reckoned as a kind of novelty against nature. So also Christ, implying the same, said, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them; showing that He is not introducing anything new.

Reading the witness of Chrysostom, I can see that my reading of Scripture and its reading of nature is not original: a major Church father, on whom relied many of the Protestant Reformers as well, bears witness to the plain sense of Scripture passages that many of us today would rather read another way. So does one often, upon reading Scripture for himself, confer with the hoary heads of antiquity and encounter words just as plain and strong against our hearts’ rebellion, and for obedience to the glorious heart of God.

Let the ideas of the living face the scrutiny of the men of old who also had the Holy Spirit. As C. S. Lewis says in his introduction to Athanasius of Alexandria’s catechetical treatise On the Incarnation, “A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light.” Let us come before the judgement of the word of God together with our brethren from the holy Apostles down to this very day, that the Holy Ghost may reason in us by the power of his word.

Notes

  1. I feel compelled to note that solo Scriptura is not a Latin phrase, but an English-language coupling of the Latin word Scriptura with the English word solo in the sense in which we say that Charles Lindbergh went on a solo flight across the Atlantic. To look for such a phrase in early Protestant writings against the Anabaptists would be a fool’s errand.
  2. A Mulan, secretly taking her father’s place out of filial piety, is an exception that proves the rule.

Lue-Yee Tsang

Lue-Yee Tsang studied theology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto, and also writes at Cogito, Credo, Petam. A second-generation Chinese exile in America, he is interested in working with Chinese and non-Chinese Christians to equip the Church in China for domestic and world mission by providing it with important patristic, mediæval scholastic, and early Protestant works.


'Sola Scriptura vs Nuda Scriptura: On Buggery and the Ordination of Women' has 1 comment

  1. June 27, 2023 @ 2:30 pm Jesse

    Am I wrong in thinking that the author of this article just tried to defined ‘sola scriptura’ by appealing to nature?

    Reply


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