Wait . . . What? Baptist Dispatches From Deep In Church History, Part 4

If you are new to this series of posts, I’m walking through the tensions I discovered between my modern day, evangelical Baptist faith and my study of the church early in Christian history.  How does a Baptist respond?  How do we answer a Catholic or Orthodox Christian who insists their respective church body is in fact that early church.  Each post looks at an issue on this topic and then goes on to describe why in spite of that issue I choose to remain an evangelical Baptist.
Issue 4: How can I trust any Protestant denomination when they have all sold out 2,000 years of consistent teaching on sexual and family ethics?  Though same sex marriage is the issue of today, the Pandora’s Box was opened by Protestants 80 years ago.  Until 1930 every Christian body in the world rejected artificial contraception.  Now,  all accept it but one.  First, it was contraception, then second marriages after divorce, now same sex marriage.  Only one church has stood consistently and coherently for a moral truth that all Christians not so long ago believed.  What does it say that all churches used to consistently believe something and now there is only one that still holds to it?  

This question vexed me for a bit, but actually is much easier to refute than the others we have dealt with here, here, and here.

It’s true, once Christians nearly universally condemned contraception and now almost universally condone it.  The Roman Catholic Church is the one major exception.  So is that consistency evidence of divine protection and guidance?  Is the RCC carrying the torch of pure, unflappable apostolic tradition in today’s postmodern chaos?

The answer I think is no.  The Roman Catholic Church has changed its mind on moral issues too.

Consider the Catholic Church also refused participation in communion services to menstruating women until 1983.  Thus for much of church history it was believed women were ritually unclean during menstruation and would defile the altar and sacraments during worship.  Around this belief developed a wide range of corollary practices (varying by region) restricting the activity on women in worship.  Some of these restrictions became enshrined in canon law.  See this article for more.

So for over well a thousand years at the least these practices were believed to be a valuable part of apostolic tradition and now in the 21st century suddenly they are not?

This to me is evidence we can’t say any tradition is apostolic if it is not spelled out in the bible.  Extra biblical practices and moral teachings are valuable in many ways, but ultimately must be balanced with scripture and reason.

The point of this post is not to argue about the morality of contraception, though I do, like 99% of the U.S. population, accept it.

The point is only to say that the Roman Catholic Church has changed its mind about moral issues in the recent past and reversed centuries of what was supposedly apostolic tradition.  Therefore, using the contraception argument to condemn Protestants is a non-starter.  All churches, including the RCC, have shifted their views on some moral practices at one time or another.

We have one more post to go in this series.




6 thoughts on “Wait . . . What? Baptist Dispatches From Deep In Church History, Part 4

  1. Holy Apostolic Tradition guided the Church long before any of the New Testament Scriptures were written and widely available. Prayers, worship practices, and art forms developed early to support the oral Tradition. Your assertion that only traditions spelled out in the Scriptures can be apostolic, does not agree with history.

    1. I agree with much of what you say, I but I disagree that scriptures were not widely available. The OT was already everywhere and an NT core of books was widely circulated very early. I’m not saying that only traditions from scripture can be apostolic, I”m saying we can only know for sure a doctrine is apostolic if it is in scripture. It seems to me when scripture is marginalized, all types of strange beliefs and practices can creep in however well intentioned. But yes, tradition is very important. BTW I have an Orthodox spirituality reading list for 2014 – looking forward to it.

      1. The Holy Scriptures are at the center of Holy Apostolic Tradition, never marginalized. When the jewel of Holy Scripture is removed from the setting of Holy Apostolic Tradition, then we get all types of strange beliefs and practices reflected in thousands of different sects and denominations.

        I am glad to hear that you are going to explore Orthodoxy in the New Year Ben. A very useful online site would be fatheralexander.org. For a quick overview, oca.org and click on “The Orthodox Faith.”

  2. I read your posts but don’t comment usually because I can’t always take in all of what you say… only because I’m not as well-versed in scripture as you… but I do learn about some issues from you. I do understand for the most part what you are saying here … I would be very interested if you are going to do a post on same sex relationships.

    It is one subject that I believe that if first thought about is cut and dried. But to me where I perhaps thought it was I find myself questioning the fact that this particular ‘sin’ that many believe it is … is I think considered ‘unforgivable’ and yet my understanding is that there is only one ‘unforgivable’ sin… I am not willing myself to judge any sin….. Diane

    1. Thanks for reading! I don’t think you give yourself enough credit. You often have very perceptive comments here. You are right. Same sex marriage is often unfairly singled out and judged by Christians. It’s easy to do I think because most people don’t struggle with that kind of sin. However, the issue is not as black and white as it appears as you say. I wasn’t planning on writing about it for this series, but there is a lot that could be said.

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