The Rule of Faith and Practice, Part 1

AA Hodge

AA Hodge

The following information is taken from AA Hodge’s Outlines of Theology, published in 1866. Hodge graduated from Princeton Seminary and served as a missionary to India and a pastor. He later served as a Professor and Chair of Theology at Princeton Seminary. Hodge was an associate and contemporary of the famous Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, and his Systematic Theology text was used at Spurgeon’s Pastors College.

NOTE: The Baptist Catechism asks:

Q4. What is the Word of God?

A. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, being given by divine inspiration, are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

Hodge’s Outlines of Theolgoy, Chap V Says…

1. What is meant by saying that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice?

Whatever God teaches or commands is of sovereign authority. Whatever conveys to us an infallible knowledge of his teachings and commands is an infallible rule. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us.

2. What does the Romish Church declare to be the infallible rule of faith and practice?

The Romish theory is that the complete rule of faith and practice consists of Scripture and tradition, or the oral teaching of Christ and his apostles, handed down through the Church. Tradition they hold to be necessary, 1st, to teach additional truth not contained in the Scriptures; and, 2nd, to interpret Scripture. The Church being the divinely constituted depository and judge of both Scripture and tradition.– “Decrees of Council of Trent,” Session IV, and “Dens Theo.,” Tom. 2., N. 80 and 81.

3. By what arguments do they seek to establish the authority of tradition?

By what criterion do they distinguish true traditions from false, and on what grounds do they base the authority of the traditions they receive?

1st. Their arguments in behalf of tradition are:

  1. Scripture authorizes it, 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6.
  2. The early fathers asserted its authority and founded their faith largely upon it.
  3. The oral teaching of Christ and his apostles, when clearly ascertained, is intrinsically of equal authority with their writings. The scriptures themselves are handed down to us by the evidence of tradition, and the stream cannot rise higher than its source.
  4. The necessity of the case –
    1. Scripture is obscure, needs tradition as its interpreter.
    2. Scripture is incomplete as a rule of faith and practice; since there are many doctrines and institutions, universally recognized, which are founded only upon tradition as a supplement to Scripture.
    3. Analogy. every state recognizes both written and unwritten, common and statute law.

2nd. The criterion by which they distinguish between true and false traditions is Catholic consent. The Anglican ritualists confine the application of the rule to the first three or four centuries. the Romanists recognize that as an authoritative consent which is constitutionally expressed by the bishops in general council, or by the Pope ex-cathedra, in any age of the church whatever.

3rd. They defend the traditions which they hold to be true. (1.) On the ground of historical testimony, tracing them up to the apostles as their source. (2.) The authority of the Church expressed by Catholic consent.

4. By what arguments may the invalidity of all ecclesiastical tradition, as a part of our rule of faith and practice, be shown?

1st. The Scriptures do not, as claimed, ascribe authority to oral tradition. Tradition, as intended by Paul in the passage cited (2 Thess. 2:15, and 3:6), signifies all his instructions, oral and written, communicated to those very people themselves, not handed down. On the other hand, Christ rebuked this doctrine of the Romanists in their predecessors, the Pharisees, Matt. 15:3,6; Mark 7:7.

2nd. It is improbable a priori that God would supplement Scripture with tradition as part of our rule of faith.

  1. Because Scripture, as will be shown below (questions 7-14), is certain, definite, complete, and perspicuous.
  2. Because tradition, from its very nature, is indeterminate, and liable to become adulterated with every form of error. Besides, as will be shown below (question 20), the authority of Scripture does not rest ultimately upon tradition.

3rd The whole ground upon which Romanists base the authority of their traditions (viz., history and church authority) is invalid.

  1. History utterly fails them. For more than three hundred years after the apostles they have very little, and that contradictory, evidence for any one of their traditions. They are thus forced to the absurd assumption that what was taught in the fourth century was therefore taught in the third, and therefore in the first.
  2. The church is not infallible, as will be shown below (question 18).

4th. Their practice is inconsistent with their own principles. Many of the earliest and best attested traditions they do not receive. Many of their pretended traditions are recent inventions unknown to the ancients.

5th. Many of their traditions, such as relate to the priesthood, the sacrifice of the mass, etc., are plainly in direct opposition to Scripture. Yet the infallible church affirms the infallibility of Scripture. A house divided against itself cannot stand.


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