Debating with a Calvinist: Tradition

Hello everyone. I’m new to apologetics, and I’m in a debate with a Calvinist on the role of Tradition. Now, while some denominations such as Lutherans do not reject Tradition altogether, this person does, claiming that the Bible does not advocate traditions, and that unbiblical traditions always lead to trouble.

I know such a claim is false, and that the Catholic Church does not teach “unbiblical traditions.” However, as I said, I’m new to apologetics. I want to learn how to give good, solid, logical arguments concerning our theology. Apologetics is a learning experience, after all.

Here’s what he wrote, along with my replies to his objections:

For me as someone who is reformed (Calvinistic) and evangelical, I affirm that, as far as traditions (and here I mean baptism and communion, not Catholic tradition) are concerned, it’s useful as a means of declaring my own faith to the world. But that is the limit of my view on the subject. By no means do I believe that tradition is essential- in fact it almost always becomes a stumbling block- certainly it was to the Jews of Christ’s day. Catholics tend to treat their tradition as an end in itself, but I as a Reformed person affirm that any tradition, as long as it is Biblical, at best is a means to an end; the end of course being the glorification of God, but in itself tradition is unnecessary. Some treat tradition as being on par with the Bible, but in reality scripture says nowhere that tradition saved anyone. I hold to the view which I believe is supported by scripture, “sola fide,” that faith alone saves. Catholics might support both scripture and tradition strongly, but scripture does not support tradition at all. In fact I believe that in many aspects Catholic tradition is flat-out unbiblical. So then, a house divided against itself cannot stand; how can Catholics support a scripture that does not even support their own institutions?

The bold portions are what I will focus on here:

  1. The reason the Jews had “stumbling traditions” was because they were clearly against what God was saying. The Scriptures do not, however, advocate that all traditions are inherently bad; in fact, the Scriptures tell us to follow traditions. It’s just as you said: if the tradition has foundation in the Bible, then it’s fine. I advocate that the Catholic Church’s traditions are supported by Scripture.

  2. Catholics treat Tradition as an end? Where is your evidence for this? Tradition, the Holy Scriptures, and the Magisterium are all on the same level. Neither is above the other, and none of them contradict each other.

  3. You say that the Bible doesn’t say anything about traditions saving anyone. [paraphrase] However, the Bible doesn’t say anything about the Scriptures saving anyone either.

  4. You believe your view is based on Scripture? Well, Catholics believe our views are based on Scripture. It’s our word against yours; who’s right and who’s wrong?

  5. Nowhere do the Scriptures advocate that one is saved merely by “faith alone.” In fact, the Scriptures tell us about the importance of good works as much as faith, but having the former alone or the latter alone will not merit salvation. The only time “faith alone” is mentioned in the Bible is in the book of James, where the concept is vehemently refuted.

  6. Scripture does not support Tradition at all? Are you sure about that? Then what do you have to say about the following verses:

~ Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours. (2 Thessalonians 3:15) [emphasis mine]

According to this verse, we are to accept both written traditions (such as the Bible), and oral traditions (such as the things that were taught that Scripture is silent on).

~ But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known [the] sacred scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15) [emphasis mine]

Timothy learned the Scriptures through someone else, namely the Apostles, and this was done through Oral Tradition (which is synonymous with the Tradition Catholics advocate).

But I’ll bite: where in Scripture are ALL traditions vehemently condemned?

  1. And finally, you believe Catholic traditions are unbiblical? Well, I say the same thing about Calvinist theology. Again, who’s right and who’s wrong? I can firmly say that many, if not all, Catholic beliefs and traditions come from somewhere in Scripture.

I will continue this in my next post…

Continued…

I affirm that scripture alone is the only source for Christian living, but your objection to that is puzzling. What are you saying? Are you saying that by tradition or by God’s perceived approval of tradition scripture is not only justified, but is also created? That tradition actually was the source or precursor of scripture? That through the Church’s Magisterium alone that scripture, an abstract to outsiders of that circle, can begun to be understood and interpreted correctly? Where has God ever made it clear that He accepts and encourages Catholic tradition; is there scriptural support for tradition?

Bold portion #1: where do the Scriptures say that they, and they alone, hold everything that a Christian needs to believe? For example, the Scriptures are silent on what books are to be considered “Sacred Scripture.” This creates a problem, because in order to know the “necessary Christian truths” that Scripture supposedly teaches, one needs a closed, inerrant Canon of Scripture.

How do we know that the Gospel of John is part of God’s inspired Word, but the Gospel of Thomas is not?
How do we know that Genesis is part of God’s inspired Word, but the Didache is not?
How do we know that the book of Hebrews is part of God’s inspired Word, but the Shepard of Hermas is not?

Bold portion #2: Eh… more or less. Tradition DID create Scripture. There was no written New Testament until almost 400 years after Christ Ascended into Heaven. Therefore, the only way for the Apostles to teach what Christ taught was through Oral Tradition, which is what Catholics advocate. The same goes for the Old Testament; the Old Testament was passed down orally before it was finally written down.

I think that your view assumes that tradition existed even before scripture did or at least that tradition existed alongside scripture- something that scripture certainly does not indicate, nor indeed does history indicate! Historically Catholic tradition and structure came well after scripture did, indeed well after the earliest churches; to assume that tradition is infallible is just that- an assumption- certainly no more provable than the Protestant view of things. I would think that the Bible is far more in support of “sola scriptura”. But then, I am not sure I fully understand the breadth of your objection to that view.

  1. As I just said, there was Tradition before there was Scripture. That was the only way the Apostles could teach what Christ taught them. And indeed, history does indicate this: the first compiled Bible was made around 382 C.E., almost 400 years after Christ Ascended.

  2. Where is your evidence that Catholic traditions and structure came well after the Holy Scriptures? The Catholic Church has existed since 33 C.E., long before the first line of the New Testament was even written. You have a Bible because of the Catholic Church, who recognized and compiled the Canon of Scripture, and whose members wrote the entire New Testament. The fact that the Bible even exists is itself a Tradition of the Catholic Church.

  3. And I advocate that the Bible is far more in support of Scriptura et Traditio than Sola Scriptura.

Please interact with my questions and objections as you please, I do not mean to offend anyone. I’d like the answers explained in simple words please- I know how abstract or academic things can sound when talking about theology, and definitely I myself have been guilty of making things too complicated. I’m not one for long, drawn-out debates, but I wanted to make my objections clear. I am certainly opposed to the Church and its doctrine, and although I do not count Catholic doctrine as being truly Christian I of course respect anyone belonging to that church.

Done.


Any advice, pointers/tips, help that can be given will be greatly appreciated. Learning to defend my faith is important to me at this current stage, as I will be graduating from my Catholic high school this year.

1 Timothy 2:3-4 proves the authority of Catholic Tradition (since the whole church was either Catholic or Orthodox and therefore held to it for 1,500 years before the Reformation, and God wills everyone to have the truth, then the Truth must have been in the world during that time and therefore Tradition is part of the Truth). (More.)

It also proves that God wills the salvation of everyone, not only the magic “elect” people, which disproves double predestination and therefore Calvinism. (More.)

Further, Hebrews 10:26-29 proves that those who are saved (the “elect”) can lose their salvation by committing a mortal sin. This disproves unconditional election and therefore Calvinism. (More.)

That’s all you need, really. Avoid getting sidetracked into tangents. Just attack the weak spots of Calvinism and you’ll carry the day.

will your friend be telling their methodist pastor to stop this tradition ?..probably not huh :smiley:

1 Timothy 2:3-4 makes sense. However, I think he will try and claim the “all” means the magical “elect” that God has supposedly played favorites with…

In any case, thank you for this information, and your advice. I will incorporate this info into my response to him.

I suppose not. >.> I find it interesting how many Protestants claim Catholic traditions should be condemned because they are supposedly not found in Scripture, when the exact same thing can be said of their traditions. Oh, double standards… :whacky:

Most Protestants believe the Traditions of the Trinity and Jesus was Fully Human and Fully Divine. I can’t find that anywhere in Sacred Scripture (there are some allusions to it), but that is Sacred Tradition that they follow as well.

Don’t have a lot of time but I noted a couple of things in his post (I have not read any of your responses).
He said:

] For me as someone who is reformed (Calvinistic) and evangelical, I affirm that, as far as traditions (and here I mean baptism and communion, not Catholic tradition) are concerned, it’s useful as a means of declaring my own faith to the world. But that is the limit of my view on the subject.

OK so he does not have a problem with certain traditions - so long as they are traditions that serve HIS need. Sound like a pretty good definition of Tradition. Tradition serves as a way to serve the needs of the faithful in passing on the faith…:thumbsup:

By no means do I believe that tradition is essential- in fact it almost always becomes a stumbling block- certainly it was to the Jews of Christ’s day.

obviously this would require a lot of explanations and examples and frankly would wind up being a big diversion and get nowhere…Avoid this.

Catholics tend to treat their tradition as an end in itself,

I would ask him for examples from Documented Church teaching (not anecdotal evidence) that Catholics treat tradition as an end unto itself. This is emphatically not the case.

but I as a Reformed person affirm that any tradition, as long as it is Biblical, at best is a means to an end; the end of course being the glorification of God,

Now this sounds very Catholic. And this is the best place to work your discussion…

but in itself tradition is unnecessary. Some treat tradition as being on par with the Bible, but in reality scripture says nowhere that tradition saved anyone.

Is anyone saved by Scripture? Then is Scripture “necessary”?
Scripture points to God. Tradition points to God…

I hold to the view which I believe is supported by scripture, “sola fide,” that faith alone saves.

Fine - As a Catholic I will readily agree that we are saved by faith…We are not saved by Scripture - so then - as above - Scripture is not “necessary” only those things which Glorify God are good and necessary.
Then you can get into how one defines the term “faith” and “saving faith” and what all of that entails.

Catholics might support both scripture and tradition strongly, but scripture does not support tradition at all. In fact I believe that in many aspects Catholic tradition is flat-out unbiblical. So then, a house divided against itself cannot stand; how can Catholics support a scripture that does not even support their own institutions?[/INDENT]
This is the simplest of all answers. The Canon of the Bible IS a part of Catholic Tradition. Jesus left no list of OT books to be used. The Apostles did not leave a codified list of books, neither did those who were trained in person by the Apostles. It was through the “Tradition” of the Church, as discussed and codified in council, that we have the Canon of Scripture. The Bible he holds in his hands came to him in it’s essential present form from and through the offices of the Catholic Church.

Now - cutting through all of this stuff - and getting to the root of the matter - He already says that he has no problem with Tradition that glorifies God, as we saw above.
Ask him what “traditions” of the Catholic Church do not serve to glorify God. When he gives you one or two, you will likely be able to explain how he is wrong - that the tradition DOES indeed glorify God.

Peace
James

Then I would ask him why if “all” means the elect, why the same word is used in Romans 3:23 to describe the reprobate. If he gives “all” different meanings then his commitment to sola scriptura is in question. :slight_smile:

This a point I plan on bringing up when he responds to my first round of responses. Thanks! :slight_smile:

Good point. :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t know about experienced…:shrug: but sometimes if I ramble long enough something worthwile comes out. If there is anything really worthwhile in my ramblings above, I’d have to say it is this:
Now - cutting through all of this other stuff - and getting to the root of the matter - He already says that he has no problem with Tradition that glorifies God, as we saw above.
Ask him what “traditions” of the Catholic Church do not serve to glorify God. When he gives you one or two, you will likely be able to explain how he is wrong - that the tradition DOES indeed glorify God.

I cannot think of any Catholic Tradition, devotion or spirituality that does not a) Give glory to God and b) rely first and foremost on faith. That being the case, you should be able to easily demonstrate that none of our “traditions” fall into any sort of negative category…by his own definition. :thumbsup:

Peace
James

You may also want to go into the differences between Capital T (Sacred Tradition, like the Trinity, Fully Human and Fully Divine, Perpetual Virginity of Mary, etc) and lower t traditions (giving up meat on Fridays, celibate priests (Eastern Rite can be Married before ordination and even in Western/Latin Rite some married Anglican priest converts have been ordained), etc).

The former is the Word, in oral form as Scripture is the Word in written form. Lower case t’s aren’t fixed/unchanging, infallible, nor inerrant.

Along the same lines you get into Doctrine and Dogma vs Disipline/Practices.

I suspect that your calvinist friend simply doesn’t understand Catholic Tradition. The best place to start is by explaining it in terms he can relate to.

You see, Calvinists have traditions that are not biblical too. They just don’t recognize it until it is pointed out.

These come in a couple of different varieties.

  1. How they run their church. They have a specific way to run their church which is most definitely not scriptural. They have an organizational structure they follow, they take some position on the sacraments (he recognizes baptism for instance) and they have an agenda for their services. The analog in the Catholic Church is how we say mass, how we administer the sacraments and how we organize the church. And you can clearly show that how we do it is covered more closely in scripture than what they do.

  2. What holy days they celebrate. They celebrate Christmas on December 25th, just as we do. That is a tradition that they took from the Catholic Church and the date is certainly not in the bible…

  3. How they understand the bible. They understand it through a reformed lens. For instance, they believe that all men are naturally depraved and that all men’s eternal destinations (heaven or hell) are pre-ordained by God before birth and that colors how they read every passage. We understand the bible through the catholic lens so we see the same passages in a totally different way. Both are traditions. Ours started with the Apostles. Theirs started with Calvin. And of course, they follow our tradition on what books are in the New testament. That predated Calvin by over 1100 years.

  4. They have a tradition on how they view their predecessors in the faith, just as we do. They all know about their churches founders, for instance.

When all is said and done, it becomes about the credibility of the founders of those traditions. They are forced to defend the credibility of Calvin vs the Catholic church. Can they show that Calvin was divinely inspired in any way? That is the point on which Catholics win the day and Calvinists are forced to assess why they followed Calvin to begin with. A similar tact works with all Protestant and near Protestant faiths. If you can get a Mormon focusing on the credibility of Joseph Smith, for instance…

That’s why I don’t mind when I ramble to myself. Something good usually comes out of it. xD

I already sent my first round of responses to him, and I forgot to ask what Catholic Traditions do not serve to be glorify God. I mentioned our Tradition having biblical support, so he’ll probably mention something about that in his reply; I’ll be sure to incorporate the further information that’s been given into my next reply.

But still… claiming what the Church teaches to be unbiblical is one thing, but I don’t understand how people can honestly know what we believe and claim it to be “negative.” :rolleyes:

I believe he’ll mention some of our Traditions/traditions in his reply, like the papacy, infallibility celibacy, and the Marian dogmas. From what he first wrote to me, he seems to be one of those people who thinks just because a Church teaches wasn’t declared until a certain time, that it was clearly “made up.” Guess I’ll have to bring out the Trinity again with that one, and how it’s a Tradition that Church herself defined.

Thanks for this, Paul. I realized that everyone denomination has its own traditions, but I didn’t mention it in my first reply to him. I’ll be sure to do so when he responds to my objections to his claims.

Also, I predict that if I ask about “Calvin’s credibility vs. the Church’s credibility” he’ll bring up the “Christ’s church is a spiritual body of believers, not a physical institution” claim. Should that happen, should I give the account of Jesus naming St. Peter “the Rock”, as well as the Church being the “pillar and bulwark of the truth”?

In response to the bolded, My usual que:stion is, if the Church is a “spiritual body and not an institution” then how does one fulfill Mt 18:17. How dose one "tell it to the (invisible) Church?

He will likely respond that this applies to the local Church community and also that Mt 18:15-18 applies to “sin”…
To the issue of sin - Ask him if teaching false doctrine is a sin…he should say yes…If so then Mt 18:15-18 applies to doctrinal disagreements.

To the issue of church referring to “local community” ask him what happens if one local community accepts and teaches one doctrine (considered essential to salvation) and another local community teaches a conflicting view of the same doctrine? What do they do??? How do they resolve the matter…The answer is in the NT…It is the Council of Jerusalem - called to resolve a matter between two “rival” views of Church doctrine…

This can’t be done with an “invisible” church…

Peace
James

I think it was Jeff Cavins, who was a Protestant preacher at the time, and his Catholic father kinda casually said to him at dinner ‘Why don’t you believe what the Bible says?’. He went into the specifics of John 6’s Bread of Life discourse. The Protestant preacher-Jeff Cavins didn’t have an answer, so he became the Catholic revert-Jeff Cavins.

Christ in the Eucharist is the key to many things.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.