Icon of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea

Below we have been discussing whether or not dialog between Oneness Pentecostals and Trinitarians can be profitable. One commenter argued that Trinitarians are committed to the evolution of apostolic doctrine in the early church rather than the position of Sola Scriptura. This statement seemed odd to me. Let me explain why.

I know that the Reformers argued against Rome that the Scriptures are the only infallible ecclesiastical authority ( = therefore, not the Pope nor the Creeds). I have always struggled with this assertion. The canon of Scripture was not established either (a) by the apostles nor (b) by the texts we now call “Scripture”. Therefore, it seems to me, that to be logically consistent we would need the canonical list to be found within the canon itself.

Our canon is either (1) the decision of the early church or (2) using Protestant language a “discovery” of the early church. Either way we have a canon settled ecclesiastically. I am not saying this should lead to the kind of skepticism exhibited by folk like Bart D. Ehrman who suggest the canon was the aftermath of political debate since we see a core evolving very early (e.g. the four gospels and the Pauline corpus circled as units very early). I am saying that the formation of the canon was a Pneumatological endeavor. It was the doctrinal consideration of the church. It was an evolution based on the “rule of faith” which is the apostolic teaching passed along by early orthodox Christians from one generation to another which we find preserved in text in those books we now call “the canon”.

I say that to say this: we cannot dismiss things like (a) some sort of apostolic succession to orthodox bishops like Polycarp or Irenaeus, (2) a rule of faith that was available through this succession orally that preserved the core of the faith even when no canon was available, and (2) a high Pneumatology that suggest that we can trust the canon’s fidelity because we trust that the Holy Spirit would “lead you into all truth”. This means that forming orthodoxy on the basis of Scripture alone void of any tradition seems impossible to me since we would not have Scripture without the assistance of tradition!

To return to the discussion with my Oneness friends. I know you reject the doctrine of the Trinity because you think it was developed by the early church and because it is not “in Scripture”. I disagree that it is not in Scripture. I think the principle doctrine is there and the Creeds give us the best language for formulating the Scriptural data. That being said how can you appeal to the canon which formed in a very similar way to the doctrine of the Trinity? It is very ironic to me that the great Bishop Athanasius of Alexander, a champion of the Nicene Creed, is the first one to circulate in written form the twenty-seven books of the New Testament that we call authoritative today. How can he be seen as  corrupt in his defense of an orthodox doctrine of God that argued to be in line with the tradition passed from the apostles yet there be no doubt he got this canon thing correctly? That seems a bit misguided to me. Did the Holy Spirit guide the church to correctly understand those doctrines that were essential to her being such as the doctrine of God and the doctrine of Scripture or not?

See also: A Catholic critique of Sola Scriptura.