Sola Scriptura: The Bible alone is enough!
Apostolic Fathers used scripture as the primary defense against false doctrine.
Apostolic Fathers: Dates they lived and other information.
Apostolic Fathers: Five kinds of Tradition.
250 AD: Cyprian:
"But that they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles; any one may know also from the fact, that concerning the celebration of Easter, and concerning many other sacraments of divine matters, he may see that there are some diversities among them, and that all things are not observed among them alike, which are observed at Jerusalem, just as in very many other provinces also many things are varied because of the difference of the places and names"(Cyprian, Epistle 74, 6)
The Orthodox Church relishes this little anti-Roman Catholic text by Cyprian. But the text provides just as many problems for the Orthodox because it proves that the celebration of Easter began well after 100 AD, since at 250 AD the practice was all over the map. Had there been a true "apostolic tradition" these variations and differences would not exist! The issue has never been settled because Easter is a man-made holy day that developed long after the apostles died. Had scripture revealed it, we would know exactly how to celebrate it. Christ did not tell Christians to remember his birth at Christmas, but his death... and not once a year at Easter, but every Lord's Day, through communion. "Easter", therefore in the early church was a weekly event! The earliest apostolic fathers considered Sunday the weekly celebration of the Resurrection and the Lord's Supper the weekly remembrance of His death.
"2. Let nothing be innovated, says he, nothing maintained, except what has been handed down. Whence is that tradition? Whether does it descend from the authority of the Lord and of the Gospel, or does it come from the commands and the epistles of the apostles? For that those things which are written must be done, God witnesses and admonishes, saying to Joshua the son of Nun: 'The book of this law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate in it day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein.'" ... "3. what obstinacy is that, or what presumption, to prefer human tradition to divine ordinance, and not to observe that God is indignant and angry as often as human tradition relaxes and passes by the divine precepts, as He cries out, and says by Isaiah the prophet, "This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching the doctrines and commandments of men." Also the Lord in the Gospel, similarly rebuking and reproving, utters and says, "Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." Mindful of which precept, the blessed Apostle Paul himself also warns and instructs, saying, "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to His doctrine, he is proud, knowing nothing: from such withdraw thyself." ... "8. Deservedly thus do heresies and schisms arise day by day, more frequently and more fruitfully grow up, and with serpents' locks shoot forth and cast out against the Church of God with greater force the poison of their venom; whilst, by the advocacy of some, both authority and support are afforded them; whilst their baptism is defended, whilst faith, whilst truth, is betrayed; whilst that which is done without against the Church is defended within in the very Church itself." ... "9. "Nor ought custom, which had crept in among some, to prevent the truth from prevailing and conquering; for custom without truth is the antiquity of error. On which account, let us forsake the error and follow the truth" (Cyprian, Epistle 73:2,3,8,9, of Pope Stephen's false teaching on baptism)
Cyprian demands that the bishop of Rome follows scripture when it contradicts church tradition. Cyprian condemns Pope Stephen, for his false teaching on baptism and asks Stephen where he got his tradition, then threatens he should be withdrawn from for heresy! The Catholic church today would reply, "whatever we do IS the correct tradition, we are the standard, those who disagree with us are the heretics." Of course, Cyprian was no rookie, being the Bishop of Carthage! Cyprian begins by defining 4 sources of what had been "handed down": 1. Oral words of Christ. 2. The four gospels (Scripture) which record the words of Christ. 3. Oral words of the apostles. 4. The epistles (Scripture) that record the words of the apostles. He concluded by saying these four sources are all contained in scripture. Cyprian clearly states that there is nothing that Christ or the apostles said regarding our faith, that is not recorded in scripture. For Cyprian, scripture is the all sufficient standard. Most important here, is that Cyprian clearly did not accept "church tradition" unless it agreed with scripture! We completely agree with Cyprian for labeling all the extra-biblical doctrines as "man-made traditions of men". Cyprian proves here that he viewed traditions of the church to be acceptable only when they agreed with the Bible and for those "traditions" that contradict scripture Cyprian says, "custom without truth is the antiquity of error". Wow! We couldn't have said it better ourselves!
"How carefully has Stephen fulfilled these salutary commands and warnings of the apostle, keeping in the first place lowliness of mind and meekness! For what is more lowly or meek than to have disagreed with so many bishops throughout the whole world, breaking peace with each one of them in various kinds of discord: at one time with the eastern churches, as we are sure you know; at another time with yon who are in the south" (Cyprian, Epistle 74, 5, 256 AD, of Pope Stephen's false teaching on baptism)
What we find here, is that Pope Stephen was clearly the one who was acting contrary to the universal practice of the whole church at this time. While this provides confidence for the Orthodox church against the Roman Catholic, in their claim to rule the world, we point out to both, that the Bible pattern for church government was a plurality of Bishops (also called interchangeably: Presbyters) within each local church and their rule was restricted to the local flock with no central, world government. Further, it is clear that Cyprian believed all bishops were equal: "For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another." (The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian, The Judgment of Eighty-Seven Bishops on the Baptism of Heretics, 250 AD) Even the Orthodox Church rejects what Cyprian says here. Yes Cyprian was opposed to the next stage of evolution of church government (diocesan bishops) while unaware that he, himself was upholding a system of government that was itself a violation of the Bible pattern. Such is the blindness of church leaders all down through history! Cyprian mistakenly believed that this "church tradition", was in fact the "apostolic tradition".
"There is then no reason, dearest brother, for any one to think that the custom of certain persons is to be followed, who have thought in thee past that water alone should be offered in the cup of the Lord. For we must inquire whom they themselves have followed. For if in the sacrifice which Christ offered none is to be followed but Christ, assuredly it behoves us to obey and do that which Christ did, and what He commanded to be done, since He Himself says in the Gospel, "If ye do whatsoever I command you, henceforth I call you not servants, but friends." And that Christ alone ought to be heard, the Father also testifies from heaven, saying, "This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him." Wherefore, if Christ alone must be heard, we ought not to give heed to what another before us may have I thought was to be done, but what Christ, who is before all, first did. Neither is it becoming to follow the practice of man, but the truth of God; since God speaks by Isaiah the prophet, and says, "In vain do they worship me, teaching the commandments and doctrines of men." And again the Lord in the Gospel repeals this same saying, and says, "Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." Moreover, in another place He establishes it, saying, "Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." But if we may not break even the least of the Lord's commandments, how much rather is it forbidden to infringe such important ones, so great, so pertaining to the very sacrament of our Lord's passion and our own redemption, or to change it by human tradition into anything else than what was divinely appointed! (Cyprian, Epistle 62, 14)
Cyprian, in refuting those who used water alone in the "cup" of the Lord's Supper, instead of "fruit of the vine" does not appeal to church tradition, but to scripture. He challenges these "human traditions" not with the "churches tradition" but with that which is divinely appointed: Scripture. No appeal is made to oral tradition of Jesus apart from the scriptures.
"For it weighs me down and saddens me, and the intolerable grief of a smitten, almost prostrate, spirit seizes me, when I find that you there, contrary to ecclesiastical order, contrary to evangelical law, contrary to the unity of the Catholic institution, had consented that another bishop should be made. That is what is neither right nor allowable to be done; that another church should be set up; that Christ's members should be torn asunder; that the one mind and body of the Lord's flock should be lacerated by a divided emulation. I entreat that in you, at all events, that unlawful rending of our brotherhood may not continue; but remembering both your confession and the divine tradition, you may return to the Mother whence you have gone forth; whence you came to the glory of confession with the rejoicing of the same Mother. And think not that you are thus maintaining the Gospel of Christ when you separate yourselves from the flock of Christ. (Cyprian, Epistle 43)
If a Roman Catholic uses this passage of Cyprian to prove "church traditions" should be kept, he is either ignorant of the context or dishonest. Obviously Cyprian had no concept of the bishop of Rome being the infallible interpreter of Scripture being the "bishop of bishops"! Cyprian does not believe the bishop of Rome has the authority to appoint a bishop and he criticizes Maximus and Nicostratus for going along with Rome! Cyprian says in another place: "For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. (The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian, The Judgment of Eighty-Seven Bishops on the Baptism of Heretics, 250 AD) He calls Rome's action of appointing a new bishop, "contrary to ecclesiastical order, contrary to evangelical law, contrary to the unity of the Catholic institution". Such a statement directed at the Pope would make any Roman Catholic fall off his chair. The Eastern Greek Orthodox church, on the other hand, are actually in compete agreement! The record of history clearly proves that Rome's claim to being the Universal Bishop who appoints all other bishops, did not exist at this early time in history. (250 AD) That is because what Cyprian is opposing is the concept of "diocesan bishops", where one bishop is over other bishops. The later concept of the Patriarchs that developed in 381 AD, must have made Cyprian roll over in his grave! What is clear here, is that Cyprian believes the "ecclesiastical order" and "evangelical law" is a "divine tradition". We would say the same of the bishops who are appointed in our local churches. And if bishop from one of our local churches tried to rule over other bishops outside his congregation (diocesan bishop), we, like Cyprian, would condemn it as a violation of the "ecclesiastical order" and "evangelical law" is a "divine tradition" found in scripture! We would have no problem saying, it is "contrary to the unity of the Catholic institution" of Jesus Christ! What is amazing here, is that Cyprian, in 250 AD, views a single bishop ruling over the presybtry is "divine tradtion" while condemning the order of diocesan bishops as "contrary to ecclesiastical order." Cyprian opposed diocesan bishops, while unaware that the present order of church government was itself a violation of the Bible pattern. Click here to learn the Bible Pattern of government. Roman Catholic or Orthodox apologists are willing to dissolve the authority of all diocesan bishops before they attempt to ever "use Cyprian" as an example of "apostolic tradition" apart from the Bible.
"in conformity with the requirements alike of the sanctity and the truth of the divine tradition and ecclesiastical institution, we have directed our letters to you. Moreover, bringing these same things trader the notice of our several colleagues throughout the province, we have bidden also that our brethren, with letters from them, be directed to you" (Cyprian, Epistle 41, 1)."The point is whether, according to the most ancient custom and ecclesiastical tradition, it would suffice, after that baptism which they have received outside the Church indeed, but still in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord" (Cyprian, Treatise on Rebaptism, 1).
Cyprian believes the current practice is the same as in the first century. What did you expect him to say? But he would also say these traditions are based upon the Bible and if they contradict scripture they are wrong.
"For because a few rash and wicked men forsake the heavenly and wholesome ways of the Lord, and not doing holy things are deserted by the Holy Spirit, we also ought not therefore to be unmindful of the divine tradition, so as to think that the crimes of madmen are greater than the judgments of priests; or conceive that human endeavours can do more to attack, than divine protection avails to defend" (Cyprian, Epistle 54, 17).
We have already seen in (Cyprian, Epistle 73:2,3,8,9) that he view "divine tradition" to be recorded in scripture. There is no reason so believe this is anything different from scripture.
"when even Marcion the disciple of Cerdo is found to have introduced his sacrilegious tradition against God long after the apostles, and after long lapse of time from them." (Cyprian, Epistle 74, 5).
The false doctrine of the Gnosics is called a "sacrilegious tradition" because it contradicts what God revealed through the apostles. The apostles revealed scripture!
"If we return to the head and source of divine tradition, human error ceases."(Cyprian, Epistle 73, 10)
We love this statement! In the midst of all the conflicting oral traditions, Cyprian knows that Scripture is the only solid ground. What else could it possibly be? Cyprian could not rely on "church tradition" because they were in conflict with each other!
by Steve Rudd
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