There are four points I will attempt to briefly express about Sola Scriptura:
- Sola Scritura is theoretical but is not used in practice.
- Sola Scriptura cannot be found in the Bible.
- Sola Scriptura merely switches authority from unity to radical individualism.
- Sola Scriptura Rejects Who the Bible Authorizes to Interpret It.
Bible scholars have tried to create a unified definition of Sola Scriptura for centuries. Luther and Calvin, the first to teach the belief, defined it differently than the Anabaptists. Their meaning varied from the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy that had to be further worked out by recent scholars such as Keith Mathison, author of The Shape of Sola Scriptura (2003). Definitional nuances create some confusion. But pulling from several sources, here is an explanation for this discussion:
Sola Scriptura claims:
The inerrant, infallible Bible is and has always been divinely inspired down to the very words of the original. It cannot mislead us even in realms of history and science. Scripture is the only final authority on matters of faith and practice and does not receive authority from the church or tradition. Therefore, the Church’s authority is subordinate to that of Scripture.
Why did the Reformers believe Christians should accept their Sola Scriptura belief?
Ancient Christendom taught that the church as a whole was given understanding of the Apostles’ teachings (later recorded in the New Testament.) Until the 16th century, they believed the Holy Spirit led the Body of Christ not only to write scripture but to protect and defend it, copy, translate, disseminate it, understand and teach it. The Church was the fountain of Christ’s truth and the individual drank from that fountain.The Reformers rejected the Catholic Church’s claim of a God-given responsibility to interpret scripture. Sola Scriptura asserted that the source of the fountain of truth was the Bible itself and it could stand alone independently from the Body of Christ.
- Sola Scritura is Not Practical.
This is really the least important of my points, so I will get it over with first. I just wanted to show that who claim Sola Scriptura look outside scripture to church tradition or science as final authority.
For hundreds of years Christians believed that the world was flat because the Bible speaks about the four corners of the earth. Scripture and science clearly clashed over this issue and although Sola Scriptura claims that even in science, the Bible is the final authority, no church today believes in a flat earth. So in the end, the church chose the final authority to be science instead of scripture. That may seem like a ridiculous example in today’s world, but at one time, this was a deadly serious issue to the church. Do we trust science or scripture? The question reverberates today in the age of the earth controversy.
It is church tradition to fight against racial bigotry and slavery. The Bible is NOT against slavery and Paul admonishes the slave to accept his lot and serve well. Women rarely cover their heads in church as Paul commands. Church tradition has usurped the Bible in these instances. Church tradition is to attend worship services on Sunday, but it is nowhere commanded by the writers of the New Testament. Though the early church lived a type of socialistic theocracy, Christianity chooses to defend democracy over socialism. Again, Christianity has chosen tradition as final authority over scriptures alone.
The Bible does not deal with things like communism, fascism, drug addiction, stem cell research, cloning, video games, church-state relations, civil unions.... on these things we look to our Christians scholars and authorities or even Christian consensus to decide how we will believe and act.
I am certainly not chastising Christianity over this. I believe God allows for His church to give new, authoritative commands in our changing culture. Biblical evidence of this is in Matthew 19 where Jesus gives Moses the right to allow divorce “because they were heard-hearted” even though God himself said that what He has united “human beings must not divide.” Moses was allowed to create a new law usurping the word of God.
Therefore, although people attest to Sola Scritpura, the church does not always rely on the Bible to the the final say in matters of faith and deed.
2. Sola Scriptura cannot be found in the Bible.
The main text used to prove Sola Scriptura is II Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be upright.” But this does not claim exclusive authority. In fact, the Apostle Paul is proclaiming by his God-given authority that others may trust the scriptures to guide them. A couple verses earlier Paul admonishes Timothy to, “follow my teaching, my way of life, my aims, my faith, my patience, my love....” II Timothy 3: 14. Indeed, the context is proving that in addition to God’s leaders, Christians may also trust scripture to guide them. Paul is not pitting scripture and leadership against the other, on the contrary, he is explaining that they both come from the same original source--God.
Paul has no qualms about placing shepherds above the flock as their authorities. II Thessalonians 3:14, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed.” Church members should obey their leaders. (Notice Paul includes other church leaders than himself in “obey our instruction.”) The author of Hebrews in chapter 13 also commands us to, (v. 17) “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
The Bible commands us to obey our parents and our masters (Ephesian 6:1, 5, 6 and Colossians 3: 20, 22, I Peter 2:18), our governing authorities (Romans 13:5, I Peter 2:13), to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), and wives should submit to their husbands in everything (Ephesians 5:24, Colossians 3:18, I Timothy 2: 11,12).
So if the Bible is the supreme rule, it tells Christians that there are other authorities to whom you must submit! Scriptures, if you accept them as final authority, give us a list of leaders to establish rules and doctrine. If you reject God-ordained jurisdiction you are rejecting and contradicting God’s word. God’s appointed administration and their government works with the Bible like the Supreme Court and the Constitution. It’s as if they are two eyes, both are needed for proper perspective--you loose your depth of field with only one. (Or two legs, you need them both to get anywhere.) They are symbiotic. So the idea of Sola Scriptura is rejecting the admonishing of scripture. If you truly want to obey God’s Holy written word, you will obey His ordained holy leadership.
So what is the proper thing to do when you believe God’s authorities are going against your interpretation of scripture? That is a frightening scenario that we will begin to deal with next.
3. Sola Scriptura merely switches authority from unity to radical individualism.
As a youth I swelled with pride when I found out my birthday, November 10th, is the same as Martin Luther’s. (I, indeed, thought it was prophetic when I left the Adventist faith and joined the Protestant mainstream.) On Reformation Sunday, I gathered with the great throng of my devout friends marching with banners in hand and beaming with gratitude as we celebrated the great advance of Christendom.
Yet reviewing, in the light of scripture, the legendary words of Luther, "Here I stand I can do no other," he was actually dismissing God’s command to submit to His authorities. In effect Luther was saying, “my perception, my beliefs, my understanding, my education tells me that I know better than everyone else what God really meant. God has personally inspired me and you are not my boss.”
Luther did two things. He rejected both the church’s leadership because of its debauchery and its jurisdiction over scriptural interpretation. He reasoned that the papacy’s corruptions disqualified it as God’s authority. Yet in his self-appointment to that position, he disregarded his own sinfulness. In addition, Luther made the grand leap of logic that an individual had the proficiency to understand scripture more accurately than 1500 years of the brightest minds in the entire Body of Christ. Because he was living in a particularly evil time, he dismissed all sincere, inspired church scholars. He proposed that the little trinity--the Bible, God and the individual--needed no interference from Christ’s Spouse, the church. All Luther really did was shift the authority from those who the Bible gave it to and placed it on himself. He became his own pope. He became his whole college of cardinals who through the centuries have spent thousands of hours in prayer and study. In a blink of an eye, he became his own church, his own personal Body of Christ.
(Many fundamentalists believe Luther was right in rejecting outside sources, they were the evil traditions of man. These claim that the scriptures are self-interpreting. yet, all that really means is that the scriptures are going to be interpreted by myself.)
Luther’s legacy of spiritual autonomy is now seen in some 30,000 different denominations filled with the little trinities (Jesus, the Bible and me) all convinced that they have properly deciphered scripture.
People believe when Jesus is in their hearts, their personal theology become infallible.
As sincere as they are, these people accuse anyone not seeing the Bible with their perception as twisting scripture. They join a church that sees it their way and convince themselves that all other perceptions are not as spiritual. Then when their interpretation grows and begins to conflict with the church they are currently in, they leave and find another or start their own. This radical individualization of biblical interpretation has done the opposite of what Christ admonished: to BE UNIFIED. This American spirit of rugged independence in theology wrongly promotes self-righteous pride that destroys unity.
So if I am not supposed to interpret scripture, who can I trust to do it for me? The scriptures themselves answer that question.
- Sola Scriptura Rejects Who the Bible Authorizes to Interpret It.
In ancient Christianity, the New Testament had not been fully written and distributed, so the church leaders were believed and obeyed solely on the authority of God’s church. Paul clearly tells Christians that the church is, “the pillar and and support of the truth,” I Timothy 3:16. Also, the church is ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” Ephesians 2:20. The Bible is not the foundations but testifies to the foundation.
“Those of them who carry out their duties well as deacons will earn a high standing for themselves and an authoritative voice in the matters concerning faith in Christ Jesus (I Tim. 3:1-13,see also II Tim. 1:6). Again, the church leaders a well as the bible that hold final authority for the Chirstian.
After the New Testament had been canonized, it was very clear in setting up a hierarchy of rule. Children obey parents, wife submits to husband, man obeys God’s leaders and the deacons and elders have the greatest responsibility of all to obey God. The Bible doesn’t insert its authority in there anywhere.
Only recently Christendom has been literate. Therefore for most of the churches life it has depended upon the pastors and teachers for proper understanding of the Bible
We strongly suggest that everyone delve deeply into scripture and pray for the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in absorbing its truths for their lives. Those who reject Sola Scriptura are not rejecting the Bible as truth or as guide. We are only saying that personal interpretation cannot be binding for others and used to justify disobedience to your God-anointed authority. When your personal interpretation conflicts with God’s Body, the community of faith, you need to research what its believes and have faith God would not lead His community astray. We insist that we are submitting to the Bible’s authority when it points to the church as the custodian and teacher of truth. It actually takes more humble faith to submit your own individualized version of theology to someone who has been given the gift of leading the church.
(For more on this topic, see Acts 15:28-29, Phil 2:1, Acts 4:32, 2 The 2:15, 2 The 3:6, 1 Cor 11:2)