The last seven blog posts have been dedicated to responded to the attacks against Sola Scriptura in Joel Peters’ on-line article, 21 Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura. This post is responding to arguments #18 and #9.
Objection #18 states:
“The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura Produces Bad Fruit, Namely, Division and Disunity.”
Peters begins the argument with his presupposition:
“If the doctrine of Sola Scriptura were true, then it should be expected that Protestants would all be in agreement in terms of doctrine, as the Bible could not simultaneously teach contradictory beliefs.”
Peters’ fundamental assumption is that if the Scriptures were sufficient, then no Christian could have contradictory viewpoints. Since the Scriptures teach no contradictory viewpoints, Bible believers can’t hold contradictory viewpoints.
This assumption is odd though given the fact that the Scriptures themselves don’t seem to teach this. In fact, given the biblical teachings that Christians are still prone to sin, that God has not completely removed the noetic effects of sin prior to the resurrection, we would expect misapplications and misinterpretations (Romans 7, 1 Cor. 15). Given the fact that the Bible teaches there are powerful and evil, supernatural forces opposing the Church, one would expect some falls to attacks.
This assumption, which is the foundation for the entire argument, is simply arbitrary which is why it is important to distinguish between the rule of faith itself from people. What people do or don’t do with the Scriptures is totally irrelevant to what the Scriptures are. To steal an analogy from Douglas Wilson, if you put ten bibles in ten different rooms, and one person in each room, and they come out with ten different interpretations, where is the variable? Is it in the Bible, or in the people?
If I steal a hockey stick from the Colorado Avalanche and cannot score a goal, does it follow the stick (which many players have used to score goals) is insufficient to score? Or does it follow that the stick is perfectly sufficient in and of itself to score goals, I am just a lousy hockey player?
This really gets down to the heart of the issue, what does one expect a rule of faith to do and why? Peters quoted Jesus praying for unity among His people. But that doesn’t actually answer the question, because Peters would admit that Roman Catholics don’t have 100% unity on all issues. Thus, how much unity is the right amount of unity?
Kettle, Meet Pot
It is then argued that,
“[T]here are literally thousands of Protestant sects and denominations, each of which claims to have the Bible as its only guide, each of which claims to be preaching the truth, yet each of which teaches something different from the others.”
In the footnotes, Peters cites a source claiming up to 25,000 protestant denominations. This figure is grossly inflated, and it is simply a lie to continue to push this number. To see why, see this video.
The problem is that Rome doesn’t measure up to her own standard. If the Bible can only be accepted as sufficient if it provides perfect unity, as the article quotes Jesus saying ONE Faith, ONE baptism, then it would follow for Rome’s system to be sufficient there can be no disagreements either. But, there are.
Turn your attention to the SSPX. A Roman Catholic denomination which was excommunicated for a time because it disagreed so vehemently with Rome’s decision to allow for changes with the Mass.
Turn your attention to Sedevacantist Catholics who reject the Vatican II as an infallible document and reject the authority of the modern Pope. That’s a big deal. Catholic apologist Gerry Mattatics, a Catholic apologist, could debate Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis on this issue, as well as on a variety of other issues.
Peters himself, in his very article admits that there are Catholics who disagree on the nature of Scripture itself (a topic that has already been addressed). Is Scripture materially sufficient, or should one adopt a position that believes Scripture reveals truth partly (partim-partim)?
These are only a handful of examples. Svendsen, in his book Evangelical Answers, lists even more:
Is Genesis literal or metaphorical?, was Jonah really swallowed by a fish?, what does predestination mean?, Is the Bible inerrant?, is Mary the mediatrix of all graces? Is evolution true? Which Greek text-type is most reliable? When is the Pope infallible? On which issues is the Pope infallible? (122).
This is still barely scratching the surface. Visit a Roman Catholic church in Boston, then one in South America, than one in Italy, and the bottom line is you will experience three very different churches.
On top of all of that, the same liberalism and relativism which has crept into protestant churches and denominations has crept into Rome as well. There are female priests. There are parishes which are welcoming to homosexual lifestyles. Yet, there remain Catholics opposed to these things. As a matter of fact, one would be sprinting, in sand, uphill, to try to argue the current Pope is not incredibly liberal, which is certainly not historic. Even Popes have incredibly different doctrines and beliefs when comparing them to one another. Rome is screaming at its protestant neighbor to clean up their backyard while her house is filthy. It appears the fruit the Catholic requires cannot be picked from its own tree. Which is why Peters should be more careful to not make claims like this:
“[T]he historical testimony afforded by Protestantism demonstrates that the tree of Sola Scriptura is producing bad fruit.”
That’s another self-refuting, double standard. The Roman Catholic church, whose history is plagued with things like the Crusades, the killing of protestants, serious doctrinal error, and sexual immorality within the Priesthood has very little fruit worth sinking our teeth into.
Forced Unity and Free Unity
Another point worth noting is the way in which unity within the two sides is reached. It seems that both sides have a strong amount of unity, with a great deal of disunity as well. However, as Svendsen points out, it is far more impressive that Protestants have the unity they do when they don’t have to (Svendsen, 124). The unity Rome has is precisely because its adherents are forced into it.
Protestants approach the Scriptures not bound by such mandates, yet are coming to the same conclusions about these important issues. Thus, protestant unity is far more compelling as an argument than is the unity of Rome, Mormonism, or those in the Jehovah’s Witness communion. In fact, according to Roman Catholic standards, many could make a strong case the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are the true churches since they have far more unity than most Roman Catholics do. This is why even the Catholic should agree with Eric Svendsen when he says, “Unity at the expense of truth is no virtue at all” (Evangelical Answers, 119).
What About Those Heretics?
Related to this argument is the 9th one the article makes,
“Heresiarchs and heretical movements based their doctrines on Scripture interpreted apart from Tradition and the Magisterium.”
This has technically already been dealt with above. If the fact that heretics are able to abuse a rule of faith makes it necessary to reject that rule of faith, then the idea that the Bible is not alone sufficient must also be rejected, because plenty of heretical groups have risen from that notion.
Certainly Rome rejects the claims of Mormonism. They reject their polytheism, Joseph’s revelations and authority, their modern apostles, etc. Ironically though, all of these things are only possible for the Mormon to believe in because Mormons believe the Bible is not alone sufficient. Joseph Smith, a heretic and false teacher, stood on the same foundation that Rome stands on. It is outrageous to blame Sola Scriptura on religious groups that passionately decry Sola Scriptura. What Peters is actually saying is that heretical non-catholic groups can only grow from heretical, non-catholic foundations. Which is a redundancy not worth noting.
In regards to identifying heretics, Jesus gave us the exact opposite practice. When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, Jesus appealed to Scripture to stand against Satan (Luke 4: 4). Then, Satan does something fascinating, Satan uses the Scriptures for his own gain (Luke 4: 9-11). Satan here proves true the shared understanding that the Scriptures can be twisted, misinterpreted, and misapplied. Thus, Satan used Scripture to support his falsehoods. Jesus then responds in an amazing way.
Jesus serves as an infallible rule; He serves as an infallible interpreter. He is the only man who is allowed to end the debate without Scripture, yet, He demonstrates the Scripture’s sufficiency, and He begins to quote more Scripture (Luke 4: 12). He went further into Scripture, not away from it. The fact that someone was able to abuse Scripture to establish falsehoods did not drive Jesus away from those Scriptures as the Catholic is here commanding we do. Instead, the abuse of Scripture drove Jesus further into Scripture. He fought the abuse of Scripture with more Scripture.
A wonderful example of this practice was found in Athanasius of Alexandria. Even when the majority of the church became heretical in its view of Christ, Athanasias fought this heresy with Scripture, and with Scripture alone. Thus, Athanasius stood against the world; he stood against the heretical movements abusing Scripture, by standing on Scripture.
Thus, Christians need to follow in the Lord’s footsteps and stand on the Scriptures. We must examine all traditions (even those claiming to be from God) in light of Scripture (Acts 7, Mark 7).
Christians need the Scriptures, nothing more, and nothing less.