Monday, April 6, 2009

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical?

As I worked my way through the testimonies of individuals who left Protestantism towards Rome in Surprised by Truth, I noticed that all of the authors had one thing in common as Protestants: their inability to defend Sola Scriptura. The book barrages the reader with the sentiment of surprise (no pun intended) that the early church fathers sound so “Catholic,” until eventually the Roman claim of infallibility results in the distrust of the perspicuity and authority of the holy Scriptures. When this happens, no argument from Scripture is allowed an impact because only the Roman Catholic Church has the ability to infallibly interpret the Scriptures.

In his chapter titled “From Controversy to Consolation,” Robert Sungenis says something I absolutely agree with: “Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister who converted to the Catholic faith, was particularly helpful. His conversion story, as many have discovered, is one of the most fascinating and challenging testimonies ever heard. He found that the notion of sola scriptura (the formal principle of the Reformation: The Bible is the sole infallible authority for Christians) is so ingrained in Protestant thinking that most take it for granted without any solid proofs” (Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth. Pg. 103. San Diego: Basilica Press, 1994). In my experience, this describes the vast majority of Protestants I’ve come across. As Mr. Sungenis describes his own journey towards Rome, it came as a surprise to me that he was influenced by Norman Shepherd and Harold Camping, while traveling between Presbyterian churches and the Church of Christ. He claimed to believe in the Doctrines of Grace for a time then later in the baptismal regeneration taught by the Church of Christ. How does one manage that kind of theological shift? I would submit to you that it is because he was lacking a proper foundation in Sola Scriptura.

Robert Sungenis continues, “Hahn’s study of Scripture led him to the conclusion that sola scriptura is not only unhistorical and unworkable, it was unbiblical. He argued very persuasively that, far from being merely a concept with obscure of minimal scriptural support, sola scriptura is simply not taught anywhere in the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly” (Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth. Pg. 103. San Diego: Basilica Press, 1994). There you have it: the Bible doesn’t teach Sola Scriptura, therefore it isn’t Biblical.

A Roman Catholic friend of mine recently asked me if I believed the first century church practiced Sola Scriptura? I began by asking, “While the apostles were still living, or afterwards?” Then he was curious about how I would respond to both scenarios. I explained that while the Apostles were still living there was a period of encscripturation, where Scripture was still being written, and therefore it would be impossible to practice Sola Scriptura. But once the gift of apostleship ceased the Church was to look to the only God-breathed and infallible authority on earth: the Scriptures. This means that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not taught in its fullness in the Bible because the doctrine was not being fully practiced until the cessation of the apostles. What we do see are clear Scriptural explanations about the nature, authority and purposes of Scripture. Also, transition texts like Hebrews 1, and 2 Timothy 3 point to our spiritual guide once the apostles were gone.

It is a shame that Mr. Sungenis didn’t perform a higher quality of research while seeking answers to Catholic claims (does that phrase sound oddly familiar to anyone else? =)).

One final thought – since I am in complete agreement with Mr. Sungenis’ analysis of how well the average Protestant knows Sola Scriptura, what are we to do about it? Firstly, don’t take the doctrine of Sola Scriptura for granted. We cannot afford to assume it’s true. We need to turn to the Scriptures to increase our understanding of the nature and purpose of the inspired Word. The consequences of ignoring this great truth can be disastrous … as the testimony of Robert Sungenis makes clear. Might we be able to rejoice with the Psalmist who wrote, “105Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105, NASB).


1 comment:

  1. The thing that, for me, puts the stake in sola scriptura is the act of the temple curtain being torn aside. To really follow and adhere to the concepts presented in the New Testament, you've got to deal with the fact that Jesus' death and resurrection opened the way for ALL believers to approach the throne of God, not just the High Priests. To me, the idea of Papal Supremacy and the intercessory nature of Catholic priests reinstitutes the Temple traditions Jesus both fulfilled and therefore nullified.

    Jesus said that no man comes to the Father, except through ME. Not, except through Peter, or the Pope, or the local parish priest. The Holy Spirit is our intercessor before the throne. Why do we need anything else?

    Yes, there is always a risk of incorrect interpretation if you leave it up to the individual believer, but at the same time, it is much easier to correct poor teaching that to have extra-scriptural and unbilbical teachings enshrined as "God Breathed" just because the HRC says it's so. Pastors and teachers have an added burden to enusure that what they are teaching is Biblical.

    The answer is to study the Bible MORE, not less. Dig in, find the answers, don't wait for the Pope or the Priest to tell you what to believe.