Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Not Sola Scriptura

As a card-carrying evangelical, one would think that sola scriptura would be right up my alley.  Other Christian groups might want to bring in other sources of Christian understanding, but not us.  A man and his Bible, it's a beautiful thing, eh? We need nothing else, so we say. I am humbler about that now.  I liked that emphasis of Luther's when I was a Lutheran, but even he stepped slightly aside from it, as far back as the Diet or Worms.  "Show me through Scripture or right reason..." he said. Well, the fundies would say that he'd given away the game right there. Given what has happened with the Lutherans in the 20th C, and now in the 21st, maybe sola scriptura is not so reliable.  We'll come back to that.

The Episcopalians have the three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. As"reason" now includes not just logic, but intuitive reason and experience, fair-sized trucks not only can be driven through this, but have been driven through this. Roman Catholics, much to the dismay of Protestants, value tradition so highly that it may exceed the authority of the Scriptures, in practice if not in theory. The eastern Orthodox are big on Councils to go with Patriarchs.  Also very nice, though it has led to cooperating with every tyrannical regime that comes along. Worrisome.  The Methodists have their Quadrilateral, adding in Christian experience to the Anglican three.The Presbyterians have not only Scripture, but Calvin's Institutes on their menu.

My own denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, has a tradition of two anchors "Where is it written?" and "How goes your walk?"  I have found both to be excellent - for the first I can easily imagine old Swedes shouting it from the back of an annual meeting.  For the second, it is not only a declaration that how one's relationship with Christ is proceeding is of equal importance to understanding the Scriptures, but also an invitation for each of us to share what is happening in our spiritual growth.  Yet even this has been fraying recently, as both poles have been bent slightly.

Again why do I not then insist on Bible alone?  Isn't that the only way home at this point? Aren't all these additional authorities the problem, rather than the solution?  No, the Bible-only attempt turns out to be more dangerous in the end.  If we say that we are going only by the Bible, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  We sit atop an iceberg and declare there is nothing beneath the surface. We swallow some part of the culture around us whole, not knowing.


james said...

No doubt in theory the Bible-alone would, when used with right reason, be a sufficient guide. But do I always use right reason? (I try, but as Feynman pointing out, the easiest person to fool is yourself.)

Do I overlook things? Jesus told the Sadducees that they didn't know scripture when they failed to draw the right conclusion from the phrase "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." That's not exactly obvious--except perhaps in hindsight.

Humility seems to be critical for learning -- what do others say now, what did others say before the current fashions, and is this making a difference in my life? Or theirs? But I can't trust any of those 100% either.

Unknown said...

As far as reason goes, I think that's the job of the Holy Spirit to give right reason and judgement. So that, I think, should be the director of "how goes your walk:" are you walking in the Spirit?

sykes.1 said...

The Church is far older than Scripture. The Church did not settle on an official text until the early 5th Century, although all of the Books were in common use. Catholics and Orthodox still use the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, although they have slightly different versions. The Septuagint was in common use among Jews around the Eastern Mediterranean who had assimilated to Hellenistic culture. Christians inherited it from the Jews. The Orthodox have the very great advantage that their entire Bible in in its original Greek.

The downside of Sola Scriptura is that there are some 30,000 different Protestant denominations, each with its own private interpretation of the Bible, and each interpretation is incompatible with the others. The Catholic insistence on tradition pretty much boils down to an official interpretation of the text. An official interpretation is needed to avoid schism and heresy, the text is wildly self-contradictory. Two separate and incompatible Creation stories; two separate and incompatible Flood stories, etc.

Add to that the usually tendentious "translations" of our modern era, generally done by people who do not accept the Bible as God's inspired word, nor its inerrancy, but who do have special political and social agendas, often Marxist.

One might note that among many Orthodox Jews, the Talmud is superior to the Tanakh, and some even prefer the Kabbalah to it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ sykes.1 - Good points, and it is true that Torah-Talmud is the preferred study for Orthodox Jews, even over what Christians would consider the "real" Bible.

Texan99 said...

We're always looking for a set of instructions that's as clear as computer code and requires neither love, courage, imagination, nor sacrifice to carry out--as if we could check some boxes and then show up at the Pearly Gates saying, "Prove I didn't measure up."

At the same time we're always looking for a "get out of jail free" card for any commandment we'd really, really rather not obey just now.

I like the "show me where it's written" plus "how's that working out for you?" approach, as long as you combine both with a living conscience.

james said...

The church had converged on a New Testament set quite early on, with only a little dispute.

There was, and is, a little fuzziness at the edges in the Orthodox, Copts, and Church of the East--some things are read in church that aren't read in the West, and so the list of approved books is a bit larger, but aside from some arguments about Revelation in one group (have to look up which), the New Testament is the same. And when pressed, I gather that they don't value the extra books quite as much as the usual ones--though I only have this second-hand.

FWIW, "as clear as computer code" isn't always wonderfully clear. Even when I wrote the code--last year.