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Clay is personal friend of mine and undergraduate Philosophy student. I’ve asked his permission to re-post his short essay on the issue of Sola Scriptura and how it relates to authority in the Church.
So, I’ll start this post off as I have many others. This will not be the same as the others, however. I would like to focus on one issue in particular. The shift in authorial systems the Protestant must claim, and prove, took place with the death of the Apostles.
Sola is Solo:
We’ll define Sola Scriptura as the idea that Scripture is our sole infallible authority on matters of faith and practice. This allows for secondary fallible authorities.
We’ll define Solo Scriptura as the idea that Scripture is our sole authority on matters of faith and practice. This does not allow for secondary fallible authorities, as Scripture is the sole authority altogether.
Given the definition of Sola Scriptura, these sources outside of Scripture are only binding insofar as they agree with Scripture on the issue. So, the individual checks the council to what it has declared to be true, and then checks the relevant passages of Scripture to see if the council is in agreement with Scripture on this issue. If it is, the individual “submits”. If it is not, the individual does not “submit”. Now, the reason I put “submit” in quotes like that is because the individual is not truly submitting at all. Due to the complexity of Scripture, and its need to be interpreted (All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture.), the individual is checking the council to see if its doctrinal declaration agrees with his own interpretation of Scripture. If you only submit to that which agrees with you, you are only submitting to yourself, which is to say you are not submitting at all. You are merely recognizing your agreement with a particular source’s claim.
There is no principled difference between Sola and Solo. In both situations, the Scriptures serve as the only binding authority.
Protestantism as Anarchy:
Now, from here, I have made the claim that Protestantism is an anarchistic system given the fact that Sola is Solo. Given the complexity of Scripture, and the fact the individual has no authority outside the Scriptures he must interpret, Protestantism seems to be properly labeled anarchy. However, I do not think I took this far enough. The Protestant could claim to have a unifying authority. Now, what I mean by unifying authority is not that it gears the system to unity, but rather there is a single authority they are all under. The Scriptures. This is why I spoke on the complexity of the Scriptures in my previous posts. However, there is a problem here. Yes, Scripture is a binding authority for the Protestant, but who determines what is and is not Scripture (You know what I mean given my language and the rest of this post; Nobody needs to reply “God does”)? Given the Protestant system, that there is no binding authority outside the Scriptures themselves, the individual is left to determine what is and is not Scripture. So, to claim that the Scriptures are a unifying authority is a mistake. What Scriptures? Even the determining of what exactly is authority is left to the individual.
So, we see that Protestantism is inherently and entirely anarchistic.
This is typically where I would go into laying out various problems I see with this. Implications for unity, problems from History, and problems from Scripture. Here, I would like to focus on Scripture:
So, when looking to the Scriptures we see Christ set up a particular system of authority for His Church. Two pieces of Scripture I would like to point out here come from 2 Thessalonians and Acts 15. Assuming you all are familiar with these pieces of Scripture, I will not quote them. This is to save time and space.
In 2 Thessalonians we see Paul command the believers at Thessalonica to hold fast to the traditions they (the Apostles) have passed to them, whether it comes in written or oral form. Here, we see that the Church was given a binding written word (Scripture) and a binding oral word (Tradition). Tradition is simply teaching on faith and practice meant to be passed on.
In Acts 15 we see the Apostles, among other leaders in the Church, meet in council. The Council of Jerusalem. They met on circumcision and settled the issue dogmatically. What we see here is the leaders of the Church acting as the extraordinary magisterium of the Church in council declaring dogma. We see a structured authority for the Church, a binding magisterial head for the Church.
Church, Scripture, Tradition. This is the system claimed by both the Catholics and Orthodox. Of course, there will be differences in detail, and the Orthodox would not recognize the Papacy as defined by the Catholic Church today, but the basic structure is the same. Church, Scripture, Tradition. All binding.
As shown above, Protestantism is anarchistic. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches are most definitely not. I actually have two questions:
Perhaps some of you Protestants can sufficiently answer these questions?
And, as always, here is the Sola/solo article if some of you have still not taken the time to read it. It should explain that portion of the argument better than I believe I am capable of: