Solo Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
M. Rev. Ed Jansen and Rev. Dr. Trish Gaffney
There is a doctrine within the Christian faith which divides the Church; in Latin it’s called “solo scriptura” coming out of the Protestant Reformation which looked at some of the practices and traditions of the Church and concluded that they were not “biblical.”
In truth, some of the traditions handed down in the Church had veered far away from their original teachings and practices. The Reformers who confronted such things were seeking a return to what had been established many centuries earlier. They longed for a pure Church that not only followed God’s word, but looked more like the Early Church, the Church prior to its imperialization.
From our perspective:
The reformers were not only honorable Christians, they were justified in wanting the Church to return to her roots. The Protestant Reformation (PR) was seeking to correct a wrong.
They wanted to set up boundaries for practices within the Church; and so they proposed a new doctrine to bring the Church back to what the Early Church had been, and protect her for the future.
As an idea, they proposed that the Church only use Scripture as the basis for its doctrine and its practices. That is to say, that anything outside of Scripture was to be avoided…so-much-so, that if their Church either created a doctrine or followed a practice that was not specifically mentioned in the Bible, it was declared heretical or even apostate.
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Well, there are several problems with this as a primary boundary to restore the Church. This teaching attempts to examine the problems with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura today:
Like the Church Catholic, the PR has evolved far from the the original purpose and intention of its founders as well. That is to say that what Martin Luther and his Protestant contemporaries proposed is a far cry from what much of the Protestant Church looks like and practices today. In our opinion, Sola Scriptura has not accomplished what its original intent was. And so, with all due respect, we sense much of the Church today, Catholic and Protestant, has fallen away from what it was originally.
With that said, let’s address the teaching for today: The very doctrine of “Solo Scriptura” is self-contradicting, meaning that nowhere in the Bible, as we know it, are there any references that impose its restriction on the doctrines of the faith or its practices.
Let’s examine the provocative statements we just made.
There are four passages of Scripture that are often cited as the basis of the doctrine of Solo Scriptura:
Deuteronomy 4:2 Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.
Deuteronomy 12:32 – See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.
Proverbs 30:5-6 “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”
Revelation 22:18-19 “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.”
Well, this is pretty clear. You don’t need to be a biblical scholar to understand what it is saying: that we are not to add to the Scriptures nor take anything away from them. We have no dispute with this. The question we raise is this: “How can we move from not adding or taking away from the Word of God to imposing ONLY the Word of God on the doctrines or practices of the Christian faith?” We have no problem with saying, “My personal piety will be based upon scripture alone. I will not believe anything in matters of faith that is not specifically stated in the canonized scriptures. I will not practice anything in matters of faith that is not specifically stated in the canonized scriptures.”
We not only accept someone’s personal piety based upon this practice, we honor it. But please, do not impose that personal piety on the entire Church. It is not what the Church has practiced in all places at all times from the beginning. Here are two flaws of this doctrine (from our perspective).
If we were to insert the Gospel according to Ed Jansen or Trish Gaffney as part of the Scriptures or if we were to delete the Gospel of Luke, then we would be violating these scriptural principles. But nowhere in the Bible does it state that matters of faith and practice are limited to some biblical reference. Matters of faith and practice may also include apostolic teachings not found in the canonized scriptures, church tradition, the sacraments and even direct experience in relationship with Christ. Therefore, we believe the doctrine of Solo Scriptura is self-contradicting and incomplete.
The Bible as Christians know it today, was canonized in the Fourth and Fifth Century A.D. St. John wrote the Book of Revelation in the First Century A.D. (at least 300 years before the Bible was created). His revelation of 22:18-19 was based upon what he knew to be the Word of God at the time; i.e., the Old Testament. So, if we are to read this passage in Revelation in context and take it literally through the filter of solo scriptura, the entire New Testament might be construed as “adding to” the Word of God. As Christians, we reject that conclusion.
So, what does this all mean? Can we use God’s Word to be “right” or shall we say, “righteous?” Yes. Can we use it to prove that you’re a sinner? Yes. Can we use it to condemn you? Yes. Wait a minute… isn’t that what the Pharisees did in Jesus’ day? Then how are we to use the Word of God? For us, it is one of the greatest gifts God can give us outside of his Son. For us, it is a “lamp unto our feet.” It is a guide; it helps ME (not you) see when *I* have wandered off the path; when *I* have strayed from where God would have me be. It should not be used as a weapon to condemn others. A better use of it might be to convict the “hell” out of me and leave you to deal with the “speck in your own eye.”
OK, back to topic: St. Paul said, “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
Let’s use the Word of God as a light along our path, but let’s open our hearts to the path itself. Let’s not forget what St. Paul and the Early Church Fathers/Mothers passed onto us “by word of mouth” (traditions of our faith not mentioned in the canonized Scriptures). Let’s reclaim the richness of life in Christ, including the holy traditions of liturgy, the sacraments and our personal relationship of prayer and community and integrating these with the truth of God’s word. Let us include all aspects of scripture and tradition that draw us closer to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
M.Rev. Ed Jansen is the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Benedict and Rev. Dr. Trish Gaffney is its Vicar General
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