Sola Scriptura 7 – It just hasn’t worked

Posted: August 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Sola Scriptura | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

It’s not a very good title for this post, but I couldn’t really think of a good one. The idea, at least at the beginning of the Reformation, but also still expressed in many places today, was and is that Scripture could somehow provide the only thing necessary to maintain at least some sort of unity in the church. You didn’t need a magisterium. (I’m unclear how much awareness there was of Orthodoxy at the time of the Reformation. I notice that some churches created something similar to the conciliar model in their organizational structure, but they could have gotten that far just from reading the ancient writings of the church.) Speaking as someone who is shaped to most naturally perceive the failings and shortcomings of modern overarching narratives, the assumptions in this one are glaringly obvious to me. Sola scriptura assumes that people coming together with clear and rational minds under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will naturally perceive the plain truth of Scripture and be bound together as one by their common acceptance of that rational truth.

It’s a nice idea if people actually worked that way. But they don’t. And as a result, we have over 30,000 distinct, countable Protestant denominations and non-denominations today. That result was inevitable as soon as rational agreement on the interpretation of a text was made the basis for unity. Our radical Christian pluralism makes a mockery of Jesus’ prayer.

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you; they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

I don’t find the growing unbelief, especially of the Western world, at all surprising. What Jesus and what God do people believe? Calvin’s? The Baptist one? (And which Baptist? We’re probably responsible for a sizeable number of that 30k count.) Church of Christ? Lutheran? The list goes on and on. You can’t say that everyone describes the same God. Not if God consists of three actual persons rather than being an abstract idea. They use many of the same words, but when you scratch much below the surface at all, they don’t use the words the same way. And they don’t describe even vaguely similar persons. Piper’s God who is responsible for tornados striking churches, bridges falling down, and probably hurricanes destroying cities doesn’t bear much resemblance to the God who is love, who is light, in whom is no darkness. If you think all Protestants are describing the same God, you really haven’t paid close attention to the God they actually do describe in both word and deed.

I’ve noticed a tendency to assert that earlier approaches have not “worked” as some sort of justification for Protestant pluralism. It’s an odd little game of don’t look at my failings, they have problems too. Aside from the fact that at the core, it doesn’t really matter what others have done, the question is: What have you done? Focus on that first before the failings of others. Moreover it’s simply a false reconstruction of church history.

Yes, there have been problems, heresies, and schisms over the centuries. Lots of them. People behaving badly and the whole nine yards. Nevertheless, over the course of the first fifteen hundred years, the church experienced just three broad, enduring schisms. The heresies and smaller schisms? They tended to either die out or be healed over time and communion restored. The three enduring ones (to this day) are the schism over Chalcedon and the later schism between Rome and the rest of the Eastern church. Both of them were as tied to political realities of the Roman Empire as to anything else. Nor were they simple or unified in reason or development. Some were at least in part the result of geographic distance and realities of culture and language. For instance, in the schism over Chalcedon, none of the Armenian bishops could travel to the council because of a war with Persia. They were not native Greek speakers and when word of the council and its decision reached them, their bishops interpreted it as a resurgence of Nestorianism and condemned it accordingly.

Over the long haul, for fifteen hundred years, the church actually did a pretty good job of maintaining unity. Sola scriptura has not over a much shorter period of time. In fact, Protestantism has so splintered the church that those within it have largely ceased to believe that visible oneness even matters at all. Where people do concede that perhaps it was important to Jesus, they generally can’t imagine how it could ever be done. Heck, I’m with them. I don’t have the slightest clue how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. But we need to at least start trying to move that direction.

Seems like as good a spot as any to end this series.


2 Comments on “Sola Scriptura 7 – It just hasn’t worked”

  1. 1 mike said at 11:55 am on August 23rd, 2009:

    …. “Sola scriptura assumes that people coming together with clear and rational minds under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will naturally perceive the plain truth of Scripture and be bound together as one by their common acceptance of that rational truth” ….LOL…..30,000?? …thats a lot of competeing intellect ……seriously this is something that is very disturbing to me …all protestants claim to know and adore the One True God and His Christ but our varied forms of worship and nuance of theologies reveals distinctly unique and even opposing
    gods who are in fact engaged in a cosmic struggle with one another for the hearts and minds of mankind… it doesnt make any sense.. and in fact is insane…i often wonder if we unconsiously concieve a god based in part on our imaginings and early childhood experiences and then proceed to construct him using select scripture in a sort of twisted Dr. frankenstein method of creation…..somewhere along the proverbial line of protestantism God stopped being The Revered Almighty Creator..Unchanging ..Worthy..Respected..and even Feared and simply became our casual “bud”….why..after all..he dont kare none…….

  2. 2 mike said at 12:14 pm on August 23rd, 2009:

    P.S. ..Thanks for this GREAT series…your knowledge base is amazing…