Friday, April 06, 2007

The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura in a Nutshell By Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

"He who would consistently banish creeds must silence all preaching and reduce the teaching of the church to the recital of the exact words of Holy Scripture without note or comment." - R. L. Dabney

The purpose of this very brief excerpt is to concisely and simply set forth the doctrine of Sola Scriptura over the false, modern-day evangelical doctrine of SOLO Scriptura that always seems to rise up among religious sects through church history. Evangelicals today, for whatever reason, seem to be confusing Sola Scriptura with Solo Scriptura without understanding either precisely. Those evangelicals who say they hold to the Sola Scriptura hermeneutic of the Reformation are really using the Reformed terms of the Reformation but are, in actuality, denying the authentic doctrine itself. This is not just a play on words or some kind of semantic game. Rather, this is a conflagration of the true doctrine, and a propagation of something the church has deemed in error by way of a faulty hermeneutic. Hopefully the following points will clarify this and amend this theological mayhem.

It is unfortunate that false view of Sola Scriptura today is aiding the modern church in further schism, rather than unifying the church. Sola Scriptura should not be used as a “me and my bible” hermeneutic which allows “each individual Christian” to maintain their own theological view point on a given doctrine. That is not what the Reformers intended, and it is not what the doctrine of Sola Scriptura teaches. If you believe that Sola Scriptura means “each individual Christian should, on an individual level, use the Bible alone in understanding and determining the corpus of biblical truth” you have completely missed the idea and point of the doctrine itself. Many people believe that the moment they hear the word “tradition” (the “t” word) that this is a very bad thing. They want to say “the Bible alone!” But they have missed the point again. They believe this as a knee jerk reaction to Roman Catholicism which has a very different view of tradition than what Sola Scriptura teaches. I want to note here and now, the Reformed position of Sola Scriptura is not, in any way, the same thing, as the view of the Roman Catholic Church’s view of Tradition PLUS Scripture as the church’s ecclesiastical authority. Hopefully this will be made clear in a moment.

You can hear the confusion already – “Wait! Are you trying to tell me that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura holds a certain view of tradition within it? Are you saying that Sola Scriptura rests on some kind of church tradition as well?” Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Tradition, when used by the orthodox Christian church through the centuries, simply designates the complete corpus of “truth” as the inclusive set of Christian beliefs or the whole of “the faith” given to the saints (Jude 3) in which the Church contends for as orthodoxy. This kind of tradition is either verbal (such as the teaching that came verbally from the Apostles) or written (such as any of the books of the Bible that were penned). This does not incur “secret” traditions that were handed down to the church that are shrouded in some mysterious unwritten or secret documents that only a select few recognize (which is Rome’s position). Rather, Scripture and tradition are paralleled ideas that mean the same thing in orthodox Christianity. For example, when I say, “Jesus is Lord,” that is the same thing as quoting John 1:1-3. It is verbal tradition that the church ahs always believed, and it attests to the truth of John 1:1-3 (and other Scriptures that could be cited). One could look through any of the early church fathers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, etc) and find this type of thinking all through their writings. Irenaeus used an interesting term to describe the tradition of the Church called the regula fidei. This basically places the Holy Scriptures on the same level of confessing the truth of the Holy Scriptures in verbally relatable terms. Again, to use the example, “Jesus is God” is to say, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58).”olyHH
Both of those testimonies (one written and inspired, and one creedal or tradition) are in fact part of the regula fidei. The regula fidei is, as Augustine stated, a summary of Holy Scripture.
Now, another point must be made. There never has been a period in which the Christian Church has been without a confession of faith, though these confessions have varied both in character and in extent. In other words, the moment you start telling people who Jesus is without simply turning to your Bible and quoting various passages with no commentary at all, and you begin to add your own explanations or testimony to that, you have engaged in confessional Christianity, or have entered into the regula fidei. That means that you have begun commenting on the Scriptures with information (or accepted tradition) that is discernable by exegetical work on the Bible, and notably received by the orthodox Church at large. When you say, “Jesus is God” you are a confessional Christian. You are summarizing the Bible and its message (or a doctrinal point) into a single concise phrase that all orthodox Christians agree. At this point, another emphasis must be made.

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