Monday, June 26, 2006

Sola Scriptura Gloria

Let me tell you first of all the position I am arguing against. It goes like this: "The Reformation was in essence a Restoration. It put the church back at the place it had been at the onset of the middle ages, and restored it to its former near-perfect balance." On the other hand, there is this: "The Reformation was a Revolution. It took many ideas which had never been mainstream and tried to define the church by them." I believe the truth is that it was both, and therefore open to conjecture as to which elements of the Reformation are essential and which are not. I think that an objective (of course, totally impossible for us) study of history and philosophy would bear out that claim.

Additionally, take for instance the Eucharist. Although Luther supported it, the Reformation in general shot it down. I don't believe in the Eucharist, but the truth is that it was a quite early and generally accepted doctrine. Early practice/doctrine does not equate to correct practice/doctrine. And, unless we are to throw out the Reformation entirely, scholarly and ecclesiastical consensus does not add up to correct doctrine, either. Bear in mind that the consensus of the church that the Reformation challenged on many doctrinal issues was also the same that established our current canon of scripture.

Ok, switching horses midstream ...

The Reformation had a lot of benefits, indeed. Making scripture the "constitution" against which "laws" are judged, and by which "judges" are limited is definitely a good idea. But, like many mostly good principles, it contains in itself the seed of a bad principle, which flowers when the good is taken to excess.

In the case of "Sola Scriptura", this takes place when scripture is elevated to godhood.

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life."
John 5:39-40
The scriptures have an important place in the life of the Christian. They are useful, but they are a means and not and end. They are a pointer to Christ. According to every even remotely Orthodox Christian sect, there are three persons in the godhead, but they're not The Father, The Son, and the Holy Scripture.

There is a great temptation that results from Sola Scriptura in our current Protestant milieu. It is to slip into a religion that wears the mask of faith, but is in truth an intellectual and anti-supernatural worship of the words of the Bible, rather than its Author. When Bible reading is given precedence over prayer, when rote memorization is given precedence over the godly action that should result, when the Holy Spirit is transformed from our comforter and leader, indwelling us, into a phantom that is only accessible through intellectual pursuit, then you know you've passed beyond a healthy respect for God's word into the realm of idolatry.

Look, indeed, at Jesus' life and example. Though he was quite familiar with the Scriptures by the time he began His ministry (whether this was through study or direct knowledge as the Son of God is anybody's guess) there is virtually no record of Him taking time to study the scriptures in the gospels. He takes the opportunity once of reading from the scriptures in the synagogue, "In your hearing this prophecy is fulfilled, etc." but most instances of spiritual discipline recorded about Him are of prayer rather than study and scholarly explication.

The same mindset that led the Pharisees to take "bind these Words on your hand and your head" far too literally is just as dangerous today. The devil is not picky, he will take any opportunity you give him to undermine the fruit God has prepared for you.


Anonymous said...

Ben, you're smarter than me. But I disagree with your take on the Reformation. Luther did not endorse the Eucharist as codified by Rome. He was closer than Calvin, Zwingli, etc, but he did not believer Christ to be again crucified and "given for you" in the elements. Secondly, to say that the Reformers challenged doctrine of the same institution that established the canon is a fallacious argument. First, because establishing the canon does not vindicate all the doctrine of the church. Second, because the church that finalized the canon was a thousand years before the Reformation. A lot had changed (and for the worse) by the time Luther came around. (I mean, didn't you see the movie ;).

As for changing horses, I agree that we must worship the Word and not the word. However, Scripture must be viewed highly, because in it God has revealed himself to us. It is our main access point to knowledge of Christ. Surely, the Spirit unites us to Christ in a profound and mysterious way (Calvin said so, it must be right ;), but how do we know of Christ apart from the Gospels? But I like your point overall.

Ben said...

Two responses to this comment:

1) Eucharist. When I referred to the Eucharist, I may not have been clear (my bad). What I meant to reference was the concept of transubstantiation (i.e., that Christ indwells the communion wine and bread). This is still part of the Lutheran church. I believe it is incorrect, but it does have an historical precedent stretching back as far as any of our basic doctrines.

2) Canon. My reference to the canon was to highlight our implicit trust of at least one of the major decisions of the 3-5th century church, without our realizing that many of the early church's other decisions are countermanded by the Reformation.

Thanks for participating, anonymous!