Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sola Scriptura: Tests

Leaders in the reformed circle like to sola scriptura.  I've seen the Latin on the front of auditoriums, on the sign, and prominently on the printed material.  If you see sola scriptura like that, does that mean the church is sola scriptura?  Not usually.  There is sola scriptura, which is the historic statement, making the connection with the reformation, and then there is sola scriptura, actually having the Bible as your only infallible authority.  The latter is what God cares about.

God gave Israel and then the church His Words to live by.  The Words are there to believe and to live, to obey completely.  Those Words are the means by which people can believe and then can do what God says.  They are as good as God saying it.  If you then don't believe them, you are not believing God.  That's very serious.  Even if someone says it is a non-essential, you have still not either believed or done what God said, when you don't believe or do His Words.

Let's say that sola scriptura is important, the Bible as our only infallible authority for faith and practice.  How do you test whether someone is sola scriptura?  Someone may say it, put it on the front of their auditorium on a wall or on a medieval-looking banner or on the letterhead or on the blog mast, but is that the test?  No.  Stay with me here.  The test of sola scriptura is whether you do in fact believe and practice what the Bible says.  But how do you know that?

The best way to find out whether someone is sola scriptura or not, and I'm talking actually having the Bible as your only infallible authority, is a scriptural challenge.  You present a biblical teaching that is straight from the Bible, accurate exegesis framed within a biblical theology, and see whether someone submits to it.  Let's say that you do that, you show a sola scriptura man a biblical teaching, and he either ignores it or rejects it, for whatever various reason.  It could be that he might conform to the world less if he believes and practices it or he loses some friends or he looks bad, because his heroes would not approve.  At that point, when the Bible is not his only infallible authority, he is not sola scriptura, even if he says that he is.

At the point of the above test, a man might look to other sola scriptura men to get their approbration, and they give him a thumbs up because he is in cahoots with them and within their system of Protestantism.  In the end, we're not going to sit before an ecclesiastical council or the leaders of the sacral society.  We're going to stand before God.  He's going to judge and He judges by His Words (John 12:48).

If the test really is whether someone believes and obeys scripture, how can we tell who that is?  You can bring to them scripture, and to start, they should care.  They should answer the text, the biblical argument.  Their arguments should come out of scripture.  I understand that someone can make a biblical argument and not be saying what the Bible says.  People use the Bible, who don't believe and practice it.  I know that.  However, a sola scriptura person should care to make biblical arguments and answer biblical arguments with biblical arguments.  They do not and will not ignore them, just because of politics or because of a societal norm or because of sheer numbers or personal success. The popularity of them or their books does not make them right.  The number of hits on their website does not determine that they are sola scriptura.

I'm directing this post to reformed types, but this is really for anyone.  I recently wrote an expose of David Cloud's false ecclesiology.  I made biblical arguments, dealt with the text of scripture, and he didn't answer that.  He had four wrong reactions that I saw:  one, he didn't care, two, he ignored, three, he posed like he was being attacked personally, and, four, he name-called (Baptist brider, etc.). He talks like his arguments deserve to be respected just because of who he is, because of his years and his audience.  That doesn't cut it at all.  If Paul writes (Eph 2;19), "Ye are the household of God," and (Eph 2:22) "ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit," he is excluding himself, so this is not some kind of "universal church."  We have to make our arguments from the text.  This was a test that I'm offering as an example of what I'm talking about.  I don't know why he doesn't depend on scripture for his position, but he doesn't.

Recently I have written about the preservation of scripture, what the Bible says about it, what God is telling about the preservation of His own written Words.  If men are sola scriptura, they should follow what God said.  They don't.  That is a test.  They go to other "authorities," because they are not sola scriptura.  They say they are.  They might even hang the banner, but they are not.  They might ignore or name-call or act like it isn't a big issue, but on this subject, which is an important subject, they are not sola scriptura.  The issues where there is a test are where sola scriptura matters the most. Where a potential separation or loss will occur is where you find out what someone really believes on the Bible as his only infallible authority.

Something Thomas Ross last posted on Friday got my attention about this, because it relates directly to what I'm writing about here.  It was this sentence:

Dr. Orr “was unconcerned to defend a literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, and . . . took the view that an insistence on biblical inerrancy was actually ‘suicidal.’”

James Orr would not insist on biblical inerrancy because of what he saw as contradicting extra-scriptural evidence.  If men kept believing that position of inerrancy, he thought they would destroy Christianity.  Kevin Bauder recently wrote about either the same or a similar issue, speaking of the damage that the view of theistic evolution proposed by Tim Keller does to the doctrine of inerrancy of scripture.  He writes:

Again, the question is not whether Keller has erred. His interpretation does not arise from the text. No one ever came to any belief except special creation and a young earth by simply reading the text. Theories of progressive creationism and theistic evolution are always proposed by people who are trying to accommodate the text of Genesis to alternative cosmogonies, and those accommodations are only attempted by people who have already ceded disproportionate authority to non-biblical speculations.

Keller contradicts sola scriptura, if you agree with Bauder, which I do.  So does everyone who accommodates the text of the Bible to naturalism or scientific theories impugn inerrancy?  I ask this, because the new views of preservation of scripture accommodate the text of the Bible to naturalism or scientific theories.  Bauder himself defends and approves of this.  This is another test of sola scriptura.

For the non-sola scriptura on this, inerrancy itself must submit to a hypothetical text to spare scientific theories.  Men don't expect perfection from the Bible.  To them, the Bible might be wrong in a couple of places, but as long as that doctrine is corrected in some other place, then scripture teaches inerrant doctrine -- not in every passage, but in the Bible as a whole.  They think you can still get error from the Bible, because it wasn't preserved, even though the Bible teaches it.   So this is done, not because God says it in His Word, but because this is the favored strategy to ward off mass apostasy.  Even the strategy itself is not sola scriptura.

Paul Ferguson touches on sola scriptura and its relations to preservation of scripture:

Martin Luther sparked the Reformation on three pillars: faith, grace and Scripture. The final pillar of Sola Scriptura predicated the Bible as the only objective Protestant source of all authority available and was to be regarded as God’s last Words to mankind. It effectively dethroned the pope and enthroned the Bible. The Reformers were cognisant that the reason for the darkness of the Medieval Period was a result of the Roman Church losing sight of the true text in the original languages. They were also equally clear that the dissemination of the Received Text through the printed editions had sparked the Reformation and not the rise of nationalism, corruption in the Roman Church, or even the Renaissance. Since the autographs were not available, the Reformers knew that we must have a reliable tradition or bridge of some sort which connects us to the original autographs. This bridge must be undergirded with faith in a God who controls the flow of all historical events through the true Church and not apostate autonomous textual critics. The Reformers looked to ecclesiastical consensus in textual issues in the same manner they had in Canonical, Trinitarian and Christological issues.

The leading Reformers rejected Rome’s tradition and its corrupted texts, and held fast to the Received Text readings, which they knew evoked the wrath of Satan and had triggered the great Protestant Reformation during which tens of thousands of true believers perished by flame, famine and torture. Rome had used a handful of copies in which numerous variants existed in an attempt to refute the principle of Sola Scriptura. The Reformers were well aware of the corruptions of the texts of Alexandria and regarded the variant readings in the minority texts as either intentional or inadvertent corruptions.

To sum this up, not all "sola scriptura" is sola scriptura.  Apply tests, to see if these things be so.


d4v34x said...

Kent, where was the generally available perfectly verbally preserved text in AD 1829?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi D4,

One anonymous commenter thinks I'm avoiding this comment. I'm not. I keep getting ready to comment, but we have a conference this week, have 9 people staying in our home, among many other things, and I have thought I might give a whole post to the answer.

d4v34x said...

Just so you know, I know you're busy and that you weren't ignoring me. Take your time.