Friday, March 31, 2017

Sola Scriptura And Divisions

  • Defining the issues:
           -Although this article is dedicated primarily to the Roman Catholic apologists who maintain that there are 33,000 (or more) Protestant denominations (in order to disqualify the principle of Sola Scriptura), the contents that are about to be presented hold true for all who tout the same argument around.  
           -There is a great deal of controversy between  the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and all of the Protestant churches due to the issue of "private interpretation." Private interpretation of Scripture is the concept of a person using his or her reasoning to make a judgment on a particular passage from the Bible. It is a more individualistic approach to determining what Scripture means.
           -Roman Catholic apologists insist that we absolutely must have their leaders "infallibly interpret" the Scriptures in order to preserve absolute truth in doctrinal matters and thus aid in the prevention of division within the entire congregational body.
           -The claim that we need an infallible interpreter of Scripture is essentially the same as saying that the Bible is too difficult for the common people to understand. In other words, both arguments use the same logic in there premises in order to reach their conclusions. If the basic message of Scripture is simple enough for us to understand, then why would we even need an infallible interpreter in the first place?   
           -Consequently, the Church of Rome claims that Christians who rely on the Bible alone for the development of doctrine (instead of its Magisterium) will inevitably end up in a state of hopeless doctrinal confusion. In summary, one of the most common arguments raised against Sola Scriptura is that it unavoidably results in irreconcilable doctrinal contradictions and thus points to the need of an infallible teaching authority.
    • Scripture Is A Perspicuous Guide And Is Therefore In Need Of No Infallible Interpreter:
               -Scripture repeatedly implies and assures that its readers can understand its message (Deuteronomy 29:29; 2 Kings 22:8-13; Psalm 19:7-9; 119:97-105; 130; Matthew 22:29-32; Luke 1:1-4; 10:25-28; Acts 17:11-12; Ephesians 3:3-5; 2 Corinthians 1:13; 3:15-16; Colossians 4:16; 2 Peter 1:16-21; 2 Timothy 3:15).
               -With the exception of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus, all of the New Testament epistles were written to Christians in general: Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philemon 1:1-2; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; James 1:1-2; Revelation 1:3-4.
               -Calls to read and obey Scripture demonstrates that we can understand it (Joshua 1:7-8; 23:6; 1 Kings 2:3-4; Matthew 12:3; 5; 19:4; 21:16; 42; 22:31; Luke 10:26; John 10:34; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Timothy 4:13).
               -The common people understood the teachings of Jesus Christ apart from some infallible interpreter (Matthew 11:25; 13:51; Mark 12:37). In other words, there was never an infallible interpreter sitting next to Jesus when He was teaching in front of the crowds. Jesus Christ did not always explain His parables to those who were confused by His teachings, He made individuals interpret the Scriptures for themselves, and held them accountable when they interpreted them incorrectly. He neither demanded the people who heard His teachings to blindly submit to Him nor instructed His disciples to act in such a manner. Jesus usually attracted the poor and the uneducated. Anyone with a humble and prayerful heart can understand what God desires for us, apart from a complex church hierarchy.
    • Addressing Common Misrepresentations Of Sola Scriptura:
               -"What use is an infallible book without an infallible interpreter?":
                   *God does not require that we understand Him infallibly. Our minds are finite. However, we can have sufficient certainty behind the meaning of Scripture. Now, this is not to suggest that we can interpret the Scriptures in any random way that we desire. We have the obligation to examine Scripture in its proper context, compare our interpretations of particular Scripture passages to what other passages say about the same topic, use our common sense, and consult commentaries. 
               -"By What Authority Do You Interpret Scripture?":
                  *Interpreting Scripture has nothing to do with our own "personal authority," but rather, are things God is expecting us to do. He wants us to obey Him. This in no way implies that no additional church authorities besides the Bible exist. They exist, but are subject to the infallible authority of Scripture. We do not need "special authority" to search the Scriptures and discern God's will. Scripture is clear enough for readers to get truths related to salvation and godliness.
    • Religious Division:
               -While it is true that divisions within the Body of Christ over significant doctrinal issues are unfortunate and painful, there are scenarios in which such is necessary. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1 Corinthians 11:19). We are called to publicly expose false brethren and separate ourselves from those who propagate heretical doctrines (Galatians 2:4; Romans 16:17). Unity in of itself does not guarantee truth or preservation of the truth of the gospel.
            -The New Testament reveals to us that churches had significant divisions over doctrinal and moral issues such as the ones located in the ancient cities of Corinth, Galatia, and Colosse. The first century churches had the same problems that exist in our local congregations today. Instead of simply appealing to the allegedly infallible papal authority of the Apostle Peter for a short, clear, inspired declaration to settle matters once for all, Paul reasoned directly from the Scriptures with these divided churches. Not only did he reason in such a manner, but he also wrote Scripture to furnish the discerning ability of the church for future generations. If we stay within the boundaries of God's wisdom as revealed through the testimony of Holy Scripture, then we will have no reason to be bitterly divided against each other (1 Corinthians 4:6).
          -According to Scripture, Christians are permitted to uphold their own views on minor-doctrinal issues (Romans 14). Essential doctrines are ones that are clearly and repeatedly defined in Scripture. Doctrines that are of secondary importance (meaning not issues that we should break fellowship over) would include women's head coverings, singing in church, musical instruments in church, eschatology, etc.
    • The Unity That Rome Presents Is Superficial At Best:
             -While it is true that there are divisions within Protestantism, Roman Catholics who raise this argument against Sola Scriptura fall into the category of being hypocritical because they have just as many, if not more, divisions within the realms of their own denomination, even though they scarcely choose to recognize or admit that fact.
           -While the Church of Rome may appear to be fairly unified because of it is structured and organized manner under the headship of a worldly king called the pope, the unity in which Catholics appeal to is largely imaginary. It is simply a trick to deceive those who only look at things from a very superficial perspective, for there are significant theological differences among the Catholic laity, priests, scholars, theologians, and bishops. There are all sorts of societies, movements, and orders forming within the chambers of Roman Catholicism. There are liberal and conservative Catholics.
             -Many individual Roman Catholics are unlearned in regards to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Many flatly contradict many of the official teachings of the Catholic Church on issues such as abortion, artificial birth control, the death penalty, homosexuality, on whether priests should be married, letting females join the priesthood, stem-cell research, and much more. Roman Catholics are in a state of bitter division over additional issues such as creation verses evolution, the material sufficiency of Scripture, charismatic occurrences, whether practicing Jews and Muslims can be saved without conversion, and whether Mary is the co-redemptrix. Catholic theologians are even divided over the interpretation of Vatican II documents! Although all of these significant divisions are hidden under the umbrella of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, dramatic differences still exist and are significant.        
             -In reality, comparing the unity of the Roman Catholic Church to Protestantism as a whole is like comparing apples to oranges. Catholicism is a group that is lead by an individual leader and occupies the same title all throughout its domain ("Roman Catholic"), whereas Protestantism is made up of individual churches with different labels. Within Protestant Christianity, there is a general consensus as to what constitutes the essential doctrines of Christianity. Though it may shock some to hear this, there is a great sense of spiritual unity amongst all genuine Christians across all different denominations within the realm of orthodoxy. All genuine Christians accept the fundamental doctrines of the faith. We all have a sense of genuine love and fellowship toward each other. We are not lost and always contradicting each other, as Roman Catholic apologists foolishly claim. It is true that doctrinal differences exist within Protestantism, with some being heretical. Every church group has its own set of problems.
    • Refuting The 30,000 Protestant Denominations Myth:
             -This argument is derived off a complete misinterpretation of the World Christian Encyclopedia (David A. Barrett; Oxford University Press, 1982).
             -Out of the cited figure of 20,780 denominations, only 8,196 are labeled as being Protestant. According to Barrett's figure, 242 Roman Catholic denominations exist.
             -The figure of 8,000 denominations is pretty misleading because David A. Barrett separates "distinct denominations" according to their jurisdiction, rather than differing doctrinal practices and beliefs. In reality, these individual "denominations" only have slightly different beliefs. 
             -Then, Barrett breaks the Protestant section down into 21 major traditions, and the Church of Rome is subdivided into 16 different traditions. The word "denomination" in this context is best defined to mean "tradition".
             -Interestingly, the National Catholic Register agrees with this assessment and provides similar results: "...There are not—repeat with me—there are not 33,000 Protes­tant denom­i­na­tions. There are not any­where close to it. It is a myth that has taken hold by force of rep­e­ti­tion, and it gets cited and recited by reflex; but it is based on a source that, even Catholics will have to con­cede, relies on too loose a def­i­n­i­tion of the word “denom­i­na­tion.”...How­ever strong the temp­ta­tion some may have to char­ac­ter­ize any­thing not Catholic or Ortho­dox as “Protes­tant,” you can’t do that. All that tells Protes­tant apol­o­gists is that you don’t know what Protes­tantism is, or what its dis­tinc­tives are—and they would be right. And why would they take any­thing you say seriously after that? If you don’t know what Protes­tantism is, who are you to be talk­ing about its errors? Not only are Mor­mons, Jehovah’s Wit­nesses, One­ness Pen­te­costals, Uni­tar­i­ans, Pros­per­ity Gospel believ­ers (included among 23,600 Inde­pen­dents and Mar­gin­als) not Protes­tant, they are not even Chris­t­ian; they adhere to a false Chris­tol­ogy. Protes­tants and Catholics are in agree­ment about who Christ is; these other groups have other ideas."
             -In conclusion, this argument against Sola Scriptura is unfair and a case of intentional intellectual dishonesty.  
    • An Argument That Backfires:
              -If the Roman Catholic apologist still wants to use this totally false argument against the biblical principle of Sola Scriptura, then we can point out the fact that the same Word Christian Encyclopedia ranks Roman Catholicism as being the fifth worst when persecuting martyrs (total of: 4,951,000):


    1. Excellent!

      For hundreds of years Rome eliminated by murder anyone who disagreed with them. That sort of kept them from having thousands of "denominations." When unity is forced, it isn't unity.

      1. Given that the church is 2000 years old, the enforcement by force of a few hundred years doesn't prove very much.

      2. I didn't say what church I belong to. I'm just saying the the one church didn't force unity for most of its history. There is just not the mentality in the "original" churches that everything is wrong and we need to go set up lots of new churches.

      3. How about the fact that it was being forced from about 500 A.D. to the 19th century, and still so in some 3rd world countries? The TRUE church of Christ NEVER forced anyone to agree with them.

    2. Forced in what sense? What forcing was going on in 500ad?

      1. By 500 AD there was beginnings of split between E and W, and those who didn't agree with them were excommunicated or otherwise condemned. As centuries went by on the Roman side, excommunication was no longer the method of forced compliance, rather it became terror and murder. Try reading a wee bit of history.