"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I have a problem with authority: an essential problem in Protestantism

[A blog to ask a question to the reader:]

Sola Scriptura means: Scripture alone. It is one of the five solas of the reformation. It means that Scripture is the final authority on matters of truth. Yet, in regards to Scripture, there are two levels:

Revelation: What God says
Doctrine/Interpretation: What we say revelation means.

So "Sola Scriptura" says nothing about who has the right doctrine/interpretation. Here's a test case:

Does baptism save?

What does Scripture say?: "baptism now saves you" 1 Peter 3:21.

Thus, when speaking about this passage, we have no disagreement over what Scripture says, Scripture says "baptism now saves you," even mentioning the water in particular. We do have a disagreement over what Scripture means.

But here is the question: Who decides what it means? Catholics appeal to the See of Peter as authoritative interpreter, Orthodox appeal to the Seven Ecumenical Councils as the collective interpretation of the Church, Protestants have:

1. The clear testimony and reading of Scripture? [the clear reading is "baptism saves"...]

2. The internal testimony of the Spirit? Whose internal testimony? Mine? My Protestant Lutheran brother who quotes the Augsburg Confession that says "Baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation" [link]? Or my Protestant Reformed brother that quotes the Westminster Confession that says "salvation [is] not so inseparably annexed unto [baptism], as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it" [link]? [both the Lutheran and Reformed brother claims Sola Scriptura]

3. Human Reason? That same "reason" that Luther called a, ahem, prostitute? Again, whose reason? Mine? Yours? If they contradict, who decides? If reason, why do we need revelation which is "foolishness" to those reasonable Greeks?

My answer: I have none, that's why I am throwing it out there. I do not believe water baptism saves [I side with the Reformed brother in question 2, as I believe most people reading my blog do] just as I believe justification is by faith alone though the "plain words" of James say differently. But how do I as a Protestant escape taking the Pope's hat off the Bishop of Rome, and putting it on my head? How do I avoid making my self and my personal interpretation the only council I listen to? Or do I have no such assurance?

[This post is not meant to imply Catholics and Orthodox have no problems here as Orthodox have no means of addressing new theological questions after the Seven Councils and the fact that the doctrine of Papal Supremecy did not develop until the 5th Century and many would say their answers have contradicted each other. I'm merely concerned with the Protestant problem here.]


Jared Nelson said...

Um...it was just a question for discussion.

Aaron said...

Yeah I was just joking. It is hard with no easy answer. Scripture testifies to its own ability to guide us. So I try, as humbly as I can, to figure it out with the help of the Spirit and other believers in the catholic Church past and present. Not easy though. Oh who will deliver me? Sometimes I get so sick of searching.

Jared Nelson said...

This is the question Frank Beckwith was asking when he left the Baptist tradition for Roman Catholicism. It is also the question of Peter Kreeft and was a topic of conversation on "Theology Unplugged" an evangelical podcast of DTS grads. Having an answer to this question can be a great apologetic answer for Catholics or evangelicals looking to join the Orthodox or Catholic tradition. What do we say to those people? Are any of my 3 points of possible answers and their objections invalid?

My Historical Theology class prof talked about the importance of reading the Bible in community (local and historical) and not relying merely on my own interpretation of my English translation. But the question is: what about when those communities disagree?

M. Jay Bennett said...

"But how do I as a Protestant escape taking the Pope's hat off the Bishop of Rome, and putting it on my head?"

This is a bit simplistic, but I look at it as we all have the same hat on, including the Pope. Interpreting Scripture is a democratic process of sorts. We examine what gifted teachers have said through the years, compare that with our own interpretation, and make a decision. It's not fool-proof, but I think its the option that presents the fewest problems this side of the Fall prior to glory.

"How do I avoid making my self and my personal interpretation the only council I listen to?"

I think you avoid this by coming to understand different interpretations throughout church history. You take those interpretations, understand what questions prompted them, see how they were received, and make an informed decision as to what you will believe. Hopefully, those teachers' interpretations you read throughout history were doing the same thing.