Against Sola Scriptura
I used to be Sola Scriptura, meaning I use to believe that the Bible was the sole and only authority when it comes to matters of faith and practice within Christianity. It’s a belief that was popularized by Martin Luther, although never the common position of the church until his time. Sola Scriptura, at least in the evangelical form that I once held to, practically states that because the writings are inspired and from the Apostles they alone can teach us matters of faith and practice. One of sola scriptura’s biggest implication is that the Scripture alone gives us the clearest picture of Christianity. Does this stand true? I don’t think so and here is why.
Scripture is from the Apostles, but so is Christian Tradition
“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you.” 1 Corinthians 11:2 NRSV
Imagine you are a 1st century presbyter (Elder) appointed by one of the Apostles to lead the church. You have been taught firsthand by the Apostle himself and have been judged both knowledgeable and able to carry out the task that was given you. The Apostle leaves you behind and it is time to begin your work. Only one problem stands in your way, my sola scriptura friend, at this time there is no New Testament Scripture and if there is even just one Scripture written you don’t even know it exists. Oof! The Apostle forgot to leave you the un-written New Testament! How will you ever carry out your task? Could it be that people who were trained by the Apostles would be able to carry out Apostolic tradition? Of course, and that is how Christianity began. It began through Apostolic tradition and not through Apostolic Scripture.
Scripture is a part of Tradition
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter. ” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 NRSV
Things have been going good in the church and you and the other presbyters have been doing a fine job. However, one day you and the church are facing a big problem. One of your fellow members brings up something that you are unsure about, weren’t instructed on, or just totally dumb founded at. What would you do? Well it would seem that many churches wrote to the Apostles, especially Paul, to find out what they should do. His answer to the churches is what makes up the majority of what we call “the New Testament”. Yes, the Epistles of Paul and the other Apostles give us a firsthand insight of their understanding of Church practice and sometimes mentioning of Christian doctrine. However, these Epistles were given in a historical context and weren’t originally given to be “New Testament Scripture”. Now of course they are because of their immense value. That value being what I recorded above, which things include mentioning on Church practice and Christian doctrine. These writings were not however what the church was built upon. It was built upon the Apostles and Prophets and their writings are only one part of their tradition, albeit an extremely important and first hand part.
Christian Tradition with the Holy Spirit Completes Christianity
“because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. ” 1 Thessalonians 1:5 NRSV
The condemnation of the false teacher in your midst, the question of practice, or the encouragement to continue on has now been given to your church by means of letter from the Apostle. Great news! You wonder if you should keep the letter that the Apostle wrote you now that the struggle in the church is over. You, like a lot of others in the churches, decide to do so. Another good idea. Maybe since the Apostle is so busy and can’t write or visit often you decide it would be a great idea to share the writing you received with the other churches so that they may also be helped in the same way you were. Of course, you often discuss what the Apostle spoke to you verbally with those from other churches as you meet them in person. You both recall often how you are thankful what the Apostle has shown you. Just like Jesus’s works were so plentiful that they could not be recorded so the works of the Apostles. You also share what the Holy Spirit has done in the midst of your church.
Where in the Scriptures are the steps to start and run a church? Where is the doctrine of the Trinity or the hypostatic union so carefully written down for us? Did the church receive the doctrines and practices in writing or did they receive them in presence of the Apostles? I think it’s safe to say that Paul delivered the teachings by means of the Holy Spirit to people in person.
I have chosen to express my reasons for leaving sola scriptura in a story format. I think when one looks at early church history, they will not object too much to the way this story has been presented. My main reasons for leaving sola scriptura is that it is too narrow in its scope to be an accurate picture of Christianity. The Scriptures, although incredibly valuable in what they do provide, are not what the church was built upon and they are insufficient in themselves alone to testify to Christianity. Many people who are sola scriptura, as myself once was, deride tradition when in reality the New Testament is a part of what is Christian tradition. The whole of Christian tradition and the promised gift of the Holy Spirit in the church is what gives the most accurate picture of Christianity. Our Lord Jesus did not leave behind script to be a witness of His atoning work, or His Lordship, or His resurrection, although He Himself and these things were testified in the early Scriptures which He valued. He left behind a living, purchased vehicle for this and that is the Church.