The fifth argument against sola Scriptura:

Without the infallible authority of the Church, the Church would be hopelessly divided on matters of doctrine and morals. This would not be the Church that Christ started.

The idea here is that when doctrine is left to the “private interpretation” of the individual, this leads to doctrinal anarchy. Catholics and Orthodox alike often appeal to the thousands of Protestant denominations as a witness against the doctrine sola Scriptura.

Answer:

There are a few problems that I see with this argument. I will deal with the first to in brief and spend more time on the last one in the post that follows.

Problem 1: We don’t advocate “private interpretation”

This argument often assumes that sola Scriptura promotes an unbridled “private interpretation” that gives no authority to tradition. This is not the confession of sola Scriptura, but of nuda Scriptura, which I have spoken about previously. Advocates of sola Scriptura do not believe in this sort of private interpretation. We must interpret the Scriptures along with those who have gone before us, even if we might have warrant to question or disagree with their theology from time to time. Those who read the Scripture, as Alexander Campbell once advocated, “As if no one has read them before” are not following in the tradition of the Reformed view of sola Scriptura. Those must be judged on their own merit without association to the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Problem 2: Everyone has divisions.

Protestants disagree about what the Scriptures say, Catholics disagree about what the Church says, and (as the saying goes) the Orthodox don’t say enough to disagree! Simply because one is put under a more definite designative umbrella does not make true unity. I, for example, have witnessed just as many disagreements among Catholics about what the Church means by “outside the Church there is no salvation” as I have among Protestants about any issue. All one has to do is to go spend some time on the Catholic Answers forum and see that they don’t function with much more unity than a Protestant forum. There would seem to be just as many disagreements, differing interpretations, and needless anathmatizing among Catholics as among Protestaants. The point is that simply because one functions under a unified name or confession does not mean that you have a unified belief.

It is agreed, however, that Protestants tend to have more divisions, but I would not say that this is the case with Evangelicals to the same degree as other Protestant traditions.

See this article for more on the overstatement of Protestant divisions.

Problem 3: Division is not always a bad thing

I will save this for a post tomorrow as it will take a little time.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    3 replies to "In Defense of Sola Scriptura – Part Eight – What about all the divisions?"

    • Pete again

      “the Orthodox don’t say enough to disagree!”

      Michael, I will be glad to send you information on Orthodox theology if you are having a hard time finding some.

      Orthodoxy is “backward compatible”: a good Orthodox today would be a good Orthodox 1,000 years ago (thank you Fr. Damick). The same could not be said for Roman Catholics; and Protestants didn’t even exist.

      There is a difference between administrative divisions and theological divisions. When I talk about Orthodox unity, I am speaking of theological unity.

      Glory to God for all things

    • Valet

      “the Orthodox don’t say enough to disagree!”

      I suppose this saying, which I have never heard before, must come from the Orthodox emphasis on practicing stillness.

      Well anyway, maybe the saying needs to change, since those Orthodox Christians seem to say quite a lot, as they have an entire internet radio station dedicated to speaking.

      http://ancientfaith.com/

    • Simon

      “a good Orthodox today would be a good Orthodox 1,000 years ago (thank you Fr. Damick). The same could not be said for Roman Catholics; and Protestants didn’t even exist.”

      While none of these labels (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant) were known to the Apostles, it doesn’t necessarily mean all of them must be wrong, theologically speaking. Each label simply describes Christians who have particular theological beliefs. The question is always, under which label do we find Christians with beliefs most in line with what the Apostles taught. None can be ruled out simply because the label is not as old as another, or because their distinctive beliefs were not used to mark them out, as early as another.

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