9. Finding the truth by “studying it out.” The problem with finding Biblical truth by just “studying it out” is that thousands upon thousands of Christians who genuinely love Jesus and want to know His truth using the Bible alone and who study the original languages and generally study Scripture for countless hours…all come to different conclusions.
The second problem with this model is that it renders most Christians throughout history incapable of finding the truth of God (if, in fact, the only or best way to do this is through Scripture study). Why? Well, until the invention of the printing press, no regular Christian owned a Bible, and very few could read it anyway. Even today, many people lack the intellectual capacity to make subtle textual connections across books, solve difficult theological problems that arise from Scripture, learn the ancient languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic to be able to read the Bible in its original language (very little was written in Aramaic, but this is the language Jesus most often used when speaking, and some important words must be understood as being spoken in this language), and to study the ancient culture that was the primary audience for Scripture, so that they can read the Bible with the assumptions of author/audience in mind. So, if Jesus had intended us to learn the truth by “studying it out” he was thereby excluding the vast majority of Christians who ever lived throughout the centuries.
A third problem is that the idea of “studying it out” presumes that when you sit down with your Bible, you do so in a kind of vacuum apart from any and all influences that could sway your reading one way or another. The fact is, no one reads the Bible apart from the countless influences—the “lenses”—that effect our reading of Scripture. For instance, even though Mary as the New Testament Ark is plain as day to me as a Catholic from the Bible, most Protestants have never seen the Bible verses that support this because they do not realize they should look for them! Jesus tells us: “he who seeks, finds.” But the reverse is also true: if you do not seek, you will not find. That being said I GREATLY appreciate that you are a genuine seeker of Biblical truth in general. I really mean that, and I can tell you that I find your faith, and that of your pastor and churchgoers, quite inspiring. BUT, the point of the seeker comment also applies to specific doctrines. If one does not look for something specific in that vast ocean of Scripture, they will most likely not find it.
A fourth problem is that there are some doctrines and moral teachings that, up to a certain point, ALL Bible-only Protestants, including Baptists, found in the Bible. Take for instance the Bible’s prohibition on contraception. Did you know that all Christians and Christian pastors until 1930 taught that contraception was a grave sin before the Lord? They did so based on the Bible, and they did so in great unity. Not a single document can be found anywhere before 1930 where a Protestant minister went on record saying the contraception was an acceptable behavior for a Christian. But when the Anglican Church (at their Second Lambeth Conference) began allowing contraception in a few limited cases, a crack in the dam of solid Christian teaching formed. By today, every Christian denomination has caved in on this issue and has changed their moral teaching to say that contraception is acceptable before God. (That is just one example of a significant change in doctrinal/moral teachings by Baptists.) Now, if you were to ask a Protestant what the Bible says about contraception, most would probably answer “nothing,” not even realizing that it would have been inconceivable less than 100 years ago for a Christian to consider using contraception in good conscience. My friend, do moral teachings of God ever change? Is what is wrong in the first, second, third, fourth….fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries suddenly right when a sexual revolution tells Christians that sexual activity should be free (and without babies), and contraception is the necessary requirement to make it so?
Problems #5-8 with the doctrine of the Bible alone (the unspoken underpinning of the suggestion to "study it out") is that it is unscriptural, unhistorical, unthinkable, and unworkable.
(a) Sola Scriptura as unscriptural: No where does the Bible say that the Bible ALONE has final authority. The word “alone” is important. Most all Christians (including Catholics) agree the Bible is inspired and has authority. The difference is the word “alone”…and it is not found in Scripture. Thus, Sola Scriptura is self-refuting. Scripture also speaks of authoritative Traditions and an authoritative Church.
(b) Sola Scriptura is unhistorical: Sola Scriptura was not a doctrine that was believed by any Christians until Martin Luther used the doctrine to deny the other two sources of authority mentioned above. Within two decades of launching the Reformation, Luther wrote to Calvin lamenting the result of his new doctrine, saying that every Christian is using the Bible alone to come up with different and crazy new doctrines. Luther saw very quickly that when you rip the family book out of the family for which it was written and out of the family traditions that preserve its interpretive context, then you have a book whose meaning is quite literally up for grabs. And that is just what has happened outside of the Catholic Church, with the divisions into 30,000+ competing denominations.
(c) Sola Scriptura is unthinkable: As I mentioned above, no one approaches the Bible alone. We all carry interpretive baggage—our interpretive traditions—when we read Scripture. The question is: are those traditions the Sacred Tradition passed down from the apostles that preserve the entire body of apostolic teaching (including what books are truly apostolic and which are not!)…or are they traditions of men?
(d) Sola Scriptura is unworkable: As convert Scott Hahn has suggested, just imagine if the writers of the constitution simply mailed a copy to every citizen and said, “may the spirit of George Washington inspire you to interpret this doctrine correctly.” What would we have? Absolute chaos and anarchy. Likewise, when millions of Christians all read the Bible alone, we also get interpretive chaos and anarchy within the Church. In other words, lets say you are a Baptist and you want to have an abortion and your pastor tries to convince you otherwise, now you can just find another church that argues from the Bible (wrongly, I think, but we can’t assume insincerely) that abortion is okay. And if you can’t find that church, you can become a pastor and found your own church that teaches exactly what you believe the Bible to mean. Sola Scriptura has produced the ecclesial anarchy that we find today. Even within the Baptist movement, you find “free will Baptists,” “Independent Baptists,” “Fundamental Baptists,” “Evangelical Baptists,” “Southern Baptists,” and the list goes on. These groups share significant differences over the nature of sin, redemption, and the relationship between local congregations and the larger body of believers…all important areas of difference, if you ask me. And that is just within the Baptist faith alone.
Rather, the Bible teaches that we are to follow the Traditions whether they were passed on in written or oral form, and both of these streams of truth are protected by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago to act as a faithful mailman for the complete Word of God (not just the written portion of it). That Church has never changed one of her doctrinal or moral teachings…no matter what the sexual revolution says.
Now, in response, good Baptists would most likely say that they don’t need to follow a church, because the Holy Spirit leads them into truth.
A couple quick responses:
(a) When Jesus promises the Holy Spirit guiding the church into the truth in the Gospels, he is invariably talking to the apostles, on whom he has given the authority to preach in His name. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit doesn’t guide Christians, but when it comes to the unity of the Body, Jesus has ordained that certain men have authority to define doctrine, morals, and even liturgical practices so that the Body of Christ can remain unified throughout time and space. In other word, Jesus never promises to lead all Christians individually so that they don’t need the authority of the Church. Just think: why would Jesus spend so long talking about Church authority and never mention that for the vast majority of Christian history, there would be no such thing as an authoritative church?
(b) The other problem with this idea is simply the question: how do you know you are following the Holy Spirit and not any one of that array of influences: sermons (since you were a kid), radio programs, books, tapes, Jack Chick tracts, Bible footnotes, etc.?
And…if you are trying to convince me that your interpretation is right and mine wrong, how can I know that you are being led by the Holy Spirit, and not the Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Free-will Baptists, etc.?
At stake here is: how does the Head (Jesus) lead the Body? How has this been understood historically? How might Jesus have thought to lead his Body in a way such that every person on earth could know which Church really served as the “pillar and ground of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15)? If the Church is Jesus’s Church, then how does a new Christian today know which Church to listen to for the fullness of Christ Himself, who is the Truth?