I caught a snippet of a sermon given by a Protestant speaker named Charles Price on TV today. He was talking about the Crucial Christian Conviction about Scripture, second of a four part series.
As a man who left Evangelical Protestantism for the embrace of the Roman Catholic Church based on the convictions I gained from Scripture, I was immediately intrigued. "Perhaps," I thought, "he can shed some more light on the Protestant understanding of Sola Scriptura." This, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the belief that the Bible alone is our supreme authority when it comes to authentic teaching on faith and morals.
When I was on my way to becoming Catholic, I remember pleading with my friends, family, and pastors to show me the error of my interpretation of the Scriptures which had aroused in me the conviction that I should convert. But try as I did to beg them for this aid, they would not give it to me. I realized only after that this is because they could not. It doesn't exist to be given. Once I was shown the light and the truth, nobody could purge the impact of that moment from my mind.
But today, on the off-chance that there was some theological nuance which all my Protestant contacts had missed, I listened attentively to what Pastor Price had to say.
To my disappointment (for his sake and not for mine) he had nothing new to add. He did surprise me by giving an honest summary of the historical church and what the Reformation's divisions did to the structure of authority in the universal church. He also gave a very accurate rendering of the Catholic understanding of Scripture's place alongside the living Tradition of the Church and the Magisterium in conveying to us the messages God has for us.
But when he got to the crucial point of why Sola Scriptura is the superior understanding, he simply indicated that any clear reading of Scripture, accurately interpreted via Scripture itself, provides the sole source of matters of faith and morals, and it is sufficient. He added that if it's not in Scripture, we don't need to know it.
That of course, is based on Matthew 7:23... or wait, no, that's not it... Galatians 5:12... no, that's not it either... Proverbs 22:9... hmm, I can't seem to find that concept elucidated in Scripture anywhere. It must be there somewhere... mustn't it? Or is the extra-scriptural statement that Scripture alone has supreme authority supremely authoritative in and of itself? Go ahead, read that one again.
Then he made what I refer to as leapfrog logic - he took one unproven premise and used it to vault into another premise even more unfounded. Apparently the phrase "the word of the Lord" is used 330 times in his Bible. [I'm not sure what the count is if you count the rest of the books, but that's a moot point.] So therefore the word of the Lord is something which we should hold in high esteem. Sounds good so far.
But he jumps right over the point of how to define "the word of the Lord." Is the word only that which is written? The last time I checked, I continue to use words in spoken communication. But according to the introduction to John's Gospel, the Word is best defined as Jesus Christ himself. The very will and mind of God, spoken through the Breath of the Spirit, becomes the Word made flesh. To have one's brain auto-correct the phrase "the word of the Lord" to "only what's written in the Bible" is a massive logical and theological error. God didn't create the world through writing, "Let there be light." He spoke it, and it became so.
But if we interpret this Word as a set of written instructions, guidelines, or core beliefs about the faith and its structure - which is the mistake that Protestants make - then we are in direct contradiction to the command of the apostle Paul. He wrote in II Thessalonians 2:15, "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter." (NIV) Were these spoken teachings ignored or forgotten, in direct contradiction of the apostle's instruction? Further on (II Thess. 3:6): "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us."
Whatever this teaching was, it's clear that it wasn't all written down. Much of it had been delivered orally in a previous visit from Paul to the Thessalonians. And since we don't have a book in the Bible entitled The Thessalonians' Letter to All Other Christians, Based on What That Paul Guy Told Us A While Back And We Figured You Should Probably Know Too, we can presume only one of two things: Either the teaching was lost at some point in history, or it was preserved and has survived in the other sources of our faith's authority, parallel to Scripture.
For anyone who genuinely seeks the Truth, such holes in reasoning are clear signs of selective theology. When we can interpret Scripture by our own means, well-formed methodologies or not, we face a massive temptation to disregard the things we don't like, like that pesky John 6:53-55, which has a curious lack of footnotes in the Evanglical Protestant's NIV but not in the Catholic's NAB.
Once we ignore certain truths long enough, we start to feel comfortable only in the company of those who choose to ignore the same truths. And those groups don't like to have leadership which makes them aware of these holes in their belief; instead they tolerate only leadership which allows them to continue in their self-imposed ignorance.
That theme was in another Bible passage upon which Pastor Price expounded in the same sermon: II Tim 4:3. Now that's irony.