On Sola Scriptura And Such

A believer wrote:

The New Testament of the Bible is not an all encompassing history of everything that happened in the 1st Century - it even tells us that. I have found great joy in using the Bible as God's instruction booklet for life - and life everlasting at that.

That is as clear an explanation of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura as any I have read. It has been my experience that those who would hold high the yellow and white banner of Catholicism appear not to understand this foundational doctrine of biblical Christianity. For the observant Catholic the Word of God, an amalgam of Scripture and Catholic Tradition (with a capital T), is the foundation upon which one's faith and religious life is built. Though the Word of God guides or governs every facet of a Catholic's daily life, he is not to seek its message on his own. Mother Church does not consider her tens of millions of children-in-bondage to be capable of comprehending the treasures contained within the Word of God. That is a task entrusted only to her Magisterium, or Teaching Authority

100. The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.--Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2nd Ed., © 1994/1997, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

When one considers that the Tradition component of Catholicism's Word of God is drawn from an uncountable number of potential sources, it makes sense that the Catholic hierarchy reserves its interpretation to herself. Think about it. How many writings pertaining to Tradition are buried within the 25 miles of shelved documents that make up the Vatican Archives? (Maria Luisa Ambrosini, The Secret Archives of the Vatican, © 1969, Barnes & Noble, dust jacket notes). One Catholic priest, Jacques-Paul Migne, collected commentaries and other theological writings into collections totaling hundreds of volumes. It must also be noted that Tradition is continually being modified as the meaning of Revelation is refined by the Magisterium. Could any man attain to full and current knowledge of what is included in Tradition? I think not. Yet the Catholic Church would have us believe that her Magisterium, a body composed of the Pope and nearly half a million bishops, priests and religious brothers living and working in a multitude of places around the world, do just that.. Add to that number more than 800,000 nuns and perhaps another half-million in religious orders and you have a lot of potential sources of Tradition. (Source: Wikiipedia) Add to this mind-boggling number all those who were potential sources of Tradition back through the centuries. The Romish variant of Tradition is like a mold; always growing.

How convenient for the Catholic faithful that they can look to the Magisterium to keep them informed as to what God really meant when He inspired writers to set down His message in the Scriptures.

How many times have I read that the Catholic Church forbade, or forbids, Catholics from reading the Scriptures? I have encountered no compelling evidence to indicate that this ever was true, though I acknowledge that there may have been times and places where this proscription was in effect. Be that as it may, any informed Catholic should be able to point to documented proof that Mother Church actually encourages her brood to read in the Scriptures.

2653. The Church 'forcefully and specially exhorts all the Christian faithful . . . to learn 'the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ' (Phil 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures.... Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For 'we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles.''[DV 25; cf. Phil 3:8 ; St. Ambrose, De officiis ministrorum 1, 20,88: PL 16, 50.]--CCC, Op. cit.

There you have it. The Church not only does not forbid her flock from reading the Scriptures; she actually "forcefully and specially exhorts" them to do so. Who says that Catholics are denied access to God's written revelation? Not I. It should be noted, however, that reading the Scripture and engaging in a dialogue with God, in the Catholic fashion, is not the same as studying the Written Word. Notice how the Catholic dialogue works: Man prays to God, which is good, and he listens to God by reading the Scriptures, which may or may not be a good thing.

Heartfelt prayer is one of the ways by which we communicate with God, and it is biblical to talk with God in this way. Paul exhorted the church at Thessalonika to "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Should we do otherwise?

It is with the ways that Catholics "listen to him when we read the divine oracles" that they run into trouble. When a Bible-believing Christian studies the Scriptures, he attempts to understand them in the way they were understood by those to whom the messages were originally delivered. If he is to do this well, he must call upon a consistent historical/grammatical/literal hermeneutic method. When he approaches the Scriptures prayerfully, and using a sound hermeneutic and with appropriate preparation, the Christian student is thoroughly equipped to mine the riches of God's Written Revelation. With the indwelling Holy Spirit illuminating the Scriptures for him, the full teaching of the Bible is available.

It is when professing Christians approach the Bible as they would a common reference book, seeking a proof text in order to make a point or assigning a 21st century understanding to a passage written thousands of years ago that confusion over God's message occurs. Without the illumination of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the full meaning of the Scriptures is not revealed.

For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.--1 Corinthians 2:11-16

Just as the fullness of meaning of God's Written Revelation to man cannot be known to the professing Christian who, in truth, has not the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to illuminate his studies, so also are these things denied to those of the Catholic faithful who claim the title of Christianity but do not merit it. Though the Catholic may not truly be sealed unto redemption by the Holy Spirit, he has no reason to fret. After all, the infallible Magisterium does claim to be protected from teaching error in matters of faith and morality by the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

81. 'Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.'[DV 9.]

'And (Holy) Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.'[DV 9.]--CCC, Op. cit.

In my experience, there is no shortage of apologists willing to argue that Catholic faithful are free to study the Scriptures and, in fact, are encouraged to do so. They are correct—in so far as they go. However, it should be noted that any Catholic who has the temerity to discover something in the Scriptures contrary to the understanding held by the Magisterium or, not surprisingly, the Church Fathers will have run afoul of will of Mother Church.

…in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,--in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, --wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,--whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,--hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never (intended) to be at any time published. Contraveners shall be made known by their Ordinaries, and be punished with the penalties by law established.--The Council of Trent, 4th Session, Decree Concerning the Edition, and the Use, of the Sacred Books (Denzinger 786)

And so it would appear that, for the Catholic, the Scriptures are but one component of the Word of God, to be interpreted only by the Magisterium, and co-equal in authority with Tradition and the instruction of the Magisterium. With all this authority and guidance on tap, one wonders why so few Catholics appear to have a valid working knowledge of the doctrines of the faith they claim. As a rule, observant Catholics seem to know what their religion requires them to do , but rarely appear able to explain why they are to do it, other than to point to one or another Magisterial declaration.

I suppose that the automaton-like obedience, at least in public, to the demands of the Catholic Church as guided by her Magisterium conditions the way Catholic faithful understand the Bible-believing Christian's relationship to the Bible. How many times have the thousands and thousands of 'Protestant' denominations been thrown in my face by defenders of the Romish Church? Such reminders of the perceived chaos that reigns in 'Protestant' denominations usually are followed by assertions that we lack a Spirit-guided Teaching Authority to tell us what the Word of God teaches.

Born-again believers are able to turn to a more reliable fountain of information concerning the will of God and His revelation to man. We can, and should, directly seek the illumination of the Holy Spirit in our efforts to learn the things of God. Better yet, as His children by adoption, we have the ability to approach Him directly with our prayers, petitions and questions. No need to filter questions and answers through a powerful church hierarchy, each member of which could cloud the communications with a personal agenda. Sure, we have pastors and teachers to help us grow in knowledge and understanding, but our chief source for information about God is God Himself, mostly in His Scriptures. Should our understanding be flawed, we can know with assurance that our Source was not responsible. If there is error, we made it. Not some one or more of the tens of thousands of sources such as are used by the Catholic Magisterium in proclaiming doctrine. If there is error, we can count on the indwelling Holy Spirit to make that fact known to us. Whether we heed the still, small voice within us is another matter.

For the Bible-believing Christian, the Bible provides a standard against which doctrine must be measured. We do not believe that the Scriptures contain a complete revelation of God, nor even a thorough historical record of the people and events mentioned, much less those that are not mentioned. Who needs to know every miniscule part of every day of each person who lived, from Adam to the present? Who needs to know every picayune detail of the life and activities of Jesus of Nazareth? Would we be enlightened by knowing how many times, as a baby, He soiled what passed as diapers?

I know of no born-again believer who would claim that the Scriptures contain everything there is to know.

To summarize, Sola Scriptura is not a

1. claim that the Bible contains all knowledge;
2. claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalog of all religious knowledge;
3. denial of the Church's authority to teach God's truth;
4. denial that God's Word has, at times, been spoken;
5. rejection of every kind or use of tradition;
6. denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the Church
--James White, The Roman Catholic Controversy, Bethany House Publishers, © 1996 James White, p. 59

What the Scriptures do contain is everything we need to know for salvation. Sure, there's plenty of anecdotal information in the Book, but this is background. The really important stuff—every bit that is necessary to know for salvation—can be found in the Written Word. Bible-believing Christians understand the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in these ways:

1. Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith;
2. No other revelation is needed for the Church;
3. There is no other infallible rule of faith outside of Scripture;
4. Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation;
5. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture.
--James White, Op. cit., p. 62

Surely the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is simple enough that a child should be able to understand. Yet to the Catholic Church, which claims to have received authority, guidance and power directly from the Godhead, this simple doctrine appears to represent a great threat to her dreams of hegemony over all the world's religions. Why is that so? I believe the Catholic hierarchy fears the Scriptures, which would explain why it goes to great lengths to diminish their importance and accessibility to the Catholic masses. After all, were the Catholic faithful to freely and seriously study God's Written Revelation, would they not soon begin to question the authenticity of the doctrines and practices of Mother Church? And Rome's power over them soon would fade.

What is the born-again believer's relationship with the Bible? It is, as the believer wrote, "God's instruction booklet for life - and life everlasting at that."

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