Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A response to the Called to Confusion's criticism of Sola Scriptura

One criticism leveled at Protestants by the new Roman apoologists is that there is no essential difference between Solo Scriptura (Scripture Only) and Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). This allegedly one of the reasons behind Stellman's apostasy, and likely behind Joshua Lim's and countless others' too. The sad thing is that the whole argument is rationalistic to the core and flawed throughout. As such, it shouldn't be given any credence by those who claim to believe in the power and presence of God and the Holy Spirit.

The neo-Romanist argument (Part 1)

According to these neo-Roman apologists, the difference between Solo Scriptura and Sola Scriptura is that in the former, the individual is directly "acting as his own ultimate and magisterial authority." In the latter, the individual does so indirectly, by submitting "to others only when one agrees with them."

As opposed to these, the Romanist claimed that he submits to an "objective" church which is marked by apostolic succession. Such a definition of the church is supposedly "objective" without the subjective looking for the "marks of a true church" which Protestants use. The argument presented to prove his case is as follows:

1. According to solo scriptura, Scripture is the only ecclesial authority. [def]

2. If solo scriptura is true, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [1]

3. According to sola scriptura, Scripture is the only infallible ecclesial authority. [def]

4. If sola scriptura entails that each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential, then in this respect there is no principled difference between solo scriptura and sola scriptura.

5. If apostolic succession is false, then no one’s determination of the marks of the Church is any more authoritative than anyone else’s.

6. If no one’s determination of the marks of the Church is any more authoritative than anyone else’s, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential.

7. If apostolic succession is false, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [(5),(6)]

8. The doctrine of apostolic succession is false. [A]

9. If sola scriptura is true, then each individual is his own final interpretive authority concerning what he considers to be essential. [(7),(8)]

10. There is no principled difference between sola scriptura and solo scriptura. [(4),(9)]

First response

Before we go on further, what are we to make of this argument? First, we note that God and the Holy Spirit is noticeably absent throughout the entire argument. The whole argument is naturalistic to the core.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

To the new Roman apologists, the decision of choosing a true church and the true Gospel is an autonomous decision. Since it is an autonomous decision, final authority ultimately rests upon the individual. But Protestantism has never claimed that the decision of choosing a true church and the truth Gospel is an autonomous decision. Rather, it is something that is done by the Holy Spirit working within a person. It is not a choice so much as an acknowledgment of what is already there.

We believe that the true church and the true Gospel is extra nos. We do not get to choose it. It is objective and spiritual, and thus spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). The person of the Holy Spirit works within an individual's heart to recognize (not create) the true church and the true Gospel.

Thus, in the Romanist constructed syllogism, premise 4 is wrong. Sola Scriptura does not entail that each individual is his own final interpretive authority. The Holy Spirit is the only final interpretive authority. Yes, on the surface it seems that one person (e.g. Martin Luther) is the final interpretive authority. But that only shows that the Romanists are materialists in this regard. Just because the Spirit's work is invisible does not mean that it is not real. That the blind do not see does not make what those with eyes see wrong.

In the same light, premise 7 is wrong. In fact, it so blatantly contradicts Scripture in Jn. 16:13 that it is not funny. The whole argument for apostolic succession is circular to the extreme. Where in Scripture after all is the notion of apostolic succession taught? A dubious interpretation of Mt. 16:18 does not count!

This brings us to our counter-charge. It is the Romanists who are actually indirectly making themselves the final authority. The only difference is that their leap of faith is supposedly a final leap. Thus, as opposed to those who practice Solo Scriptura, the decision to make Rome the final authority is supposed to stop after they have made the plunge into the Tiber.

The Romanists claim that they submit to the church which objectively has apostolic succession. The problem is that the very notion of a physical apostolic succession is disputed outside Roman (and Eastern Orthodox and Anglican) circles. Therefore, one will only think that apostolic succession is objective only if one is in either of these three groups. Aside from that, upon what basis should anyone accept that apostolic succession actually exists and is unbroken (think of the problems posed by the Avignon Papacy)?

True, Romanism does not practice an individual choosing the church "acting as his own ultimate and magisterial authority," directly. However, it does involve an individual choosing to accept the claims of apostolic succession through "acting as his own ultimate and magisterial authority." In other words, the choice to think that there is such a thing as physical apostolic succession is a leap of faith to make, not an objective fact that can be proven.

Solo Scriptura and Romanism therefore are actually two sides of the same coin of rationalism. Both sides (the Anabaptist and the Romanist) refuse to deal with the person and power of the Holy Spirit. The Pietist decides based upon "a burning in the bosom," while the Romanist decides based upon alleged "apostolic succession." The biblical Christian however decides base upon the Spirit working through the Word. To use R. Scott Clark's categories, the Pietist errs with QIRE (Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience) while the Romanist errs with QIRC (Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty).

The neo-Romanist argument (Part 2)

The Romanists continue by claiming that Sola Scriptura is contradictory. Citing Matthison, they see a contradiction in saying that "all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture" (contra Solo Scriptura) and "Scripture is the final authority." It is then claimed:

But, if all appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture, then it follows necessarily that either someone’s interpretation of Scripture is the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice, or Scripture itself cannot be the final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice.

Second response

The problem with this argument is that it flattens the issues and thus present a false dichotomy. All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretation in the sense that there is no such thing as an uninterpreted naked text of Scripture. This is mere recognition that there is no such thing as a naked fact or naked text. But this is not to suggest that since there are no uninterpreted texts means that all interpretations of texts are equally valid, which is the postmodern position. Rather, by stating that Scripture is the final authority, we are saying as a synedeche that the Holy Spirit who breathed out the Scriptures is the final authority, and the Holy Spirit works through Scripture (Rom. 10:17, 2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Romanists think that putting forth this dichotomy would mean that one should chose for the insufficiency of Scripture. But the same argument can be used against Rome. Look at Rome's decrees and how many different ways they have been interpreted. Does Vatican II implies that people may be saved by earnestly seeking God without professing Christ? Do the many interpretations of Rome's decrees mean that Rome is not the "final and authoritative norm of doctrine and practice"? Let's say Rome issued a decree to clarify what she meant, the process is then repeated over and over again.

In the Roman church, it is ironic that one gets to say that other fellow Romanists (espeically liberal RC clergy) are wrong. Why should one think that one's interpretation of Vatican II on salvation of those who haven't heard of Christ is to be preferred over the interpretation of liberal RC bishops? The dichotomy applies even more to Romanists, since it cannot be denied that there are many interpretations of Rome's decrees.

Final remarks

In reply to the tu quoque objection on the nature of authority, the Romanist claims that the difference between Romanism and Protestantism with regards to authority is that Protestants do not find a Magisterium and thus they retain ultimate final authority. That is a truly astonishing claim, because it is false. Reformed Protestants do have a "Magisterium" to bind the conscience. This "Magisterium" is the Holy Spirit. Protestants are not free to believe whatever they want to, which is the problem with Solo Scriptura adherents. And this is what makes Rome such an abomination — the Roman Magisterium usurps the office of the Holy Spirit in binding the consciences of Man.

The next objection of an infinite regress in interpretive authority states that one needs an interpretive authority to interpret another interpretative authority and on it goes. The reply by the Romanists is that such is true for a book but not for a person, since one can put a person in the dock but not a book. First, this does not work as an argument against Sola Scriptura, since the Holy Spirit is a person! Second, this still works against Rome because the Magisterium is made up of fallible human beings, whereas the Holy Spirit is infallible. Putting together a bunch of fallible human beings does not an infallible institution make. The way to solve a leaking bucket is not to put 10 leaking buckets together one inside another and then think that the composite bucket does not leak!

In conclusion, the new Romanist apologetic has been tried and found wanting. It is utterly rationalistic and materialist, making Rome a usurper of the person of the Holy Spirit in binding the conscience with her "infallible" interpretation, instead of the Holy Spirit's infallible interpretation.

I would rather choose the Holy Spirit as my "Magisterium." At least He is infallible always, sinless, loving, and true. These cannot be said of any human magisterium no matter how learned they may be.


Charlie J. Ray said...

Roman Catholics are not consistent. IF Scripture needs an infallible interpretation SO does ANYTHING the Roman Catholic Church says or writes. The individual cannot understand anything at all since ultimately the individual must use reason to understand ANY revelation, including an alleged revelation from the synagogue of satan and its antichristian pope.


PuritanReformed said...


true. They've tried to reply to that though

Linda said...

My goodness Puritan you are sucha deep thinker.. This is a great articulate writing you've written..Sometimes I hesitate to comment on your blog because I'm just a little peon...

All I can say is truth in the HEART supersedes truth out in the world and our thinking.. OUr hearts have to be changed FIRST by God and he has to give us the Gift of the Holy Spirit who comes and lives in us. "As a man thinkith in his heart so is he" and so if the heart is not changed by God first, man's bias bent will always be against solely abdicating and surrendering to God's WORD. It cannot do so because the natural man hates God's word.

For the Catholic they always worm their way around the truth to support their traditions of Men. How can any belief system that is based upon the thoughts of imperfect sinful men and women who consider themselves smarter than God, be capable of making themselves better?? There's only ONE who is perfect and sinless and that is Jesus and "every word of GOD is FLAWLESS"-Psa 18:30.

"To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted."-Titus 1:15

Sadly they would rather trust in man and his flawed writings and flawed thinking.. Jesus said "Let NO MAN deceive you for many will come in my name and deceive many". They are trying to rationalize everything which is what the mind of sinful imperfect men do-.It is ONLY by the Holy Spirit In us that we are no longer controlled by the sinful nature and we know that cannot happen until a person is born again...

Rom 8:6 The mind of sinful man [fn] is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;

Rom 8:7 the sinful mind [fn] is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.

Rom 8:8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

Rom 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

PuritanReformed said...


thanks for the compliment.

Roman Catholics destroy the authority of the Scripture so that people are supposingly left with the authority of "Mother Church." That has been their modus operandi since the Reformation.

Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Daniel,

Do me a favour ... don't let up! Continue to speak up against the "conversions", defend the Protestant Reformation and counter the caricatures, distortions, etc. ... I think it's safe to say that we can expect more "conversions" from the (confessional) Presbyterian and Reformed churches (especially the PCA) in the years to come (although I speak as both an Anglican and Lutheran) ...

PuritanReformed said...


sadly, more "conversions" are likely, given the general confessional crisis in the PCA

Troy Smalley said...

By what authority is this argument presented in defense of his theological system?

If the authority of Rome is required for it to be binding on the conscience of Christ's people, then it is insufficient for those who do not submit to the authority of Rome.

Suppose though, that the magisterium of Rome need not be one's guide in regards to theological thought and belief. How is one who is not yet a Romanist, to determine the marks of the true church? Suppose that apostolic succession is true. How is one to come to know that apostolic succession is true? An appeal to Rome leads to an infinite regress. An appeal to anything apart from Rome, is hardly helpful in establishing the necessity of Rome as a guide. Even the Romanist must admit that he used autonomous fallible reason at one point, and so the position of sola ecclesia is susceptible to the same argument.

I fail to see how anyone could present such an argument as discussed, in public.

PuritanReformed said...