Skip to comments.Sola Scriptura and the Proliferation of Protestant Denominations
Posted on 01/23/2008 12:25:36 PM PST by Gamecock
In a videotape titled "The Pope: The Holy Father," Catholic apologist Scott Hahn claims the proliferation of Protestant denominations proves the Reformers' principle of sola Scriptura is a huge mistake:
Do you suppose that Jesus would say, "Well, once I give the Church this infallible scripture, there really is no need anymore for infallible interpretations of scripture. The Church can hold together just with the infallible Bible." Oh, really? In just 500 years, there are literally thousands and thousands of denominations that are becoming ever more numerous continuously because they only go with the Bible. It points to the fact that we need an infallible interpretation of this infallible book, don't we[?]
A tract titled "Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth" (published by Catholic Answers) makes a similar charge:
The "Bible alone" theory simply does not work in practice. Historical experience disproves it. Each year we see additional splintering among "Bible-believing" religions. Today there are tens of thousands of competing denominations, each insisting its interpretation of the Bible is the correct one. The resulting divisions have caused untold confusion among millions of sincere but misled Christians. Just open up the Yellow Pages of your telephone book and see how many different denominations are listed, each claiming to go by the "Bible alone," but no two of them agreeing on exactly what the Bible means.
That is a favorite argument of Catholic apologists. They are convinced that the unity Christ prayed for in John 17:21 is an organizational solidarity that is incompatible with both denominationalism and independency. As far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, the only way true Christian unity will be fully and finally achieved is when "separated brethren"non-Catholic Christiansreunite with Rome under the authority of the Pope.
Keith Fournier, Catholic author and Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, sums up the typical Roman Catholic perspective:
Throughout Christian history, what was once intended to be an all-inclusive (catholic) body of disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ has been fractured over and over. These fractures threaten to sever us from our common historical and doctrinal roots. I do not believe that such divisions were ever part of the Lord's intention, no matter how sincere or important the issues that undergirded the breaking of unity. [Keith A. Fournier, A House United? (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994), 37.]
Fournier says he is "not advocating a false non-denominationalism or superficial irenicism that denies distinctives of doctrine or practice." [Ibid.] But he is suggesting that doctrinal differences, "no matter how . . . important," should not cause organizational divisions. Moreover, fewer than five pages earlier, he had berated those who "fight over theology." [Ibid., 25.] And (ironically) just a few pages before that, he had expressed outrage at John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and Jim McCarthy for saying they believe Roman Catholicism's rejection of justification by faith alone is "doctrinal error" [Ibid., 21-22.]
Notice carefully, then, what Fournier is saying: He claims he wants unity without "superficial irenicism," and yet he objects when anyone contends for sound doctrine or (worse still) labels Roman Catholic doctrine "error." It seems the "unity" Fournier envisions is merely the same kind of unity the Roman Catholic Church has sought for hundreds of years: a unity where all who profess to be Christians yield implicit obedience to Papal authority, and where even individual conscience is ultimately subject to the Roman Catholic Church.
Although Fournier politely declines to state who he believes is to blame for fracturing the organizational unity of Christianity, [Ibid., 29.] it is quite clear he would not be predisposed to blame a Church whose spiritual authority he regards as infallible. And since the Catholic Church herself officially regards Protestantism as ipso facto schismatic, Fournier's own position is not difficult to deduce. Although Fournier manages to sound sympathetic and amiable toward evangelicals, it is clear he believes that as long as they remain outside the Church of Rome, they are guilty of sins that thwart the unity Christ prayed for.
Of course, every cult and every denomination that claims to be the One True Church ultimately takes a similar approach to "unity." Jehovah's Witnesses believe they represent the only legitimate church and that all others who claim to be Christians are schismatics. They believe the unity of the visible church was shattered by the Nicene Council.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Orthodox Church claims the Church of Rome was being schismatic when Rome asserted papal supremacy. To this day, Orthodox Christians insist that Eastern Orthodoxy, not Roman Catholicism, is the Church Christ foundedand that would make Roman Catholicism schismatic in the same sense Rome accuses Protestants of being schismatic. One typical Orthodox Web site says, "The Orthodox Church is the Christian Church. The Orthodox Church is not a sect or a denomination. We are the family of Christian communities established by the Apostles and disciples Jesus sent out to proclaim the Good News to the world, and by their successors through the ages."
All these groups regard the church primarily as a visible, earthly organization. Therefore they cannot conceive of a true spiritual unity that might exist across denominational lines. They regard all other denominations as schismatic rifts in the church's organizational unity. And if organizational unity were what Christ was praying for, then the very existence of denominations would indeed be a sin and a shame. That's why the Orthodox Web site insists, "The Orthodox Church is not a sect or a denomination."
Furthermore, if their understanding of the principle of unity is correct, then whichever organization can legitimately claim to be the church founded by Christ and the apostles is the One True Church, and all others are guilty of schismregardless of any other doctrinal or biblical considerations.
That is precisely why many Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have focused their rhetoric on "unity." Both sincerely believe if they can establish the claim that they, and no one else, are the One True Church instituted by Christ, then all other Protestant complaints about doctrine, church polity, and ecclesiastical abuses become moot. If they can successfully sell their notion that the "unity" of John 17:21 is primarily an organizational unity, they should in effect be able to convince members of denominational and independent churches to reunite with the Mother Church regardless of whether she is right or wrong on other matters.
The plea for unity may at first may sound magnanimous and charitable to Protestant ears (especially coming from a Church with a long history of enforcing her will by Inquisition). But when the overture is being made by someone who claims to represent the One True Church, the call for "unity" turns out to be nothing but a kinder, gentler way of demanding submission to the Mother Church's doctrine and ecclesiastical authority.
Nonetheless, in recent years many gullible Protestants have been drawn into either Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy by the claim that one or the other represents the only church Christ founded. Having bought the notion that the unity Christ prayed for starts with organizational unity, these unsuspecting proselytes naturally conclude that whichever church has the most convincing pedigree must be the only church capable of achieving the unity Christ sought, and so they join up. Many recent converts from evangelicalism will testify that the proliferation and fragmentation of so many Protestant denominations is what first convinced them that Protestant principles must be wrong.
In a series of posts over the next couple of weeks, I want to examine the topics of like-mindedness, disagreement, and divisiveness; the culpability of popes, feuding bishops, and differing denominations when it comes to causing schism; and the kind of unity Christ prayed for.
“Do you suppose that Jesus would say, “Well, once I give the Church this infallible scripture, there really is no need anymore for infallible interpretations of scripture.”
Well, if you believe that a mortal man is capable of interpreting it for many, then yes, that is what you believe.
Sola Scriptura is based on the living presence of Christ in every person. That’s the part that was left out of this apologists argument.
1. Scott Hahn is correct.
(He spent the majority of his young christian life trying to disprove the very church he now clings to, and correctly, i might add)
2. The Orthodox churches throughout the early days of the church CONSTANTLY REFERRED TO THE POPE to settle issues and abided by them, even if the deny that today.
And... who gives the infallible interpretation of the Pope’s infallible interpretation?
Sola Scriptura is based on the living presence of Christ in every person. Thats the part that was left out of this apologists argument.
ME: so how do five hundred and counting, denominations by fallible men, show an sort of ‘living presence of Christ’ if they cant agree on the essentials of the faith?
Yet you criticize, unjustly, the Pope, who was ordained by Christ himself through Peter to be INFALLIBLE in church teaching (and only in certain situations)guided by the Holy Spirit, down to today.
The pope, when speaking ex cathedra is guided by the Holy spirit, he doesnt need to have that interpreted, unless you doubt the Holy Spirit.
A thread which will re-fight the battles of the 16th century. I’ve got a sock drawer to organize.
Truly Evangelical denominations do not differ in substance, but only in form.
They have the liberty in Christ to do this.
Oh, they may quibble a lot, but they all share these.
1. The born-again experience
2. Baptism of believers
3. The Lord’s table
4. The fellowship of the saints
5. The propagation of the gospel
I know more than a few Catholics that I would consider brethren in Christ, to the horror of some of my Baptist and Anabaptist friends.
And I fear there are more than a few Baptists and Anabaptists who have not really been born-again.
We know one another by the love we have for one another and the love we have for Jesus.
Read Ephesians 4 and put your denominational pride away.
“But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.”
Christ never ordained Peter to be infallible. That was a misintrepretation. The reason for Christ’s coming was that having appointed Men lead the faithful had failed throughout the entire OT. Christ the Messiah is the Rock.
“Through Christ all things are possible.” <— Many Christians believe this.
“From Christ, through the Pope, all things are possible.” <— Catholic version.
Do you think it’s possible for a person, working with Christ, to accurately interpret the Word? Obviously you do, and so does the Catechism.
Where does it say that the Holy Spirit only resides in one man?
That's what Scripture teaches. Thats the part that was left out of this
apologists Catholic's argument.
2 Corinthians 1:22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!
Ephesians 3:17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faiththat you, being rooted and grounded in love,
John 14:17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?
Ephesians 3:17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faiththat you, being rooted and grounded in love,
2 Timothy 1:14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
It goes on and on, but I suspect that tradition teaches otherwise.
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Tradition has value, but has proven to run afoul of the Word. Why some folks place tradition above Word, I’ll never know.
There is no truth that isn’t fully reconciled to the Word.
Oh, that’s so funny.
So the Pope is capable of speaking in an infallibly perspiquous way...
Christ said he is the true vine and that I am a branch on that vine. If I am joined this way with Christ with his Spirit directly nourishing me with God’s truth, why would I need a guy in a funny hat to interpet scripture for me?
“So the Pope is capable of speaking in an infallibly perspicuous way...”
My wife does, so I don’t see why the Pope can’t. In fact, it’s kind of like maternal succession; infallibility passes from mother to wife which causes her to become a mother and passes it on to another wife etc.