Sola Scripura: A Stony Path by by Marcus C. Grodi
Sola Scripura: A Stony Path
by Marcus C. Grodi
Before you object to what has been said in the preceding articles, I would encourage you to consider carefully the implications of the following passage from Deuteronomy:
"Everything that I command you you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to it or take from it. If a prophet arises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder which he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him, and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and cleave to him. BUT THAT PROPHET OR THAT DREAMER OF DREAMS SHALL BE PUT TO DEATH, BECAUSE HE HAS TAUGHT REBELLION AGAINST THE LORD YOUR GOD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. SO YOU SHALL PURGE THE EVIL FROM THE MIDST OF YOU."
As you contemplate the above passage, remember that when Jesus confounded the devil during his forty-days in the desert, he relied upon the authority and truth of this book (Deut 8.3; 6.16; and 6.13). And when he summarized the Law into the Greatest Commandment he again confirmed the authority of this and other books of Moses (Deut. 6.5 and Lev. 19.18). Also, remember that it is upon the fact that Jesus quoted from these books that most Protestant scholars, preachers and teachers begin building the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
Now considering this passage, how would you, or should you, interpret and apply this passage if you were the pastor of an independent Christian Bible Church, responsible to no one but Jesus through the Holy Spirit? What are you to do with those prophets and dreamers in your midst who claim private messages from God who then attempt to pull people from your congregation in directions different from where you believe God is calling you? Let’s say you have chosen to teach your people the Trinitarian and Christological formulas of the third and fourth century Ecumenical Councils, while these new leaders—confirmed by signs and wonders—are teaching that God is found only in Jesus or in the Holy Spirit. What should you do with these teachers of rebellion?
Now I suppose having them stoned seems a bit violent in our modern civilized (?) society, but this was the prescribed punishment of choice, described in Scripture: "You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God…And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and never again do any such wickedness as this among you." (Deut. 13.10-11)
You can tell by the wording of this passage that there were still a few of the leaders flinging sheep* for this punishment, but more importantly you can see that there is great benefit to the future stability of your congregation if you heed these instructions from God’s Word.
Now you might say that as the New Testament Church you are not held by these Old Testament Jewish regulations. However, as emphatically as the apostle Paul may have exhorted his followers to cease being slaves to the Law, when push came to shove he confessed his unswerving loyalty to it: "But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets" (Acts 24.14).
What will you tell your elders and congregation they should do with the schismatics in your midst? And what about those of your congregation who follow them, for the Scriptures command that you stone them as well (Deut. 13.6-11)? And how will you handle any fights that may break out amongst your warring flock? The Scriptures are very strict about what must be done (you MUST read Deut. 25.11-12!!).
Now I’m not bringing these regulations to your attention because I think we should rethink how we deal with schismatics or family squabbles. Rather I’m pointing out how dangerous the doctrine of Sola Scriptura can be and has been ever since it was first coined by the fifteenth and sixteenth century Reformers. When the wisdom and guidance of Sacred Tradition and the Church Magisterium were thrown to the wind, Christendom fell victim to "every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4.14). In fact it was in this context that Paul begged the Ephesian believers to "maintain the unity of the Spirit…", recognizing that Christ had gifted His Body with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to enable the Church to "attain to the unity of The Faith" (Eph. 4.1-16).
Now granted some of the men and women who have held these positions of Church leadership throughout Her history have done much to sever this unity. Some have made unity so downright uncomfortable that one could nearly justify breaking free to be all that Paul exhorted a Church to be. But then on what side of Deuteronomy 13 would one fall? And once you’ve successfully dodged all the stones, when might you need to start throwing stones of your own?
I’ve become recently more sensitized to these dangers of Sola Scriptura because I’ve been using the Coming Home Network’s new Read The Bible and Catechism In a Year brochure. For the first time since seminary 15-years ago I’m attempting to read the Bible straight through from cover-to-cover. In doing so my eyes are becoming newly opened to the vast number of scripture passages that can pose grave difficulties for modern interpreters. As I ruminate on my years as a Protestant pastor, I’m now much more aware of how I unconsciously categorized Bible passages into those that were easily interpreted and preached (such as John 3.16, Romans 8.28, or Galatians 2.20) from those that needed quick explanations (such as those referenced above, as well as Matthew 16.16-19, John 6.51ff, Hebrews 6.4-6, and James 2.24). I have come to realize that we Protestant clergy had an unspoken way of dealing with difficult, uncomfortable verses like the later list. We’d essentially let them sit until we heard or read someone we highly respected give a plausible, believable, repeatable answer—that also passed the litmus tests of our other accepted dogma. This we then memorized and added to our list of quick knee-jerk responses.
I strongly encourage all of you, Catholic or Protestant, to do the same--read carefully through the entire Bible, even those passages that are a bit tedious. As you do so, be sure to note the many, many verses that are not so easy to explain at first glance. When you do—if you do—I strongly encourage you to recognize with great thanksgiving how gracious and loving Christ our Savior was when He gave us the Church guided by His Spirit. Obedience to Her might keep us all from becoming rightful candidates for stoning!
* (Why else would Moses need to be redundant about emphasizing that stoning is to be done with stones?)