Do Non-Catholics really believe and practice "sola Scriptura", the belief that the “Bible alone” is the sole, or final, rule of faith?
After a careful look, and asking several non-Catholics to describe what “sola Scriptura” (SS) means (to them, to their faith group, their church…whatever definition they were willing to provide), I don’t think there are ANY Christians who actually believe and practice this…even though they claim to.
For example, a Lutheran friend (a member of the LCMS), quoting the Lutheran Confessions, described SS as Scripture being “the only final norm”. He continued, “Tradition is, as a result, not equal to scripture, but accountable to it.” So I asked what happens when two groups of Lutherans come to a disagreement about what Scriptures are saying or allowing for. The answer was that, ultimately, “an Authority in the Church”, interpreting the Lutheran Confessions’ view of what Scripture is saying, “must decide on the proper meaning of Scripture”. Well, that’s saying that tradition has Authority to interpret the true meaning of Scripture, which naturally subjects Scripture to the Teaching Authority. That’s not “Scripture being the only final norm”…it’s an interpreter of Scripture being the final voice for Scripture. That’s “Scripture + tradition”.
Another person informed me that SS means that, while “we rely on the Holy Spirit for proper understanding of Scriptures…the Scriptures will decide on [matters where disagreements come up]”. So, I asked if he could please demonstrate how the Scriptures decide. I gave the following scenario:
2 Christian groups, both believing and practicing SS, have directly opposing views on a doctrine [not too hard to come up with real life examples here…”once saved always saved”, for example]. Each group uses “Scripture Alone” to defend its view and to rebuke the disagreeing party. Using your definition of sola Scriptura, please resolve the conundrum. How do “the Scriptures decide”?
The person went on to show me verse after verse after verse of how “once saved always saved” (OSAS) was a false doctrine that is contrary to Scripture. But, as I pointed out to him, “I can find Christians who can point out just as many verses to support their view that OSAS is Scriptural. It’s your fallible interpretation vs. theirs”, I said. So, HOW DOES SCRIPTURE DECIDE? By the end of the discussion, Scripture DID’NT decide…it boiled down to the one person claiming that the persons with the opposing view simply had a poor understanding of Scripture. “But by whose standard?” Who determines what the proper understanding of Scripture is? Who is to say, “My understanding/interpretation of Scripture, while fallible as it is, is more correct than your fallible interpretation.”? It boils down to individual interpretation here. And so, this person’s definition of SS is, by its very practice, Scripture as properly understood by “me”…or “Scripture according to me”...which is NOT “sola Scriptura”, but “Scripturae iuxta me”.
So, even though many non-Catholics say they believe in SS, they really don't. They actually practice “S+t”...Scripture as it is understood and interpreted via their faith tradition….that faith tradition having authority to give the “proper” understanding of Scripture.
But that makes sense doesn’t it? After all, don’t most Christian pastors go to Seminary to learn the Bible? If they REALLY believed in SS, why would they need to go to school to learn the Bible? Can school teach them something about the Bible that the Holy Spirit can’t? No, they go to schools to learn the Bible because, in reality, they don’t actually believe they are led to an infallible interpretation of all Scripture…so they go somewhere to learn how to interpret the Bible…and are taught to do it by men…under the direction of their faith tradition.
The fact is, nowhere in Scripture does Scripture claim to be an authority. Nor does it claim to be able to interpret itself, or be able to decide on matters of disagreement. In fact, the Bible says we are to take matters like this to the CHURCH…and that the CHURCH is the upholder and defender of Truth (1Tim3:15). We are told in Scriptures that Scriptures can be “profitable” and can make us “complete...equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17), but it also says that perseverance makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4). No one believes that the Bible teaches “sola perseverance” though...so why would anyone think that it teaches “sola Scriptura”? No, what Scriptures tell us is that Scripture can make us complete...but it doesn't say ONLY Scripture, and it doesn't say such to the exclusion of Tradition. In fact, it says we are to “hold fast to the traditions” and to the oral preaching handed down to us (2Thess 2:15, 2Thess 3:6, 1Cor 11:2, 1Pet 1:25).
I have yet to meet a Christian who actually practices what he/she preaches when it comes to “sola Scriptura”. Every time they demonstrate it, they show conclusively that what they really believe is either 1) Scripture + their faith tradition, or 2) Scripture according to “me”. So I guess the real question is, which “tradition” are we supposed to hold to in trying to understand the Scriptures? Should it be one that has been around since Christ established His Church on earth? Or should it be a new one, that didn't come on the scene until 1,500 years later...or even later still, to the tune of tens of thousands of faith traditions giving tens of thousands of different "correct" understandings of Scripture?