Is the Christian Faith Founded on the Bible Only?
The Sola Scriptura doctrine means “Scripture alone,” that is relying on the Bible as the only source for the Christian faith. For the early Protestant Reformers, Sola Scriptura led to an implicit divorce from the tradition that was abused by the Roman Catholic Church in some practices and teachings such as the papal infallibility and the selling of indulgences. Sola Scriptura had served the reformers’ goal of attempting to recover the early Church from under the layers of the false Roman Catholic teachings which had accumulated on top of it. The Bible was the only certain, infallible witness to early Christianity that they knew as a kind of tether to the early Apostolic Church as described in the book of Acts. However, while the “traditions of men” established by the Roman Catholic Church are false, most false teachings can be based on the Scriptures as well. The true Christian faith, however, is established by the teachings of the Bible as interpreted and understood by the Apostles and early apostolic fathers. This interpretation has been ingrained in the Church’s liturgical practices as well as documented in the ante Nicene, Nicene, and post Nicene writings of the Church fathers.
One key historical truth about the early Christian Church in the Book of Acts is that the apostles and early believers practiced the faith without a completely documented New Testament as we have it today. The gospels were written ten to forty years after the resurrection of Jesus, i.e. sometime between 40 and 70 AD. Jesus didn’t hand over His teachings and writings to the Church in written text. He didn’t ask His disciples to take notes of His sermons. However, He promised that “these things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:25,26, NKJV). What Jesus did is basically this: He established a church of followers guided by the Holy Spirit. He gave this Church the authority to judge in matters of faith.
Jesus Himself gave authority to the Church to resolve conflicts among believers. He taught the disciples that “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NKJV). Jesus didn’t tell his followers to open the New Testament and keep arguing from it to resolve a conflict, simply because it is not practical. Unless a church council, guided by the Holy Spirit, establishes a doctrine, there will never be unity among what Christians believe. Jesus gave this authority to the Church, to always pursue the spirit of unity and maintain authority among believers.
Early believers followed this teaching of Jesus when they were debating whether Gentile believers must be circumcised or not. The Book of Acts describes the event as follows: “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.” (Acts 15:1-2, NKJV). It has always been the role of councils from the very early church to determine the orthodox doctrines of the Church, starting with the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. There was no New Testament available to the Church to judge on this matter, but there was the tradition which carried the true doctrine including the word of God which was documented later.
Reformers challenged the individual infallibility of the Roman Pope as unbiblical. However, the Sola Scriptura doctrine converts every “believer” to a pope when interpreting the Scripture. The reformation definition of the church as just the congregation of believers begs the question: “who are the correct believers?”. For example, can someone who believes in Jesus as Lord, yet believes that He is of lower status than the Father, and that the Father, Son, be considered as a believer? Just resorting to the Bible in resolving this issue has led to many factions at the time of the Arian heresy. At one point in the Church’s history, the majority of Christians followed the Arian heresy. It is not only Arius who was able to mislead many believers. Anyone can use verses from the Bible to establish a false doctrine. However, the Church, established by Jesus and led by the Apostles and their successors, constitute the authority to judge in such matters through church councils. Sola Scriptura has created millions of popes out of one pope. That is why there are thousands of Protestant denominations with varying doctrines and teachings that are straying away further from the true Christian teaching handed over by Christ and the Apostles.
Sola Scriptura is also introducing what is exactly a contradiction of what the Scriptures mention in regard to the tradition handed over by Jesus and His apostles. In the first epistle to St. Timothy, St. Paul mentioned the Church as the pillar for truth: “but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15, NKJV). St. Paul also taught that the Church must hold to traditions in the second epistle to Thessalonians as he commanded the believers to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2 Thess. 2:15, NKJV). This verse in particular was changed by the reformers as they introduced a new translation of the New Testament, the New International Version (NIV), that replaces some words to serve their goals. The NIV translates the Greek word paradosis “tradition” as “teaching”. Reformers have thus established a doctrine that suits their own taste, even removing some books from the Old Testament that are called the second Deuterocanonical books, such as Tobit, Judith, and the Wisdom of Solomon. Many verses from these books were quoted by Jesus Himself. We end up with a problem, what good is Sola Scriptura when you can change what constitutes Scripture?