One of the most abused doctrines in evangelical Christianity is Sola Scriptura. Everybody uses it to prove their side of some argument, and as I’ve been thinking about it lately, I’m convinced it really proves very little for anyone.
Now one caveat before I move to my main point: the doctrine obviously does prove something; it was a critical doctrine during the Reformation. It proves that there is no other infallible authority from God but the Bible (such as the Pope or Church Tradition that is considered on par with Scripture)But I’m convinced that beyond that one important use, Sola Scritpura arguments should be put to rest.
So just to be clear: I think the doctrine is correct and should be used to counter any position that claims infallible authority equal to Scripture.
But beyond this absolutely valid use of the doctrine, I don’t think it’s helpful to cry “Sola Scripura!” as somehow a defense for every position. I’ve commented before on how I think the doctrine is most often used simply as a “trump card” in order to sidestep any discussion whatsoever about a difficult issue (you can follow more of the discussion here).
I truly think that other than the legitimate way the doctrine is used that I mentioned above, Sola Scriptura arguments should be put to rest because both sides of any argument can use it to “prove” their point, and it usually prevents careful dialogue about issues from taking place.
Here is just one case in point that lies within my sphere of study. In the worship debate, those who most often use the Sola Scriptura argument in my experience have been those who deny that any music is off limits for Christians. This is why I devoted chapters in both of my books to the subject.
However, I was recently interested to listen to sessions from a recent conference at Southwestern Baptist Seminary called “Sola Scriptura or Sola Cultura.” When I first saw the title, I assumed it would be a conference defending a more progressive view of worship since “the Bible doesn’t say anything about culture or music,” a comment I often hear. But as I listened to the audio, the oposite was actually true. The speakers were suggesting that the contemporary church allows the prevailing culture to drive their worship instead of the Scripture. In essence, this was a conference more in defense of being careful not to allow culture to drive worship than the other way around. I wholeheartedly agree.
Here’s the point: every evangelical Christian believes in Sola Scriptura. Everyone, I would suggest, wants his worship to be governed by the Word of God. But belief in this does not solve any of the debates; any number of people arguing that our worship should be shaped by Scripture can come to any number of divergent conclusions. For example, all three sessions on worship at the “Preserving the Truth Conference” last January (mine, Michael Riley’s and Chris Anderson’s) ironically argued basically the same thing–our worship must be governed by Scripture–even though Michael and I would probably come to slightly different conclusions than Chris in terms of application.
So I would respectfully suggest that those involved in the worship debate refrain from using some sort of Sola Scriptura argument in an attempt to prove that their view is more biblical and recognize that we’re all trying to allow Scripture be our guide.
The difficulty, and where the debate should rest, is which position is the best interpretation and application of the all-sufficient Word of God.