Throughout the ages believers have been continually plagued by an old stain from the past- tradition. History reveals that this enemy to our glorious faith has infiltrated our understanding of its relationship with Scripture and perversely deceived even the magisterial reformers. Clearly, the church is in dire need of a closet reading of the Word. That is, we must open our Bibles on our own and read without being tainted by the traditions of fallen man.
“For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.” (Mark 7:8).
Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons, was key in the church’s battle against Gnosticism. Writing around 130-200 he left a work titled Against Heresies where he fought against the idea of a secret tradition available to a select few inducted into the Gnostic mysteries. But Irenaeus made a devastating mistake. He developed a concept called the regula fidei or “rule of faith.” It was supposedly a summary of the faith taught by the Apostles and passed down to their disciples. This apostolic faith was safeguarded and permanently written down in Scripture but the regula fidei (often referred to as a summary of what Scripture says) was the necessary context for correct interpretation.
Tertullian living between 155-220 didn’t seem to think there was any significant difference between Scripture, tradition and the church and in refuting a tenant of Docetism he writes, “But there is no evidence of this, because Scripture says nothing” (On the Flesh and Christ, ch6). He says something similar in a number of other places too: Against Praxeas, ch.29 and Against Hermogenes, ch.22. But sadly, Tertullian also continues the notion of the regula fidei- the precise wording of which can be found no where in Scripture. In chapter 13 of the treatise On the Prescription Against Heretics he says:
“Now, with regard to this rule of faith— that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend— it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in diverse manners by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.”
It is a Shakesperean tragedy when the faith is put in summary form and the precise wording abandoned even for a moment. But the infiltration does not end in the beginnings of glorious Christendom. This unique concept of how the regula fidei and Scripture should relate continued to be held to by some in the medieval period and the magisterial reformers. Keith Mathison, so-called Protestant and author of The Shape of Sola Scriptura rightly observes:
“…the position of the magisterial Reformers maintained was essentially that which was held in the early Church and throughout most of the medieval Church- that Scripture was the sole source of revelation; that it was the final authoritative norm of doctrine and practice; that it was to be interpreted in and by the Church; and that it was to be interpreted according to the regula fidei” (85).
Luther, heterodoxically expounds on the nature and purpose of the church by saying:
“Learn, then, to understand this article most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. For, in the first place, He has a peculiar congregation in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it” (Article 3).
God accomplishing his work in the church? The church is made up of mere fallible human beings. It is folly to hold the entire Christian community to such a great level of importance… the church does not have any authority. Scripture Alone must be our guide.
Luther further wastes his time in trying to defend his views from the councils and fathers. In On the Councils and the Church he argues that Rome’s claim to the authority of these is actually at odds with the fathers and councils. He naively thinks he can reform the church from the inside based upon this misguided conception that one ought to show reverence to these when they address primary concerns. Misguided indeed.
In the Institutes of the Christian Religion even Pope John Calvin succumbs to these insidious lies. Calvin acknowledges that the church is dependant on the Word of God. When God speaks, His Word is by definition uniquely authoritative. However, in book four he goes into more detail on the relationship between Scriptural and church authority. He asserts that outside of the church there is no salvation and refers to those who separate themselves from her as fanatics. He proceeds to say “we recognize as members of the church those who, by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the same God and Christ with us” (Institutes IV.I.8).
Calvin does the unthinkable. He sells out the idea of Solo Scriptura when he gives the church such undo authority on earth. What about the individual? What about the each person’s ability to read Scripture for himself and remain in that saving faith alone with his Bible. We must strive for individual liberty in this court of one. Sure Calvin says the final authority rests in Scripture but he continually pulls in the church as a secondary authority. As protestants, how can we stand for such a thing? The good news for Protestants everywhere: we aren’t held accountable to the reformers. Scripture is our guide- not Luther, Calvin or the many early church fathers.
A Turn to Glory
What must be done about this ancient corrupting influence? We must insist that Scripture is the sole authority altogether with no room for compromise. We must reject tradition, the corporate judgment of the church, the rule of faith and the fathers as the irrelevant old men that they are in our quest for God’s sacred truth. We all have the god-given right to interpret the Scripture for and by ourselves. No one must stand in our way. Not early church practice. Not the Reformers. Not the Archbishop. Not the pastor preaching to the choir. Not those of high church persuasion and not those pseudo protestant churches who insist on the outdated practice of incorporating the rule of faith and church into our understanding of the Word.
Some Practical Steps
Now that danger is certain our mission is clear, it is time to strategize. For your convenience dear readers, I have prepared a step by step guide on how one may (if she so desires) mine the Scriptures for precious life giving gems free from the tyranny of tradition and annoying neighbors.
Locate a good Bible (King James is preferred), flashlight and ear muffs.
“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning;” Luke 12:35
Clean out your bedroom closet of all trash, icons, incense, cloths, crosses or other religious memorabilia (unless it happens to be a picture of you and your King James Bible or possibly a mirror).
“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12
Pray for unique guidance from the Holy Spirit.
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” John 16:13a
Enter the closet cautiously making sure it is devoid of all unnecessary persons and distractions, your flashlight is on, your ear muffs are in place and your King James is securely tucked under your arm (wouldn’t want to forget that).
"But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness."1 Timothy 6:11
Open and read.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16
*Yes, this post is a joke. However, the Sola Scriptura principal that both Luther and Calvin believed in is different from what many modern evangelicals think of and what many from high church persuasions fight against. The Sola Scriptura the magisterial reformers advocated was not unique (though perhaps the term was). Many in the early Church and medieval period held to a similar notion. Due to common misunderstandings between Sola Scriptura and Solo Scriptura, I thought it might be helpful to clarify the meaning of the latter and lay out how one might apply this principle in the church.
*Special thanks to Keith Mathison for the "Solo Scriptura" term!