An Essential Tenet: Sola Scriptura or Nolo Scriptura?

August 5, 2011

A judicial commissioner raised the question last Friday whether the prohibition of homosexual practice was an “essential tenet of the Reformed faith.”  I said in and of itself it was not, but its mandate for church officers derives from something that is an essential tenet of the Reformed faith: the Scriptures in both Old and New Testaments are the only rule of faith and practice and the only basis for the church’s spiritual authority in any particular matter (G-1.0307).

I know we’re in risky territory to actually name an essential of the Reformed faith. Years ago as editor, I asked then Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick to identify some essentials for an article in reFORM, Presbyterians For Renewal’s journal for church leaders.[1] His response was to be expected, “We don’t have a list,” but then he did write an article to identify ideas and principles (from chapter 2 of the Book of Order) that were important to Presbyterians. And what’s right up there at the top of the list? God’s grace in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, and sola Scriptura!

Thumbing through the Book of Confessions, one can easily see that Scripture as the Word of God figures prominently in our historic statements of faith: Scots Confession, Chapter 19 (BOC, 3.19), claims the Scriptures are sufficient and authoritative because they come from God. “If the interpretation or opinion of any theologian, Kirk, or council, is contrary to the plain Word of God written in any other passage of the Scripture, it is most certain that this is not the true understanding and meaning of the Holy Ghost” (3.18). The Second Helvetic Confession starts with Chapter 1 on “the Holy Scripture Being the True Word of God” (BOC, 5.001) as authoritative and the most complete exposition of all that pertains to faith and life. Chapter 2 addresses “the true interpretation of Holy Scripture.” Here “we do not allow all possible interpretations” (special note to presbyteries in the land of Amendment 10-A); orthodox and genuine interpretation of the Scripture comes from the Scriptures themselves and agree with the rule of faith and love. The Westminster Confession of Faith (BOC, 6.000) also begins with Chapter 1 on “the Holy Scripture,” describing it as the source of knowledge about God necessary unto salvation, “given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” It has authority because it is the Word of God—attested by the Holy Spirit, no other proof necessary— and is infallibly true and effective to accomplish what God intends.

This doctrine of the Scriptures sounds like an essential to me.

A departure from Sola Scriptura necessarily leaves Nolo (“I do not want”) Scriptura as the alternative. Unless our complete trust is placed in the Word of God, God’s will revealed in the Old and New Testaments, we are rejecting its authority in practice. It is not our place to examine (test, challenge) the Bible through the clouded lens of our experience; rather, the Bible examines (tests, challenges) us and our experience with the clarity of God’s wisdom and love.

Monday: Limitations of Mutual Forbearance


[1] You can order back issues of reFORM by going to PFR’s website at http://www.pfrenewal.org/store

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3 Responses to “An Essential Tenet: Sola Scriptura or Nolo Scriptura?”

  1. Steve Niccolls Says:

    Not that the commissioners would have changed their minds (I get the feeling that just as the US Supreme Court knows what their decision will be before the oral arguments, I think the Commissioners knew what their opinion would be as well.), I think because there are prohibitions of homosexuality in the Bible, it becomes essential for those in ordained offices.

  2. Jake Horner Says:

    Mary,

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. I think it cuts even deeper than Authority of Scripture though. God has revealed Himself in the scriptures in particular ways. If you take a position contrary to what is clearly revealed in them you are in effect worshiping a God other than the Father of Jesus Christ. In that respect interpretation matters, as you said above — “we do not allow all possible interpretations.” The PCUSA has gone further in it’s interpretation than the language of Scripture warrants. The PCUSA has in effect become idolatrous insofar as she attributes to God what is false.

    Jake

    • revmary Says:

      Thank you for this reflection, Jake. Whether the true sin is idolatry (fashioning a new god), blasphemy (disrespecting the God who is there), or taking the Name of the Lord in vain (attributing to God what God has not done), you are quite right that the matter cuts deeper than a doctrinal misfire. The fact that the PCUSA has not lodged and sustained a heresy accusation ever would indicate that our system has opted out of doctrinal evaluation altogether. This is where it gets us. I haven’t read the article yet (posted on presbyweb.com), but it’s a good question: When does diversity become so diverse it becomes a departure? And when is a departure just plain heresy or idolatry? Thanks for taking the time to write, and thanks for reading my blog!

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