Scriptura--solo or sola?
In a comment made under my brother, David's, post, "Doing Our Dirty Work," the question is asked:
...The issue of authority is the biggest question that I have as a Protestant. I feel when I read the Westminster Larger Catechism and it says, "The Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice..." that the Catechism can no longer go on. What gives it the authority to propound the Bible's doctrine (or a pastor) over my reading? What keeps the Bible from being my own possession rather than the Church's?
Good reader, you misunderstand the Catechism at this point and your definition of sola scriptura is not the historic Reformed doctrine, least of all that of the Westminster Standards. Rather, it is the straw man Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox set up to the end of making a great show of knocking it down with ease. Here, for instance, is Roman Catholic apologist Scott Hahn setting up this straw man:
I believe that the doctrine of sola scriptura, that the Bible alone is our only authority, is itself unscriptural. I can't find anywhere in scripture God telling his people that the Bible alone is their sole authority.
Yes, I admit that this straw man represents the mainstream evangelical understanding of sola scriptura quite well, but it's only natural that an emotive and experiential community which self-consciously rejects doctrine, and particularly the doctrine of the Church and her officers, would hold to a Bible-and-me-alone view of spiritual authority. But what a perversion this is of the historic Protestant and reformed doctrine of Scripture and ecclesiastical authority. (For an excellent essay on this, see Keith Matheson's piece, "A Critique of the Evanangelical Doctrine of Solo Scriptura.")
Show me one place where the reformers teach that the believer is to submit to no one and nothing but Scripture--no pastor, no elder, no session, no deacon, no presbytery, no general assembly, no master, no king, no father, no husband, and so on. For Roman Catholic apologist Scott Hahn to characterize the historic Protestant and reformed view in this way is duplicitous. (I know Scott and he knows better.)...
Really, as my brother David says, Scott with his Pope and the evangelical with his pope (himself) are the same: both replace dependence upon the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word of God and the Church of Jesus Christ and the undershepherd (and the other authorities in the historic reformed Protestant's life) with a man we can feel and see and touch and hear. Flesh takes the place of Spirit, but oh how tangible that flesh is and how grand and glorious it seems.
It may appear to the children of a culture that absolutely hates authority that the only two options are, on the one hand, me-and-the-Bible-alone; and on the other hand, Rome. But there is a third option and that is sola--not solo--scriptura.
When any man or creed or church or council--even an ecumenical council--comes into conflict with the Word of God, we stand on the Word of God. Why?
Because we remember one of the most awful rebukes our Lord ever gave the church leaders of His time:
"For Moses said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER'; and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH'; but you say, 'If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),' you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that." (Mark 7:10-13).
For this reason Reformed confessions of faith do not deny to themselves or councils or presbyteries or general assemblies or elders or pastors subordinate authority. After all, reformed confessions call themselves "subordinate standards," not "no standards at all." But what is denied these standards is ultimate authority.
To take my own subordinate standards as an example, here are a couple places where the Westminster Confession of Faith illuminates both the subordinate standards and the final standard of God's Word. Here we see the outworking of the Protestant reformers' doctrine of sola scriptura:
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Section X: The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 31, Section III: It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.
Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 31, Section IV: All synods or councils, since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.
We submit not only to Scripture, but also to those in authority over us who keep watch over our souls as men who must give an account. And not only those who keep watch over our souls who are living, but also those who are dead--all the "faithful men" (2Timothy 2:2) of the past who have been entrusted with the dogma and have formed a living link in passing it down to us.
So it's not reformed Protestants who have problems with authority, but Roman Catholics and evangelicals who perpetually find themselves nullifying the Word of God for the sake of their traditions (evangelicals) and Tradition (Roman Catholics).