In keeping with this series on the differences between Protestants and Catholics then, let’s focus on this first sola, sola scriptura, or Scripture Alone. What is meant to be conveyed by this Latin phrase? We have to remember that these five sola’s are a summary of basic theological beliefs and emerged as a reaction to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church at the time. The five sola’s state five fundamental beliefs; strengths which the Reformers through their writings believed to be essentials of Christian life and practice. Implicitly rejecting or countering the teachings of the then-dominant Roman Catholic Church, of which the Reformers claimed had usurped divine attributes or qualities for the Church and its hierarchy ( especially its head, the Pope), all five sola’s need to be considered. We need also remember that these differences remain, and are just as important today as they were when they were first formulated.
So, what are Protestants protesting anyway?
One of the fundamental differences has to do with how we look at Scripture. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) Chapter 1.2 says concerning all the books of the Old and New Testament:
‘All (of) which are given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and life.’
The issue is the sufficiency and authority of Scripture; that Scripture alone is the standard by which all Christian thought and behavior should be measured; that it alone is the sole source of God’s special revelation to mankind.
The WCF further states (Chap. 1.4):
‘The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not on the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God’ (See 1 John 5:9, 1 Thess. 2:13, 2 Tim. 3:16 and 2 Pet. 1: 19-21).
Catholics, on the other hand, reject the doctrine of sola scriptura, and don’t believe that Scripture alone is sufficient. They teach that both Scripture and Roman Catholic tradition are equally binding upon the Christian. Their insistence that both Scripture and sacred tradition are equal in authority undermine the sufficiency, authority, and completeness of Scripture. Their belief, for example, that the Pope as the Vicar of Christ (a vicar is an ‘earthly representative of God or Christ’), can speak ex cathedra (literally, ‘from the chair’) means that in matters of faith and practice when the Pope speaks on these issues, his teachings are infallible and binding upon all Christians. It is called the doctrine of ‘Papal Infalliblity’ in Roman Catholicism, the “chair” referred to is not a literal chair, but refers metaphorically to the Pope’s position, or office, as the official teacher of Catholic doctrine.
Can you see a problem here? What happens if the Pope is wrong, or if one Pope 500 years ago said one thing, and the current Pope says something completely contrary? Which Pope is one to believe? There is an intrinsic confusion that arises from vesting authority (the authority of interpreting Scripture as infallible and binding upon all Christians) in one person or office. The Protestant Reformers saw this as a huge problem.
In contrast, Protestants believe that spiritual power and authority does not rest in the hands of a mere man or of his office, but in the very Word of God itself, to wit, sola scriptura. While Catholicism teaches that only the Catholic Church can properly, rightly, and correctly interpret Scripture, Protestants believe that Scripture itself teaches that God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all born-again believers, enabling each of us to understand the message of Scripture (see John 16: 13-14, John 14:16-17, 14:26, 1 John 2: 20, 27). Protestants acknowledge the Scriptural doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2: 5, 9), enabling all believers to trust the Holy Spirit for guidance in reading, interpreting, and applying Scripture for themselves.
Many, I dare say, have said that the view of Scripture is at the root of many, if not all, of the differences between Protestants and Catholics.
With love, I remain,
Dear ol’ Dad
Vaya con Dios mis hijas