Dear Good Shepherd,
If the bible is so clear, why are there so many disagreements? That is a common and good question. Last Fall, the bishop asked me and two other pastors to write a paper for the diocese on the sufficiency of scripture – the proposition that the bible is God’s tool through which he produces, maintains, and guards his people in the faith. That paper which goes a good way toward answering the question above was just published this week and I thought I would send it along to you. I posted the link to the paper on Stand Firm (an Anglican blog for which I occasionally write) along with an introduction. I am pasting that introduction along with the link to the paper below. And I hope that might help you get a sense for what it means to say the “bible is sufficient” and why the bishop thought it necessary to have such a paper written. Don’t worry, it is written with non-clergy in mind so you should be able to read it with no problem. May God bless you all.
Blessings to you all.
It has been a long time since I’ve posted on Stand Firm. I have been tied up with increasingly time consuming parish work, six growing kids, a new house (same church, same city) and, most notably, the reality that my wife beats my socks off as a writer. When that familiar burning in the bosom arises that once drove me to dash off an article, I generally find that Anne has said it already and with more profundity than I ever could.
But today I have decided to break my unplanned silence to post what I consider a fairly important paper that I had the privilege of co-writing with the Rev. Dr. Canon Henry Jansma and the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Smith, both fellow clergy in the Diocese of CANA East.
The Paper’s full title is: ”God’s Sufficient Scripture: A Resource Monograph for The Missionary Diocese of CANA East”. As those who have read Stand Firm for years may remember, I am committed to reformed Anglicanism (which I would argue is historic Anglicanism) and to doing whatever I can to encourage Anglicans to rediscover the wealth of their reformed heritage and distinctly reformed formularies. My fellow authors share that commitment and this paper is one of the first fruits of a collaborative effort toward that end.
The paper has to do with the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). Sola Scriptura was at the heart of the controversies between Rome and the Reformers. How a person responds to the question, through what instrument does God justify sinners?, depends largely on the source of revelation upon which that person leans. Has God revealed his truth through the scriptures? Or does he do so through the scriptures and church tradition, as measured and interpreted by the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Roman church? The Reformers, including the English Reformers, staked their lives and souls on the former, scripture alone. And so do we.
The doctrine of Scripture Alone is often misunderstood. Does it mean that tradition is unnecessary? That God has stopped guiding his Church? That God’s infinite majesty is somehow contained in letters, narratives, and psalms written thousands of years ago? And how can anyone claim to know what the bible says anyway? There are, after all, as many different interpretations as there are denominations. This paper is intended to be a first step in clarifying the doctrine and answering some of these questions by dealing with the sufficiency of scripture. Is the bible sufficient to produce faith, nourish disciples, guard against error, and lead the church into all truth?
My contribution (pp.4-15) is entitled “Sola v. Solo Scriptura”. I discuss the question of the bible’s clarity. I argue that, indeed, God has clearly and sufficiently communicated himself and his will to his church in the scriptures.This divine clarity does not mean that the teaching office of the church is unnecessary (solo scriptura), quite the opposite. But it does mean that the teaching office itself need not be infallible (the Roman position). The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is, rather, a golden mean between the two extremes.
You can read the entire paper by following this link. The paper has been published in PDF form because of the footnotes have made it difficult to post in typical website format. I am thankful to Drs. Jansma and Smith for their superb contributions (you should really spend your time reading their bits rather than mine) and for letting me, a non-academic, tag along for the ride. Soli Deo Gloria!