Welcome to the first entry in my new concept of weekly themed postings. Today it’s Theological Thursdays. While I consider myself in no way a formal theologian, I do accept the challenge of J.I. Packer to wrestle with theology, since as a Christian, my need to “know God” requires me to join with the patriarch Jacob and wrestle with the One with whom we all have to do. I want to thank you in advance for your charity. As to other possible themes, so far, the only other motif I have decided upon is Moses Mondays, which will feature thoughts on Moses as well as excerpts from the historical novel I am writing about his life and times. The first post in that series will be this coming Monday.
Starting Point: Sola Scriptura
Everything has to have a starting point and when it comes to Christianity, at least for me, the starting point is Scripture (with a capital S). That is because everything else is made known and made real by reading, studying, and discerning scripture. Everything else finds its source in the Word, including the faith once delivered unto the saints. It is from Scripture that we get Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, and for the glory of God alone, the other solas of the Reformation.
While tradition, which includes all creeds, catechisms, articles, and confessions, is important as the accumulated wisdom of the church, it all came into being based on Scripture and contrary to Scripture is not infallible, only reliable and that reliability must be reaffirmed by every generation of Christians. I should say that I see tradition as very Anglican in essence because it is arrived at through reasonable discourse, by applying rational argument to the witness of Scripture. Tradition’s fundamental weakness, at least for me, fits nicely into Paul’s statements about “knowing in part” and seeing through a mirror darkly”. It is the moon to Scripture’s sun. It is only a reflection. In the end it is to Scripture we return, and it is there we all should start. This is not to say tradition and the reason used to arrive at it are not important, they are. After all, we are all called to be Bereans are we not or we risk becoming ignoble, to turn Paul’s famous assessment to its flipside. But the salient point is this, while Paul elevated the production of tradition to a noble endeavor, it is only the handmaiden of truth seeking belief, while Scripture remains the Rosetta Stone of all opinion.
You should know from the start that I have a very personal stake in the veracity and solaness of Scripture. When I became a Christian over 28 years ago, I was still having LSD flashbacks. I had subsequently abandoned all sorts of New/Old Age paraphernalia such as Tarot Cards, horoscope casting, Yaqui Indian brujo seeking, and other flirtations with the dark side of the Force. I remember sitting in my van, holding my new Bible as a flashback sought to draw me back into my past, invalidating my new commitment. It was a dark moment, replete with real danger. I picked up my Bible and forcibly declared to the universe and all the spiritual entities surrounding me that the only things I would hold true going forward from that specific moment were things validated by the words in the book I was holding. I further declared that I put my complete trust in the Christ of the Scriptures. All the cliches applied: I threw down the gauntlet; I drew a line in the sand; I forever shackled myself to the Word. I dramatically stated that I would accept nothing else as authoritive and if that meant I was wrong and damned to hell, then I was wrong and damned I would be.
You have to understand that I had wallowed in the subjective experience of the occult for years. I sought out the dark side and the devil found me during one hellaciously bad acid trip, where the floor of my townhouse opened up exposing the fires of hell. The devil looked at me and said, “It’s time to go!” Through direct and dramatic experience I knew how easy it was for your own subjective experiences and the witness of others to their experiences to lead you astray. For me to go forward with my newly accepted Christianity I had to make a choice, similar to the choice I had made to follow Christ. I knew there had to be a trail, a path, a roadmap for me to use on my journey. I also knew that whatever map I chose would determine where I ended up. So, with an oppressive darkness pressing in all around me I decided that the Bible was my only possible guide. At that moment, in my van, I sealed the course of my remaining life. It was sola scriptura from that point forward.
There is more to this story, but that involved an inner transformation that falls under the context of experience. I include it here because this embracing of sola scriptura on my part wouldn’t be a complete story without it. It is one thing to say you believe the Bible to be the Word of God and that you base your life upon its truth and it is quite another thing to apprehend that truth. I am not saying studying to show yourself approved is not useful, it is. It is even commanded. However, I needed something more considering my occult background; I needed discernment. Note to those who reject charismatic realities, I tell you what happened only to explain, not to justify or suggest a similar approach.
I was engaged and in order for us to married in the church we were attending, one of us had to join. We decided it would be me even though I had only been a Christian for seven months (I had evangelized my wife on the first night we met and she was still a three week old newbie). In order to join the charismatic, evangelical Episcopal church we were attending, I had to do several things, one of which was attend a course they called “Life in the Spirit.” During the last session, the group would lay hands on you and pray for you to receive whatever gifts the Holy Spirit desired to impart to you (1 Cor 12:4-11). There was one gift that I desired above all other possible gifts and that was discernment. I wanted to know the truth. I think, understanding the occult mishmash I came out of, you can appreciate my heartfelt desire.
Well, for the lack of any other way of saying it, it worked. I had hands laid on me Friday night and on Sunday morning when I came to church everything was different. Instead of sitting there listening to the sermon saying, “Wow. That was cool!” I now said to myself (at first only to myself, but then…that’s another story), “Why did he say that? That doesn’t seem to fit. Didn’t he just say…?” My world was turned upside down. Not only had I suddenly become hypercritical, questioning everything I heard, but the scriptures were suddenly alive with questions, insights, and surprisingly, answers. About a year later I decided I was reformed and things went down hill from there, at least as far as my friends and associates were concerned. However, at the core of all my trials and tribulations was Scripture. All discussions, arguments, or critiques of the thoughts and writings of others, they all came down to what Scripture said about it. It remains the same today. I am, if I am nothing else, dependent on the Bible for who and what I am. I foresee no change in that.
In closing I should say the other major change in my approach to life over the last 27.5 years since that night when hands were laid on me, has been my slowly enlarging collection of tradition, of scripturally validated extra biblical sources of learning. At first I threw away everything and tried to start with a clean slate. Slowly, there were teachers I came to trust, writers I looked forward to reading, and statements of faith I have made my own. It has been a long journey, and not without its setbacks, injuries, and painful lessons. No matter. It has been worth it and through it all there has been the Word, a lamp unto my feet, made flesh in Jesus Christ. It has been the bringer of life and truth and hope. Yes, for me it was, is, and always will be, sola scriptura.
For further information I suggest you see Jollyblogger’s post on Does “Sola Scriptura” have a place in the Postmodern World?
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