Longhurst: The end of ‘Sola Scriptura’?

Oct 23, 2017 by

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Here in Canada, as in the United States, one of the biggest issues dividing the church is homosexuality.
Churches are leaving Mennonite Church Canada over it. In British Columbia, I was told that as many as a third of the prov­ince’s 31 congregations could depart.

John Longhurst


People who leave the denomination usually cite being true to the Bible as the reason. And they can point to verses that condemn homosexuality.

Proponents of LGBTQ affirmation also argue from the Bible, citing the larger meaning of Christ’s teachings about love for all.

The result? We’re stuck. Both sides use the same book but arrive at different conclusions.

But what if, instead of being able to provide a solution to our dilemma, relying on biblical interpretation alone is the problem?

That’s the view of Dave Schmelzer, director of Blue Ocean Faith, a network of 11 evangelical congregations in the United States.

Schmelzer, who lives in California, was once a self-described atheist before becoming a Christian, getting a seminary degree and planting a church in Cambridge, Mass.

For him, the current challenge can be traced back to Martin Luther and his Reformation emphasis on Sola Scriptura — relying on the Bible alone when deciding matters of faith.

“The problem he was trying to solve was who had the authority to say what God’s will was,” Schmelzer says.
By making the Bible the ultimate authority, not the pope, Luther solved one problem but created another. Now anyone could interpret the text and declare what the Bible clearly said.

But one person’s clear meaning wasn’t so clear to another. This led to division and discord — and to more than 9,000 Protestant denominations today.

Over the centuries, it also led to heated battles in some churches over issues like slavery, divorce, interracial marriage, dancing, head coverings and whether women can be leaders — among others.

In all these cases, people could easily find verses that supported their views. But also in each case, many Christians found verses that changed how they viewed the issue.

Take enslavement, for example. “The Bible clearly supported slavery, until it didn’t,” Schmelzer observes.

But if differing biblical interpretation is the problem, what is the solution? For Schmelzer it is another of the Reformation’s great Solas: Solus Christus, or Christ alone.

Or, to put it in the more common vernacular: What would Jesus do?

When it comes to homosexuality, the answer is clear for Schmelzer: Excluding LGBTQ people is not something Jesus would do.

Schmelzer doesn’t want to throw out the Bible. It’s essential. But for him it’s just one of the ways God speaks, not the only way.

Reading the Bible, he says, should be combined “with hearing from Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit, and with the rich transparent relationships with other people following Jesus.”

Has the end of Sola Scriptura come? Is it time for Solus Christus? Would that help us through our current challenges? Schmelzer says yes. What do you think?

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

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  • Rainer Moeller

    First, I think that love does not imply that everyone is included everywhere. Love allows for the possibility that two groups agree to dissolve and to live peacefully beneath each other, instead of together.
    Secondly I have no problems to include homosexuals on the base of> We all are sinners and our particular ideas about what is sinful are fallible. But I suppose that this would not be good enough for LGBTQ people.

  • Steven Stubble

    With respect to LGBT issues, the “problem”, oddly enough, has never been determining “what the Bible clearly says”; progressive / queer theologians are virtually always in agreement that the New Testament declares same-sex relation to be sinful. Their approach has therefore been to think of ways to avoid accepting this for themselves, for example by saying that Paul is not writing about committed relationships etc. This is a perfect example of the reverse form of “exegesis” (i.e. determining the meaning of a text) known as “eisegesis” (making the text conform to a pre-conceived notion).

  • Berry Friesen

    As you observe, John, the emphasis on how Jesus would respond to people whose sexual pratices differ from the norm has been a big help, enabling us traditionally minded Christians to embrace a welcoming stance.

    But without the authority of scripture, Solo Christus can easily become pure subjectivity in which each individual is granted authority to define “love” and “welcome” according to his/her preferences. It negates the authority of the church entirely and would split us even more than we are now.

    A contextualized Jesus prevents this. For example, Jesus says (in Matthew 23:3) “Do whatever the teachers of the law teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” That teaching requires us to understand what the teachers of the law were teaching and why Jesus liked it so much.

    So we will continue to need both.

  • Wilbur H. Entz

    We need to keep the sola scriptura principle because it is the only source that gives us an accurate account of the origin of the earth and Universe. Furthermore the Bible is both a very unique and supernatural document. Just one example of why the Bible is a very supernatural document: there are 3268 fulfilled prophecies in the Bible. http://billingsfirst.org/clientimages/19106/worship-page/bible-facts/bible-facts.pdf.

  • Richard Worden Wilson

    From the comments, if not the commentary above, we can see and all agree that people interpret the Bible in all kinds of ways. Even within the Roman Catholic fold there are a multiplicity of views on all kinds of things, even though there is one authoritative teaching. There has been a lot of recent theological discussion about the content and consequences of the Reformation with the half millennium consequences all around us. The Reformers didn’t consider the Bible to be the equivalent of the Pope speaking _ex cathedra_ or in that kind of absolutely authoritative manner. They did think that the Bible was the most authoritative record of what God had revealed to His faithful prophets and the apostles of Jesus, His Son, through whom He is understood in those texts to speak in a supremely authoritative manner to those created in His image. Jesus spoke plainly about human sexuality in his comments regarding how it was from the beginning. There is no suggestion in the New Testament that “love” might someday trump that prescription for covenantal bonding in marriage. There has never until my generation (I’m 70 and experienced the early culture of the sexual revolution on the West Coast) any mainstream suggestion that the Jewish-Christian understanding and teaching regarding human sexuality was or might become anything other that what Jesus said it should be. We are now experiencing some of the consequences of the sexual revolution and people are just shocked that people, mostly men, are behaving in such unacceptable ways. No authority, no guidelines, no boundaries. Who is your authority for prescribing human sexual behavior? Why?

  • Walter Bergen

    I think that our Anabaptist heritage offers some significant insight and guidance for our current dilemmas. Menno Simons, in his treatise ‘contra jan mathjis’ outlined the use of Scripture, Revelation, and Community discernment that is consistent with the Apostolic Witness. Our current dilemma stems from each and every fool claiming wisdom, and revelation: claiming as Jan Mathjis did, that their wisdom superseded the apostolic witness as found in the New Testament.

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