The Protestant movement centered around the rejection of the Pope’s infallibility in the 16th century, and its various sects and factions have found common ground in that idea ever since then. Ironically, more often than not, the modern Protestant individual seems to think that he has an infallible monopoly on Biblical truth.
The doctrine of “sola Scriptura” (by Scripture alone) seems almost universally twisted from acknowledging the Bible as the final arbiter on Christian doctrine to mean that an individual’s understanding of the Bible is their own final arbiter. All too often I hear Christians in Protestant churches ponder why so many people disagree with their doctrine when all everybody else has to do is look in the Bible and all doctrinal controversies and dissension will be resolved. While this line of thought may be innocent in its intent, it is latently and delusionally arrogant.
Common statements as simple and seemingly benign as “If it’s in the Bible then it’s good enough for me” carry the dangerously loaded assumption that whatever our own understanding of Scripture happens to be is infallibly authoritative. This attitude fails to account for the fact that the Bible is a work of literature — the most significant work of literature in existence — but still a work of literature. Literature has structure which must be analyzed, language which must be understood, terms which must be defined, authors which must be acknowledged, an intended audience which must be accounted for, and historical contexts which must shape the perspective of the reader.
These various aspects merit rigorous study rather than dogmatic and superficial readings. But to account for these difficult intricacies, modern Protestants claim in borderline mystical gnostic fashion that our guidance from the Holy Spirit would never lead us astray as if the Holy Spirit was absent from 300 to 1500 A.D., and still neglects the congregations with which any given individual disagrees on points of doctrine — no matter how obscure.
What Protestants seem to have forgotten is that claiming nearly exclusive divine guidance to achieve infallible doctrine and an unquestionable understanding of Scripture is no different from the Roman Catholic Church sincerely claiming the exact same thing for centuries on end and repressing all dissenting opinions — the very thing that caused the Protestant movement to begin with. Certainly the Holy Spirit guides us to Salvation and makes us alert to God’s work in our lives. The Holy Spirit reminds Christians of important truths that are necessary to the life of every believer. But when it comes to more technical considerations on deep theological points, there is no precedent in Scripture for the Holy Spirit making any man omniscient of Spiritual truth.
Yet, under the guise and false pretense of the Holy Spirit’s revelation, individual Protestants have formed their own micro papacies with unquestionable answers to just about any question raised in the reading of Scripture. So either the Holy Spirit is terribly conflicted as it has led so many believers to wildly different unquestionable truths, or Protestants must recognize that their micro-papacies have relapsed to human authority in a desire for the comfort that comes with thinking we have all the answers. Protestants must uproot their latent assumptions of infallibility and exchange them for the humble understanding that we as fallible human beings will never have a perfect knowledge of Spiritual truth.
Undoubtedly, this call for humility in handling Scripture will be met with accusations of elitism and pretensions of academic superiority. Not everybody has the chance to spend endless hours in seminary or the innumerable pages of commentaries studying deep theological truths, and it is very plausibly discomforting to think that some people may not have as good of a grasp on Christian doctrine as Christian scholars and intellectuals. While those who have the opportunity to study the more intricate points of Christian doctrine should avoid a sense of elitism at all costs, those who have not had such opportunities would be remiss to simply dismiss the merit of their endeavors.
Scholars and intellectuals have devoted endless hours to deeper understandings of Scripture for a reason, and it is counterproductively elitist to dismiss and degrade them as aloof ivory tower highbrows.
It is the duty of every individual, no matter how educated, to form their own judgments on Spiritual truth, but this should be done with uneasy humility in the face of just how high the stakes really are and how difficult the task at hand really is. Such sentiments seem lost on today’s Protestant popes.
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