Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Protestant Unity: Oxymoronic, or Just Plain Moronic?

All this talk about inter- and intra-denominational unity can be viewed by some as utterly disingenuous. To Roman Catholics, for example, the very notion of "Protestant unity" is moronic at worst, and oxymoronic at best.

I've been thinking lately about the arguments of Covenant Seminary graduate (!) Bryan Cross, whose spiritual pilgrimage has taken him from Presbyterianism to Anglicanism, and then finally to Roman Catholicism. His recent posts argue that all Protestant versions of Sola Scriptura are necessarily individualistic. Even the so-called Reformed position of "Tradition 1," which (contra evangelicalism's view of Solo Scriptura) insists that the Bible is the church's book and therefore must be interpreted collectively rather than individually, is, according to Cross, individualistic.

Here's how Cross's argument works: Even the confessional Reformed believer who submits his personal beliefs to the authority of the Westminster Standards is ultimately guilty of individualism, albeit of a masked variety. The reason for this is that before he bowed in submission to the Confession and Catechisms he determined within himself, as a result of his personal Bible study, that those documents best comported with his own individual understanding of Scripture.

In other words, one's "submission" to the church is somewhat suspect when he first spends a year searching for the church that already agrees with him. Such submission, Cross argues, is tantamount to shooting an arrow at the wall and then drawing the target around the point where the arrow happened to land. Simply put, it's kind of hard to miss the mark that way. To interpret the simile, the Protestant understanding of Sola Scriptura makes it virtually impossible for the individual believer's theological views to actually be challenged by the church and found wanting.

There are only two real options, Cross argues: individualism or apostolic succession. All claims of Sola Scriptura necessary devolve into the former, and all true respect for ecclesiastical authority necessary demands the latter.

How would you answer this charge?