Freedom in Sola Scriptura

The Bible is our authority for faith and practice, to which tradition, personal experience, and reason ultimately submit. But when our interpretations err, we have the freedom to consult sources of knowledge outside of Scripture.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I appreciated your essay. Recently I had a brief exchange with someone who questioned an article I wrote on my blog challenging Ussher’s chronology by citing an article written by William Henry Green of Princeton Theological Seminary over 125 years ago. Green carefully showed how a date for the creation cannot be drawn from the Genesis genealogies. The person “didn’t fine Green’s article persuasive” and added he was likely influenced by 19th century thought. There was no recognition how that last comment begged the question about how Ussher, him and I are influenced by the thinking of our time. So the need for what you’ve written here.

Ham is right about one thing—we do need to return to the authority of Scripture. The Reformation wasn’t a one-off event; the church is always in need of being reformed according to the Word of God.

I too am a fan of Martin Luther and the Reformation. The Roman Church took something good, the tradition of God’s People, and overdid it so it became an idol. Martin Luther protested and offered a good corrective, Scripture.

The problem now is many people have taken something good, the Holy Bible, and have driven it into the ground, so it has become an idol. Fortunately the Bible itself offers clear corrective to this mistake. The Bible says that it is not God’s Word. Jesus Christ is God 's living Word.

Sadly people who should know better still maintain that the Bible is God’s Word, which makes it equal or above Jesus Christ. The Holy Bible is God’s word, which means that it is important, but less than Jesus Christ Who is the Alpha and Omega of our faith.

We do not believe in the Bible, we believe in God. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by faith in the Bible which is legalism, just as much as Roman Church promoted faith by works.

The Church today needs a new reformation, but not one based on the Bible, but the Word of God.

Greetings Kathryn; still have fond memories of my two weeks in Point Loma for the teacher’s summer courses for which I was accepted. As you know we did not see eye to eye on the old earth/young earth debate, but I totally agree with your article about the Word of God being the final authority and how we need to stay true to the inerrant Word of God. Blessings on your diligence to serve Him!

This is my first time to make a comment here. I am a convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church. I have a Fuller M.Div. I am not a scientist but I do believe in an old Earth and agree with Professor Kenneth Miller’s views in his book, Finding Darwin’s God. I deeply resent certain people misrepresenting science in order to put forth an agenda that fits their socio-religious worldview.

It might be useful for folks to read the articles about the Reformation’s beginnings at the MercatorNet website. Now that there is reasonable doubt that Martin Luther actually fastened his statement to the church door, something that our earliest record of is in a polemic by Philipp Melanchthon years later, perhaps we can look at certain other ideas as well.

When I was at Fuller, I accepted the remarkable diversity of Protestant views as just the way things were. Later, I got to thinking that this vast array of opinions was unreasonable. There was a student there that once a year would post on the Board of Declaration (a place where students could share their opinions about things) his arguments about the subordination of the Son to the Father. When I wondered about the point of his yearly pilgrimage, another person told me that there is continuing academic discussion of this. Really? After almost two thousand years there is still disagreement?

The most emotional criticisms of Protestants that I’ve seen on the internet have been made by other heirs of the Reformation. John MacArthur has his yearly conference about certain groups he regards as suspect and many people regard him as deeply in error. They all regard the Bible as their authority. How can this be?

Have any of you wondered what a discussion among Christians would be like if the presuppositions grounded in Augustine, Anselm and Scholasticism were omitted? The West went the way it did largely because of these. The East was not affected by them. Hence, we regard Protestants and Roman Catholics as very similar, even though those people use the Reformation and following developments to argue that they are not. I can also ask, if you believe that Martin Luther was correct, do you agree with him about communion, that the elements are truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ? His authority for this view was Scripture. If you don’t agree, what or who is your authority for your position? If you say the Bible then you are contradicting Luther. If you say John Calvin or someone else, then your authority is a human being. You are merely following a tradition. Imagine that.

For a detailed presentation about the Eastern Orthodox view on salvation and how we differ from the West, please see

The Orthodox Teaching on Personal Salvation / OrthoChristian.Com

Most of the members of my parish are former Evangelicals.

All good Protestants believe in “always Reforming” and that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit in its interpretations. No matter which tradition you pick, you will find some problems and you will find some particularly attractive answers. But it’s not like people haven’t thought about these things.

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I have been waiting for you to arrive. And God is loving and compassionate … and you have arrived.

Thank you. We need a few more of you to round out representativeness of BioLogos for the whole Earth’s Christian communion… but you are an excellent start!

The most important thing people will like to hear is specifics about how the Orthodox community (or portions of it, I suppose, since it is not a monolithic polity) comprehends the role of Adam and Eve in the Cosmic dilemma of evil.

I won’t say a word more … because I don’t want anyone suggesting that I’m trying to steer you to say one thing or another.

But BioLogos is all about what to do with Adam…

Let me say that I have found the Index to Creationist Claims useful. It can be found at:

First, there isn’t unanimity among Orthodox as to the age of the earth, what “day” means and so on.

Second, we view the Church as a hospital where people go to get cured of their sin. We do not look at things from a juridical point of view. Sin is a spiritual malady. In the incarnation, God became a man so that we could become like God. The process of our becoming like God is called theosis. We do not agree with Anselm. If you read the article about the Orthodox view of personal salvation, you’ll get a much more complete explanation of that than I can give here. It’s long but it’s worth the time it takes to read.

A point that I’ve tried to make elsewhere is that everyone uses the word “biblical” for “correct” when they really mean “the interpretation that I believe in based on how I or someone I trust reads the Bible.” Who decides what something in the Bible means? People might claim that the Bible is their authority but after 500 years, that hasn’t worked very well, has it? I refer to the Eucharist because all the ancient churches believe that we literally partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. Where did Calvin and others get the authority to change this teaching?

When I was an Evangelical teaching in Harbin, China, I attended an Orthodox church that had reopened for the old Russians and other Orthodox there. One Sunday morning, there was a priest from Australia there. He had been born in Harbin and emigrated years ago. I talked with him later and asked him later what he thought was the biggest difference between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism. He thought a moment and said, “I see Protestant pastors and I wonder, where do they get their authority?” Interesting answer, isn’t it? He didn’t give me a series of proof texts.

Once again, allow me to suggest something to read. This is from the Orthodox Church in America website.

Here’s a quote: “To answer questions of this kind, the author of Genesis 2-3 allowed himself to be inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, to create the profound and beautiful story of Adam and Eve. To interpret that story correctly, we need to read it allegorically, symbolically. We need to look beyond any particular historical event (Paradise, after all, is trans-historical, beyond time and space, as witnessed by Jesus’ word to the “Good Thief”), in order to perceive in the midst of early human history the presence and activity of God, who is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists.”

Some BioLogos folks will be comfortable with that. Others won’t. I refer you to articles written by people that have more experience in explaining these things and are much wiser than I am. I do the same thing with Christians that are skeptical about evolution (what’s the latest explanation of that?) - I tell them to read what others more knowledgeable than I am have written.

One book that I have recommended is A World from Dust by Professor Ben McFarland. I’d like all home schooling high school students to read it but that probably won’t happen.

I look forward to more conversation about this.

It is true that the Holy Spirit has been guiding the Church from the beginning. Read how we Orthodox define Holy Tradition.

If one believes that there is no such thing as Holy Tradition, then what? Did God just sort of wind the Church up like a toy and then go away for centuries? The revolt against indulgences and other practices is understandable However, one has to wonder about Protestant claims when there are so many that contradict each other.

If the faith and practice in the West had not gone the way it did, a Reformation would not have been necessary because the false teachings would not have happened in the first place.

All the Protestants I know affirm the Nicene Creed, which acknowledges the apostolic church. Maybe the average Joe on the Street Prostestant doesn’t understand that “apostolic” refers to the tradition handed down by the apostles and continued by the church, but that is how I was taught, at Evangelical Protestant institutions. Churches that are founded on “nothing but Scripture,” with no reference to church history or discipleship in the apostolic tradition usually end up as cults.

This sounds remarkably like the Southern Baptist churches I have attended in the past.[quote=“Christy, post:10, topic:36950”]
usually end up as cults

Do you see this as a possibility for the Southern Baptist denomination?

People mean different things when they speak about “tradition.” For some Christians, it is a sacred body of beliefs that are not found in scripture. Protestants value tradition also, but it is never elevated to the level of Scripture. (Well, not officially anyway!)

Roman Catholics revere sacred tradition and sacred scripture equally. Perhaps that is also the position of the EO church. But the RC traditions and the EO traditions do not agree. At some point the EO church stopped adding to tradition, but the RC church kept going after the East/West split. That’s why the RC church has such traditions as the Immaculate Conception of Mary, not held by the EO church.

So for the Reformation, it was decided that we should go back to square one and ask, “Does the Bible really teach that?” For example, Luther could only find two sacraments in the Bible: Baptism and Communion.

The Anglican/Episcopal church makes its position on the matter clear in the Book of Common Prayer:

_Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read_ _therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be_ _believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the_ _name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New_ _Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church_
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All SBC seminaries require church history and historical theology as far as I know. You can lead a pastor to water, but you can’t make him drink in some cases. But I wouldn’t fault the denomination for that.

The following websites explain how Eastern Orthodox Christians view Holy Tradition. Please remember that we are not Roman Catholics. You might find the process by which the West left the East both interesting and depressing.

I recommend The Orthodox Church by Kallistos Ware. It is a good introduction and easy to read. The first edition was important for me. Get the latest edition if you can.

A problem in discussions like this is that vocabulary means different things to different people. Protestants tend to have a negative view of traditions because of what their forebears revolted against. There wasn’t a Reformation in Orthodoxy. We didn’t need one. This is not to say that we haven’t had difficulties but they had more to do with oppression from Muslims and Communists, rather than creating new doctrines, such as the Augustine’s idea of original sin, the filioque, Purgatory, papal infallibility, and so on. For us Orthodox, there is Holy Tradition and traditions, two separate things.

The fact is that every group has its traditions which they submit Scripture to. Hence, Dispensationalists force Scripture to fit what they think, while Pentecostals force Scripture to fit that they think. Seventh-Day Presbyterians, Seventh-Day Baptists and others say that Satan took over and that’s why most Christians worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday. Then there are Christians that want to be Jewish at the same time. There is the craziness that’s happening in places like Bethel Church in Reading, California. How about the various eschatologies? And let us not forget whether or not there is such a thing as eternal security.

Take a look at these when you can. My church is part of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Antioch is where believers were first called Christians. You can’t get much older than that.

The first time I entered an Orthodox during liturgy was in Harbin, China. The gate guard opened the gate and gestured for me to go in. I didn’t know what to expect, so when I got to the door, I turned around and he smiled and gestured for me to go in. I went in, walked to the edge of the nave and saw Father Gregory, who was a Chinese priest, censing the icons. I remember these clouds of incense smoke. The only thought in my mind was, “This is really old.”

I wasn’t evaluating what I saw like I would in a Roman Catholic church. I just stood there in awe.


See, every group that calls itself Christian has its background. The largest non-denominational denomination, Calvary Chapel, has its background. Church Smith had been Assembly of God, I think it was. Assembly of God came out of the Pentecostal movement which came from Azusa Street which came from something else and if you go back far enough, you get to the Reformation and then the Roman Catholic Church.

Every group has its history and justification for what it believes and practices. There is no objectivity. Seminaries of particular denominations will teach what ultimately explains why those denominations exist. They have to in order to justify their existence. People are what they are because some previous people didn’t like what they were in and left. Next time you meet someone that praises Martin Luther, ask that person if they are Lutheran. If they say that they aren’t, ask them why. Ask them if they believe that he was right about communion. If they know what he taught and disagree with him, how do they know that he was right about anything else?

A lot of people belong to a church because it fits their temperament. In the past, white Baptists were politically conservative, especially in the South. Imagine that - the most fundamentalist part of the country treated Black people the worst. What happened to “love thy neighbor?” It wasn’t part of their tradition. How do parents that home school their children feel about evolution? How many of them are politically conservative? How many of these parents have bought into the malarkey that the Intelligent Design snake-oil salesmen have come up with?

Which version of the Nicene Creed do the Protestant friends that you know agree to? Is it the one with the Roman Catholic “filioque” addition? If you have a hymnbook, check to see if the Creed is there. If you see “And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son [filioque],” you have the Catholic version, not the original. Read about “filioque” on the internet.

Go to

The Nicene Creed | Choir of St Vladimir’s Seminary - YouTube

to hear it chanted by the Choir of St Vladimir’s Seminary.

We could have a discussion of what “one holy, apostolic, Catholic church” means. The word “Catholic” here means complete, among other things. There was no Roman Catholic Church as such. “Apostolic” means based on what the Apostles taught, with a lineage back to them, via the bishops. If the Apostles taught the Eucharist and a Protestant church doesn’t, then what?

Do the churches of the Protestants you know practice public confession as was urged in James? Or does it have private confession with a priest as the practice developed into? Or neither? Why not?

You might also take a look at the conclusions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and see if you agree with those.

That is what I was trying to say. I believe that Tradition for you is a body of beliefs that you revere along with scripture.

Yes, let’s do. The Nicene Creed says, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Note that catholic is not capitalized. Therefore, the word simply means “universal.” When we capitalize it (“Catholic”) that is usually understood to be the Roman Catholic Church.

The Protestant churches I’ve been part of include a public confession of sins as a regular part of the service.

You sound very friendly.

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I don’t know who you are describing. Your stereotype of upper-middle class suburbanites? I think the vast majority of people, globally, belong to their church because they are loyal to the family that brought them to Christ. Personally, I think you owe something to the people that taught you the truth, whether they have everything right or fit your particular tastes or preferred doctrines on every issue. That’s why I’ve stayed in the church I was raised in, even though it isn’t a perfect fit. We can all read books and participate in ecumenical ministries and be exposed to the depth and breadth of Christian tradition.

@Richard_Mohr This forum is not dedicated to criticizing the perceived failings of particular denominations and stereotyping their members. You are more than welcome to share about how and what you have found fulfilling and satisfying about your experience with the Orthodox Church as it relates to the topics at hand. But you need to do so without throwing other Christian’s faith communities under the bus.

Uh, yeah. Cause we Protestants broke off from the Catholic church, remember?

Then I think they got something wrong. But guess what, my dad came to Christ in a Salvation Army church that practices no sacraments, and he is one of the best Christians I know. So I’m not going to put God’s work or anyone’s faith in a box.

When I went to an Anglican church in college we did. I think every high church Protestant liturgy has confession before Eucharist. My Baptist church advocates James 5:16 style confession, but we call it “accountability groups” or “Celebrate Recovery Meetings.”

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I homeschool my children. I teach them all about evolution. I also used David Bentley Hart’s The Story of Christianity alongside world history, and it was excellent. How about you talk to the people that are actually here about the ideas people participating in this conversation actually have, instead of telling us what all these anonymous people you are imagining out there believe and think. It makes for a much more interesting conversation.