Saturday, January 02, 2010

Sola Ecclesia - A Reformation Maxim?

We normally refer to sola ecclesia as Rome's alternative to sola scriptura. Dr. Bruce Atkinson (Psy. PhD) proposes it as an addition to the five Reformation solas:
5. Sola ecclesia (through the church alone) - This newly recognized sola is needed to battle the extreme individualism and anti-church sentiment that is becoming more and more prevalent. I hear: "I believe in Jesus but I don't trust organized religion." "All the churches are full of judgmental hypocrites." "I don't have to go to church to be a Christian, I can just watch services on TV." Surely you have heard similar statements; they are very common these days. Let us examine the historical and present value of the Church for salvation and sanctification.

[I've removed the body of his argument here. The conclusion of the section follows.]

A final warning is in order for this particular sola. There is a reason why sola scriptura comes before sola ecclesia. Church authority must always be secondary to the authority of God's Word. All traditions of doctrine, worship, and human authority in the church must be tested by the Canon. In the history of the Church, we have seen how human power tends to corrupt and change things. But Jesus Christ does not change (Hebrews 13:8, Rev 1:8) and His words will never pass away (Matthew 24:35). Humans (other than Jesus) can and do change, sometimes for the worse. Remember that the churches in the world are still made up of both sheep and goats, and there are some wolves in sheep's clothing at the highest levels.

Given the other sense that sola ecclesia already has, I don't think it's the best proposal, but it is an interesting one.



Anonymous said...

"All traditions of doctrine, worship, and human authority in the church must be tested by the Canon."

How do we test what is supposed to be in the Canon? We just receive it by tradition or what? How then do we test that tradition against the Canon?

Turretinfan said...

The discussion presupposes that the person has accepted the canonical scriptures as the Word of God.

William said...

I agree that the premise that Dr. Atkinson is needed to be explored, but I also agree with you T8F, that this should be handled with careful gloves. Too many do not see a need for church fellowship, and have neglected this vital aspect of Christianity. However, I do not agree that this is necessarily a sola worth adding.

Great post T8F!

Andrew Suttles said...

It sounds like the encroachment of Rome to me. If people are turned off by all the ridiculous nonsense on tv, it is understandable why they would be suspicious regarding church membership. There are also numerous folks who have been accused by extreme "fundamentalism", charismatics, pseudo-cultic groups, etc. The answer is to preach the Word of God faithfully in season and out. Those who are genuinely renewed in the inner man will be drawn to the Word of God and the fellowship that results from that.

ON THE OTHER HAND, some people use lame excuses about hypocrisy (etc) as a crutch to lay out from assembling. I doubt their salvation, but God will judge, not me. To even contemplate SOLA ECCLESIA as a prescriptive is beyond ridiculous!

Andrew Suttles said...

"accused" should be "abused"


Geoffrey Miller said...

Well, how would you interpret 1 Timothy 3:15? The Church seems pretty darned important.

When the Church is understood as referring to the people of God, I can see how sola ecclesia could fit into almost any Christian theology, including reformed. After all, we receive the Scriptures from God through the Church; we hear about the gospel from other people, from the Church. We are supported and helped in our adversities by the Church. A loving community of believers, in some form or another, seems to be a requirement for finding salvation, because God offers his grace through the people we meet and manifests his election through the Church.

Geoffrey Miller said...

Of course, being Catholic, I'm a tad biased on this matter.


Turretinfan said...

The church is very important - no doubt. The role of the church (among other things) is to serve as a pillar and buttress for the truth. Sometimes the church does that well, other times, not so much.

What is probably interesting for a Roman Catholic is not so much the pillar and buttress part (you already know that the church is supposed to do that) but Paul's comment, "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

It looks to me like Paul is telling Timothy that the purpose of the letter is to inform Timothy about something Timothy would not be aware of already in the "house of God."

Now, of course, considering that the point is how Timothy should behave himself in the church, the sense of "church" here should probably be taken locally. This helps to explain why Timothy wouldn't necessarily know what Paul knows, even though both are part of the universal church. It also, however, has the impact of making the reference to a "pillar and ground of the truth" a reference to the local church, not to the universal church. This helps us see that it is a reference to the purpose of the church, but not necessarily a description of the way a church always functions.

Andrew Suttles said...

GM: "After all, we receive the Scriptures from God through the Church..."

The scriptures are originated by the Holy Spirit, breathed out through the apostles onto paper, and disseminated TO churches. Churches receive the Scriptures.

Turretinfan said...

I hadn't picked up on that. The Psalter, the Ten Commandments, the Prophets, all products of "the church," eh?


CathApol said...

As Carrie on BeggarsAll was quick to point out to me, this phrase of "sola ecclesiam" is not a new term, though may be "newly recognized" by many.