Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why Evangelicals are Returning to Rome: The Abandonment of Sola Scriptura as a Formal Principle-- By Bob DeWaay

Here is a message by Bob DeWaay on why evangelicals are returning to the Roman Catholic church. Following is the introduction to the message.

The February 2008 edition of Christianity Today ran a cover story about evangelicals looking to the ancient Roman Catholic Church in order to find beliefs and practices.1 What was shocking about the article was that both the author of the article and the senior managing editor of CT claim that this trip back to Rome is a good thing. Says Mark Galli the editor, “While the ancient church has captivated the evangelical imagination for some time, it hasn’t been until recently that it’s become an accepted fixture of the evangelical landscape. And this is for the good.”2 Chris Armstrong, the author of the article who promotes the trip back to the ancient church, claims that because the movement is led by such persons as “Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and living and practicing monks and nuns,” that therefore, “they are receiving good guidance on this road from wise teachers.” This he claims shows that, “Christ is guiding the process.”3

Apparently, contemporary evangelicals have forgotten that sola scriptura (scripture alone) was the formal principle of the Reformation. Teachings and practices that could not be justified from Scripture were rejected on that principle. To endorse a trip back to these practices of ancient Roman Catholicism is to reject the principle of sola scriptura being the normative authority for the beliefs and practices of the church. In this article I will explore how modern evangelicalism has compromised the principle of sola scriptura and thus paved smoothly the road back to Rome.

Here is the conclusion to the message, but please go to the link above to read the entire article.
Perhaps the best antidote to rejecting sola scriptura and going back to Rome would be a careful study of the Book of Hebrews. It describes a situation that is analogous to that which evangelicals face today. The Hebrew Christians were considering going back to temple Judaism. Their reasons can be discerned by the admonitions and warnings in Hebrews. The key problem for them was the tangibility of the temple system, and the invisibility of the Christian faith. Just about everything that was offered to them by Christianity was invisible: the High Priest in heaven, the tabernacle in heaven, the once for all shed blood, and the throne of grace. At the end of Hebrews, the author of Hebrews points out that they have come to something better than mount Sinai: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24). All of these things are invisible.

But the life of faith does not require tangible visibility: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Roman Catholic Church has tangibility that is unmatched by the evangelical faith, just as temple Judaism had. Why have faith in the once-for-all shed blood of Christ that is unseen when you can have real blood (that of the animals for temple Judaism and the Eucharistic Christ of Catholicism)? Why have the scriptures of the Biblical apostles and prophets who are now in heaven when you can have a real, live apostle and his teaching Magisterium who can continue to speak for God? The similarities to the situation described in Hebrews are striking. Why have only the Scriptures and the other means of grace when the Roman Church has everything from icons to relics to cathedrals to holy water and so many other tangible religious articles and experiences?

I urge my fellow evangelicals to seriously consider the consequences of rejecting sola scriptura as the formal principle of our theology. If my Hebrews analogy is correct, such a rejection is tantamount to apostasy.


Sue Bee said...

I largely agree with DeWaay's assesment of the situation. One point he touches on is the role of the evangelical movement re-defining sola scriptura. In Lutheran & some Reformed circles the evangelical version of Sola Scriptura has been dubbed "Solo Scriptura".

You can read a comparison of the two (Sola vs. Solo) here:

I think, in light of your condemnation of Reformed theology, you'll find it interesting.

IMHO the evangelicals aren't abandoning sola scriptura - they never understood as the reformers taught it. It is SOLO scriptura they are leaving behind.

Sue Bee said...

Oops. Looks like my link got cut off. I was going to suggest you visit the Sola Scriptura article on Wikipedia and read the section called "Mathison's Apology & Explanation on Sola Scriptura & Tradition." He has a good definition of solo (tradition 0).

Jennie said...

Thanks, Sue Bee, I'll look at those.