When Protestants get tangled in theological debates with Catholics or Orthodox Christians, it always inevitably leads to an impasse. For proof, all you have to do is read the comment thread here. That’s a post from my favorite Catholic blog, Called to Communion, regarding the question of Sola Scriptura. It’s in response to a piece by Keith Mathison of the Reformed Christian group Ligonier Ministries, in which he bemoans that modern evangelicals (and Catholics) far too often conflate the historical doctrine of Sola Scriptura — the claim that scripture is the only final authority on questions of doctrine — with one he smirkingly terms Solo Scriptura (note the “o”), the claim that scripture is so clear and authoritative that Church history and tradition can be completely ignored. Obviously, there is a key difference between these two outlooks, but CtC’s Catholic writers argue there is no “principled” difference between the two, since the individual believer is still free to decide what he believes. Then, of course, the obligatory Catholic-on-Protestant fistfight ensues in the comments, with the Protestants insisting that there’s also no “principled” difference between Sola Scriptura and Apostolic Succession, and the Catholics dismissing this as a simple tu quoque.
Of course, I don’t see it as a tu quoque, else I would probably be Catholic. (Or Orthodox. Maybe both, to hedge my bets.) In any of the three cases, the individual ultimately decides what he or she believes to be true. I’m presently a member of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, in part because I’m a Sola Scriptura guy and I think the Book of Concord lays out the clearest and most accurate explication of what Scripture teaches, particularly when understood through the lens of Church history. However, were I to become convinced otherwise, I would most likely abandon the Lutheran tradition and go elsewhere. But what of it? The Catholic becomes and remains Catholic because he or she is convinced — for one reason or another — that the Catholic Church is the Infallible Church that Christ founded. If he or she were to become convinced otherwise, he or she would leave the Catholic Church; conscience would demand it. And so it becomes clear that the individual always ultimately decides for his or herself what he believes. Continue reading