Farewell Sola-Scriptura: The Reformed “Three-Legged Stool” of Authority

My friend Alan Maricle recently wrote an extremely  thought-provoking article on the lack of Biblical support for the “*office* of deacon.” Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions and the way he arrived there, you would have to admit that he appealed to the scripture continuously as the basis for his conclusions. Point by point was buttressed with the Bible and an entrenched appeal that our traditions ought to be stripped away and replaced with the naked, theopneustos, words of God as the means of coming to our conclusions.

Because the article was pointed, direct and caused more than a few squinty-eye twitches from folks not accustomed to this sort of analysis and conclusion, it naturally garnered more than a little feedback.

Here’s the thing though: in light of the the copious amounts of pushback and hullabaloo his article received, there was a distinct lack of exegetically-grounded counters to it. As I sifted through the responses on social media I did not see his detractors going over the Greek and explaining Alan’s use [or mis-use] of διάκονος and whether or not it fit the context he placed it in. I did not see people offering a robust rebuttal from the text using cross-references and a superior hermeneutical prowess.

Instead what I noticed was “more of the same” of a growing trend among reformed people when faced with a theological disagreement, which is quoting old dead guys and the books they wrote instead of dealing with the text, from the text.

There was a lot of “How can you say the NASB translates the three verses in 1 Timothy 3 and 4 that employ διάκονος differently, especially when we read in the Westminister Confession of Faith that…..” or “What do you mean that we should render διάκονος consistently across the board through all the Testament, especially in light of when Spurgeon wrote …” This is one example, but this scene is played out over and over again in all sorts of circumstances. As Alan is discovering, there is a special sort of sanctification that must be pursued to withstand the irritation that arises when you ask people to engage you with the Bible, and instead your feed is flooded with quotes and commentary.

The fact is that we’re not arguing, debating or wrestling through these things as the reformers did, using the Bible alone to come to righteous conclusions, contra Rome.  Instead we’re using the Roman Catholic ways of doing it, appealing to the reformers and confessions, elevating their authority, with the unintended consequence is that it becomes contra sola-scripture.

Because that’s how those wily Romanists do it. They have their “three-legged stool of authority” by which they pass judgment on all theological things truthful and truthy. Far from appealing to the Bible alone, they would repudiate the notion as fanciful and instead conclude that theological truths are decided using three different sources;  the sacred scriptures, the consensus of their teaching magisterium, and the alleged unanimity of the Church fathers encapsulated in their traditions, all of which hold equal weight and authority.

Far from castigating that convoluted process for the abject sketchiness that it is, more and more of my reformed brethren have created their own “three-legged stool” of authority that they use to advance a conviction; the scriptures, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and a highly potent Spurgeon quote.

That’s how people are arguing now! That’s how they’re rebutting and trying to get their point across. Our authoritative, cutting, exposing, bone-and marrow-piercing, drop-the-mic moment is no longer a perfectly parsed Greek participle, but rather it’s a two-paragraph quote from page 21 of Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening Devotional”

Now, in all fairness the majority of people singularly dropping memes of The Holy Father Charles Spurgeon, or his Arch-Vicar John MacArthur, or any other of the Puritans in response to biblical question are indeed confessionally “sola-scripturial”. They would believe and confess that there is one authority that stands above all other sources of light and guidance, the word of God. They’ll say it. They’ll cling to it if push comes to shove, but they’ll also let it play out in the strangest of ways.

Do they hold to it functionally speaking? Ehhhh… the way I see them answering queries and building cases using the means and mechanisms that they’re employing-  this sweet trifecta of scripture, tradition and idolatrous reverence that gets dropped into every post and that gets lobbed at every question, with a lopsided over-emphasis on the latter two and often to the exclusion of the first-

You’d be hard pressed to convince me of that.

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