So, on one side, we have solo scriptura, which is rooted in “the individualism of the Radical Reformation, the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and the democratic populism of early America.” This view has neutered the Church and made the individual autonomous (to paraphrase Doug Wilson, “just me and my Bible” has a way of becoming “just me”). On the other side is Rome and Constantinople, who have made the Church autonomous from Scripture. The Biblical view steers between these errors, as it steers between the Scylla of legalism and the Charybdis of antinomianism.
We have a big mess of denominations and nothing close to a unified witness to the world. What do we do? Well, in addition to its repetitiveness, a weakness of “The Shape of Sola Scriptura” is that Mathison offers few concrete prescriptions. He does, however, scatter some general suggestions:
- The Church must regain a proper understanding of sola scriptura. “Much of modern Evanglicalism is antihistorical and functions as if the Church exists within a historical vacuum… All Christians must realize the fallacy of assuming they come to Scripture as absolutely neutral observers… Evangelicals tend to come to Scripture with radically individualistic presuppositions.”
- Pray! Identifying [the Church] is a “significant problem….There are no twelve step programs for this kind of situation. The correction… wil require generations [centuries!] of prayer, patience, and humility. It has taken the Church over a thousand years to get herself into this current situation. We do not know how long it will take for the problem to be corrected. We can rest assured that no progress will be made unless the problem is acknowledged.”
- Desire Unity. Unity has become a bad word because of the weak attempts to apply it using watered down doctrinal statements and the social gospel. But I concur with Mathison: It is not a good thing that the visible church is fragmented and lacks a consistent witness (Eph 4:5, 1 Cor 12:12-13, John 17:20-21). We should desire that it be united on the truth.
- Return to historic consensus. Allow “the apostolic gospel that served as the hermeneutical context for scriptural interpretation during the early centuries of the Church” [the historic consensus based on the early councils] to regain its place in our interpretation today. This guards the church from faddishness and overemphasis of certain doctrines.
- Protestants should not bolt to Rome and Constantinople and their faulty claims to succession and infallibility. “The Roman church simply has no grounds to claim that she alone is free from the possibility of having her lampstand removed (Rev 2:5). First, there is no prediction that she alone would continue forever. Second, if there were such a prediction, it would…include the condition of continuing obedience to God. Third, there is a specific passage written to the Roman church by Paul explicitly warning her of the possibility of her disobedience and falling away.” [Rom 11:17-22]. And further: “It is only within Protestantism at this time that the early church’s concept of authority can still be found at all. Rome and Orthodoxy, at this point in history, have rejected this concept of authority in favor of an ecclesiastical autonomy. Until God intervenes, it is virtually impossible for either of these communions to move in a positive direction. Their claims of infallibility force them to ignore their own deviations from the ancient faith…”
- Be patient. We want quick fixes, but God has not worked that way throughout history. Sometimes it does take hundreds of years for changes to occur. Consider the Israelites in Egypt, or the period from Adam until Noah and then to Abraham. However, we can know that God will not leave his Church, and that he can work through the mess we have today. “The church at the present time is in exile, a diaspora of sorts. So what do we do now? Exactly what Daniel did. We have to live in the situation in which God has providentially placed us, trusting in His sovereignty, faithfulness and mercy. We have to pray to God to forgive us of our many sins and restore us as a unified communion of saints with a unified Biblical witness to the world.”