Sola Scriptura (Latin for “Bible Alone”) is the teaching that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith for the church today (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Catholics reject this teaching for several reasons, but this particular article will address only one of those Catholic objections. That tired, overused, but ever-so-popular Catholic argument is this: Sola Scriptura is “unworkable” as a rule of faith because it uses “private interpretation,” and this causes divisions / arguments / disagreements in Protestantism. But is this sound reasoning? Is this a fair argument?
Well, it is no secret that there are many divisions within Protestantism. Some estimate that there are 25,000 different denominations, some 30,000, others 33,000, etc., etc. One popular Catholic apologist claims that there may even be MILLIONS of Protestant denominations. While we believe that all of these numbers are wildly exaggerated, the focus of this article will not be on how many denominations there really are, nor on who has “more unity.” The focus is on the hypocrisy of Catholics who make the claim that Sola Scriptura is false because of divisions within Protestantism, while knowing that they, too, have divisions.
The Catholic Church claims to be “one” (i.e., unified), yet there are also many divisions / arguments / disagreements within its own ranks. This fact is undeniable. A little time spent searching on the internet will demonstrate that point. And some of these disagreements are on major, essential issues… even between higher officials in the Church. Even some of the early church fathers had disagreements with each other. There have been disagreements on all levels in the Catholic Church, from amateur lay apologists, to priests, bishops, cardinals and popes. Some modern points of disagreement between Catholics include the issue of contraception, the significance and effects of Vatican II, the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), Traditionalists, Novus Ordo (New Mass), evolution, Charismatic Catholics, and the concept of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (Latin for “no salvation outside the [Catholic] Church”) … to name just a few.
So, if Sola Scriptura is disqualified as a rule of faith because Protestants have divisions, then the Catholic Magisterium must also be disqualified. If “Bible Alone” is negated due to the existence of disagreements, then so is Catholic Tradition. If divisions cancel out one rule of faith, they cancel out all of them, making this Catholic argument self-refuting. This is certainly a double standard.
Just because you may not have “physical” divisions (denominations with separate names) doesn’t mean you don’t have divisions. And if Sola Scriptura is the cause of disagreements, then how is it that YOU have them, also? Apparently, the Catholic rule of faith is not as “clear” as many Catholics claim it to be.
Someone may respond that Catholic divisions simply stem from those who disagree with the Church’s clear and official teaching and are thus actually heretics, and not true Catholics; therefore they “don’t count” when comparing disagreements.
But, first of all, Protestants could use this same argument and say that Protestant divisions also occur because of disobedience to the Bible’s clear teaching, and that those who disagree with us are not true Sola Scriptura believers, either.
Secondly, if these Catholic “heretics” are never excommunicated, and they continue to attend and participate in Catholic services, give financially to the Catholic Church, partake of the sacraments, and continue to identify with the Church, then it certainly does not appear that the Church, herself, considers them “heretics,” does it?
So, the “heretic” argument doesn’t prove anything, nor does it erase the fact that Catholicism has its divisions.
Catholics may say, “But we have a leader (the pope) who can decide infallibly for us when disagreements arise.”
And how many times have popes “infallibly” decided anything? It is an extremely rare event. But this just causes more confusion, because Catholics can’t even know exactly how many times this has happened in history. There is no “official” list of infallible statements, so an appeal to this supposed infallibility does little or nothing to help this Catholic argument.
Unfortunately, disagreements in interpretation are inevitable in this life; it’s something we just have to learn to live with. Remember, there were many who saw Jesus Christ, Himself, face to face, and they still disagreed among themselves on what He taught. Does this mean that Jesus’ teachings were also “unworkable”? Of course not. The ABUSE of a sufficient rule of faith does not void that rule of faith.
Dear Catholic friends, I am not trying to justify Protestant divisions, but I’m simply challenging the idea that disagreements cause a problem for the Protestant rule of faith, but not for the Catholic rule of faith. This idea is inconsistent on the part of Catholics.
Yes, of course Jesus wants Christians to have unity in the truth (John 17:11, 21-23), and we should always strive for it, yet we ALL fall short… some of us more than others. But, please don’t pretend you have no divisions in Catholicism, or that your rule of faith is somehow exempt when you use the “disagreements nullify Sola Scriptura” argument.
Catholics lose credibility each time this argument is used. So, let’s put this faulty and deceptive argument to rest, once and for all.