By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
“I am convinced by the Scriptures!” shouted Martin Luther, as he unleashed his revolution against the Church of Rome. A great many people followed him to make a new church, officially based upon the Scriptures alone, with neither Popes nor councils. But people did not read the fine print in Luther’s revolt: “I am convinced by the Scriptures . . . as I interpret them.”
Officially, Sacred Scripture was to be open to all Christians and consequently no teaching Magisterium was necessary or even allowed: Each and every Christian became able to read the sacred text and interpret it correctly. The Holy Spirit would make sure of that, we’re told. No Popes, councils, or bishops are needed to teach you the truth to be believed. For many, it did sound interesting in the beginning, but what was the result?
Calvin disagreed with Luther, and Zwingli disagreed with both. And the splitting and sub-splitting went on. Every Dick, Tom, and Harry came up with a different interpretation of this or that Bible teaching. Since then, thousands of different denominations appeared, holding different views on every other aspect of Jesus’ teachings.
For example: People calling themselves Christians believe infant Baptism is not valid — Bible in hand. Others say it is — also quoting the same Book. Some believe that only Baptism of immersion is valid. Others disagree. Some say that Jesus is in the Eucharist figuratively only; some say He is there by means of impanation, others say of companation; others say that we should receive the Eucharist — whatever the meaning they may give to it — while others consider it optional or altogether unnecessary.
Some say that matrimony is indissoluble; others say it is soluble and remarriage is allowed, while others don’t mind being polygamous.
Some say that the Devil it is a real spirit; others say it is a figurative way of describing our evil tendencies, while others say it is a myth. Some say that there is a Trinity of persons in God; others say the Trinity is a pagan concept, while others are not too sure. Some say that the human soul has a spiritual nature distinct from the body, while others say that it does not.
Some say that we are created by God, while others say we evolved from apes; others say that both apes and men evolved from another species, while others say that we are stardust, coming from outer space.
Some say that Jesus Christ is divine; others say he was a human person inspired by God to do good things, while others squeeze something in between and say that he was divine but was not aware of it . . . as if God could forget who He is.
Some believe in predestination; others deny it. Some believe in an eternal Hell; others don’t. Some believe souls are judged immediately after death, others say only at the Final Judgment, others say we should not be judgmental.
Some say that only Christianity has the fullness of the truth — whatever their denomination may be — while others say that one can be saved in any religion, Christian or non-Christian — except Roman Catholicism, of course.
For some, priesthood is reserved to men only, but for others women should be priests and bishops too, even the head of the church.
Some Christians say abortion is murder; others say it is murder only after three weeks, others say after six weeks, others say 10 weeks, others say 20, others say till birth — others defend partial-birth abortion! And do not forget those who defend the killing of children born with serious health defects.
Euthanasia: For some it is murder; for others it is an act of mercy and for others a human right. Homosexuality: For some it is a perversion of nature that cries out to God for vengeance; for others a consequence of a genetic dysfunction; and for others an alternative way to express one’s sexuality.
For some, homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity and for others priests of any “Christian church” can be practicing homosexuals. We should not be judgmental.
Should I go on? Is it not evident that the individual interpretation of Scripture has brought about a cacophony of beliefs and moral choices? If a member of a given Christian congregation does not agree with his pastor’s interpretation of a certain Bible verse, he walks out and forms his own little church, and Christ is expected to accept it. In the end the World Council of Churches comes up as a kind of parliament of religions, or a supermarket of religions, where members can pick and choose from Jesus’ teachings what they like and leave behind what they don’t like. . . .
What has this chaotic situation got to do with Jesus Christ? He who said to let your words be yes, yes; no, no? He who does not gathers together with me, scatters abroad? He who is not with me, is against me: He who breaks one commandment violates the whole law? That not all those who say, Lord, Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but those who do the will of my father who is in Heaven shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven?
Christianity is not self-made according to one’s individual choices or preferences, but by obedience to the will of the Father, as we say in the Lord’s Prayer — thy will be done. We do not say my will be done!
But after martin Luther’s revolution, every Tom, Dick, and Harriet picks up a Bible and becomes a pope, or a popess — and an infallible one at that, of course, since everyone can interpret Scripture without error. The Holy Spirit is supposed to guide everyone in his Bible reading, regardless of the multiple contradictions.
Do you know what I call this? I call it popery. Yes, that’s what real popery is, when you see petty popes popping up like popcorn in plenty of popular parodied preachers’ pulpits.
What happened to the unity in one Lord, one faith, one Baptism (Eph. 4:5) in the one Church of Christ, which is the ground and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15)?
Sola Scriptura is not Christianity: It is a recipe for a relativism!
Luther himself admitted that his revolution has produced a doctrinal chaos, but he was much too proud to admit he had been wrong.
“There are as many sects and beliefs as there are heads. This fellow will have nothing to do with Baptism; another denies the Sacrament [Eucharist]. A third believes that there is another world between this and the Last Day. Some teach that Christ is not God; some say this, some say that. There is no rustic [peasant] so rude [simple, ignorant] but that, if he dreams or fancies anything it must be a whisper of the Holy Spirit, and he himself a prophet” (Grisar, Luther IV, pp. 386-407; Weimar, XVIII, 547, De Wett, III, 61).
In his masterpiece Le Christianisme et les Temps Presents, published in 1907, the then eminent French apologist Msgr. Bougoud quoted a letter from Luther to Zwingli, in which he wrote: “If the world lasts longer, it will be necessary to receive once again the decrees of the Councils in order to preserve the unity of the faith against the many interpretations of Scripture that abound these days” (quoted in vol. IV , p. 289, Editions Poussielgue, Paris).
But this cacophony has serious consequences: When everything becomes relative to the individual interpretation, to the individual choice or preference; when truth and error, good and evil, order and disorder depend entirely upon the individual personal interpretation, preference or whim, what is the result? Religious indifference.
Sola Scriptura made Christianity become meaningless as an objective message. The sentence in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done” became “My will be done.”
It is no longer Christianity; it is religious relativism. It is just biblical make-believe.
Next article: Sola Scriptura is unscriptural.
+ + +
(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is: www.RaymondeSouza.com.)