A fellow by the name of C. Michael Patton wrote an article “In Defense of Sola Scriptura“. On pages 19-22, the author admits that Protestants merely have a “fallible collection of infallible books”. He admits that Protestants cannot be certain that the canon of Scripture has been put together correctly.
However, he claims that this is really no problem for the “sola scriptura” position, since “personal fallibility” affects us all. Whether a person relies on the supposedly infallible Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, on the supposedly infallible Tradition of the Orthodox Church, or on the supposedly infallible canon of the Protestant Church, the person himself is subject to error. When he chooses to submit to a supposedly infallible authority, he may choose wrongly. His own personal fallibility may cause him to select Rome when he should have chosen Constantinople. Or he may choose Constantinople when he really should have chosen Geneva. Any way you slice it, it is impossible to totally remove fallibility from the picture. Therefore, it is not really a problem that Protestants cannot infallibly select their canon of Scripture . . . or so the argument goes.
Truly, this is a clever argument. It is an argument which has successfully stopped many Protestants from converting to either Roman Catholicism or to Orthodoxy. On the surface, Patton’s argument seems so simple and clear, that one could almost believe it to be an open-and-shut case. No one disputes the fact that individuals are fallible. Even Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians agree on that point. So what could possibly be wrong with Patton’s argument?
In fact, his argument contains a number of serious errors, which we will presently consider.
The remainder of this article is divided into three sections:
1) Not all fallible decisions are created equal.
2) Even fallible people can make inerrant decisions.
3) Not all “infallible standards” are created equal.
Not All Fallible Decisions Are Created Equal
Imagine that you want to own a safe, dependable car that your wife and children can use for transportation. And to simplify our analogy, let’s imagine that Ford is the only car company in existence. Furthermore, suppose that there are 10,000 different fellows living in your state, each of whom tinkers in his garage, trying to build a car from scratch. All 10,000 guys have different theories about how to build an internal combustion engine. Some of their contraptions run for a while. Others don’t run at all. Once in a while, you read in the newspaper about someone dying because their garage blew up. These fellows have different sets of manuals, and the manuals do not all contain the same sets of instructions. Each manual claims to be the “true original manual” written by the inventor of the internal combustion engine. You consider going directly to Ford for a new vehicle, but then some of your friends tell you not to do that, suggesting that “Ford doesn’t make ’em like they used to . . . their standards used to be good, but they have really gone downhill.” So you think about just avoiding all 10,000 of those guys’ garages, and building a car on your own.
But you don’t know anything about building a car! How many years would it take you to personally discover the principles of internal combustion and to re-invent the motor? How many years would it take you to master the craftsmanship necessary to build the exterior of a car? How many years would you have to study engineering, to make sure that your design was truly safe for your wife and children? You don’t have time to reinvent the car yourself. By the time you did it, your children would already be grown and moved out of the house, and it would be too late. Besides, what makes you better than the other 10,000 guys out there who are tinkering in their own garages? What makes you think your garage won’t be one of the ones to blow up?
So you finally turn to the history books. You know that Ford has been around for over 100 years. You ask to see one of their car manufacturing manuals from back in 1950. (None of the 10,000 garage-owners were able to produce a manual that old, because none of them had been building cars for that long.) When you look at Ford’s car manufacturing manual from 1950, you see that it matches the manual printed by Ford in the year 2014. The principles of physics haven’t changed. The horsepower calculations haven’t changed. The fuel type hasn’t changed. Certain things have been tinkered with, such as body style, or the number of cylinders in the engine block, but the basic principles of internal combustion have remained consistent from the year 1950 to the year 2014. You go even further back, and you see that their manuals from 1920 and 1930 match the ones from 1950. There is genuine continuity there.
Then you look at the safety reports. Long before any of the 10,000 garage owners started up their businesses, Ford had been producing millions of cars, and there were relatively few accidents. Most people had no major issues. There was an occasional manufacturing defect, which rendered a car inoperable. There were a number of people who failed to maintain their cars properly, and the cars wore out prematurely. In other cases, the cars simply ran great for 150,000 miles, and were gracefully retired after a long and productive life. In some cases, people took such good care of the cars, that they are still on the road! Even some Fords from the 1920s can be seen driving too and from antique car shows today. As for the 10,000 garage owners, a select few of them bring 1970s cars to the car shows, but nothing older; none of their homespun cars were even in production back in 1920.
Now suppose that all 10,000 garage-owners actually claimed to be making “near-replicas of the cars originally manufactured by Ford 100 years ago”.
Given this (admittedly simplistic) hypothetical situation, what decision would you make for your family? Would you:
A) Try to reinvent the car yourself, and build it yourself from scratch?
B) Purchase a new car built by one of the 10,000 garage-owners?
C) Purchase a new car from Ford?
Of course, you are a fallible person, which means you make decisions that are fallible. But not all fallible decisions are created equal. If you make the car yourself, you are subjecting yourself to thousands of individual little decisions, any one of which may render your new car inoperable or else downright dangerous. If you opt for one of the garage-owners, your odds are a little better, but only slightly so.
After all, how will you go about judging between one garage-owner and another? How will you determine which garage-owners are following the correct manual, and how will you judge whether they are following it correctly? How can you even know which manual is the correct one to begin with?
To thoroughly judge among all the garage owners, you would need to become an expert yourself. You would need to know enough about physics to critique their theories of internal combustion engine manufacturing, you would need to know enough about auto bodies to critique their body design, you would need to know enough about vehicle engineering to critique their safety precautions, and you would need to know enough about textual criticism to figure out who has the accurate manuals and who doesn’t.
In other words, you aren’t much better off than if you just try to reinvent the car on your own. And since all 10,000 garage owners claim that their cars are “near-replicas of the cars originally manufactured by Ford 100 years ago,” and yet their manuals look radically different from the 98-year-old manuals you acquired directly from Ford, you figure that the 10,000 garage owners are fudging on the truth a bit.
So you finally just go down to your local Ford dealership and you purchase a new pickup truck. You realize that your decision even here is fallible. You might be the 1-in-1000 unlucky customer who gets a pickup truck which contains a manufacturing defect. But at least you know that Ford has been at this business for over 100 years, and you know that their manufacturing guidelines today match their manufacturing guidelines from the 1920s and the 1950s: from back before any of the 10,000 garage-owners were even in business yet. So you drive your new truck off the lot and you take your chances.
All analogies are imperfect, and this analogy is no exception. There are more car companies in existence than Ford alone (thank the Lord!). There are new technological advances which have been made in motor manufacturing over the past 100 years. And it is not inconceivable that an extremely brilliant, dedicated person could study hard enough, for enough years, to re-invent the motor vehicle. It is not an impossible thing to imagine.
Yet for all its imperfections, hopefully this analogy gets across the intended point:
Not all fallible decisions are created equal.
A person may fallibly attempt to personally make the 25,000 minute engineering decisions that would be necessary to re-invent a motor vehicle from scratch. A person may fallibly attempt to personally judge among the 125,000 different ways that 10,000 different garage-owners make manufacturing decisions. Or a person may make one fallible decision to trust the one authority (Ford) which has been around since cars were invented, and who can demonstrate that their manufacturing principles are the same today as they were 50 years ago, 75 years ago, and 98 years ago.
That one decision to trust an authority may be a fallible decision, but anyone should be able to see the obvious truth: It is far less risky to trust the time-tested automobile authority, than it is to trust yourself to build a car from scratch.
Our choices in regard to Scripture interpretation are similar, but the stakes are much higher. Will you:
A) Try to reinvent Christianity yourself, and build it from scratch?
B) Accept one of the 20,000 versions of Christianity which have been invented over the past 500 years?
C) Accept the Scripture interpretations of the undivided Church of the first millennium, which existed prior to the modern church splits and schisms?
Option A is hopeless. You have no better chance of reinventing the wheel than do the other 20,000 denominations out there. Why make it 20,001?
Option B is equally hopeless. If you can’t reinvent the wheel from scratch, then how can you possibly judge among the 20,000 different options out there?
Option C makes a lot of sense, even if you aren’t perfect, even if you aren’t infallible. You know that God would never allow the gates of hell to prevail against His Church, not even for a few centuries. Thus the undivided Church existing in the 9th century must have been–at the very least–a true Church where salvation could be found. And interestingly enough, both then and today, that Church claims to be the only true Church in existence. With those two facts in mind, how safe is it to not be a member of that Church?
Even Fallible People Can Make Inerrant Decisions
Quickly, write down the answers to these questions:
1) 2 + 2 =
2) 1 + 1 =
3) 4 + 4 =
4) 5 + 5 =
5) 9 + 1 =
How confident are you that you answered all 5 questions correctly? Is there any doubt in your mind at all? If so, then you need a legal guardian to help you cope with basic daily living skills. But if there is no doubt in your mind, then you have just discovered that inerrant results can be achieved by fallible persons, at least under certain circumstances. Presumably, if I were to give you ten consecutive tests on single-digit addition, you would score 100% correct on all ten tests. Even if you have to count on your fingers to answer every question, there is no good reason for a normal adult human being to miss any questions on tests such as this one.
Similarly, there is a hypothetical circumstance under which fallible people could interpret the Scriptures infallibly. They could do it, if God provided an infallible interpreter. The “infallible interpreter” might plausibly be one of the following:
1) The individual person, aided by the Holy Spirit.
2) One of 20,000 denominations started over the past 500 years.
3) The historic undivided Church of the first millennium.
Let’s consider option #1 first. If you fly solo, and pray really hard for the Holy Spirit to guide you, how certain are you that you will personally arrive at a correct understanding of Scripture and the Church? How will you determine whether or not to include Esther and James in the Bible? How will you determine whether or not to include Baruch and 2 Maccabees? How will you determine whether or not to include 1 Clement and the Didache? And what makes you think that the Holy Spirit is guiding you more clearly than He guided the worldwide Church for the first 1000 years of Christianity? Once you select your own personal “canon” of Scripture (whether 5 books, or 40 books, or 68 books, or whatever), how will you determine all of the doctrines which are taught therein? Will you believe in credobaptism or infant baptism? Will you believe in cessationism or in charismata? Will you accept congregational, Presbyterian, or Episcopalian church government? Will you accept polygamy or reject it? Will you pray for the dead or not? Will your church have icons or not? Will women preach in your church? Will monasticism be encouraged or prohibited?
Once you have studied your personal canon for yourself, and once you have come to personal conclusions on all of these various doctrines, what will your church finally look like? If it looks radically different that the undivided Church of the first millennium, then what conclusion will you make at that point? Will you conclude that you yourself were listening to the Holy Spirit incorrectly, or will you conclude that the entire worldwide Church listened to the Holy Spirit incorrectly for the first 1,000 years of Christianity? Do you think personal pride may be an issue for some people when making this decision?
If you conclude that a “biblical Church” is elder-led, independent, practices credobaptism, prays to God alone, avoids pictures of Jesus and angels and saints, discourages monasticism, prohibits incense, and believes in sola scriptura, then where was your church for the first 1,000 years of Christianity?
It would be one thing to figure that “some people got some stuff wrong here and there”. But surely we cannot believe that the Holy Spirit failed to show ANYBODY the truth for multiple centuries in a row! If the first millennium was scattered with numerous denominations which looked similar to a modern Baptist or Pentecostal or Presbyterian church, then we might suppose that the Holy Spirit worked with one of these groups during the first millennium, until the larger church finally started “getting with the program” in the 16th century. But history simply does not support this sort of scenario.
For the first 1000 years of Christianity:
- Nobody believed in sola scriptura.
- Everybody believed in baptismal regeneration.
- Everybody encouraged monasticism.
- Everybody believed the church should be governed by bishops, priests, and deacons.
They agreed on many other things too. But even if we just stop with this short list, we have already narrowed the playing field from 20,000 competing denominations down to three: The Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and the Coptics.
Without exaggeration, we can safely say that if the Church was wrong about these four doctrines, then the Holy Spirit utterly failed to get His point across for over 1000 years.
And if the Holy Spirit utterly failed to get His point across for over 1000 years, then we have some serious problems to wrestle with:
1) If the Holy Spirit kept the worldwide Church utterly in the dark on these major doctrines for over 1000 years, then what reason do we have to think that the Holy Spirit is doing a better job today? After all, we see more division today, not less. Perhaps the Holy Spirit plans to keep us in the dark for a full 3,000 years before sending Martin Luther’s great-great-great-great-great grandson to REALLY brings us a reformation. If millions of Scripture students failed to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice for centuries, then why do you think you will be more successful at hearing Him than they were?
2) If the Holy Spirit kept the worldwide Church utterly in the dark on these major doctrines for over 1000 years, then the Scriptures must not be clear on these subjects. If the Scriptures plainly taught credobaptism, and prohibited infant baptism, then it would be inconceivable for the worldwide Church to go multiple centuries without ever catching their mistake. If the Scriptures clearly refuted the concept of baptismal regeneration, then how did millions of students of Scripture unanimously miss that fact for consecutive centuries? If the Scriptures obviously taught that we should have some form of Church government other than bishops, priests, and deacons, then how did this fact get totally missed by centuries of avid Scripture students? If the Scriptures are clear, then how could such a thing happen to so many millions of people for such a long period of time?
On the other hand, if the Scriptures are not so clear on these subjects, then what hope do you and I have of figuring things out?
Thus the average individual person cannot be an infallible interpreter of Scripture, even when aided by the Holy Spirit.
How about option #2? Is it possible that one of the 20,000 denominations which sprang up over the past 500 years is an infallible interpreter? When we begin to scrutinize the myriad denominations in existence, we can discover some mind-boggling things. Indeed, a very distinct pattern quickly becomes recognizable. The longer a denomination is in existence, the more it changes and morphs. We can easily compare the denominations of centuries past with their counterparts today, and find that this rule holds true for Protestant denominations that have been around for a century or more:
|Church of England||No acceptance of gay or female clergy||Both are accepted|
|Presbyterian Church||You must believe in the Trinity||You don’t have to believe in the Trinity|
|Methodist Church||No acceptance of gay members or female clergy||Both are accepted|
|Lutheran Church||Homosexuality is an abomination||Gay is OK|
Baptism by sprinkling
|Most are Arminian
Baptism by immersion
For the thousands of denominations that have been founded less than 150 years ago (e.g. PCA, OPC, continuing Anglican denominations, pentecostal denominations, Bible churches, house churches, etc.), it is more difficult to draw the trajectory, since not enough time has passed yet for the morphs/changes to take effect. However, even in some of these cases, radical modifications can already been seen. For example, the REC was originally founded as an Anglican denomination intended to guard against anglo-catholicism. Yet today, the REC is one of the most anglo-catholic groups in existence. The OPC originally rejected the drinking of alcohol, but today it is accepted. The PCA was founded in the 1970s. The RPCUS broke away from the PCA in the 1980s, because they felt like the PCA wasn’t conservative enough. Then the RPCGA broke away from the RPCUS in the 1990s. The one thing consistent about Protestantism is that it consistently fosters doctrinal shifts and church splits.
Any Protestant denomination older than a century has already shifted around on its doctrines in one way or another. And any Protestant denomination younger than a century hasn’t been around long enough to prove its salt; it simply has not yet stood the test of time. But why would we expect a denomination founded 50 years ago to fare better than one that was founded 500 years ago? How many times do we have to lose at poker before we figure out that the odds are not in our favor? How many times do we have to get it wrong before we change our strategy?
If we could just find one denomination — just one — that showed an ability to exist for multiple centuries without experiencing doctrinal-drift, that would be a miracle indeed. That would be a feat which not even one-in-20,000 Protestant denominations has been able to meet. Indeed, if a church went 500 years, or 1000 years, or even 1500 years without changing its doctrines, we might be impressed enough to attribute it to a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it would be difficult to attribute it to anything but the Holy Spirit, since the past 500 years have proven hundreds of denominations to be utterly incapable of achieving doctrinal continuity over a period of centuries.
If we look at Rome, sure enough, we see change, change, change. They used leavened bread for the Eucharist for centuries, and then switched to unleavened bread somewhere in the 6th-8th centuries. They practiced paedocommunion for 1200 years, and then discontinued the practice in the 13th century. They originally believed in the Orthodox doctrine of the Trinity found in the original Nicene Creed, but then they changed their doctrine of the Trinity (with the filioque), and they unilaterally changed the Nicene Creed. For 1000 years, they held to the Christus Victor understanding of Christ’s atonement, but then beginning in the 12th century, the switched to the precursor of the Penal Substitutionary theory of the atonement.
But when we look at the Orthodox Church, we see something spectacular, something which is inexplicable in human terms. The Orthodox Church has never changed its doctrine of the Trinity. The Orthodox Church has never changed its doctrine of the Eucharist. The Orthodox Church has never changed its doctrine of the atonement. And we certainly permit neither gays nor female preachers. If you look at what the Orthodox Church taught in the year 250, you will see that is the same as what the Orthodox Church taught in the year 850, which is the same as what the Orthodox Church taught in 1400, which is the same as what the Orthodox Church teaches today.
Even Rome has not accomplished that. And certainly no Protestant denomination has even come close. In fact, even the obviously heretical denominations cannot accomplish it! For example, compare the teachings of the Mormon church in the 1800s with its teachings today. There have been numerous significant doctrinal shifts. Similar shifts have taken place within the Watchtower Society and within Seventh-day Adventism. Human beings simply are not naturally capable of avoiding change over long periods of time.
If we were to seek for a Church which has been supernaturally upheld by the Holy Spirit, wouldn’t it appear that the Orthodox Church is a good candidate?
If we were to seek an infallible interpretation of Scripture, we could not trust “self-plus-the-Holy-Spirit,” nor could we trust any of the 20,000 Protestant denominations which have arisen over the past 500 years. So what about option #3? If we accept the possibility that the undivided Church of the first millennium was inspired by God to keep the True Faith intact, then how well can fallible people like you and me succeed in learning correct doctrine?
In fact, if the Church of the first millennium is trustworthy, then infallibly interpreting Scripture becomes easy in regard to many doctrines! Whether you live in the year 300, 1200, 1700, or 2014, and whether you live in Syria, England, Jerusalem, or Russia, the Orthodox Church gives a consistent answer every time regarding many basic doctrines:
- Church government is supposed to be by bishops, priests, and deacons.
- Baptism washes away sins.
- The Eucharist is the true body and blood of Jesus.
- Icons are good.
- Idolatry is utterly forbidden.
- Men alone may become deacons, priests, or bishops.
- Homosexuality is utterly forbidden.
- Marriage is between one man and one woman
(not polygamous like Martin Luther and Mormons taught).
etc. . . .
Therefore, if God has provided an infallible interpreter of Scripture, it is possible for fallible people to benefit from it, and to infallibly arrive at a full and complete understanding of significant doctrinal Truth. If the Orthodox Church is what it claims to be, then it truly does enable fallible people to infallibly interpret Scripture.
Thus, we finally reach the third major point:
Not All “Infallible Standards” Are Created Equal
On page 21 of Patton’s article concerning sola scriptura, Patton displays a chart which appears to equivocate between “infallible Scripture” and the hypothetical “infallible Church”. He seems to insinuate that a hypothetical “dual source” person would be in a position which is epistemologically equivalent to the position held by a hypothetical “sola scriptura” person. In one scenario, the “dual source” person fallibly interprets the “infallible Church.” In the other scenario, the “sola scriptura” person fallibly interprets the “infallible Scripture”. And since each scenario involves a fallible person interpreting an infallible authority, Patton concludes that the two scenarios are epistemologically equivalent.
Patton is mistaken. The two scenarios are not equivalent at all.
The difference lies not in a matter of infallibility, but rather in a matter of perspicuity, a matter of clarity. The “infallible Church” may not be any more infallible than the “infallible Scripture”. But one thing is absolutely certain: The “infallible Church” is much clearer than the “infallible Scripture!
The proof is in the pudding:
- Ask 20 random people to study the Scriptures alone. Then ask them about what the Bible teaches about baptismal regeneration. You will receive 20 different answers.
- Ask 20 random people to interview 20 random Orthodox priests. Then ask them whether the Orthodox Church teaches that baptismal regeneration is a true doctrine. You will receive 20 identical answers.
- Ask 20 random people to study the Scriptures alone. Then ask them what the Bible teaches about church government. You will receive 20 different answers.
- Ask 20 random people to interview 20 random Orthodox priests. Then ask them if the Orthodox Church teaches us to submit to bishops, priests, and deacons. You will receive 20 identical answers.
- Ask 20 random people to study the Scriptures alone. Then ask them what the Bible teaches about the the identity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and their relationship to one another. You will receive 20 different answers.
- Ask 20 random people to interview 20 random Orthodox priests. Then ask them if the Orthodox Church teaches the doctrine of the Trinity. You will receive 20 identical answers.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Whether the Orthodox Church is infallible or not, it is certainly clear on central doctrines. If a person submits to the Orthodox Church, he/she has no excuse for getting off-track doctrinally. But the Scriptures (on their own) are not at all clear on central doctrines. Millions of people self-consciously submit themselves directly to the Scriptures the best they know how, and yet come to thousands of differing conclusions regarding basic things like baptism, church government, and even the identity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. My uncle Rick has studied the Bible forwards and backwards for thousands of hours over a period of many decades. And his studies have led him to conclude that the doctrine of the Trinity is false. He denies that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet even my Uncle Rick cannot deny that the Orthodox Church teaches the doctrine of the Trinity.
I believe that is ironclad proof that the clarity of the infallible Church is far greater than the clarity of the infallible Scriptures. And if that is the case, then Patton’s entire argument falls flat. It is true that the “dual source” and the “sola scriptura” scenarios each posit an individual fallibly interpreting an infallible authority. But he is mistaken when he equivocates between those two infallible authorities. Not all infallible authorities are created equal.
Now we bring together point #2 with point #3:
- It is possible for a fallible person to make inerrant decisions, if the subject matter is sufficiently clear enough to mitigate any reasonable possibility of error.
- Infallible Scripture does not exhibit a sufficient amount of clarity to overcome individual human fallibility. Therefore, a fallible person solely relying on infallible Scripture is still in grave danger of falling into doctrinal error.
- The “Infallible Church” does exhibit a sufficient amount of clarity to overcome individual human fallibility. Therefore, a fallible person relying on the Infallible Church is able to avoid falling into doctrinal error.
It is critical to absorb, digest, and understand the three bullet points above. These points throw Patton’s argument into an entirely different perspective. In light of the points demonstrated above, Patton’s comments on page 21 suddenly appear laughable. He says, “This means that we are all floating in the same river, just different boats. Catholics (Dual-Source Theory) have a fallible belief about an infallible authority; advocates of Sola Scriptura have a fallible belief about an infallible authority. Both authorities must be substantiated by the evidence and both authorities must be interpreted by fallible people. In the end, what is the difference?”
Indeed, there is a huge difference between the two approaches!
Patton recognizes that individuals are personally fallible, and he freely admits that the “sola scriptura” view offers absolutely no way to infallibly determine the canon of Scripture (for example). And Patton’s solution is basically just to “live with it”, since he mistakenly believes that all conceivable forms of infallibility are created equal. He never considers the radical lack of clarity which the Scriptures have, in comparison to the doctrinal Tradition of the Orthodox Church. And he fails to recognize that a significant improvement in clarity can be sufficient to overcome the fallibility of the individual. Even a fallible individual can add 2+2 without error. Similarly, a fallible individual can determine the Orthodox Church’s stance on paedocommunion without error. If the authority is sufficiently clear, then the fallibility of the individual ceases to be a significant factor.
Patton recognizes that the “sola scriptura” view inevitably will bring about doctrinal conflict. In his paper, he conveys his understanding that the doctrine of sola scriptura has brought about numerous divisions within Christianity. But Patton does not see this as a problem at all! Incredibly, he believes that division within the church is a good thing, intended by God!
Here are Patton’s words on page 25 of his article:
“I believe that it is a real possibility—even likely—that God does not want absolute doctrinal unity. In fact, practically speaking, I think it would do more harm than good. I believe that doctrinal disagreements are healthy for the church.”
This is one case in which I will gladly invite the reader to “read Scripture for himself”, to see whether it is even remotely possible to reconcile Patton’s view with the view of Scripture. This is one case in which I do not believe the Scriptures are unclear. Consider the following two passages, and see whether you believe Patton’s theory is plausible:
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
(St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:10)
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one . . .” (Jesus, John 17:20-23)
According to the two Scriptures quoted above, is it even possible that “God does not want absolute doctrinal unity” and that “it would do more harm than good”?
If you agree with my reading of these two scriptures, then you agree that Patton’s argument falls down flat. God wants doctrinal unity in the Church. But if sola scriptura brings about many divisions, as Patton admits, then how can God’s desire for doctrinal unity be compatible with the doctrine of sola scriptura? An infallible interpreter is needed.
If you disagree with my reading of these two scriptures, then you have demonstrated the fact that Scripture, on its own, is often unclear. But if Scripture alone is unclear, then how can sola scriptura ever bring an individual person to a proper doctrinal understanding of Scripture? An infallible interpreter is needed.
Either way, sola scriptura fails the test miserably.