Continuing on in our examination of Not By Scripture Alone, we come now to the Editor’s Preface (pp. xix-xxiii), which was written by Robert Sungenis.
He makes several points worth noting and discussing. First of all, he tells us that he loves Scripture: “I love Scripture. I eat, breathe and drink Scripture. My whole life has been dedicated to studying Scripture, usually five to six hours a day for the last 24 years” (p. xix). He builds on this to make the claim that “If anything, we have the greatest respect possible for Scripture that human beings can possess” (p. xx). When Protestants treat the Scripture as the “proverbial rag doll” (Sungenis here means the differing interpretations that different denominations have of the Bible), then “Scripture has become the slave of man which is traded and pilfered from one master to another” (p. xx). We will address the issue of Protestant denominations in future posts, especially since this book mentions this problem rather a lot. First of all, it needs to be admitted at the outset that there are too many denominations out there. Sometimes splits happen because of good reasons, and sometimes splits happen because of bad reasons. There’s plenty of the latter.
However, very seldom in this book will you see any acknowledgment of the Protestant doctrine of the visible/invisible church distinction. This is because Roman Catholics tend to define the church by visible categories. They tend to equate the church with the visible organization of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants tend to make more distinctions than this. Protestants tend to note more that there are unfaithful people in every denomination, and that there are faithful people in most denominations, and that the faithful people of all denominations constitute the true church, regardless of denomination boundaries. This underlying unity is either not mentioned, or it is tossed aside rather lightly, but it is a vitally important point. Yes, Presbyterians differ from Baptists on the issue of Baptism, and we worship apart for the very sake of greater unity (think how much fighting would happen if we were all in the same denomination!). But this does not take away from unity on other issues. In other words, not all denominational boundaries are inherently sinful, as long as the underlying unity is emphasized. Church unity along organizational lines is not the only kind of unity there is.
Another point that needs to be emphasized here is that a difference of interpretation about Scripture is not the same thing as Sola Scriptura. If Baptists and Presbyterians both agree on Sola Scriptura, then it cannot be Sola Scriptura‘s fault that they worship apart! Roman Catholics would respond by saying that Sola Scriptura is still responsible, since it prevents any one magisterial interpretation from governing the church. Hence Sola Scriptura is still responsible for the divisions. However, it is still the case that Sola Scriptura is not responsible for denominationalism. As will be argued in detail later, Martin Luther did not want to leave the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church excommunicated him. To follow this trail a bit further, Martin Luther’s interpretation of justification and Scripture has precedents in the early church (one does not need to argue here that ALL church fathers would agree with Luther. Of course they wouldn’t. All that is necessary here is to prove that Luther’s position can be found in the early church. This will be the subject of another post later on). If this is so, then, in excommunicating Martin Luther, the Roman Catholic Church rejected part of the magisterium, and was itself the cause of the fracture. There were theologians even at Trent who were more than sympathetic with Martin Luther’s positions (which will also be argued later).
Now, Sungenis is willing to allow that men at Trent may have made some mistakes (p. xxii). This is helpful, especially considering what Vatican II said about it: “men on both sides were to blame” (quoted by Sungenis on the same page). But let’s consider that admission for a bit. A good bit of the rest of the book seems to be arguing that Sola Scriptura is entirely or mostly to blame, not only for denominationalism among Protestants, but also for the rift at the Reformation also. But this cannot be true if men on both sides were to blame. Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church contributed to denominationalism and schism, even while denying Sola Scriptura! This seriously undermines any claim that Rome can make to the effect that Sola Scriptura is solely responsible for all the denominations existing in disunity out there. For schism can result from other causes than Sola Scriptura. Let me reiterate a former point in different words: denominations do not come into existence because of what they agree on. They come into existence because of what they disagree with someone else on. If most Protestant denominations agree on Sola Scriptura, then that doctrine cannot be the basis for denominationalism, whatever Catholics may say about interpretation. And there is a great deal more unity among Protestants than the Catholics seem willing to admit in this book (this is also the subject of another post. One side note: it is impossible to say everything that one would want to say in one post, unlike a book. I must ask my readers not to make arguments based on things I haven’t addressed yet.).