I must have been around four years old when I was first paraded in front of the church to sing with my sister. The song was “The B-I-B-L-E,” and I belted the words out with all the zeal I could muster. The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me; I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!
I wasn’t sure what the words meant. Was I proclaiming that I would believe in the Bible even if I was completely alone in doing so? Or did it mean that I would believe only in the Bible and nothing else?
Years later, I realized that the song was proclaiming the second of these two possibilities, a primary doctrine Protestant Reformers called Sola Scriptura. But as a small child, I just liked to sing about Jesus, and I was unaware of the problems that existed in the theology of Sola Scriptura.
A few years later, my father switched denominations – from Wesleyan preacher to Presbyterian preacher – and everything changed.
We didn’t kneel to pray in church anymore – ever. That was a Wesleyan tradition. We didn’t talk very much about holiness or sanctification. That was Wesleyan theology. Most of those new Presbyterians didn’t believe it was possible to fall from grace, and they didn’t spend much time worrying about being sanctified. Not that they believed (like the Baptists) in a once-saved-always-saved theology. The Presbyterians thought more along the lines of the elect. The chosen elect didn’t need to worry too much about backsliding. Again, that was Wesleyan lingo.
Once we were Presbyterian, we stopped going to camp meetings in the summer. Believers weren’t baptized down by the river anymore. They were sprinkled with water, usually when they were babies. Many of the hymns changed, and we learned a new prayer called The Lord’s Prayer. The teenagers went to confirmation class and learned the Apostle’s Creed, and some of Dad’s old Wesleyan church members thought he’d lost his mind – and maybe even his soul in the process.
I think that is when I first realized that there are many interpretations of Holy Scripture, and that just because it is the inspired Word of God, it doesn’t mean all Christians have the same beliefs. I found that rather perplexing. If Truth was more than a matter of opinion, why did so many denominations have totally different ideas on when one should be baptized, how one is sanctified and justified before God, and if one can ever lose the gift of grace and mercy once he has it. Their disagreements didn’t concern whether Eve ate an apple or a pomegranate. These people were arguing over key issues of life, death, and salvation.
To complicate matters further, it was about this same time that my cousins began receiving the charismatic Gifts of the Holy Spirit (they were Assembly of God), and neither the Wesleyans nor the Presbyterians talked about that at all. Obviously, there was a problem with “standing alone on the Word of God” because that’s exactly what everyone seemed to be doing. And nobody could agree on anything.
Either Pontius Pilate was right when he said, “What is truth?” Or Truth is a constant. It can be taught. It can be trusted. It can settle quarrels rather than create them.
I realized that there was one more problem with “standing alone on the Word of God.” We live in a changing world. The Bible doesn’t directly address issues like abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, or human cloning. Where is the teaching voice that we can trust to interpret Scripture and guide us through the cultural changes? Who can help us to stand on the Word of God without having that same Word tear us apart? Who is the benefactress and keeper of Truth?
There is sound doctrine, and it is knowable. There is perfect unity, and it is attainable. We cannot stand alone on the Word of God. But we can stand on the three-fold strength of Sacred Scripture, the Teaching voice of the Magisterium, and Sacred Tradition. Together, they shine a light so that we can fulfill the words of St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians. There is one Body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one Hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:4-6).