Normative vs. Regulative Sola-Scriptura


As I have talked to other Protestants and Catholics and was reading a book on church history (written by a Protestant), it seems to me that there are two views, among those who accept said doctrine, on the application of Sola-Scriptura.

One view would be a normative (I take these terms from the arguments used over worship) view: basically, Scripture has all things (when interpreted properly) that are sufficient for the Salvation and edification of the Believer, but especially in terms of spritual matters, anything that does not contradict Scripture is allowable (as an Episcopalian, we believe in the Real Presence [in my readings and looking at Church history, it seems the idea of the Real Presence, although perhaps not transubstantiation, is defensible and, even if it is an incorrect doctrine, it does not propagate sin] and are liturgical, a modern Baptist is memorialistic and very free form in worship). A normative view would allow for the importance of Tradition and the Magisterium (as my Chaplain likes to say, she views at as a tricycle with the Scripture being the ‘big wheel’ and reason and Tradition/Magisterium being the two ‘small wheels’ that, while not as central as the ‘big wheel’, are still very important for a fuller and more correct understanding of Scripture and God).

A regulative view of Sola Scriptura would say that if something is not expressly mentioned in Scripture, then it is not allowable. This is the argument used by the Church of Christ (the denomination…all Believers are part of that One Holy Catholic (Universal) and Apostolic Church founded by Christ [thus, ‘of Christ’]) to forbid the use of instruments in worship.

Personally, I believe a regulative view of Sola Scriptura is indefensible. In reading Christian apologist J. P. Holding of Tekton Apologetics Ministires, he discusses how Scripture is ‘high-context’–meaning that information that the Divinely inspired author(s) would have assumed their immediate audience to understand would not necessarily be explicitly repeated–and written not to us personally (it was written to people living in different cultures and circumstances and addressing various issues using different genres of writing). Thus, to take a regulative view would seem to be the perfect recipe for disaster (and look at the Church of Christ…).


Are you a normative Sola Scripturist? Why does the normative SS’er consider Tradition & Magisterium “important” but subordinate to Scripture?


Yes, I am normative Sola Scripturist (it would be nearly impossible to be a member of a liturgical Church [Anglicanism] and be a regulative SSist).

As a normative SSist, I take the stance that anything not forbidden by Scripture is permissible (although, St. Paul said, it may not be beneficial). Tradition/Magisterium play two roles here. First, if Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium put forth a theology/doctrine that does not contradict Scripture, then there should be no sin in adhering to said doctrine. Second, Tradition and the Magisterium (along with many other things) serve as a methodology and repository of Scriptural interpretation (i.e. one can read the Early Church Father’s or the various Pope’s interpretations and theologies).

Obviously, the interplay between an interpretation (whether the fruit of that interpretation and the method used) and the thing being interpreted (in this case Scripture) is a very complex one. In reading the apologists here on CAF, they Scripturally defend Roman Catholic doctrine, yet on a good Protestant site, they can defend their denomination’s views, as well as challenge the claims of other denominations/sects/rites.

In terms of Roman Catholic ‘Sacred Tradition’, what it has going for it as compared to other interpretations and methods of interpretation is the age of RC Sacred Tradition (of course, the Eastern Orthodox also claim this and claim that, in the East-West Schism, it was Roman Catholicism that illegitimately schismed). For Roman Catholicism to defend ST solely on the basis of the age of their ST is a fallacy of antiquity and obviously can be used against Christianity as a whole (Judaism, Buddhism, etc. all pre-date Christianity).

It would seem to me that modern times, the application of ‘invincible ignorance’ would be much broader than historically. Obviously, prior to the Protestant Reformation, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy were the dominant form of Christianity. The groups that split were almost always basing their theologies on extra-Christian concepts (i.e. gnosticism) and were soundly defeated by the Roman Catholic Church (whether militarily or theologically). Now, though, Protestantism as a whole has stoop up against Roman Catholicism and not been ‘soundly defeated’.

Roman Catholics can attack many various Protestant theologies, but Protestants are quite able to defend their views apologetically (even using so-called Roman Catholic soruces, such as the Early Church Fathers, to attack Catholicism). For every Protestant who ‘swims the Tiber’, there can usually be found a Roman Catholic who has joined a Protestant group. Thus, we have a situation where, even if one reads about Roman Catholic theology, that theology can be well-challenged by Protestant theology. And then there is the issue of Roman Catholic vs. Eastern Orthodox. Both have different (although in some ways very similar) theologies, but they both can trace a claim to the Early Church and both believe the other abandoned the ‘true’ Church in the Schism. You see how this leaves even someone who has spent years studying the issues and still be left in a quandary, especially since the apologists on both sides of the aisle can appeal to Scripture, reason and experiece to back up their needs. Although RC/EO can appeal to Sacred Tradition (although each group has a slightly different ST which, then even if someone is convinced of the severe error of Protestant Christianity, leaves that person in another: RC or EO?), a Protestant can argue that ST is merely another methodology of Scriptural interpretation and can be challenged, especially since we see what sometimes appear to be altered doctrinal statements of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the RCC can claim Sacred Tradition allows for a progressive form of application of revelation (or interpretation thereof), the Protestants can claim that the end of Papal dominion over the supposed entirety of Christendom could then have been the next stage in progress. Makes it difficult, eh?

As a normative SSer, I find the Anglican Communion interesting because it strives for the ‘via media’ between Catholic and Reformed.


I’m not sure where I find the answer to my question in your post. As to the above, Protestants “try” to use the ECF’s to their advantage, but this backfires because

*]a) the ECF’s overwhelmingly speak for Catholicism, and finding exceptions begs the question
*]b) if the Protestant wants to focus on exceptions here or there, they have to appeal to tradition, which most of them do not want to do
*]c) and if they do, they need an authoritative body to make decisions when there is genuine, balanced debate. Only the high churches like Anglican or Orthodox can even begin to claim veracity, whereas no Protestant Church even bothers claiming to have this pedigree.
[/LIST]But how does a “normative” SS’er put Scripture above the Tradition by which it was produced? Can an effect be greater than its cause?


“Normative Sola Scriptura” sounds a lot like “Prima Scriptura”


I guess you could call it that. Remember that Anglicanism (except for perhaps the extremely Low-Church/Reformed/Evangelical branch) does not hold to a strong Sola Scriptura dictrine (we recognize the importance of the Magisterium and reason in the interpretation of Scripture).

Also, in some ways NSS is still Sola Scriptura because we are saying by Scripture alone, but we need proper methods and commentary to interpret Scripture.


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