Wesleyan Quadrilateral vs. Sola Scriptura

So, I’m fully convinced that Sola Scriptura is a silly approach.

I’d be interesting in seeing a Catholic critique of the Methodist approach. I couldn’t find anything with Google.


[quote=Wikipedia: Wesleyan Quadrilateral]This method based its teaching on four sources as the basis of theological and doctrinal development, scripture, tradition, experience and reason.

[quote=Wikipedia: Wesleyan Quadrilateral]Wesley wrote that it is generally supposed that traditional evidence is weakened by length of time, as it must necessarily pass through so many hands in a continued succession of ages. Although other evidence is perhaps stronger, he insisted: “Do not undervalue traditional evidence. Let it have its place and its due honour. It is highly serviceable in its kind, and in its degree”

In a sense, this would be an argument that as time goes on, Tradition becomes less accurate. And so less useful, and less important. So Scripture becomes more and more important.

Hi Robert,

Without trying to derail the thread, perhaps your understanding of what sola scriptura is, what you think its approaching, and why you see that approach as silly, would be helpful.


For example, the lack of any coherent basis for the Canon.

  1. The Canon is not outlined in Scripture.
  2. One must believe in Scripture to believe in Sola Scriptura.
  3. If we have no teaching on the Canon, we cannot teach that any specific passage is Scripture.

So, we have no basis to claim any passage is Scripture. We end up disbelieving the Bible.

I see Sola Scriptura as deriving doctrinal teaching from the text of Scripture, without reference to other sources of teaching.

It was not believed by the Jews. The church in Acts operated by a mixture of Scriputure and oral transmission of teachings. Sola Scriptura was not believed by the antenicene church.

Most books, as written 2,000 years ago, were not stand-alone texts. They were generally meant to be taught in the context of a certain school of thought. Most times a book was taught, it was read aloud, and the (qualified) teacher would explain it. An unqualified teacher, who did not have good credentials, would be suspect. This was true of religion, medicine, art, et cetera.

The Protestant approach, of reference to the text, without much attempt to stay withing the Christian school of thought, is rather abnormal. In fact, the idea of a “stand alone book” was rare prior to the invention of the Gutenberg press.

Ok. That’s not my understanding of sola scriptura, but it at least I know the framework of your question.


It’s the version I’ve always heard from evangelicalism (which is a hodgepoge of Baptists, Pentecostals, et cetera). Which tend to be opposed to creeds, and such. Is there a Lutheran article on Sola Scriptura you could refer me to? Particularly one that contrasts Lutheranism with low-church Protestantism?

I’ve looked, and found a bunch of Reformed discussion of Sola Scriptura. Which led me to conclude that there wasn’t too much difference between a Baptist and a Presbyterian, in their theological approach.

1). But the teaching authority of the Church is.
2). I honestly do not understand this
3). I’m not aware if a communion that doesn’t have a teaching on the canon, but I guess it’s possible.


You believe in the teaching authority of the church? That is, the church defines the canon?

You don’t consider that a form of Tradition? If a council defined the canon in 397 AD, and it’s authoritative, what is that teaching? It’s obviously not Scripture. But it’s authoritative? Doesn’t that make it Tradition?

(2) is a tautology, so it isn’t actually saying anything.

Robert Filmer,

I think you are misunderstanding exactly what the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is. It is not in opposition to Sola Scriptura. It is a method by which Sola Scriptura is put into practice.

John Wesley considered himself to be in the Reformation tradition of sola scriptura (Scripture alone), and he liked to refer to himself as homo unius libri (a man of one book).For example, see Preface, §5, “Sermons on Several Occasions,” Works (Bicentennial ed.), 1:105. For Wesley, Scripture represented the “words of the Spirit of God,” the “rule of faith” and “of right and wrong,” and the “inviolable Word of God.”“The Circumcision of the Heart” (1733, sermon 17), §2, Works (Bicentennial ed.), 1:402; “On Faith, Heb 11:6” (1788, sermon 106), I.8, Works (Bicentennial ed.), 3:496; “The Witness of Our Own Spirit” (1746, sermon 12), §6, Works (Bicentennial ed.), 1:302-3); and “Seek First the Kingdom” (1725, sermon 134), §10], Works (Bicentennial ed.), 4:220). There was no question that Scripture represented the primary source of religious authority.

In affirming sola scriptura, Wesley never intended solus (alone) to mean exclusive religious authority.See also Albert C. Outler, ed., John Wesley (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 28, n101. Wesley considered Scripture primary, but he recognized that other factors played complementary roles in matters of faith and practice. In particular, Wesley referred to tradition, reason, and experience as inextricably bound up with Scripture in our understanding of true Christianity.

Some may question whether tradition, reason, and experience represent genuine sources of religious authority. But for Wesley, with his Anglican background, there was no question about including tradition and reason. To these he added experience as complementary to the primary authority of Scripture, particularly in confirming, illuminating, and applying the truths of Scripture. Wesley did not intend to be innovative; he intended only to make explicit that which had always occurred in theology. Yet his inclusion of experience represents a unique contribution to the development of theological method in church history.


My reading on the subject has tended to support the idea that Methodists believe in Prima Scriptura, not Sola Scriptura. This would be consistent with their Anglican roots. Of course the concepts are blurred. Someone who rejects Catholicism may say they believe in Sola Scriptura, when they just believe in a reduced Tradition.

In affirming sola scriptura, Wesley never intended solus (alone) to mean exclusive religious authority

Than what, pray tell, does “alone” mean? Complete the sentence: Scripture alone is …

From a Lutheran source


The United Methodists see Scripture as the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. They emphasize the importance of tradition, experience, and reason for Christian doctrine. Lutherans teach that the Bible is the sole source for Christian doctrine. The truths of Scripture do not need to be authenticated by tradition, human experience, or reason. Scripture is self authenticating and is true in and of itself.

The Original accusation was this:

  1. The Canon is not outlined in scripture

And If I understand your response it goes something like this:

  1. We have the teaching authority of the church to determine what constitutes scripture

Have I understand your position or represented it correctly?

Well, yes it’s tradition. None of the early seven councils defined the canon, as evidenced by the fact that even today the canon(s) in Orthodoxy are different.
It is also scriptural. Christ gave the Church teaching authority.


Well, not so much determine, but to receive. We rely on the Church in this way.
Various communions within the Church view certain books differently.


From the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England:

VI. Of the sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

From the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, written by John Wesley and adapted from the Thirty-Nine Articles:

Article V — Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation
The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical books of the Old and New Testament of whose authority was never any doubt in the church. The names of the canonical books are:

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, The First Book of Samuel, The Second Book of Samuel, The First Book of Kings, The Second Book of Kings, The First Book of Chronicles, The Second Book of Chronicles, The Book of Ezra, The Book of Nehemiah, The Book of Esther, The Book of Job, The Psalms, The Proverbs, Ecclesiastes or the Preacher, Cantica or Songs of Solomon, Four Prophets the Greater, Twelve Prophets the Less.

All the books of the New Testament, as they are commonly received, we do receive and account canonical.

From the Confession of Faith of The Evangelical Brethren Church (which merged with the Methodist Church and whose confession remains a confession of the UMC):

Article IV — The Holy Bible
We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation. It is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation.

The “Alone” in Scripture Alone has never meant, to any Protestant, that there are not other sources by which we can learn about God or theology. It has always meant that all of those other sources are inferior to Holy Scripture in their purity and their authority. Scripture is “alone” in its role as final arbiter of what is sufficient for the Christian life.

John Wesley used Tradition, Reason, and religious Experience as lenses by which he could interpret Scripture. You can say Scripture has primacy, but it is more than that and Wesley himself never denied Sola Scriptura.

With all due respect to the venerable Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, this is frankly the narcissism of minor differences. Methodists do use the term “primacy” or “primary.” But to make Methodists sound as if they believe in a primacy of Scripture in contrast to Sola Scriptura is to distort what they believe about themselves and distort what Sola Scriptura has actually meant throughout history.

Now, there are liberal Methodists who might like to distort history and make Wesley seem as if he and early Methodists believed that Scripture was simply one among many sources of religious authority. But Wesley himself believed:

“We believe, indeed, that “all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God;” and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and Infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only and sufficient rule both of Christian faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Romish Church.”

  • John Wesley, The Character of a Methodist

“I allow no other rule, whether of faith or practice, than the Holy Scripture.”
“The Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.”
“Scripture is the best expounder of Scripture.”

  • Letter of John Wesley to John Dickens, Works of John Wesley, X:142

Ah, so it seems that I was misled by a few Lutheran and liberal Methodist (or something) sources. Perhaps the internet is not the best place to look up this stuff.

How can you simultaneously believe in Sola Scriptura, and authoritative Tradition?

This is a stronger statement than the Methodist and Anglican doctrines. They are saying that Scripture contains all the necessary things for salvation. And that they will not require people to believe extra-Scriptural doctrines. This does not make Scripture a “final arbiter” or that other sources are necessarily “inferior to Holy Scripture in their purity and their authority”.

The sola in sola scriptura simply means that scripture in the final norm.

. 1] 1. We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with [all] teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament alone, as it is written Ps. 119:105: Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And St. Paul: Though an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you, let him be accursed, Gal. 1:8.

2] Other writings, however, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever name they bear, must not be regarded as equal to the Holy Scriptures, but all of them together be subjected to them, and should not be received otherwise or further than as witnesses, [which are to show] in what manner after the time of the apostles, and at what places, this [pure] doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.

3] 2. And because directly after the times of the apostles, and even while they were still living, false teachers and heretics arose, and symbols, i. e., brief, succinct [categorical] confessions, were composed against them in the early Church, which were regarded as the unanimous, universal Christian faith and confession of the orthodox and true Church, namely, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, we pledge ourselves to them, and hereby reject all heresies and dogmas which, contrary to them, have been introduced into the Church of God.

So, the creeds, for example, are authoritative because they state the truth of the faith.


Well, once again, there are Anglo-Catholics who want to take Anglicanism back to the Middle Ages and there are Affirming Catholics who want to turn themselves into the Liberal alternative to the Roman Catholic Church. Each of these types of Anglicans have their own reasons for denigrating the Reformation doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura is clearly established by the 39 Articles.

Really? Article 6/5 is called “Of the sufficiency of the holy Scriptures for salvation.” Scripture is sufficient because it is perfect. It, unlike tradition, reason, and experience is God breathed. What can Scripture do that tradition, reason, and experience cannot do:

Tradition cannot establish a mandatory article of faith apart from or contrary to Scripture

Reason cannot establish a mandatory article of faith apart from or contrary to Scripture

Experience cannot establish a mandatory article of faith apart from or contrary to Scripture

But Scripture is sufficient in and of itself to establish all doctrines that are required of every man to believe even if it goes against received tradition, human reason, or personal religious experience. And if there is a question of what is “required” belief Scripture does become the final arbiter, the norm, because neither tradition, reason, or experience are sufficient within themselves to decide this. I would say that makes Scripture superior to every other element of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and the Anglican “three-legged stool” theological method.

One thing I don’t understand is how is it that we must rely on a church which can be dismissed if we find from the scripture they affirm a different message? If we have the scripture why do we need a church? Is the church in some sense equal to scripture in authority? Clearly its not or else Lutheran’s would have remained Catholic, so the church is necessarily inferior to the scripture. Yet at the same time we need the church to have a scripture in the first place?

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