The issue of Bible interpretation is a point of contention among atheists as well as Christians. It is claimed that a man and his Bible is all that is needed. After all, the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Yet, one won’t spend too long in Christian circles till he discovers that “a man and his Bible” will come up with extremely off-the-wall ideas. He always has a need to be corrected by others in the Church. He’s like a tree which needs stilts to hold it up or it will grow crooked. It is suggested that the way to correct these bad understandings of the Scripture, is to have the Bible reader research what the great men of faith have said about things. He is told to reach back to the early church fathers and use them to get a better interpretation of Scripture. However, this is just a more well read version of “a man and his Bible”, albeit a more humble one. The individual is still the final arbiter of what he reads. The Protestant will accept St Augustine’s ideas on grace and faith, but not on the Eucharist, and certainly not on the Pope. He is, for all intents and purposes, cherry picking, as the atheists are so fond of pointing out. And in this accusation, I think they are right. My dear Protestants, we are cherry picking.
Let me point out, though, that doesn’t mean we are all wrong. An accurate interpretation of Scripture does exist, and our cherry picking is bound to hit the mark at some point. But, it’s bound to miss it as well. So, how do we know when we get it right? It’s a hard question. And one can see that our problem exists because we address the problem at an individual level, i.e. “a man and his Bible.” We have a real need to refer ourselves to an authority. The only relevant authority available to us in these matters is the Church. So what does the Church say about the Scriptures? And therein lies the rub. Which Church is to be the authority? The Independent Fundamental Baptists?… The Southern Baptists?… The Methodists?… The Free Will Baptists?… The Nazarenes?… The Church of Christ?… The Assembly of God?… The Lutherans?… or (oh, the horror) The Catholics?
And do any of them actually have a list of doctrines that define their denomination? For instance, what does it mean to really be a Southern Baptist? In my own experience, I’ve learned that each denomination has disagreements within themselves, and a certain amount of that is OK, even healthy. But do the Southern Baptists have a list of core doctrines on which none disagree and therefore define the denomination? If they do, that is precisely what is meant by the much hated term “Church Tradition.” Each Church, if it is to be legitimate, must have a coherent Church Tradition or they are a denomination without a definition. And that is one thing I cannot stand. Whatever you are, you must know what you are.
Whatever the answer to these questions above, it cannot be that Church Tradition must be avoided. Each of us, as individuals, need Church Tradition to help us understand the Scripture. We need an authoritative arbiter of the truth. We need a Guardian of Orthodoxy. But, if one exists, there are serious implications for the many denominations out there. If there is a church that is right, then all the other churches are wrong. And some are more wrong than others. There would be elements of the true Church in the other denominations, but they would not be the fullness that makes up the Church.
I do not claim to have an answer for this problem, but I know one thing. I no longer abhor and reject Church Tradition. I have a real need for it. I am looking for a Guardian of Orthodoxy. I do have a direction I’m looking and I have real reasons for looking in that direction. But, I don’t feel comfortable sharing that yet. I only write this so that others may see the problem and begin the search themselves.