Scripture as Sole Source?

[Note: This post has been edited and updated slightly.]
I recently read a certain LCMS “conservative” blasting a certain LCMS “liberal” for saying that the Bible cannot be the sole source of doctrine. I have no particular love for the blastee. I don’t even know who the blaster is. It is important that the blastee goes much further than simply saying that the Bible is not the sole source of doctrine; he clearly does not believe that the whole Scripture is normative for faith and life, as he believes women should be ordained.

But in this (and likely only this) instance, I’m going to have to agree with the blastee. Scripture is not the sole source of doctrine. At least not in the sense meant by most American Christians. Further, the Lutheran Confessions never say that Scripture is the sole source of doctrine.

What do they say?

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… (Triglotta, Epit. 1 [emphasis mine])

In this way the distinction between the Holy Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament and all other writings is preserved, and the Holy Scriptures alone remain the only judge, rule, and standard, according to which, as the only test-stone, all dogmas shall and must be discerned and judged, as to whether they are good or evil, right or wrong. (Epit. 3 [emphasis mine]

First [, then, we receive and embrace with our whole heart] the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which is the only true standard by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged. (Triglotta, SD 1 [emphasis mine])

What’s my point? It is obvious that the Scriptures are the most important source of doctrine. It is also obvious that anything being taught by anyone has to be measured and judged by the Scriptures. But if Scripture is the sole source of doctrine, what shall we do with creeds, confessions, and liturgies?

Those are certainly summaries, guides, and witnesses to what the Scriptures do say, but we miss the point if we consider them witnesses only to the Scriptures. What is more important is that they are all, including the Scriptures, testimonies and witnesses to the Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Yet, they remain normative in varying degrees. For example, I am convinced that anyone who cannot agree with the three ecumenical creeds is not a Christian. However, throughout history there have been those (today we call them “heretics”) who wholeheartedly believed that they held Scriptural doctrine. In fact, they did hold Scriptural doctrine. Unfortunately, it was wrong. In other words, the passages they quoted were not wrong, but they took their wrong doctrine from Scripture. It took normative interpretations from, for example, the Nicene Creed, to put them definitively outside the Church. (Of course, I’m speaking historically; their doctrine put them outside the Church even before it was defined by the Council of Nicea.)

It is biblicistic to say that our sole source of doctrine is the Scriptures. No Christian ever claimed that his doctrine was other than Scriptural. The problem comes when two Christians who claim the same Scriptures confess different, contradictory doctrine. Every Christian has an interpretive filter through which he runs the Scriptures. Anyone who denies it is lying. Obviously, for Lutherans that filter is the Lutheran Confessions. And yet, our doctrine is not unscriptural. At the same time–and this is important–we have no other rule, standard, or judge than the Old and New Testaments.

It seems that non-Lutheran traditions see this point clearly when they claim that we are unbiblical when we use the Lutheran Confessions as our interpretive guide (though they do not recognize their own interpretive guides). Another example: what do non-Sacramental churches do with the Nicene Creed when it says “I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins”? It is stated very clearly that the Biblical doctrine is that sins are forgiven in Baptism. But they cannot agree with the Creed there. It seems that the Creed acts, in some sense, as a secondary source for doctrine.


Today’s Game

In the past, we have discussed Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and the upcoming movie based on it. I did finish reading the book a few weeks back. Like some of you stated, it is a page-turner, and I enjoyed reading about the characters’ adventures around some of the famous landmarks in Europe. But, even though I reminded myself that I was reading fiction, I still rolled my eyes a number of times when I came across the characters’ claims about Jesus and the church. Thus, in the coming weeks, I will pull out excerpts from a book that I picked up that details the errors of some of those theories. Here is the first post.


“The past four decades in particular have seen an outpouring of sensationalist books, motion pictures, and television specials in which Jesus and the true origins of Christianity are barely recognizable. We might call this phenomenon ‘The Jesus Game,’ and here is how it is played: Begin with a general sketch of Jesus on the basis of the Gospels, but then distort it as much as you please. Add clashing colors, paint in a bizarre background, and add episodes to the life of Christ that could not possibly have happened. If the end result still faintly resembles the Jesus of the New Testament, you lose. But if you come up with a radically different–and above all, senstaional–portrait of Jesus, you win. The prize is maximum coverage in the nation’s print and broadcast media. Any frowns from the faithful will be ignored admid the skyrocketing sales of your product” (Paul Maier, “The Da Vinci Deception” in The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? A Critique of the Novel by Dan Brown [Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2004], 2-3).