Saturday, March 12, 2011
Strange Fire: The Abandonment of Sola Scriptura by American Evangelicals
I have written before about the abandonment of the opposition to Rome by modern Protestantism. Today, I want to write about the abandonment of Protestantism itself.
The Reformers established five principles which divided them from Rome, traditionally designated by their Latin forms: sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, sola scriptura, and soli gloria Deo. You can go here for my explanation of them.
Here in my hometown, a large church, called Lake Forest Church, promoted its Ash Wednesday service in the local newspaper (no longer available online). Lake Forest is a congregation of the Evangelical Presbyterian Chrurch, but check their website, and see how hard you have to look to find that connection. It never appears in their promotional announcements and advertising. According to the article, Lake Forest Pastor Mike Moses extolled the event on the basis that his congregation is "a modern church that delights in ancient practices."
And there lies my objection: instead of the Reformation principle of sola scriptura, scripture alone, Moses uses the Roman Catholic standard, i.e., tradition. As the Westminster Confession (XXI:1) says, "the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture." The Larger Catechism, answer 109, reads in part, "The sins forbidden in the second commandment are all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God Himself." As a Presbyterian Church, the EPC, and Lake Forest Church as an affiliate thereof, are constitutionally committed to the WCF as its primary subordinate standard of doctrine (however, the EPC has extensively amended the WCF, and may actually have removed this passage; I simply don't know).
The WCF position, commonly referred to as "the regulative principle of worship," is based primarily on Deuteronomy 12:32, "Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it." But it can be seen historically in the story of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, whom God executed for offering "strange fire," or "unauthorized fire" as worded by the ESV, on the altar of the tabernacle. See Leviticus 10:1, Leviticus 16:1, Numbers 3:4, and Numbers 26:61, for references to the story. Further explanation can be found in this article from Archibald Alexander Hodge, the son of Charles Hodge.
What separates Protestants from Catholics is that Protestants ask, "What do the Scriptures say?" while the Catholic apologetic appeals to the historicity of a practice. My question to Rev. Mike Moses is this: Human sacrifice is far more ancient than Ash Wednesday: according to your theology, does that make it equally- or even more valid? Sola scriptura gives one answer, but your apologetic seems to lead to another.