Why do so many Protestants spend so much time using extra-Biblical sources to prove their beliefs? For instance, one guy named James Swan spends hours culling through Martin Luther's writings, and writings about his life; leaving no stone unturned to defend his hero. Every time he gets a new book on Luther he has to tell everyone about it on his blog. The guy has been dead for close to 500 years. Isn't this a form of veneration? Heavens no, far be it for the Protestant. After all, if you spend hours and days reading, writing and defending a man who shares your religious beliefs, we couldn't call that veneration could we? What is all of this going to accomplish for the Protestant? Did Luther interpret the Scriptures infallibly? Do we actually need any of Luther's writings in order to understand the Scriptures? If someone is going to go by the Bible alone, shouldn't they be confident enough in their own interpretations instead of having to go out and look for other people's interpretations to verify their own? How does the Protestant know who is authentically called to be teachers of the faith?
The Reformed position of Sola Scriptura tries not to dismiss the Church and her teachers from their doctrine. They claim that not everyone can understand the Scriptures equally, and that there are people who are called to teach the Bible in some sort of authoritative position. Yet if that is the case, then why do their authoritative teachers disagree on core teachings in the Bible? How do they know that pastor Billy Bob is really called by God to teach the Bible? I mean knowing what the Bible teaches about sinful acts is important, no? Maybe it would be nice to know how one attains or receives salvation, how one is justified and sanctified, and why one is baptized and what it means to be baptized? But for the Protestant, those are just side issues. These "Reformed" apologists claim that most Protestants agree on the core issues, but I don't see any of them coming up with a list of core issues from the Bible. I believe that the Scriptures were written down and given to us by God, because all of it is important, no? No, not for the Protestant; its only what each individual thinks and decides to be important.
For example, recently I have had exchanges over the interpretation of Genesis 38 and the sin of Onan. The overwhelming Protestant interpretation of this passage up until the 1930 Lambeth conference was completely different than what it is now. For close to 500 years, Protestantism condemned masturbation and contraception as being grossly sinful based on this Biblical text, yet now it has become a convenient non-essential issue for them. It is certainly a convenient system to take something in the Bible that was considered to be grossly sinful, and now turn it into a non-essential. Lets take Martin Luther for example, who appealed to the Scriptures alone in order to uphold his beliefs against the contraceptive act.
Martin Luther says in reference to Onan,
"Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime to produce semen and excite the woman, and to frustrate her at that very moment. He was inflamed with the basest spite and hatred. Therefore he did not allow himself to be compelled to bear that intolerable slavery. Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore God punished him . . ."
Yet today we have proponents of various forms of Lutheranism and Calvinism who reject both of these Reformer's interpretations of this Biblical passage, in favor of their own. For instance, a guy who calls himself Turretin Fan wrote this about their interpretations.
"iv) The fact that Calvin (and Luther?) viewed Onan's activity to be inherently displeasing to God does not make it so.
A surprising number of people think that it is significant that Luther (?) and Calvin generalized Onan's sin rather differently than we do. Nevertheless, Luther and Calvin agreed with us that their views ought to be held up to the light of Scripture. Since their views of this particular text do not seem to be sustainable exegetically, we are justified in departing from their position on this issue."
Read Turretin Fan's entire post here.
So there you have it. This system of Sola Scriptura is up to the individual to decide what is worthy of belief, and what is not. If Martin Luther and John Calvin deem a passage of Scripture to condemn an act as sinful, then it is sinful because Scripture says so. If someone like Turretin Fan doesn't feel that the passage is clear enough for him, then he just dismisses it. A very convenient system indeed. This passage was clear enough for Turretin Fan's forefathers, but not for him. So now morality changes because his interpretation of Scripture has changed. We have a problem here, no?
What is the criterion a Protestant should use when considering extra-Biblical sources? They should be measured by the Scriptures, correct? Then why not go straight to the source? Why waste your time on extra-Biblical references at all? Is it done so that one may feel good about one's own private interpretation? After-all, a Protestant must feel good about aligning his or herself with some famous Protestant, no? Otherwise why would one even consider calling themselves a Calvinist, a Lutheran, or even a Turretin Fan? The fact is, no Protestant truly practices Sola Scriptura. They all appeal to extra-Biblical sources and traditions in order to justify their beliefs. They usually hold the opinions of their forefathers higher than the Scriptures themselves when it is convenient for them to do so. When it is not, then you can just change interpretations. Even the original Protestant Reformers did it. Calvin, being a legend in his own mind, frequently sifted through Church Fathers in an attempt to find writings that agreed with his Biblical interpretations. Those that did not fit his interpretations he dismissed as being wrong. We can see that this sole rule of faith called "Scripture alone", is shaping up to be, "my personal interpretation alone".
Sola Scriptura is an ideal that has been touted now for about 500 years, but it has never truly existed in practice. Protestants follow their own forms of tradition, while rejecting the true Tradition of the Church, which has been revealed by God. The Protestant will go out and buy books by the truckload so that they can better understand and interpret the Bible. Yet, I thought the Bible was the only rule one needs? Isn't the Bible clear enough to understand without Billy Graham's, Charles Stanley's, John Hagee's, R.C. Sproul's, Martin Luther's, John Calvin's and Paula White's personal opinions about them? John Calvin selectively quoted the Church Fathers, using his own personal opinions about Scripture to defend his beliefs. He also tried to use them to attack the Catholic Church. Yet, if someone brought a Church Father to his attention who contrasted his beliefs, and his personal Biblical interpretations, then he simply dismissed that interpretation and appealed to Scripture Alone. This is a clever shell game no? Isn't this a convenient system for one to follow? You can appeal to extra-Biblical sources to back up your opinions and interpretations of Scripture, but when someone else uses the same sources that disagree with you, you just appeal to Scripture Alone.
Protestants even do this when they debate their beliefs. What is amazing is that I have witnessed many Protestants try and defend Sola Scriptura in written and oral debates, and more than 90% of their source material is extra-Biblical. Once they realize that Scripture Alone doesn't support their argument convincingly, then they give up on the Bible alone, and they move on to extra-Biblical sources. I would like to see these Protestant apologists practice what they preach for a change, instead of appealing to non-Biblical material to support their beliefs and practices. The fact is, the Protestant does not live by Scripture alone. The Protestant lives in a delusional world where his own interpretation of Scripture is his rule of faith.It is not what God intends His Scripture to mean. God clearly gave us Genesis 38 to teach us a moral lesson, otherwise God would not have given it to us in Holy Writ. But for the Protestant today, that passage is non-essential. In order for the Protestant to feel secure in his Biblical interpretation, he finds others who agree with his. Their sole rule of faith is, "my interpretation alone, and those who agree with me."
Just to put this all in perspective, I wanted to make a list of some of the Protestant Bible commentaries. All of these guys were called by God to go and interpret the Bible, according to those Protestants who agree with their interpretations. Yet why do many of them disagree with one another on what the Bible actually means? I'll give you a clue, none of them were called by God to interpret His Holy Writ, that is why. All of these listed below are readily available either on the net or in bookstores. If you really want to see how the core issues stack up among these guys, I encourage you to have a browse through their commentaries. They can't even agree on what the core issues are, let alone agree on what they actually mean. There are many, many more, but these are some of the most popular ones in use by Protestants today.
John Calvin's Commentaries- Calvinist
Adam Clark's commentaries- Methodist
John Darby's synopsis- Plymouth Bretheren-Dispensationalism
Matthew Henry's complete commentary- English Non-conformist
Charles Wesley's Explanatory Notes- Anglican
Cyrus Scofield's Reference Notes- Dispensationalist
Charles Spurgeon Commentaries- British Particular Baptist
John MacArthur Study Bible- United States Evangelical
William Barclay Commentaries- Church of Scotland
John Gill Commentaries- English Baptist