A Twisted Crown of Thorns ®

Reformed. Christianity. Evangelism. Modern Culture.

Sola Scriptura and The Cult of One

The clarion call of the Reformation was to get back to the source of christian faith. A relentless and clear cry to go back to the scriptures, the principle now known as “Sola Scriptura” (by scripture alone). Additionally, another prominent doctrine which was then brought forth is often known as “the universal priesthood of the believer“. Well you see

Many, many, people in the years since interpreted those two doctrines taken-together to mean that each person interprets the bible for himself (and by himself). Unfortunately, this has had the tendency to create novel doctrines over the years, and yes, a proliferation of cults.

I’m not saying that each individual cannot understand the Bible — and thus needs a professional clergy-person to do it for him. Rather, the point of those two doctrines was to emphasize the idea that one needn’t be part of the professional clergy to understand the Bible.

But, equally important (perhaps more so) is the point that while each one may understand the Bible directly, nevertheless doctrine-forming “interpretation” is a community project. That is, whereas in the medieval Church the laity was spoon-fed whatever the clergy decided to give them; in the “reformation period” the pattern was the clergy and the “laity” interpret the Bible together.

Thus, gifted teachers of the body of Christ are held responsible by a studying Church. Consequently, What you then have with these two principles (and others) is mutual accountability as the Church works through theological and practical disputes which do inevitably arise.

When a person (or a small group) quits this communal dialogue with the universal Church they tend to double-down on their novel doctrine, because all broader Church correction is lost, and voila!, you have a cult (or something like it).

There are many Christian people who would bristle at the thought of “starting their own cult” (they would say, ‘only follow Jesus’ — and rightly so). Nevertheless, they insist they do not need to read books, commentaries,, confessions and creeds. They think that “Sola Scriptura” means they only need the Bible, and “the universal priesthood of the believer” means they need no counsel from others (save the “Holy Spirit” — they say).

But, not every idea we get is a spirit-illumined idea. Many spring forth from human imagination. And, a person cut off from dialogue with the universal Church of Jesus Christ, and with only their ownself for counsel, is effectively a “cult of one”.

Excerpt from A Call of One [ Reforming Evangelicals]


6 responses to “Sola Scriptura and The Cult of One

  1. Committed Christian September 1, 2011 at 14:42

    I’m guilty of being one of the “I only need the Bible and the Holy Spirit” Christians. I admit it’s hard to undo that thinking since for most of my Christian life I did not have very good Bible teachers or pastors. But Christians can learn from each other and even I got help from commentaries, articles, etc.

    • Born4Battle September 3, 2011 at 11:57

      I would agree that in the end, the Bible and the Holy Spirit as teacher are sufficient to live a godly life. However we are to live our Christian lives in community with other believers. That might mean having a few other believers with whom we can connect, or it might mean access to a good bible-believing church as well as other good resources from the past and present to assist us in the ‘way’.

  2. Michael Acidri September 3, 2011 at 12:57

    Thats true. Having the dicipline enough to sit down and learn from what is being eexpounded on in a book or sermon from the word of God is a commendable thing. It shows teachableness and meekness. Moreso if you are able to go back and see if these things are so (like the Bereans in Acts 17). Developing a minimalist attitude to studying the word easily leads to aberrant beliefs and hence ‘the cult of one’.

  3. Micah Burke February 3, 2012 at 20:06

    Hard to obey God’s command that we submit to our elders if we have none.

  4. Linda August 3, 2021 at 15:38

    People who aren’t wanted in the churches–who have too much trouble in our lives to be tolerated by preachers and congregations, who say “don’t bring that problem here!”–what are we to do? (By the way, we cannot spare you from persecution, for beloved, entitled prosperity, forever, but for now, we “bless” you by our absence) We pretty much have to be on our own, always subject to the criticism or condemnation of the comfortable, of course. Sola Scriptura, in practical terms, does mean each person interpreting the Bible for him or herself, because there are times when there’s no one around who can be trusted, just God and His word. The likelihood that we arrived at faith in Jesus and began to learn completely on our own is not great, but the problem of being pushed out and left to fend for yourself is real, as is the problem of the harmfulness of so much theology, and the harmfulness of these movements which displaced the gospel with various agendas. If I think again about choosing a church, after my problem is sufficiently gone, of course, where do I go? To a church of right wing political action, on the basis that they give lipservice to the facts of the gospel, as a sort of legal disclaimer to cover their backsides? To a church of left-wing political action? To a megachurch, Church Growth Movement, “Noble Lie” Control Center? To a Prosperity Movement, Prosperous Lifestyle church, whether Prosperity Gospel, or merely the Conservative Movement, “God’s Own Party” church of American prosperity? To a church of false miracles and false tongues? To one where Kundalini and Christ are being bridged or accommodated to each other, through breathtaking spiritual lack of discernment, or deliberate blasphemy? To a satellite campus of blasphemous televangelism? To a church which conversely proclaims that we have no relationship with, and no experience of, the Holy Spirit, which is completely against what Jesus taught? To one which makes dry and dead into virtues, in which the “dead” letter, mediated by fleshly, human reasoning, alone, is all we’re given? To an old guard church of legalism, loss of salvation, no eternal security? To a church which denies the word of God in order to ensconce the word of theologians, Augustine and Calvin, for just two of them? To a church of the hireling who flees when he sees the wolf coming? To the church of lust for power, who deny that this world’s kingdom is not Jesus’s, and that it will take His return, not us, to make it into His kingdom? To the church of complicity with Jesuit (and other, allied) change agents? Where exactly do we find this humbled, relatively pure church of sinners saved by the grace of God? Not asking for perfection, but only a church of people who know they needed to be saved, and know that our salvation is being upheld by God every single day, by the gift of God in Jesus? Even then, if I found such a church, I have to help them by my absence, or they would have to deal with my situation of persecution being brought to their door! So no, we may need the church, but we can’t always have it. And we have to interpret the Bible for ourselves, using what gleanings from other Christians as we believe have passed the test of agreeing with the word and the Spirit. I know that this is not a welcome kind of message, but the assumption that we have to church to depend on and therefore must so all we do through the church cannot be true. Just the theologically reckless, life-wrecking nature of 9/10 of the teaching out there, precludes turning to them with any trust. I wish that humbled, simple church of faith in Jesus could be found in a location, but instead, it is scattered among the churches and the unchurched. I do not see a basis for joining anything. The snake oil salesmen are too dangerous to trust.

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