In my various dealings with Protestants, I feel there’s a theme that has emerged which is more or less the assumption underneath the surface of the various arguments and points of contention.
The query “Where is that in scripture?” in its various contexts is always part of an assumption that we are all the center of authority for belief or action in all cases. To some degree this is true – we have such a free will that we could reject existence itself and off ourselves. But everyone is always choosing to parse out or submit that authority to various realities or other “centers” of authority. We trust someone else’s authority on particular subjects – fitness, friendships, buying one product rather than another – and by doing so we temporarily cede our own center of authority to theirs. We could, at any time, reject their continuing advice and try something else.
It seems that the Protestant idea – and indeed the Liberal idea, since they owe much to Luther and some of his contemporaries – is this retention of authority. If you ask them why they believe things, they will tell you “because the scriptures say so.” In other words, they consider the scriptures their center of authority, and they will tell you that it is an external locus of authority. But this is not true – a set of writings or words cannot themselves be a true external locus of authority, since they had a writer who penned them, and words are always and forever the vehicles of meaning.
Put another way, words contain meaning in clay vessels; they are fragile, they change, and are subject to distortions and abuse. This is why the Church can say that official Church teaching has never changed, while having stacks of writing reaching to Jupiter about that teaching; the reaffirmation of what has always been true is a perpetual endeavor because of the clay nature of words, as humanity itself must continually be refreshed by the reproduction of the species, always being human, though in a different time and place.
Jesus is the lone exception; as the Word of God, the incarnation, the Word made Flesh, he does not change; if he submits to the death of any other man, he rises from the dead; as a vehicle for the Father he is perfect and complete and the full manifestation of the Godhead bodily and is not subject to the same limitations to which language itself is subject.
To return to the point, any authority the scriptures possess – more specifically the New Testament – was given to them by an external authority. They were written, copied, assembled, and canonized by a specific external locus of authority – the Church. In doing so, the Church made the argument that the scriptures agree in all matters with sacred tradition and Church teaching and indeed had been utilized in teaching in a less official sense for some time.
The breakdown occurs when one says “well, if the scriptures agree on all matters, why don’t we only look at the scriptures?” There’s a logical problem here; just because two things agree does not mean that they are equal, or that one separated from the other would obviously, to all men, in all contexts, lead to the other. As has been stated, words break down. They are weak, clay vessels. This does not mean that the words of the scriptures can be rendered invalid; it means they must always and essentially be coupled with the living authority that bore them, or they decay and breed worms, like the manna that came from heaven which bore worms when Israelites attempted to use it outside its given context.
In more plain language, what they are really saying is “I have taken a set of language and concluded it means this” when they argue such and such doctrine. What they have actually done is taken a set of writings, reinterpreted them according to their own locus of authority, context, and culture, and determined their meaning. They might reference other writers or authorities, but they ultimately believe the locus of authority rests somewhere other than the origin of the words themselves. This is like rejecting an author’s explanation of a book for your own.
Occasionally if accidentally, they get it right. But the acid they have introduced – themselves as the center of authority – eats and eats until you have liberalism, which has now infected nearly every Protestant, Jew, unbeliever, pagan, and most Catholics.
Liberalism is a derivative of Protestantism. Protestantism is the notion that, 1500 years hence, we can somehow divorce a set of words from their context and origin, and somehow achieve a better sense of the truth from them. We can become our own locus of authority and have a better sense of the truth. Liberalism is the revival of the sophist notion that “Man is the measure of all things,” that we make him purely a physical being, divorced from his spiritual origins, and we let him decide in this derivative state to pursue what he wishes with no spiritual structure or external locus of authority. It is also the notion that we divorce man from his communal, tribal, and religious affiliations and treat him as the atom of society.
The global order based around that is crumbling, steadily, as the individual has realized at length that this arrangement atomizes man and makes him easy prey for the organized, powerful elite.
We had better return sooner rather than later to what acknowledges man’s full nature; his spiritual, communal, and tribal reality, and deal with the powerful men who stand to lose the most from this arrangement.