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Biblical Festishism

by Bernard Reymond

Translation Louise Thunin

If protestantism is – among other systems – founded on a principle of returning to biblical scripture its exclusive authority (Sola Scriptura), doesn’t this principle bear within itself the potential peril of a new form of idolatry ?

On the anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther’s theses, we were abundantly reminded that one of the chief demands of the Reformation was not only a return to Scripture, but to Scripture alone : sola scriptura.
It remains for us to hear this well. It’s easy to turn it into a slogan equal to other instructions, such as Solus Christus, Sola gratia, Sola fide : refer to Christ only, conceive of salvation by grace alone and by the faith we put in this grace.
And Scripture ? It was by referring to it that the Reformers wished and were able to promote these three tenets : Christ, grace and faith. This being said, Scripture was never exactly an instrument of salvation in their minds, but rather a means by which they became more vividly and clearly aware of what was and is the heart of the Reformation : absolute trust in God, such as Jesus Christ gives us to know and love Him, and the turning over of our entire existence to His inspiration.
However, Scripture, such as the Reformers referred to, had only just, in the sixteenth century, benefitted from the arrival of a new medium : printing. In a few decades, the main texts of the Christian faith had become easily accessible, not only in Hebrew and Greek but also in the different vernacular languages into which they were translated as rapidly as possible. Thus, their understanding and interpretation offered a field of possibilities. We can cite the disagreement between Luther and Zwingli : when Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples, did he mean that the bread and wine were his body and his blood or that they represented them? Zwingli had valid philological reasons in this case to favor the second possibility. Was faithfulness to Luther’s ideas, on the Lutheran side, a sufficient reason to blindly refuse the Zwinglian interpretation ?
We could multiply examples of Biblical passages that are subject to a certain diversity of interpretations. And what about those that contradict one another or seem irreconcilable ? Christians who care the most about being faithful to the Biblical message cannot but help choosing between passages they consider of utmost importance and those that appear secondary.
Therefore it’s not enough that a thought, a doctrine or a teaching for our lives should be called « Biblical » for it to be divine truth or binding. Sometimes we say, « It’s Biblical, » as if this were an irrefutable argument. So what ? Reading the Bible, no matter how assiduously, is not what brings salvation but is only one means of entering the awareness of divine grace, as attested in the life and teaching of Jesus, the Christ.


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a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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