A discussion starter
We live in a culture where it is expected that each of us will have opinions on virtually all subjects. To have opinions and express them is seen as a basic human right, which right seems to be as much exercised inside as outside the churches.
It is often said that amongst the achievements of the Protestant Reformation were making the Bible in the vernacular available to all who could read, and, further, letting them read it for themselves both as a means of grace and of gaining knowledge of saving knowledge and doctrine.
But did the leaders of the various Protestant Churches really trust the laity to read the Bible for themselves and come up with the right knowledge and experience from this exercise? Maybe they did and maybe they did not.
Several important factors suggest that the leaders believed that the laity needed to be given a structured mind or way of thinking (a mental paradigm) in order to benefit from reading the Bible. I suggest that we are to understand their teaching on sola scriptura and the availability of the vernacular Bible in this context.
In the 16th and on into the 17th century there were very many Catechisms produced, both officially and by individual pastors. There was a tremendous emphasis on catechising the people - on teaching them the Creed, the Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the doctrines of God, of Christ, of Salvation and so on. Times were appointed on the Lord's Day for this exercise and often catechists went from home to home.
All the churches produced Confessions of Faith or Articles of Religion/Faith.
Then, the Evangelicals [Lutherans] and the Anglicans [C of E] retained formal Liturgies wherein much doctrine was communicated by Canticle & Creed & Collects and there were long readings from both the OT and NT. Here the very context of worship provides a context for the hearing and receiving of the content of the Scriptures.
Further, the State often intervened to punish heretics [those who taught contrary to the Catholic Creeds!] and so the people knew what was forbidden.
And then we must not forget the existence of such Bibles as the Geneva Bible which contained explanatory notes to guide the reader into safe Reformed orthodoxy.
So it seems that the general intention of all the major leaders of reform was to make sure that when the people read the Bible they read it so as to find in It the teaching that was being given officially by the leadership. Of course, there is the further dimension of Bible reading/meditation which comes to the prayerful, faithful reader and hearer, which is the growth in insight, devotion and holiness. And this applies whether the reader is finding Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican or Anabaptist teaching in the Bible.
In modern times, when there are versions and paraphrases of the Bible galore, it seems also to be the case that few leaders really trust people to read the Bible for themselves, without supervision. This is evidenced by the multitude of books available on how to read the Bible, on Alpha courses and the like which tell people what is in the Bible, on the Bible studies weekly in many churches where specific interpretations are pushed, in the long sermons by the charismatic preacher on Sundays (often via TV & radio) to tell people what is in the Bible, and so on.
Further, the very short (or the deliberate shortening of) readings from the Bible in public worship suggests that few leaders - of any kind - really believe that the public reading of the Scriptures in a reverent and godly way is, in and of itself and without comments, a true means of grace. (Since Paul intended at least some of his letters to be read aloud to the congregation, why do we not see this done today as a means of grace? Reading some of them would take much less time that a sermon or the period given over to singing choruses!)
Again, many people today in all kinds of different contexts read the Bible meditatively and grow in spiritual union with the Father through the Son, whatever type of doctrine they "find" in the Bible.
In other words, it is usually the case today that people find in the Bible as doctrine that which is taught by the leader or group to which they belong, and this is especially so if they were "converted" by this leader. If by reading books or hearing someone else or by their own ingenuity people get to think that what their leaders teach is not right then they either plot revolution or they move on to join another group. The abundance of provision in the American supermarket of religions makes this moving possible for most people.
Maybe this picture makes more attractive to some the traditional Protestant doctrine of the Church as Invisible, with God's elect being known only to him and on earth found scattered in all or most churches & denominations. In this context, having an opinion is neither here not there for if one is saved one is saved!
Or maybe it makes more attractive the traditional Catholic/Orthodox position that the Church and the Bible belong together and that it is in the bosom of Mother Church that the baptized believer reads the Bible within the Christian Year, within the Daily Offices, and within the teaching of the Church in her Liturgy, Creeds and Catechisms. In this context having an opinion is heresy (which of course is what opinion literally is in Biblical Greek!).
I follow the Middle Way and accept as a basis for the Church the classical Anglican position as expressed in the formula 1,2,3,4,5 - One Canon of Scripture, with Two Testaments as the Word of God written, along with Three Creeds to summarise and highlight the central themes & facts of Scripture, along with the dogma and decrees of at least the first Four Ecumenical Councils to provide doctrinal and liturgical direction and provide the mindset wherewith to receive Scripture, and at least Five Centuries of experience to indicate how divine providence led the Church in the development of the Ministry, the Liturgy and so on. Then with this mindset underlying the Anglican Formularies, the worshipping of God through the two Daily Offices & the weekly Litany and Holy Communion & Sermon of the Lord's Day. Here the Bible is read within the Offices, within the context of worship, within the Faith of the Creed and within the Christian Year and not in isolation but in the Communion of Saints. Of course for the Anglican Way to work well we all must be doing this in one way or another and not creating novel form of being Anglican!
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon