Just Me and My Bible?

Roman Catholic theology is noted for the emphasis it puts on tradition, which is placed alongside Scripture as an equally authoritative stream of revelation. The Reformers rightly rejected this view and emphasized sola Scriptura as the church's only infallible authority. But is there a place for tradition in the Reformed faith? John Murray, the former professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, once spoke to this question:

There is a Reformed tradition. It is enshrined in the Reformed creeds, theology, worship, and practice. We believe it is the purest representation and expression of Apostolic Christianity. It is in this tradition that we move; it is the stream along which we are borne; it is the viewpoint we cherish, foster, and promote. We cannot abstract ourselves from it; it gives direction to our thought and practice.

"Reformed Protestants," Murray said, "do not deny that there is such a thing as tradition to which all due deference must be paid." It is not identical with Scripture but arises out of Scripture. This tradition and the community shaped by it "breathes in a certain atmosphere, is animated by a certain viewpoint, [and] is characterized by a certain type of life and practice.

"Further, Murray argued, "the fact of tradition, and of its all-permeating influence on thought and life is undeniable."

A seminary classmate of mine once boasted, "I never read commentaries. I don't trust human opinions. I let God alone speak to me." To which a skeptical Calvinist fellow student responded, "What about you? Why do you trust your opinions?

"Our inability to escape our own limitations forces upon the self-aware the need to recognize their dependence upon others. Mutual dependence or interdependence should not surprise us. We are members of a body—the Apostle Paul's favorite metaphor for the church. We need each other (Rom. 12:4–8; 1 Cor. 12:12–31). "Are all teachers?" the Apostle asks (1 Cor. 12:29, 29). Of course not. Consequently, non-teachers depend on teachers in the same way that non-administrators depend on administrators, and non-leaders depend on leaders (Rom. 12:6–8). Throughout the whole body and the whole range of gifts, the non-gifted depend on the gifted. God has given "some as apostles...evangelists...pastors...and teachers," but not all (Eph. 4:11, NASB). They are gifted to equip the saints. Others are not.