The translation and interpretation of Holy Scripture is the task of the Church brought into being by the same Holy Spirit who inspired the written Word. The protesters who broke with Rome cannot have foreseen the fissiparous nature of their enterprise. In rejecting the authority of the Pope the Western reformers did not abolish autocracy but rather set in train a process the logical end of which is that every man is a pope in his own parish or in his own front room. The ‘idolatry’ of Rome was replaced by the idolatry of self, social group and nation in swift order. Reformation hopes gave way to puritanism. Parts of Europe descended into the fierce joylessness of Calvinism, others to the excitements of Anabaptism, revivalists, iconoclasts, Pentecostalists etc, each seizing upon an aspect of the faith and overemphasizing it to the distortion of the whole. The upshot is hundreds of ‘churches’, most of them with their own bizarre subdivisions (low, strict and particular, Southern, open etc, etc). In addition, there are thousands upon thousands of one-man band conventicles brought about by the falling out of Brother Smith with Pastor Jones. Pastor Smith, as he has now appointed himself, has the ‘real’ truth and hopes shortly to be needing to rent a bigger Scout Hut than the gravely misled Pastor Jones, his former guru. While both (and millions like them) claim, sola scriptura, the authority of the Word, they are in fact claiming merely a personal authority to interpret God’s Word with no reference to the historic and living community of faith. It is little better than theological piracy and insupportable vanity. It is the rejection, all too often, of the teaching of the Church in favour of the cult of private opinion. In an age which has so comprehensively rejected traditional forms of authority and embraced the highest good as individual gratification, it is scarcely surprising that disintegration is gathering pace.
From Robbie Low, "Divided We Fall," in New Directions, August 2004, pp. 17-18.