Daniel over at neotheologue has an ongoing series of posts on Christian unity which are both brutally honest and insightful. His posts have gotten me thinking about unity but also about one of my personal obsessions - workable solutions. All the theorizing and pondering in the world are utterly useless unless they lead us towards a workable solution. Not a perfect solution, mind you, I'm not so naive as to think we will ever obtain perfection until Christ returns in glory. No, with any problem that confronts me, especially the bigger and much harder to solve spiritual/ecclesial types, I'm really only interested in finding concrete steps that will take us forward. Maybe only a few inches of the miles we have yet to travel, but forward nonetheless.
Of course, we can't find those steps until we've identified the cause of the problem. Only with a correct diagnosis of the illness can a treatment be prescribed. I think for the Protestant world the answer is abundantly clear: sola scriptura (I now hereby officially open the sola scriptura issue for public debate). Personally, I am not yet ready to abandon SS and for the vast majority of Protestants it doesn't even have a chance of being an option for the possibility of potential future consideration. But the fact remains that SS is effectually one of the largest contributors to the disunity of the Protestant church in general. I'm not saying SS is wrong or an incorrect, ahistorical doctrine; I'm speaking only about the practical consequences.
Part of the problem is that the same definition of SS is not universally held by Protestant churches. The basic idea is that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to know enough about God, Jesus, sin, faith, etc, for the individual to find salvation in Christ and that they are clear on areas relating to salvation though some areas might be more obscure. But wait, that isn't the basic idea. Some churches require all doctrine to be based explicitly on Scripture or ideas that have a short chain of logical deductions from the text. Some are more flexible, accepting doctrines that aren't found explicitly in the Bible, but aren't excluded by it either. In the former, the Bible thus becomes very restrictive and limiting. For instance, the office of "priest" is not found in the New Testament, and thus cannot be legitimately used by Christians. Between these two poles are various other positions, but in essence, this lack of clarity on the precise meaning of SS and the boundaries of legitimacy create division. A strict SS church could not commune with a flexible SS because some of that flexibility can only be regarded as unbiblical, and conversely, the rigidity of the strict church would likely put off the other group.
So step 1 of a workable solution towards unity is getting widespread agreement on the precise definition of, and the theological & ecclesiological boundaries implied by, sola scriptura. If various groups can regard each others' practices (so long as they are not obviously heretical or unbiblical) as legitimate expressions of their respective churchs' beliefs, a huge door to unity would be kicked open.