James N. Anderson has a thought-provoking post entitled Ecclesial Activism. A key idea is that the Bible is to the Christian faith as the U. S. constitution is to the U. S. government. And just as judicial activism is a Bad Thing, so is ecclesial activism. The Roman Catholic Church comes in for a drubbing as the main engine of ecclesial activism:
If the Bible didn’t say something something that the bishops wanted it to say, or thought it should say, they could claim to “discover” new doctrines in the Bible — purgatory, indulgences, apostolic succession, papal infallibility, etc. — and no one would have power to overrule them.
Adapting the candid statement of Chief Justice Hughes, today’s Roman Catholic might well put it thus: “We are under the Bible, but the Bible is what the Pope says it is.” In fact, that’s exactly how things stand in practice. Functionally the Pope has become the highest governing authority in his church: higher even than the Bible. The church has been derailed by “ecclesial activism”.
I find it rather ironic then that in recent years a number of politically conservative evangelicals (J. Budziszewski, Francis Beckwith, and Jay Richards are three prominent examples) have swum the Tiber. Presumably they take a dim view of judicial activism. Shouldn’t they be equally averse to ecclesial activism?
When it comes to ecclesiology, Protestants are the true conservatives and the true constitutionalists.
Not being a theologian, I hesitate to comment on Anderson's post. But I'll make a couple of maverick comments. First, if a doctrine of purgatory cannot be found in the Bible, then I would consider that to be a lacuna in the Bible. The doctrine strikes me as not only extremely reasonable but also necessary: at death, almost none of us will be ready for the divine presence, and yet some us will not deserve hell. Therefore . . . .
On the topic of indulgences and papal infallibility, I too find these doctrines untenable if not absurd, but not so much because they cannot be found in the Bible -- assuming that is true -- but for philosophical reasons. The idea that there is an economy of salvation that can be quantified and regulated and administered is the rankest superstition.
So you see my bias: I don't understand sola scriptura and I reserve the right to think for myself. Question: Is the sola scriptura principle itself scripturally based? I apologize if that, to the cognoscenti, is a cheap-shot question.
It is worth noting in passing that it was his inability to accept the doctrine of papal infallibility that was the main cause of Franz Brentano's leaving of the Catholic priesthood, and later, the church. See here.