In the blog world people argue from all different kinds of authority. For most people today, that authority is their own experience. For others, it is what they have heard famous people say. For still others, tradition (familial or societal) is the authority of choice. For many, reason is king.
Within evangelical blogdom, however, almost everyone agrees that the bible is their authority. That is something we can agree upon. However, when you begin reading many of the arguments, you realize that reason and tradition are often the real authority people are depending upon. The bible is often then used to support conclusions that were first made based upon tradition, reason, experience, etc.
This is one of the reasons I appreciate my friend Alan Knox so much. I don't always agree with his conclusions, but I am glad that he tries to begin with scripture, and then comes to conclusions based upon what the bible says. Even though Alan is a Southern Baptist, he is not tied down by Baptist tradition and heritage.
While I was attending seminary (SEBTS), we were constantly told how important the bible was, and how it needed to be our primary authority in all things. In this, the professors were correct. However, what was interesting was that when it came to their teaching on the church in general, and pastoral ministry in particular, it seemed to me that the bible often took a backseat to SBC tradition.
This is what often occurred. An assumption would be made based upon Baptist history, tradition, and heritage. This assumption was then supported by a few different biblical texts. For example, congregational rule within the church was taught as biblical, and then several texts were used to support this. Another example is believer's baptism. We were told that this was the only biblical method of the ordinance. This was then supported with scripture. A third example is the office of pastor (I like the term "elder" better, but that was rarely used on campus; some see it as "too Presbyterian," whatever that means). We were told what the pastor does, and this was supported by scripture.
The above process of "proof-texting" can be very dangerous. This is the case because almost any biblical text taken out of context can be used to support almost anything. For example, I could say that I like polygamy, and then I could find a verse or two that shows King David having several wives. This sounds crazy, but it is the same method often used by many of us (I sometimes make this mistake, too).
What, then, do we do to ensure that the bible is really our authority? On any issue, within or outside the church, we must simply ask, "What does the bible say about this?" Then we must search all of scripture to find the answer.
Let us beware making decisions based upon reason, experience, tradition, or the authority of famous people. Let us not pick and choose certain scriptures to support conclusions we have already come to based on the above faulty sources of authority.
It may be that the other sources of authority, such as reason and tradition, agree with the bible. That would be great. But what happens when they conflict? What do I do, as a Baptist, if I study scripture and come to the conclusion (I hope humbly) that Baptists might be wrong about congregational rule, believer's baptism, and/or the role of the pastor?
If the bible is my authority, I must follow scripture.