In essence then, Christ never left explicit instructions on how to set up a church and the early disciples believed they were led by the Holy Spirit and the gospel spread through word of mouth primarily. They had many issues and problems which can be read within many of the New Testament books. History records this process continued and a process itself of several hundred years led to the formation of a defined canon of scripture. From the various canonical lists of writers prior to this it can be shown that the acceptance of a defined New Testament grouping was an extended process not simply an adoption of a set always agreed upon and within the orthodox Christian churches there still remains some variances over the books finally canonised. By and large most Christian churches have accepted as canon those books adopted by the Catholic Church prior to the time of the Reformation, whilst dismissing its later acceptance of the Apocrypha.
Even when canonised the Bible has never really been followed alone without an accompanying system of church authority remaining (as in the Catholic church) or being developed (as in Protestant churches including the Christadelphians). Looking at the history of the Christadelphians we find their founder came from a movement, the Restoration Movement, which intended to do just that. They believed by so doing they would restore “the primitive faith and practice.” In fact they established a whole series of principles such as “where the Bible speaks we speak and where it is silent we are silent.” Strangely, far from creating unity a huge number of denominations have roots within that movement as independent investigation of scripture led to varying interpretations. Like similar groups the Christadelphians believe that whilst the Bible can be “subject to interpretation” and “reading beliefs in” they have “the Truth” which is seen to be a defined list of beliefs.
The theory of the Bible alone is therefore never matched by an accompanying practice of allowing independent interpretation and to do so has its own difficulties. Allowing variance of interpretation presupposes scripture allows a multiplicity of interpretation and whilst an ancient principle professed has been “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty” there is always difference over what is an essential. It also has a difficulty because the Bible itself has a passage which states scripture is of “no private interpretation.” In light of the fact that a huge number of churches claim to the be the one true restoration we have to consider whether it is the idea itself that is fundamentally flawed and that being inanimate a book cannot authoritatively self-interpret itself and cannot be considered without a consideration of other sources of knowledge such as history and experience.
(this section will need clarifying and better wording because I’m sure what I am trying to say will be misunderstood)
The big question for Christadelphians is if the Bible is the only source of authority, whose interpretation is authoritative? Even if the Bible is infallible, that doesn’t impart infallibility to an individual or church and considering a number will disfellowship over differing interpretations of the Bible common sense suggests they cannot all be doing God’s will. That means most must be proclaiming a divine authority they cannot have based upon the rightness of their interpretations.
Let’s consider it further. Could this really have been the only sole authority for most folk in history to follow?
From our standpoint in time possessing a Bible is not that difficult or costly for most people and most of us can buy one translated into our own language. That, though, has required certain historical events to occur. Prior to the inventing of printing in the 1500s (and with time its widespread implementation) each new book or Bible required copying by hand which was laborious and made books far more costly than any common man or woman could afford. In addition most people could not read or write, they could not afford lighting at night very often and when they did they used lights made from the pith of reeds soaked in animal fat and burnt candles being for those who were well off. Most people also lived short lives and did hard labour before the invention of machines. Understanding this helps us to appreciate that the idea of the Bible alone has a time capsule in being truly possible. It has never existed in a vacuum without teaching or systems of church authority because it never started or developed that way and that method has had severe impracticalities.
The other major limitation to Sola Scripture was that it wasn’t available in most people’s languages. In most of Western Europe the principle version of the Bible was the Vulgate, a Latin translation of the Bible that was retained even after most of the Roman Empire no longer used Latin.
If we consider the Christadelphian view, the Holy Spirit was removed because “that which is perfect” (or the completed New Testament scriptures) had come. This, however, came through a 400 year period of time leading to a consensus in the Catholic church on which books formed the canon. This, far from supplanting any need for direct guidance, was unavailable then to the vast majority of people due to the limitations we have discussed. Most people were reliant upon what the priests told them, images in churches and their own experiences, thoughts and insights. The people with the best access to scriptures were the few who were educated or were in monasteries or were priests and many of the initial reformers came from this category of folk.