Under the heading of “Legacy” in the Wikipedia entry on Sola Scriptura, I found this interesting paragraph:
“The conception of sola scriptura has changed over time. In addition to being a method of reforming church authority and tradition, sola scriptura now often implies an additional antithesis between the authority of the individual and authority of the Church. In addition to contesting and reforming traditions negatively attested to in scripture, many Protestants also remove traditions that the Bible doesn’t positively and clearly support. Certainly sola scriptura is applied more liberally today than the original reformers intended.”
This reflects a personal opinion of mine which has developed in my journey from Baptist fundamentalism (for example, see my previous church’s website) to Reformed confessionalism (although I am providentially a member of a fairly traditional, and somewhat Reformed-sympathetic Southern Baptist Church). This opinion of mine goes under the heading of “The Baptist Version of Sola Scriptura.” Like in the Wikipedia article, as I learned Reformed theology from very non-Baptistic sources, I noticed that what Reformed folks called Sola Scriptura, and how Baptists generally tended to use the phrase Sola Scriptura (or the concept, if not the phrase itself) were two different things. Reformed theology emphasizes that Scripture alone is the only source of divine revelation, correcting the Roman Catholic belief that Scripture and church tradition are equal sources of divine revelation, — and the final authority of all faith and practice, whereas Baptist practice and preaching, while including sentiments parallel to Reformed theology’s emphasis, allowed it to logically dovetail with the Baptist distinctive of Priesthood of All Believers and the distinctive sometimes called “Soul Competency“, “Soul Liberty” or “Liberty of Conscience.”
I basically believe that, whatever is right about the Baptist tradition, it learned from the Reformed tradition; and conversely, that whatever is wrong about the Baptist tradition, it learned from the Anabaptist tradition.
The Anabaptist tradition, if I may speak generally (and I may, because this is my blog!!!), is equated in my mind with the tendency toward individualism, whereas the Reformed tradition is equated in my mind with a sober balance of individualism checked by church authority regulated (ideally) by Sola Scriptura.
The Baptist tradition’s sympathy for some Anabaptistic emphases accounts, for example, for their emphasis on “credo-baptism,” more commonly known as “Believer’s Baptism,” or as I call it “Baptism Of Believers Only By Immersion Only.” While some Baptists believe their historic origins follow a path which emerges out of the Reformation era Anabaptist movement, yet predates it in the form of many of the persecuted heretical groups of the medieval period (Paulicians, Bogomils, Cathars/Albigenses and other similarly scary groups), a Baptist-history theory called Baptist Successionism, the more historically competent recognize that the Baptist tradition finds its historic origin squarely in the seventeenth century English Separatist movement, which happens to be a Reformed tradition! First objecting to the baptism of the infant children of believers on account of “The Baptist Version of Sola Scriptura” they began sprinkling, or pouring water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit on professing believers only. This practice is based on their inability to recognize the association between Old Testament circumcision and New Testament water baptism because there is no explicit command to baptize the children of believers (and they either skip over, or misinterpret Colossians 2:11-12, which is a New Testament verse associating circumcision with water baptism).
In short, to abruptly conclude, I believe that as the Baptist tradition followed the example of the Anabaptist tradition toward a more individualistic emphasis, they took a step away from the solid foundation of the Reformed tradition. This is how I account for what I call “The Baptist Version of Sola Scriptura” and I believe in this area and others, Baptists are in need of returning to their Reformed roots. For assistance in this endeavor, consult the following websites:
Reformata, Semper Reformanda (“Reformed, Always Reforming”)