The problem is not how far they went with their Reformation, but from where they started it. In the mean-time almost another half millennia passed away and many things have changed in the way that humanity perceives the possibility of the existence of God and the right approach to Him, but most importantly in the interpretation of the biblical texts.
Luther and other reformers took the Bible to be paramount for the understanding of Christianity, concretizing this idea, in the principle “Sola Scriptura.” After Luther, countless and very valuable studies regarding the Scriptures were made. The Historical-Critical Method involves asking analytical questions about various aspects of the texts and their contexts.Source criticism is the search for the original sources which lie behind a given biblical text. It can be traced back to the 17th century French priest Richard Simon and its most influential product is undoubtedly Julius Wellhausen's “Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels” (1878), whose "insight and clarity of expression have left their mark indelibly on modern biblical studies," according to Antony F. Campbell SJ. Form criticism breaks the Bible down into sections (pericopes, stories) which are analyzed and categorized by genres (prose or verse, letters, laws, court archives, war hymns, poems of lament, etc.). Redaction criticism studies "the collection, arrangement, editing and modification of sources", and is frequently used to reconstruct the community and purposes of the author/s of the text. In the last period of time, The Dead Sea scrolls and the Nag Hammadi manuscripts were found and all this cannot be neglected from the point of view of their influence on Christianity. The modern sciences gained a lot of ground in the field of human understanding of life and all must be put in a correct perspective in relation with faith.
I find the N.T, filed with many contradictions and I also wonder about the historicity of many assertions, said to be coming directly from Jesus. Some things attributed to Jesus are probably not originated from Him. In the same time, inside the history of Christianity was a continuous battle between various currents, opinions, dogmas and doctrines. To me, it seems that the biblical texts have fallen victim to all this battles and certain texts bear the mark of a certain interference with the original texts. More over, through the process of recopying the manuscripts, numerous times, something is lost and it is not impossible that some of the copiers were set to live their mark on the texts, sometime influenced by their own theological opinions or by opinions that they cherish. All together, I consider that the principle “Sola Scriptura” doesn’t say anything today and the only reliable source for the knowledge of God is the human personal experience with Him. John Calvin remarked: "All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them" (<The Westminster Confession>) I surely agree with Him, but I will also say that, without God, living in us, the basics for salvation doesn’t make any sense for us. The N.T. is an utopia for everyone who doesn’t personally experience its teachings. None can fully receive the Bible if he or she didn’t yet receive God in his or her consciousness. We need a guide in the process of reading the Bible and this Teacher must be in us. Bible doesn’t make any sense if it is not read with a spiritual mind, in a spiritual manner.
The Bible contains the basics for salvation; the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for our redemption and Jesus’ new requirement to love each other as He loved us. (John 3: 3-6) In the same time, the Bible doesn’t love for us or in our place and it doesn’t feel love, being only a collection of books. What I am saying is that the divine love, the basics for our salvation is poured in our hearts directly by God and not only following the study of the Bible. (Romans 5; 5) In order to understand the divine love we must feel it first in us, and that is more important that only to study about love. First, God shows us His love by calling us to salvation and secondly He gives us His love, in order to have it in us, than the direct work of the Holy Spirit in us is more important and prior to the study of the Bible. Second, we should study the Bible and discern all that God, through the Holy Spirit give us to discern and to understand, personally not officially or compulsory. For us, the Bible speaks by itself, lives in us and for us and any official or imposed interpretation of it is a potential danger for us.
I add to that the fact that the canonized Bible contains only the texts agreed upon by the Council of Nicea, but here again we can see the results of the controversies surrounding the various opinions about the diverse doctrinal aspects. Many other texts, which circulated in apostles times and immediately afterwards were “buried alive” by the religious institution and actually the form taken by Christianity was determined by an authority, which had a certain ideological program. They wanted to respond to present challenges confronting them, at the time and to achieve a goal linked to a certain image about the future of Christianity on earth. In order to have a more complete image about the early Christianity and much more than that, about who Jesus was and what He thought, we need to consider all texts circulating in the period following His mission on earth and above all we need to meet Jesus in Person, in us.
The Reformers proselytized the return to the Bible and that was a good thing, but the Bible opens the way for a multitude of interpretations and these interpretations transformed into religious doctrines and dogmas, contradict each other. In the Bible there are many potential theologies and even if we make huge efforts to present NT as a whole, differencesremain and make impossible a doctrinal unity of the Church. Jesus required unity among His followers, but precisely because the texts of the N.T. such a unity is precluded, at least in an organizational or institutional sense. The Bible also presents another kind of unity, a spiritual one. Jesus prayed for unity to the Father, before being crucified. (John 17; 21) The institutional unity among Christians is not possible, because the imprecision of the N.T. texts and their contradictions doesn’t allow for that. The spiritual unity is a fact, a reality and all people that are in Christ are united in Him, by the unity of the Holy Spirit.
An example of conflicting theologies, in the Bible, would be the difference between the doctrine of the justification by faith and the theological attitude towards women. On the one hand, we are told that in Christ, spiritually speaking, no longer exists any difference betweenmen and women, on the other hand in the first epistle to Timothy we are told that women aresaved only by the birth of boys, not girls, if they continue in faith. There are two differenttheologies that lead to two different interpretations of N.T. fundamentally different between them. (Galatians 3: 28, 1 Timothy 2, 15) Paul tells us that we are saved by faith in Christ, but in 1Timothy, we are informed that women are saved not by their faith, but by the random selection of their birth performances, not even by their good works. Such a huge discrimination, not taught by Christ raises an important question mark on the reliability of the texts of the N.T. Paul or the author who wrote the first epistle to Timothy went astray from the teachings of Jesus and the question is: “How many texts in the N.T. present another theology, than Jesus taught? Can we really discern from the N.T. what Jesus wanted to teach us, or everything is covered by various theologies that in fact it is impossible today to say what Jesus really told us. We know exactly what He did for us, but can we know precisely what He said? Because the answer seems to be negative, the proof is the numerous conflicting doctrines, we need a primordial personal experience with Jesus, in order to understand what the N.T teaches.
In many ways Paul contradicted Jesus and we have to make a very clear difference between what Jesus taught and what other texts of the N.T. purport to assert. In fact, even the gospels sometimes contradict each other about what Jesus taught; consequently it is impossible to understand His teachings without Him living in us. For this reason the institutional chains of Christianity must be broken and the whole weight of Jesus’ teachings must be put on the individual and on his or hers personal experience and relationship with God. No religious institution should stay between us and Jesus and all tradition and rituals can be just an indication available only within the limits of such individual spiritual experience.
On the other side, let us consider the state of the so called apostolic Churches. Is there someone to believe that they are truly an authentic picture of the first apostolic church? If anyone thinks so, in my opinion, is wrong. Why? Today’s Christian communities, organized in religious institutions, are not at all like the first apostolic churchs, in which all goods were shared amongst the members and the apostles and deacons served the food at the dinner tables. (Acts 6, 2-4) Nowadays there is a “Christian aristocracy,” which leads with "iron fist" the communities, under their responsibility. Sins are judged "in the interest" of the leaders and most spiritual people who make one mistake, are often marginalized first, because in this way the management of the church institutions have the chance to get rid of potential competitors or people with uncomfortable opinions. First, what is with all these judgments? Institutional churches have turned to be some judicial courts; they are not “hospitals” anymore, in order to cure the souls. Christians are not spiritual doctors among themselves but police who lurk and wait for mistakes. These spiritual executors find the opportunity to create for themselves a more favorable image, in comparison with others. This light is undoubtedly blurred because the comparison should not be between us and those around us, but between us and Jesus.
We don’t have to receive anything, not even some questionable texts from the Bible, if they are not confirmed in the teachings of Jesus, the one from the N.T. and living in us. Is there any difference between Jesus of the N.T. and Jesus in us? It shouldn’t be, but if it is the One who is in us is bigger than the one transmitted by the Bible. Why? This is because from reality to the N.T., Jesus suffered modifications, due to different theologies and perceptions had by the N.T. authors. Mathew shows a quite different Jesus than John and probably, in reality, He was farther different than both images. The Jesus of organized religion is not exactly the same with the Jesus in us. It is not even the same with Jesus from the Bible.
The founder of Christianity is Jesus Christ and He is the One who saves us. Any interpretation of the Bible must be judged strictly through the teachings of Jesus and any deviation from these teachings disqualifies a particular interpretation of the Bible, a certain doctrine or dogma. More difficult it is to discern what the teachings of Jesus are, but in order to make this task easier, God have written His spiritual Law, in our hearts. (Jeremiah 31; 31-34) Through the Holy Spirit, the God’s Law is written, first and foremost, in our hearts and only afterwards in the texts of the N.T., which unfortunately suffered countless alterations. God said that in the latter times, that we live in today, knowledge will increase and also said that the last will be the first. (Daniel 12, 4, Mark 10, 31) What does this mean? There are two things to be said, first, that the modest people in the church meetings can be first in the Kingdom of heaven. Second, Christians today have better conditions to have more information about the history of Christianity, which enable them to understand and distinguish between spiritual Christianity and religious forms.
Turning to Christ means not only "Sola Scriptura," but primarily means "Solus Christus." First, the outmost importance for a Christian is a personal relationship with Jesus. Second as importance, are the biblical texts. The latter can not be properly understood except by those who really have a personal relationship with Christ. Why? Understanding of the Bible can be made only by spiritual wisdom, ordinary human wisdom is not enough. (1 Corinthians 2: 13) This is not to say that only a few religious functionaries hold the privilege to be able to understand the Bible, rather this important observation means that every Christian needs to possess this kind of wisdom, in order to be able to understand it. By a literal reading of the New Testament, for example, we remove ourselves from Christ rather than to approach by Him. Many times, when Jesus spoke in parables, some disciples went away from Him, because the literal meaning of the words seemed to be absurd or even insane. (John 6, 66) So it is nowadays. Some Christians interpret the Bible without taking into account the spirituality, which it contains. What is the result? An impressive collection of dogmas and doctrines and all they talk about is what to "do" in order to be saved but little talk about how a Christian "should be." These are only the visible forms of Christianity. (John 6, 63) To choose the easy part, the broad way, means to consider that if one does some good works is better than doing nothing and consequently that one is a better person than others. (Matthew 7, 13-14) In fact, authentic Christianity requires us to be like Christ, to live up to the fullness of His stature. (Ephesians 4: 13)
Both O.T. and N.T. are only a guide to Christ. The Bible is not God. The Bible shouldn’t be “deified,” it is not “the word” of God, but it is the word about the Word of God and the living Word is Jesus. (John 1; 1) The Bible is equally the product of God and the object of human misunderstandings about Him. The Scriptures can become an idol, when a certain interpretation of them, is imposed upon the believers and when it is presented as the only possible interpretation. The Bible can unite and also it is able to separate the believers. They are united when the Spirit unites them and they are separated when they choose to interpret too literally its texts. The letter kills, the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3, 6) What is the meaning of this text? I understand by this formula that an interpretation of the Bible by which we tend to justify our religious doctrines and institutions and which doesn’t lead the believers directly to the Person of Christ is a literal, not a spiritual one. A spiritual understanding is any understanding of the Bible which leads us in a direct relationship with Jesus Christ and if a biblical interpretation fails to achieve this goal such an interpretation separates us from Him.
Without Christ we cannot be saved, so any teaching that claims to be from the Bible should not do anything else but to guide us to establish a personal contact with our personal Savior. We don’t need only stories about Christ, but we need to be clothed with His power. The kingdom of God is real power, not only rituals, doctrines and dogmas; it doesn’t express itself only in words. (1 Corinthians 4, 20) Jesus spoke to the people and explained very well in words what the kingdom of God is, but He didn’t limit Himself to words, because His teachings were accompanied by the proof of God’s power. Where are the church officials, who do miracles more than Jesus, did? According with the N.T. they should do all kind of miracles by the power of God and through the faith they have in Christ. (John 14, 12-13) They are not visible, probably with some exceptions. Why? Every one must answer for himself or for her. Some have replaced the manifestation of power through living human beings with the power of relics of dead saints. To preach like Jesus means not only to tell to the people about Him, but to tell them what He has to say to nowadays world. Jesus not only told us about the Father, but the Heavenly Father spoke through His mouth. In all things we must resemble Jesus because He is the firstborn among many brethren. (Rom 8, 29)