Here's a reply I gave over at Jason J. Stellman's blog:
Bryan Cross writes:
If I may ask, in your opinion, how does Protestantism not reduce to submitting to the Church only when the Church's teaching sufficiently agrees with one's own interpretation of Scripture?
I first need to clear some philosophical brush in order to address the issue you're raising.
1. We need to have in mind a particular definition of Protestantism. I don't know what you have in mind, but we need to be specific; we can't speak of how Protestantism, broadly defined to include anyone not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, reduces to X since, as I've asserted in the threads I linked above, and implied here, there is something fundamentally different about how a certain subset of Protestantism approaches hermeneutical concerns as compared with how the Reformers and their modern adherents approach the same issue. (This is not to mention the fact that more than just these two paradigms find their home under this broader umbrella of Protestantism.) There's no prima facie reason to lump them together and assume both paradigms "reduce" to the same kind of individualism. That would require a substantial argument; I dispute the implication that Reformed Protestantism assumes the burden of proof.
2. That said, it would depend, in part, on what you mean by "reduce." I suspect you have in mind a definition of the term I would either reject as false or find equally problematic for the Roman Catholic denomination's epistemological and theological claims.
3. The other part of the question is the practical application of the sola Scriptura paradigm to questions of conscience. If we think something essential to the Church's teachings, as formulated in its creeds and confessions in the particular denomination of which we are members, is objectionable, we can either act like modern, Western Evangelicals and immediately go "church shopping" for something which agrees with us or, as Turretin advised, carefully and respectfully seek resolution within the proper Church channels. (Here I am speaking of how this works itself out at the local level within a local church, which is an expression of the Church.) If this course of action progresses for sometime (ideally, in one sense, until the very end) without a satisfactory resolution, we will eventually have to either submit to the authority of the Church (as expressed in the local congregation or larger body of local congregations, e.g. as in a Presbyterian paradigm) and trust it has properly handled the issue despite our concerns or remove ourselves from its communion.
4. The whole process of #3 is what fundamentally differentiates Reformed Protestantism from various individualistic approaches to Scripture. Deliberation is careful and cautious, it is done within the proper confines of the Church and its aim is to serve the unity of the Body. There is no such process or thought in some modern Evangelical approaches. The individualist might, at best, ask some friends for advice. But then she will choose for herself without even entertaining the idea that she should also consider submitting to the judgments of the Church as expressed by her local pastor and elders even though she has unresolved concerns at that time.
5. In the event an individual eventually decides to leave, she has not done anything any denomination can prevent. The best a denomination can do is both establish impediments to hasty action and implement a disciplinary structure. If someone perseveres through these impediments and eventually decides to accept the consequences of discipline (and ultimate excommunication) then the local body, if it has faithfully implemented these measures, has done all it can and the blame for the separation rests not on the Church but on the individual. For example, would you say Catholicism reduces to individualism because some Catholics attempt to have women or unrepentant, practicing homosexuals ordained as priests and then, when these attempts are refused and denounced by the Magisterium, either try to claim themselves as Catholic after having self-excommunicated themselves or leave the denomination? No, since what we're driving into is a simple fact of life--people are free to do whatever they want with whatever resources they have. Diotrephes sat under John, yet fell away from the faith. Does that mean discipleship under John reduces to individualism? Judas followed Christ, yet ultimately betrayed him. Does that mean following Christ reduces to individualism? No on both counts. So also does it seem unreasonable to fault sola Scriptura for whatever individuals decide to reject the teachings of the Church as expressed through the local congregation of which they are a part.
Whatever argument you're going to make on this entire point should take into account: (a) the different authority paradigm under which Reformation theology is deliberated and the place of the layperson within that paradigm, (b) the practical outworking of this paradigm at the local level (properly practiced) as compared with the actions and attitudes of individualistic Evangelicals in similar situations, and (c) the practical problem of the sinful will with which every communion of professing Christians must deal.