There are over 40000 different denominations in Christianity, and although this statistic has some overlap between countries, it is still staggering. Wikipedia has a list of some of them . (Interestingly I cannot find my own little pigeon hole on this list.)
Every single one of these denominations (as institutions) believe they are truly correct. Some of them believe this to the extend that they and they alone are the “true church”. Most won’t go that far, but they all definitely believe that the way they understand and do things is the more correct way. Thinking your opinion is the correct one, is inherent in having an opinion in the first place and there is nothing wrong with that per se.
The problem is that all of these denominations base their views on the Bible. They all have some verses to prove their particular points. Discussion between denominations are rarely fruitful, because the underlying opinion is that “I am biblical and therefore you are not”, but both participants can use the Bible to prove their contradicting points. Verses are thrown at each other; and context and interpretation is used to push aside contradicting verses.
Recently I have been in conversation with a friend of mine about the seventh day Sabbath. He believes celebrating the Sabbath on the seventh day is very important and I don’t (although I do believe in purposefully resting). He has made a thorough study of it and has a lot of scripture to back up his view point. As we discussed the subject it dawned on me the question “where is it in the Bible?” is simply not enough for the discussion. Or even “how do you interpret this or that verse?”.
All the denominations in Christianity are all based on the Bible*. The difference between them isn’t, as they all would like to believe, about reading and interpreting the Bible correctly, but the reason behind interpreting the Bible in their specific way. In the end it is actually all about your preference. “Why do you choose to interpret it that way?”
This idea will make a lot of people uncomfortable, it exposes the fact (yes, I choose the word “fact” intentionally) that “Sola scriptura” (“by Scripture alone”) simply isn’t good enough to base your doctrine upon or settle any debate.
The idea of “Sola scriptura” is of course closely linked to the Biblical infallibility. Which, ironically enough, isn’t biblical. You might immediately think of 2 Timothy 3:16:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
I totally agree with that verse. Scripture is useful… not infallible. You are also God-breathe (Genesis 2:7), and you are not infallible.
That being said, all of this does not leave us stranded in a realm of relative truth. It simply forces us to reconsider where we begin in our search for absolute truth.
I would suggest starting with the infallible Word of God, his self revelation, Jesus (John 1). The author of Hebrews starts his letter with this idea:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son… – Heb 1:1,2
Jesus is how God speaks to us. He is the incarnate word. God saying “you’ve got it all wrong, this is Who I truly am.”
Ironically we can miss this greatest of all truth by being obsessed with Bible study, instead of relating with the God the Bible tells us about. As Jesus told the Pharisees: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39,40)
So what does the infallible Word of God teach us?
He teaches that everyone is wrong. That his Father is fundamentally and solely a Father, He is nothing else, He is not multifaceted.
Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, because our Father is like that (Matthew 5:43-45).
And if we see Jesus we see the Father (John 14:9). Consider that when thinking about the crucifixion: the exact representation of the invisible God (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15) would rather die than punish us.
This is where we start. This is what is infallible. This needs to be our “why” when interpreting the scripture. Only in the light of this is “the scripture useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”.
Ps, I do understand the irony of talking about many different viewpoints each saying theirs is the correct one and then proposing my own version of correct. However, I hope you see that I try to address the problem.
*There are a couple of exceptions to this, but even if they don’t base all their doctrine on the Bible they have a biblical reason for doing so (for example Jesus talking about the keys of the kingdom that kingdom (Matthew 16:19))