An inability to go straight
Asa Schaeffer conducted a series of experiments in the 1920s that tested the ability of human beings to walk straight. The studies were all conducted in conditions where the test subject was unable to see where they were going, so they had no external references. One involved a blind-folded man walking across a field, another involved a blindfolded swimmer, and another a person in a car. In all cases the test subjects, when deprived of external references, were unable to go in a straight line. Inevitably they each began to veer off course, and eventually travelled in tighter and tighter spirals, going nowhere. A German researcher named Jan Souman recently repeated the experiments in other environments, including the desert, the beach, a forest, and other places. In every instance the test subject could not go straight.
It seems that this is a natural human tendency, and our spiritual faculties apparently are affected in a similar fashion. Given a lack of external truth markers we cannot maintain a straight spiritual course. Individually we do not maintain fidelity to our original calling, the faith that was deposited in the apostles, and passed on to their disciples, and so on. Now after 2,000 years so many of us are found wandering off in one of 40,000 different groups, each claiming to have a proper understanding of Scripture, each dead certain that the other 39,999 are wrong to some degree, not knowing how to unravel the mess.
What happened? What blindfolded everyone? Why can’t we see the markers? Well, there’s two primary problems. The first is that the formal principle of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura, has sold Protestants the idea that they are individual authorities on truth, and that there is no external witness that can be normative outside of their own interpretation of Scripture. The second major problem is a complete lack of connection to the witness of historic Christianity. The tragedy of this is that we live in an age when access to early Christian writings has never been easier or cheaper. You can get most major writings from the first centuries of Church history on the Internet at a push of the button, for absolutely no cost and in English. For many of them you can even get audio versions if you don’t care to read them. Past ages of Christians speaking out against the issues that divide us remain unheard, and for absolutely no reason.
The consequence of this ignorance is a complete inability to spot heresy, or confidently assert what heresy even is. I know that “heresy” is a word that is very difficult for some people to use, but consider what heresy actually means. Heresy comes from the Greek αἵρεσις, which means “choice”. A heresy is born when a person chooses what to believe, chooses to believe something different than what was passed to them. Heresy comes down to a person placing themselves in the position of determining what’s true. This is at the heart of what it means to be Protestant, is it not? The Reformers broke ties with an external means of determining truth (for good reason), and decided instead to captain their own understanding of Scripture. The situation may have warranted the action, but the results have been disastrous. Now Protestants are in a position where they can no longer reliably determine the meaning of Christianity and the path of salvation. Like a blind-folded person, they have no external reference, and so cannot determine what beliefs are the result of choice, what is heresy, and what is objectively true.