Michael claims that the sola scriptura position is not "me-and-my-own-interpretation-is-authoritative". He claims that sola scriptura advocates read and interpret the Bible "with the church". Sola scriptura advocates, he claims, are not biblicists. Their position, according to Michael, is not solo scriptura.
But when you ask sola scriptura advocates what exactly they are referring to by 'church', they will eventually answer with something semantically equivalent to "whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do". And if you ask them, "Which creeds, confessions and historical theology are authoritative?", their ultimate answer is semantically equivalent to "those creeds and confessions and historical theology that agree with me-and-my-own-interpretation-of-Scripture." Some will answer this latter question by claiming that they follow those creeds and confessions and historical theology that were put forward by "the church". But, again, when you ask them what exactly they are referring to by 'church', you find eventually that their ultimate answer is semantically equivalent to "whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do." Sometimes sola scriptura advocates appeal to Protestant confessions like the Westminster Confession or the Belgic Confession. But if you ask them why they believe those confessions to be authoritative, and not, say, the Council of Trent, you will eventually find an answer semantically equivalent to "because those confessions [or those who wrote them] interpret the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do." This is what I have previously called "painting a magisterial target around one's interpretive arrow", like shooting an arrow into a wall, and then painting a target around one's arrow to make it look as if one shot a bullseye.
Advocates of sola scriptura distinguish their position from that of biblicists by claiming that biblicists practice solo scripture. And I imagine that most self-described advocates of sola scriptura are not biblicists in the I-only-use-Scripture sense. But this distinction [between sola scriptura and biblicism/solo scripture] is not relevant to the fundamental authority problem of solo scriptura. That is because for both sola scriptura and solo scriptura/biblicism, the individual remains the final interpretive [of both Scripture and Tradition] authority.
This is more difficult for advocates of sola scriptura to see about themselves, because by claiming that the Church is the final authority [where 'Church' is defined as "whoever reads and interprets the Bible just like I do, or at least pretty close to just like I do"] they create a semantic and social layer between themselves and their treatment of themselves as their own ultimate interpretive authority.
According to Michael, biblicism, but not sola scriptura, encourages people not to "subject themselves to any theological or ecclesiastical authority that might be contrary to their own interpretation." But if you ask sola scriptura proponents to whom they themselves subject their interpretations, you will soon discover that the answer is "those who interpret Scripture mostly or entirely like I do." So in this respect, there is no principled difference between sola scriptura and biblicism.
Michael likewise criticizes biblicists for attempting to restore primitive Christianity. He claims that early-American biblicists wrongly rejected systems of theology because they suspected them as "likely perversion[s] of genuine biblical truth". But sola scriptura advocates typically use quite the same rationale [i.e. restoring primitive Christianity] to reject Catholic doctrines, and have been doing so since leaving the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. They are no less suspicious than biblicists of uniquely Catholic doctrines, generally treating them as "likely perversions of genuine biblical truth". So here again there is no principled difference between the biblicist and the proponent of sola scriptura.
Michael also claims that in the sola scriptura paradigm, "the church does not give individuals license to think and say whatever they want". But apparently this did not apply to the first Protestants, who thought and said whatever they wanted, thumbing their noses at the Pope and the Catholic bishops under whose ecclesial authority they were. Conveniently, once the early Protestant figures had thumbed their noses at the existing ecclesial authorities, they then refused to allow their *own* followers the "license to think and say" whatever those followers wanted. But one can't have it both ways. If it is a disobedient act of rebellion to think and say whatever we want in defiance of ecclesial authority, then Protestantism is built on a disobedient act. But if rebellion against ecclesial authority is permissible for Protestants in the sixteenth century, then there is no non-arbitrary reason why it must be wrong now. Protestantism is built on this fundamental contradiction: "We rebelled, but you [Protestants] mustn't rebel against us. Our rebellion was justified because the Church was wrong, but you must not rebel against us because we are right."
But the obvious question is "Says who?" The Catholic Church of Luther's time also taught that she was right and that Catholics like Luther should obey the Church's Magisterium. So the contemporary Protestant who insists that Protestants should obey [and not rebel against] their Protestant leaders because Protestants "are right", is saying exactly what the Catholic Church of Luther's time said. So why is rebellion in one case wrong and in the other case right? "Because we [Protestants] are right," comes the reply. But that, obviously, just begs the question. If rebellion is justified when the subordinate thinks the superior is incorrect, then, contra Michael, when Protestants disagree with their pastors, they have the license to think and say whatever they want. They may leave and start their own denomination if they want.
So there is a contradiction between the claim by advocates of sola scriptura that Protestants must submit to the Church, and the actions by the first Protestants on which Protestantism is founded. That contradiction manifests itself more and more over time, because people start to realize that the "don't rebel" position as taught by Protestant 'authorities' is ad hoc. If Luther can do it, why can't I? That is why there is no principled difference with respect to one's relation to ecclesial authority between sola scriptura and solo scriptura -- in both, the individual is his own final authority. The former hides it by including lesser 'authorities' (i.e. creeds, confessions, pastors, historical theology) which are hand-picked by the individual in virtue of their agreement with his own interpretation.
Michael claims that "the Bible was never meant to be interpreted apart from pastoral guidance". He claims that "the Reformers denied the autonomy of the conscience in private, subjectivist interpretation." But Luther didn't agree when it came to his own actions; he spurned the pastoral guidance of his bishop and the bishop of Rome. Here is what Luther said at the Diet of Worms:
Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason -- I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other -- my conscience is captive to the Word of God.
Luther is saying there that he has bound his conscience to his own interpretation of the Scripture. So this is the problem for the defender of sola scriptura. If Luther can do it, and Luther is the father of Protestantism, then Luther's heirs can do it. But if it was not right for Luther to do it, then the Protestant separation from the Catholic Church is built on a fundamental error on Luther's part. The Reformers did deny the autonomy of the conscience of private, subjectivist interpretation for their followers, but they did not deny the autonomy of the conscience of private, subjectivist interpretation for themselves. Yet one can't have it both ways; contraries cannot be held together. That is why even if among Protestants submission to ecclesial authority continued for centuries because of a kind of intertia of Catholic practice and thought, the individual-as-authority kept becoming more and more explicit within Protestantism. It dominates the Protestant scene today in the form of individualism and ecclesial consumerism.
Tragically, however, things have not changed for the better. As Hatch chillingly points out, "Americans continue to maintain their right to shape their own faith and to submit to leaders they have chosen." The result of eighteenth and nineteenth century biblicism has been a church that increasingly looks less like New Testament Christianity and more like the egalitarian culture in which she lives. Populist hermeneutics and privatized, experiential religion has continuously had wide appeal to the American individualistic ethos. The "chronological arrogance," to borrow C.S. Lewis’ maxim, of disparaging tradition and centuries of theologizing persists with cavalier vigor.
What Michael describes is something that belongs to the essence of Protestantism, even though many Protestants do not recognize that to be so. "I am my own interpretive authority" is part of the essence of Protestantism precisely because Protestantism is founded upon such acts [in defiance of the Church] by the early Protestants themselves. The legitimacy of Protestantism and its separation from the Catholic Church hangs on those acts. If those acts were wrong, then Protestantism (as such) should not exist; Protestants should be in the Catholic Church, and not in schism from her.
It is in this tempestuous sea of autonomy that creeds and confessions act as an anchor to the ship of Christianity.
But if one picks as one's 'authorities' only those creeds or confessions [or makes new creeds and confessions] that agree with one's own interpretation of Scripture, one is far more likely to be anchoring oneself not to the "ship of Christianity" but to the ship of heresy and schism. Merely adhering to creeds and confessions is not sufficient to anchor one to the ship of Christianity. Heretics can do that by picking and choosing for themselves which creeds and confessions to 'submit' to, and by composing their own confessions and then 'submitting' to them. What heretics have had in common, from the time of the early church, is determining for themselves what is the "true doctrine", and then defining "the Church" as those who teach the "true doctrine". But what anchors us to the ship of Christianity is adhering to the Church that Christ founded, and then submitting to *her* teaching as the true doctrine. The former approach leads to myriads of heresies. The latter approach leads to the one orthodoxy, for there is only one orthodoxy.
The very first Christians did not determine which persons were Christ's Apostles by seeing who taught what they themselves thought must have been Christ's gospel. They determined what Christ's gospel was by finding those whom Christ sent, and then listening to their teaching. And the second generation of Christians did not determine which persons were the bishops by determining who believed and taught what they themselves thought was Christ's gospel, but rather by finding those whom the Apostles had authorized and sent, and then listening to their teaching. And the third generation of Christians did the same. That is the way Christ set up the Church. There was never a time when the bishops said, "Ok, now that the New Testament has been written and the canon settled, we are going to change the way things operate. From now on, the rightful bishops are no longer to be determined by listening to those whom we ordain in sacramental succession from the Apostles, but instead by finding those who agree with your own interpretation of Scripture." In 200 AD we see Tertullian refuting the heretics precisely by pointing out that they do not have the authoritative interpretation of Scripture. But what Tertullian says there also applies to Luther's interpretation of Scripture, and thus to the whole of Protestantism. Luther and Protestantism define "the Church" based not on sacramental succession from the Apostles but rather on agreement with their [i.e. Protestants] own interpretation of Scripture. However, we find such a practice earlier in Church history only among the heretics.
The reconciliation and reunion of Protestants and the Catholic Church depends fundamentally on facing this issue of authority. There cannot be unity so long as people think that the identity of "the Church" is determined as "those who agree with me". There can be unity among Christians only when we recognize that the identity of the Church is determined by those whom Christ authorized, and those whom they authorized, and those whom they authorized, in perpetual succession to the present day. The identity and extent of the Church is determined by them. Unity is achieved not when we all make 'Church' in our own image (i.e. in the image of our own interpretation), but when we all conform to her image.