The present historical period is one that has been shaped by the empiricism of ungodly opponents of the Christian faith. And unfortunately, this shaping has also affected the church of Jesus Christ. Whereas it was the Romanists who taught that all must submit to her because she is the one who gave them the Truth of the Scriptures, the Trinity, and the Hypostatic Union, I have had the unfortunate experience of listening to men who claim to be Reformed and yet make similar statements when discussing the relationship between historical theology and systematic theology. Don’t be mistaken, there is a relationship, but it is not one of dependence; for if it were, it would be impossible for sound doctrine to ever be reached apart from a succession of sound theologians ultimately finding their origin in ancient Greece, Rome, etc. Such a dynastical succession of sound theologians is exactly what we in the Reformed tradition repudiate, all the while without casting aspersions on the study of church history. We can, and must, differentiate between dependence and corroboration; the former is Romanist and the latter is Reformed.
There is, it seems to me, a fundamental equivocation, in the first place, with respect to the word “dependence.” The Romanist argues this way, claiming that since we hold to the doctrine of the Trinity we admit that Scripture is not enough and that we are dependent upon tradition for the truths of the Christian religion. What they cannot see, however, is that their use of the word “dependent” is equivocal. For in one sense, dependence implies inability to prove x apart from y, while in another sense it implies ability to prove x from Scripture and y. Inability to prove x apart from y is very different from ability to prove x from both Scripture and y. In the first instance, we are dealing with true dependence; in the second instance, we are dealing with corroborative dependence. One may build a flawless defense of the doctrine of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of the two natures in Christ, and many other doctrines from the Scriptures alone; but if one wishes to defend one’s self, then one may turn to past theologians who agree with oneself. This is what the Romanists cannot seem to grasp: The doctrines of Scripture, as they are Truths communicated by God from His mind to ours via the written Word, are not dependent on “private” theologians or “public” councils; rather, they have been revealed to us in the Scriptures. Hence, Jude tells the saints to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The implication of this being that it is the saints (i.e. anyone and everyone who calls upon the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, trusting solely in Him) who have been given the full revelation of God’s Truth. This means that no new truths may be proposed that do not find their basis in the Scriptures, for “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” is nothing more than this: The contents of the Holy Word of God.
So we ask again: Are Christians dependent upon the theologians of the past and the councils of the past for the truths of the Christian religion? It depends on what one means when they use the word dependent. If the person objecting to the sufficiency of Scripture is claiming that apart from x (in addition to the Scriptures) Christians cannot defend their religion, then the claim is false. However, if by dependent one means that Christians are dependent upon past theologians and councils for corroboration of the truths of the Christian faith, then no honest Christian would deny such an obvious point. The equivocation of anti-Christians who deny Sola Scriptura is what causes many to stumble in their faith. And, what is perhaps worse, this equivocal charge against Christians is sometimes accepted by Christians who fail to see the numerous errors that follow upon an acceptance of it as true. Christians are not dependent upon past theologians and councils for the truths of the Christian religion, for if they were this would mean that the Scriptures are insufficient, and this is precisely was Psalm 119 in its entirety and 2 Timothy 3:15-17, among many other Scriptures, explicitly deny. Rather, when building a cumulative case in favor of a particular doctrine, the Scriptures are the foundation of one’s proposed doctrine, and the statements of past theologians and councils are merely corroborative evidence of what is already contained in the Scriptures.