A common rebuttal to sola scriptura is that it makes each man a pope. But let’s examine this reasoning. Are they saying that each person reading the bible comes to his own conclusion? Well, so what? People interpret material and come to conclusions. That’s called having a brain. The objection only holds water if we add one more premise: and is such a judicial authority in the church.
Now, this is a devastating rebuttal to Congregational governments because they are islands in the stream (sorry, bad Dolly Parton reference). It doesn’t touch synodical governments. Billy Bob in the Presbyterian church can read his Bible and come to wacky conclusions and it doesn’t mean anything judicially, for Billy Bob as an individual member does not have judicial authority in the synod (and hence isn’t offering his interpretation of the Bible as normative).
Let’s pretend that Billy Bob’s presbytery takes his interpretation and makes it official, would not the objection hold then? Well, it might hold but consider what has happened: the representative form of government has limited Billy Bob’s initial appeal. Billy Bob–or thirty Billy Bobs–only has a normative voice in the context of his synod, and that synod is simultaneously being checked by higher and lower courts.
Ecclesiastical Republicanism is the most perfect form of government, but it is not completely flawless. I was a part of Louisiana Presbytery when it imploded (and caused no small amount of grief). But even its implosion illustrated the truth: higher and lower courts were acting upon the Presbytery, albeit unsuccessfully.
Someone could further object, “Yeah, well if there are 30 Presbyteries, then there are 30 different teachings.” To which I say, “Prove it.” That usually ends the debate. But let’s pretend there are a lot of different teachings. So what? That’s the cost of doing business in a fallen world.