Christian Smith calls this "pervasive interpretive pluralism." And this pervasive interpretive pluralism isn't just found among progressives and liberals. It is found among evangelicals and fundamentalists, among the very people who claim that they are reading the bible very, very literally. Pervasive interpretive pluralism exists among biblical literalists.
Which brings us to the problem at the heart of Protestantism.
The problem at the heart of Protestantism is that the bible is unable to produce consensus. This isn't a theological claim. This is an empirical fact.
Sola scriptura produces pluralism. The "bible alone" creates doctrinal diversity. Biblical literalism proliferates churches.
And five-hundred years of Protestantism is Exhibit A.
The only way to get a single, unified church, as the Catholics will tell you, isn't the bible. What you need, rather, is a magisterium, a teaching authority that says, for everyone, "this is what the bible says."
And that's why there is one Catholic church and tens, thousands or tens-of-thousands of Protestant churches (depending upon how you count them).
A magisterium gets you one church. A literal reading of the inspired and inerrant Word of God gets you many, many churches.
That's a fact with an important moral implication.
Which is this: If your are going to accept the burden of being of Protestant, of living with sola scriptura, then you are going to have to learn to welcome doctrinal diversity.
If you want to be biblical you're going to have to reconcile yourself to pervasive interpretative pluralism. That's life being biblical. Being biblical requires a fair amount of tolerance for doctrinal diversity. Being biblical means creating a big tent.
So if you want to be biblical--if you want to go sola scriptura and drop the magisterium--then you are morally obligated to assume the burden and responsibility of welcoming the doctrinal diversity you will create.
The alternative is to be delusional, pretending that opening the bible brings everyone to a consensus. Unfortunately, that just doesn't happen. And pretending otherwise just sets you up to be judgemental and condemnatory. It tempts you into using the word "biblical" as a weapon.
In the end, if you're going to be biblical you're going to have to learn to be tolerant.
--from an unpublished post ranting about the delusional nature of doctrinal gate-keeping within conservative, fundamentalist and evangelical churches