Friday, September 5, 2014

The 5 Sola’s of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura

(This is part 2 of a series on the 5 Sola’s of the Reformation)

One of the cries during the Reformation was later termed “Sola Scriptura!” which means “Scripture alone”! Again, the Reformation was an awakening of the errors of the Roman Catholic Church, and one thing that they taught was that Scripture alone was not the ultimate authority. While they didn’t say this out rightly, it was clear that Church tradition was esteemed just as highly as Scripture (if not more), there were several apocryphal books added to the 66 original Canon, and in addition, the Pope could speak “ex-Cathedra” and it was considered equal to the authority of Scripture. In so doing the Church could supersede Scripture and “interpret” it as they saw fit. Martin Luther took issue with that, and rightly so. The Scriptures were not their final and ultimate authority for doctrine and life and it claims to be just that:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

Scripture alone! “Canon” means rule or standard. It’s a measuring rod if you will, one that everything else must measure up to. The 66 books of Scripture have met this standard and have stood the test of time for the last 2,000 years.

The question of the Bible’s authority is not just a problem within Catholicism; many Protestants, while claiming the Scripture is their authority, unfortunately can end up placing more weight on their feelings or experience than on the Word of God. I could name a lot of names right now of teachers who claim “God told me” or share visions or ideas, but yet they don’t measure up to what Scripture teaches. Since Scripture is the standard we do not compare Scripture to our thoughts, interpretations or opinions we compare them to the standard of Scripture. It alone is our rule for faith and practice. To follow any other thing before or above this - whether it be a person, a dream or our feelings, is to practically deny the authority of Scripture.

*Picture: Martin Luther’s pulpit, Wittenberg, Germany. Amelia Arnold, 2008.

All that being said, I’m going to add a bit of a twist to the discussion. Is Scripture itself alone sufficient to make us “complete”, alone sufficient for “life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3)? I would say, well... not quite. While Scripture must be our final authority, I would argue, it is not all we need.

Now you pick up stones to throw at me please review what I said previously. The Scripture ARE our final and ultimate authority. BUT – there is something we are forgetting.

The Bible says that the Word of God gives life (see Ps 119:50). But what is it exactly that gives these ink-on-paper words life? They were breathed-out by the Holy Spirit. Notice what Jesus says gives life: “It is the spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63). There are two things that give life: the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. These two cannot be separated! The Word of God is the means to our becoming “complete” (1 Tim 3:16) but the Holy Spirit is the agent through which this is brought about. To have the Word without the Spirit is empty religion, to have the “Holy Spirit” without the Word is mere spirituality or mysticism. We must have truth based on Scripture, and we must have the Spirit to bring that truth to life.

There are many in charismatic circles who place their emphasis on the Holy Spirit at the expense of the Word of God, but I have also known of solid, Biblical, evangelical, even Reformed churches who emphasize and centralize the Word of God but at the expense of nearly entirely ignoring the Holy Spirit. It’s as if it’s our own feelings/experience + the Holy Spirit = life, OR our own intellect + Scripture = life. While both groups have something valuable I would say both are unbalanced.

Let’s look at this text for instance:

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Heb 4:12-13)

Is this saying that the words on the page themselves have this power to convict and judge? Well, yes, but again, it's not just the words themselves that challenge us it’s the Holy Spirit that works through the words of Scripture (written or spoken) that brings about conviction. Words themselves can not convict, only the Spirit can do that.

So, Scripture alone, period? If you’re talking about final authority than yes, absolutely! But we would do well to remember that Scripture is made alive “sola” through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. The means of Scripture and the involvement of the Holy Spirit is what gives us all we need for life and godliness. Perhaps we should add another “Sola” to our list: Sola Spiritus. It is the Spirit alone who gives life, light and power - BUT this He does through the Word of God and more specifically, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must have “both and” my friends!

For more on this subject, here are some great messages to listen to:

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