Reformation Series Posts
I don’t know if you know this, but this October, specifically October 31, marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Now, there may be a lot there that seems a little foreign to you, because if you’re anything like me, I didn’t grow up in a Christian context that talked much about Christian history. I think that’s fairly common in some circles, sadly. A lot of people don’t realize that Christians have a long, rich tradition and heritage of robust thought and reflection about pretty much everything that religion talks about and pretty much everything outside of what we would explicitly consider religion.
So there’s a long history of Christians thinking about science and how to do science for the glory of God, and how to do sociology and psychology and geology and archeology and all the “ologies” from a Christian worldview. But we don’t often know that. We don’t often consider, and we’re not informed about how God’s people have been thinking through the issues of life and reality from a consistently Biblical point of view for pretty much as long as there has been time.
We often come to things like the Protestant Reformation, and we might not even know what it is or why it’s significant. So for this month, we’re going talk about the Reformation, and we’re going talk about a doctrine, a teaching, that came out of that Reformation each week.
Today we’re gonna talk about Sola Scriptura, but before we talk about that specifically, I want to talk a little bit about what the Reformation was and what these solas are. When Martin Luther, who was a monk, nailed his famous 95 Theses to the castle church door, he wasn’t intending to start a revolution. He wasn’t intending to break away from the Roman Catholic Church. He wanted to reform it. He had some grievances that he wanted to debate publicly, and that is how you did that. You nailed or you posted a list of concerns and items for discussion, and then hopefully a formal debate, or at least a public debate, would follow.
He wasn’t intending to break away from the church of Rome, but the more he studied and the more other people went back to the Bible and not just to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, he began to realize that there are huge differences between what Scripture teaches and what the church was at least officially teaching as God’s view at that time.
One of the principles that came out of all of this study and reformation was called Sola Scriptura. That’s a Latin phrase, and what it means is “scripture alone.” The theology of the Reformation is often characterized by five solas, five statements of something “alone.” And so we have Sola Scriptura; we have Sola Fide, which would be faith alone is how man is justified before God; there’s Sola Gratia, grace alone is what brings the sinner to salvation; there’s Solus Christus, we are saved by faith in Christ alone, not by anything in addition to that like works; we are also saved Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God alone. We’ll unpack these in future weeks, and if this sounds stuffy, I would encourage you just to give it a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. This is actually really important stuff.
Now, this is an apologetics podcast, so we often talk about apologetics-related things, like the age of the earth and gender and sexuality and the textual evidence for the New Testament and things like that. Those are all really important, but I would contend we don’t often talk enough about gospel-related apologetic concerns, and all five of these solas touch on gospel-related apologetic concerns. We need to be able to defend that Scripture is our highest authority. We need to be able to certainly contend for the truth that justification happens by faith alone. If you get that wrong, you’ve got the gospel wrong. And all of this is done for the glory of God alone, which is something that’s often also missed. If man contributes to his salvation, then shouldn’t he get at least a little teeny bit of the glory? If it’s not the decisive work by God’s sovereign grace alone, then yes, I think he should.
So all of these fit together, and they’re incredibly pertinent for today. This isn’t just some stuffy 16th century debate. No, the Reformation needs to continue, in part because there’s still a Roman Catholic Church, but also because every non-Christian religion and cult runs afoul with at least one of these solas. So in learning these solas, we’ll be more equipped to speak with many different groups of people.
Protestant of Preference or Conviction?
Right before we dive in, I’d like to ask you a question. Are you a protestant, are you an evangelical based on preference or conviction? I think that’s a really important question. Many of us were raised in a specific faith tradition and we just continued on in it. So if you were to ask someone why they’re not Catholic, they might say, “I like the music at my local nondenominational church better.” If you ask someone why they are Catholic, “Why did you convert from Protestantism to Catholicism?” They might say, “Well, I liked the tradition and I liked the liturgy and sense of authority that the church has and conveys.” Those are preferences, a lot of times. Some people change for convictions, and that’s perhaps a better reason even if it’s a bad change, but many change based on preference and not conviction. For example, it could be that you like liturgy, and liturgy is just flat sinful. (which is not actually the case.) But my point is preference doesn’t actually reflect truth. What we like and what we feel is not an accurate indicator of what is biblical or true. So are you a protestant or evangelical based on preference or conviction? I hope, maybe over the course of this month, if you are in more of the preference category, hopefully you move a little more to the conviction category.
So let’s talk about one of the core convictions that a protestant should hold based on Scripture, this idea of Sola Scriptura. And you might say, “Okay, what is that again? This Latin phrase?” Well, Scripture alone. And whenever we say that, the question that should come to your mind is, “Scripture alone is what?” Scripture alone is the highest authority for the Christian. We kind of have a complicated way of saying that, and so I’ll give you the full-orbed version.
Because the Scriptures are the only example of God-breathed revelation in the possession of the church, they form the only infallible rule of faith for the church.
To simplify that, because the Scriptures are the only example of where God speaks, they’re the highest authority. Because God said it, you can’t appeal to anything else outside of it to affirm it or contradict it. It is the highest authority.
Our court system is kind of based on a hierarchy of authorities. A lower court may give a ruling or a verdict, and someone could appeal it to another court, and then to another court, and to another court. But at some point in the United States, you are going to go to the Supreme Court if they agree to hear your case and you keep appealing, and based on the verdict there, you will have reached the highest authority. There is no further authority by which to appeal. A lower court can’t overturn that decision, because you can’t overturn the decision of a higher court based on what a lower court says.
It’s the same way, or at least similar, with Scripture. When Scripture speaks, God speaks. And because of that, we can’t say that it’s true because of something outside of the Word of God. It’s true because God said it, and God himself is truth. And we can’t say it’s wrong because of something outside of Scripture, because we would be appealing to another lesser authority to contradict a higher, more truthful authority. So the Word of God, because it is God-breathed, is the highest authority on everything it talks about.
Now, it’s not the only authority. I think that’s really important. The Bible doesn’t tell us how to build a rocket, so in attempting to undermine the authority of Scripture at points, some theological liberals have said, “If I want to get to the moon, I’m not gonna open the Bible.” Well, sure. That’d be kind of odd for you to say, “The Bible’s going to tell me how to build a rocket and hit escape velocity and escape the earth’s atmosphere.” It doesn’t talk about those types of things. It might instruct you on how to pray if you’re the one strapped to the rocket! But my point here is there are other authorities, there are other sources of knowledge. The Bible is not the only way we know things. But on everything it speaks to, it’s the highest authority. That’s really important. It’s the only source of God’s special revelation for us today.
Now, there is general revelation outside of Scripture. Paul talks about this in Romans 1; Psalm 19 speaks to the fact that the heavens declare the glory of God. Paul says that man is without excuse in terms of his idolatry and sin because God has made his presence known through nature, so in spite of the fact that there are no words in nature, it is proclaiming the glory of God and God’s existence. So actually, even though there are no words, man has no excuse when he denies the existence of God. But when it comes to specific content about God, we find that in Scripture. We find how he wants us to live and what he expects, and what he has done for us in Scripture.
Now, this idea of Scripture being the highest authority for the Christian is inextricably tied up in the fact that the Scriptures are where God speaks. If the Scripture were not the Word of God, it would not be the highest authority. If there was a council or a man on earth today who spoke with God’s words such that everything they said or he said were also the words of God, well then that would be a high authority too. But the fact is that the Scriptures are the only example of God-breathed revelation in the possession of the church today. This is such an important principle.
Martin Luther, one of the Reformers, said, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” He realized that he would not bend his conscience to the words of a man if he could not find scriptural support for whatever was being said.
I want us to look at a couple passages today. In 2 Timothy 3, starting in verse 14, it says,
“You know who taught you, and how from infancy you have known the holy writings which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
So where do we get wisdom for salvation? Where do we become wise in God’s eyes? From Scripture.
But then we continue on.
“Every Scripture is inspired.”
We’ve talked about this before. That word actually obscures something that’s incredibly profound. That word “inspired” is a word Paul made up in the Greek, and he combined two words to make this new word. He combined the word for “God” and the word for “breathed,” and Paul is literally saying that all Scripture is breathed out by God. That is profound. If you are close enough to someone to feel their breath, as I’ve said before, it’s either a very awkward encounter or a very intimate encounter. When it comes to Scripture, it’s a very intimate thing that the God of the universe, transcendent as he is, would condescend in the use of finite human language and reveal himself to us.
And so the Scriptures are God-breathed. They are his words. Yes, they were written by men, but they were as much written by God. There is a dual authorship to Scripture. That’s incredibly important. These men weren’t just writing about what they saw as revelation; everything they wrote was actually revelation. It was the very word of God. They weren’t writing about God’s Word; they were writing God’s Word. Because, as Paul continues on,
“[This God-breathed revelation] is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training and righteousness that the person who is dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.”
And herein we find two principles. One, the inspiration of Scripture, that Scripture is the very Word of God, but secondly, that it makes one capable and equipped for everything God expects from us—for every good work.
We don’t need an outside human institution like the pope or the magisterium of the Catholic church to speak and give us additional content so we can do what God expects for us. No, Scripture itself is sufficient. I fear today that the word “sufficient” has a negative connotation, kind of like if you had a meal and it was not your favorite food. In fact, let’s say you didn’t like it, but it met your nutritional needs for the day. What might you say? “That was a sufficient meal.” In our western culture, when we have such abundance and extravagance, I think the word “sufficient” has lost the power that it should have.
It means: perfect. Lacking nothing. Complete. Fulfilled.
That’s what Scripture is for the Christian. It fulfills what God has expected us to need to live the life he expects us to live.
But there’s another passage we should look at before we close today. 2 Peter 1:20-21.
“No prophecy of Scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, for no prophecy was ever born of human impulse.”
It’s not like men sat down to say, “Hmm, what can I make up?”
“No, rather, men were carried along by the Holy Spirit and they spoke from God.”
Once again, we see Peter saying that those words of Scripture are the words of God. And as we’ve looked at before in Matthew 22, Jesus says,
“Have you not read what was spoken to you by God?”
This is when he’s answering a question asked by the Sadducees. He refers to the Old Testament Scriptures and says that yes, they were written, but that writing was the very speech of God.
Once again, there is this thread throughout all of Scripture that Scripture itself is the highest authority. It is the Word of God. And so for us to submit Scripture to the authority of our feelings or to the authority of our pastor or to the authority of a church or a council or a pope or some modern-day so-called prophet is to profane and denigrate the mighty gift God has given us in His Word.
That the God, transcendent as he is, of the universe who came to earth and took on flesh and condescended in that way, would also condescend to reveal himself in Scripture is something that makes him even more praiseworthy and worthy of worship than had he not done those things.
So as we wrap this up, let me just encourage you to think this week on the concept of Sola Scriptura, that the Scriptures are the highest authority. They’re higher than science. They’re higher than sociology. They’re higher than my feelings. They’re higher than my theology book. They are higher than anything else. Nothing can contradict Scripture because nothing is higher than Scripture when it comes to truthfulness or authority. But there are other sources of authorities that God has instituted. There are other sources of knowledge that often can help us better understand Scripture.
But be not mistaken. If we use some other source of authority or truth and we end up overturning something that Scripture itself teaches, we’ve actually erred. We’ve made a mistake. And so let’s always have our ordering of authorities right, such that we can actually come to know what is good and true in the world, and what God expects. And let us also not strain and search for more revelation from God that’s not in Scripture, because remember, he’s given us everything he expects us to have to live the life he expects us to live.
I’ll talk with you next week as we continue this series on Reformation theology on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.