The discovering and the importance of Scripture at the Reformation – Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone

Text 2 Timothy 3 Date 24 11 17 Place Port Harourt, Nigeria

As you are aware it is 500 years ago this year that a German monk called Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church of the castle of Wittenberg, Germany, initiating a debate that led eventually to massive changes that transformed the face of Europe and beyond.

What was it all about? There are many helpful ways of talking about it but often today things have been explained in terms of five solas or five alones, These five
solas – sola scriptura, sola christus, sola gratia, sola fide and soli deo gloria (Scripture alone, Christ alone, Faith alone, grace alone, the glory of God lone) are vital doctrines or teachings and in this session I want us to consider the most significant and foundational of them - Sola scriptura or Scripture alone, the Bible alone.

1. Know that the Bible is authoritative and sufficient

When we talk about Scripture alone we are really talking about the fact that Scripture is authoritative and that it is sufficient. It is enough, not enough for everything we ever need to know about anything but enough for salvation and the Christian life. All we need to know for that is here. The Bible contains all the words God intended for his people – everything we need for salvation and for trusting and obeying him.
See 2 Timothy 3:15-17 the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus … God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. We are not to take away from Scripture or add to it. It is enough.
In the 1689 Baptist Confession we read near the beginning (1/6)

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

2. Scripture alone – know your Reformation history

It is an essential thing for us to believe and yet the principle is constantly under attack. All Christians should have a basic understanding of this doctrine and be able to defend it.
It has been said that while “the material issue of the Reformation concerned the debate over justification by faith alone, the formal issue (the structure in which the whole debate ensued) was the issue of final authority - who or what speaks for God?”
Luther had two debates with the leading Roman Catholic theologians of his day (Cardinal Cajetan and Johan Eck). As Cajetan and Eck debated the subject of justification, they pointed out that Luther's views differed significantly from the official position of the Church. For the Roman Catholic Church, both previous Church councils and declarations by the Pope were binding on all those within the Church. They were able to demonstrate that Luther's view did not agree with various Church Councils or the what the Pope himself held.
Many thought Luther arrogant and pompous. Who did he think he was to presume that he knew more than Church Councils or the Pope in Rome? But when they asked him if he stood against Pope and Councils he had to admit that he did. He believed that Church Councils could make mistakes and so could the Pope himself. He is not infallible – even when sat on his throne. This was considered to be a matter of concern and even a blasphemous view. They realised Luther was was taking the same view as the Bohemian John Hus who had been burned at the stake as a heretic a hundred years before.
Luther would also soon be excommunicated and a price put on his head. In 1521 a final attempt was made to resolve the situation at an Imperial Diet (or Parliament) convened in the German town of Worms and presided over by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Luther was summoned and promised a safe passage of conduct, a guarantee that he would not be arrested or killed.
His inquisitor demanded an answer:
"I ask you, Martin answer candidly and without horns - do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?"
Luther responded with the immortal words:
"Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is held captive by the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand! I can do no other. God help me! Amen."
Notice especially my conscience is held captive by the word of God
. For Luther, God's words were binding and had an authority far beyond the respected words of Church leaders or even Popes.
On his way home from Worms Luther was kidnapped – not by enemies but by friends who took him to the Wartburg Castle where he wad hidden away for some time. There he began to translate the Bible into German.
What do we mean when we say by Scripture alone? Luther's point was that the
only written source in this world that has the authority to bind the conscience of a person is the Bible alone.
Luther had enormous respect for the insight, wisdom and teaching of the great theologians of the past. The Creeds and Confessions of Faith were not at all to be despised. He knew that it really would be arrogant to simply ignore the great teachers God had sent his people down the years. Yet he and the Reformers believed that no written document of men, no confession of faith, no creedal statement and no Council declaration had authority to bind the conscience. The only person with such authority is God himself, and so only his Word carries that authority.
It is often pointed out (in the words of Dr. James White) that this
"does not mean that the Reformers rejected everything that every Christian in earlier ages has said: indeed, they often cited the early Christians as supporters of their own positions. However, they recognised that those earlier believers were not inspired, were not inerrant, and, in fact, quite often made errors in their judgements and beliefs, just as people do today. The only infallible rule of faith, they argued, is found in the pages of Holy Writ."
The matter of Scripture alone then is a question of authority, more specifically whether God's authority is invested in a book (the Bible) or in an institution (the church).
The Protestant Reformers believed in the Scriptures alone. The Roman Church took more of a Sola Ecclesia
(by the Church Alone) view. What the Roman Catholic Church says to be true, is true because the Church speaks with infallibility and cannot possibly be wrong. Romanists argue that the church would not even have had the Bible if church councils had not defined what the Bible actually is. The reasoning went like this: if the Church is the Institution that declares the Bible to be the Bible, does that not indicate that the Church would have at least the same authority as the Bible, or even more?
Luther and Calvin responded to this by reminding Rome that the key word the Church used, when it defined the Bible, was the Latin word Recipimus
, "we receive." The Church declared "we receive these books as sacred Scripture." This is a humble acknowledgement of submission to the authority of the Bible.

3. Be warned against other suggested authorities

There is a strong anti-authoritarian attitude in society today, what someone has called the ‘culture of contempt’. However, we all look to some authority or other – whether it is to ourselves as an autonomous authority or to others as an authority outside of us. All who claim to be Christians would say that they find their authority in Christ but how does that work out?
Prima scriptura
, the Bible first, takes the view that besides the Bible there are other guides for what a believer should believe and do.
1. Roman Catholicism looks not only to the Bible but also the magisterium – tradition, the Pope, etc.
2. Liberalism looks traditionally not to the Bible but more to reason and to the conscience.
3. The Charismatic movement looks increasingly to the authority of experience.
4. Traditional Anglicans look to Scripture, tradition and reason combined. Methodists would add experience as a fourth source of authority.
5. The cults very often put their own books on a par with Scripture such as the Book of Mormon
or Mary Baker Eddy’s Key to the Scriptures or the JWs more subtly with their Watchtower Publications.
Often those who argue for secondary sources of authority will say that these are subject to Scripture so that if there is a conflict the Bible souls still rule. In practice that is often not how it works.
Many argue that Sola Scriptura
is circular reasoning but the answer is to take two Bibles or put it this way: the Bible must interpret itself. We can only believe what we legitimately glean from there.
James White (The Roman Catholic Controversy)
provides a helpful guide to the subject by outlining both what the teaching means, and what it does not mean.

4. Understand what by Scripture alone does not mean

1. It is not a claim that the Bible contains all knowledge. The Bible is not a scientific textbook, a manual on governmental procedures or a catalogue of car engine parts. The Bible does not claim to give us every bit of knowledge that we could ever obtain.
2. It is not a claim that the Bible is an exhaustive catalogue of all religious knowledge. The Bible itself asserts that it is not exhaustive in detail (John 21:25). It is obvious that the Bible does not have to be exhaustive to be sufficient as our source of divine truth.
3. It is not a denial of the authority of the church to teach God's truth.
4. It is not a denial that the Word of God has, at times, been spoken. Rather, it refers to the Scriptures as serving the Church as God's final and full revelation.
5. It does not entail the rejection of every kind or form of Church "tradition." There are some traditions that are God-honouring and useful in the Church. By Scripture alone simply means that any tradition, no matter how ancient or venerable it might seem, must be tested by a higher authority, and that higher authority is the Bible.
6. It is not a denial of the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding and enlightening the Church.

5. Understand what by Scripture alone is
1. Simply stated the teaching says that the Scriptures alone are sufficient to function as the infallible rule of faith for the church.
2. Everything you need to believe to be a Christian is found in the Bible and nowhere else. This is not to say that the necessary beliefs of the faith could not be summarised in a shorter form. However, there is no necessary belief, doctrine, dogma absolutely required of a person for entrance into the kingdom of heaven that is not found in the Bible.
3. Anything not found in the Bible, either directly or by necessary implication, is not binding on any Christian.
4. Scripture reveals all that is necessary for salvation.
5. All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture (Matthew 15:1-9). There can be no understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture apart from an understanding of the true origin and the resulting nature of Scripture. The Reformers had the highest view of the Bible, and therefore had a solid foundation on which to stand in defending the sufficiency of the Scriptures.

6. Note the practical implications
Wayne Grudem points out some of the practical implications of this doctrine:
1. It is encouraging to realise that everything God wants us to do or think is here in the Bible. We need look nowhere else.
2. We must add nothing to Scripture. We must not consider any other writing as equal to it.
3. We must add nothing to Scripture. So even if people claim to have revelations from God we must never think of them as being on the same level as Scripture. What someone felt or dreamt doesn't matter.
4. We are obliged to believe only what Scripture teaches not what anyone else teaches. Spurgeon ‘If God teaches it, it is enough. If it is not in the Word, away with it! But if it be in the Word, whether agreeable or disagreeable, systematic or disorderly, I believe it.’
5. Nothing is forbidden us except what the Bible itself forbids as sin either directly or by implication.
6. Nothing is required of us except what the Bible itself requires of us either directly or by implication.
7. We should emphasise what Scripture emphasises. If Scripture is silent on a thing we must be too. Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.