31 Oct Happy Reformation Day!
Today is the 501st anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Chapel, in Wittenberg Germany. We mark this day as “Reformation Day” as we look to October 31st as the anniversary of the day the Protestant Reformation was put into motion. The Reformation was as much a recovery as it was anything else. It was a recovery of Scripture as the ultimate authority, of faith alone as the means by which we lay claim to the finished work of Christ, and of the truth that it is all by God’s grace alone.
Latin phrases or slogans sprung up out of the Reformation. One of those phrases was “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture alone.” This phrase captures the principle that God, speaking through His written word in Scripture, is the ultimate authority. Sadly, there were and remain critics of this important doctrine. I’d like to address this important principle in honor of Reformation Day.
Critics of Sola Scriptura say that this doctrine amounts to “solo Scriptura.” This is the assertion that what Protestants in effect believe is that they are the true authority and what happens in actuality is that whatever they think the Bible means becomes the authoritative voice. Critics would say you need an authoritative interpretation and therefore the Church must be that for you. Otherwise you have theological anarchy.
Four brief responses:
1. Sola Scriptura simply affirms what the Bible says of itself. The Apostle Paul calls Timothy to the ultimate authority of Scripture when he writes in 2 Timothy 3:14-16: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
2. Sola Scriptura is stating Scripture as the ultimate authority- not the only authority. Sola Scriptura values the Biblically given teaching voice of the church (Ephesians 4:11-13). Therefore, the Church, through her pastors and teachers, has what we call ministerial authority. This is why we not only value gifted teachers in the church but also value creeds and confessions. They are a check and balance on our interpretations. If we find ourselves with a new and novel interpretation that no one else has ever thought of, that’s a pretty strong clue we may be off base. That said, the ultimate and bottom line authority is always God speaking through the Scriptures. That’s the final voice in all things.
3. Sola Scriptura is rooted in the understanding that the Bible is clear. We call this the perspicuity or “see throughable-ness” of Scripture. God is capable of speaking for Himself in the Bible. Yes, there are some parts of the Bible that are hard to understand but God has made Himself very clear on the essentials so that does it not leave us guessing as to the critical truths of Scipture.
4. Sola Scriptura is the check on unbiblical doctrines and practices- many of which have sprung up that find no basis in the Bible. When you give up the ultimate authority, that’s the natural outcome.
Let me commend to you the first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith entitled “Of the Holy Scripture.” It in essence lays out the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. It’s instructive, I think, that the first chapter of our doctrinal statement is a chapter on Scripture’s ultimate authority!
Happy Reformation Day! Sola Scriptura!