The greatest of these is “Sola Scriptura”

Today Protestants around the world give thanks to God for the Reformation, the 16th-century movement which reclaimed the glorious doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone from the obscuring veils of Roman traditions. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther symbolized the heart of the Reformation by posting his 95 Theses in protest at the sale of indulgences by the Church. We summarize the Reformers’ convictions with 5 Solas: Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. All of them are precious, but I’d argue that the greatest of them is the first: Sola Scriptura. I elevate it not because it is inherently more significant than the others, but because it is the source of the others (and thus is referred to as “the formal principle of the Reformation”). If we don’t acknowledge the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God, we have no basis to determine the doctrine of salvation—or anything else.

I was struck again by this from an unlikely source a few years ago. Victor Hugo wrote the following historical commentary during one of the (rather frustrating) plot lapses in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

“The sixteenth century shattered religious unity. Before printing, the Reformation would just have been a schism; printing made it a revolution. Take away the printing press and heresy is enervated [weakened, destroyed]. Be it fate or providence, Gutenberg was Luther’s precursor.”

What Hugo is highlighting is the importance of the printed word—indeed, of the printed Word! In God’s providence, the Reformation took place in a time when thought and religion had been freed by Gutenberg’s press. This was no coincidence. An unbending commitment to the Word started, informed, and spread the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s main contribution to the Reformation was his commitment to Scripture, stated often, but never more beautifully or boldly than in his defense at the Diet of Worms:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

“I am bound by the Scriptures.” Yes. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Amen. That’s the Reformation in a nutshell. Indeed, it’s Christianity in a nutshell. Luther and the Reformers didn’t get everything right. They couldn’t have. But their role was like that of a good teacher—not to teach students every fact they will ever need to know, but to teach them how to learn. The Reformers reminded the church how to learn—how to think—by pointing us to the Scriptures and away from human authorities. That was their genius, built upon the genius of pre-Reformers like Wycliffe and Huss. Sola Scriptura!

There is no question that the great doctrines of the Reformation are under attack again today. Much of evangelicalism is “slouching towards Rome.” Our response, as ever, must be to tenaciously hold to the authority of the Scriptures. That’s not as simple as it seems, for there is ever the temptation to amend to the Word our own ideas. When the ideas are old, we call them “tradition.” When the ideas are new, we call them “contextualization.” Regardless of what extra-biblical ideas are called, we must not yield to them. We have a more sure word. We have an inspired Word. We have a sufficient Word. May we truly embrace it as our “only rule of faith and practice” as our creeds require. We can do no other. God help us.

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6 Responses

  1. I don’t need Martin Luther or Victor Hugo to make case for sola scriptura. The Bible does that just fine on it’s own.

    2 Timothy 3:16 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”

    2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”

    Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

    1 Peter 1:25 “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”

    1 Peter 2:2 “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:”

    2 Peter 1:19,20 “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.”

    1 John 2:7 “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.”

  2. Agreed. How blessed we are to have the Bible in our language. Thank God. And be grateful for men like the Reformers who labored and sacrificed as links in God’s providential chain to allow us to have it so readily accessible to us.

  3. I agree with you Chris. However, I would offer one caution how “Sola Scriptura” is thrown around today – this excellent quote from Michael Kruger.

    “Of course, like many core Christian convictions, the doctrine of sola Scriptura has often been misunderstood and misapplied. Unfortunately, some have used sola Scriptura as a justification for a “me, God, and the Bible” type of individualism where the church bears no real authority and the history of the church is not considered when interpreting and applying Scripture. Thus, many churches today are almost ahistorical—cut off entirely from the rich traditions, creeds, and confessions of the church. They misunderstand sola Scriptura to mean that the Bible is the only authority, rather than understanding it to mean the Bible is the only infallible authority. Ironically, such an individualistic approach actually serves to undercut the very doctrine of sola Scriptura it is intended to protect. By emphasizing the autonomy of the individual believer, one is left with only private, subjective conclusions about what Scripture means. It is not so much the authority of Scripture that is being prized, but the authority of the individual.”

    http://michaeljkruger.com/sola-scriptura-and-a-new-book-by-carl-trueman/

    thanks

  4. [...] The greatest of these is “Sola Scriptura.” Good thoughts on good that came from the Reformation. “Luther and the Reformers didn’t get everything right… But their role was like that of a good teacher—not to teach students every fact they will ever need to know, but to teach them how to learn. The Reformers reminded the church how to learn—how to think—by pointing us to the Scriptures and away from human authorities.” [...]

  5. “commitment to Scripture”—you mean when Luther wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible and add “alone” after faith in the book of Romans?

  6. Chris, I would love to hear your response to Ryan’s comment above. “Sola Scriptura” is one of those ideals that is easier for people to agree with in principle than in practice. Many Pastors want to tell their church members how to interpret passages on music, dress, etc. rather than trusting each member to sincerely apply the Scripture on their own with the help of the Holy Spirit.

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