“All Scripture is God-breathed” (II Timothy 3:16).
The end of this month marks the five hundredth year since the Reformation began when a German monk nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenburg Church.
That started a revelation that changed medieval Europe, not to mention countless millions who were freed from Catholicism and its practice of works-righteousness. The light of the Gospel shone worldwide freeing men and women from a thousand years of bondage.
What resulted from Luther’s revelation of the Gospel were five solas; five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged during the Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity. In honor of that groundbreaking event, I am blogging on the theological import of each of those solas. And I am doing so, not merely as a lesson of history but in the conviction that the five Solas, which contain the essence of the Gospel, are needed as much today as they were five hundred years ago. Even among those who would call themselves Protestant today, there is a great need to visit these things once again.
By way of reminder, the five solas are: Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Christus (Christ alone) and Sola Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone).
Arguably, Sola Scriptura was the most important one of the five in describing what Luther and the other Reformers discovered. They did not mean by this that people should read only Scripture; after all, Luther and the Reformers wrote numerous books themselves. Rather, they meant that Scripture alone was the ultimate authority for the faithful. They recognized that the Church had allowed Church dogma and tradition to become as important, if not more important than the Word of God itself. In fact, for many centuries prior to the Reformation, the faithful were not even allowed to read Scripture. Men like John Hus and John Wycliffe gave up their lives due to their assertion that the Scriptures alone were the rule of faith and practice for believers.
I can somewhat relate to that. Growing up in Judaism, I was never encouraged to read the Scriptures for myself. Judaism was replete with traditions and oral interpretations, but I had almost no exposure to the Word of God itself. I tell people to this day that it took becoming a believer in the Jewish Messiah Jesus to learn what it means to be a Jew! I can remember how groundbreaking my first time reading the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible or Old Testament) was. The same is true for many Catholics as well; Catholicism frowned on Catholics reading the Bible for themselves. Henceforth, most Catholics I grew up with were as biblically illiterate as I was, even though they believed in Jesus.
Luther recognized that every Church belief and practice had to be solidly based on Holy Scripture as Dr. Hans Wiersma points out:
A Brief Introduction to Sola Scriptura, Dr. Hans Wiersma
“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. May God help me. Amen.”
The best way to understand Sola Scriptura is perhaps found in Luther’s statement that his “conscience is captive to the Word of God.” For Luther, this was not simply a matter of arguing over words or a few moot theological points. Either one’s conscience was bound to Scripture or else to tradition. Since he had already decided this point, he could not and did not recant.
Looking at much of the body of Christ today, one can see the need for the first of these Solas to be carefully laid in the life of the Church once again. Many give lip service to the authority of Scripture, but in reality, human tradition continues to hold much authority when it comes to the basis for making decisions. Few leaders can actually say that their conscience is held captive to the Word of God. Our preaching ministry betrays us. Instead of the text controlling the sermon, it is often a mere springboard for the preacher’s own thoughts. And the result is that many of God’s people, while sitting under preaching for years, remain biblically illiterate.
How we desperately need the authority of Scripture to govern the way we conduct ourselves in our churches today. How few leadership teams today spend their time examining the Scriptures in order to make sure that their decisions are solidly rooted in “Thus Says the Lord.” Again, it is easy to parrot the phrase ‘Sola Scriptura’ while something other than Scripture has the real authority in our lives. Does the Word of God truly govern our lives? Are our decisions as church leaders the fruit of a deep engagement with God’s Word Written?
Today, on the eve of Reformation Day, let us cry out to God that Sola Scriptura would once again be true of us as it was of the Reformers.
Thank you for your blogs. Once again you are filling a void in my life. You help me look inside myself. It is my desire today, as it has been for almost thirty-seven years to intimately know the Father and the Son and walk daily in the light of the Spirit. Your writings confirm the Spirit that is in me and challenge me to reach deeper. You will never know and truely appreciate how much you have influenced my life. I love you and miss your fellowship immensely. May God’s mercy snd grace be suffucient, and may your Godly wisdom continue to be as much of an influence on my life as it has been for well over 30 years.