This month, as we remember the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we are reminded of the priority of keeping the Gospel of Jesus Christ pure and true, free from man’s teachings and religious traditions. Last week, I introduced this series to our church by calling our attention to the conviction of the apostles to protect and defend the gospel.
This week, we begin looking at what are known as the Five Solas. The Five Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged from the Protestant Reformation intended to summarize the Reformers’ basic theological principles in contrast to certain teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of the day. These Biblical truths were held as central to the doctrine of salvation, central to the gospel. “Sola” is Latin meaning “alone” or “only” and the corresponding phrases are:
- Sola Fide, by faith alone.
- Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
- Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
- Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
- Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.
This week, I want you to think about Sola Scriptura, which speaks of the inherent authority of the Bible and, therefore, the functional authority it should occupy in our lives.
A common problem in our day is that people pick and choose from the Bible what they like and what they agree with, rather than humbly place themselves under its authority. This is a subversion of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, which was a critical concern to the leaders of the Reformation. Martin Luther said of the Scriptures: “The Bible is alive, it speaks to me; it has feet, it runs after me; it has hands, it lays hold of me.”
When he was called to Worms, Germany, to appear before the assembly of the Holy Roman Empire and answer charges of heresy, he stood his ground. When the Emperor Charles V demanded he recant his teachings and writings which called the Pope and Roman Catholic Church to submit to Scripture, to repent of its false doctrine and corrupt practices, he stated these now famous words:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe. God help me. Here I stand, I can do no other.
For Martin Luther, one thing was clear: Scripture alone is the final authority. Every true church must submit to it. Scripture alone is the scepter by which Christ rules His church.
John Wycliffe, an English theologian who fought for truth almost 200 years before Luther, attacked the privileges of the clergy…believing the Bible should not be kept hidden from the people. He said, “No man is to be credited for his mere authority’s sake, unless he can show Scripture for the maintenance of his opinion.” This led him to pour his life into seeing the Scriptures translated into the language of the common people. He believed, “The laity ought to understand the faith, and since the doctrines of our faith are in the Scriptures, believers should have the Scriptures in a language familiar to the people.” The lasting legacy of John Wycliffe is the Wycliffe Bible, a translation from Latin into English which he completed in the year 1382.
When the Bible is read and believed by the people, eyes are opened and hearts and changed. In his written works, Luther said of the power of the Bible: “Take me, for example. I opposed indulgences and all papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing.… I did nothing: the Word did it all.”
The Word of God is powerful to save and to transform sinners into God-fearing, Christ-loving disciples. And Satan knows this. From the time that Satan planted doubt in Eve’s mind about the integrity of the word of God (Has God really said?) sinful man has sought for a different authority—to be his own authority, ultimately. When the pride of man determines he does not like the Bible’s teaching, or thinks he can come up with something better, the Scriptures are set aside and replaced by man’s tradition or personal spiritual experience. Both of these errors must be exposed for what they are, a rejection of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture.
In the early days of the New Testament, the apostles had to face this issue as well. Just as there were false prophets in the days of the Old Testament, so there would continue to be in the days of the New (2 Peter 2:1). But how could the apostle Peter protect the believers from these heresies? By establishing them firmly in the doctrine of the sufficiency and authority of Scripture.
Today, take some time to read 2 Peter 1:16-21, and think about the reasons Scripture is the superior word from God. The Bible is the Word of God. It is the mind of God in written form. If you submit to it as your ultimate authority and if you strive to apply its teachings to your life, you will never go wrong.
[Adapted from last Sunday’s sermon preached at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.]