“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sola Scriptura Part 1 - Scripture Alone?

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:97 - 105

As we begin today’s message, let me start by telling you what sola scriptura DOES NOT mean.

There are those who believe that sola scriptura means we throw out all tradition, all learned teaching, and all history. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, what Luther and the reformers meant by sola scriptura! There were those movements in that day, the more radical elements of the Anabaptist movement, who took that direction, but Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon and the others understood that there was truth and learning contained within the tradition of the church; there was good tradition, and we were to study the Early Church Fathers, such as Augustine (Luther was an Augustinian monk at one time.)

When he was questioned about the idea of throwing out the creeds, the traditions and all the history contained therein – Luther responded thusly: "That would mean that each man would go to hell in his own way."

Sola scriptura NEVER meant that we were to do away with everything learned up to the 16th century. Most cults start just this way – a bunch of people get together and claim that their only creed is the Bible – of course, they have no learning, and they throw out all of the learning that can be gained from men who gave their entire lives to the study of Theology, tossing the entire history of a church that has carried the saints through millennia of persecution, deprivation and hatred. All one has to do is search the web; every goofy idea that was refuted centuries ago has resurfaces, from total mythology to some of the more bizarre movements within the so-called 'Messianic Movement'.

As well, we see this mindset in many a church today; it is just me, the Bible and the Holy Spirit – no parameters, no authority, no guidelines.

And what does the church end up with? People who claim that the Godhead is NOT a trinity, but instead nine persons, or that Adam flew to distant planets like an ancient Superman – or people who claim that the ‘spirit’ revealed to them that we should all stop going to church. All of these are the result of the mindset that there should not be any authority vested within the church, but that every person should be free to do what they want; truly Luther’s fear: that every man will go to hell in his own way, is being expressed in many circles today where authority and the beliefs of the church from its founding have been trumped by a slick talker with a Bible and a personal revelation from a spirit!

As a matter of fact, this mindset is the exact thing that the Catholic Church warned about – with a complete breakdown of authority you will have anarchy – and we see it in today’s church!

So, if that is NOT what the Reformers meant by sola scriptura, what then, did they mean? It helps to understand the times, and what Luther was attempting to reform: In that day, (and even now), Rome believes that not only did the church need an infallible Bible, but they also needed an infallible interpreter. The Bible is so difficult, so dark, that the common man in and of himself was unable to understand the it, and therefore, the church needed an interpreter who was also vested with infallibility to make clear the Bible. And this interpreter (The Roman church), because of their infallibility, could make pronouncements that were as binding as Scripture upon the church.

As a side note, this continues to this day – many Catholics do not obey the church as they once did, but the official position of Rome is still that it is infallible when ruling upon the faith and practice of the church.

So, when the reformers claimed sola scriptura, they were NOT saying that they denied all authority vested within the church, but that authority was based upon the foundation of the Scriptures – in other words, the church could not ‘reinterpret’ the Scriptures to say something that they never said, but instead their authority was based upon the correct reading of, and adherence to the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the final rule for faith and practice of the believer.

When Johann Tetzel brought his cart around to demand payment for indulgences, Luther felt no compulsion about calling him on it. Although indulgences were authorized and endorsed by the church, there was no precedence within Scripture for this practice, and therefore Luther felt that it should be scrapped. He recognized it as nothing more than a money making venture for Rome. Likewise, the thought that an ecumenical council could be infallible was extra-biblical – so the rulings of the councils that did not square with the Bible were considered spurious by Luther.

When Luther stood trial at the Diet of Worms in 1521 – he was asked if he would recant his writings, the very writings which opposed the councils and rulings of the church that were not found within the confines of Scripture.

As he stood in defense of his writings, Luther was standing on the shoulders of great men before him, such as Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation, who rebelled against Rome in the 14th century, and Jan Hus, a 15th century Bohemian reformer.

At this point, the Reformation stood in the balance; would Luther recant?

He asked for a day to consider.

After a day in prayer and meditation on the Word of God, Luther returned and gave his famous statement – “Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

This was a shot heard around the world! Luther was saying that unless one could convince him from the Scriptures of the error of his ways, no council, no man should budge him. This was a death sentence, and Luther knew it!

This was before papal infallibility; that would not develop for another 370 or so years, but the church did believe that the councils were infallible, and Luther's statement sent a shockwave through Christendom. He was stating that the church does have a certain biblical authority, but unless that authority is based upon the Scriptures, it has no binding rule over the believer. Therefore, the church must practice Biblical discipline, but not extra-biblical discipline, the church must practice the ordinances, but not add to them, the church is authorized to place leaders over people, but when those leaders violate the trust of the people and go against Scripture, they are to be removed. The church is UNDER the authority of the Scriptures not OVER or EQUAL to them!

I will leave you with that thought, and put up a second post later in the week to finish off sola scriptura.

No comments: