Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why Christians must affirm sola scriptura (scripture alone)

Nehemiah 8:1,8 (1) "And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel."  (8)  "They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading."

1 Thesslonians 2:13 "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe."

Jude 3 "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."

The above verses communicate the truth of the Bible's unique authority and its relationship to secondary authority
Sometimes when I am talking to people I'll refer to the fact that I believe that "The Bible Alone" is the sufficient standard for all faith, practice and understanding. To say that sola scriptura (Latin term meaning "Scripture Alone") excludes the need for other secondary authorities would be mistaken. It is important to remember that Bible believing Christianity doesn't advocate "solo scriptura" (i.e - I read the Bible only and by myself and don't need to go to church), but rather sola scriptura (i.e - the Bible is supreme in its authority and I need Bible teachers and the local church to encourage me to read it better understand it and apply it). (Hebrews 10:24-25)  

What the Prophets, Jesus Christ and the Apostles taught about Scripture
As you can see in the above verses, from both the Old Testament era and the New Testament church, scripture held a unique position.  It has and always will be deemed the "Word of God".  Bible teachers sometimes talk about the Bible as the "norming norm", meaning that it is the standard by which all other standards are measured.  Other sources such as reason, experience, tradition, pastoral authority, etc are  "normed norms", meaning that their authority is regulated by scripture.  The doctrinal truth of sola scriptura prevents Christians from falling into two ditches. 

First of all, the Biblical principle of sola scriptura is not teaching that we are to interpret scripture apart from Spirit-gifted preaching and teaching, the local church, fellowship with other Bible believing churches or basic knowledge of church history. (2 Peter 1:20) To read and interpret the Bible apart from other Christians or the local church leads quickly to heresy.  If anything, the Bible as God's book was meant to be applied, preached and lived out by Christians individually and in community with one another.

With that said, the Bible equally affirms that any child of God has the right and ability by the Spirit of God to interpret and apply the text for themselves. To deny the believer's Spirit-led ability to read and apply the Bible leads to unnecessary elevation of church authority and tradition to equal status with scripture. Before too long, church authority, or the Pastor or church tradition replaces the unique authority of scripture - making the Bible fit the given belief system. 

God has given believers pastors, teachers and the local church for the purpose of growing the saints and promoting the Gospel. (1 Corinthians 2:13-16; Ephesians 4:11-12)  Their authority is effective in so far as they depend upon and are regulated by the supreme authority of scripture.

How the Protestant Reformation recaptured the Biblical teaching of Sola Scripture
In the sixteenth century the Reformation arose to recapture the truth declared by the prophets, Christ and the Apostles of unique authority of the Bible above all other secondary forms of authority such as tradition and reason. Over a period of centuries the Roman Catholic Church had developed a triple source understanding of spiritual authority: elevating the teaching authority of the Pope and Church Tradition to the same level as the scriptures.  What resulted was an actual diminishing of scripture's voice. 

In doing so, men such as John Wycliffe in the 1300's and Martin Luther in the 1500's began reaffirming the unique authority of scripture in relationship to other sources.  The Latin term sola scriptura was coined, identifying the unique property of scripture in binding the conscience and converting the soul. Church tradition, doctrinal statements and pastoral authorities, though important, were shown by the Reformers not to possess this same quality like the Bible. Those sources are fallible, whereas the Bible is infallible.  Secondary sources can err, whereas the Bible alone is without error.     

How Southern Baptists uphold the cardinal Reformation principle of the Bible's Unique Authority
From the days of the Apostles down through the Reformation, Baptist people have upheld this vital principle of sola scriptura as defined aboveThe Baptist Faith and Message 2000, the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Covention, defines its purpose and relationship to the scriptures with these two thoughts from its preamble:

1. "Baptists are a people of deep beliefs and cherished doctrines. Throughout our history we have been a confessional people, adopting statements of faith as a witness to our beliefs and a pledge of our faithfulness to the doctrines revealed in Holy Scripture."

2. "Our confessions of faith are rooted in historical precedent, as the church in every age has been called upon to define and defend its beliefs. Each generation of Christians bears the responsibility of guarding the treasury of truth that has been entrusted to us [2 Timothy 1:14]. Facing a new century, Southern Baptists must meet the demands and duties of the present hour."

Even Baptist people recognize that for sake of humility, maintaining doctrinal purity & promoting the Gospel, we need one another and we need to be articulating the truth of God Word in the context of the preaching and teaching of the local church.  Baptist Churches in turn come together and cooperate in organized groups called associations to promote the Gospel and doctrinal purity.  In Baptist life, the Assocation is subject to the authority of the local church.  The local church in turn is led by the Pastor who himself is accountible the people whom He serves.

With that said, to what ultimate authority do such things as doctrinal statements, local churches, Baptist Associations and Pastors submit? What supreme norm has Christ ordained to regulate every area of His church?  The Baptist faith and message states in the first article entitled 'The Bible' - "It (The Bible) reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried."

Therefore may we as God's people keep all the means of Christian growth in their proper perspective - noting that as needful as Pastors, Sunday School teachers, the local church, doctrinal statements, reason, experience, governing authorities are - they all are subsumed under the supreme authority of scripture alone (i.e sola scriptura).  For it is by the scriptures that Christ excercises His reign over the church and communicates His purposes for the world. 

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