This post was taken from my talk on Sola Scriptura delivered during FBCE’s Reformation Focus on October 29,2107
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 often err and contradict themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may, God help me, Amen.
With these words, Luther shattered his connection to the Catholic Church, by proclaiming the Scriptures to be the final authority. Pope Leo X and his advisers believed that the Bible was the inherent Word of God. Luther’s battle was not akin to the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention that fought to reestablish the belief that the Bible was the Word of God and was without error. Both the Luther and the Pope affirmed the inerrant nature of the Scriptures.
Luther and the Pope butted heads on the doctrine of the sufficiency and authority of the Bible. The Pope and the cardinals believed that they could and should add commands and ideas to the Scriptures because as Bishop Stephen Gardiner said, “The Scripture is dead: it must have a living expositor.” Infamously, Pope Leo X expanded upon the Scriptures by creating Indulgences to pay for the completion of St. Peter’s Cathedral.
Indulgences were little pieces of paper that transferred merit from Christ and the saints to the sinner upon payment to the church. As the evil monk Tetlsel sang, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, The soul from purgatory springs.” The Catholic Church was selling salvation on the authority of the Pope and on the authority of church counsels.
Luther objected vehemently to the sale of indulgences, knowing that salvation comes through faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone for the glory of God alone. The Catholic Church responded to Luther’s 95 Theses and other writings by calling the German Bull to repent of his errors and to affirm the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church.
Luther refused. He was, “bound by the Scriptures.” The church was not Luther’s authority. The Pope was not Luther’s authority. Pragmatism or the belief that what works is right was not Luther’s authority. The culture was not Luther’s authority. Right and wrong were not determined by the societal acceptance of a practice. Rather, Luther’s authority was the Bible.
The Biblical Case For Luther’s Belief
Luther made the Scriptures his authority because the Scriptures, the Word of God, claim to be the exclusive access to the voice of God. In I Timothy 3:16-18, the Bible claims to have been breathed out by God or exhaled from his mouth. The text in our hands and that shines on our phones is not simply the religious musings of some deep thinkers, it is not the divine inclinations of a few wise men and women, and it is not the suggestions of the spiritual astute. The Bible, is the Word of God. It is the essence of God.
2 Peter 2:16-21 reveals this truth clearly. The text states:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[i] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible, the words of Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, and the many other writers, contains the words of God. And the words that compose the Scriptures were not written in a dark room somewhere. No, these words reflect reality. Peter is recording the teachings and the events he saw and heard. He says in verse 16, “we were eyewitness.”
What was Peter an eyewitness too?
He tells us. He is talking about his experience on the mount of transfiguration. In Mark 9:1:-8, Luke 9:28-36; Matthew 17:1-8, we are told that Jesus, Peter, James and John go up on a mountain. Jesus is transfigured. The three disciples see Jesus’ glory and listen to Jesus talk with Moses and Elijah. Then they hear as Peter recounts in verse 17 these words, “This is my beloved Son,[i] with whom I am well pleased.” They hear the voice of God the Father.
But as amazing and as grand as those words were and that experience was, Peter is affirming that you and have I something better. He says in verse 19:
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
Peter affirms the prophetic word. He says that text in front of us is more sure and more helpful for our everyday lives than his experience on the mount of transfiguration. Chew on that for a minute. Peter is affirming
that the Bible is better and more helpful than being with Jesus briefly on the mountain top. God’s word is far better than any experience we may have in the woods as the sun rises. God’s word is far more helpful than any experience we can create by praying ourselves into an emotional tizzy. God word is far more excellent than any private prophecy or premonition. If we want to hear the voice of God and to know what God is saying to us, we must read the Bible.
Peter tells to respond reality of the Bible’s authority by reminding us that we will “do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” Borrowing the language of Psalm 119, Peter tells his readers that only God’s Word can guide them to light, truth, and joy. Only God’s word can show how us how live, how to worship, and how to overcome sin. God’s Word is inerrant and it is authoritative and all we need. All of Scripture and not just the red letters is the words of our God.
And all of Scripture is the words of Christ.
John 14:25 promises:
25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
Everything the disciples wrote down came from the Holy Spirit who was sent by the Father to bear witness to Jesus. The Bible is the Word that the Father ordains us to have through the Spirit, attesting to Jesus. We do not have to reach outside the Bible’s pages for a special word from the Lord. Because God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit work together in perfect unity and unison, they will not give us competing words or visions from sources other than the Bible. No member of the trinity will go against the over members and send a rogue message out here or there. And if we hear a word outside of Scripture, we have not heard the voice of God. We have tapped into demonic darkness. To know God’s will, to hear God’s voice, we must tune our hearts to the Scriptures.
Until Christ returns, until the morning light breaks into the darkness of this world and Christ once again reigns on high above all earth, the Scriptures are fully sufficient for all we need in life and Godliness. As Luther would note,
Scripture alone is the true Lord and master of all writings and doctrines on earth.
Luther can make this bold declaration because in verse 21, we read these words,
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The apostles did not put down their own ideas. They did not write down their agenda and push their political aspirations as the writer Dan Brown asserted in the Divinchi Code. No, writers of the Bible recorded verifiable facts. wrote down the words of God.
Remember verse 16. Peter tells us that he was an eyewitness. The apostle John makes the same claim in I John 1:1:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.
And in Luke 1:1-4 we read,
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2 just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3 it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
And in Matthew 5:17-19 Jesus famously asserts the authority and sufficiency of Scripture noting
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
As Luther would reflect,
The saints could err in their writing and sin in their lives, but the Scriptures cannot err.
Luther and the reformers made the Bible their authority because it is the definitive and complete Word of God. Sola Scripture; Scripture alone.
Reflections For Today
As I conclude this section, I want to reflect on how this doctrine of Sola Scripture should shape our church. As Dr. Albert Mohler the President of Southern Seminary said,
The true churches of the Reformation understood that the right call was for a church always reformed by the Word of God.
As men and women affirming the doctrines of the Reformation, the biblical idea that Salvation is through Christ alone, by Grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone, upon the authority of the Scriptures alone, we should continually examine our lives and the lives of our church for the purpose of reforming our hearts and church. to reflect the Scriptures.
I wish to close by posing to questions to help us apply the truths of Scripture alone to our hearts.
1. Do we value the Word in our church? Does the children’s ministry revolve around the teaching and preaching of the Word or is the ministry driven and directed by games and personal opinions?
Do the songs that we sing reflect our music preferences or do they reflect the gospel as revealed in the Word?
Do the sermons we hear drive us to the text? Or can we quickly close our Bibles once the pastor starts preaching? Do we regularly hear our pastors, guest preachers, and Sunday school teachers saying, “See what the text says, look at that verse, see what the word says,” or do the preachers simply tell stories and reflect on their own impressions? John Blanchard said, “The pulpit is the throne for the Word of God”
Word prominently displayed on our throne? Do we value the word in worship?
2. Second do we value the word in our daily life? Do we truly think that the Words of eternal life are found in the Scriptures? Where do we go first when we encounter trials, tough decisions, and sickness, hardships, and unpleasant experiences? Do we run to our friends? Do we run to the psychologists and the Christian therapist for some extra biblical advice? Where do we go?
A simple layman armed with Scripture is to be believed above a pope or council without it.
Several hundred years later Dietrich Bonhoeffer restated Luther’s sentiment, saying,
The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.
God’s word claims to contain all that we need for life and godliness (2 Tim 3:16-18). Luther said that God is light and that “all else being darkness.” Do we look to the light when seeking to navigate our lives or do we embrace the darkness that parades about as the world’s wisdom? Do we value the word in our life?
The reformation began in 1517. But it has not ended. May we continue by God’s grace to cotinually reform our churches and our souls to reflect the truth of the Scriptures. Sola Scripture. Scripture alone.