Christ Covenant Church
1 October 2017
The Five Solas of the Reformation
The Reformation altered the religious, political, social, economic and educational landscape of the world forever.
The Reformation was an answer to the High Priestly prayer offered by Jesus in John 17. God was sanctifying His people in truth, and His people, especially in the time of the Reformation, came to realize that they must run to His Word for truth, and that’s what we’ll do this morning.
So, if you’re willing and able, please stand for the reading of God’s Word from John 17. For sake of your knees and back, we’ll just read verses 8-19, since that’s what we’ll be looking at primarily, but I encourage you to read the whole thing this week.
Hear God’s Word:
For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake, I consecrate myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…(ESV)
The Word of the Lord. May God bless the reading, the hearing, and the preaching of His Word, and may He grant us all the grace to trust and obey it. And all the church said, “Amen.” Please be seated.
So, this evening we’ll be looking at the first of the Solas, Sola Scriptura.
This doctrine teaches us that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
This means that although we believe that the Bible gives secondary authorities, which are backed by the authority of the Scriptures, the Bible can never be wrong and therefore is to be appealed to and submitted to in matters of dispute.
Now there is a lot to this teaching, and we don’t have time to cover all the ins-and-outs today, but we’re going to focus primarily on three attributes of the Scriptures which we see supporting the teaching of Sola Scriptura.
- The Scriptures are Inspired/Exhaled
- The Scriptures are Authoritative
- The Scriptures are Sufficient
Before we look at these though, I want us to keep a few things in mind.
The doctrine of sola scriptura, or any other doctrine for that matter, is not meant to be studied and believed as an end in and of itself.
Remember, the key issues surrounding the Reformation were not only theological. They were intensely moral, practical and pastoral.
Orthodoxy is always meant to lead to orthopraxy. Right doctrine is always meant to lead to right practice, right living.
So, while this series may feel somewhat intellectual for some of you and so you might be tempted to turn off and zone out, don’t.
These topics we’ll be covering should be Christian truths that drive your Christian living.
C.S. Lewis said it well:
“I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”
Christ prayed that you would be sanctified in truth, that you would be made more like Him, in truth by His Word.
Let these truths seep into you, so that you can be conformed into the image of Jesus.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, especially when studying the Reformation, we Protestants can look down our nose at Rome and shake our finger at them, but we’ve got our own issues.
So, we’re not just going to be looking at Rome’s sins, but we’ll look at how we’ve jerked the wheel into the other ditch, and hopefully that will allow us to honor God in what we’re studying and do what Luther desired to see when he wrote the very first of his 95 Theses:
“When our Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ He willed that the entire life of believers be one of repentance.”
So yes, Rome is wrong, but so are we, and we need to repent of our failures to believe God in His Word.
If we keep that in mind, the Reformation won’t be a one time thing that happened 500 years ago, but we will always be repenting and reforming, which was the desire of those who have gone before us.
Okay, so the first truth we’re going to look at is that the Holy Scriptures are inspired by God Himself.
We don’t do this very often, but I want you to turn to 1 Peter 1, keep your finger there, and then look at 2 Timothy 3.
2 Timothy 3.16
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…
Now, 2 Peter 1.16-21
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. 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, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 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. (ESV)
In this two sections, we see Paul and Peter upholding the principle of Divine Inspiration of the Scriptures.
Paul says that all Scripture is theopneustos, God-breathed. He is affirming Jesus’ prayer in John 17.
Sanctify them in truth. Your word is truth.
These are the Words of God Himself, and as such, they are without error.
You and I can pledge to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but we need God to so help us.
God needs no such help. What He says is true because He not only does not lie, He cannot lie, and if we have His Words, we can trust that there is no error in what He has said.
Peter affirms this as well. He was with Jesus on the mountain when He was transfigured with Moses and Elijah.
He personally heard God’s voice, and yet Peter says there’s something even more sure than his own experience—there is the Word of God.
If he ever doubts, or even if he doesn’t, his own experience, he has God’s Words to come to for what is good and right and true to judge personal experience by.
Peter’s experience isn’t the ultimate lens through which he views reality, rather he trusts that the Scriptures should be the lens through which he ultimately views reality.
This is denied by Rome, and it is denied by most modern evangelicals.
Now, to be fair, we would all affirm the inspiration of Scripture as the very Words of God, but only theologically.
Practically, we both deny that God’s Word is our ultimate criterion of truth.
We reject these errors.
The Scriptures are God’s Word and have His authority behind them—not ours and not the Church’s.
Rome is wrong – Popes and councils and churches and confessions can and have erred, but God’s Word doesn’t.
We are wrong – God’s Word is without error; we are full of error.
We don’t determine which part of God’s Word is true or more authoritative than another because all Scripture is God-breathed and incapable of error.
God’s Word is God-breathed and therefore carries His weight/authority behind every jot and tittle.
Because the Scriptures are inspired and infallible, that brings us to our second point:
God’s Word is our ultimate authority.
This is the heart of sola Scriptura, but a truth that the Roman and Protestant church get wrong.
Because of what we mentioned earlier, Church tradition has been wrong, we cannot give equal authority to the commandments and traditions of men.
Rome teaches that Scripture and tradition cannot contradict each other, but we know that isn’t the case.
Mary was not a perpetual virgin. There is no Redeemer but Christ alone. There is no purgatory or treasury of merit that the saints can tap into on your behalf to give you some extra grace. The Lord’s Supper is not a re-crucifixion of Jesus every week. If Christ’s work is what saves, then our work can’t help and purgatory can’t exist.
If tradition and Scripture come into conflict, something Rome denies is possible, we must go with Scripture and reject tradition because God’s word is ultimately authoritative over and above that of men.
On the other hand, we reject the Protestant ditch of solo scriptura.
We believe that the Scriptures are the ultimate authority, not the only authority, and we believe that because the Scripture tell us so.
In 1 Timothy 3.15, Paul says that the Scriptures are written so that the church might know how to behave because the Church is the Church of the living God and a pillar and buttress of the truth.
Jeremiah warns God’s people not to depart from the ancient paths and says the calamity that has come upon God’s people is in part because they have stumbled from the ancient paths and sought their own side roads.
Proverbs wisely instructs that we are not to move the ancient boundaries that our fathers have set.
Protestants, in an overreaction to Rome and in an embrace to radical individualism have rejected tradition, and therefore logically rejected the authority structures God Himself has put in place in the Bible we say we’re believing.
God has given His church pastors and teachers to equip the saints, and God’s people are to trust and obey God’s shepherds.
We have no problem trusting a doctor to give us a prescription, a dentist to fill our cavities, or a mechanic to change our oil, but as Protestants we think that because we have our Bible we don’t need anyone telling us how to use it.
That’s wrong, and anyone who thinks that way should repent and believe God’s Word.
We believe that the Scripture alone have ultimate authority, but we also believe that God has established secondary authority structures in the Scriptures, which are our ultimate authority.
So, God’s Word is God-breathed and authoritative, and finally, we affirm that because these are the Words God has seen fit to leave us with, the Holy Scriptures are sufficient; they are enough for us.
God’s Word alone is enough to teach us what we are to believe concerning God and what duty He requires of man.
If you have the Holy Spirit illuming your heart and mind to understand the Scriptures, they are enough to tell you what you need to know about God and His will.
You don’t need a Pope and you don’t need some secret call from Jesus to tell you what you need to know.
God has spoken in His Word by His Spirit, and that is enough. You don’t need to go off into the woods for a week, and you can’t look at the Grand Canyon and be saved.
You need the Holy Scriptures, and they are enough.
They are God’s Words, they carry His authority, and they are enough for you and for me.
And that is just the tip of sola Scriptura.
Hopefully these truths kindled the fire in your hearts for God’s Word, but if not, if you’re confused and overwhelmed and have a thousand questions, come to MC Wednesday to wrestle through how some of this stuff fits together.
For now, let’s look to Jesus, the Word made flesh, to comfort our aching hearts and spinning heads.
So, if all this sola scriptura and post tenebras lux stuff is too much to wrap your mind around, remember the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” and rest in His Word. Let’s pray.