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Sola Scriptura

The doctrine of Sola Scriptura teaches that Scripture alone is our ultimate authority. One of the key passages undergirding this doctrine is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, where Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is breathed out by God. This is why the Bible is authoritative. It is also profitable for teaching and training people how to live righteously. This is the Bible’s use. And when the Bible is used in this way, the result is that man is complete: fully equipped for every good work that God asks of him. The Bible is God’s authoritative written word, and the Bible is all that you need for life. This is the doctrine of Sola Scriptura in a nutshell.

This doctrine protects us from a number of errors and from the impositions of the rules and commandments of men on our consciences. Three of the most common erroneous understandings of authority share this common root: instead of Scripture alone, these other doctrines give us Scripture and.

First, let’s look at the major error during the Reformation, which remains an error in those parts of the Church that refuse to be reformed by the Word of God: “Scripture AND tradition.” The Roman Church, for example, maintains that Scripture and Tradition (meaning the unwritten teaching and practices of the apostles as interpreted by Church leaders) are to be shown equal honor.

But what does God say? First, 2 Timothy 3 tells you that Scripture is sufficient to make you complete as a Christian. Tradition is never said to be breathed out by God, and thus God never places His authority behind Tradition. God is at work in Tradition, but Tradition always needs to be interpreted. We need to know which teachings and practices of the apostles to follow, and which to avoid, and so Scripture alone, not Scripture and Tradition, is our ultimate authority.

The second error showed up in the wild and wooly wing of the Reformation, still wanders around in the Charismatic and Pentecostal traditions, and also infects certain terrible but somehow popular books like The Shack, Jesus Calling, or Heaven is for Real. This is the error of “Scripture AND spiritual experience”, where fresh truths are delivered directly to you by the Holy Spirit to help you live the Christian life.

Once again, this error flies in the face of 2 Tim. 3:16-17’s promise that the God-breathed words of the Bible are all you need to make you complete. Additionally, how do you know that what you are feeling or experiencing is from God? 1 John 4:1 says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are from God.” Just like tradition, spiritual experiences need to be tested by a higher standard.

The third error, “Scripture AND self”, is an overreaction to the others. It says that all I need is just me and my Bible, and I’ll be fine. I don’t need tradition or the church. I don’t need the original languages or historical context or special training. I just read God’s Word and believe it. Isn’t this just pure Bible?

The “just me and my Bible” approach pays lip service to Sola Scriptura, but in reality, the highest authority is not the Bible, it’s you. You are the one deciding what the Bible says and what it means. Such a view of authority is dangerously arrogant. Sola Scriptura doesn’t make you master over the Bible. Instead, you are held captive to the Word of God, which God gave to the Church. This means humbly recognizing that you do not have the ability or the authority as an individual Christian to decide what Scripture says or what it means. Your understanding needs to be tested and corrected, and so it cannot be the ultimate standard.

Examine tradition according to Scripture. Test the spirits by comparing what they say to God’s word. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought, but depend on the helps of tradition, the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and the body of Christ. The Bible encourages these things, but it also requires you to test them.

The one thing you shouldn’t test is God Himself, and since Scripture is the Word of God, you do not test the Word of God by some other standard. You don’t test the Word; the Word tests you. And so instead of testing Scripture, God wants you to trust Scripture. Scripture alone is our ultimate authority, because what Scripture says, God says.

Posted on Thursday, October 29, 2015 by CJ Bowen