Puritan Gems

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

One of the main issues surrounding the Reformation was the infallibility of the Pope. According to the Council of Trent, only the "mother church" (the papacy) could properly interpret Scripture. The word of the pope was considered to be inerrant, infallible, and authoritative.

At the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther stood firm on what he considered to be the only source of infallibility.

“Unless I am refuted and convicted by testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear arguments. Since I believe neither the pope nor the councils alone, it being evident that they have often erred and contradicted themselves, am overcome by the Scripture texts which I have adduced, and my conscience is bound by the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant any thing against the conscience.”

The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura holds that the Bible alone is the inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word. This is one the foundations of the Reformed Faith, as the Bible declares that the church is built on the foundation of the Word of God. (Ephesians 2:20). This is the most important of the "Five Solas" of the Reformed Faith, for Scripture is the ONLY means by which man may obtain an adequate knowledge of God unto Salvation. Oh, man will conclude that there is a God by means of "natural revelation", for "...The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (Romans 1:19-20) However, as we see, this kind of natural revelation is only profitable to make man to be "without excuse". Many religions, through “natural revelation”, have come to the conclusion that there is some sort of Divine Being. But it is only through Scripture, either read or preached, that can bring about knowledge of the true God who save a soul from "the wrath…[which] is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Romans 1:18).

Thus the preaching of the Word is of utmost importance. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:13-17)

One of the big issues in American churches today is the popular belief in continuing revelation. Pentecostalism and their charismatic offshoots hold that the modern "gifts of the Spirit" include these special revelations through tongues and prophecies, which are to be considered "words from the Lord" in addition to Scripture. (It is no wonder that many mainline Pentecostal Churches are at the forefront of the modern Ecumenical Movement. If men can still receive special revelations from God outside of the completed canon, why exclude the Pope?) Thus churches today are plagued by “lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6) of God’s Word, seeking instead to find Divine Truth through feelings and personal revelation. The issue is quite sensitive, and those who hold to Pentecostal doctrines will suggest that those who object to them are being “divisive”. Maybe so, but as we discussed in an earlier blog, unity is a poor substitute for truth. (Of course, when faced with the true definition of prophecy in the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:18-22), charismatics are forced to try and redefine it to meet their own ends.)

According to Scripture itself, vision and prophecy would be "sealed up" for good at the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD (Daniel 9:24). Nothing is to be added to or taken from the Scriptures by any means (Rev. 22:18-19), whether it be done by popes, charismatic prophets, or Joseph Smith. There is only one authoritative Word from God, and that is the Holy Bible itself. There is no need for any more “prophetic revelation” in the post-Apostolic age, “for the faith … [has] once for all [been] delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The church is called to “[build] on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20), not to try and lay them anew.

Lest one may think that I’m overstating the case with Pentecostalism, consider this insight from Tommy Tenney in his introduction to “The God Chasers”:

“A true God chaser is not happy with just past truth; he must have present truth. God chasers don’t want to just study from the moldy pages of what God has done; they’re anxious to see what God is doing.”

While most Pentecostals don’t have such a low view of Scripture as to refer to is as “moldy pages of history”, they nevertheless agree with the need of new revelation in order to understand “present truth”, thus denying the sufficiency of Scripture.

Such a low view of Scripture has had it’s ramifications on the Bible itself. Not satisfied with the content of sola scriptura, modern “bibles” (and I use that term lightly) have been designed in the mold of fashion magazines. Consider the “Revolve” bible for teenage girls, with important theological notes like “Are You Dating a Godly Guy?" and “Guys Speak Out”. Not to leave the boys out, the “Refuel” bible addresses important doctrines like “Extras: Girls, Cash, and Cars” and “Girls Spill it All!” (not to mention it’s new commandments like “Don’t ever pick your friends nose” And “Don’t grope”). How about one for adult men? Get the “Align” bible, with a feature article advertised on the front page entitled “Sexcess: Success with the Opposite Sex!" A common theme occurs in the ads for these “bibles”. “With an edgy, techo-savvy style and content that makes Biblical truth fresh and relevant.” Good for them. God must be relieved to find that His “moldy pages of history” have been given a much needed face-lift by mortals promoting youthful lusts and crude commandments. I’m afraid to see what the new Bible makers come up with next. Thomas Nelson should be ashamed.

A true revival will only be accompanied by a return to the Reformed Doctrine of Sola Scriptura, not only in repect to it's sufficiency, but for it's esteem as the Words of life, an esteem that seems to be fading. “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

For further study, I would recommend:

What is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul
The Sufficiency of the Written Word by John MacArthur
Charismatic Chaos by John MacArthur
The Final Word by O. Palmer Robertson
Charismatic Gifts: Critical Study Package by Kenneth Gentry


Turgonian said...

One of us is misinformed. You wrote, ‘One of the main issues surrounding the Reformation was the infallibility of the Pope.’ As far as I know, the doctrine of papal infallibility (and only when the Pope spoke ex cathedra) was not confirmed until 1872.

I (being Dutch) have heard stories about Luther at the ‘Rijksdag te Worms’. The diet of worms had me laughing for a bit. Although I guess it’s true that Luther opened a can of worms. :D

I disagree with your statement that ‘this kind of natural revelation is only profitable to make man to be "without excuse".’ Natural revelation is also profitable to give man a sense of awe and make him familiar with a divine principle (& thereby giving him a basis for morality). It is IMO easier to convince a pagan of Christianity than an atheist. Columnist Toynbee complained about the Narnia movie that the story made as little sense as in the Gospels. A pagan would be familiar with the idea of substitutionary sacrifice. God also gave natural revelation and innate knowledge of God in order that people might come to Him more easily.

Recently I have come to pay more attention to the ‘communion of saints’ as articulated in the Apostles’ Creed. Someone argued that all Christians who subscribe to that Creed should form one church: ‘one holy, catholic, Christian church’. I don’t see much in ecumenism (because that files away the sharp edges of truth), but I wonder if it would be possible to form one Church in which there would be room for Calvinist and Catholic alike (where everyone would have the freedom to articulate his own views, as long as they followed the Creed). Probably not (the situation wouldn’t change much from a practical point of view, anyway), but I think we should pay more attention to tradition, including RC tradition (as you yourself argued in In Defense of Patristics).

Your sarcasm regarding the ‘fresh’ Bibles is, well, refreshing. :D It’s astounding (in a negative sense) that these horrors are first published and then sold. Do we do the same with Hammurabi, Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Goethe? And maybe the Bible wasn’t intended for a literary elite only, but we have enough good modern translations like the New International Version. Quite readable. And those who can’t read the Bible should simply listen to the people who do, as all believers did before printing was invented, over a period of 3000+ years.
I recently came on a site where the paraphrase The Message was reviewed by evangelicals. A lot of them liked it, and most of them didn’t even recommend a translation closer to the text. Someone pointed out that the occultic phrase ‘As above, so below’ had replaced the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer (as I remember). No one reacted.

I wonder what you would say to Erik van Goor. Could you comment on the quote below?

Over against the Roman interplay between Holy Scripture and Church tradition, the Reformation posited sola scriptura (only through Scripture) and solus scriptura (Scripture alone). This was, I believe, a point of view with problematic sides. The autopistia i.e. the self-evidence of Scripture is IMO hard to substantiate historically, theologically and practically.

Historically, the arrangement of the canon has always been through councils, ecclesiastical synods and dogmatic statements. Theologically, there has always been interplay between reality, revelation, insight, repentance and recognition after which revelation was included; prophecy has not only ‘come down’, but has been ‘pronounced to’, ‘elaborated’ and ‘arrived at’ in the concrete, given, historical reality of the people. Practically, beside Scripture alone there have always been moments of progressive revelation and/or illumination in the form of dogmata, confessions, ‘pronouncements’, statements and outcomes of e.g. synods. Ethics are unthinkable without this element.

By starting at solus Scriptura, the Reformation has distanced the reality of creation. Instead of ecclesiastical tradition, they should have started at Word and Spirit that have entered creation. The covenantal, patriarchal, institutional reality reality nourishes, supports, strengthens, confirms Holy Scripture and propagates it.

Phew! There be a lot of long words in there…we’re nought but humble bloggers…

Puritan Lad said...

You are correct in that the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility was first officially declared at Vatican I. However, the issue of the pope’s (mother churches) infallibility goes back way before that, especially in regard to the Scriptures. The Council of Trent held that, “in order to restrain petulant spirits, It decrees, that no one, relying on his own skill, shall,--in matters of faith, and of morals pertaining to the edification of Christian doctrine, --wresting the sacred Scripture to his own senses, presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother Church,--whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures,--hath held and doth hold;”. In other words, whatever the church (pope) declares it to be considered true, regardless of what the Scriptures say. (More on this later in the week).

I agree that Natural revelation has many positive attributes. I was thinking more along the lines of Justification. Natural revelation itself cannot bring one to the true knowledge of God unto salvation. I also agree that pagans are easier to win than atheists. The European pagans, who get an unjust bad rap this time of year, adopted Christianity faster than any entire group to date.

I plan to examine the Ecumenical movement at the end of the week. Sad stuff, and it is duping a lot of Christians. (However, I do believe that there are some “born-again” Catholics.)

I am not a fan of the “Message” Bible at all. I actually planned to deal with it in a later blog, but now is as good a time as any.

I know a great many Christians who use "The Message". Maybe I’m being a bit nitpicky, but I see it as a total rewriting of Scripture. See below and decide for yourself:

John 3:36

"He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36 (NKJV)

"Whoever accepts and trust the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever!" John 3:36 (The Message)

Matthew 6:9

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name." Matt. 6:9 (NKJV)

"Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are." Matt. 6:9 (The Message)

John 14:28

"My Father is greater than I." John 14:28 (NKJV)

"The Father is the goal and purpose of my life." John 14:28 (The Message)

Romans 8:6

"For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." Romans 8:6 (NKJV)

"Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life." Romans 8:6 (The Message)

John 4:23

"...the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him." John 4:23 (NKJV)

"That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship." John 4:23 (The Message)

1 Corinthians 6:17-18

“But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” 1 Corinthians 6:17-18 (NKJV)

"Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever - the kind of sex that can never "become one." There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for "becoming one" with another." 1 Corinthians 6:17-18 (The Message) (Note: Talk about an open license for sexual immorality!!!)

Romans 1:24-27

“Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Romans 1:24-27 (NKJV)

“So God said, in effect, "If that’s what you want, that’s what you get." It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshipped the god they made instead of the God who made them - the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes! Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either-women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men-all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it-emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches." Romans 1:24-27 (The Message)

Romans 8:35

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Romans 8:35 (NKJV)

"Do you think anyone is going to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture." Romans 8:35 (The Message)

Colossians 2:10

“and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:10 (NKJV)

"You don’t need a telescope, a microscope or a horoscope to realise the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him." Colossians 2:10 (The Message)

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NKJV)

"Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom." 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (The Message)

That should be obvious enough...

The Problem with van Goor and others isn’t that they use Church teachings. We Reformers do as well. The problem with Catholicism is that it elevates church teaching as being equal to or even superior to Scripture. That’s how they defend the practices of Penance, Purgatory, Indulgences, etc. There is nothing in Scripture itself to support this nonsense.

Sola Scriptura doesn’t mean that we study Scripture with side-blinders on, thinking that those who have labored in the Word for 2,000 years have nothing to offer us. But it does mean that when we hear a particular teaching from the church, we are to be like the Bereans, who “…received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11).