Scripture alone. Before there was an Internet, the only way you could effectively learn how to program your VCR was to read the manual. In the beginning every brand had their own particular way to press the buttons so that the hours and minutes on your clock would move. And then every brand had their own way to program the VCR to record your favorite television shows. There was no way to get around it. There was no YouTube where you could go watch a hundred different videos with guys who had figured it out for you. You had to read the manual. The manual alone could guide you. Or you could simply just let the clock flash 12:00 all the time and reveal to the world that your gadgets were smarter than you.
Simply put, the axiom of Scripture alone tells us that the Scripture contains all knowledge necessary for salvation, holy living, and spiritual matters. Therefore we do not need any other authority to inform us about those matters. What does that mean? It means that all I need to know in order to receive salvation from God is contained within the Bible. A person does not need any other tradition, any other writings, any other authority to help him or her know how to receive salvation from God. Scripture is sufficient to tell us all we need to know.
Also, Scripture alone means that everything we need to know in regards to how we should live as Christians can be found in the Scripture. A person need not seek any other tradition, any other writings, or any other authority to instruct them in how to live a life that pleases God. The Scriptures instruct us both through direct commands – “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) – and through implied commands. An implied command would be something like this: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” (1 Peter 4:7). The command is to be self-controlled and sober minded. How is that accomplished? The implication of the command is that Christians should not engage in behaviors that impair their judgment and otherwise alters their ability to control their mental faculties. So through both the direct and implied commands of Scripture, all questions concerning living a life that pleases God can be answered.
Our reforming forefathers from the sixteenth century called this Sola Scriptura, which means by Scripture alone. When they protested the Roman Catholic Church, one of their protests was that church traditions had been given equal authority with the Scripture. For instance the teachings that baptism and communion were means to receive God’s grace cannot be found in the Scripture, but at some point the teachings were adopted as church tradition, and given authority. Another example would be the elevation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to a deified status. These traditions in the Roman Catholic Church had been gradually given equal authority with the Scripture. The reformers of the sixteenth century sought to re-establish Scripture as the sole authority for all matters of doctrine and spirituality. This is not to say that there are not other spiritual authorities in the lives of Christians, but rather to say that Scripture is the standard and the head to which all other spiritual authorities in a believer’s life must submit. In other words, my pastor, my mentor, my parents, the books I read, the sermons I hear, the philosophies I embrace, they all must be held up to the standard of Scripture Alone to see if what they are saying is true. Sola Scriptura, therefore, means that we judge all matters of doctrine, all matters spirituality, all matters of daily living by what God says to us in the Scripture.
But even this doctrine has begun to suffer. Five hundred years removed from the Protestant Reformation, many churches today are either abandoning or abusing Sola Scriptura. Those who are abandoning the Scriptures are doing so by denying the infallibility of the Bible. In other words they are saying that not everything in the Bible is accurate or reliable. This is the crux of the argument for those who are denying that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sinful lifestyle. This is the crux of the argument for those who teach an egalitarian (instead of a complementarian) understanding of women and their role within the Church.
Others abandon Scripture alone, not by denying them, but by adding to them. Consequently, this is the same error made by the Roman Catholic Church, but because we have not been vigilant to defend the sole authority of Scripture, we are facing this problem again. Denominations have resorted to their own list of additional rules to “help” you stay away from sin. “Don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t date girls that do,” or a favorite in many Baptist churches when I was growing up was no playing cards, no dancing, no secular music. Churches and denominations that resort to these kinds of add-ons to the Scripture are denying the truth that Scripture alone contains all the information we need in order to live a life that pleases God. Paul teaches very clearly on these additional rules: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)
While some are abandoning Scripture alone, others are abusing it. There are some (not all) fundamentalist churches that teach that all knowledge comes from the Scriptures. In teaching that, they essentially attempt to place the Bible as the sole authority over all science, all history, all socio-economics, and any other area of study whereby we gain knowledge. While the sentiment behind this effort is to keep God as the central authority in all things – and this is a good thing – the Scriptures were not written to be the source of all knowledge. Sola Scriptura means that the Scriptures contain all the knowledge we need for understanding salvation, for understanding how we can live to please God, and for understanding everything we need to know about God. God himself has said that not everything about him is revealed, but only that which we need to know. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
The Scriptures contain God’s revealed plan to redeem for himself a people, and the entire creation, through his Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, any history we see in the Scripture is only that history that is relevant to explaining redemption through Jesus Christ. Any science we see in the Bible is only that science that is relevant to explaining redemption through Jesus Christ. Everything you read in the Bible, though the narrative may be long and tedious to follow, leads to Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39).
Sola Scriptura. If we reduce its authority, we fall into liberalism. If we add to its authority, we fall into legalism. Neither position lead us to Jesus. Both liberalism and legalism lose sight of Christ and focus in on self, just from different points of view. Only by holding to Scripture alone will we enjoy the freedom that Christ promises to those whom he sets free. And it is because of Scripture alone that we can be assured that it is in Christ alone that we find redemption. That’ll be the focus next time: Christ alone.