Sola Scriptura: Scripture Alone
Five hundred years ago, on October 31, 1517, a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany. His aim was to discuss serious concerns he had with Roman Catholic theology and practice. Many of these concerns had been brought up in years-gone-by from men like Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, and others – many of whom were executed by the Church. The writings, actions, and sacrifices of these forerunners of Martin Luther culminated in a full-blown firestorm sparked ablaze by Luther’s actions in 1517. Their collective protest along with Luther’s like-minded contemporaries eventually became known as the Protestant Reformation. It was in many ways a “shot heard round the world”.
It is Good to Be Alone
The convictions of the protesters eventually formulated into an anthem made up of five Latin phrases – Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (to the Glory of God Alone). It is good to be alone when such clarity rules out all other options – and this is what the Protestant Reformation sought to make clear regarding matters of first-level importance. In the 500 years since, many Protestant denominations have formed due to varying interpretations of Scripture and theological convictions; however, the curse of theological liberalism has led many mainline denominations to abandon their roots.
Luther Stood On the Scripture Alone
In 1521, Martin Luther uttered these famous words as he stood trial before the Holy Roman Empire to answer charges of heresy : “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), I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound in the word of God: I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience. Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen.”
Luther’s response spoke to a fundamental issue the protesters had with the Church: Must believers look to the Pope and the Church’s interpretation of the Bible as authoritative for what they believe and practice? Or must they look to Scripture alone as the final authority involving all matters of what we believe and how we are to live? The protesters said “Sola Scriptura” - we must look to Scripture alone.
Standing Alone Today
This year the historic Calvary Baptist Church in Washington hired a lesbian couple to co-pastor their church. Admittedly, this is a horribly extreme case of departing from the Bible. Yet many churches who are either adapting to the whims of culture or are adopting cultural interpretations of Scripture are unknowingly, well on their way to such a slippery slope of ungodliness. It’s happened, and is happening, over and over in many protestant denominations today. How can this be? Many protestant churches say the right things about the Bible yet their beliefs and practices reveal otherwise. Sermons are self-help messages with a few Bible verses sprinkled in, often used out of context, to help the preacher make his point and give the appearance of being biblical. Often these churches will grow numerically, but at what cost? At worst, a man-centered gospel that is no different than the works-based gospel the protesters were concerned about in Martin Luther’s day resulting in baptizing people who are not true converts. And at best? Sadly, raising up a generation of biblically illiterate Christians who lack the theological convictions essential to enduring times of suffering and persecution and left vulnerable to the “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who knock on their doors.
A Humble Stand - Alone
The late John Stott offers this wise counsel: “We need to repent of the haughty way in which we sometimes stand in judgment upon Scripture and must learn to sit humbly under its judgments instead. If we come to Scripture with our minds made up, expecting to hear from it only an echo of our own thoughts and never the thunderclap of God's, then indeed he will not speak to us and we shall only be confirmed in our own prejudices. We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.” If believers truly seek to stand on Scripture alone in this way then this is how they will be described: arrogant, legalistic, judgmental, chauvinistic, divisive, homophobic, unloving, narrow-minded and out-of-touch.
So what must you do? Turn from your sin and trust in Jesus Christ alone. Declare your faith in Christ publicly by being baptized as a believer. As you continue to grow in Christ and fight against your own indwelling sin, humbly meditate upon the Word. Search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). Memorize the Scriptures (Psalm 119:11). Do not seek to be offensive, but humbly stand on the Word of God alone for defining the one true gospel (Galatians 1:6-9) – which will be offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18). And as biblical beliefs and practices are shaped in you, be prepared to stand alone, but do so with a church family which is seeking to do the same. Don’t just show up for a worship-service on Sunday and remain loosely connected with those in attendance. Live life together with other believers who are studying the Word and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).