500 Years Since the Reformation: Sola Scriptura by Kyle Brassell
500 years ago, this month, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This simple act of defiance against the Catholic Church launched a movement that would reshape Christianity throughout Europe and the world. The Protestant Reformation would lead to a break from the Catholic Church and the development of the Protestant denominations, such as Baptists. The basis of the reformers’ argument was the five Solas. The term sola means “only” or “alone” in Latin. Each Sola represented a call by the reformers to return to doctrines taught in Scripture. Although the Solas were never listed out by the reformers, the concepts can be found in the writings of influential Reformation leaders.
One of these—Sola Scriptura or “Scripture alone”—points to the sufficiency and supremacy of the Bible. Instead of turning to other writings, opinions, or traditions, the Bible is sufficient to guide an individual in the Christian life as well as guiding churches. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes “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 complete, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is sufficient to equip the Christian for every good work and to lack nothing. God’s Word is able to teach, point out faults, and to correct. The Bible lacks nothing, and it needs no additions. David writes about the perfection of the Bible in Psalm 19:7-8, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”
God’s Word is perfect, sure, right, and pure. It is able to revive, provide wisdom, rejoice the heart, and enlighten the eyes. The Bible provides all that is needed for salvation. Although explanation from a Christian may be necessary for the non-Believer to understand salvation, the Bible contains all doctrine needed for the salvation of sinners. The Bible provides all a Christian needs to live a life that reflects the calling God has placed on him.
Devotionals, commentaries, and interpretations of Scripture can be beneficial, but only when they stay within the confines of the teaching of the Bible. Helping with understanding the Word, supplementary texts aid the Christian in his study of the Bible, but they do not replace, supersede, or add to the Bible. Augustine adds to the idea of the sufficiency of Scripture when he says, “For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life.” The philosophy of Sola Scriptura speaks to the sufficiency of the Bible to meet all the needs of the Christian in salvation and his attempt to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Along with the sufficiency of Scripture, Sola Scriptura speaks to the supremacy of Scripture. Scripture provides the final authority for the Christian. There is no tradition, outside teaching, or opinion that supersedes the teaching of the Bible. All Christian teaching and thought must be tested against Scripture to see if it stands in agreement with the Bible. Reformers wrote that church practices and traditions that found no basis in or contradicted Scripture should be removed. Their writings are filled with calls to return to Scripture as the ultimate authority and abandon the idea of church tradition holding an equal status with the Bible.
In Mark 7:8, Jesus responds to an accusation by the Pharisees by saying, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of man.” In Psalm 138:2, David writes, “I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your Word.” David makes the point clear that God’s Word, along with His name, is exalted above all things. God’s Word has no rival or equal when dealing with authoritative Christian teaching.
So now you may be thinking, “Well that history lesson was great, but what does that have to do with me? I’m not a theologian or a reformer. How does this apply to me, a college student?”
Surprisingly, Sola Scriptura is something each of us addresses every day. If we are to really hold to the idea of Sola Scriptura, we must completely submit to the authority of the Bible by submitting our own will and opinions to and aligning our thinking with the teaching of God’s Word. This submission of our opinions can be extremely difficult.
Each one of us—especially as college students—has strong beliefs and opinions about a wide variety of topics. It may seem easy to submit our religious opinions to the authority of the Bible because the Bible directly deals with those. What about our political opinions? Although not directly named, the Bible speaks to the issues of economic policy, charity, abortion, and immigration. Are we willing to surrender our own personal opinions to God’s Word?
Sola Scriptura calls us to submit and to responsibly handle the Bible. Both in our own personal study and when sitting under the teaching of God’s Word, we are to “rightly divide the word of truth.” We must read the Bible in its appropriate context with the meaning of the original authors in our minds as we seek to apply it to our lives.
If we are given the responsibility of teaching the Word or leading a Bible study, we have an even greater responsibility. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness,” pointing to the heavy responsibility placed on teachers to rightly divide the Scripture in their teaching.
Finally, we all have the responsibility to judge teaching we hear against the Word of God. John writes in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We—as members of churches, campus ministries, and Bible studies—have the responsibility to make sure that what we are learning is Biblically sound. To fulfill the responsibilities God has placed on us in the study and teaching of His Word, we must be in the Word daily, doing what Paul instructs Timothy to do: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
Kyle Brassell is a junior History and Religious Studies major from Olive Branch, MS. He co-leads the freshman ministry at the BSU. He is also quite adept at including references from The Office in any situation.