In preparation for our Sunday Evening Series on Roman Catholic Theology, I drafted the following post on sola scriptura.
The idea of sola scriptura – scripture alone - was not completely formulated in Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. It developed as Martin Luther interacted with John Eck, a prominent Catholic scholar and outspoken critic of the dissenting theologian. As they engaged in a series of debates at Leipzig, it became clear that each represented their own case convincingly while appealing to their own authority on the topic. Eck was rather learned in the teachings of medieval theology and canon law, while Luther argued directly from the text of the Scriptures.
When presented with evidence that contradicted the Scriptures, yet harmonized with the traditional teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, Luther had a decision to make. Eck argued that the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church were correct and that Scripture must be examined in light of their infallible teaching. Luther disagreed. Ultimately he accepted the Scriptures alone as the sole rule of faith.
The reinforced dividing wall between Catholics and Protestants is the issue of sola scriptura.
Theologian James White gives a five point definition of this all important doctrine.
Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith.
No other revelation is needed for the Church.
There is no other infallible rule of faith outside of Scripture.
Scripture reveals those things necessary for salvation.
All traditions are subject to the higher authority of Scripture.
Support for this teaching comes from:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Now Roman Catholics will object to this doctrine of Sola Scriptura. They reason that the Bible as we know it would not exist apart from the tradition and authority of the Catholic Church to establish the canon (the books which make up the Bible). But 2 Timothy 3:16-17 does not state that the Scriptures come from the church, but from God. Subsequently, the early church no more gave us the Scriptures, than Isaac Newton gave us gravity. The Scriptures are sufficient to speak for themselves. And God through His Spirit allows any and all true believers to recognize them as such.
Everything that you will ever need to live a life pleasing to God can be found in the Bible. The Scriptures alone are the only reliable source in which one can extract correct knowledge of God. It is through the teachings of the Scriptures alone that one must conclude that Christians are saved by grace through faith alone. It is through the Scriptures that one can discern that there is no basis for purgatory, nor the veneration of Mary, nor the infallibility of the Pope.
Without this safeguard of the Scriptures, we risk distorting the message of Christ, misrepresenting the person of God, and directing the sheep to the path of the Destruction.