Saturday, July 08, 2006

Sola Scriptura: Introduction

I would like to start off a series of posts regarding Sola Scriptura, as an evantual platform for my critique of the so-called 'Emerging Church Movement' and in the short-term as a platform against the heresies of Bruce, a modern New-Age Gnostic.

I would like to start by first defining Sola Scriptura, and then give some preliminary comments on each of the points in it.

Sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, is one of the Reformation slogans; one of the five solas that comprise Sola Fide (Faith alone), Sola Gratia (Grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), and Soli Deo Gloria (For God's glory alone). These 5 solas defined the 16th century Protestant Reformation over and against the apostate Romanist Church, and thus any person who call him/herself a Protestant/Evangelical can only do so legitimately if he/she subscribes to the 5 solas of the Reformation. Those who do not subscribe to these 5 solas may call themselves Protestants or Evangelicals, but they are considered illegitimate children of the Reformation, and thus do not deserve to be properly called such. It is also my contention that these five solas define an important part of the Gospel message and hence the Christian faith, and I would prove this assertion subsequently, thus any denial of any of the 5 solas in part or the whole constitute a denial of the Christian faith.

Historically, the split with apostate Rome pivoted over the issue of salvation by justification by faith alone, Sola Fide and the hermeneutical principle of Scripture alone, Sola Scriptura. This issue was termed the 'material principle' of the Reformation, while the issue of Sola Scriptura was termed the 'formal principle' of the Reformation[1]. While Rome maintain a synergistic approach of faith plus works righteousness, the Reformers maintained a monergistic conception of salvation, whereby salvation is by grace through faith from beginning to the end. Where Rome adds 'Sacred Tradition' as being authoritative to the Christian, and adding the Apocrypha to the (Roman Catholic) Canon of Scripture in the Council of Trent, the Reformers countered that only Scripture was authoritative for the Christian, and rejected the addition of the Apocryphal to the established Canon of Scripture, while maintaing that the Apocrypha have some value to the Christian[2].

So what is Sola Scriptura? Sola Scriptura means that Holy Scripture is the only sole supreme authority upon which to judge anything and everything. It is different from what is termed Solo Scriptura, or Scripture only, whereby only Scripture has authority in the lives of Christians. While seemingly the same, the two are not identical. Although both appeal to Scripture as authority, Sola Scriptura allows for secondary sources of authority like the Church and her traditions whereas Solo Scriptura does not. Thus, Sola Scriptura does not allow for the 'me with the Bible in the woods' syndrome prevalent in postmodern and anti-intellectual Christianity, whereby the traditions of the Church (which comprises theological works and hymns by ancient and modern writers, and ancicent creeds and confessions of the Church) are discarded and seen as little use in the lives of Christians. That is Solo Scriptura, a pervasion of the biblical understanding of Sola Scriptura.

The refutation of Solo Scriptura in the proof of the importance of traditions can be seen in the Scripture whereby we are told that God has promised to substain His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail over it (Mt. 16:18). Also, the keys to the Kingdom of heaven are given to the Church (Mt. 16:19; 18:18) as found in the disciples at that time. Since that is the case, biblically, the universal Church in all generatons will always have some aspects of the Truth of Christ and His Gospel in her which are codified in her traditions. Logically also, since God has placed teachers over us in the Church (1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11-12), which include elders or overseers (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9) and pastors (1 Tim. 4:11; 13; 6:2ff; 2 Tim. 4:2; 2 Tim. 2:1), to the end that we might be build up in the faith (Eph. 4:11-12; Col. 3:16), we ought to listen to these teachers. And what are traditions, but records of teachings and practices of those who have gone before us? Unless you draw an arbitrary distinction between the saints before and the saints presently, why should we listen to those who are alive but not those who have gone before us, as though those who were teachers who have gone before us were not teachers at all and are not part of the universal Church of all generations? Since that is the case, we ought to place traditions on par with the teachings we receive daily from the pulpit and from our leaders; that is, they ought as much as possible to be read and to be respected (not necessarily followed, as we shall see later).

And just for the record, Protestant churches DO have traditions. This could be seen in the context of traditional, conservative Evangelical churches whereby certain hymns are sung, certain lithugies are kept and certain creeds are adhered to, or in the opposite context of fringe experiential 'third-wave' Charismatics who have altar calls and read books written by their 'apostles' like C. Peter Wagner.

Now, after establishing the importance of traditions, I would like to caution against the other extreme which was and is still maintained by Rome and her ancient sister the Orthodox Churches, which is the elevation of Tradition to the same authoritative level as Scripture. Sola Scriptura explicitly deny to tradition any authority on par or above Scripture. Thus, when evaluting anything, including any and all traditions, all are to be judged according to the Word of God. If they are found wanting, they are to be rejected, and if they are found to be in accordance with Scripture, they are to be embraced. I would defend this characteristic, the sufficiency of Scripture, later.

Now, I would like to go into greater detail the definition of Sola Scriptura and to prove it and then defend it against its critics.

Sola Scriptura entails the necessity, sufficiency, authority and perspicuity of Scripture. By necessity of Scripture, we mean that Scripture is necessary for people to be saved and for Christians to grow in Christ and in their knowledge of Him and live their lives. By sufficiency of Scripture, we mean that Scripture alone as the supreme authority is enough for us Christians to be saved and to grow and to know anything about God and His dealings with us that we need to know. By authority of Scripture, we mean that anything which is commanded of us in Scripture must be obeyed. And lastly, by perspicuity of Scripture, we mean that the meaning of Scripture is plain to all; it does not need some scholar using sophisicated tools and means to decipher its esoteric text, instead, anyone whether educated or uneducated, rich or poor, as long as they can read or hear the text in a language they can understand, can understand what Scripture is saying. Of course, underlying the latter three is the inerrancy of Scripture, which I shall cover later also.

In the next installment, I would like to carry on writing on the aspect of the necessity of Scripture.

[to be continued]


[1] The 5 Solas of the Reformation (

[2] Notes to the Belgic Confession: Article 6 by Rev. C. Bouwman (

No comments: