Always Being Reformed: “Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)
Suppose the Mariners win enough September games to put them in the post-season (it is still feasibly possible). And in the first division playoff game Nelson Cruz slams a line-drive that hits the top of the fence and ricochets over centerfield into the stands. The Mariners fans cheer, Cruz pumps his fist as he rounds third base, and the umpire calls it a Ground Rule Double! What?!
Cruz comes screaming to Homeplate, the coach comes running out of the dugout, and the ump stands his ground. Who’s right? Does anyone know? Who’s got the ultimate authority?
Well – there’s a MLB Rule Book that the umpire is supposed to know; and every baseball field also has their own rule books. Are you ready? The local homefield rules must always comply with the MLB rules, but in the case of “Ground Rule” Doubles, the MLB bows to the particular home field rules.
Today’s sermon is called Sola Scriptura! The Bible Alone is the authority over what is righteous and what is not!
Last Sunday we started our Fall sermon series recognizing both the chasm created by, and the theological correction offered by, the 16th Century Protestant Reformation. I confess that this series will be a little less “preachy” and a little more “teachy” but the history that leads to today’s context and the theological discussions that inform that history, I believe, are vitally important.
This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. So, like I did last week, let me set the background (those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it – well, we’re going to repeat it so that we’re doomed to know it!):
500 years ago, 1517, was a world in which the printing press had only very recently been invented and put to use. Prior to 1440 literature in the western world had to be hand copied, page by page, word by word, letter by letter. You can imagine how time-consuming it would be to make a copy of a book. And what book was copied most? The Bible. (Sidebar note: the Chinese had invented a wood-block printing press some 600 years earlier, but it was so cumbersome it was still only rarely used.)
Because of how laborious it was to copy a book, very few people owned their own Bible. It would just be way too expensive. (Remember what Gothic style Cathedrals look like? What do their windows dispolay? Stained glass windows was the Church’s way of providing Bibles for the masses!) But after 1440, Gutenberg’s invention made printing books much more affordable! And, of course, his most famous book is “the Gutenberg Bible” – worth well more than $2 million today.
It was just a generation after Gutenberg’s invention that a German Roman Catholic was born who grew up into his divine vocation as a RC priest. Father Martin Luther was priest at Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. And history was changing right before his very eyes.
In the pre-Reformation Church, the Bible was widely recognized as authoritative for faith and obedience, as the rule for faith and life. In 21st Century America (and Europe) the Bible is more questioned and ridiculed than it is read and obeyed, but that was not the way it was in Europe in the 16th Century. But the Christian world of Europe did offer another challenge to the Bible as our main authority – that was the Church itself.
One of the main teachings of the Church of that time was that it was impossible to be saved outside the Church – not outside the Christian faith, but salvation was understood to be impossible without the sacraments of baptism, eucharist, penance, etc.
So, in 1517, when Father Martin Luther read the New Testament book of Romans (and other Bible passages) not only could he not defend that view, he found no evidence for it at all. Here is what Romans alone says about FAITH ALONE being the means of salvation:
- 3:28-30, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from worksof the Law. 29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.”
- 4:5, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Himwho justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness,“
- 5:1, “therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ;“
- 9:30, “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith;“
- 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the lawfor righteousness to everyone who believes.”
- 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.“
Admittedly, before Bibles were available to the public to own and read, the priests were the carriers of God’s Word. The Bible was of utmost importance, but only as read and taught by those called by God into the priesthood. “We cannot be saved outside THE Church”, they said; and since it was the Church who owned the Bible, the Church’s authority of over faith and life was at least equal to that of the Bible, and maybe more.
One of Father Martin Luther’s insights in 1517 was that, especially post-Gutenberg, the Bible should regain its role as sole authority over body and soul – this is what we look at today.
Last week as we started this teaching series we were introduced to the 5 “Sola”-statements of the Protestant Reformers: Sola Fide (salvation is through “Faith Alone” – last week), Sola Scriptura (the sole authority over faith and life is the written Word of God, the “Bible Alone”), Sola Gratia (that the Scriptures teach that it is by God’s “Grace Alone” that effectualizes our faith), Solus Christus (that God’s grace is demonstrated and offered through “Christ Alone”), and Soli Gloria Deo (that all of life is to be lived to the “Glory of God Alone”).
Listen to this keynote passage from the Old Testament history book of Nehemiah, chapter 8: 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law….
8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. (NIV)
The context of this story is that the Jewish people had been taken captive by the world dominant power of Babylon (remember the Daniel in the Lion’s Den story and the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace story – that’s the situation, about 150 years before Nehemiah steps on the scene), only now it is Persia who is the World Power, and Nehemiah, a Jew who served in the King’s palace, was given permission to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.
What did you notice about what was happening here? At what time did “church” start for them? How long was the sermon? How comfortable was the seating area? How many people complained?
The Jewish people were, for the first time in generations, allowed to gather in the public square and hear God’s Word – and they loved it!
Again, this was at a time when people did not have their own copies of the Bible, but part of what they read instructed them to “meditate on God’s Word day and night” (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1) anyway, to “keep it on their heart”, to “long for God’s Word”, to “delight in God’s decrees” (Psalm 119).
What we believe the Bible teaches is that it is God alone who has the right and the ability to declare us righteous in His sight.
So, if it is “Sola Scriptura”, why should we bother to listen to Wheeler preach at us every week? Or Billy Graham, or Andy Stanley, or Kathy Sandusky, or any human with the guts to stand in the pulpit?
Why indeed? What do you think?
And, if what we say is not grounded in God’s Word, or if it is against what God’s Word teaches, it certainly may be time to stop listening. But, only then. Not just because we don’t like what the Bible says….
I’m going to try to be shorter for these sermons, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, you’ll have a chance in just a minute.
And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time (and today’s extended Prayer time [Lord’s prayer Corps]) where we can talk even more.
This series is called “Always Being Reformed” which is part of a Reformation-based phrase that fully says, “We are the Church Reformed, and always being Reformed, according to the Word of God”. May we never be swayed merely by societal influence or pressure to be liked; may we always be swayed by God’s Word!
So I’ll close today by simply asking how important God’s Word is to you? If this is the means by which God reveals Himself to us, and if we say we are followers of Jesus, how much time do we devote to listening to His Word, alone, and together?
Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Godfrey, W. Robert.; “Continuing the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 33-36.
Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 70-71.
Reeves, Ryan; “The Geography of the Reformation”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 22-25.
Sproul, R.C.; Into the Word; TableTalk; June 2017; P. 33.
Sproul, R.C.; Sola Fide; www.ligonier.org/blog/faith-and-works/; October 21, 2015
Waters, Guy Prentiss; “Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide”; TableTalk; October 2017; Pp. 18-22.