8. October 2017

Sola Scriptura – Scripture Alone

‘…All Scripture is God breathed…’ (2 Timothy 3, 16).

Martin Luther was his own man, but his contribution to Christian history was shaped albeit indirectly by other factors. The Renaissance – new learning – was a movement that swept through the universities and seminaries of Northern Europe encouraging amongst other things, the rediscovering of the intellectual basis upon which claims to exercise authority in the Middle Ages was based. Also, the printing press was invented making possible the widespread distribution of ideas. The Church claimed to exercise authority under God, an authority derived from the Bible. Luther regarded the church of his day as corrupt and he believed that corruption stemmed from the church having corrupted the meaning of the Biblical text to suit the church. So, he took the ‘authoritative’ Latin translation, compared it to his own translation of the Greek (into German), thereby exposing the corruption. John Calvin summed it up this

“The difference between us and the papists is that they do not think that the church can be 'the pillar of the truth' unless she presides over the word of God. We, on the other hand, assert that it is because she reverently subjects herself to the word of God that the truth is preserved by her and passed on to others by her hands.” (John Calvin).

In short, what was at stake was ‘authority’ but an ‘authority’ underpinned by integrity. The, church, although Divinely inaugurated was a human institution as and as such prone to error unless it remained faithful to that which gave it it’s essential integrity, and for Luther this was the ‘Word of God’ – The Scriptures, the ‘God breathed Scriptures’, precisely because the Bible was the ‘Word of God – was possessed of unquestioned, unquestionable, unquestioning integrity.

The essential unity of the formal and material principles of the Reformation lies in the fact that to affirm that Christianity was, formally and materially, solus Christus was perceived by the Reformers ultimately to depend upon the concurrent affirmation that Christ and his benefits could be known sola scriptura.”  (Alister E, McGrath: ‘The Intellectual Origins of the European Reformation’).

Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems; e.g. Luther rejected the 7 – fold sacramental system of the Church of his day, accepting only 2 – Baptism and Communion – because they were the only 2 of the sacraments to be found in Scripture, but in Communion Jesus says, ‘This is my body’ and so Luther could not deny the text, so for Luther, in Communion the bread really does become the ‘body of Christ.’ Indeed, a further example lays bare a conflict enduring to this present day concerning religion and science

“There is talk of a new astrologer [Nicolaus Copernicus] who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must . . . invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth. [Martin Luther stating his objection to heliocentrism due to his Scripture's geocentrism]”

Hence we need to pay very careful attention to what Paul says to Timothy: ‘You have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness that the man [& woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. The integrity of Scripture, from which is derived its authority as the Word of God’ has to be appreciated for what it is: it is the repository of the truth concerning the saving purpose of God made manifest in the person and work of Jesus that this truth might be defended against any false teaching…

Evangelical Christians need to notice..., that the Reformation said 'Scripture Alone' and not 'the Revelation of God in Christ Alone'. If you do not have the view of the Scriptures that the Reformers had, you really have no content in the word 'Christ' - and this is the modern drift in theology. Modern theology uses the word without content because 'Christ' is cut away from the Scriptures. The Reformation followed the teaching of Christ Himself in linking the revelation Christ gave of God to the revelation of the written Scriptures.” (Francis A. Schaefffer: ‘Escape from Reason, A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought).

Modern Christian Theology has been bedevilled by the suggestion that, somehow or another, one can separate the ‘Jesus of History’ from the Christ of Faith’. A suggestion ruthlessly exposed in Albert Schweitzer’s book, ‘The Quest for the Historical Jesus’. Jesus was who Jesus was; Jesus is who Jesus is. Who Jesus was, and who Jesus is we discover from the pages of Scripture however uncomfortable that might be for us…

“When the Western world accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered; and the received text of Western theology was edited by his lawyers . . . The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly. In the official formulation of the religion it has assumed the trivial form of the mere attribution to the Jews that they cherished a misconception about their Messiah. But the deeper idolatry, of the fashioning of God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian and Roman imperial rulers, was retained. The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar” (Alfred North Whitehead).

‘The Bible gives us Jesus and Jesus gives us God’ - ‘Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.’ We are not to make God in our own image, describe Jesus on our own terms,  or fashion the church according to our own instincts. It can only be according to ‘Sola Scriptura, - ‘Scripture Alone’…