Two Planks of Sola Scriptura

hortonThis excerpt is taken from Michael Horton’s contribution in The Legacy of Luther.

There was no controversy between Martin Luther and Rome concerning the inspiration of Scripture. In fact, much of today’s mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic biblical and theological scholarship would have been regarded by the medieval church as apostate with regard to its view of Scripture. The Scriptures, both sides held, are inerrant. The Council of Trent (condemning the Reformation positions) went so far as to say that the Spirit “dictated” the very words to the Apostles.

The real question had to do with the relation of inspired Scripture to tradition. In other words, is Scripture alone God’s inspired and inerrant Word, the source and norm for faith and practice? Could the pope say truly that his words are equal to those of Peter and Paul as we find them in Scripture? Are councils infallible in the same way as Scripture? The Council of Trent argued that Scripture and tradition are two streams that form the one river of God’s Word. This Word consists not only of “the written books” but also of “the unwritten traditions” that, of course, the Roman pontiff has the privilege of determining. Thus, both Scripture and these traditions the church “receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety and reverence,” as both have been “preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.”

Therefore, whatever the pope teaches or commands ex cathedra (from the chair)—even if it is not based on Scripture—is to be believed by all Christians everywhere as necessary for salvation. Ironically, Luther’s defense of sola Scriptura was condemned as schismatic, but the ancient fathers, both in the East and the West, would have regarded the pretensions of the Roman bishop as an act of separation (schism) from the Apostolic faith. Long before the Reformation, highly esteemed theologians argued that Scripture alone is normative and that councils simply interpret Scripture, and these interpretations (which may be wrong and amended by further reflection) are to be submitted to by the pope himself. Until the Council of Trent’s condemnations of the Reformation teaching, this was an open question. Luther was not the first to argue for Scripture’s unique authority even over the pope. After Trent, though, the door was slammed shut on sola Scriptura within the Roman Catholic faith.

Luther’s problem with the papal church was its corruptions of scriptural faith by the addition of myriad doctrines, practices, rituals, sacraments, and ceremonies. Medieval popes increasingly held that they alone were endowed with the Holy Spirit in such a way as to be preserved from error in their judgments. Of course, this idea was not found in Scripture or in the teaching of the ancient fathers. It was an innovation that opened the floodgate to a torrent of novelties, Luther argued:

“When the teaching of the pope is distinguished from that of the Holy Scriptures, or is compared with them, it becomes apparent that, at its best, the teaching of the pope has been taken from the imperial, pagan laws and is a teaching concerning secular transactions and judgments, as the papal decretals show. In keeping with such teaching, instructions are given concerning the ceremonies of the churches, vestments, food, personnel, and countless other puerilities, fantasies, and follies without so much as a mention of Christ, faith, and God’s commandments.”

How do you adjudicate between truth and error? What if a pope errs, as some medieval councils had in fact declared? Indeed, the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries saw the schism between two and eventually three rival popes, each claiming St. Peter’s throne and excommunicating the others along with their followers. The Council of Constance ended this tragicomedy by electing a fourth pope to replace the other three. Philip Melanchthon’s Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope built on Luther’s views by drawing together a battery of refutations from Scripture and also from church history to demonstrate the foundation of sand on which the papacy is built.

For Luther, the first plank of sola Scriptura is Scripture’s nature. As the Holy Spirit’s direct revelation through prophets and Apostles, Scripture is in a class by itself. The character of God is at stake in the character of Scripture. Why is Scripture inerrant? “Because we know that God does not lie. My neighbor and I—in short, all men—may err and deceive, but God’s Word cannot err.” We respect the church fathers and ancient councils as guides, but only God can establish articles of faith: “It will not do to make articles of faith out of the holy Fathers’ words or works. Otherwise what they ate, how they dressed, and what kind of houses they lived in would have to become articles of faith—as has happened in the case of relics. This means that the Word of God shall establish articles of faith and no one else, not even an angel.” Continue reading

Sola Scriptura – Five Part Series

Part 1: Dr. James White – “Went 135 minutes today (hence the “uber-mega” designation) covering two primary topics: sola scriptura defined and defended against a recent attack upon it by Karlo Broussard of Catholic Answers (first 90 minutes), and then a “live” review of a new video against the deity of Christ from a Muslim perspective (link). A lot of foundational, basic teaching today that we think is very, very important for all believers!”

Part 2: Dr. James White – “We continued our series on sola scriptura today, looking at what sola scriptura is and is not. Touched on the issues raised by charismatic claims of “thus says the Lord” a bit as well. We really believe this is an important series, and hope our listeners will find it foundationally edifying.”

Part 3: Dr. James White – “Three topics on the program today; for the first 15 minutes or so a quick rejoinder to Jory Micah and her ‘El Shaddai means ‘one with many breasts” tweet, then about half an hour in response to Spencer Toy’s article on crossexamined.org, ‘An Open Question for Presuppositionalists.’ Then we got back for the last 45 minutes to our study of sola scriptura. We are now able, in the next program, to finally start working through Karlo Broussard’s comments on Catholic Answers Live.”

Part 4: Dr. James White – “Aside from a few brief comments at the start about a few current events we focused pretty much fully on the sola scriptura series, finally getting to the clip from the debate with Mitch Pacwa and listening to a number of segments from the Catholic Answers Live show with Karlo Broussard. Important information!”

Part 5: Dr. James White – “I managed to resist the temptation to do the ‘politics talk’ and finished up the introduction to sola scriptura today in a 90 minute program focusing upon the final sections of Karlo Broussard’s arguments on Catholic Answers Live, and then discussing two more important aspects, ‘Apostolic Tradition’ in the early fathers as well as the issue of the canon. Not easy material to cover, but so very important!”

Sola Scriptura – Why It Still Matters

MacArthurArticle: Why Does Sola Scriptura Still Matter? by John MacArthur (original source here)

The Protestant Reformation is rightly regarded as the greatest revival in the last thousand years of church history—a movement so massive it radically altered the course of Western civilization. Names like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox are still well-known today, five centuries after they lived. Through their writings and sermons, these courageous Reformers—and others like them—left an enduring legacy for the generations of believers who have followed them.

But the true power behind the Reformation did not flow from any one man or group of men. To be sure, the Reformers took bold stands and offered themselves as sacrifices for the cause of the gospel. But, even so, the sweeping triumph of sixteenth-century revival cannot ultimately be credited to either their incredible acts of valor or their brilliant works of scholarship. No, the Reformation can only be explained by something far more profound: a force infinitely more potent than anything mere mortals can produce on their own.

Like any true revival, the Reformation was the inevitable and explosive consequence of the Word of God crashing like a massive tidal wave against the thin barricades of man-made tradition and hypocritical religion. As the common people of Europe gained access to the Scriptures in their own language, the Spirit of God used that timeless truth to convict their hearts and convert their souls. The result was utterly transformative, not only for the lives of individual sinners, but for the entire continent on which they resided.

The principle of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) was the Reformers’ way of acknowledging that the unstoppable power behind the explosive advance of religious reform was the Spirit-empowered Word of God. Continue reading

The Church Fathers on Sola Scriptura

Nathan Busenitz – original source here

In his denial of the deity of Christ, Arius was arguably the most notorious heretic of the early church.

Though Arius’s heretical views were soundly condemned by the Council of Nicaea (in A.D. 325), the controversy he sparked raged for another fifty years throughout the Roman Empire. During those tumultuous decades, the defenders of Trinitarian orthodoxy often found themselves outnumbered and out of favor with the imperial court. Yet they refused to compromise.

Among them, most famously, stood Athanasius of Alexandria—exiled on five different occasions for his unwavering commitment to the truth. He was joined by the Cappadocian Fathers: Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nazianzas, and Gregory of Nyssa.

But how did these early Christian leaders know that the doctrine they were defending was, in fact, a truth worth fighting for? How did they know they were right and the Arians were wrong? Was it on the basis of oral tradition, a previous church council, or an edict from the bishop of Rome?

No. They ultimately defended the truth by appealing to the Scriptures. Continue reading