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Friday, April 22, 2016

Sola Scriptura

The cry of the Reformation was "Sola Scriptura!" Okay, maybe not, but it was certainly the undergirding concept. Among all the other "solas", the other "only" references (sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria) were based on this one. That is, the claims that we are saved by faith apart from works, saved by grace apart from works, saved by Christ alone, and that God alone deserves glory are all predicated on the notion that Scripture alone is the authority on matters of faith and practice. It was held over against the world's "reason" or "perceptions" and even the Roman Catholic three-part structure of Scripture, Church, and Traditions. Scripture alone was the authority in matters of faith and practice.

Of course, everyone knows that this was a "new thing", an invention of the Reformers. It's not biblical and it's not historical. And, as I often suggest, new things are suspect. But, is it true? Is it true that it was a new thing, that it was not historical? As it turns out, it ain't necessarily so. As it turns out, sola scriptura is historical.

When the Church stood against Arius and the Arian Heresy (the claim that Jesus was not God), the Council of Nicaea stood on the basis of Scripture. Gregory of Nyssa wrote,
What then is our reply? We do not think that it is right to make their prevailing custom the law and rule of sound doctrine. For if custom is to avail for proof of soundness, we too, surely, may advance our prevailing custom; and if they reject this, we are surely not bound to follow theirs. Let the inspired Scripture, then, be our umpire, and the vote of truth will surely be given to those whose dogmas are found to agree with the Divine words. (Dogmatic Treatises, Book 12. On the Trinity, To Eustathius.)
Arius was wrong not because he disagreed with the Council, but because he disagreed with Scripture.

In fact, a host of early Church fathers wrote of the authority of Scripture over against which everything must be weighed. Writings from Irenaeus of Lyons (died 202 A.D.), Tertullian (died 235 A.D.), Hippolytus (died 235 A.D.), Dionysius of Alexandria (circa 265 A.D.), Athanasius of Alexandria (died 373 A.D.) -- the list goes on and on -- all contain the same claims long before the Reformation. As Augustine put it,
Whereas, therefore, in every question, which relates to life and conduct, not only teaching, but exhortation also is necessary; in order that by teaching we may know what is to be done, and by exhortation may be incited not to think it irksome to do what we already know is to be done; what more can I teach you, than what we read in the Apostle? For holy Scripture establishes a rule to our teaching, that we dare not “be wiser than we ought;” but be wise, as he himself says, “unto soberness, according as unto each God hath allotted the measure of faith.” Be it not therefore for me to teach you any other thing, save to expound to you the words of the Teacher, and to treat of them as the Lord shall have given to me. (The Good of Widowhood, 2)
As it turns out, the doctrine that Scripture is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice was around from the beginning, based on the authority of God, the source of Scripture.

And, as it turns out, "It's not biblical" is equally false. Paul warned the Corinthians to "not go beyond what is written" (1 Cor 4:6). You see, it is in our nature to think of our logic and reason as the ultimate authority, but Paul was concerned that "your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." (1 Cor 2:5) The psalmist wrote, "The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous rules endures forever." (Psa 119:160) The Bible claims, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17) Get that? Under God's authority, being sourced by God, "all Scripture" is profitable "that the man of God may be complete." What higher authority than God? What other authority is needed? Not human philosophy or human traditions or even the elemental spirits of the world (Col 2:8), but God is our sole authority and His Word is His revealed will. Does the Bible say, "Scripture is the sole authority in matters of faith and practice"? No, of course not. You won't find that text. Nor does it mention the word "Trinity" even once. But based on what the Bible says about the Bible (which, by definition, makes it "biblical"), it is the only reasonable conclusion. It is the conclusion that the early Church fathers came to. It has been the historical conclusion of the Church. It is my conclusion. As always, you're free to conclude otherwise. I just wonder about the wisdom of doing so.

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