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An Issue of Authority

Since the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholics, and others have constantly sought to attack the principle of Sola Scriptura. The heart of this objection was at the very heart of the Reformation and at the heart of why reformation will continue to be a necessary part of the church. There are a few different aspects of this, one of which is a fundamental misunderstanding of what is meant by scripture alone. The attack is that the reformers believed that Christians should not listen to anything but the scripture. In essence, the attack is that the reformers had rejected the creeds and confessions of the church, that they had rejected all the history of the church and said it was all worthless, but this could not be further from the truth. The call for scripture alone is about where we find the final authority. Is that authority found in the church, in counsels and creeds, in the Pope, or in scripture alone? The clarion call for the reformation was that scripture alone could stand as the final and ultimate authority.

God Vs. Scripture

There is an additional objection that comes up around this subject that is necessary to talk about. That is the idea that Sola Scriptura sets the scripture over and against the Lord himself. The idea here is that if we make scripture the final authority, then where does that leave God? Is not the Lord the final authority? The answer here is a simple one. The answer is to point out that the questions attempt to contrast the Lord against himself. Let me explain. The Lord is the authority over all things. We see this in places like Matthew 28:18, where it says:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

So this is where we start, with the Lord as the sovereign ruler over all of creation. All authority is his in heaven above and on the earth below. He does all that he pleases. But then we have to ask the question: does the Lord have the right to command things like how we are to live our lives and what we are to believe? The obvious answer is yes. If he has all authority, then he has every right to command whatever he wills. A further question then arises: how does the Lord communicate these commands? If you have been following along at this point, the answer should be fairly obvious. He communicates his nature and his commands in his Word.

God's Exhalation

In Paul's second letter to his protege Timothy, he tells him that "all scripture is breathed out by God." The idea here is straightforward. God has spoken to his people in a tangible way in his word. And because it is God's word, spoken by him, upheld by his authority, whatever the scripture says is what God has said on the subject. To set scripture against God is to say that the Lord is double-minded. That he contradicts and disagrees with himself. It is to bring into question the very nature of God, his authority and attributes.

In scripture, we have the fuller revelation of the Lord. We are told about his nature, about salvation in him, and about how we are to live in response to these things. So when we appeal to scripture as our final authority, we are saying that the Lord has spoken, and we must abide by what he has said. No Church, counsel, or new revelation can contradict or add to what the Lord has commanded in his word.

Not Rejecting history

As we start to wrap up, it is important to note that scripture alone does not mean that no other source is useful or good. Scripture alone has reference to final authority. Creeds and confessions are wonderful resources that the Lord has given us through his church over the years, but those are only authoritative as much as they reflect scripture. If we were to actually practice the idea that nothing but the bible should be listened to, then we would have to reject much of what scripture actually commands, such as the pastors and elders that we are given. What would be the point of going to church if we were not to listen to the pastor? This is an extreme example, I know, but it illustrates the point well. Pastors and elders have authority because scripture says they do. Churches have authority because Scripture teaches this idea. But their authority can never go beyond the limits that Scripture has set. So, we should make use of the history of the church. We should learn from the wonderful teachers that the Lord has given us throughout our history. Men like Augustine and Johnathan Edwards. Read their works, but then test them and everything else against what scripture has to teach. Scripture Alone is our final authority.

Soli Deo Gloria

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