Title & Purpose

Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:

for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand, Joel 2:1.


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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Pillars of the Reformation - 1. Sola Scriptura

The last Lord's day of October is usually commemorated as Reformation Sunday. It was on 31st October 1517, the evening prior to the feast of All Saints, that Martin Luther nailed up his 95 Theses against the sale of indulgences on the door of his Church in Wittenburg. To mark Luther's act it is important to refresh our memories on the five great pillars of the Reformation.

For what saith the scripture? Romans 4:3 
The Protestant Reformation was simply a going back to New Testament Christianity. It was not a new thing in that regard. The Reformers desired to purify the church from the trappings of false religion that had crept in over the centuries. They opposed the false doctrines and ecclesiastical malpractice which was so prevalent in Romanism, especially the false teaching on and the sale of indulgences, and the selling and buying of clerical offices or Simony, as it as called after Simon Magus in Acts 8 who sought to buy the gift of dispensing the Holy Ghost.

While the beginning of the Reformation is usually marked by the action of Martin Luther in nailing up his 95 Theses against the selling of indulgences on the door of the Wittenburg Church, the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation stretch back much further than that.

It is important to remember that God always had his faithful band even during the Dark Ages when Romanism was seemingly triumphant across Europe and beyond. There were:
[1] The Waldenses in the French/Italian Alps;
[2] The Albigenses in Italy as well, who maintained a separated testimony in the darkest of times;
[3] There was also the work of John Wycliffe and the Lollards in England;
[4] John Huss and Jerome of Prague who both suffered martyrdom in mainland Europe.

In the 1520s after Luther had begun his reforming quest William Tyndale came to the fore in England with his desire to translate the Scriptures into English. In discussion with a churchman of the day Tyndale was informed that it would be better to be without God's laws than the Pope's. Tyndale responded: I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!

In 1526 a full edition of the New Testament was produced in English and smuggled into England and Scotland. Though the Bible in English was condemned in October 1529 its spread could not be stopped. So much is owed to Tyndale and his English Bible.

Five pillars emerged during the Protestant Reformation to summarise the Reformers’ theological beliefs in contradistinction to the teaching of Romanism. They are sometimes mentioned under their Latin titles: 
[1] Sola Scriptura - by Scripture alone; 
[2] Sola Gratia - by grace alone; 
[3] Solo Christo - by Christ alone;
[4] Sola Fide - by faith alone;  
[5] Sola Deo Gloria - to the glory of God alone.

These five pillars implicitly reject and counter the teachings of Rome and the Pope.

I. The Scriptures are the sole and sufficient authority in faith and practice. 
Martin Luther expressed this position clearly when he stood before the Diet of Worms in 1521. He declared that his conscience was captive to the Word of God. Church Councils and Imperial Diets could err and had erred, Popes could err and had erred. Only the Scriptures were without error and therefore only the Scriptures could be the final authority on faith and practice.

This contradicted Rome’s teaching. The Church of Rome views Scripture as forming but one part of what she calls ‘the Word of God’. ‘Sacred Tradition’ is also included and is the oral and written teaching handed on by the Apostles to their successors and maintained in their entirety and purity in the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Catechism 82 states: As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.

The Roman Church must interpret this deposit of truth. Rome calls this the Magisterium of the Church. Question 85 states: The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretating the Scriptures has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

Rome sets herself up as the arbitrator of what God has said. Question 87 says: Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me", the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. Rome claims the authority to determine what Scripture means and what constitutes apostolic tradition. She places herself above Scripture and oral tradition as the mistress of both.

This the Reformers refused to accept. Their position was that tradition and all oral teaching must be subject the Scriptures alone. The Church is not above the Scriptures, the Church is subject to the Scriptures. What saith the Scripture? was the maxim of the Reformers and it is to be our abiding rule as well.

This position of the Reformers maintains that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Not only it is the sole authority but it is a sufficient authority. This book is God’s light, To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them,  Isaiah 8:20

Consequently, 'sola scriptura' demands that only those doctrines are to be admitted or confessed that are found directly within or indirectly by using valid logical deduction or valid deductive reasoning from Scripture.

II. This position of the Reformers reflects the plain teaching of Scripture. 
Christ and the Apostles often appealed to the written Word to confirm their teaching.

The example of Jesus Christ. The Saviour said: …the scripture cannot be broken, John 10:35. It cannot be made null and void; whatever it says is true, there is no contradicting it, or objecting to it. The counsel of the Lord shall stand. This is a reference to the written word. 

The Saviour condemned the Pharisees for their holding to tradition which ran contrary to the Scriptures, Matt 15:1-: 
[1] They made their commandments equal with the Scriptures, Matthew 15:9
[2] They neglect the commandments of God so that they might to their tradition, Matthew 15:3
[3] They set aside the commandments of God to keep their tradition, Matthew 15:4,5
[4] They have invalidated the Word of God by their tradition, Matthew 15:6.

Rome’s 'Tradition' is the commandment of men. It is contrary to the Scriptures and is of as much value as the traditions of the Pharisees.

The example of the Apostles. Paul taught Timothy of the authority of the Scriptures,  cf. 2 Timothy 3:16,17. The entirety of Christian faith and practice is covered in these words. The Word of God is profitable for all these things. The man of God will be perfect or complete, throughly furnished unto all good works. What more can you want than this? This text leaves no place for Tradition or the opinions of popes or councils as additional sources of authority.

The believers at Berea are commended for their searching of the Scriptures, Acts 17:11. These believers are said to be 'more noble' because they subjected the oral teaching of Paul to the Scriptures to see whether it conformed with it. Only then would they accept it. This is the New Testament model. It is one totally alien to Romanism.

The New Testament does speak about tradition but not in the same way as Romanism, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 3:6. Tradition here refers to the teaching or preaching of Paul. As seen with the Bereans the correct way to proceed was to examine that ‘tradition’ to see if it agreed with Scripture. If it does then they and we are duty bound to accept it, if not we must reject it. Remember most of Rome’s distinctive doctrines are built upon Tradition and not the Scriptures.

III. The Scriptures are perspicuous and self-interpreting 
By adopting this position of the 'Scriptures alone' the Reformers were declaring that the truth of God was complete in itself.
Salvation truth is clearly expressed and easily understood. There are things hard to be understood in the Scriptures. The Word of God acknowledges that itself, 2 Peter 3:16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

However, those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly set forth in some part of Scripture that not only the intellectual, but the unlearned, may come to a sufficient understanding of them. You don't need a special education to understand the Bible as the Romish priests claim.

No one, whether intellectual or otherwise, will truly understand the Scriptures without the assistance of the Holy Ghost. Having acknowledged that truth there is no other impediment to understanding the Word of God. That is why Protestantism always has sought to get the Scriptures into the hand of the common people as Tyndale stated.

The Scriptures are self-interpreting. The Bible requires no interpretation outside of itself. This is in direct opposition to the teachings of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Coptic, Anglo-Catholic, and Roman Catholic traditions, which all claim that the Bible can only be authentically interpreted by Apostolic or Sacred Tradition. Our answer to them is the cry of the Reformers: Sola Scriptura - the Scriptures alone.

Protestants interpret the Word of God by the Word of God. We compare spiritual things with spiritual. We are to hold fast to this Reformation principle. We reiterate that this is where we stand today. We are unashamedly Protestant in this regard!

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