In 1521 the German Reformer, Martin Luther, was summoned to appear in Worms before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V to defend what he had taught and written. Soon after he arrived, it was clear that he wasn't brought there to defend his views; he was brought there to recant his views.
Laid out on the table were 25 books or articles that Martin Luther had written. The titles were read. Then, Luther was asked if these, indeed were written by him, and if so, to recant their contents. Luther requested more time to respond. So, he was given until 4pm the next day to respond.
When 4pm arrived, and Luther stood before the counsel, he said, "The works are mine, but ... Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen."
For Luther, it was all about the Bible. It was all about the teaching of the Scripture. He didn't trust the pope. He didn't trust the councils. He had seen how they contradicted the Bible and each other. He had seen their corruption, and he couldn't trust them. Martin Luther trusted in the Scriptures alone. And we should as well.
My message this morning is entitled, "Sola Scriptura." It's the first of five topical messages that I want to bring to you over the next five weeks. And in these next five weeks, we will be looking at what are often referred to as "The Solas." These "Solas" are the core of what those in the Protestant Reformation believed.
In case you don't know, the "Protestant Reformation" took place in the 1500's, when men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and others "protested" against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. And eventually split the church into the "Protestants," those who "protested" against the church, and the "Catholics," those who remained in the mother church. Our theological heritage can be traced back to the Reformers of this day. And I thought that it would be good for us to take a look at our history.
My messages in this series will be entirely topical. We aren't going to take a passage and dig into it, as is our normal custom. We will do this again with 1 John in a month or two. Instead, for now, we will bounce here and there in the Bible, looking to various passages that support our belief in these "Solas." Furthermore, I want to interlace my messages with a good dose of historical illustrations to help bring you back to the days of the Reformation.
You say, "What are these 'Solas'?" I'm glad you asked. The first is called, "Sola Scriptura," Scripture alone. That is, we look to the Scripture "alone" for our authority and guidance in spiritual matters. As John Hus once said to His opponents who were calling him to denounce his beliefs, "Show me from Scripture and I will repent and recant!"
Next week, we will take up, "Sola Fide," Faith alone. That is, salvation comes by faith alone in Jesus. You don't combine your works with your faith to obtain salvation. It comes through simple trust in Jesus, the Messiah.
The next week, we will look at "Sola Gratia," Grace alone. That is, salvation is entirely a gift of God. Our salvation isn't based on or merited by anything that we do. There is nothing we do to merit God's grace. It is only by the grace of God that we are saved.
Fourth, we will look at "Solus Christus," Christ alone. That is, our salvation comes only through Christ. It does not come through the sacraments or traditions of the church, but only through Jesus.
Finally, we will look at "Soli Deo Gloria," Glory to God alone. We take no glory for ourselves. All the glory for our salvation goes to God, both now and for all eternity. Our lives are to be lived for the glory of God.
Now, a comment on these words. In case you haven't noticed, they are all in Latin. They all begin with this word, "Sola" or "Solus" or "Soli." The exact form of the word depends upon the case of the noun it modifies. But, the meaning of the word is clear, "alone," or "only," like our word, "solo." It's a big deal when a budding airplane pilot takes a flight without an instructor. It's called a "solo flight." In the same way, all of these terms describe an aspect of salvation that doesn't need to be accompanied by anything else.
We look to the Scriptures "alone." We are justified by faith "alone." We are saved by grace "alone." It is on the merit of Christ "alone." And we are to live to the glory of God "alone."
All of the reformers believed in the "Solas." They didn't know them by that name. The formal arrangement of these "Solas" didn't come about until the 1900's. They have come about in an effort to define what exactly it was that drove the reformers of the Reformation. And if men like Luther and Calvin and Zwingli and Hus and Wycliffe and Tyndale had heard these five solas grouped together like this, they would have gladly affirmed their belief in these things. There is no doubt about that, for each of them said things that justified all five of these statements. They simply didn't say it this exact way.
Indeed, the Soals well represent the cries of the reformation. They well represent the cause of the Protestant church. These five messages will do us well to ground us all in our theological heritage.
First and fundamental to all of their/our beliefs was the sufficiency of Scripture. Or, as it is often called, "Sola Scriptura." Scripture alone is sufficient to accomplish God's work in the soul. In other words, to understand the ways of God, you don't need human counsels or popes. You don't need others to tell you what to believe. You simply need the Scriptures, over which you read and pray and meditate. And if you seek the Lord with all your heart, He will make His ways known to you.
And that's why we will look this week at "Sola Scriptura." It was the foundational fight that the Reformers had in the reformation. Will you put the Bible in the hands of the people, so that they can read it for themselves? Or, will the priests and popes dispense the Bible at their whim.
See, in the days of the Protestant Reformation (1500's), the Roman Catholic Church had a hold on the church. And it wasn't about the Bible. It was about the priests and the popes and the counsels. What the popes and counsels said ruled the day. They were the keepers of the truth. They were the interpreters of Scripture. In their day, knowledge of the Bible was scant. And the church was doing little by way of education to change that. By and large, the people were kept in the dark about the Bible. This is, by the way, still the case with many in the Catholic church. The laity in the church is not generally reading the Bible for themselves. They are still largely in the dark.
But, this all changed in the days of the Reformation. The Reformers challenged the Roman Catholic Church, and fought hard for the Scriptures to be in the hands of the laity; in the hands of the everyday worker.
William Tyndale is famous for his argument with some Roman Catholic clergy. When they argued in favor of the church and the popes and the counsels, Tyndale retorted, "I defy the Pope, and all his laws, and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to know more of the Scriptures than you do." And Tyndale made it his life's work to get the Scriptures into the hands of the laity. He translated the Bible into English and spent his life spreading copies of the Bible throughout all of Europe. He was eventually betrayed and charged with heresy. He was tied to a stake and strangled, shortly afterwards, his body was burned.
His famous last words were, "Lord, open the King of England's eyes." This prayer, by the way, was answered, when James I commissioned a standard English translation, which was completed in 1611, some 75 years after Tyndale died at the stake.
Tyndale wasn't the only one to die getting the Scripture into the hands of the people. History is filled with those who were put to death because they worked toward getting the Bible translated into the hands of the people. A hundred and fifty years before Tyndale was martyred, John Wycliffe experienced the same fate for the same crime. He, too, was passionate about getting the Bible into the hands of the ordinary person, that they might read if for themselves.
Now, to be clear, John Wycliffe and William Tyndale were not martyred because they distributed the Bible. They were martyred because of their beliefs, which were contrary to the Roman Catholic Church. But, their beliefs came from the Bibles that they worked hard to distribute. And it was their conviction that the Bible clearly taught these things. And it was their conviction that the Roman Catholic Church was wrong on these things. And it was their conviction that the Bible in the hands of the people was the way to confront the errors and corruptions.
In other words, if you get the Scriptures into the hands of people, they can read for themselves. And when they read the Bible, God would use the word to open their eyes to come to the same conclusion. Because, the Scriptures are so clear about these things. No doubts in their minds. Never take for granted the Bible in your hand!
The hope of these men was that there would be reformation in the church. See, they were battling against the authority of the church. And the only way that they would win their battle is to appeal to a higher authority--the authority of the Scriptures.
Well, this is our topic today. It is "Sola Scriptura."
And of the first verses that comes to mind is 2 Timothy 3, verses 16 and 17. You can open your Bibles there. I simply want to read it and make a few observations about the verses.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
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.
These verses simply put forth the unique character of Scripture. It is "breathed out" by God. This is what we often call, "inspiration." This is why we often call the Scriptures, "The Word of God," because God has breathed out the words contained in our Bibles.
And as such, the Bible is unique. No other text in all the world can make such a claim. And thus, no other text can have such absolute authority over our lives as does the word of God. And this is what "Sola Scriptura" is all about. It's about authority.
When it comes to spiritual matters, to what shall we look? Shall we look to the Bible? Shall we look to the church? Shall we look to our own feelings?
2 Timothy tells us clearly that it is the Scripture that God has inspired. And it is the Scriptures that are "profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). And it's precisely because of God's role in producing the Scripture that gives us the assurance that the Bible has this authority in our lives.
Peter said, "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). Men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God. And this is what we have in the Bible.
Now, in the days of the Reformation, the church didn't deny this, but claimed that it had another authority in our lives. It's often referred to as, "Tradition." That is, the things that have been passed down from those who have gone before us. Sometimes it's written. Sometimes it's oral. But, "tradition" speaks of the official teaching of the church.
Now, at issue here for us this morning with Sola Scriptura is the role of tradition. In other words, when it comes to what we believe, is it Scripture alone? Or is it Scripture, plus tradition? The question here is this: Is the Bible sufficient to guide us in faith and practice? Or, do we need another authority to tell us what the Scriptures teach? That is, to clarify the debated issues.
Now, the answer is not as simple as, "Away with tradition! It is of no use to us!" And there are those in our day and age, especially in light of our American individualism, who would take the words of Luther and run with them. "It is my conscience that is the ultimate guide. It is how I read the Bible that matters." And thus, effectively, they have come to believe in "Solo Scriptura." That is, it is only the Scripture, as I read it, that makes any difference in my life. But, "Sola Scriptura is not Solo Scriptura." There is room for others to teach and guide.
"The church of the living God, [is] a pillar and buttress of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). We don't take the Scriptures in a vacuum, as if each of us are an end to ourselves. No, we are a part of a body that comes to believe these things together. We have a corporate wisdom.
If you have some belief that nobody else holds to (that you see in the Scriptures, but others don't), I would encourage you to think strongly about your position. It may be that you are going "solo." Such was never the position of the Reformers. I don't believe that this is the teaching of the Bible.
Along with the Reformers, I believe that there is a place for tradition in the life of the church. And I say that very carefully. But, I say this, because, Paul, Himself, speaks of tradition. He speaks of following the things that he "handed down." He told those in Thessalonica to follow them.
2 Thessalonians 2:15
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:6
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
Furthermore, there are many things that we look to in history that help guide us. We look fondly to the early church. We look at which books of the New Testament the early church fathers considered authoritative. We look at the ecumenical councils of church and weigh them heavily. We look to the Council of Nicea (in 325 A. D.), and see how they condemned the Arians and affirmed the full deity of Jesus. We affirm what they said.
We look to the Council of Constantinople (in 381 A. D.), and the Council of Ephesus (in 431 A. D.), and the Council of Chalcedon (in 451 A. D.), and see how they clarified the nature of Christ. We affirm what they said about Jesus, two natures in one person. So, Jesus is fully divine and fully human at the same time! This is the historic orthodox position of the church, and we affirm it's statement.
Yet, there are some things in these councils that we would be a bit leery of, like calling Mary the theotokos (i.e. the "God-Bearer,") which lead to some calling her "the Mother of God." And right here you can see the difference between the Roman Catholic position of tradition and the Protestant position of tradition.
Protestants (and the Reformers) look at tradition as helpful. Roman Catholics would look at tradition as authoritative. In other words, to the Roman Catholic, when the church speaks, she speaks with authority and her teachings are infallible. But, to the Protestant, the church's authority is derived from the teaching of the Scripture. And as long as they teach the Scripture, their authority is to be accepted. But, when they deviate from the Scripture, or go beyond the Scripture, their authority is null and void.
This is what we mean by "Sola Scriptura," looking to the Scriptures as the final authority, not the self-proclamations of the church. And there are good reasons for this. Namely, the inventions of the church and the corruptions of the church.
See, it's one thing for the church to gather together in humility, seeking to work together to clarify the teaching of the Scripture. This was done in the councils. This is a good thing. And we need to strongly consider their conclusions.
But, it's another thing when the church begins "inventing" things. Like the priesthood or the papacy or praying to Mary or purgatory or the entire system of penance and indulgences. Things about which the Scripture knows nothing. And, in the last 150 years, we have seen the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary (1854) and the bodily assumption of the immaculate Virgin (1950). Essentially making Mary equivalent to Jesus in many ways. After all, Roman Catholics often pray to Mary, rather than to Jesus.
And it's right here that you can see what Sola Scriptura is. Sola Scriptura will lead us to reject these things as mere inventions of the church, and not a clarification of the teaching of Scripture.
And this especially comes to light when you see the corruptions in the church. And then, their inventions simply become a means to propagate their own power. When Luther became a monk, he loved the church. And he had a chance to visit Rome! And boy, was he excited! He was going to see the mighty Rome! He was going to see the mother city of the church! Never was a monk so excited to see the holy city!
Such was his excitement, that when he came into site of the city, "He fell upon the earth, raised his hands and exclaimed, 'Hail to thee, holy Rome!" But, soon after spending some time in the city, he saw something entirely different. For, he saw the holy city for what it was. It was far from holy.
Instead of godliness, he saw worldliness. It was "filled with enthusiasm for the renaissance of classical literature and art, but indifferent to religion." Luther was, "shocked by the unbelief, levity and immorality of the clergy. Money and luxurious living seemed to have replaced apostolic poverty and self-denial. He saw nothing but worldly splendor at the court of Pope Julius II." 
He was told, "If there was a hell, Rome was built on it." He didn't immediately give up on Rome. Initially, he saw Rome as ancient Jerusalem during the time of Christ, lukewarm and unworthy of Christ, but a city of hope and promise. This was the city about which Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37). Eventually, Luther lost hope, even calling the institution of the pope, "an institution of the devil."
Remember, during the time of the reformation, Luther didn't want to break with the Catholic church. Rather, he wanted to see her "Reformed." Thus, "The Reformation."
Anyway, I do believe that the best way to understand "Sola Scriptura" and the dangers of tradition is in the context of Jesus interacting with the Jews. For, the Jewish religion during the days of Jesus is much like the Roman Catholic religion today. The Jewish religion was controlled by a hierarchy and highly centralized. Rather than priests and bishops, it was scribes and Pharisees. They even had their equivalent of a pope, the high priest, who functioned in roles as a political leader and a religious leader.
The Jewish Religion assented to the truths of the Scripture, but had built a hedge of years of tradition around the Scriptures. Today, the Talmud contains some 6,000 pages of rabbinic teaching on the law and ethics and philosophy and customs and history.  This is the tradition to which the Jews look, even today. Much of this takes you far beyond what is written, just as the Roman Catholics believe in the veneration of Mary, penance, indulgence, purgatory, and prayer to saints, all of which goes beyond the teaching of the Bible.
The Jewish religion of Jesus day was a burdensome religion. Jesus said that the leaders of Israel, "tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger" (Matthew 23:4). No doubt, this is a characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church today. To be engaged in the Catholic Church today is to submit yourself to a burdensome religion. In fact, I was even speaking with a Catholic person this week and she was telling me how burdensome going to church seemed to be to her.
No doubt there were some believing Jews in Jesus' day, especially among the masses. They loved to come and listen to Jesus. They longed for something better than what the Jews were providing. He brought an easy burden. And I have no doubt that there are genuine believers in the Roman Catholic Church. But, by and large, they are believing in spite of what the church teaches, not because of it.
So how did Jesus deal with the traditions of the Jewish people? He smashed them. He never spoke well of the traditions of the Pharisees. Open your Bibles to Matthew 12.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath."
Plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath was one of those oral traditions that the Jews had developed regarding the Sabbath. They outlined what you can and can't do. And plucking grain was work; you definitely couldn't do that And when the disciples were doing so, the Pharisees were quick to point out their law-breaking.
But, Jesus turns them away from their Sabbath traditions and turns them toward the Bible. Hosea 6:6, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." In other words, if you are hungry, you can pluck and eat. Even if it is the Sabbath. For Jesus, it was the teaching of the Bible that trumped the teaching of tradition.
Let's look at Matthew 15.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, "What you would have gained from me is given to God," he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"
See, the Jews were concerned about their traditions, and not about the commandments. And, if their traditions nullified the commandments, so be it. The traditions were more important.
Jesus constantly referred people back to the sufficiency of the Scripture. Do you remember the story that Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus? The rich man enjoyed all of the pleasures of this world, while Lazarus was a poor man. But, when they died, their roles were reversed. Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom, ... But, the rich man was "far off ... in Hades, being in torment" (Luke 16:23). The rich man cried out to Abraham, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame" (Luke 16:24). Such are the terrors of hell!
When Abraham told him that it was impossible, the rich man requested that Lazarus go and warn his five brothers, lest they too experience this fate. Now, listen to Abraham's words. "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them" (Luke 16:29). Jesus doesn't direct them to the Jewish traditions, but to the Jewish Scriptures. This is significant.
When the rich man suggest that it is important for Lazarus to rise from the dead and go in person to plead with them, Abraham replies, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). Such is the power of the Word of God.
If people don't listen to the Bible, they won't believe a miracle, nor will they be convinced through the teaching of tradition. And that's why Sola Scriptura is so important. The power is in the God-breathed Scripture.
Martin Luther witnessed the power of the Scripture. This is what Martin Luther spoke of when he looked back on the Reformation, he said this,
I will preach, speak, write, but I will force no one; for faith must be voluntary. Take me as an example. I stood up against the Pope, indulgences, and all papists, but without violence or uproar. I only urged, preached, and declared God's Word, nothing else.
And yet while I was asleep, or drinking Wittenberg beer with my Philip Melanchthon and Amsdorf, the Word inflicted greater injury on popery than prince or emperor ever did. I did nothing, the Word did every thing. 
Indeed, Hebrews 4:12 says that the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart This is the observation that Charles Spurgeon made. He said, "The Word of God is like a lion. You don't have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself."
That's why we need to fight for the Bible. That's why we need to do all we can to love this book and know this book and encourage others to know this book. Because, God's work is done through His word.
So, my big application this morning is this: "Do you practice Sola Scriptura?" I mean, it's one thing to profess Sola Scriptura. It's another thing to practice Sola Scriptura.
How about this? How central was the Bible in your life this week? Did you read it? Did you meditate on it? Did you pray over it? Do the words of Psalm 19 resonate in your heart? Consider the truth of Psalm 19:7-8, ....
The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
It's the word of God that revives the soul. It's the word of God that makes simple people wise. It's the word of God that gives joy to our heart. It's the word of God that enlightens the eyes. Is this your experience?
On Friday this past week, it was "Donut Day." My daughter came into my office as I was studying and presented me with a donut and said, "Happy Donut Day!" Initially, I resisted. But, after a few moments of the donut sitting beside me, I just couldn't resist. In fact, I went inside later and grabbed another one. My eight year-old confessed later to having five of the donuts! Such ought to be the desirability and irresistibility of the Bible.
Consider the following statement made by David:
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
God's word is to be greatly desired. More than money. More than sweets. This was David's experience. Is it yours?
Joel Beeke well says, ...
"How well do we understand the principle of sola Scriptura? Do we search, love, live, and pray over the Holy Scriptures? Is the Bible the compass that leads us through the storms and over the waves we encounter in this life? Is Scripture the mirror by which we dress ourselves (James 1:22-27), the rule by which we work (Gal. 6:16), the water with which we wash (Ps. 119:9), the fire that warms us (Luke 24:32), the food that nourishes us (Job 23:12), the scored with which we fight (Eph. 6:17), the counselor who resolves our doubts and fears (Ps. 119:24), and the heritage the enriches us (Ps. 119:111-112)? Are we learning from Scripture, as John Flavel said, 'The best way of living, the noblest way of suffering, and the most profitable way of dying'? Has sola Scriptura become our personal watchword, causing us, like Luther and Calvin, to become captive in our consciences to the very words of God?" 
I can do no better than to finish with the challenge from J. C. Ryle.
Next to praying there is nothing so important in practical religion as Bible-reading. God has mercifully given us a book which is "able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). By reading that book we may learn what to believe, what to be, and what to do; how to live with comfort, and how to die in peace. Happy is that man who possesses a Bible! Happier still is he who reads it! Happiest of all is he who not only reads it, but obeys it, and makes it the rule of his faith and practice!
Nevertheless it is a sorrowful fact that man has a sad ability to abuse God's gifts. His privileges, and power, and abilities, are all ingeniously perverted to other ends than those for which they were bestowed. His speech, his imagination, his intellect, his strength, his time, his influence, his money—instead of being used as instruments for glorifying his Maker—are generally wasted, or employed for his own selfish ends. And just as man naturally makes a bad use of his other mercies from God, so he does of the written Word. One sweeping charge may be brought against the whole of Christendom, and that charge is neglect and abuse of the Bible.
To prove this charge we have no need to look elsewhere: the proof lies at our own doors. I have no doubt that there are more Bibles in our country at this moment than there ever were since the world began. There is more Bible buying—and Bible selling—more Bible printing and Bible distributing—than ever was since we were a nation. We see Bibles in every bookstore, Bibles of every size, price, and style—large Bibles, and small Bibles—Bibles for the rich, and Bibles for the poor. There are Bibles in almost every house in the land. But all this time I fear we are in danger of forgetting, that to "have" the Bible is one thing and to "read" it quite another. 
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
June 7, 2015 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.