Michael Kruger – Understanding Sola Scriptura

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We live in a world filled with competing truth claims. Every day, we are bombarded with declarations that something is true and that something else is false. We are told what to believe and what not to believe. We are asked to behave one way but not another way. In her monthly column “What I Know for Sure,” Oprah Winfrey tells us how to handle our lives and our relationships. The New York Times editorial page regularly tells us what approach we should take to the big moral, legal, or public-policy issues of our day. Richard Dawkins, the British atheist and evolutionist, tells us how to think of our historical origins and our place in this universe.

How do we sift through all these claims? How do people know what to think about relationships, morality, God, the origins of the universe, and many other important questions? To answer such questions, people need some sort of norm, standard, or criteria to which they can appeal. In other words, we need an ultimate authority. Of course, everyone has some sort of ultimate norm to which they appeal, whether or not they are aware of what their norm happens to be. Some people appeal to reason and logic to adjudicate competing truth claims. Others appeal to sense experience. Still others refer to themselves and their own subjective sense of things. Although there is some truth in each of these approaches, Christians have historically rejected all of them as the ultimate standard for knowledge. Instead, God’s people have universally affirmed that there is only one thing that can legitimately function as the supreme standard: God’s Word. There can be no higher authority than God Himself.

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John MacArthur – Why Does Sola Scriptura Still Matter Today?

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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.

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Nathan Busenitz – Sola Scriptura and the Church Fathers

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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.

Gregory of Nyssa makes that point explicit in a letter to Eustathius. The Arians claimed that their tradition (or “custom”) did not allow for the Trinitarian position. Gregory responded with the following:

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.)

When Arian custom ran contrary to Trinitarian custom, to what authority did Gregory appeal? The Scriptures.

As Gregory rightly understood, Scripture is a higher authority than tradition. That is why he appealed to the Word of God as the final arbiter in the debate over Arianism.

In so doing, Gregory provides a vivid illustration of the principle of sola Scriptura, twelve centuries before the Reformation. Of course, Gregory was not the only church father who shared in that conviction.

Though many others could be cited, here is a small sampling from eight church fathers who shared Gregory’s perspective on the authority of Scripture.

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Erik Raymond – Sola Scriptura or Sola Cardia?

studying-the-bible Protestants speak of the term sola Scriptura as foundational to our understanding the Bible. But, what does it mean? And, why is it important?

The Reformation principle of sola Scriptura has to do with the sufficiency of Scripture as our supreme authority in all spiritual matters. Sola Scriptura simply means that all truth necessary for our salvation and spiritual life is taught either explicitly or implicitly in Scripture. (John MacArthur via Ligonier)

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” — Westminster Confession of Faith

You’ll notice that the terms sufficiency and authority are spoken of here. The point is that God has intentionally provided his people with sufficient answers and guidance to the things that really matter. We can be assured that we have what we need to faithfully live the Christian life and make the decisions that need to be made.

Most Christians would not deny this. On paper we embrace and love the Bible. However, in practice we may find ourselves denying sola Scriptura and embracing sola Cardia (the heart alone). How so? Let me give you four common ways Evangelicals can deny sola Scriptura:

BY NOT READING IT.

If we believe, like Jesus, that the Word of God is our bread, our food (Mt. 4:4) then we will eat it. The way we eat it is to read it, meditate upon it, and delight in it. As a pastor sometimes I feel like a dad trying to convince my kids to eat vegetables, “It is good for you. You need to eat this to grow. You will develop a taste for it.” The bottom line is simply this: it is folly to say we affirm sola Scriptura while not reading the Bible. When we do this we are saying, “I don’t need the Bible.” This is one way Evangelicals can practically deny sola Scriptura.

BY NOT SEEKING IT.

We can tell what we value by seeing what we turn to when we are in trouble. If I get crushing news I can tell who my friends are because I call them first. If I don’t know what to do then I can see who I think is wise because I reach out to them. Where do you go when you don’t know what to do? Or, when you are told that what you are doing is questionable? What is the arbitrator of what is right and wrong, or what wise or foolish?

The (fallen) reflex is to look inward. We look towards our hearts and what we “feel” is right. How should I respond to this situation? Well, how does it make me feel? What should I do about what so and so said? Well, I think that I should do such and such. You see the reflex don’t you? I’m sure you feel it as well. The impulse in our falseness is to look within rather than without. Our default mode is not sola Scriptura but sola cardia (the heart alone). This is inadvisable because it is so dangerous. The heart will not be a sober guide it is drunk on self. It is jaded, bought off, and compromised. The Scripture says it is “deceitful” and untrustworthy (Jer. 17:9). Who can trust it? (rhetorical question here). Like anything else, the first step in dealing with sola cardia would be to realize that it is a tendency and that it is an ill-advised tendency.

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Tim Challies – The Boundaries of Evangelicalism

As I survey the contemporary church, one of my gravest concerns is the power and prevalence of mysticism. It appears in pulpits, books, and conversation. It is at the heart of Sarah Young’s bestselling Jesus Calling, it is in all the much-loved books by John Eldredge, it fills the pages of so many books on spiritual disciplines or spiritual formation, it is almost everywhere you look. Language that was once considered the distinguishing language of mysticism is now commonly used by Evangelicals.

Mysticism was once regarded as an alternative to Evangelical Christianity. You were Evangelical or you were a mystic, you heeded the doctrine of the Reformation and understood it to faithfully describe the doctrine laid out in Scripture or you heeded the doctrine of mysticism. Today, though, mysticism has wormed its way inside Evangelicalism so that the two have become integrated and almost inseparable. In an age of syncretism we fail to spot the contradiction and opposition.

Several years ago Donald Whitney attempted to define the boundaries of Evangelical spirituality–the boundaries of how we may rightly live out our Christian faith. His paper has been very helpful to me as I’ve thought this through.

Before we proceed, we need some definitions, and I will turn to Whitney: Evangelical theology is “the theology and practice considered orthodox by a consensus of the heirs of the Reformation.” These are the five solas of the Reformation, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the necessity of his atoning work, and so on–the core doctrines of historic Protestantism. Mysticism refers “those forms of Christian spirituality which attempt direct or unmediated access to God.” Mystics are those who expect to experience “a direct inner realization of the Divine” and an “unmediated link to an absolute.”

I want to track with Whitney as he expresses his concerns and challenges us to think carefully.

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