Sola Scriptura is Latin and basically means “by scripture alone.” It came about during the reformation, which is a long and sordid tale, one often involving Dutchmen and Tulips.
This discussion has come up in a few places recently, one also to be found in the comments on this post of mine, Did You Ask Him? Some good stuff there.
Sola Scriptura is a doctrinal foundation for much of the protestant church, one that came into being in response to what was perceived to be the extra biblical teachings, extra biblical power, and extra biblical authority, of the Catholic church. Hence the term “scripture alone.”
First off, don’t get cranky people, this is not an authoritative dissertation nor a Divine revelation, it’s simply a discussion about the interaction between doctrine and faith in our own walks with Jesus Christ. I enjoy, embrace, subscribe to the solas (solae) as useful tools in faith, but with some humility and good humor, I suppose.
For instance, I love The Word. The Word is the Divine and inspired Word of God. It is the final Word, it is our tangible authority in this world. So it is with some humor that I note you won’t find the words “sola scriptura” anywhere in the bible. Well, if you don’t find it in the bible……
You won’t find the sinner’s prayer either nor the Apostle’s Creed, but I embrace both of those as good things, too. So too, the Trinity. I suppose if it were important to you, you could claim sola scriptura and reject both prayers on the grounds that they are extra biblical. That would be your right, your freedom, ironically one protected by the very concept of sola scriptura. If it is not scripturally based, you are not required to accept it.
The problem often arises when we take a bit of doctrine and swing from one extreme to the other with it, a bit like monkeys on a chandelier. (Don’t worry, I am not disrespectful towards doctrine itself, I am irreverent towards human behavior and our capacity to reason.) So sola scriptura, like other doctrines is about freedom, it is designed to expand our understanding of God, to broaden our walk with Christ, not to shrink it, not to limit it. When you are tethered to the authority of The Word, you actually have the freedom to grow in your faith. You can go anywhere you want if it’s honoring to God and rooted in His word. You can also question anything you suspect isn’t.
What sometimes happens is sola scriptura gets mistranslated, misunderstood, misperceived, or used as a tool to limit faith rather than expand it. A tool is supposed to make your job easier, not harder. So today there are people who believe the Holy Spirit was only around during biblical times. There are people uncomfortable with the thought of miracles. Heck, there are people who grow worried if you raise your praise hands too high in the air.
So it was actually the protestant reformers who taught that “authentication of Scripture is governed by the discernible excellence of the text as well as the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man.”
That last part is really key, “the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man.” I know this quite well on account of the fact that a number of non believers like to drive by and throw scripture at me, and while the words are often technically correct, the meaning, intent, and Spirit behind them is completely void. That is actually a truth reflected in the bible itself, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” -1 Corinthians 2:14
Without “the personal witness of the Holy Spirit to the heart of each man,” our “sola scriptura” becomes nothing more than flat, two-dimensional words on a page at best, or an actual weapon used against believers at worst. Even the enemy knows scripture, perhaps even better than we do. The first words the serpent says are, “Did God really say….”
So a really nice 3 fold cord to help keep you tethered is the Holy Spirit in your life, The Word, and a few trusted advisors to keep you on track. When those 3 things are working in harmony, it’s hard to get lost or go astray. Not impossible, the human capacity to really foul things up is somewhat unprecedented, but that is a really good foundation to have.
Near as I can tell, “sola scriptura” never suggested that everything outside of the bible must be rejected as wrong right off the bat, nor was it designed to make us fear the spiritual, nor to reject all Christian tradition. The concept is more like a chain of command that suggests “The Word is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice.” Actually God is the sole infallible rule, but scripture is given to us so we have something concrete and physical to hang onto, to weigh and measure our faith against.
I’ve never received any Divine revelation or answer to prayer that ran contrary to scripture. If I did, I’d be worried. I’d question if that were really God’s voice I was hearing. I don’t believe God would ever do that to us Himself, on account of the fact that He is a God of clarity and not of confusion and chaos. He always confirms what He tells us too, in multiple ways, one of the most obvious being His Word.
Here’s the deal however, I’ve seen some pretty ugly people handling scripture in some appalling ways. In that case, “scripture alone,” without the power of the Holy Spirit and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to guide you, can leave you completely defenseless, at the mercy of wolves for sure.
I’m often struck by the fact that Eve is not really deceived by seductive words or pretty perversions of scripture, she is actually left vulnerable by her failure to simply place her relationship with God first, as her number one priority, as her highest authority. Everything must proceed from there, because without that protection, we become just like a bit of flotsam easily bashed about in the current.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me..” – John 10:27