What is Sola Scriptura Protecting Us Against? More Than You Think

It is often forgotten that Sola Scriptura was designed to battle more than Rome

“In the end, these three movements–traditionalism, individualism, existentialism–capture what Sola Scriptura was designed to prevent. And thus we see something that is perhaps surprising on this Reformation anniversary: one need not be Catholic to reject Sola Scriptura.”


Well, Oct 31st, 2017 is finally here.  All year long, churches and organizations around the world have (rightly) been celebrating this amazing thing we call the Protestant Reformation.

One of the foundational convictions of the Reformers was, of course, this doctrine we call Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).  Simply put, this is the belief that the Scriptures are the highest and most ultimate authority in the life of the Christian.

Contrary to popular misunderstandings, it is not the belief that the Scriptures are the only authority.  Christians have other legitimate authorities in their life (their elders, classical creeds, etc.), but only Scripture is an infallible authority. For more on this point, see here.

At the heart of Sola Scriptura, is the recognition that fallen humans have a problem with authority.  Indeed, fallen humans are always looking to replace God’s authority with some other human/creaturely authority.  After all, that was the essence of the very first sin in the garden.  The rebellion of Adam and Eve was fundamentally a rejection of God’s word that if they ate of the fruit they would surely die.

Ever since, humans have been remarkably inventive in the variety of authorities they erect in place of God.  Sola Scriptura is designed simply to prevent these other authorities from ruling the Christian and to keep God’s Word rightly as our ultimate guide.  Here are three examples of such authorities:

Traditionalism:  “Church tradition is our guide”

Not surprisingly, the number one motivation for Sola Scriptura was that the Roman Catholic church had erected human tradition–whether from the pope or church councils–as equally authoritative as Scripture.  Luther rejected this on the grounds that these other sources of authority are not infallible whereas the Scriptures are.

Of course, one does not have to be Roman Catholic to struggle with traditionalism.  Protestants need to be ever mindful of allowing other authorities to rule over the Bible.  As important as confessions are, for example, we must be careful they don’t subtly migrate into the position only reserved for Scripture.

And there is more at stake here than we think.  To allow human tradition to rule the church is to rob people of their Christian liberty.  Only God, through his Word, can bind the conscience of the believer.  To do otherwise does not bring freedom but tyranny. Humans make lousy gods.  Only in regard to divine law can it be said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:30).

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