SOLA SCRIPTURA OUR ONLY FOUNDATION

The following was written by Michael Horton. I agree with him – any departure from the sufficiency of Scripture for all we need for life and godliness will cause us to fall into a ditch. The only source of God’s revealed will is found in holy writ – let the saints of the living God be content with what He has provided us and resist those who call us to listen to “the voice within.”

Many critics of the Reformation have attempted to portray it as the invitation to individualism, as people discover for themselves from the Bible what they will and will not believe. “Never mind the church. Away with creeds and the church’s teaching office! We have the Bible and that’s enough.” But this was not the reformers’ doctrine of sola Scriptura–only Scripture. Luther said of individualistic approaches to the Bible, “That would mean that each man would go to hell in his own way.”

On one side, the reformers faced the Roman Church, which believed its teaching authority to be final and absolute. The Roman Catholics said that tradition can be a form of infallible revelation even in the contemporary church; one needs an infallible Bible and an infallible interpreter of that sacred book. On the other side were the Anabaptist radicals, who believed that they not only did not need the teaching office of the church; they really didn’t seem to need the Bible either, since the Holy Spirit spoke to them–or at least to their leaders–directly. Instead of one Pope, Anabaptism produced numerous “infallible” messengers who heard the voice of God. Against both positions, the Reformation insisted that the Bible was the sole final authority in determining doctrine and life. In interpreting it, the whole church must be included, including the laity, and they must be guided by the teachers in the church. Those teachers, though not infallible, should have considerable interpretive authority. The creeds were binding and the newly reformed Protestant communions quickly drafted confessions of faith that received the assent of the whole church, not merely the teachers.

Today, we are faced with similar challenges even within evangelicalism. On one hand, there is the tendency to say, as Luther characterized the problem, “I go to church, hear what my priest says, and him I believe.” Calvin complained to Cardinal Sadoleto that the sermons before the Reformation were part trivial pursuit, part story-telling. Today, this same process of “dumbing down” has meant that we are, in George Gallup’s words, “a nation of biblical illiterates.” Perhaps we have a high view of the Bible’s inspiration: 80% of adult Americans believe that the Bible is the literal or inspired Word of God. But 30% of the teenagers who attend church regularly do not even know why Easter is celebrated. “The decline in Bible reading,” says Gallup, “is due in part to the widely held conviction that the Bible is inaccessible, and to less emphasis on religious training in the churches.” Just as Rome’s infallibility rested on the belief that the Bible itself was difficult, obscure, and confusing, so today people want the “net breakdown” from the professionals: what does it mean for me and how will it help me and make me happy? But those who read the Bible for more than devotional meditations know how clear it is–at least on the main points it addresses–and how it ends up making religion less confusing and obscure. Again today, the Bible–especially in mainline Protestant churches–is a mysterious book that can only be understood by a small cadre of biblical scholars who are “in the know.”

But we have the other side, too. There is a popular trend in many “evangelical” churches to emphasize direct communication with the Holy Spirit apart from the Word. In these circles, tradition and the teaching ministry of the church through the ages are not only treated as fallible (as the reformers believed), but as objects of mockery. The sentiments of Thomas Muntzer, who complained that Luther was “one of our scribes who wants to send the Holy Ghost off to college,” would find a prime-time spot on the nation’s leading evangelical radio and television broadcasts. Calvin said of these folks, “When the fanatics boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency is always to bury the Word of God so they may make room for their own falsehoods.”

Christianity is not a spirituality, but a religion. Wade Clark Roof and other sociologists have pointed out that evangelicals today are indistinguishable from the general cultural trends, especially when it comes to preferring to think of their relationship to God more in terms of an experience than in terms of a relationship that is mediated through words. Ours is a visual or image-based society, much like the Middle Ages, and yet Christianity can only flourish through words, ideas, beliefs, announcements, arguments. There can be no communication with God apart from the written and living Word. Everything in the Christian faith depends on the spoken and written Word delivered by God to us through the prophets and apostles.

Further, sola Scriptura meant that the Word of God was sufficient. Although Rome believed it was infallible, the official theology was shaped more by the insights of Plato and Aristotle than by Scripture. Similarly today, psychology threatens to reshape the understanding of the self, as even in the evangelical pulpit sin becomes “addiction”; the Fall as an event is replaced with one’s “victim” status; salvation is increasingly communicated as mental health, peace of mind, and self-esteem, and my personal happiness and self-fulfillment are center-stage rather than God’s holiness and mercy, justice and love, glory and compassion. Does the Bible define the human problem and its solution? Or when we really want facts, do we turn somewhere else, to a modern secular authority who will really carry weight in my sermon? Of course, the Bible will be cited to bolster the argument. Political ideology, sociology, marketing, and other secular “authorities” must never be allowed priority in answering questions the Bible addresses. That is, in part, what this affirmation means, and evangelicals today seem as confused on this point as was the medieval church.

Things I have learned: Disease vs. Cure, Overcoming the Will

Some say there’s a heaven for those who wait
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun
–Billy Joel, “Only the God Die Young”

Continuing the series of theological truths I have seen illustrated through our fostering experience, we come to two truths: the natural man would rather die and go to Hell than have to accept and submit to the Lordship of Christ; man’s will must be overcome in order to believe the gospel.

Shortly after these children came to us, the little one was sitting on her bed one evening, holding her ears and crying. We asked her what was wrong, her answer was, “Nuthin”. Of course, we knew something was wrong, so we took her to the local children’s hospital. Long story short, turns out she had an ear infection–in both ears. This the result of being allowed to sleep with a bottle of milk at night, even until she came to us at the age of six (yes, you read that right. She was on a bottle at six years old). The doctor prescribed some liquid antibiotics, the local pharmacy filled it and added flavoring to it, and we began the next day to try and give her the antidote to her infection. No problem, right?

Wellll……the next morning we tried to give her the medicine. She sat there crying for an hour, refusing to take the 1 1/2 ounces of medicine. We tried convincing her that if she didn’t take her medicine, her ears would not heal. We tried telling her that if she did take it, her ears wouldn’t hurt anymore. We tried every way possible to convince her to take her medicine. Finally, after an hour, she took it with a sip of Sprite. This very same scenario was played out twice a day, every day, for two weeks.

And isn’t that just like us? How many times, before God’s grace opened our eyes, did we hear the name of Christ, hear the gospel, and refuse to obey the gospel? Why? Because we were a natural man, and the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1st Corinthians 2:14). We cannot understand the importance of the gospel, or even the gospel itself, in our natural state, for we (like the Corinthians) think it’s ridiculous that our eternal fate rests on believing in a man dying on a cross and coming up out of the grave. Besides, even if the natural man did believe the gospel, he certainly would not want to forsake the life he has, and all its pleasures and comforts, to humble ourselves to God and repent of our sinful lifestyle and put others ahead of our own wants.

What, you don’t think that’s exactly what happens when someone rejects the gospel? What did Jesus say? John 3:19-20“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light.” We’re having too much fun, living the good life, to be bothered with all this “Jesus stuff.” They would rather have their fun now, rather enjoy this time that have–you might say they would rather have their “Best Life” now. Or, as Benny Hinn once famously said, “Who cares about streets of gold in Heaven? I want my gold now, baby!” And just like that little girl who would rather suffer the pain of a double ear infection than take her medicine, the natural man, unregenerated by the Holy Spirit, would rather die and go to Hell than to receive the things of the gospel and submit himself to Christ.

But that is the natural man. That is the nature of man, to want what he wants when he wants it, without having to submit himself to anyone’s yolk. And that is where the natural man finds his folly. He thinks he is free. He does not realize that he is actually a slave of sin, and is only free in regard to righteousness (Romans 6:20). We are all slaves. None of us has a will that is truly free. When we are born, we are born slaves of sin, even though we all belong to God. “The earth is the LORD’s…the world and all that dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). We belong to God,  And we must overcome our master in order to obey the gospel. For “no man can serve two masters, else he will love the one and hate the other, or despise the one and love the other” (Matthew 6:24). We cannot set ourselves free from Satan in order to obey Christ, for we are all our lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:14).

In fact, we don’t want to free ourselves from Satan, because we are having too much fun. Satan may be our master, we may be his slave–but he is not a very demanding master. He gives his slaves everything they want in order to keep them happy.

  • “So, you like drugs? What do you prefer? Alcohol? Marijuana? Cocaine? Ooh, here’s one of my favorites–methamphetamine!”
  • “So, you like sex? What kind do you like? Heterosexual? Homosexual? Bisexual? Transvestites? S&M? Ooh, here’s one of my favorites–living together without marriage!”
  • “So, you like money? And you don’t want to work for it? Well, we’ve got all kinds of ways for you to get other people’s money. Robbery. Fraud. Ponzi schemes. Ooh, here’s one of my favorites–the lottery!”

And he gives us enough stuff to keep us happy in these bodies of flesh. And rather than take the antidote for fleshly happiness, we would rather continue on with the disease. But. God, in His grace and mercy, overcomes our stubborn will so that we may understand that we need that antidote–and that we will want that antidote. This was the task to which the apostle Paul was commissioned, as we see in Acts 26:17-18“I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'” A man can no more understand the gospel apart from being granted that power by the Holy Spirit than a blind man can read Dostoyevsky. (Or anybody else for that matter) There is nothing in the heart of man that says “I want to know the things of God.”

And just like we had to overcome that little girl’s stubborn will to convince her she needed to take her medicine to be made well, so God has to overcome our stubborn will to convince us that we need Christ in order to be made well. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in. John 14:16-17“And I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper…the Spirit of Truth whom the world cannot receive.” And what will that Helper do? “He will teach you all things” and “He will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 14:30, 16:8). It was this Helper, the Holy Spirit, that opened the eyes of a certain seller of purple to accept Christ. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us…the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). But not all people receive the Holy Spirit. Agrippa did not receive this Helper. Acts 26:27-28 (Revised Version)–“King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. And Agrippa said unto Paul, “With but little persuasion thou wouldest fain make me a Christian.” (I use the RV because it is actually one of the closest in translating this passage). What prevented Agrippa from accepting Christ as Savior and Lord? He had all the facts before him. He even believed all that the prophets said about Mishiach. But why wouldn’t he take the medication that would cure him of his disassemble of sin? He did not receive the Helper. And this because he was of the world, and the Helper is the One “Whom the world cannot receive” (John 14:17).

Agrippa would not believe because he could not believe. Just like the Pharisees would not believe because they could not believe. John 12:37-4037 But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, 38 that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled…39 Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again: 40 He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” John Gill wrote of Agrippa’s near-conversion–

“An almost Christian is one that has much light and knowledge, but no grace; he may know something of himself and of sin, of its being a violation of the law of God, and of the bad consequences of it, but has not true repentance for it; he may know much of Christ in a speculative way, concerning his person and offices, as the devils themselves do, and of the good things which come by him, as peace, pardon, righteousness, and salvation; but has no application of these things to himself; he may have a large notional knowledge of the doctrines of the Gospel, but has no experience of the power, sweetness, and comfort of them in his own soul; all his knowledge is unsanctified, and without practice…he has a great deal of faith in the historical way, and sometimes a bold confidence and assurance of everlasting happiness; but has not faith of the right kind, which is spiritual and special, which is the faith of God’s elect, the gift of God, and the operation of his Spirit; by which the soul beholds the glory, fulness, and suitableness of Christ, under a sense of need, and goes forth to him, renouncing everything of self, and lays hold upon him, and trusts in him for salvation; and which works by love to Christ and his people, and has with it the fruits of righteousness…Agrippa was only persuaded, and but almost persuaded by the apostle to be a Christian, but not by the Lord, nor altogether.”

The one who is sick, whose will is not overcome by the Lord, cannot be persuaded by any amount of words to take of the medicine–the only medicine–that will cure his eternal sickness and impart eternal life to his deal spirit.