“Solo Scriptura?”Categories: church, fellowship, restoration movement
In my younger days, I heard much ado about TULIP, the five tenets of Calvinism. I did not hear about the five solas of the Reformation. Do you know these?
- Sola Scriptura (scripture alone – as opposed to scripture + church tradition)
- Sola Fide (faith alone – as in faith apart from works)
- Sola Gratia (grace alone)
- Sola Christo (Christ alone – He is the only way)
- Soli Deo Gloria (to the Glory of God alone)
All of these were shifts away from the Roman Catholic Church, and Sola Scriptura was a major key. The Reformers recognized the church should be guided only by the authority of Scripture, not by additional books or church traditions. They knew church traditions were not necessarily sinful in and of themselves, but they refused to recognize church tradition and official church declarations as authoritative, to which I lend a hearty amen.
As Martin Luther famously stated at the Diet of Worms: “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.”
However, many have taken an extremist view of Sola Scriptura and have interpreted it to mean that each person should start fresh with his Bible and interpret it from start to finish with no input from others. As one brother puts it: “Just me and my Bible under a tree.”
This viewpoint has been labeled Solo Scriptura (with an o instead of an a) to differentiate it from Sola Scriptura, as they are not the same.
Being led by Scripture alone does not mean we should throw out all the excellent studies of men through the ages. When we come to the text, it is good practice to do some preliminary wrestling with it to see how much spiritual ore we can extract from its deep mines. But it is also good practice to follow up our own observations with further study from faithful Biblical scholars who have spent lifetimes studying the same Word.
Churches with roots in the Restoration Movement can be especially bad about this. We tend to throw most of church history largely out the window with claims like, “We just need to get back to the simple gospel,” and “use Bible words in Bible ways.” I agree with both of those statements, but I do not agree with throwing out the whole church history baby with the bathwater of church traditions.
Sola Scriptura does not reject creeds outright; it keeps creeds in their proper place. Creeds are “I believe” statements, and the ones which have endured have been well-thought-out and tested by many men over long periods of time. Some of the oldest Christian creeds are the Nicene Creed, Apostles Creed, Athanasian Creed, and the Creed of Calcedon. All of those were written during the first 400 years of the church, and they are helpful to show us how the early Christians understood our Scriptures.
Sola Scriptura in humility invites the criticism of the church because it accepts that many Christians have thought through God’s word before us. Solo Scriptura (just me and my Bible) tends towards divisiveness and pride—because my interpretation is just as good as anyone else’s (better, if I’m honest with myself, right?). I know of several families who have left the churches they were with and started their own house church because they couldn’t find a church which agreed with them on their interpretation of Scripture. Their fellowship became incredibly small; indeed, it was just them and their Bible under a tree rejecting the rest of Christ’s kingdom.
I bring this up in our Restoration environment as an encouragement to open our ears to a wider range of Christian input. Don’t be afraid to pick up a commentary by Dr. R. C. H. Lenski (a German-born Lutheran) or Adam Clarke (an Irish-born Methodist) or Alfred Edersheim (a Scottish Presbyterian of Jewish extraction) or John Calvin (a French reformer). These men have made outstanding contributions to the study of Scripture, having spent countless hours in the true effort of not only diving deep into the text but also inscribing their observations for later generations.
Do not blindly accept anything a person writes about Scripture – the men are not authoritative in themselves – but read and listen with a heart open to evaluate what they say. You’ll find nuggets of enlightenment everywhere.
Adherents to Solo Scriptura find themselves lonely and divided. This can happen on an individual scale, or it can be on a church or denominational level. Among the churches of Christ, the autonomy of each local church is a flag flown high. The result, at least in some cases, has been a bevy of loner churches mourning how small Christ’s kingdom is. Even at the more macro level of the “churches of Christ” we may still have this problem. Conservative, non-institutional churches tend to see even institutional churches of Christ as possibly non-brethren because of their view on things such as spending church money on orphanages and church kitchens. The result is a tiny brotherhood.
Maybe they are correct. Perhaps the true brotherhood of Christ is very small. Perhaps it is just the collection of non-institutional churches of Christ who have got all the correct worship items figured out.
Alternatively, what if no ONE person and no ONE church has it figured out? What if our salvation is dependent not upon how perfectly we understand Scripture but upon the honor we give it and how we submit to what we do understand of Scripture, God, and Christ? What if our salvation is dependent not upon faith in our personal interpretation of Scripture but upon faith in Jesus Christ? What if God wants us to walk in humility and fellowship with others who name Christ as their Savior (and live like it)?
What if we are not supposed to do this Christianity thing solo?