This fall, we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Beginning with this week’s Pastor’s Corner, we will be exploring the 5 “Solas” that arose out of Reformation thinking. (“Sola” is a Latin word meaning “alone.”) Then, the final article will be a reflection from the Roman Catholic perspective. Today, I begin by exploring what “Sola Scriptura” means.
By PASTOR RON OLSON
With the advent of texting and electronic messaging, letter writing has almost become a lost art—so much so that most of us really pay attention when we receive a hand-written letter, don’t we! That could not have been truer than on Oct. 31, 1517, when a 33-year-old German monk-turned-theology professor named Martin Luther sent a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz—protesting some of the abuses of the Church of that era. The Church really paid attention! It was a letter that was to change the whole course of Christianity!
What was in that letter? It was fundamentally a protest against some of the abuses of the Church of that day. Those who “protested” became “Protest-ants.” No, not ants who protest… you get what I mean!
Over the years, the Protestant movement came to identify 5 areas of theology that were important ways to define what it meant to be a Protestant Christian. (Of course, today, our Catholic brothers and sisters would affirm very much of what Protestants believe). They were expressed with the Latin word “sola,” which means “alone.” One of them was “Sola Scriptura,” or “by Scripture alone.” (Sola Scriptura sounds cooler, don’t you think?) Anyway, this is the belief that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament Bible are the highest authority for the Christian. What does that mean?
1.Christians believe that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God. That is, God inspired people to communicate through the written Word who God is and who we are, and what it means to be in relationship with God. These stories and poems and sayings are not just man-made. They are truly from the mind and heart of God. And the purpose of what we have in Scripture is to help us grow more and more into the character and likeness of God. (See how 2 Timothy 3:16-17 expresses that idea).
2.Christians believe that because God inspired the Scriptures, they are trustworthy and without error in their original form. And even over the thousands of years during which the pages of Scripture were copied by hand, there are very few changes. Without getting into a long discussion here, suffice it to say that Christians have every reason to have confidence that the Bibles we currently hold in our hands contain God’s Story in a very reliable form. Jesus thought so (Matthew 5:17-18), so we have good reason to, as well.
3.Christians (many, at least) believe that there are other ways God has revealed Himself in the world. The things we discover as we do science, for example, point to a God who is beyond amazing! The phrase “sola Scriptura” does not mean that there is no revealed truth outside the pages of the Bible. It DOES mean that when these other sources reveal truth, that truth will “square” with what is found in the Bible. “All truth is God’s truth,” but the Bible is the standard against which all other truth must be measured.
4.Now, about my own faith tradition: John Wesley famously spoke of four sources of revelation: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Christian Experience. But although we can receive instruction from each of these areas, Scripture reigns supreme. Wesleyans would say that Scripture is primary, or to use our cool Latin, “Prima Scriptura.”
Enough for this week’s “sola.” God, in His Word, has revealed who He is, so that we may learn to love and serve Him with joy. May God’s Word be an important, even a primary, authority in your life as you grow in your love for God!
Ron Olson serves as pastor of Bowman United Methodist church.