Imagine I’m working on a puzzle. After hours of work, I put in the last piece, smiling as I look at my accomplishment. You look at my work and say, “Something is wrong.”
Amazed at your seemingly rude comment, I respond, “What do you mean?” You tell me I did the puzzle incorrectly, that I need to go back and correct it.
“What gives you the right to say that I’m wrong? Who made you an authority on this puzzle?”
“I don’t consider myself an authority. However, if you look at the picture on the box, you’ll see that yours doesn’t match. I may not be an authority, but the puzzle box is.”
I take a deep breath, look at the box, and finally admit you are right. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I can see that many of the pieces don’t actually fit together but were forced together. As I use the box to correct the puzzle, the picture becomes clear. Originally, my puzzle appeared to be an abstract painting, but now I see that it is a lake with a boat and a big blue sky filled with clouds. It’s a beautiful picture and I almost missed it.
This illustration is meant to highlight one of the foundational issues of the Reformation, the issue of authority. It was never the intention of the Reformers to start their own church; they desired that the church would repent of its errors and return to truth. The call was for reformation, not reinvention. As followers of Christ, the Reformation leaders took long, hard look at the Roman Church, finding errors that desperately needed correcting. Errors so serious, they threatened the very truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In order for the Reformers to know there was error in the Roman Church, they must have a standard and authority by which to judge. Remember how you knew my puzzle was put together wrong? Because the box was the standard by which to judge the puzzle. Similarly, the Bible is the standard by which the Reformers judged whether or not the Roman Church was in error. The Bible is like no other book. The Bible is the only book that is literally “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and sustained by Him throughout history. (1 Peter 1:23-25) Therefore, the Bible is our authority on all manners pertaining to life and doctrine. Consider the word “authority”. Within it you find the word “author”. The Bible’s authority is inherent in the fact that God is its ultimate author; as such, the Bible is our tool for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16) These were very activities in which the Reformers were participating.
A beautiful example of this can be seen in an event in the life of Martin Luther, the German monk turned Reformer. Luther was brought before a council in the city of Worms in 1521 in order that he would recant his Reformation views. Standing before religious and political leaders, including Emperor Charles V, Luther declared that he could not recant because his conscience was “held captive to the Word of God.”
How did the Roman Church end up in such a mess? Again, remember the example of the puzzle. How did I mess up the puzzle? With the box was on the floor, I put the puzzle together based on my own ideas and assumptions rather than the standard of the box. In the same way, the Roman Church strayed from the pure Word of God. Popes, councils, and traditions took centerstage in the life and doctrine of the church; the Bible was subjected to little use. In fact, the Bible remained in a language incomprehensible by the common people. Only clergy and scholars could read the Latin text; even then, they did so through the lens of Roman tradition. This lack of Biblical insight brought about the errors the Reformers were fighting against.
We can see now the importance of having an objective standard. Whether puzzles or the teachings of a church, an objective standard is crucial. What is the objective standard for the church? The Bible alone. This is why the Reformers cried out “Sola Scriptura” — Scripture alone is our sole authority, the standard by which we measure right and wrong. Authority does not lay within any leader or council, but in the Word of God. Everything we do and teach should be founded in the Bible. If something is not, it must be corrected or abandoned. Why? Because we have a standard of authority and that standard is Sola Scriptura!
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ