I love talking to people about spiritual things. In fact, I have had many conversations with complete strangers about the Bible, God, angels, salvation, I even had a guy that wanted to talk to me about unicorns once (that was an interesting talk!) Most conversations go well and are cordial, but some… not so much. Yet I still enjoy these types of conversations because I learn so much about how people think.
For instance, as I begin a conversation with someone about a spiritual topic, I generally will simply ask questions and let them tell me what they believe. After a while, I’ll then ask them why they believe that, not what but why. (This is where things usually get interesting.) Most people are very ready to tell you what they believe, but the moment you ask them to explain why they believe what they believe they are no longer so articulate. Often the answer is, “I just do.” Or “It seems right to me.” Once I asked, “But doesn’t it is seem like you just made that up?” Her answer, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” (She didn’t change her mind.) This is a significant problem in our modern time, as it was during the time of the Protestant Reformation. What is the issue? Authority, or the standard by which we know what is true.
Where does our authority come from? In Luther’s time, authority came primarily from the leadership of Rome, tradition, papal authority etc. If a teaching of the Roman Church was in conflict with the Bible, then the church had priority of authority. Likewise, in modern times we have issues with authority as well. People believe they can find authority in many different sources, such as personal feelings and experiences. Many believe they can be the standard of their own personal truth.
Where does authority actually come from? As disciples of Jesus Christ, we recognize that authority comes from God’s Word alone. During the Reformation, the Reformers recognized that some teachings were not in line with the Bible. Their goal then was to return to a true understanding and application of the Bible as God’s Word. The Latin phrase “Sola Scriptura” or “Scripture Alone” has become a rallying point for this idea. The Reformers believed, as faithful churches do today, that the Bible is the sole authority on all matters it addresses. Scripture alone is where we get our teaching from, and it is where we derive all of our knowledge of God.
Many people believe that experience is the best way through which to understand something and receive authoritative insight. However, in the Bible there are many instances where people have momentous, miraculous experiences; yet in the end they have not been changed by it. For instance, at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples greet Jesus. They “worshiped Him but some doubted.” (Matthew 28:17) Jesus was dead, yet now He stands before them in His resurrected body. Although they can see Him with their eyes, there are still people in the group that doubt what they are seeing; they doubt their experience.
In the same way, the Pharaoh of Egypt during the time of Moses had many miracles and signs performed before him and yet it still says the he “hardened his heart.” Experience is not something we can always trust to give us certainty. In 2 Peter, the Apostles tells us that what we have in God’s Word is a “more sure” witness to us. This is coming from one who walked and talked with Jesus and saw many miracles performed. Peter says that even the great experience on the Mount of Transfiguration is not comparable to having the sure word of God in the Bible.
It is stated nicely in the Cambridge Declaration, “The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth.” We must rely on Scripture alone to give us the authority we must follow, rather than depend on the erratic and relative feelings derived from experiences. If we believe that God has spoken through His Word, that He is able to preserve and keep it guarded for His people, then we must listen to it and do what it says. We should not relegate our lives to following the teachings and philosophies of man if we truly have the Word of God.
Sola Scriptura means that we, as the church, derive all that we know about God from God. He has revealed to us His character and nature. He has revealed to us the character and nature of mankind. He has revealed to us the work of Jesus Christ. Consequently, if we believe something that is not taught in the Bible or that is contradicted by the Bible we must abandon it as false.
“Why do you believe that?” Next time you hear this question, I hope you can say, “Because the Bible teaches it.”
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ