As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, I would like to offer some thoughts on the implications of Sola Scriptura in the Christian experience. In these two short articles, I’d like to elaborate on at least three consequences of this doctrine:
First, Sola Scriptura is the Church’s language. Second, Sola Scriptura is God’s language. And finally, Sola Scriptura unites our language.
The Church’s Language
In the late medieval era, Sola Scriptura was the rallying cry of this new movement called the Reformation. The Reformers, led by Luther and Calvin and many others, expressed their gratitude to the God who made the heavens and the earth for His revealed word. The Apostle Paul says in I Thessalonians 2:13:
We thank God continually for this, that when you received the message of God from us, you welcomed it not as the word of [mere] men, but as it truly is, the Word of God, which is effectually at work in you who believe.
The Church of our Lord has since its early days feasted on the richness of God’s word. As Van Til once wrote: “The Bible is God’s love letter to his bride.” This love letter, through the body of Christ, has saved orphans, built hospitals, adopted, and contributed for the good of society because the Church believed what God commanded. The city of Geneva where Calvin pastored and where the Scriptures were taught faithfully was known all over the world for its generosity to the poor and needy. It is true that Christians have ignored biblical truth leading to some damaging practices, but the vast majority of the Christian population led by the authority of the Bible and the ministry of the Church has served this world in beautiful ways since the Early Church. Paul says that this word which you have received and welcomed is truly the Word of God. These are not the words of uninspired men, but the very words of God working in men and women in the Church to change and transform not only themselves but their surroundings.
The Roots of Sola Scriptura
In the Reformation, the Scriptures returned to their proper place, shaping the language, liturgy, and life of the Church. The classical and historical Christian worship found in many Reformed churches today reminds us weekly from where our language comes. It originated from an early church that believed in the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.
The authority of the Bible causes the church to develop habits of gratitude. One way the liturgical church makes this clear is that at the end of every Scripture reading the people respond together by saying, “Thanks be to God.” This is our way of expressing thanks for Sola Scriptura. When our children are nurtured in this environment each Sunday, they have no other option but to contemplate the Bible. The Church’s language ought to be scriptural language. It’s precisely when we abandon the church’s language that the Church abandons the authority of the Bible.
One of the most important studies on why people return to church after years of being away from church was done by Dr. Tom Rhainer. He observed that the main reason people once unchurched came back to church and stayed in the church was not primarily for the music—which by the way, out of the ten reasons, music was #8—but because churches taught the Bible. The second reason people come back to church after not being in church for many years is when churches hold firmly to their convictions. This explains the phenomenon of why mainline churches—that is, historic denominations that no longer believe in the authority of the Bible– are declining rapidly in the last two decades. The Church must proclaim in Word and Sacrament the authority of the Bible. Sola Scriptura must form our language.
Spurgeon once expressed marvel at a pastor who was saturated in the Bible and said:
“Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”
Similarly, the Church needs to be bibline; living and singing God’s revelation as a demonstration of submission to God’s inspired Word.