Posts Tagged ‘authority of Scripture’

Sermon 09-17-17: “God’s Word Alone, Part 1”

October 10, 2017

As we look forward to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation on October 31, this sermon is about the classic Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura, “scripture alone”—which means that the Bible is the ultimate authority guiding our Christian faith and practice. Of course, in our culture today, the Bible’s authority is under constant attack. It’s even under attack in the church, including the United Methodist Church!

With that mind, I pray that these next two sermons on Sola Scriptura will give you confidence in God’s Word. We can trust it! Every word of it! We can build our lives on it!

Sermon Text: 2 Timothy 3:14-17

My sermons are now being podcast! My podcast is available in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

To make sense of what I’m about to say, let me define a term with which most of us Protestants will be unfamiliar: purgatory. This is the Roman Catholic doctrine that says that when a Christian dies, they will likely have to be cleansed of their sins—or punished for their sins—prior to going to heaven. How long this period of cleansing or punishment lasts, well, depends on how sinful a person was.

And before you ask, no, the doctrine of purgatory is not found in scripture.

To make matters worse, church officials back in the 16th century were going around and telling mostly poor people that if they were willing to pay enough money—money which was used to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome—the church had the power to take time off their sentence in purgatory. Or even to take time off the sentences of their loved ones who were suffering in purgatory. And who wouldn’t want that for their loved ones?

Many thoughtful Christians believed that this church practice was corrupt, exploitative, greedy, and unbiblical. One of these critics was Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and theology professor in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther put his objections in writing, by posting his famous Ninety-five Theses on the door of All Saints Church 500 years ago this October 31st. And this bold action launched the Protestant Reformation. Read the rest of this entry »

Despite what you’ve heard, faithful Methodists believe in “sola scriptura”

September 19, 2017

I’ve been preaching a series on the five core convictions of the Protestant Reformation (often called the “Five Solas”), and describing why they remain relevant for us today. Last Sunday I preached the first of two sermons on 2 Timothy 3:14-17, and the doctrine of sola scriptura (“scripture alone”). In a nutshell, this means that the Bible is our ultimate authority guiding Christian belief and practice.

Notice I said “ultimate.” Many United Methodist thinkers want to distinguish sola scriptura from something called prima scriptura (“scripture first”). We Methodists, they say, affirm prima, not sola, scriptura. Frankly, when I hear this, I wonder if they don’t understand the doctrine of sola scriptura. Do they imagine that Martin Luther himself denied that there are other recognized authorities to guide faith and practice besides scripture? Compare a typical Lutheran worship service with a typical Methodist one: Lutherans are far more tradition bound! Most Lutherans invest traditions associated with Holy Communion, baptism, liturgy, creeds, and catechisms with far greater authority than Methodists. Yet orthodox Lutherans would be the last Christians to deny sola scriptura.

My point is, sola scriptura, properly understood, does not mean nuda scriptura—that scripture by itself is the only authority: that any Christian tradition or practice not derived from scripture alone must be rejected. For example, the so-called Restoration (or Stone-Campbell) Movement of the 19th-century is nuda scriptura. Today, this tradition is represented by the Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and their various offshoots.

While I wouldn’t deny for a moment that many of these churches are within the realm of Christian orthodoxy, some of them don’t allow musical instruments in worship. All singing (which is usually quite good in comparison to typical Protestant church singing) is a cappella. Why? Because in the New Testament (not even in the Old), there’s no mention of instruments in worship. Therefore, since the Bible doesn’t mention it in relation to Christian churches, these churches are prohibited from using them.

Also, many of these churches don’t use the word “Trinity” to describe the doctrine of God’s being three-in-one. Why? Because the Bible doesn’t use the term. Their theologians use the word “Godhead” instead—because that word is found in the Bible.

For most us Protestants, these are deeply eccentric practices, however much we agree on essentials of the faith. But for many Methodists, these eccentricities emerge from the doctrine of sola scriptura. They don’t.

Sola scriptura allows for traditions and practices so long as they are consistent with and not contradicted by scripture: For this reason, the vast majority of Protestants reject the worship of icons, statues, and the consecrated “host” of Communion as idolatry, while we accept iconography present within stained-glass windows and church architecture. Symbolism, we believe, can aid worship—even when scripture doesn’t specify it.

From my perspective, then—and I’m happy to be corrected—sola scriptura and prima scriptura, properly understood, mean the same thing. When most people refer to “scripture first,” they still mean that scripture gets the last word on any element of faith or practice. It has veto power.

But please note: I will never use the term prima scriptura if doing so might imply that I view scripture as less than the final authority in my Christian faith and practice. And since most Methodists I know who insist on prima scriptura will also speak of the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral like a wobbly four-legged stool—with tradition, reason, and experience nearly equal in authority (or worse) to the Bible—maybe it’s best not to use the term at all. This is just my opinion; we can agree to disagree.

Soon, I’ll tackle a concept that’s even more fraught (in Methodist circles), although I affirm it wholeheartedly: the infallibility of scripture.

Is your view of scripture’s inspiration consistent with Jesus’ and Paul’s view?

February 1, 2017

My sermon last Sunday (which I’ll post soon) was on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-20. This passage includes these words from verse 18: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” In my sermon, I reflected on the meaning of the inspiration of scripture. I said the following:

Now, when Jesus refers to the “Law and the Prophets” in verse 17, or even “the Law” in verse 18, Bible scholars tells us that this is shorthand for saying, “the entire Bible”—which at the time was what we would call the Old Testament.

And he’s saying two very important things about the Bible.

First, he’s saying that the Bible—every word of it—is given to us by God. And every word of it matters. That’s what Jesus believed. Why do I say that? Well, notice Jesus refers to “an iota” and a “dot.” Jesus would have been referring to tiny strokes in letters of the Hebrew alphabet. But for us that “iota or dot” would be similar to the crossing of a “t” or the dotting of “i” in our own alphabet—or putting an apostrophe or a punctuation mark in the right place. Or distinguishing a lowercase “q” from a lowercase “g” by adding a curl to the end of the stem. That’s the level of detail that Jesus is talking about. And he’s saying, in so many words, that God cared about each of those details in the Word that he gave us.

The end result of all this, as New Testament scholar N.T. Wright said, is that God ensured that we the Church have exactly the Bible that God wanted us to have.

From here, I talked about recent controversies surrounding Andy Stanley’s words about the Virgin Birth and Adam Hamilton’s “three bucket” approach to scripture. In my view, neither of their viewpoints is compatible with Jesus’ own view of the inspiration of scripture.

Or Paul’s…

I’m starting a Bible study tonight on Galatians, and I was reminded that Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:15-18 depends on a close reading of two verses in Genesis. Unless we believe that Paul was wrong, and such a reading was unwarranted, then what does that say about our view of inspiration?

The ESV Study Bible commentary on v. 16 puts it like this:

Gal. 3:16 God spoke promises to Abraham on several occasions, but probably Gen. 13:15 and 17:8 are particularly in view. And to your offspring. Paul knows that the singular (Hb. zera‘) can be used as a collective singular that has a plural sense (he interprets it in a plural sense in Rom. 4:18). But it also can have a singular meaning, and here Paul, knowing that only in Christ would the promised blessings come to the Gentiles, sees that the most true and ultimate fulfillment of these OT promises comes to one “offspring,” namely, Christ. Paul’s willingness to make an argument using a singular noun in distinction from its plural form (which occurs in other OT verses) indicates a high level of confidence in the trustworthiness of the small details of the OT text.

“Only Scripture brings us to Bethlehem”

December 15, 2016

brunerI’ve made this point before, but never so eloquently. Frederick Dale Bruner’s commentary on Matthew is a treasure (so far)!

The Magi story can also teach a little doctrine of revelation. (1) The star (“revelation by creation”) leads the Magi to (2) Israel’s Scripture in Jerusalem (“revelation by Scripture”), which in turn leads them to (3) the Child in Bethlehem (“revelation by Christ”). It is interesting that the star (of creation) does not lead the Magi directly to Christ. There is an intermediate stop in Jerusalem in the Israelite church where Scripture is opened; and only then is focus finally given to the star’s light and so direction to the Magi’s search. The star brings us to Jerusalem; only Scripture brings us to Bethlehem. Creation can bring us to the church; the church’s Bible bring us to Christ. To be sure, the star reappears, but, significantly, only after the Scriptures say “Bethlehem!” (2:4-9). God’s revelation in creation raises the questions and begins the quest; God’s revelation in Scripture gives a preliminary answer and directs the quest toward the goal. Finally, God’s revelation in Christ satisfies the quest. Creation’s revelation can bring human beings only halfway; scriptural revelations has the power to bring us home—to Christ. God in his goodness is the author of both revelations and uses both.[†]

1. Frederick Dale Bruner, The Christbook: Matthew 1-12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 59.