Posts Tagged ‘Sola Scriptura’

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

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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.

Are Methodists Sola Scriptura or Prima Scriptura, and what’s the difference?

June 1, 2016

I’ve read more than a few Methodists recently who have sought to distinguish what Methodists believe about the Bible from what Martin Luther and the other Reformers believed about the Bible. These Methodists say that we hold to the doctrine of Prima Scriptura (“scripture first”) rather than Sola Scriptura (“scripture alone”).

Is this true? And what is the difference?

First, let me apologize for not knowing these answers already. I went to Candler, after all. I’m always playing catchup.

I suspect that when a Methodist says that we are Prima Scriptura, what he means is that we also hold in high regard other authorities for guiding our Christian lives—for example, tradition, reason, and (ugh!) experience, even as these authorities mustn’t contradict what God’s Word plainly reveals. If a Methodist insists that he’s Prima Scriptura, then he is likely basing it on Wesleyan scholar Albert Outler’s misbegotten or badly misconstrued Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a formulation that he himself lived to regret.

But what Protestant doesn’t at least believe that tradition and reason aren’t important or necessary in guiding our theology and behavior?

O.K., I know there are a few, at least in theory. Congregations within the Church of Christ tradition, for example, refuse to use instruments in worship because the Bible, or at least the New Testament, makes no explicit reference to instruments in worship. The New Testament’s silence on the subject, instead of permitting us the opportunity to think it through, must mean prohibition. That represents an extreme edge of “scripture alone,” but only insofar as we disregard the Old Testament.

Another example: The Church of England had an ongoing debate with Puritan nonconformists over the issue of iconoclasm, which is why, even today, a typical Presbyterian church sanctuary is less ornate than most other churches. Puritans believed that the Bible’s silence on many traditional elements in Anglican (not to mention Roman Catholic) worship prohibited these elements. Again, while this Puritan view represents an extreme interpretation of Sola Scriptura, it’s a small minority opinion within Christendom, and it wouldn’t have been shared by most of the Reformers, all of whom (to my knowledge) affirmed Sola Scriptura.

I know for certain that Luther, who believed in Sola Scriptura, also accepted tradition and reason. So why do some Methodists insist that we are, contra the Reformers, Prima Scriptura?

I have my suspicions, but at least a part of me is sincerely curious: What’s the difference between Prima and Sola Scriptura?