The Myth of Sola Scriptura

One of the primary rallying cries of the Protestant Reformation was/is “Sola Scriptura!” Latin for, “the scripture alone.”

The idea of Sola Scriptura is summed up in The Westminster Confession of Faith thusly:

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

A more modern take on it, and perhaps better said, is this quote by John MacArthur:

Scripture is therefore the perfect and only standard of spiritual truth, revealing infallibly all that we must believe in order to be saved and all that we must do in order to glorify God.

This all sounds very lovely and doctrinal and good. I even agree. But I think it’s time we wake up to the fact that not a single human being in the history of human beings has ever actually and practically been a Sola Scriptura-ist.

Not one.

For instance, many who most firmly affirm Sola Scriptura, along with the other Five Solas of the Reformation, also hold to infant baptism.

You can read the Bible for the rest of your life and never, ever come anywhere near any verse that tells us to baptize infants.

In fact, one of the Five Solas is Sola Fide, “by faith alone.”

Funny thing happened in the Book of James. Our pal James says quite clearly, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (ESV, ironically enough)

So, again, if you hold to Sola Fide, you cannot at the same time hold to Sola Scriptura, cuz that aint what Sola Scriptura says!

However, everyone and their mother does hold these two things, because everyone and their mother stopped thinking about their doctrine shortly after leaving Sunday School when their brains weren’t even fully developed.

Now, lest you think I only enjoy picking on Reformed Theology (which I do), I can also level the same attack against you and me.

I held to many doctrines for many years simply because that’s what my guys said to believe. I didn’t think about my doctrine in relationship to whether the Bible actually said that or not.

We’re all swayed theologically by our geographical location, our friends and family, our church brainwashing, and various other factors, not nearly as intimidating as the ever scary Church Tradition. Often our doctrine is arrived at by reacting against these same groups.

Many of my doctrines are shaped by experience, either what I’ve done or what I’ve observed others do. One of the factors that lead me to think about my doctrine was watching the lives of those who agreed with me. It wasn’t all pretty. Seeing a consistent pattern among them, I decided that there was a chance their doctrine might be wrong. You will know them by their fruit.

Doctrine is also shaped by our intellectual abilities. Our brains develop and then decline. Our thinking isn’t always as intellectual as we might hope. Our emotions play a massive part in our decision making.

The prevalence of sin in our lives will cause us to emphasize some verses out of place and skip entire passages elsewhere. Justifying our sin, living with our sin, will warp our doctrine.

I think Sola Scriptura is a fine idea–everything we believe should be founded on Scripture. I think it’s such a fine idea that we should actually do it, even if it means breaking with past tradition and theological camps, it might even ruin your reputation and ministry. But alas, isn’t it better to agree with God than a group of people?

No one actually does Sola Scriptura. Examine your faith to see if Scripture actually says what you believe, or if you’re reading what you already believe into Scripture. Change your doctrine if it aint in the Bible; don’t change the Bible to fit your doctrine.

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John Wesley on John Calvin’s Interpretation of Salvation

Our blessed Lord does indisputably command and invite “all men everywhere to repent” [Acts 17:30]. He calleth all. He sends his ambassadors, in his name, “to preach the gospel to every creature” [Mk. 16:15]. He himself “preached deliverance to the captives” [Lk. 4:18], without any hint of restriction or limitation.

But now, in what manner do you represent him while he is employed in this work? You suppose him to be standing at the prison doors, having the keys thereof in his hands, and to be continually inviting the prisoners to come forth, commanding them to accept of that invitation, urging every motive which can possible induce them to comply with that command; adding the most precious promises, if they obey; the most dreadful threatenings, if they obey not.

And all this time you suppose him to be unalterably determined in himself never to open the doors for them, even while he is crying, “Come ye, come ye, from that evil place. For why will ye die, O house of Israel” [cf. Ezek. 18:31]? “Why” (might one of them reply), “Because we cannot help it. We cannot help ourselves, and thou wilt not help us. It is not in our power to break the gates of brass [cf. Ps. 107:16], and it is not thy pleasure to open them. Why will we die? We must die, because it is not thy will to save us.” Alas, my brethren, what kind of sincerity is this which you ascribe to God our Saviour?
–John Wesley
In
Predestination Calmly Considered

8 Thoughts on the Problem of Why Christians Still Sin?

One of the biggest problems and discouragements for the Christian is: why do I keep sinning?

Here are several thoughts on the subject:

  1. We sin because we’re still in the flesh.
    Although we have been given the Holy Spirit and have been raised up to newness of life, we still have a flesh body. The flesh body doesn’t want to die. It is selfish and wants to satisfy it’s appetites no matter the cost. Although the believer can grow and can see victory over sin, sin remains persistent and temptation will always rear its head as long as we’re in this flesh body in this fallen world.
  2. Sin is a problem.
    If the fact that you still sin doesn’t bother you, you’re doing doctrine wrong. I’ve been around Christianity long enough to know all the “doctrinal” reasons why sin is OK. But sin isn’t OK, never has been, never will be. Sin is bad. We’re not supposed to do it. If the fact that you continue to sin does not make you feel guilty, occasionally doubt your faith, make you weep and fast, etc., then I think you need to read larger portions of the Bible. There are even righteous people in the Bible who were disturbed to the point of tears by observing sin around them. Sin should bother you; that’s actually a good sign if it does.
  3. God knows our frame.
    Our sin does not take God by surprise. He knows our frame. He knows we are dust. He knows the temptations of the flesh (remember He was in the flesh being tempted before). God has made many beautiful, wonderful, and tasty things down here. Our flesh really enjoys them. Our flesh goes crazy and turns the beautiful and the good into ugly sin. God is aware of the struggle and the pull. He is also a faithful and sympathetic High Priest.
  4. God is gracious.
    God is slow to anger, merciful, and willing to forgive. This is a blessed thing. If God is not these things, then there’s really no point to feeling any given way about sin, because it matters none at all if God doesn’t forgive. We’d all be condemned and done with. If God is not good, He’s the last place you’d go with your guilt, shame, and sin. But God is good, this is what leads us to repentance.
  5. Confess your sin.
    Many evangelicals shy away from this idea to avoid the Catholic notion of confession. Confession is a rather simple thing. To “confess” means to “say the same thing as.” It’s to see your sin the way God sees it. To acknowledge that it’s there, that it’s a problem, and that only God can truly deal with it through Christ. To not confess your sin is to say you don’t have sin. And he who says he has no sin is a liar. Deal with reality. When you sin, admit it. Deal with it. Talk to God about it.  He already knows it anyway; He’s waiting for you to wake up about it.
  6. Your good aint all that good.
    Paul says, “When I do good, evil is present with me.” All our goodness, while being truly good, gives our flesh opportunity to sin. We get pride, self-righteousness, judgmentalism and comparison going. We can truly do good things. But doing good creates it’s own pitfalls. Our flesh is so messed up, it can even turn righteousness into evil. Let not your good be evil spoken of. Be aware of your flesh and it’s power to taint.
  7. Sin is a bigger problem than we’ll ever know.
    There are times the Holy Spirit gives us a glimpse of who we truly are. It’s ugly. Often one or two big sins in our lives will capture our attention. It’s not until we deal with those that our eyes are clear enough to be able to see other sin in us. The older I get, the more I realize how much of my habits and natural responses are actually sin. I had no idea. I can only assume that the more I progress in the faith, the more clarity I will have about my sin.
  8. Be humbled.
    We sin. We sin even when we don’t know we’re sinning. We can sin even while we are doing good. Sin is ugly. It put Christ on the cross. Humility is  huge. God knows you. He sees you for who you are. Nothing is hidden from Him. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and let Him lift you up. Humility brings peace. I don’t have to defend myself, or protect my stuff, or maintain an image or reputation. I can rest in the humble knowledge that I’m nothing without Christ. Be humbled by sin. Humility is a virtue our world despises, but one our Lord and Savior fully embraced when He humbled Himself in the form of a servant to become obedient unto death on the cross. Sin even humbled our Savior, and He didn’t even do any of it! How much more should we, who actually sin, be humbled?

If you are a Christian and still sin and this doesn’t bother you, make sure you’re actually more than a Christian by name. If you are in Christ, sin will bother you. If sin is not a problem in your mind, then you have bigger problems than you know.

Face the problem. Deal with the problem. Be humbled by the problem. Look forward to the day when we will be released from the problem of sin and will be made like Him when we see Him as He is.

Even so, come quickly.

The Two Extremes of Assurance of Salvation

Salvation and assurance are two different things.

Salvation is a concrete reality: you either are or you aren’t saved.

Assurance is a feeling. There are many who are saved who don’t feel assured of their salvation. There are also many who are assured of their salvation who are not saved.

Satan, the Deceiver, wants to make those who aren’t saved feel like they are, and make those who are saved feel like they aren’t.

Human intellect is susceptible to deception. Several times in Scripture we are warned “be not deceived.” We are warned about this because too often we are.

There are many days I can observe my behavior and condemn myself to hell. There are other days I can solidly justify myself into heaven.

The question is: on which day am I most right?!

There are two kinds of people on this issue who are in serious trouble.

  1. The guy who knows 100% with no doubt that he is saved
  2. The guy who knows 100% there’s no way he is saved.

If you are in group 1, you probably don’t take sin seriously. I know, you’ll chalk it up to taking God’s grace seriously, but really what you mean is that your sin isn’t that big of a deal. Of course God loves me, it doesn’t matter what I do. Plus I do good stuff too.

If you are in group 2, you either don’t take sin seriously because you’re truly not saved and you don’t care, or you take sin so seriously you doubt the effectiveness of God’s grace, mercy, and the power of the Gospel.

People in both camps are largely consumed with themselves. If you are 100% assured you are saved, you aren’t viewing you and your sin from God’s holy perspective. Sin should shake you. It should make you question your love for God. Guilt is a real thing and should cause you to pause and examine yourself. People who don’t feel guilt (another way of saying you are 100% assured of salvation) might just have hardened hearts. Remember the Pharisees? They had 100% assurance of salvation. They were constantly thinking about themselves and their own awesomeness.

People who are always gloomy, doubting God could love them, and assuming they lose their salvation every time they think a bad thought, are also consumed with themselves. All these people see is their mess; they don’t have any confidence in Christ. These people arrogantly assume they are the exception to God’s grace. Even God’s power is not more powerful than I am.

I think the healthy believer avoids both extremes, and also knows there’s a time and place for both.

When I sin, I should feel guilt. I should be aware of God’s opinion of it and wonder how can I, who am dead to sin, walk in it like this? I should confess my sins and ask for mercy. I should examine myself to see whether I’m in the faith, to see if there’s any growth, any fruit of the Spirit. We are easily deceived and our Adversary spends his time deceiving us. Are we taking 1) our own fleshly weakness to be deceived and 2) Satan’s power to deceive into consideration in our assurance?

At the same time, when I do good, I need to keep an eye out for pride and self-righteousness. Many flippant statements of assurance sound more like Pharisees than Christians. Remember Paul was not ashamed to describe himself as the chief of sinners. He was very aware of his sin.

But bashing yourself into the ground over sin does no good either. We can have assurance in the grace and mercy of God, in the power of His Gospel, and His willingness to forgive. We know we have forgiveness granted to us freely in Christ Jesus and we can be cleansed from all ungodliness.

But this forgiveness does not mean we run around doing whatever our flesh feels like. We don’t take the grace of God in vain. We don’t turn God’s grace into lasciviousness. Sin bothers us primarily because it is contrary to who God is, because it is what put Christ on the cross, because it does belittle God’s amazing grace.

There are times, when we are brought low by our sin, that we need to be like Joshua who was told by God to quit moping, get up and take care of the sin! There are times we need to be brought low like Peter when he saw reality when Jesus asked him three times if he loved Him.

I would much rather have someone doubt their faith and be examining themselves to see whether they are in the faith than have someone assure themselves of salvation all the way into hell.

For too long the Church has turned Once Saved Always Saved or Perseverance of the Saints (both of which I think are true) into an excuse to take it easy and live in sin.

The question is not: Once I’m saved, do I stay saved? The question is: are you saved?

Guard your heart. Watch and pray. Walk circumspectly. Redeem the time. Fight the fight. None of these phrases make sense if what the Bible is saying is, “Hey, you said the prayer when you were 6, don’t worry about it, do whatever you want.”

Satan is active and deceiving many in the Church today. I think it’s time we wake up to this.

How to Study the Bible

Here are some tips for studying the Bible on your own.

–Read the Bible a lot. Over and over. Cover to cover. Try at least once to read it as quickly as possible, like under a month.

–Question everything. Write down questions as you read it, then when you read it again, see how many more questions you get and how many old ones you can now answer. Don’t be afraid to question anything and everything.

–Ignore formal theology. Don’t read merely to find verses to back up or attack doctrines. Just read what it says. Otherwise you’ll miss half the message because your brain is arguing theology.

–Avoid dumb Bible study questions like, “what does this mean to me?” or “how can I apply this to my life today?” They tend to make the Bible all about you. One of the points of the Bible is that it’s about no longer you but Christ. Focus more on God’s/the author’s point, on aspects of human nature, what is God like, etc.

–Context. Context. Context. If you don’t know the whole flow of the Bible you won’t know the context of each book. If you don’t know the context of each book you won’t know the context of the chapter, thus you won’t know the point of any given verse. Concordances, although helpful when used right, have been one of the most destructive biblical tools ever invented. One word can be used in many contexts. Not all contexts mean the same thing. A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.

–Think critically. Why does God say what He says? How does this relate to what He said before or after? Examine it to know what’s going on. Get past Sunday School level thinking. Be real. Be honest. Think about all of it.

–Explain passages to people. The best way to understand a passage is to explain the passage. If you can’t explain it; you don’t understand it. This doesn’t have to be formal, it can just be talking to your wife. Write it out or speak it out. It is best to explain it to someone to get feedback and input. The Body of Christ edifies itself. You can’t understand the Bible in isolation—that’s why there’s a Body of Believers. Spiritual gifts in other people are there to help you, just as your gifts are there to help others. People who study the Bible alone get very weird ideas. Avoid weird ideas by not avoiding other believers.

To summarize:

Read it
Question it
Think on it
Explain it

Why Is Theology Confusing?

Biblical doctrine is much simpler than human theology.

Most confusing doctrines are confusing because they are someone’s idea of what the Bible says, not what the Bible says.

The problem is that biblical doctrine is straightforward. A little too abrupt and real. It tends to mess with life.

Theologians enter the picture to “clean up the mess” by telling you the Bible doesn’t mean what the Bible simply and clearly says.

The main job of a theologian is to impress you with their theological astuteness. In other words, they prove their doctrinal superiority by being confusing.

“You’re too stupid to understand, that’s why you need us smart theologians.” Is the attitude. We go along with them because they tell us why we don’t have to listen to all those parts we wish weren’t there, which suits our flesh fine.

You know you’re dealing with human theology when you are reading quotes of people more than quotes of Scripture. When you are using multiple, giant theological words that don’t appear in the Bible. When the word “theory” is used, as in The Theory of Substitutionary Atonement. When more time is spent telling you why the verse doesn’t mean what it says than is spent telling you how to apply what the verse does say.

If you’re confused by theology, that’s OK. Theology is confusing. Most confusion that believers have is trying to bring together what that guy said with what that other guy said.

Good luck.

It’s best just to forget the guys and read the Bible. Don’t worry if having five Solas is confusing. Don’t worry if there are verses that interfere with established church doctrine. Go with the verses.

You don’t need seminary to understand the Bible. You might need seminary to understand human theology.

I suggest you understand the Bible. It’s up to you whether you want to try understanding human theology.

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
–2 Corinthians 11:3

The Problem of Evil, God, and Larry King

For some reason, in the last couple of weeks, I have heard Larry King ask the same question about God. Here is how he phrased it on Twitter:

If God is omnipotent why do tragedies like earthquakes and hurricanes happen? No religious leader has ever been able to answer that for me.

I’m sure this statement is not actually true. He asks religious leaders this question all the time, I’ve yet to hear one who didn’t answer the question!

I think what Mr. King means is that he’s not been satisfied with any of the answers, which is completely different.

What Mr. King fails to realize is that faith leaves us with tension. It leaves us with unresolved issues. Faith is a fight. If everything made sense, if all questions were answered, then you wouldn’t need faith.

Most Evangelical Christian answers to the problem of evil and God are sorely lacking in depth. Most rely heavily on cliches: “God is still on the throne,” “God works in mysterious ways,” and “We don’t know how, but God gets glory out of all things.” They offer surface answers that don’t really cut it in the face of pain. They skip to the easy and happy way too quick.

None of the answers are satisfying to me either. I’ve rarely been impressed by any religious persons answer to this question.

Here are two giant things I know about the Problem of Evil and God:

A) The earliest written book of the Bible is the Book of Job. Job is all about the problem of Evil and God. And guess what? Even when God is directly asked the question, “Why am I suffering?” He refused to answer it. He’s not answering the question. That is, in fact, why we are still asking the question all these years later. God doesn’t answer it. If God didn’t answer it, all our answers are nothing more than human philosophy and speculation.

B) The central point of the Bible is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God was made flesh and dwelt among us. He came unto His own and they did not receive Him. Instead they beat, tortured, mocked, and then crucified Him. He bore in His own body our sin. He was wounded for our transgression. He was bruised for our iniquity. By His stripes we are healed. Evil, pain, and suffering are a major part of God’s plan of redemption. He entered into these things. He embraced the pain.

These two points, although not answering the question, give us a good indicator that whatever God’s attitude toward pain is, He’s not ignoring it. He’s not indifferent. If anything, He feels it more than we ever could.

That may not satisfy you. That may not “answer your question.” But then again, I don’t think God is trying to answer it. Perhaps God is wondering the same thing. “Why, since I’m good, do people go against me and ruin everything?”

Humans may not be the only ones baffled by this.

The Bible doesn’t specifically tell us why He allows evil and suffering to exist. But it does say that you should take care of the evil rampant in your own life. It does tell us to alleviate the sufferings of others. He promises His help and power for both.

Instead of pretending to have existential angst over the general problem of evil so you can deny God and faith for “rational” reasons, perhaps Larry King and we need to deal with our own evil and go from there.