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.
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.