“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
For the next several days we’re going to take a brief hiatus from the Gospel of John in order to examine the doctrine known as Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura, from the Latin, simply means Scripture Alone. Sola Scriptura is a term derived from the 16th century Protestant Reformation and is the perspective that the Bible is the sole, supreme and final authority for not only individual believers but also the church in all spiritual matters.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “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.”
The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 sets forth the principle of Sola Scriptura when he wrote that all Scripture is inspired, or God-breathed, and is profitable or beneficial for teaching or doctrinal content, reproving the sinner of his sin, showing the proper correction from sin, and training the individual believer in ways to live righteously and therefore, to not sin. Furthermore, Scripture alone enables each believer, and especially those involved in full-time ministry, to be equipped for every good work God has given them to do.
When the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write these verses from 2 Timothy, the phrase “all Scripture” was exclusively referring to the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 1, Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 all focus on the subject of God’s Word. All three psalms provide a rich framework concerning the inherent value of God’s biblical revelation of Himself contained in the Old Testament.
However, we now understand that the phrase “all Scripture,” today has come to encompass and include the New Testament Scriptures as well. All sixty-six books of the Bible are to be viewed as God’s Word. As one pastor has written on the subject, “we are forbidden to add to or take away from Scripture (cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Rev. 22:18-19). To add to it is to lay on people a burden that God Himself does not intend for them to bear (cf. Matt. 23:4).” This is known as legalism.
I would add that to take from Scripture is to open the believer, and the church, to license or licentiousness which is a recklessness born from a rejection of God’s written revelation. We must not disregard passages, portions or even entire books of Scripture because they make us uncomfortable or may prove difficult to interpret and/or understand.
This introductory essay is written within a particular context of controversy. Earlier this year, a nationally known pastor stated that Christians needed to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith. Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church, explained that while he believes that the Old Testament is “divinely inspired, it should not be “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.”
Stanley preached in May of this year from Acts 15, which described how the early church decided that Gentile converts did not need to strictly observe Jewish law to become Christians. “[First century] Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish scriptures,” said Stanley. “Peter, James, Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”
Stanley argued that detaching the church from the Old Testament has to be done for the same reason the church in Acts 15 did so, which was so that “we must not make it difficult for those Gentiles who are turning to God.”
For Pastor Stanley, the difficulty lay with the Old Testament and his concern that many Christians are turning away from the faith because of certain passages in the Hebrew Bible. He explained the early church showed that there was a need to move past the Old Testament for the sake of Gentile believers and that the resurrection of Jesus was enough.
“Jesus’ new covenant, His covenant with the nations, His covenant with you, His covenant with us, can stand on its own two nail-scarred resurrection feet. It does not need propping up by the Jewish scriptures,” explained Stanley. “The Bible did not create Christianity. The resurrection of Jesus created and launched Christianity. Your whole house of Old Testament cards can come tumbling down. The question is did Jesus rise from the dead? And the eyewitnesses said he did.”
Pastor Stanley acknowledged that his comments may be considered “a little disturbing” to some, but then added that for many it is “liberating.” “It’s liberating for men and women who are drawn to the simple message that God loves you so much He sent His Son to pave the way to a relationship with you. It’s liberating for people who need and understand grace, who need and understand forgiveness. And it’s liberating for people who find it virtually impossible to embrace the dynamic, the worldview, and the values system depicted in the story of Ancient Israel.”
At the same time, Stanley still regards the Jewish scriptures as having importance, saying they were “a means to an extraordinary end.” He explained that, “The Jewish scriptures are the backstory for the main story. They’re an important backstory. They’re divinely inspired. They are God on the move through ancient, ancient times.”
“It’s the fabulous story of God the Founder playing by the rules of the kingdoms of this world, to establish a kingdom not of this world. To send a king who would be like no other king. A king who lay down His life for His subjects. A king who would introduce the entire world to God the Father,” Stanley concluded.
Stanley’s sermon was the third part of a series titled “Aftermath,” in which the pastor was trying to appeal to individuals who left Christianity over what they were taught the Bible said about certain things. “If you were raised on a version of Christianity that relied on the Bible as the foundation of faith, a version that was eventually dismantled by academia or the realities of life, maybe it’s time for you to change your mind about Jesus,” stated North Point Community Church Pastor. “Maybe it’s time for you to consider the version of Christianity that relies on the event of the resurrection of Jesus as its foundation. If you gave up your faith because of something about or in the Bible, maybe you gave up unnecessarily.”
Days before giving the third Aftermath sermon, Stanley also preached at the Orange Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia, using Acts 15, as well as John 17, to argue that church unity was more important than “theological correctness.” “[Jesus] prayed for our oneness, that we’d be on the same page,” said Stanley at the conference. This is mission critical. If they are not one, we will not win … unity is mission critical and disunity disrupts the mission. Will we prioritize our oneness over our politics? Will we continue to allow the kingdom of the world to divide the Kingdom of God that is in this world because of politics?”
Well, as you can see there is a lot in which to respond. Is the principle known as Sola Scriptura no longer practical or relevant today? Is Pastor Stanley correct when he says believers should “unhitch” themselves from the Old Testament Scriptures? Has a Christianity which relies on the Bible as the foundation of faith been dismantled by academia and the realities of life as Pastor Stanley contends?
An honest attempt will be made to answer these questions, and others, and to do so graciously and honestly. However, this will be done with an unswerving and unapologetic commitment to Sola Scriptura.
Soli deo Gloria!