Archive | Sola Scriptura

Did the Early Church Fathers Believe in Sola Scriptura?


Definition of Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura: the reformed Protestant belief that the Scriptures alone are the final and only infallible authority for the Christian. This does not mean that Scriptures are the only authority (nuda or solo Scriptura), as Protestants believe in the authority of tradition, reason, experience, and emotions to varying degrees (after all, “sola scriptura” itself is an authoritative tradition in Protestantism). It does mean that Scripture trumps all other authorities (it is the norma normans sed non normata Lat. “norm that norms which is not normed”).

Controversy of Sola Scriptura

Sometimes people get the idea that sola Scriptura was a 16th-century invention. While it was definitely articulated a great deal through the controversies during the Reformation, its basic principles can be found deep in church history. Take a look at some of these early church fathers who seemed to believe in the primacy of Scripture:

Related Resource: Six Myths About Sola Scriptura by C. Michael Patton Continue Reading →

Another Protestant Converts to Catholicism – Why?

News broke in early March that well-known and highly influential Christian leader Ulf Ekman had converted to Roman Catholicism (hereafter RC). Ekman had served for many years as pastor of the charismatic church, Word of Life, in Uppsala, Sweden. My interest was stirred not only because of the impact Ekman’s “conversion” will have on others but also because he cites his son’s “conversion” to Catholicism as exerting an influence on his own thinking. Benjamin Ekman was a student of mine when I taught at Wheaton College, an exceptionally bright one at that.

But all of this raises yet again the question of why certain Protestants turn to Rome. Ekman himself cites his deep yearning for unity in the body of Christ as one of the principal factors. Some time ago I posted a blog article that addresses this issue, and I want to revisit it again today.

It’s important to understand why most Protestants remain suspicious of Roman Catholicism. The following are merely observations. I make no attempt to determine whether or not these evangelical fears are justified or misguided.

(1) Many Protestant evangelicals are energized by the Protestant martyrs of the reformation and post-reformation period: Hus, Cranmer, Tyndale, Hugh Latimer, Ridley, etc. They fear that dialogue with the RCC is a disservice and dishonor to those who gave their lives for their convictions. They were tortured and died for their refusal to embrace the RC Mass or bow to papal authority. Attempts such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) represent for many evangelicals a tacit dismissal of such heroes of the faith: “Are we selling out those who sacrificed so much? Why are we willing to compromise so easily on matters that were to them a question of life and death?”

(2) Evangelicals also fear the loss of theological integrity. They believe that the only way to enter a dialogue with Rome is by compromising on several key theological issues. Most evangelicals believe that unity is theologically based. Cooperative efforts must be grounded in theological consensus. Is this biblical? Is it feasible? Continue Reading →

Six Myths About Sola Scriptura

The Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura is one of the most misunderstood doctrines I know of. The misconceptions come not only from those who repudiate the doctrine (such as Roman Catholics), but also from those who affirm it. Here is a list of some myths regarding sola Scriptura.

1. Sola Scriptura means that Scripture is the only source of spiritual insight.

Spiritual insight can come from any number of sources, both secular and Christian. I remember in 1995, I received quite a bit of spiritual motivation and inspiration from the movie Braveheart. My thoughts and hopes were infiltrated by the idea of a person giving up his life for something bigger than himself. There are many things – songs, wise words, books, and movies (Christian and secular), to name a few – that can be sources of insight and inspiration. Remember, all truth is God’s truth. It does not have to be in the Scriptures to be true.

2. Sola Scriptura means that there are no other authorities in our lives.

We believe that the Scriptures are our final and only infallible authority, but not that they are our only authority. For example, we believe that our pastors and church leaders have authority in our lives. Hebrews 13:7 says that we are to obey our leaders. Wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:2). People are to obey the government (1 Pet. 2:13). Children are to do what their parents say (Eph. 6:1). There can be no excuse like, “Dad, the Bible does not say I have to clean my room, so I choose not to.” Or “Officer, it says nothing specific about running red lights in the Bible.”

As well, tradition (church history) is an authority in our lives. Those who have gone before us in the faith must be respected. Their collective and unified influence creates an authority which, I believe, is second only to Scripture. After all, they had the same Holy Spirit as us, didn’t they? The Holy Spirit does not teach us everything new as individuals, but educates and inspires us in and with those who have gone before us. That is why I love dead theologians!

As I read through John Calvin’s Institutes a couple of years ago, I did so with a fine-toothed comb, underlining every time another source was referenced, especially a source from another church father. One cannot study the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura and come away with the idea that the Reformers ever meant that the Scriptures were our only authority. Ultimate, yes. Only, no.

None of these are our final authority, and if the Scriptures contradict what these authorities say, the Scriptures trump.

3. Sola Scriptura means that if it is not in the Bible, it is not divinely binding.

Romans 1 speaks of the binding authority of the message of creation: “For since the creation of the world, his eternal attributes, divine power and nature have been clearly understood so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). As well, in Romans 2, we are told that our conscience testifies to us about God’s will (Rom. 2:14-16). As Christians, we must be willing to take our cue from all forms of what we call “general revelation”: rationality, moral conscience, and the message of creation all qualify.

Whether it is rationality or the message of creation and the conclusions drawn from it, we cannot turn a blind eye and say that since it is not in the Scripture, it does not make any difference. Continue Reading →

The Voice That Binds

(Lisa Robinson)

It is quite common today to hear Christians say that God spoke to them or that they are seeking to hear God’s voice for some type of guidance. No longer under the purview of Charismatic circles, this concept has seeped into the fabric of mainstream evangelicalism. Therefore, to address how God speaks today must expanded beyond a continuationist vs cessationist  paradigm, although ultimately the premise that God does not speak beyond scripture is clearly a cessationist position.

One of the issues related to God speaking is identifying how he speaks. The evangelical position would state that God speaks in scripture; scripture is the divine voice in which God reveals himself. But once it moves beyond scripture, how do we take his voice? No reasonable regenerated person is without the subjective experience of impressions and hearing that voice in our head. Well, I suppose that makes sense since we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit who permeates all our faculties. So the reason to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be influenced by the Holy Spirit. But I’m going to suggest, that is different that God speaking

I believe that the more appropriate way to consider the voice of God is related to general vs special revelation. General revelation is where God makes his presence known through creation.  In this way, his presence is his voice. Consider Romans 1:18-20 and Psalm 19:1-6.  I came across this neat article here that talked about lessons from a lady bug on and how God used a lady bug to remind her of what he has already spoken through scripture. It is why we can watch a movie that has themes of the fall and redemption and be reminded of God’s loving acts through the sacrifice of his Son. And I would say even that voice we hear in our head is a product of general revelation. Special revelation is related to how God speaks with respect to knowledge and obedience of him.  This necessarily entails faith in Christ and his Word.

Here’s the question I’ve been asking lately: how hearing the voice of God relates to obedience to him. In other words, if you are looking for God to speak to you for guidance and you believe that he speaks outside of scripture, then you are obligated to obey what you believe he is commanding.  The cessationist says that God’s speech ceased in the revelation of Christ and whatever commands he has given are provided in scripture.  So special revelation is restricted to scripture. That does not negate the subjective nature of general revelation, that may even include hearing “that small still voice” in our heads. Continue Reading →

A Disagreement I Think I Have with Together For the Gospel

I don’t have much trouble signing most Evangelical doctrinal statements. Normally, the shorter they are, the better. That is what it means to be Evangelical (at least in the 20th-century understanding of the term). When they get too long, I start to smell a little bit of magisterial institutionalization creeping back into the church. However, every organization has the right to spell out their doctrinal requirements according to their purpose of existence. The Credo House doctrinal statement (to which all employees must adhere) is pretty short. It is definitely Protestant, but we have tried to keep it as broadly Evangelical as we could. I did not even put anything in it about Calvinism! Why? Because it is the purpose of this doctrinal statement to represent the mission of Credo House, not the particular beliefs of Michael Patton.

This week Together for the Gospel (T4G) is holding is annual conference with lots of great stuff and lots of great speakers. I wish I could have been there. Now, I must confess that I don’t really know much about T4G or its exact purpose, but the name seems to suggest that they are purposed to bring a general community back “together” to the centrality of the Gospel message. Who could argue with that? The speakers they have placed on their list this year include C. J. Mahaney, Albert Mohler, John Piper, and Matt Chandler. When you have the likes of Carl Trueman relegated to doing a breakout session, then your list of main speakers must be out of this world! The list is definitely Reformed, so I don’t think T4G is trying to be too broad. Again, this is okay, depending on your purpose.

Many bloggers have been giving updates on the conference and I appreciate it. However, when I looked at Justin Taylor’s blog today, I found myself a bit confused. He posted a link to T4G’s doctrinal statement. I did not get past the first line before I realized that I could not sign it. I am not too particular on many things and I can manipulate some wording so that I am comfortable signing some things. I just don’t ask too many questions. However, the first line in this statement, if I am understanding it correctly, is a disqualifier for me. In fact, I am a bit confused that those who signed it could do so in good conscience as Evangelicals.

Here are the signers:

Here is the doctrinal statement in the form of affirmation and denials.

So, with what in the statement did I disagree, since I agreed with most of it? There are a few things here and there which give me some problems, but I don’t care to discuss those right now. The primary thing that I want to talk about is the first line in the first affirmation: Continue Reading →

Reformation in a Nutshell

There used to be a time when your loyalty to the Protestant cause was judged by how much you hated Catholics. But today, with all the ecumenical dialogue, the Manhattan Declaration, the ECT council, and the postmodern virtue of tolerance, people are much more willing to ignore the water under the bridge. “Maybe we overreacted” is the thought of many.

To Catholics, since Vatican II, Protestants are no longer anathema (which is a pretty bad thing to be), but are “separated brethren” (which is not so bad).

Attitudes are changing. One could could argue that attitudes are changing for the better. But have the issues changed? As we are on the eve of Reformation Day, let us remind ourselves what was at stake nearly 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, when a young Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed a bold list of ninety-five complaints against the institutionalized church of the day that started what we know as the Great Reformation.

Here is the scoop: Five hundred years ago we had a “situation” in the church. We now call it the “Great Reformation,” but who knew at the time it would be a reformation of any kind, much less a “great” one? Catholics see it as yet another rebellious schism. The first major division in the Christian church happened in 1054, when the Eastern church got fed up with the Pope and thumbed its nose at him (or something like that). The Great Reformation was the second. For Protestants, this was not only a reforming of the church, but a reclaiming of the Gospel which had been obscured and overshadowed by the institutionalized church of the day.

While there were and are a lot of issues that divide Roman Catholics and Protestants, there are two which overshadow the rest and define the essence of the Great Refomation: authority and justification. The issue of authority has been called the “formal” cause of the Reformation while the issue of justification was the “material” cause. In this brief post I would like to focus on these two issues.

1. Authority: Where do we go for truth?

To the institutionalized church of the day (now known as the Roman Catholic Church), both Scripture and Tradition (notice the capital “T”) represented the one “deposit of faith” that was handed down from the Apostles (i.e. written and unwritten tradition). The church, as represented by the Pope and the congregation of bishops, could interpret both infallibly, being protected by the Holy Spirit. Think of a three-legged stool. All three (Scripture, Tradition, and the Church) serve as “legs” supporting the “stool” – the church’s ultimate authority. Continue Reading →

The Great Trinity Debate, Part 1: David Burke on God and Scripture

The Reclaiming the Mind Ministries staff will be responding to all comments allowing David and Rob the time to focus on their debate. If you wish to post questions and/or comments directly to them please wait until the open Q&A time following Part 6.

I would like to begin by thanking Rob Bowman and Michael Patton for giving me the opportunity to present and defend my faith. Before I commence my argument, I’ll take a little time to introduce myself, my beliefs and my approach to Scripture.

I am a Christian. I belong to the Christadelphians (“Brethren in Christ”), a small Biblical Unitarian denomination which is spread across more than 60 different countries around the world (you can learn more about us here: Christadelphians are the largest Biblical Unitarian denomination and emerged out of the Restitutionist movement over 160 years ago. Biblical Unitarians are distinct from Rationalist Unitarians (who do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God) and Universalist Unitarians (who believe that all people will be saved, regardless of what they believe). The Christadelphian community has no hierarchy and no paid clergy.

I am 37 years old, married to a beautiful wife (Liz), with a gorgeous 13 month old daughter (Johanna). I was born and raised in a Christadelphian family, and attended Sunday School and Youth Group as a child. At the age of 19 I was baptised into Christ, and at 22 I became a lay pastor (a position I have now held for 15 years). I have a considerable amount of public speaking experience throughout Australia and the UK, having ministered at Christadelphian ecclesias (“churches”) in both countries. I am a founder and administrator of the Bible Truth Discussion Forum ( where I post under the pseudonym of “Evangelion.”

In summary, I believe:

  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God and the sole authoritative source of Christian doctrine and practice
  • The Father alone is God
  • Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but not God himself
  • The Holy Spirit is the power of God, but not God himself
  • Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised to immortality by the Father
  • At an appointed time (concealed from humanity) Jesus will return to Earth, judge the living and the dead, restore the nation of Israel to her former glory and reign over a kingdom that will last for 1,000 years

A comprehensive statement of my beliefs complete with supporting Scriptural references can be found at my forum (here: Continue Reading →

The Great Trinity Debate, Part 1: Rob Bowman on God and Scripture

The Reclaiming the Mind Ministries staff will be responding to all comments allowing David and Rob the time to focus on their debate. If you wish to post questions and/or comments directly to them please wait until the open Q&A time following Part 6.

Once again, I wish to express my gratitude to David Burke for his willingness to invest his time and energy in this important debate. In my opening statement, I will explain the assumptions I bring to the subject regarding Scripture and the nature of God. Along the way, I will address certain a priori objections to the doctrine of the Trinity that non-Trinitarians commonly raise.

Before proceeding, I should briefly define the position I will be defending in this debate. The doctrine of the Trinity is that doctrine that affirms that there is one God, the LORD (YHWH, Jehovah), a single divine being who exists eternally in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine of the Trinity is a conceptual framework or system for affirming the following six core propositions drawn from the Bible:

1. There is one (true, living) God, identified as the Creator.
2. This one God is the one divine being called YHWH (or Jehovah, the LORD) in the Old Testament.
3. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is God, the LORD.
4. The Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is God, the LORD.
5. The Holy Spirit is God, the LORD.
6. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each someone other than the other two.

In this debate, I will be seeking to defend the doctrine of the Trinity by showing that each of these six propositions is taught in the Bible.

Authority of Scripture

As a conservative evangelical Protestant, I firmly hold to the full inspiration of the Bible, specifically the 66 books of the Protestant canon of Scripture. My understanding of biblical inspiration and authority is classically evangelical. The first chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “Of the Holy Scripture” (1646), remains an exemplary statement of the Protestant understanding of Scripture. More recently, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) gives an excellent, representative definition and exposition of the evangelical view of the nature of Scripture. While neither of these statements is itself inspired or inerrant, I refer to them as superb expressions of the evangelical view of Scripture that I heartily endorse. These confessions, along with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982), also provide excellent statements about the proper approach to the interpretation of Scripture. Due to limitations of space, I will postpone some of my comments about hermeneutics until later parts of the debate as the relevant hermeneutical issues arise. Two excellent textbooks on biblical hermeneutics are Grant Osborne’s The Hermeneutical Spiral (2006) and Interpreting the New Testament Text, edited by Darrell Bock and Buist Fanning (2006).

Continue Reading →