Sola Scriptura and the rule of faith and practice throughout history.
The exclusivity of Christ alone was the Reformers’ answer to the question “How can I be saved?” Christ alone is the foundation upon which everything in our Christian life is built.
The emphasis on Scripture alone as the only valid standard for determining a Christian’s faith and practice, answers the question “How am I, as a saved person, supposed to live?”
Primacy of Christ
Christ is primary. The apostle Paul was living proof that Scripture without Christ does not save. He knew the Bible (Acts 22:3) but was lost until submitting his life to Jesus. Jesus acknowledged that the Jews searched the Scriptures (John 5:39), but they failed to recognize Him in those Scriptures.
Scripture without Christ can be simply an interesting conversation starter or the source for a fun trivia game. Our statement of belief regarding the Bible in This We Believe says, “The object of our faith is not the Bible itself. A good book cannot save us, no matter how inspired and inspiring. Through the Bible we . . . demonstrate by obedience that Jesus Christ is the true Savior and Lord.” The Bible tells us Who to trust and how to obey.
Primacy of Scripture
At least three times readers are enjoined to treat God’s words with utmost care and respect. Moses warned the Israelites to neither add to God’s Word nor diminish from it (Deuteronomy 4:2). Agur repeated this warning near the middle of the Bible (Proverbs 30:5, 6). John concluded Revelation with the same reminder (22:18, 19). Again, This We Believe says that no part of Scripture may be added to, changed, or “discarded without doing damage to the full revelation of God’s will for man.” Jesus affirmed the preservation of Scripture, including its smallest parts and particulars (Matthew 5:17, 18). Thus the Bible, and the Bible alone, has always stood as the complete written authority for God’s people.
The primacy and sufficiency of God’s Word has been challenged since the beginning. Eve heeded Satan’s argument that God’s Word was incomplete (Genesis 3:4, 5). Sadly, giving in to temptations to change, add to, and take from Scripture has detoured humanity from following God ever since. Traditions, fear, excuses, and self-justification lead many to set aside adherence to Bible teachings. People convince themselves that their situation allows their belief and behavior to be an exception to “Thus says the Lord.”
The time of the judges was characterized by every man doing what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). King Jeroboam of Israel ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month to replace the Feast of Tabernacles on the fifteenth day of the seventh month (1 Kings 12:32). By the time Israel was destroyed, they had become a people who “feared the Lord, yet served their own gods” (2 Kings 17:33, 41). Jesus warned His audience of the Pharisees’ practice of teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matthew 15:1-9).
The apostle Paul alerted the church in Galatia of those who preached another gospel and perverted the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6, 7). Jude cautioned against certain men whose teachings strayed from the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3, 4). Church history books describe the continuing assimilation into the church of beliefs and practices from paganism, human reasoning, and Greek philosophy. By the sixteenth century these influences had created a huge divide between Scripture’s teachings and the teachings of the predominant church at that time.
Contending of Reformers
The Reformers began speaking out against many of these extra-biblical teachings. Soon the phrase Scripture alone spread throughout Europe. In Church History in Plain Language (Word Publishing, 1995), Bruce Shelley writes:
During an 18-day debate in 1519 with theologian John Eck at Leipzig, Luther blurted out: “A council may sometimes err. Neither the church nor the pope can establish articles of faith. These must come from the Scripture.” Thus, Luther moved from his first conviction — that salvation was by faith alone to a second: that the Scriptures, not popes or councils, are the standard for Christian faith and behavior. . . . To the question where does religious authority lie, he [Luther] answered: not in the visible institution called the Roman church but in the Word of God found in the Bible.
In History of the Christian Church Vol. 7 (Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), historian Philip Schaff reports, “All [Reformers] agreed in the principle that the church has no right to impose upon the conscience articles of faith without clear warrant in the Word of God.” Their confidence was in the clarity of the Word and the Holy Spirit’s guidance to rightly read and interpret it.
The battle for Scripture alone continued throughout the years as leaders and denominations rose and fell.
In the 1850s Scripture alone motivated Gilbert Cranmer to leave the church he was with because it included the leader’s visions with its teachings. Robert Coulter records Cranmer’s words in The Story of the Church of God (Seventh Day): “From that time the Bible has been my creed, with Christ at the head of the Church. I started alone, with my Bible in my hand.”
Every revision of the doctrinal beliefs of the Church of God (Seventh Day) included a strong statement that the basis of our belief and practice is Scripture alone. Our current statement in This We Believe reads, “The Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, is God’s inspired Word. Inerrant in its original writing, the Bible is the only authoritative and infallible rule of faith and conduct for humanity.”
The theme of the International Ministerial Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last October was “The Whole Word for the Whole World.” Newly elected secretary, John Klassek of Australia, wrote in his report, “We are a people who are defined by the Word of God. . . .” Commitment to Scripture alone continues to serve the Church of God (Seventh Day) as an organization and its people as individuals.
For over one hundred fifty years, our members have sacrificed much to maintain allegiance to the teachings of the Bible. Conviction to Bible teachings identifies who we are. My own family searched for eighteen years for a church that truly taught Scripture alone. Over the years I have met many who, as a result of the same passion, became a part of the Church of God. We believe firmly that saved people live by Scripture alone, plus nothing.