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What is a Reformed Church? (1) Sola Scriptura -- Scripture Alone

by Pastor Lars Larson, PhD line

(A sermon delivered on September 21, 2008, at the First Baptist Church, Leominster, MA)

Introduction:

          Let us begin this morning by reading two well-known verses that speak to the inspiration and authority of the Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God.

2 Peter 1:19-21. “We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

2 Timothy 3:14-16. “But as for you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

          Definition is the effort to make something understandable, distinct, or clear.  Definition describes a matter so that it may be understood as precise or definite.  To define something separates it and distinguishes it from other things.  To define something excludes other things from it.  Today’s world disdains that which is exclusionary.  We exist in what many would consider a compassionate, caring world, but one which is suspicious of definition and labels.  And so, generally speaking, people decry definition.  Knowing this, some Christian and church leaders, in their desire to make the broadest appeal to the world, refuse to define themselves.  They remove from their documents long standing titles and tenants.  They abandon their former names lest they be viewed as too narrow or precise.  They want to be known in broad terms, for they want to “connect” with as many as possible.  But we do not think that this is the way that we should think or act as Christians.  There is the need for precision and clarity in thought and message.  And so, we see the need and importance for definition and explanation.
          This is one reason that I thought that it would be good for us to rehearse who we are and why we are -- a reformed Baptist Church.  For that is how I would define us, a reformed Baptist Church.  We are Baptist, which reveals our beliefs regarding the mode of baptism and the nature of the local church.  And we are reformed, which describes what we believe about a number of points, which we will shortly delineate for us.  And so, for the next number of weeks, we will seek to expound on that which we hold to be true, and we will point out how it excludes beliefs and practices of others who are called Christian.
           But by way of introduction, we might make several points about the term “reformed.”  First, more broadly speaking, the term, “reformed”, speaks to the general principles and beliefs that were held by the Protestant Reformers of the 16th and 17th century.  These foundational principles are five in number.  They are commonly identified by five Latin phrases or slogans that emerged during the Protestant Reformation, each containing the word “sola”, being translated in English as “alone” or “only.”  They are as follows: Sola scriptura, Sola fide, Sola gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria.  These five expressions are translated as the following: by Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone.  These are the main tenants and principles that were espoused through the Protestant Reformation. 
           But second, the word “reformed” also speaks to a subgroup of the Protestant reformation.  There were a number of groups of Christians who were all Protestant, but each differed in some important ways from one another.  There were the Lutherans in Germany and later in Scandinavia, the Anabaptists of the Netherlands (and elsewhere), the Dutch Reformed Church, the Huguenots of France, and the Reformed Christians of Switzerland.  When we say that we are reformed, we are identifying ourselves principally with the reformed movement that took place in Switzerland under the leadership of John Calvin.  Another name for reformed Christianity is Calvinism.  When we say that we are reformed, we are affirming five doctrines which the Bible teaches regarding God bringing salvation to us.  They are frequently referred to as the doctrines of grace.  These are (1) the total depravity of man, (2) God’s unconditional election of the lost to be saved, (3) the definite atonement of Jesus’ death for His people, (4) the irresistible grace of God in His calling to salvation, and (5) the final perseverance of the true believers unto their full and final salvation
           And so, in summary, when we say that we are reformed, we are affirming our understanding of the Christian faith with the five “solas” as well as the five doctrines of grace.  It is our intention to summarize these teachings today and in the coming weeks. 

           Let us begin with what was termed the formal prinicple of the Reformation.  This is what ultimately led to and resulted in the Protestant Reformation—the belief in…

            I.  Sola Scriptura -- Scripture alone

             When we say that we hold to sola scriptura, we are asserting that the Bible is the only inspired and authoritative word of God and as such, it is the only source for Christian doctrine.  We also assert by the expression, sola scriptura, that the Bible is understandable and self-interpreting.  We believe in the perspicuity of the Scriptures, that anyone can understand the Scriptures, if they are read prayerfully, carefully, and the Holy Spirit blesses the effort.  Our statement of faith asserts this truth in this way:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. (The Baptist Confession of 1689, Art. 1, par. 7).

          The Bible is its own interpreter.  In other words, any one Scripture is best understood by other Scriptures which speak to the same subject.  The Bible does not need an interpreter outside of itself to make it known to its readers.  This doctrine, sola scriptura, is an idea that directly opposes those denominations that claim someone outside and other than the Bible must interpret the Bible before common people may receive its truth.  This doctrine, therefore, is directly opposed to the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, Anglo-Catholic, and Roman Catholic traditions, which teach that the Bible can be interpreted rightly only by Apostolic Tradition, or specifically, the Roman Catholic Magisterium, (that is the teaching authority embodied in Bishops in union with the Pope).
          Sola scriptura is sometimes called the formal principle of the Reformation.  It is what first set the Protestant Reformers against Rome.  The Roman Catholic position is that the church (i.e. Rome) is the custodian of God’s revelation.  The church alone, in other words the leaders of the church alone, have the authority to interpret the Bible for the people.  Here are the words of the Roman Catholic Vatican II document Dei Verbum (1965):

Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. Sacred Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scripture alone. Hence both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal feelings of devotion and reverence... Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit, which is entrusted to the Church... But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone...Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it.... It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others...'

          Rome has always criticized Protestants by saying that this belief in sola scriptura is a dangerous invitation to individualism.  They see the problem as though Protestants were saying, “Reject the authority of the Church.  Away with it’s creeds.  It’s just me and my Bible.”  But this is not what the Reformers believed or taught.  They balanced themselves between Rome, which claimed to have the exclusive authority to interpret Scripture rightly, and some of the Anabaptist radicals, who did not think they needed the Bible at all, because the Holy Spirit communicated directly to them, or so they thought.  The Reformers insisted that the Bible was the source and final authority in determining information about God, how we might know Him, and how He would have us live.  The Reformers believed in the need for teachers in the church to help give understanding of the Word of God.  But they asserted that the whole church, including the laity, had the responsibility and the ability to read and interpret the Bible.  The Reformers soon developed confessions of faith that the churches received and endorsed as their official statements of what they believed the Bible taught.
             Now, just as Rome, the Eastern Orthodox, as well as certain radicals rejected the principle of sola scriptura, we have similar problems today in evangelicalism.  There are some who simply go to church and listen and accept what the preacher says, regardless of whether or not it is truly biblical.  Their biblical knowledge is appalling.  In effect they have made their pastors little popes, or “magesteriums,” accepting their word as authoritative rather than the Scriptures alone.  One described it in this way:

Today, this same process of “dumbing down” has meant that we are, in George Gallup's words, “a nation of biblical illiterates.”  Perhaps we have a high view of the Bible's inspiration: 80% of adult Americans believe that the Bible is the literal or inspired Word of God.  But 30% of the teenagers who attend church regularly do not even know why Easter is celebrated.  “The decline in Bible reading,” says Gallup, “is due in part to the widely held conviction that the Bible is inaccessible, and to less emphasis on religious training in the churches.”  Just as Rome's infallibility rested on the belief that the Bible itself was difficult, obscure, and confusing, so today people want the “net breakdown” from the professionals: what does it mean for me and how will it help me and make me happy?  But those who read the Bible for more than devotional meditations know how clear it is--at least on the main points it addresses--and how it ends up making religion less confusing and obscure.  Again today, the Bible--especially in mainline Protestant churches--is a mysterious book that can only be understood by a small cadre of biblical scholars who are “in the know.”  (Michael Horton)

           But then there are those churches, and there are many of them, that believe and emphasize direct revelation of God through the Holy Spirit apart from the Bible.  They also deny the principle of sola scriptura.  Of those who were like them in the early days of the Reformation, John Calvin said of them, “When the fanatics boast extravagantly of the Spirit, the tendency is always to bury the Word of God so they may make room for their own falsehoods.”  The authority and the sufficiency of the Word of God suffers when self-proclaimed prophets stand forward and claim to speak to us directly from God. 
           The 18th century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote about these matters.  There were things like this going on in his day.  He wrote this:

I would therefore entreat the people of God to be very cautious how they give heed to such things.  I have seen them fail in very many instances, and know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the minds of true, yea eminent, saints . . . are no sure signs of their being revelations from heaven.  I have known such impressions fail, in some instances, attended with all these circumstances.

This is good advice to follow.  The Bible alone is a revelation of the very words of God.  God speaks to His people today through His written word that was recorded long ago.

           The bottom line is that the Reformers believed, and we believe with them, that the Word of God is sufficient.  It is sufficient to teach us everything we need to know and should know about God, ourselves, and how we are live before Him and with one another.  The Holy Scriptures are authoritative.  They command us as the word of God.  The Bible is God’s Word given to us, telling us what we are to believe, how we are to think, and how we are to live as His people.  But again, there are threats to the sufficiency and authority of the Holy Scriptures in today’s evangelical churches.  Again, Michael Horton expressed it well,

           Similarly today, psychology threatens to reshape the understanding of the self, as even in the evangelical pulpit sin becomes “addiction”; the Fall as an event is replaced with one’s “victim” status; salvation is increasingly communicated as mental health, peace of mind, and self-esteem, and my personal happiness and self-fulfillment are center-stage rather than God's holiness and mercy, justice and love, glory and compassion.  Does the Bible define the human problem and its solution?  Or when we really want facts, do we turn somewhere else, to a modern secular authority who will really carry weight in my sermon? Of course, the Bible will be cited to bolster the argument.  Political ideology, sociology, marketing, and other secular “authorities” must never be allowed priority in answering questions the Bible addresses.  That is, in part, what this affirmation (sola scriptura) means, and evangelicals today seem as confused on this point as was the medieval church.

But we would say that we are not confused about this matter.  We are a Reformed Baptist church.  And as such, we affirm sola scriptura.  With regard to the faith and practice of Christianity, if it is not in the Bible, then it is not to be believed or practiced.  We seek and purpose to be governed by the Word of God alone. 

            Perhaps the importance and relevance of the principle of sola scriptura for Protestantism can best be illustrated by the words and actions of Martin Luther, the first and leading Reformer in Europe.  Raised a Roman Catholic, and trained as an Augustinian monk, Luther came to embrace the teachings of the Bible alone in matters of faith and practice.  It brought him into intense and direct conflict with the pope.  He was tried and excommunicated for his views.  But first, the pope had issued a ban against him.  He had hoped that the German people would follow the edict of the ban and reject Luther and his teachings.  Listen to the essence of the ban, particularly how it rejects Luther’s view of sola scriptura:

"Arise, O Lord, and judge Thy cause.  A wild boar has invaded Thy vineyard.  Arise, O Peter, and consider the case of the Holy Roman Church, the mother of all churches, consecrated by Thy blood.  Arise O Paul, who by thy teaching and death hast and dost illumine the Church.  Arise, all ye saints, and the whole universal Church, whose interpretation of Scripture has been assailed.  We can scarcely express our grief over the ancient heresies which have been revived in Germany.  We are the more downcast because she was always in the forefront of the war on heresy.  Our pastoral office can no longer tolerate the pestiferous virus of the following forty-one errors.  [Here they are stated.]  We can no longer suffer the serpent to creep through the field of the Lord.  The books of Martin Luther which contain these errors are to be examined and burned.  As for Martin himself, good God, what office of paternal love have we omitted in order to recall him from his errors?  Have we not offered him a safe conduct and money for the journey?  And he has had the temerity to appeal to a future council although our predecessors, Pius II and Julius II, subjected such appeals to the penalties of heresy.  Now therefore we give Martin sixty days in which to submit, dating from the time of the publication of this bull in his district.  Anyone who presumes to infringe our excommunication and anathema will stand under the wrath of Almighty God and of the apostles Peter and Paul. (June 15, 1520)

Upon receiving this ban, Luther responded in a letter to a friend.  Here are some of his words in which he addressed several items in the pope’s list of forty-one “errors”:

I was wrong, I admit it, when I said that indulgences were “the pious defrauding of the faithful.”  I recant and I say, “Indulgences are the most impious frauds and imposters of the most rascally pontiffs, by which they deceive the souls and destroy the goods of the faithful.” I was wrong. I retract the statement that certain articles of John Hus are evangelical.  I say now. “Not some but all the articles of John Hus were condemned by Antichrist and his apostles in the synagogue of Satan.”  And to your face, most holy Vicar of God, I say freely that all the condemned articles of John Hus are evangelical and Christian, and yours are downright impious and diabolical.

Luther publicly burned the ban that the pope had issued against him along with various books common to priests which defined church policy, church law, church doctrines.  He explained his action saying,

Since they have burned my books, I burn theirs.  The canon law was included because it makes the pope a god on earth. So far I have merely fooled with this business of the pope.  All my articles condemned by Antichrist are Christian. Seldom has the pope overcome anyone with Scripture and with reason.

Here he was affirming the principle, sola scriptura.
            Luther was given sixty days to repent.  The ban had directed Luther to appear before an official governmental assembly, called a diet, in the city of Worms.  He appeared there on April 17, 1521.  This was not merely an ecclesiastical court of the Roman Catholic Church, but present was the Roman Catholic emperor Charles of the Holy Roman Empire along with many high officials.  Luther was publicly examined by John Eck, a representative of the archbishop of Trier.  Eck confronted Luther with a pile of books and asked whether they were his.  He answered: “The books are all mine, and I have written more.”  Eck asked, “Do you defend them all, or do you care to reject a part?”  Luther considered the matter and then said,

This touches God and his Word.  This affects the salvation of souls.  Of this Christ said, ‘He who denies Me before men, him will I deny before My father.’  To say too little or too much would be dangerous.  I beg you, give me time to think it over. they have burned my books, I burn theirs.  The canon law was included because it makes the pope a god on earth. So far I have merely fooled with this business of the pope.  All my articles condemned by Antichrist are Christian. Seldom has the pope overcome anyone with Scripture and with reason.

            Luther was given until the next day to consider his answer.  When he appeared he said boldly that he would not retract anything he had written.  He stated that if he were to be shown error from the Scriptures, he would be the first to throw his books into the fire. To this Eck responded: "Your plea to be heard from Scripture is the one always made by heretics. You do nothing but renew the errors of Wycliffe and Hus." Luther answered with this most famous response:

Since then Your majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth.  Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand.  I can do no other.  God help me.  Amen.

           During the next five days, private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate.  The Emperor presented the final draft of the Edict of Worms on May 25, 1521, declaring Luther an outlaw, banning his literature, and requiring his arrest.  The order was given: “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.”  It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter.  It permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence. Luther escaped, hid for months, and later established himself and the Reformation in Wittenberg.
            We see from this event that this principle of sola scriptura was at the very heart of the Reformation.  Scripture alone and one’s own understanding of Scripture alone was what shaped and governed the beliefs and practice of the Reformers.  It does our also.  If it cannot be shown in the Scriptures, we refuse to believe it.  If it can be shown in the Scriptures, we are bound to embrace it.  We affirm sola scriptura.

            II.  The Bible asserts its own authority and sufficiency

            A.  The Lord Jesus asserted sola scriptura. (Mark 7:1-13)

            The Lord Jesus asserted the principle of sola scriptura when he corrected the Jewish leaders after they had usurped the authority of the Scripture with tradition.  The account is in Mark 7:1-13.

        Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem.  Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.  For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.  When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.  And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, cooper vessels, and couches.  Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”  He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men ‑‑ the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”  And He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.  For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother’ and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’  But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban” ‑‑ and you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.  And many such things you do.”

                        1.  The Setting:

          The Lord and His disciples were eating with the Pharisees and their scribes.  A problem arose between the two groups.  As the old Testament prophet Amos asked the rhetorical question, so we might ask, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3).  There was a fundamental difference between these two groups respecting the authority that governed their faith and practice, that is what they believed and how they lived.  Inevitably an issue surfaced that caused a conflict (7:1, 2).

                        2.  The underlying problem: the additional authority of tradition that was held by the Pharisees and their scribes (7:3-5).

          The Pharisees and Scribes would claim to hold to the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament), as did the Lord Jesus and His disciples.  A problem arose, however, because the Pharisees and their scribes held an additional authority that the Lord Jesus did not recognize as valid or binding.  They believed that the historic tradition of the Rabbis was as binding as Scripture.  These two groups were governed by different authorities and this resulted in a problem arising when they came together.
           I would assert that there can not be true fellowship and cooperation in matters of faith and practice unless there is a common agreement that the Scriptures will govern the nature of that fellowship and cooperation.  Unless this is agreed upon, in time, sooner or later, the group that has an authority not bound by the Scriptures will impose beliefs or practice upon them who restrict themselves to the Bible as the sole authority for faith and practice.  The result will be that the ones who hold to the Bible alone will be compelled to either object or withdraw, resulting in them being viewed as schismatic or disruptive to “cooperation.”  
           This exact scenario is what led to the Reformation.  Roman Catholicism held to Scripture as authority, but only as it was understood and interpreted by tradition, the official teaching of Rome.  The Protestants said, “No, but Scripture alone shall determine our beliefs.”

                    3. The conflict: the Lord corrects the Pharisees and the Scribes respecting their authority (7:6-13)

                                    a.  Notice His directness and his charge (7:7, 8).

              The Lord Jesus taught that the Scriptures were the Words of God to His people that were to be believed and obeyed.  The traditions were inventions of men that had no authority.  They were hypocrites because they showed forth the pretense of walking before God when in actuality their faith and practice were governed not by God but by men’s opinions.

                                    b.  The tendency to set aside Scripture when another authority is embraced (7:9-13)

                      4. The public proclamation: The Lord instructs the crowds illustrating the error of elevating tradition over Scripture (7:14-16).

And when He had called all the multitude to Him, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Jesus publicly repudiated the tradition of the elders.  He asserted a conclusion drawn from the Scriptures.  Jesus asserted sola scriptura.
            We could examine many other places in which our Lord asserted this principle, but time will not permit us.  I will simply identify some of them for us:  Consider Matthew 21:42; 22:29; 26:54, 56; Mark 12:24; 14:49; Luke 24:27, 32, 45; John 5:39; 10:35).

            B.  The apostle Paul asserted sola scriptura.

          Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:13-17:

      But evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

          Notice that verse 15 describes the Holy Scriptures as enabling Timothy to become “wise for salvation.”  In fact, only the Scriptures can.  God has ordained that His Word, which alone can bring life, be recorded in a book, the Bible.  His Word alone, can make people wise unto salvation.  This itself underscores sola scriptura
          But the main thrust of Paul’s word to Timothy was that the Scriptures were sufficient in and of themselves to enable Timothy to address any and all issues and problems he would face in the Christian ministry.  The source of Timothy’s authority and assurance was not on some experience that he had, or some position that had been conferred upon him.  But because God had spoken through men who had written down God’s words in a book, or a collection of books, which is the Bible, Timothy with the Scriptures could face his challengers.  Now granted, much of the New Testament had not yet been written at this point, and the more specific reference of Paul is to the Old Testament books.  But what is said here may be applied to all of the inspired books that God has given us, both the Old and the New Testaments.
          God Himself had breathed truth and life into the very words recorded.  The very words that the writers of the Bible recorded were the words that God intended for them to write.  Therefore, the words that are written, are the words that God has spoken, and they were spoken with God’s authority.  They may be relied upon as absolutely true and faithful.  The Holy Scriptures may therefore be seen as equipping a Christian to face any challenge and overcome any obstacle that would stand in the way of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
           Specifically, Paul declared that the Bible “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”  In other words, the Bible is fully reliable and sufficient, so as to teach doctrine to the people, to withstand error and evil teaching, to correct errant understanding or behavior in God’s people, and to guide them in living rightly before God.  This covers all possible situations that may arise in the course of living for Christ.  Learning about God and His ways needs to take place in the hearts and minds of God’s people; the Bible is sufficient toward this end.  Those who would oppose the truth or fall into error so as to be convinced of that their error is truth need to be reproved; the Bible is sufficient for this purpose.  Believers make wrong decisions and choices in ordering their lives or they err in their understanding of God’s ways so that they need correction; God’s Word is sufficient for this too.  And then people must know how to live before God, ordering their thoughts, attitudes, and actions in a manner that pleases God; the Bible is sufficient for guiding God’s people in the steps He would have them walk.  And so, we see before us a statement of the sufficiency of Holy Scripture to deal with any spiritual contingency that may arise in this life respecting ourselves and our relationship with God as we engage a hostile and evil world.  A confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture was needful for Timothy to be born along by God so as to live for God and serve God’s people faithfully. 
          There is a great need today for believers to be convinced of the sufficiency of the Bible to address all matters of faith and practice.  We do not need gimmicks, or tell half-truths, or use modern marketing strategies or methods drawn from psychological and sociological research.  God has given us His Word by which His work is to be conducted.  All other resources are subordinate, in fact futile.  Only God through His Word can accomplish His purposes in transforming sinners into saints, making them over into the image of their Savior whom they have embraced in faith.  The man of God is “complete” when He has God’s Word and possesses a good understanding of it.  He is “thoroughly equipped”; that is, outfitted with all he needs to conduct “every good work” to which God has called him.  The Bible itself affirms sola scriptura.

******

          Now, it is my assertion that as a church and as Christians, we need to hold to the sole authority of the Scriptures in matters of faith and practice.  It is a watershed issue.  We are reformed, because we hold to these principles.  Although some may deviate somewhat from this principle and still be genuine Christians, serious problems will result if this principle is not maintained.  One example we might site of a well-known Christian leader is John Wesley.  In many ways he was a great man mightily used of God.  But he promoted a great deal of error, particularly his Arminianism which he championed his entire ministry.  But his greatest problem in my opinion was that he did not hold to sola scriptura.
           Again, John Wesley was a great man, who was greatly used of the Lord.  We can admire and we should use him as an example of devotion, holy living, zeal, organizational abilities, his courage and his compassion for the lost.  He preached against sin and he preached salvation by God's grace through faith in Christ.  He was a giant in our evangelical heritage.  Nevertheless, John Wesley had some problems in this matter of which we are talking.  He relied on other sources for determining the will of God for himself and others.  Ultimately this led to continual tension and conflict with George Whitefield who was his partner in ministry, over issues of faith and practice.  Moreover, it brought great personal difficulty to John Wesley himself.  John Wesley made a decision not to marry a young lady based on “the will of God” that was revealed to him by a Moravian priest.  Wesley once told George Whitefield it was not God’s will for him to leave on a trip for the Colonies based on John having cast a lot to determine God’s will.  Moreover, Wesley was confirmed in his opposition to the doctrine of God’s predestination of individuals to salvation, a position held by his friend and co-worker George Whitefield, based on his having cast lots.  It resulted in Methodism dividing into two groups, the Wesleyan Methodists who were Arminian in their theology and the Calvinistic Methodists who viewed George Whitefield as their chief personage. [From a pamphlet written by Charles Spurgeon, The Two Wesleys: On John And Charles Wesley (Pilgrim, 1975), pp. 64]