Martin Luther – A Sola in Memory of the Reformation
500 years ago, Martin Luther began his trek that we have all come to know as the Protestant Reformation. What started small, became monumental. To this day, there is still significant debate over what took place and the benefits and drawbacks of the Reformation period. One benefit that is also a detriment is Luther’s doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In English this doctrine means “Scripture Alone.”
Contextually, Martin frames this doctrine as something that could purify the church that he was a part of. Namely the Roman Catholic Church. Given a number of doctrinal impurities in the Catholicism of his day, his thinking was that the Church relied too much on Tradition, and frankly not on good and early tradition, but on later inventions. There needed to be more reliance on the Word of God. Therefore, in contrast to numerous practices and doctrines that Luther could not find in the Scriptures, Sola Scriptura is a counter claim to Papal Authority (the authority of the Pope).
All seems fine given the context. However, what is important to remember is that Luther was never trying to cut out the history of the early church or legitimate developments of doctrine that had taken place. Instead, his argument was, that the church needed to get back to her roots and see what the early and pure faith was like. This certainly needed a strong Scriptural foundation, but Luther was fine standing on the shoulders of the early thinkers like Augustine, Ambrose, and others, and he often did.
Today, numerous Protestant groups have turned Sola Scriptura into something that is totally devoid of receiving truth in the early developmental period of the church. Some have turned the Bible into something that is just a proof text for any thought or idea. Like somehow the Bible tells us everything about well, everything. The truth is, the Bible speaks to many situations, but certainly not to all. Where the Bible is not direct on a subject, the Christian is free to figure out through other means, the answer to a question.
In my reading, plenty of good Protestants reject this version of Luther’s doctrine. One author calls the later change to Luther’s idea, NUDA SCRIPTURA. Another calls it SOLO SCRIPTURA. The point that both make, is that many Protestants today are well, not Protestant. At least in Luther’s line of thought. They are a much more difficult brand that rejects development or the good thinking of the early Church. Luther himself was fine with tradition, so long as it did not directly contradict a clear scripture. Moreover, even though Luther has some interesting thoughts on reason, he thought good and sound reason was beneficial as well.
In many ways, Luther was a traditional Christian. One who put Scripture at the top of a mount of ways of finding truth. The Scriptures where clear, would always be the trump card, but not the only means for discovering truth. In memory of Martin Luther, let’s avoid SOLO SCRIPTURA (me my bible and nothing else), and come to a more fuller understanding of Sola Scriptura, which is that Scripture is the highest authority, but not only authority for truth.
October 30th, 2017 – 1 Day before the 500 Year Anniversary of the Reformation