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A Fundamental Principle of the Reformation

“The supreme and absolute authority of God’s Word in determining all questions of doctrine and of duty, is a fundamental principle of the Reformation—a principle so fundamental, that without it, there would have been no Reformation—and so vital, that a Reformation without it, could such a Reformation be supposed, would have been at best a glittering delusion and failure” (Charles Porterfield Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, 15).

In the evaluation of Krauth, the Reformation of the 16th Century would have never happened as it did if the principle of Sola Scriptura was absent.  Change in externals (i.e. abuses of the Catholic church, use of relics, indulgences, the promiscuity and immorality of priests, etc.) does not answer the internal problem of the heart’s corruption.  What Holy Scripture calls for is repentance, a turning away from selfishness and “the traditions of men” (Matthew 15 & Mark 7) to God, His Word—Christ.

The Catholic church in Luther’s day and the Roman Catholic church in our day have this gross deficiency—they despise and condemn Scripture Alone.  In essence, they say that God’s Word is “not sufficient.”  And for Catholics, it isn’t.  Apostolic tradition, church councils, and the pope speaking ex cathedra, however, are enough for Rome to substantiate her doctrine.  This is so because what the Bible doesn’t say about Rome’s teaching (i.e. purgatory, various teachings about Mary, papal infallibility, etc.) can be found in “tradition,” church councils, and the pope.

In other words, what Rome cannot support by using Holy Scripture, they support with other words which they claim to be authoritative.  Thus, Scripture Alone is truly insufficient for defending Romish doctrine.

This “insufficiency” of Holy Scripture demonstrates itself, too, in its doctrine of justification (the central article of the Christian faith, which, by the way, Rome declares to be anathema, or accursed), papal infallibility, view of Mary, purgatory, indulgences, sin, faith, grace, sacraments, etc.).  Here, the Catholic church would make the nonCatholic believe that she is Christian.  Yet she doesn’t derive her teaching solely from the foundation of the Law and the prophets (Ephesians 2:20).  She builds on another foundation(s) than that of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).  She thus mixes what is true with that which is not, and builds on the latter and not the former.

The Reformers of the 16th century and the true evangelicals today, in contrast, build only on Christ, the true foundation as revealed in Holy Scripture.  They derive their doctrine and confess their faith only according to the very Word of God.  They need no councils, popes, traditions, or church’s interpretation to declare to them how they are to believe.  They only need Scripture, the Bible, the Word of God, for this alone is sufficient for faith and life.  Holy Scripture reveals Christ, and sins fully forgiven through faith in God’ Son.

Holy Scripture judges all writings, books, sermons, doctrine, and practice.  This is so because it is the Word of God.  Upon that Word, the Word alone, Luther and others after him have stood and  stand.  Thus did the Reformation happen as it did.  Thus is a reformation happening even now, where the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity (distinguishing between God’s law and God’s promise) and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution.  Where these are going on, the true evangelical faith is created and strengthened, sin is forgiven, and love for God and neighbor continually grows.

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