Appendix C:  Scripture Alone

Is your church or God’s Word your ultimate authority?

Throughout the history of God’s people, as recorded in Scripture and church history, there have been false prophets and false teachers, teaching and prophesying falsehood in God’s name.

Scripture emphatically warns against adding to or subtracting from what is written in God’s Word.  He says that if you add to what is written in the Bible, He will add to you the plagues (curses) written therein, and if you subtract from His Word, He will take away your part “from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19; cf. Deut. 4:2; 12:32).

Deuteronomy 12:32-13:5 "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it.  If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.”  (NAS, emphasis added)

The Reformers taught that all teachings and practices must be tested by the teaching of God’s infallible (unfailing), inerrant (free from error), inspired (God-breathed) Word.  Only God is infinitely wise and knowledgeable.  Protestants have historically affirmed that the Bible is not only the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God, but also the sole written revelation that rules the faith and practice of the Christian community; God’s Word alone can bind the conscience.  We call this doctrine “the sufficiency of the Scriptures,” believing that God has revealed “everything pertaining to life and godliness” in His Word (2 Pet. 1:3). 

Thus, Scripture is the only rule for the church’s faith and life.  Sola Scriptura, “Scripture alone,” was in fact one of the five key principles (“solas”) of the Protestant Reformation.  The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses this teaching when it declares, “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (1.6, emphasis added; cf. 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Gal. 1:8, 9; 2 Thess. 2:2). 

False religion teaches that the church (and its leaders) is the ultimate authority for matters of doctrine and practice, even if its teachings or traditions contradict, add to, or subtract from God’s Holy Word.  This is the logic of the Roman Catholic church-state, the Judaizers that Paul condemned, and the Pharisees, whom Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John the Baptist condemned in the New Testament.   Following this logic ultimately leads to rejecting God and His Truth, and trusting in man, carnal wisdom, and the sinful world, which rejects God and is under the control of Satan.

Many pastors, church members, and church leaders presumptuously and arrogantly establish extra-Biblical traditions and practices and impose them on the Church (i.e., in pride or arrogance presuming, even if “innocently,” that they have the right to overrule God and His Word by adding to or subtracting from it).  Not only do these traditions and practices not come from the Bible, but also they often go against God’s commandments as found in Scripture.  Inspired by Satan, superstition and myth infiltrate and corrupt the Church.  And, then, skeptics of Christianity, also inspired by the devil, often expose the “myths” of Christianity for what they are to the discredit and ridicule of the true Christian faith. 

How have churches drifted so far away from the Bible?

One reason churches have drifted so far away from Scripture is that they have bought the lie that “if Scripture does not directly forbid (or talk about) something, then it must be okay.” 

Although Scripture does not directly and explicitly forbid certain things, a mature Christian should be asking the question, “Does Scripture indirectly and implicitly forbid them?”.[1]

The teaching that “if Scripture does not directly forbid (or talk about) something, then it must be okay” is a lie because Christians are also to believe what is implicitly (indirectly) taught in Scripture, that is, what by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.

The twisted logic prevalent among American Christians today is evidenced by how many Christians claim that if there is not a Biblical verse or passage that directly commands or forbids a practice, then it is not binding on believers.  Based on such logic, they may accuse those who believe in infant baptism and the Christian Sabbath (or the Trinity) of legalism or inventing teachings that are not found in Scripture.  However, historic Christianity, as carried forth by the Reformers of the Protestant Reformation, teaches that Scripture must interpret Scripture and that clear passages must interpret those that are less clear.  The entirety of the Old and New Testaments must be examined carefully before we can definitively conclude what Scripture teaches about a particular doctrine and whether it commands or forbids a particular practice.[2] 

Ultimately, making God’s Word our ultimate authority is essential if we are to please our heavenly Father.  God says He is seeking true worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:22-24).  He also warns that those who turn to man’s wisdom and adopt man’s traditions and practices instead of relying on His Word alone, worship Him in vain.  If we add to or subtract from what Divine wisdom has ordained, we invalidate the Word of God and thus attack God’s holy name and pervert the holiness of His bride, the Church: 

     Jesus said regarding the Pharisees, “And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9, NKJ). 

     Jesus said to the Pharisees, "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. . . . You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. . . .  thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down . . .” (Mark 7:8, 9, 13, NAS). 

     "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men. . . .  All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. . . . making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:8, 9, 13, NKJ).

R.C. Sproul reminds us that

       . . . the Reformers insisted that their work of reformation was not complete.  The church is called to be semper reformanda, “always reforming.”  Every Christian community creates its own subculture of customs and traditions.  Such traditions are often extremely difficult to overcome or abandon.  Yet it remains our task in every generation to examine critically our own traditions to insure they are consistent with the apostolic tradition.[3] 

Thus, as Reformed Christians, we are obligated to examine critically our own traditions in regard to every matter of doctrine, worship, and life, to ensure that our practice is consistent with the apostolic tradition.  This apostolic tradition has been revealed to us in the writings of Christ’s apostles in the Scriptures alone, which are the revealed will of God, His all-sufficient Word.  

God has wisely given us pastors and teachers to shepherd and guide us.  We should respect and obey them, but all things must be tested by God’s Word, for His Word alone is the Christian’s ultimate authority!  

[1] What was Satan’s tactic in leading Eve astray in the Garden of Eden?  In his craftiness, the serpent said to Eve, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3:1).  The serpent called into question the truthfulness, or veracity, of God.  As the father of lies (John 8:44), the serpent stated error as though it were fact.  The serpent wanted Eve to feel restricted by God’s command.  The serpent blasphemously imputed falsehood and evil motive to God.  So we should not be surprised if the devil employs similar tactics, even through professing Christians and ordained Christian pastors, in attacking the Church today. 

[2] For centuries, theologians have written systematic theologies to aid in this process.  Learned, mature men of God have spent their lifetimes carefully studying God’s Word and explaining the teachings of Scripture in a systematic, catergorical way, pulling together all the passages of Scripture relating to a particular teaching or topic and explaining how these relate to other passages of Scripture as well as the issues and controversies of their time.  The serious student of Scripture will benefit greatly from reading such systematic theologies as that of Charles Hodge, John Calvin, R. L. Dabney, Louis Berkhof, Robert L. Reymond, and Morton Smith.

[3] R.C. Sproul, Grace Unknown (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1997), 29, emphasis added. 

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