One of our mottos as Lutherans is ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture alone). This describes how we choose to limit what we regard as God’s authoritative word to the words of the Bible. It is a position on divine revelation that requires an explanation to our friends, neighbors and family who, as never before in our lifetime, may not only fail to understand it but may even find it offensive.
The easy part is explaining that we believe to be divine revelation what we know Jesus of Nazareth believed to be God’s word. He was crucified to redeem us from our sins and and rose again from the dead, so He is in a unique position to know! He believed in the authority of the writings of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms and so we believe the Old Testament is God’s word—as Jesus did (Luke 24.44) We also believe what the apostles of Christ have written to be divinely inspired, as they themselves believed (2 Peter 1.21) Only ’Scripture’ is ’breathed out by God’ (inspired) in this way (2 Timothy 3.15). It is easy to assert that, as Christ and His apostles did, so we believe that the Bible we hold in our hands is the most perfect thing we human beings encounter on a daily basis.
The hard part is explaining that we treat other people’s religious impulses and insights as of lesser authority. One might think that simply pointing out that other people ’are not Jesus’ and that the apostolic witness was unique would be self evident, but not these days. Alien to many people’s thinking today is the apostolic willingness to ‘let God be true and every man a liar’ (Romans 3.4).
Unlike people today, the apostles did not ‘believe every spirit’ (1 John 4.1). St. Paul went so far as to say, ‘even if we (!) or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1.8-10).
The polite thing to do today is ‘please man’. If someone feels divinely inspired, even if their ‘gospel’ contradicts that apostolic Gospel, we are supposed to listen and make approving noises.
Yet, with every possible sensitivity to people’s spiritual intuitions and religious feelings, we choose to say ‘no thank you’ to their new twist on God, and we should do so carefully, as St. Peter teaches, when he says, ’Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame’ (1 Peter 3.13).
It is lamentable but true that, when it comes to new religious insights, ’people ruined it’ and nobody’s spirituality can now be trusted to have the same authority as the Bible. In all humility, ’Sola Scriptura’ is simply a Lutheran ‘self-limitation’ that we reckon will do us less harm than ‘believing every spirit’ would do. We may be wrong to limit ourselves this way, but we have been burned in the past and we have scars. Please understand.
We can only hope that people will be polite enough to permit us to obey God rather than men and the freedom to choose between their voices.