The sufficiency of Scripture was the center of the conflict during the protestant reformation. At that time within the Roman Catholic Church, the Bible was only available in Latin and was administered only through the priests. It was thought and taught that the common people could not possibly be expected to read the Bible on their own. This was not as much an issue of literacy, as it was theology. The Roman Catholic Church at that time taught explicitly that the “word of God” was not the Bible alone, but rather the “word of God” was the Bible along with the official interpretation of the church. This doctrine has continued to be taught and is expressed this way in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.[i]
Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. (Catechism Part 1, 82)
The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God has been entrusted to the living church alone. (Catechism Part 1, 85)
The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Pope and to the Bishops in communion with him…and this interpretation is irrevocably binding for the faith of Christian people.” (Catechism Part 1, III, 94, and Part 1, III, 88)
The Roman Catholic Church believed 100% in the inerrancy, infallibility, and authority of the Bible. There was no debate in the church about whether or not the Bible was true, whether or not it was God’s Word. The world-changing issue was whether or not the Bible was enough. Was the Bible sufficient? Would the Pope have the authority to add doctrine to what God had said?
Martin Luther risked his life for the doctrine of sola Scriptura. He believed that the Bible, and the Bible alone was the word of God, and that no human being had authority over it, or beside it. Some of his most famous words were uttered on April 16, 1521 at the Diet of Worms when he proclaimed,
“Unless I am convinced 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 I will not recant anything, , or to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”
When Luther translated the Bible into German and Guttenberg’s moveable type enabled the Bible to be mass produced, spiritual reformation spread like wildfire.
In the 1950 movie, Martin Luther, the writers pointedly and humorously portrayed a conversation between Luther and a fellow priest.
Priest: There is only one proper interpretation of Scripture, that which the church has established. What if Scripture were in the hands of the common man, for every potboy and swineherd to read in his own language and interpret for himself? What then?
Luther: Why, then we might have more Christians, Father!
Luther was an imperfect person like you and me, but he stood, and sometimes stood alone, on the foundation of sola Scriptura.
Take Your Stand
The church today is desperate for leaders who will take this same courageous stand! Not only do we believe the Bible, but we believe the Bible alone for every matter of faith and life. I am convinced that we can trace much of the passivity and ineffectiveness in the modern church to our slippage on this vital doctrine.
It is surely a coincidence that the acronym for “Sufficiency of Scripture” is S.O.S., but as we dig deeper into this doctrine and its practical applications in the pages ahead, I hope you will join me in calling out “S.O.S!” to your brothers and sisters in Christ. The urgent call is not “Save Our Ship” but “Save Our Church!” As you will see, this is a battle we cannot afford to lose…
[ii] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1994).