Many people say they do not hear God. Many others say they do hear God speak. I believe them. God speaks through dreams, visions, audible voices, etc. I’m sometimes jealous of that because I do not believe I have ever heard God speak to me in an audible voice, or in a whisper in my mind, or in an inner impression. But I have heard God speak extremely clearly through the Bible. God speaks in many ways, and one is not better than the other. They are unique and different. A person who hears God speak one way should not say they are more close to God than a person who hears God speak a different way. The point is that God does still speak!
All week long we have been talking about Sola Scriptura, trying to understand why it was so important to the Protestant Reformers.
One important misconception about Sola Scriptura is when people say that God speaks only through Scripture. Is that what Sola Scriptura means? The Bible’s take on Sola Scriptura is not SOLO Scriptura. Solo Scriptura means Scripture ONLY, that God would not speak any other way. Those who hold to Solo Scriptura are reacting quite strongly about the possibility that God might speak through other means, usually because they have seen abuses of power. The Reformers spoke out strongly against those abuses of power in the Catholic Church during the Medival age. But is it right to go so far as Solo Scriptura? Well, let’s take a look ate what Scripture itself says about how God speaks.
God speaks though his creation.
In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.
In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the glory of God.
And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:
Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Scripture says that God speaks through Creation. Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse. When people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language.” There is enough in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God so that men are without excuse.
Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through creation.
God also speaks through his Spirit.
I’ve already mentioned 1 Corinthians 2:12 where Paul taught that the Spirit of God helps understand the things of God. I also encourage you to read John chapters 15-17, where Jesus talks a lot about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. There Jesus teaches that the Spirit speaks in many ways. In fact, Jesus said to his disciples that at some point in the future, government officials would take them into custody, and when questioned, the Spirit would help them know what to say. Throughout the Bible, God speaks by his Spirit in dreams and visions.
Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his Spirit.
God also speaks through his people.
The Bible is loaded with instances where God spoke through prophets and teachers. Ephesians 4:11-13 is possibly the most important verse that talks about this. There Paul essentially gives the job description of pastors and teachers. But it is not just the fivefold gifts listed in Ephesians 4 through whom God speaks. We all have the opportunity, Paul goes on to teach in Ephesians 4, to speak the truth in love to one another.
Scripture is not Scripture ONLY, because God also speaks through his people.
Look above at the three points. We see that God speaks through Creation, through his Spirit, through his Church. That means Scripture is not ONLY.
So if God speaks in ways other than his word, why is Sola Scriptura so important?
Sola Scriptura is important because it reminds us that Scripture is the foundational way we hear God speak. In scripture alone do we learn the truths of Jesus. Through Scripture, alone, we learn what the church is to be like. Not the other way around. Everything we think or hear must be in line with Scripture.
In other words, “Sola Scriptura,” one scholar says, “is the statement that the church can err.”
Here is another summary of Sola Scriptura that if found so helpful: “Scripture comes into its own when read by God’s people in God’s way for God’s purposes.”
And what are God’s purposes for when we read Scripture?
James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Jesus himself said in Luke 6:46-49 that the difference between a wise and foolish person is all about whether or not we do what he says.
We are so, so blessed in our day with access to the Bible, and with access to the many, many tools to understand it. We can read it, dig deep into its meaning, review what scholars have studied about it.
But our approach to the Bible should not just be academic, not just reading it to learn trivia facts about the Bible. Instead, God wants us to read the Bible to know him, to know his purposes. We read prayerfully asking God to speak to us through his word. And then we actually make choices to live his way as taught in his word. When we read Scripture we should determine ahead of time, humbly, teachably, to do what it says.
This requires a couple important tasks:
First, we actually need to read Scripture.
How about you? How often do you read the Bible? I’m not talking about the Verse of the Day from a Bible app. That is good and can be very encouraging. I’m talking about something more. We need to read more and longer sections of the Bible. My wife and I love watching Netflix, as do many of you. Discovering new and great TV and film on Netflix has become a cultural fascination. How many of you have participated in conversations online or in person around the topic “What should I watch next on Netflix?” I love those conversations! Discovering hidden gems on Netflix’s vast catalog is so fun. In other words, many of us sit in front of a screen watching hours and hours of media content. Is it possible that would could increase the amount of time we give to reading the Bible?
I was listening to a podcast recently where the interviewee noted that those who say the Bible is boring or irrelevant probably haven’t really given themselves to truly read and study it. Will you? If so, you will find it to speak powerfully, creatively and decisively to our situation in 2017. I’ve been reading the account of Saul and David in 1st Samuel, and I feel like I am watching the 11 o’clock news. It is amazingly relevant.
Second, we need to learn how to read Scripture.
Let me provide a disclaimer. You can open up any contemporary English translation of the Bible, and you’ll be able to understand it. I use the New International Version. But we also need to remember that the Bible is book written by 40+ authors, 2000+ years ago, in different languages, in a very different cultural setting. As I said, we can be so thankful that scholars through the ages have studied those languages, that historical/cultural setting, as well as the genre and structure of the many books of the Bible. What I’m saying is that there are wonderful works by people who love Jesus that can help us read between the lines and understand the Bible much more as God intended it.
Do you want to learn how to read and study it better? I would be glad to point you to some resources that can help you.
Finally, and most importantly, whenever we read the Bible, let us determine beforehand to do what it says God wants us to do.
As we conclude this week of looking at Sola Scriptura, be encouraged by the words of Psalm 1:
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.