A few months ago I first pointed you to a new title published in connection with the 500th anniversary of the great Reformation (one of many coming out) – Why the Reformation Still Matters, co-authored by Michael Reeves and Tim Chester (Crossway, 2016; 219 pp.).
Last time we considered the first chapter, which gets at one of the key doctrines restored during the great Reformation of the church –the gospel of justification. The second chapter gets at another key truth, that of the sole authority of Scripture, what we sometimes refer to as the formal principle of the Reformation – sola Scriptura.
Here is part of what the authors have to say on that subject:
This is the meaning of sola Scriptura, ‘Scripture alone’ – one of the key slogans of the Reformation. It does not mean that other things cannot inform our theology. The Reformers quoted past theologians freely as authoritative guides. They reflected on experience and used their reason. What sola Scriptura does mean is that when we have to choose, there is only one choice we can make: Scripture alone is our ultimate authority. And in particular it is in the supreme authority, in contrast to the authority of the church and its traditions. The Catholic Church claimed the right to interpret the Scriptures. It was the Scriptures together with the interpretation of the church that carried authority [p.41].
To which they add this paragraph later in that chapter:
We often go forward by going back. And this is what happened at the Reformation. The Reformers were not trying to forge something new. They were not setting out to change the world. All they wanted to do was go back to the Bible. But going back to the Bible changed the world [p.42].
In that connection Reeves and Chester also quote Luther and Calvin on the place and power of the Word in what they were doing as Reformers. We end with these quotes.
I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with Philip and Amsdorf [Luther’s friends], the word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the word did everything (Luther’s Works, 51:76-77).
Let this be a firm principle: No other word is to be held as the Word of God, and given place as such in the church, than what is contained first in the Law and the Prophets, then in the writings of the apostles: and the only authorized way of teaching in the church is by prescription and standard of his Word (Calvin, Institutes, 4.8.8).